Friday 6th June – Robin Hood’s Bay – As we reach the top of Blue Bank, where the North York Moors drop down towards the valley of the River Esk and the sea, there is a sea mist or “fret”. We can see it hanging over Whitby so we are surprised when we reach the camp site at Fylingthorpe it is warm and mist-free, although grey overhead. The greyness deepens and eventually it starts to rain. A female Blackbird hops around our feet and peers into the tent. She is obviously used to humans and to the possibilities of dropped food. The rest of our group drift in during the early evening. We head into the village of Robin Hood’s Bay. My knee is very painful and the painkillers not only fail to work very well, they also make me feel generally unwell. The Bay Inn is noisy with no music so Kay and I decide on an early retreat back to the tent, whilst the others seek out music. The woods are dark and small moths flutter in our torchlight beam.
Saturday 7th June – Fylingthorpe – Rain and wind has lashed the tent during the night. It quietens around dawn, i.e. three o’clock in the morning, but then the dawn chorus of Blackbirds and Rooks begins. Around midday we head down the path to Robin Hoods Bay. The path crosses several fields where Friesian cows are munching on the lush green grass. Red Campion and white Stitchwort adorn the hedgerows. The dell, Marnur Dale, is cool and green. Marnur Dale Beck flows below in the steep sided valley, whose sides are covered in great swirls of ferns, one of the Dryopteris family of Buckler and Male ferns and the deep green straps of Hart’s Tongues, Asplenium scolopendrium. Trees have fallen across the beck and are naturally rotting – this is an untouched landscape.
Robin Hood’s Bay – The path drops down between tall buildings into the Dock area of the village. The Folk Festival is in full swing here with dancers and musicians playing by the old Coastguard Station. Kay and I wander along the beach until Kay decides to retreat to the long ramp from the cliffs. I head on round the bay. Fulmar Petrels are nesting in small numbers on the soft cliffs. Regularly there is a swishing noise as small rockfalls of soil and stones slithers down the cliffs, occasionally a larger piece of stone falls and bounces across the beach. I keep a sharp lookout as catching one of those across ones ankle would by a mite painful! I find a nice piece of soft shale full of fossilised shells, but it crumbles as I attempt to put in my bag. I have to be satisfied with some photographs and a small pebble with the imprint of a shell in it. We head up the ramp onto the edge of the cliffs. The tide is out and gulls, mainly Herring Gulls, are scattered across the weed covered rocks. A long dog bounds down the beach and stands still looking remarkably like a Lowry dog. Children are searching rock pools with their nets. After fish and chips, we head to the Dolphin where the members of the folk band Flivver are playing in a corner. Dave joins them. The redoubtable Digby explains that their name is local to Flamborough where it means a limpet. After the session ends we head up the The Grosvenor at the top of the hill where another session takes place with musicians from all over Yorkshire. The landlord had said that the session ought to end at 11:30, but actually winds up at 1:30 in the morning.
Sunday 8th June – Fylingthorpe – The sky is blue and the sun is hot, so we decide not to go home but to book another day. The other folk pack up and head back to Barnsley whilst we try to avoid being burned by the sun’s rays. Down the path again to Robin Hood’s Bay
Robin Hood’s Bay – The Dock area is crowded. Women dancers, both Irish style and Morris, in black and yellow outfits perform to a electric folk band. A little later Captain Kipper’s puppet show enthrals the children. We spend some time looking at the sea then descend to the Dolphin for a quiet afternoon of reading and beer.
Thursday 12th June – Home – After a couple of weeks of on-off construction, a new chicken house and run are finished. The house has been made out of an old computer workstation. I head off to Ingbirchworth for some chicken feed, a feeder and drinker. I then ask if they have any idea where to get chickens from – Storr’s Farm is the reply. Near to Thurgoland is a sign for Storr’s Farm, however it is not the farm near the road. A sign points down the track and says “1 mile”. And a good mile on a bumpy track it turns out to be. The farm has a vast area of pens containing all sorts of chicken breeds. Loud bleating comes from a shed, where several goat kids watch me. I ask the man for some chickens, just general purpose hens. He takes me to a shed containing maybe fifty hens, Warrens, a Rhode Island Red cross. They are £6 each so I get four. They are put two to a box and placed in the car. Back off along the track with a gentle clucking coming from behind my seat. Back home I put my hens into the chicken house. They are a bit traumatised by the whole experience and just sit there. After a while one by one they emerge into the run and start pecking at the plants growing within. They are still very nervous – even a Blackbird flying overhead causes them to duck in fright, but eventually they settle down. By evening all the plants and grass in the pen have been levelled. In the late evening, the automatic door to the hen house closes – with the hens on the outside. I manage to raise it again, not easy as it was not designed to access the door. One goes into the hen house but the other three are not having any of it. In the end, I hook the door open and get in the run and push them into the hen house and drop the door again.
Friday 13th June – Home – The hens are still inside the chicken house and show little sign of emerging, so I give them a gentle shoo-out. I fix a piece of wire to the automatic door so I can raise it easily if last night’s performance has to be repeated. The pots of courgette seeds in the greenhouse have sprouted well so they are transplanted into the vegetable patch and covered with squash bottle cloches. Some runner beans were transplanted a few days ago and they now need tying to the stakes to train them up. Some French beans have sprouted and they too go out under cloches.
Tuesday 17th June – Rockley – Up the track past Rockley Abbey Farm. Meadows near the lakes are full of tall grasses. The normal perception of grass is greenness, but here the heads of grass are purple, tan, cream, browns, yellows and indeed some green. The track winds around over the bridge that was damaged by last year’s flooding and on into the caravan park. A look at the 1855 map gives some indication of how much the area has changed. To the south of the caravan park was Rockley Dam, a large lake now a wood; to the north ran the railway to Silkstone Main Colliery. Goldfinches fly up from the closely mown grass, a Chiffchaff calls from the woods. Grey Squirrels bounce across the path. Rising, the track comes to a point where it would have joined the railway – there is no indication of this at all. Indeed, the track, wide enough for a large tractor, is reduced to a narrow path across a cow field and then along the edge of a wheat field. Curlews are calling and briefly appear above the low rolling hills. A Lapwing crosses their path. A Ring-necked Pheasant crouches low and sneaks off down beside the wheat.
The path approaches Stoney Royd. The difference in this area between 1855 and 1894 is quite stunning. In the middle of the 19th century two engine houses stood here and several railway sidings. Beside the tracks were coke ovens. By the end of the century all of this had gone and a pleasant farmhouse, which still is here, had been built. The path leads down beside a pond and willow carr and then rises to a track that leads to the main track between Hood Green and Pilley Bridge. This part of the track was called Bridle Road. I turn south and travel down between hedgerows from which Yellowhammers emerge and bees feed on Dog Rose nectar. The track suddenly ends and the footpath crosses and drops down a sheep field to a marshy area beside Crane Moor Dike, Low Springs. A Grey Heron flies off down beside the trees that line the course of the stream. A bridge crosses the small stream, cool and shady. The path, once called Bridge Road continues through a wood then out onto mown hay fields. It is a long haul up the hill to Hermit Hill and Home Farm. Swallows are gathering mud from a roadside puddle.
Down the road towards Pilley Bridge and then across a field towards woods, Green Springs. The long grass in the meadow are splattered with Cuckoo Spit, the foam protecting Froghopper larvae. Skylarks fly up, possibly from well hidden nests. A column of Rooks circles over the woods. At first the wood is a conifer plantation and then into Birch and Oak woods. All of this is probably now more than fifty years old, indicating that the woods shown on the maps were managed during the 20th century. A path across a cow field brings me back to where the railway once joined the path. I cross the path and head up into Broom Royd Wood. A path enters the Stainborough Park estate. The open field was once part of Broom Royd Wood but was felled in the 20th century for timber and then open cast mined. Hundreds of trees have been replanted over the past year to restore the wood. The path detours through the original early 18th century wood, full of rhododendrons and Yews. It emerges near a ride that leads to the Duke of Argyll Monument, commissioned by William, 2nd Earl of Strafford in memory of his father-in-law, John Campbell, Duke of Argyll. It is in the form of a Corinthian column mounted on a square pedestal on which is inscribed:
The column capitals are leaves and on top a statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of Wisdom, whom the Greeks called Athena. Greek tradition states she was the favourite daughter of Zeus, and is alleged to have sprung from Zeus’s head fully grown and dressed in a suit of armour. 12 octagonal bollards which would have held a chain are arranged around the column, although they are disappearing into the overgrown grass. A bill for £27 12s 6d was presented to the Earl by Joseph Bower dated 3 December and paid on 19 December 1742 – the column being dedicated to Argyll after his death. This included items detailing work on the shaft, base and cap of the memorial and additionally 17s 0d for “working and setting 12 stones round the Collum”. There is no record of the provenance of the statue on top of the column. A small black spider with a cream abdomen scurries across the path. Back down the field and back into the woods. There is a strange tunnel leading into the hillside, guarded by a stout steel barrier.
Friday 20th June – Barnsley Canal – The railway embankment at the bottom of Wilthorpe Park is a pink mass of Red Valerian. Under the bridge and down past Tinkers Pond. Cream dishes of Elderflowers are covering the Elder bushes. A hidden Dunnock is singing. The sonorous song of a Blackbird comes from further down the valley. Dog Roses climb Hawthorn thickets dressing them in pink jewellery. The rough meadows across the valley floor are covered with large drifts of yellow on green, thousands of Buttercups on the verdant grass. The River Dearne flows steadily. A sudden flash of turquoise marks the passage of a Kingfisher. A Blackcap sings in the woods over on the far bank. The river bubbles down weirs whose purpose has long disappeared. Large blocks of worked masonry lie on the river bed – old walls and bridges that have crumbled. A Grey Heron rises from the large marsh in the centre of the valley and flies off. The grass and nettles have grown tall along the footpath between sewage settling ponds. Clouds of pollen rises as I pass, brushing the grass heads. Young Swallows sit on the fence; their parents, Swifts and House Martins sweep across the ponds. A Grey Wagtail disappears under overhanging herbage by the river, then reappears and flies down steam with a short piping call. Over on the bare flanks of the North Gawber pit waste stack, the long grass ripples like water in the wind. Down Swallow Hill Road, where a pony is enjoying a roll in the dust. I head through Lower Barugh and up through Higham to the Engineers for a cheap pint!
Friday 27th June – Home – The past week has been mainly taken up with doing “stuff” at home. The weather has been poor for June, although admittedly without the sort of rain that led to last year’s floods. Midweek some more Elderflowers were gathered and another batch of elderflower cordial made. Plans for a overnight stay in the Derbyshire Peak district was abandoned owing to an inclement weather forecast – setting up the tent in a fairly strong wind and then sitting inside whilst the rain lashes down has a limited appeal. So instead we bought an electric saw. Several trees in the garden have died and are in positions that make getting a bow-saw in nigh impossible. But the electric saw made short work of the first one which was felled this morning. Now have a lot of sawing and shredding to do. The chickens (the “girls” as they are now called) have not yet come into lay, although they are showing all the signs that this should happen very soon. Vegetables seem to be very slow, although as noted above the weather is not helping. A whole row of radishes seems to be refusing to swell out their roots. French and Runner Beans are climbing very slowly. I managed to buy a few tomato plants as some were sown very late and will not be ready to transplant for a couple of weeks yet.
Saturday 28th June – Home – Checked the girls this morning and only three in the run. The other, Ginger, was on one of the nest boxes – excitement! Checked again a little later and she had left the nest box and nothing in it – disappointment! About an hour later, took them some greens and there was a lovely little egg in the middle of the run. Now a hard boiled egg has been placed in the nest box to give a hint where they should lay and anticipation is high now for the next one.