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 Cross. 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 some 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 across the fell. The road drops to Cockley Beck then rises even more steeply up to Hardknott Pass. Over the crest of the pass and below is a Roman fort overlooking the glacial valley of Eskdale. The road ran from the fort at Ravenglass across the passes to the forts at Ambleside, Kendal and beyond. The fort may have been called Mediobogdum and was occupied briefly in the 2nd Century during the reign of Hadrian. It was later reoccupied and housed the fourth Cohort of Dalmatians (500 men). One can imagine that men from the Adriatic may not have been overjoyed to have been posted to a lonely mountainside in a notoriously wet region of Britannia. The site was excavated in the 50’s and 60’s and the remains consolidated so that the outlines of the headquarters, granaries and commanding officer’s dwelling all can be seen. Outside the walls, the remains of a bathhouse were uncovered and up the hill was a parade ground.
Cartmel Priory – The Priory Church of St Mary and St Michael is an imposing structure that dominates the village. It was founded around 1189 by William Marshall with the permission of King Henry II. It was an Augustinian community consisting of thirteen monks from Bradenstoke Priory in Wiltshire. The site was a country backwater and as such was not often visited by church officials. Only Archbishop Wickwane of York is known to have made an official visitation in 1281. The Scots raided twice in 1316 and 1322. Building continued throughout the Middle ages; the nave being completed in the middle of the fifteenth century. In the middle of the fourteenth century, the southern end of the domestic buildings collapsed. The land was surrounded by a lake created by retreating glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age. It seems the southern end of the site was unstable ground causing the collapse. In the event, all the southern buildings were removed and re-erected on the northern side. The tower is unique in having its top section set at an angle of 45° to the lower section. During the Dissolution much of the communion plate and vestments were taken as was lead and timber from the domestic buildings. However, the villagers stated that that they had used the church as their parish church since its founding and thus it was allowed to remain. George Preston of Holker began restoration in 1618. There is a magnificent screen around the choir. There had been a small organ in the screen but this was destroyed during the Commonwealth when parliamentarian soldiers and their horses were quartered there. This so outraged the villagers that lead shot was fired at the south-west door, the marks of which can still be seen. In the choir are places for each monk where they stood for services. Seats were provided so that the monks could rest whilst still remaining in a standing position. These are called misericords from the Latin “misericordia” which means “mercy”, which indeed they must have been for the monks who prayed there nine times each day as well as the daily mass. The misericords are carved with wondrous beasts – a unicorns, an elephant, birds and devils. Above the southern entrance to the choir is carved “My soyle hath a desire and longing to enter the courts of the Lord”. Unfortunately, the carver did not plan his spacing well and the last two words are crammed on the end in a tiny space. To the north of the choir is the Piper Choir, one of the oldest parts of the Priory and it retains its original vaulted roof. To the south is the Town Choir possibly so called because it was used by parishioners in mediaeval times. Between the Town Choir and the alter is the tomb of Lord John and Lady Joan Harington, a member of an important local family who died in 1347. In one corner of the finely carved tomb is the figure of an angel peeping around the corner. On one pillar in the nave is a brass plaque in memory of Rowland Briggs of Swallowmire and records:
This charity continues today. Another stone plaque commemorates Jane Kellet of Weltenhow who:
Another finely carved stone plaque records:
On display are four sculptures by Josefina de Vasconcellos.
Wednesday 19th July – Home – There has not been any meaningful rain for several weeks now and the garden is dry as a bone. The grass is turning brown and only frequent use of the hose is keeping the vegetables going. Fortunately there is no hosepipe restrictions here, unlike many southern areas, but the reservoirs are beginning to run low. Swifts are still screaming overhead. Numerous young Blue Tits visit the feeders along with a few Great and Coal Tits. The Broad Bean crop has been a bit disappointing, the plants did not really recover from the long cold spring. However, the peas have done well and French and Runner Beans are looking promising. There has been a splendid crop of cherries but many more are high and out of reach.
Saturday 22nd July – The Old Waggon Road – The air is thick and humid. High wispy but angry cloud fills the sky. The old Waggon Road is a track between Silkstone and Cawthorn Basin along which once ran a rail track carrying coal in horse-drawn wagons from the Silkstone collieries to the Barnsley Canal. Stones with holes to which were fixed the chairs that held the rails are still visible is some places. I head along the road to Furnace Bridge under which flows Silkstone Beck. Here was Barnby Furnace. Ironstone was mined locally and along with wood for charcoal and the beck, it was an ideal place for iron making in the 17th Century. However, the ironstone was exhausted and Darby had developed coke fired furnaces so the furnace was outdated. The American War of Independence and the French Revolution both led to a high demand for cannon balls and the furnace was converted to coke at a cost of £744. But by 1815 the days of the iron industry at Barnby were over. A path runs down beside the beck which runs over a small weir and through stone block lined banks. The bed of the bed is full of stones which must have come from other walls and constructs. A pair of Carrion Crows are disturbed from their taking of the waters and fly off with a grunt. The drought is making itself shown – plants are looking tired and wilting. The fields of grain are golden and the harvesters are in. A Wren pops up to see who is coming down the path and drops back down into the undergrowth. Great Willowherb stands high, its pretty pink flowers defiant against the heat.
Home – Late morning and the storm finally comes. A few cracks of thunder and a torrential downpour. The road is flooded. It soon passes but another storm moves through late afternoon with more welcome rain. By early evening, although it is still very warm, there is a freshness about the air.
Wednesday 26th July – Willowbank – From the landing window at dawn, the sky was red – “Red Sky in the Morning – Shepherd’s Warning” runs the old saying. By six o’ clock the sky was grey with a covering of high cloud, obscuring the sun and making the air slightly cooler. Willowbank paths are dusty and dry. The chorus of bird song is no more, replaced with the harsh guttural cries of Magpie, Jay and from down the valley bottom, Grey Heron. A rabbit scuttles away into the bushes. Ragwort has been stripped of its leaves by Cinnabar Moth caterpillars with their distinctive yellow and black stripes. The Rosebay Willowherb stands tall now, dense patches of pink against the browning brambles.
Saturday 29th July – Earl Sterndale – Another visit to the Quiet Woman pub and camp site. Dave and Joy and Kevin and Heather arrived yesterday but we decided it would be too much of a rush to travel over after Kay got in from work. So we set off to arrive at the camp site by 9:30, set up our tent and start preparing one of our mega-breakfasts. After breakfast, and it is now nearly midday, the other four set off on a ramble over hills and down dales. Kay and I decide to do what was supposed to be a quick and short stroll around the village. It lays along a valley between limestone hills. Most the houses are constructed of the local grey limestone. There is little more than the main street to Earl Sterndale. The church has the dubious distinction of being the only church in Derbyshire to have been bombed in the Second World War! The area contains numerous farms or “granges” which were Middle Age farmsteads owned and worked by monks of Basingwerk Abbey. Next to the camp site is a cottage with a stone lintel over the front door inscribed “1745”. The date is significant in as much as in December 1745, the Young Pretender’s Scots retreated through this area from Derby after the Jacobite Revolution stalled and failed. Next is “The Hall”, a fine large house. The cottages continue for a while and then the road drops down to Aldery Quarry, which would have provided much of the stone for the buildings. A rock climber is ascending the face.
Opposite is High Wheeldon, a pyramidal shaped hill standing at 1342 feet high. It was donated to the National Trust on November 11th 1946, Armistice Day, by F.A. Holmes MA, JP of Buxton “in honoured memory of the men of Derbyshire and Staffordshire who died in Second World War.” We walk up around the side of the hill. Delicate blue Harebells shiver in the light wind. The are lumps and outcrops of the grey limestone everywhere. Thistles and nettles attract a large number of gaudy Peacock butterflies along with some Meadow Browns and Red Admirals. I head up the final steep rise to the summit where there is a triangulation point and the plaque recording Mr Holmes gift to the nation. The view across the Derbyshire Peak District is stunning. A sharp ridge of hills runs off northwards. Below, westwards, are small drystone walled fields and small patches of woodland. To the east, high hills roll away patchworked with walls.
We wander back down the higher road back into Earl Sterndale. We sit outside the pub drinking and eating pork pies with chickens wandering around our feet. The chickens are only slightly concerned about Dill the Dog, who is even less interested in them. Kay takes her off for a short wander around the churchyard whilst I sink more pints of Jennings Dark Mild. It takes me several moments to remember that Dill the Dog is not present and thus it is not her brushing against my legs. It is, of course, a chicken pecking up the pie crumbs that the dog could not be bothered to eat. Suddenly there is a very loud “gobble gobble gobble” right behind and I nearly jump out of my skin. I turn to see three turkeys, two large males and a smaller female, standing there. In the evening we have our usual disgraceful quantity of barbecued food before again sampling more of the Quiet Woman’s ales. It starts raining heavily as we retreat to our tents.
Sunday 30th July – Earl Sterndale – I manage to doze through the cockerel’s loud greeting to the day but when the donkeys start braying I am forced to rise. I head back up to High Wheeldon, this time taking my camera to record the views. Wheatears and Meadow Pipits flit around the outcrops of limestone. After standing for while on the summit, I head down the sharp slope of the hill. Dill the Dog has a great time playing rolypoly in the wet grass. A little way down the hill is what looks like a small semicircle of overgrown wall and the entrance to a cave. A strong iron gate bars the way into the cave. This is Fox Hole Cave. It has been excavated and contained human bone fragments from the early Neolithic, between 3800 and 4500BCE, making them the oldest human finds in Derbyshire. There was also some pottery of Middle or Later Neolithic and Early Bronze Age character. A report and discussion of the site can be found at this site. I continue down the hill, realising that this may be a bit of a mistake as my knees are becoming increasingly painful. However, I reach the quarry and head back up to the village. A large, four-horned Jacob Sheep watches me from a paddock.