June 1998

Tuesday 2nd June – Barnsley Canal – Continuous rain which has been falling all night has made the area somewhat soggy, to say the least. The weather has quietened the morning chorus, just the odd snatches of song. The Pen is still on her nest, shaking water droplets from her head and, rather hopelessly, pushing water off her back with her beak. Walking back along the far side of the canal is a dampening business as the soaking long grass brushes my legs. The little rill is a torrent and the wooden sleeper “bridge” has floated to the middle. Dill the Dog shows that it is not possible to cross the rushing water and stay (relatively) dry. So I just wade across and my boots fill. A bedraggled Bullfinch flies across the waste ground but for me it is head down and plod back home and towels.

Wednesday 3rd June – Barnsley – The Dearne is a rolling, bloated river of mud down its length. I walk up from Monk Bretton Priory. Many of the paths are under water, so my feet are soon wet. There are Bullfinches all along the route feeding on old seeds. At the fishing pond , young Coots are well grown but a Canada Goose brood are ungainly fluff balls on Ostrich legs. Up on the short stretch of canal from Barnsley Main to Harborough Hill Road are several broods of Mallard, including one whose parent is a mixed breed. Her ducklings are on the bank and are all sorts of blotches and stripes. She hisses quietly at me but quacks agitatedly when Dill the Dog comes to investigate. I gathered about one pound of Fairy-ring Champignons.

Friday 5th June – Barnsley Canal – Bright sunshine and the waters have receded. The flying scythes, Swifts, glide overhead. The Hawthorn blossom has gone but creamy bunches of Elderflowers shine against the greenery. Blackberries and Foxgloves are coming into blossom. The meadows shimmer with the purplish bronze flower heads of grasses tremble in the light breeze. Delicate pink flowers adorn the Dog Rose. The reed bed down part of the canal has taken a severe battering from the rain and there is no sign of Reed Warblers – they may have lost to the downpours. A Grey Partridge is flushed from the long grass on the valley bottom. The grassland is dotted yellow with Meadow Buttercups and tinted white by the umbrellas of one of the Carrot family. Further along the canal at another reed choked area, the bed has fared better and a Reed Warbler sings from the midst of the green spears. The Mute pen is still on her nest of decaying reeds. If her eggs are viable they must surely hatch soon. The cob had adopted his own spot in the reeds about 100 metres away where he stands and preens, surrounded by discarded feathers.

Saturday 6th June – Blackburn Meadows – Reed Buntings and Bullfinches perch on the fencing around the pools. Songs from Sky Larks float across the field. A Sedge Warbler scratches away in the distance. A patch of grassland is coloured by yellow Birds-foot Trefoil and Red Clover, with Ox-eye Daisies around the edge. On the banks tall emerald spear leaves of Teasels are already several feet high. Below them is a patch of vivid Purple Loosestrife. There is a patch on the path covered with black slugs. The blood-curdling cry of a Little Grebe echoes through the mist. A Reed Warbler jug jugs from the reeds around another pool whilst Coots and their young pull tasty water weed shoots from below the surface. One young Coot decides it is easier to cry pitifully until its parent brings food to it. A breeding plumaged male Ruddy Duck dives. On the main pool a Mute Swan is gliding across the water surrounded by her five cygnets. Black-headed Gulls sit atop the huge steel sculptures of creatures, half human, half dragonfly that rise out of the water. A gabbling Whitethroat flies across the path.

Sunday 7th June – Sowerby Bridge – On the Calder & Hebble Navigation at Salterhebble Bottom Basin. The canal passes over the River Calder and swings round ninety degrees into a lock and a junction, one way into Sowerby Bridge, the other into Halifax. I take the latter. Unfortunately, the canal has been blocked after a short stretch. The path passes through woodlands where Blackbirds are flying past with beaks full of grubs and worms for their young deep in the undergrowth.

Friday 12th June – Barnsley Canal – At last I can stop fretting. The Mute Swans have four fluffy grey cygnets. I had thought she had been sitting too long and nothing would be produced. Young Moorhens are skulking about the reeds. A family of Greenfinches forages through the Willows. From the reed bed a Little Grebe grumbles and the Cuckoo calls across the valley. Back at the top of Willowbank at least three Cuckoos are flying around the area.

Monday 15th June – Barnsley Canal – Songs still reverberate around Willowbank – Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Robin and Wren. Foxgloves are flowering. By the big hedge is a stand of pure white blooms. Elsewhere the more familiar pink spikes stand four feet high and more. Swifts are low in their search for insects, for it is damp, grey and, for June, cool. There appears to only three Mute cygnets now. (Happily I discover a couple of days later that one must have been hiding, as there are still four). They are on their mother’s back preening and pushing and shoving for position. She glides on serenely. The constant wet weather has turned the tow-path into a quagmire which I slip and slosh along.

Thursday 17th June – Addingham Moorside – High in the moors above Wharfedale. It is still very cool for June and today, somewhat misty. Four wind generators with twin blades sweeping around stand on another hillside. Over the dry stone wall is rough pasturage with lots of sedge. Other fields are clearly better drained and closely cropped by sheep. Behind me outcrops of rock on Addingham High Moor – Windgate Nick, Noon Stone (The Megalithic Portal says “The stone is mentioned in Paul Bennett’s ‘Old Stones of Elmet’ – ... first described in a boundary preambulation as the ‘None’ stone in 1579... may be a representative of sites used for timekeeping;” or, as Smith defines them, as stones ‘over which the noon-day sun appeared.’ ) and the strangely named Swastika Stone (a story yet to be uncovered – I later discover from the same source that the stone has several “Cup and Ring carvings” and a very worn swastika carving). The keening of Curlews sounds all over the moors and several drift past. An occasional Carrion Crow croaks high overhead and Meadow Pipits pipe from the walls. There are few Swifts up here, although earlier there were dozens swooping over a stand of trees in the Aire Valley near Keighley.

Thursday 18th June – Barnsley Canal – A family of Little Grebes is feeding on the canal. I had not realised they had been breeding here, despite the call I heard the other day. As soon as Dill the Dog approaches they wink out instantly by diving and re-emerging in the reed beds. The Mute Swans have built a new nest mound or rather, a nursery mound. The cygnets are asleep on top whilst the parents feed on duck weed.

Saturday 20th June – Carlton Marsh – The loudest sounds on the marsh are the scratchings, whistles and chatterings of a Sedge Warbler. It is singing continuously from a small Willow, its red gape clearly visible. There is little on the water itself, the ubiquitous Coot and that is it. A Cuckoo calls from further down the valley. Other songsters are around the area, including Yellowhammer, Whitethroat, Robin, Blackbird and Willow Warbler. It is humid and the air says “Storm”. Chromium yellow Broom flowers are set against a bank of Ox-eye Daisies. Indeed, flowers are profuse – Mignonette, Clover, Bladder Campion, Blackberry, Trefoil, Knapweed still mainly in black heads awaiting to explode purple.

Monday 22nd June - Barnsley Canal - Singing Whitethroats, Blackcap, Willow Warblers and Reed Warbler. A pair of possibly young Bullfinches fly across the overgrown pit site on Willowbank. A Green Woodpecker cries and rises from bushes beside the canal, its yellow rump brilliant in the morning sun. The Little Grebes have four young which I watch for a while until they catch sight of me and dive away. A small striped brown bird looking very much like a Grasshopper Warbler disappears into the undergrowth. I would have assumed Sedge Warbler here but the eye stripe seemed very muted. However, I would also have expected to have heard a “Gropper” if there was one in the area. It is a bad year for butterflies; if I see one during my morning walks it is a good morning!

The Great North Road – A1M – There is a massive road building project on the A1M with a major route being constructed across from the M1. This has resulted in large banks of disturbed earth and they look like they have been splashed with scarlet paint by the masses of Poppies

Sunday 28th June – Tankersley Parish – A broad bridleway stretches from the hamlet of Harley to the village of Tankersley, passing green fields of wheat or grass. Yellowhammers are calling all along the way. It is bright and sunny, for a change, but a brisk wind assists lurking clouds. An old rule says that a hedge may be aged by counting 30 years for each species of tree or shrub in it. Here there is Ash, Beech and Elder growing in a Hawthorn hedge, but they are all young. Thus the equation may be suspect. I divert onto a footpath following a stream towards the M1 motorway. A Mistle Thrush rasps in the trees and Wood Pigeons soar across the fields. Dog Roses are in bloom, delicately pink to almost white. Beside the motorway is a flock of fifteen or more Mistle Thrushes. Coal Tits pipe from scrappy bushes. Having reached the motorway the footpath disappears and I curse at not bringing along a map. I retrace my steps and find a stile hidden in nettles and brambles. I plough through and end up in a rough pasture with little idea of which way to go. Across the pasture and there is a foot bridge over a culvert – progress! The next field has a herd of heifers, not helpful with Dill the Dog causing much interest. This leads to a bridleway which passes under the motorway and onto a golf course – not a favourite environment with its manicured lawns and bizarrely dressed players. However, there is some interest here – a line of bell pits.

Escaping from the golf course is not easy, there are paths everywhere but which one gets us out! Swallows sweep near trees collecting emerging insects. Eventually a path leads into thick woodland. The hedgerows leading away from the woods over the fields are spotlighted with Elder blossoms. This path comes out at Tankersley, beside the sandstone built church of St Peter. Here the bridleway heads back to Harley. The air is delicately scented by the Dog Roses. Under the motorway again and round a corner is a delightful cottage with roses blooming. A little further on is an imposing dwelling place that looks like it may have been stables. Beside it is a strange ruin of a building of stone and brick, possibly the original manor house. It is simply called The Old Hall on a map. The building is simply bizarre – old windows bricked up with sandstone masonry and brick. On what must have been the upper floor is a huge bricked up old arch. In the brickwork is another large lintel above what looks like either a fireplace or window, also bricked up in different stone. I later discover this was indeed the old manor house of Tankersley Manor built in the 15th century on the site of an earlier building. It was abandoned after being damaged in the Battle of Tankersley Moor in 1643. Daniel Defoe writes (around 1720):-

A Tour Through England and Wales Vol II (Pub J.M. Dent 1928)