July 2006

Saturday 1st July – Spen Valley Greenway – The greenway is part of a network of footpaths in West Yorkshire using old railways. This section runs through Raventhorpe, between Dewsbury and Mirfield. Little streets run off the main road; they are still cobbled with rectangular stones rather than tarmacadamed. Ravens Ings Mill stands by one side of the railway bridge carrying the trail. The Ravenwharfe Inn is on the other side of the road. It is already hot with the sun shining in a blue sky with only wisps of high cloud. Rosebay Willowherb is coming into flower. Raspberries are ripening; the canes standing in bramble patches that are still in flower. Alongside the trail is a large steel stockholding yard with much clanging and banging as pieces of steel are moved around. Hogweed is growing high with large white umbrellas of flowers. High in the sky Swifts scream as the wheel around. A large patch of Honeysuckle is in flower, curling petals of cerise and sulphur. Both Greater and Lesser Bindweed blossom. A skipper butterfly appears and disappears before I can identify it more accurately. A couple of small snails, yellow with brown stripes, are on Willowherb leaves. A set of railway signal lights is mouldering in the trees. The trail emerges from between houses and woodland onto a more open landscape. Mown playing fields give way to hay meadows. A tractor moves to and fro turning the hay to dry it. Pink flowered Comfrey grows in large clumps. Further on there is the more common purple flowered variety. Many flowers are blossoming in the hot sun – Foxgloves, Purple Vetch, St John’s Wort, Ragwort, Meadow Cranesbill, Haresfoot Clover, Orange Hawkweed, Hawkweed Ox-Tongue and one of the Hawksbeards. A Meadow Brown butterfly flits by. There are still very few butterflies around. A charm of Goldfinches twitter.

Sunday 2nd July – Home – Yesterday I called into Thornhill Hall Farm for some cream. Although I had not ordered any, the kindly proprietor found me two litres of freshly made double cream – and only £3! So today, Kay is making ice cream – strawberry, brown bread and lemon. As the day wears on the skies grow darker and by early evening there is a prolonged thunder storm and some very welcome rain.

Monday 3rd July – Fleets Dam – Another very hot day. A Chiffchaff is calling from the trees by the River Dearne. The path is still damp here from yesterday’s rain. A Wren stands on an Elder branch and scolds me loudly. There is a clump of reed floating in the middle of the lake and a pair of Great Crested Grebe seem to be thinking about making a nest of it – probably not a wise move.

Home – We sit in the garden in the evening. Overhead gangs of Swifts chase through in groups of a dozen or more, screaming loudly. They then drift high into the sky like a cloud of flies before descending again and start screaming again. Collared Doves are calling loudly around the garden, perching in the large Cherry above our heads. By ten o’ clock it is beginning to get dark, but the sky is still pale blue and scattered with pink cirrus clouds crossed by grey vapour trails. A Tawny Owl is calling from a garden opposite.

Wednesday 5th July – Yorkshire Wolds – My delivery route takes me from Grimsby to York. Over the Humber Bridge and up across the Yorkshire Wolds. It is hot and there is a heat haze on the horizon. From the hills above Market Weighton the Vale of York stretches for miles. It seems there is rain to the far south-west but here the temperature is 26°C and seems to be rising. The landscape is various shades of green with blocks of purple. The purple, I assume, is Echium or Viper’s Bugloss being grown commercially for oil.

Saturday 8th July – Grange Gate – A pony is munching grass just by the entrance to the trail on the old railway. The first of several Bullfinches flies across the path and disappears into the bushes. A Chiffchaff is singing nearby. A mole lies dead on the path. The sky is cloudy but every now and again the sun peeps out. It is cooler than it has been in recent days. Blackcaps and Whitethroats are singing on the slope down to the River Dearne. A Jay rasps from the woods that rise steeply above the trail. A large clump of pretty pink Sweet Peas flower by the path; they have escaped from some garden somewhere. A Yellowhammer repeats his Little bit of bread and no cheeeeese song incessantly. I take a path through shoulder high bracken up to the Birch and Oak woods above, but there seems to be no way through the thick undergrowth and the path I find just heads back down to the trail. Butterflies are now much more in evidence than a few weeks ago – Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Gatekeepers, Small Whites, Small Skippers and a Comma are all flittering around the flowers. Black Knapweed, Creeping and Spear Thistles and Ragwort are in abundance. Tansy is just beginning to come into flower. Small green fruits are developing on Alders next to the black husks of last season. Green Haws are swelling on Hawthorn. A large patch of little pink trumpets of Lesser Bindweed is a pretty sight, although bindweed can be a pernicious weed. A police officer is trying to establish the ownership of the pony and several people are trying to entice to feed so they can slip a halter on it. This seems wise as there is only a very low railing between the grass and the busy Rotherham road.

Monday 10th July – Willowbank – The sun shines down from a flawless blue sky onto dew-laden grasses. Two Wrens battle in song, whilst a Greenfinch wheezes his call. Tall Rosebay Willowherbs rise above bramble patches but are sadly being replaced by swathes of Himalayan Balsam, an interloper that, whilst pretty, is not natural to our island. Rushes have grown high in a rather odoriferous canal. Beyond the footbridge, a Moorhen leaves a trail through the green duckweed covered surface. A House Martin swoops low over the water.

Wednesday 12th July – Cartmel, The Lake District – We arrived yesterday at the village of Cartmel. The village is dominated by the Priory which was once the centre of the parish that stretched across this area of the South Lake District. The camp site is very quiet and took some finding despite being very close the the centre of the village. I head off around the village in the early morning with Dill the Dog. A stream, Clogger Beck, runs under the road and off across a meadow being grazed by cows. Up the road away from the village to a crossroads called Headless CartmelCross. A stone cross stands beside the road. It looks like a relatively modern cross on an old base with a modern plinth. It is surrounded by a bright display of flowers. I suspect the old base without the cross gave the place its name. Up the Lancaster road, a narrow lane lined by a tall hedge of Ash, Beech, Elder and Briars. A large section of Blackthorn shows no signs of sloes, maybe not surprising after the cold spring. We return past the school. At another junction is a standing stone set in a modern slate plinth. Around it reads Come over here, my friend, and sit down (Ruth IV.4). A large number of Swifts circle high over meadows on the village edge. River Eea flows through Cartmel, although it is hardly bigger than a brook. Along Priest Lane there is a bridge with CC Wheelhouse Bridge 1815 carved into the stone parapet. The CC means the bridge is the responsibility of the County Council. The lane into Cavendish Street turns and passes various shops, restaurants, a pub (which once housed a smithy) and the Post Office. A number of these buildings are probably the remains of the monastic outbuildings of the priory. The road passes through the priory gatehouse and into the village square. The parish pump still stands along with a stone pillar. Beyond King’s Arms is another bridge over the river (later Kay points out that it is named on the reverse side of the parapet, not visible from the road – CC Church Bridge 1829).

Coniston – Round the peninsula towards Ulverston to try and find a couple of prehistoric sites. In one estuary is a large flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a few Black-headed Gulls and a pair each of Mute Swans and Oystercatchers. I fail miserably to locate the sites so head up to Coniston Water. The road runs alongside the lake, separated by many old Oak trees. Rocky islets covered by trees sit silently in the peaceful blue of the water. A Great Crested Grebe is steadily heading up water. An Oak has fallen into the lake but new branches still rise from the old trunk. We stop at the village of Coniston, just outside the brewery. The heady scent of malting fills the air. (In fact I do not get to sample any of Coniston Brewery’s wares, although bottled Bluebird is on sale at Morrisons!) There is not much to the village. It relies on its connections to John Ruskin and Donald Campbell – two rather different characters. The first, an author, art and social commentator from a slower age, the second famous for his quest for speed on land and water. It was here at Coniston that Campbell met his demise in Bluebird as he tried to break the world record for speed on water. Fells rise high above the village, grey and imposing with heather and small trees.

Ambleside – The village at the head of Lake Windermere was once a small traditional Cumberland village but is now a tourist honey-pot. It seems every other shop is an outdoor outlet, all selling overpriced walking, camping and climbing gear. Add the cafés and souvenir shops and there's not a lot left.

Thursday 13th July – Cartmel – I arise early and go off with Dill the Dog. Through the village and onto the race course. The sun is already blazing down. A track leads off through meadows full of grass laden with dew. Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and Rabbits are feeding in the lea of a stand of saplings. The track passes an abandoned farm, Seven Acres. It continues towards a conifer plantation. There is the noise of a gate being opened and closed. It is caused by sheep rubbing up against a tubular steel gate. The plantation is dark and quiet. The track emerges again into a stone wall lined roadway. A cock Pheasant clatters noisily up and over the wall. The road runs along the side of a valley of small fields and the occasional farm and house. Up on the hillside is High Bank Side farm. Along the road some way is Low Bank Side farm. There is a rather alert and bouncy looking young dog here so I decide to retrace my steps rather than having Dill the Dog display her usual bad temper with dogs that wish to play. Guess it is all part of her growing old! Back in the conifer something moves out the corner of my eye. I look and there is a Roe Deer bounding through the trees. It stops and we look at each other motionless. I take a quick shot with my camera but am unsure that I have it set correctly. I glance down and back up again and the deer has gone. (In the event, it was too dark in the wood and the shutter speed was too slow resulting in camera shake.)

Wrynose and Hardknott Passes – We were intending to do very little today but I decide that Kay really ought to see Windermeresome real Lakeland scenery. So we head up beside Lake Windermere, which is as blue as it is possible to be, to Ambleside and then take the road west. There are stern warnings about the steepness and narrowness of the road ahead. The road is single track and climbs steeply up to Wrynose Pass. To the south, the Furness Fells rise green and then grey. To the north-west is Scafell Pike, standing at 978 metres. We stop several times to just look at the imposing scenery. In a field is an old, crumbling circular pen made of dry stone walling. A mewing cry echoes from one crag and a Common Buzzard wheels out