Saturday 3rd June – Wombwell Ings – Rain pours down and the wind drives it into every part of clothing. A flock of Canada and feral geese stand in a large pool of rainwater on the rough meadow. Little else is venturing out.
Home – A pair of Bullfinches are now regular visitors to the bird table. They join the House Sparrows, Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Blackbirds, Gold and Green Finches, Collared Doves and Wood Pigeon. It is interesting to note the difference in feeding. The Sparrows and Doves peck away quickly at the seed. The tits dash in, grab a seed and retreat to the Lilac tree branches above. The Goldfinches and Greenfinches are steady feeders, but the Bullfinches are connoisseurs, rolling each seed in their beaks as they feed with grace and deliberation. The male is particularly gorgeous with his grey back, rich pink undersides and glossy black cap and bib.
Sunday 4th June – Pugneys Country Park – Swifts, Swallows, Sand and House Martins sweep over the Sand pit lake. A pair of Mute Swans has four cygnets, but there is an abandoned nest on pond with half a dozen eggs. Young Coots with red punky heads scrabble for the reeds. Five Little Ringed Plovers fly around the lake.
Wakefield Bridge – The thunderstorms and heavy rain overnight have swollen the River Calder into a roaring torrent. It is a few feet short of the underside of the modern road bridge. Detritus and wood churn in the back currents and more rushes downstream. The islands and spits have vanished. On the other side of the bridge a cabin cruiser has broken its moorings and is saved by the chain of buoys blocking craft from the weir. A large barge has also partially broken loose and lays across the river. Ducks and geese have wisely fetched up onto the bank.
Castleford – The River Aire is similarly huge and roaring. Rubbish and flotsam that has built up in a corner is alive with noisy Starlings, many juveniles, picking insects and other food off the gently bobbing mat. The centre of Castleford is the usual mixture of interesting older buildings, such as the Castleford and Allerton Industrial Society established in 1871 and the old Market Hall and Library built in 1880, through twenties art deco and on to utter monstrosities of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. The road bridge over the Aire was designed in 1805 by Bernard Hartley, surveyor of bridges for West Riding. It was built by his son Jesse in 1808. Jesse Hartley went on to build the Albert Dock complex in Liverpool. Nearby was the Roman fort that gives Castleford its name. In a damp, green corner of the bridge huge fronds of Giant Hogweed are rising above the other foliage.
Saturday 10th June – Broomhill Flash – A bit of a twitch as a local rarity, a Black-necked Grebe has been reported present over recent weeks. The grebe is bobbing on the water, with its golden cheek tufts shining in the sun. A pair Shelduck, feral and Canada Geese and Tufted Duck enjoy the brilliant sunshine. The water is bright blue and the whole scene exudes peace.
Wombwell – The meadow is splashed yellow by buttercups. A Little Grebe calls from the Dearne, a vole plops into it and a Whitethroat warbles above it. There is a breeze here, quite a stiff one out on the open Ings. In the lee of an islet, Shoveler, Mallard, Gadwall and Tufted Duck sleep, watched over by a motionless Grey Heron. A Little Ringed Plover scurries around. Magpies squabble on the edge of a field. A Moorhen dashes for cover under the river bank, white tail feathers bobbing.
Sunday 11th June – Netherwood Country Park – Bright sunshine is menaced by dark clouds. A ditch has vanished under greenery – the purple bells of Comfrey, white tussocks of Cow Parsley, Yellow Flag and rapidly growing Willowherb. By the gently rippling River Dove, Willow Warbler’s cascading calls compete against Blackbird and Chaffinch. A Small Blue feeds on Tufted Vetch. Grasses are splattered with Cuckoo Spit, the protective foam around developing Froghoppers. The trees on the old pit site are young and varied, Oaks, Beech, Willow, Birch, Spruce and Maples. Dill the Dog is in the river, the cold water causing her to cough and splutter. A large Willow creaks in the rising wind. On the pond, Mallard ducklings are almost as large as their mother. Young Coot are various sizes with their white throats and upper breasts, which will be lost in adulthood.
Wednesday 14th June – Barnsley Canal – The high squeaky song of the Dunnock, the jabbering chatter of a Blackcap and the wheeze of a Greenfinch brighten a dill, drizzly morning. The Mute Swans have only a single cygnet, a few days old. The white May blossom has been replaced by creamy pats of Elderflower. Dog Roses flower, some thin ribbons of blossom trailing over bushes, others great mounds of pink. High above is a swirl of Swifts. Bladder Campion, Buttercups, Clover and Woody Nightshade blooms. Teasels grow higher and higher. A Reed Warbler jug-jugs his song from the top of a dead bulrush. The rain becomes heavier but this does not silence a Willow Tit or a Willow Warbler, neither of which have any particular affinity with Willows. A bright male Bullfinch and a Mistle Thrush feed in the meadow on Willowbank. The Mute Swan family have retreated to the nest mound.
Thursday 15th June – Lincolnshire – The building looks like a Roman Gatehouse, but is a barn. Red brick built with two square towers at each end and a linking barn with an undulating roof between them. The barn sits in fields of wheat and peas, surrounded by far less interesting modern constructions.
Brigg – Brown stains on riverside foliage shows the river has fallen by over a foot below recent highs. It is hot and sultry, the air thick and cloying with the scent of Elderflower. House Martins twitter overhead.
Saturday 17th June – Blackburn Meadows – A Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler are singing at full tilt just by the entrance to the reserve. It is 8:30 in the morning and there is already a heat haze across the valley. Industrial units have been built behind the reserve, sadly on a patch of land that regularly held Jack Snipe. Ferham Lake (rather a grand name for the first pond) is quiet – a single Ruddy Duck, Coot, Grey Heron, Lapwing and Rabbit. Swifts and House Martins swoop low over the water, occasionally arching up their wings and scooping up a beakful of water. All the Broom flowers that were so prolific a couple of weeks ago have gone, replaced by seed pods that look like hairy Sugar Peas. A Lacewing, a small insect with large glass like wings, flies through the grasses. Dog Roses are in full bloom, colours ranging from china white to rich pink, all with a sunny yellow centre. The second pond, Holmes Farm Flash, is even quieter. Tufted Vetch (a member of the pea family) is in flower, a linear bunch of little purple trumpets. A few Meadow Cranesbills, large delicate purplish blue flowers of the geranium family grow on the banks of the pond. A Whitethroat is calling, just two notes of its usual song. The air is scented with Elderflower. MacKay’s Lagoon contains a bright male Ruddy Duck and an ululating Little Grebe. Common (or Ribbed) Melilot, another member of the pea family, grows on the hard compacted soil by a gate. Sedge Warblers are so intent on their acoustic battles with each other that they land and churr away within a couple of feet of me. A Little Owl sits on a path-side fence post staring intently, but flies off over the canal at my approach.
Sunday 18th June – Brampton Canal – To the east of Wombwell lays a string of pit villages, the first being Brampton. The old canal has been blocked here eastwards but remains clear to the west. The canal is the Elsecar Branch of the Dearne-Dove canal, opened in December 1798. It is another glorious summer day. The neat gardens of houses backing onto one side of the canal contrasts with the thick growth of Hawthorn, Elder, Oak, Cherry and Ash on the other. Families of Coot feed near the safety of reeds. A few Yellow Flags, beautiful yellow irises, adorn the water’s edge. One lawn has a dozen Mallard sleeping on it, the drakes going into eclipse. Southwards a new link road and industrial estate stands on the site of Cortonwood Colliery, the illogical closure of which triggered Thatcher’s war against the mining industry. Fish are breaking the surface of the water but are too fast to identify. Blossoming flowers include Blackberry Brambles, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Hedge Woundwort, Buttercups, Comfrey, Cow Parsley, Hogweed and extensive Elderflower. A pair of Mute Swans with six cygnets hiss angrily as Dill the Dog passes. Foxgloves flower on a patch of waste ground. In a glade of older Willows, Wrens and a Chiffchaff sing, whilst Great Tits forage. A noisy troupe of Jackdaws flies around the dense tops of a stand of Willows. A large family of Mallard rest on an abandoned Mute Swan nest mound. The canal narrows through an overgrown ruined lock. A huge Willow grows out of the wrecked masonry, indicating the lock and canal have been disused for many a year. The canal is now called the Elsecar Canal. It passes under Smithy Bridge Lane. A Red Admiral butterfly flits around Stinging Nettles. The canal is now a small stream through an undergrowth of Nettles, Himalayan Balsam and Hogweed, with Willows towering above. Another quarter of a mile brings another lock that has been turned into a weir and the canal reappears. It is then blocked off, except for a pair of large pipes, at Tingle Bridge Lane in Hemmingfield. A pub stands beside the bridge, the Elephant and Castle. There is speculation about this name. The pub sign shows an Elephant with a castle (rather than a howdah) on its back. But legend has it that the name is a corruption of the Infanta of Castille. Infanta is princess in Spanish and the possible candidates are Katherine of Aragon, from Castile, who married Henry VIII and Eleanor of Castile, who married Edward I. Another weir lies beyond and the canal proceeds westward. A Garden Warbler sings from the interior of a large Elder. A pair of docks appears on the south side of the tow-path. What looks like a small colliery stands above them. A family of Little Grebe wink out of sight. Electric blue damselfly darts between reeds. There are a greater variety of birds here, Willow Warblers, Whitethroats, Sedge Warblers, Long-tailed Tits and a buzzing Willow Tit. Again, the canal is blocked at Elsecar Canal Basin. Here I turn back. A pair of Grey Partridge watch warily from a mown hay meadow.
Barnsley Canal – Willow Warbler wistful descending song is still oft repeated, along with the occasional Chiffchaff. Blue Damsels fly around the reed beds. Pond Skaters and small black beetles are on and under the water. At the wider, clearer part of the canal, shoals of tadpoles move through the green water. The thumb-like flower of Sweet Flag sticks out of the stem. A smaller damsel fly, the Blue-tailed Damsel, flits by. Delicate blue Water Forget-me-nots flower right at the edge of the reeds. The Mute Swans glide past with their single cygnet.
Monday 19th June – Potteric Carr – Flowers make the scrubland by the car park a canvas of colour – Viper’s Bugloss, St John’s Wort, Lesser Columbine, Wild Mignonette and Sow Thistle. Some racing pigeons are released and circle before establishing their way home.
Saturday 24th June – Elsecar – I pick up the route of the Elsecar Branch of the Dearne and Dove Canal where I finished last week. A short distance along the track a lock still has one set of gates in place. A House Sparrow hops along the top of the gate. Old gates lie rotting in a heap nearby. Sedge Warblers are singing across the scrub on the hillside. The canal finally ends at Elsecar Canal Basin. There is a small barge tied up here, “Dolphin”. Over beyond the canal rises the church, built in the local pale yellow sandstone, but stained black by the years of coal smoke. A single-track railway line runs into Elsecar, the old Wath line. It is no longer used commercially. Beside the railway stands the only surviving Newcomen Beam Engine. Thomas Newcomen designed an atmospheric engine to pump water out of pits. In the 1780s Earl Fitzwilliam had coal pits in Elsecar and Low Wood. These were drained by adits or soughs. By 1790 the Low Wood pit was not being drained properly. Various holes were bored into the outcrop of the Barnsley seam. Michael Hague, the manager of the Elsecar colliery, worked out that a sough from below the seam would drain 145 acres of coal – over 1½ million tons. In 1794 the engine pit was sunk and the Newcomen Beam engine installed. On the far side of the village a path leads round beside a field. An iron gate in the side of the rise of the field is called “The Footrill”, the 1723 entrance to Law Wood Colliery and Elsecar Old Colliery. In Elsecar park, a large concrete block is probably the capped head of a mine shaft. A Grey Wagtail and a Robin are now on the lock gates.
Sunday 25th June – Wetherby – A magnificent six arch sandstone bridge, dating from 1826, spans the River Wharfe. Beside it is a large weir, Weir Garth where there has been a water mill for grinding corn and rape since 1221. The mill was later used a saw mill until it was destroyed by fire in 1944. The river bed is scattered with dressed stone, the remains of older bridges. In 1233, Walter de Gray, Archbishop of York, forgave the sins of those who built the original bridge, which was only 3.5 metres wide and humpbacked. Sandstone bluffs stand above the river, indicating the old course. The river passes under the A1, the Great North Road. Wrens are the main songsters. Flowers include Meadow Cranesbill, Hogweed, Clover, St John’s Wort and Herb Robert. Dill the Dog is in the Wharfe, maybe a tick for her collection of rivers! The river is passing by rough meadows. A great swathe of Ox-eye Daisies creates a slab of white edged with spots of scarlet by Poppies. There are other flowers here. Yellow Rattle, Field Forget-me-nots and on the edge of the meadow, Greater Broomrape, a strange creamy brown parasitic plant with hooded flowers. The meadow becomes coarser, rough grasses, spiky Thistles, Dock and occasional spears of Wild Mignonette. A Blackbird sings from the dead top of an Ash whilst a Chiffchaff calls from the leafy crown below. A Red Admiral flies by, rich reds and chocolate.
Monday 26th June – Barnsley Canal – Overnight rain leaves a fresh, clean scent. The Mute Swans and cygnet are feeding in the reeds. For such large birds they can hide in quite a small patch of Bulrush. Blue-tailed and yellow damsels alight on the blade of a reed. A Wren is singing loudly, almost drowning out Blackcap and Willow Warbler. There is a flash of turquoise as a Kingfisher speeds away.