Tuesday 1st October – Old Mill, Harborough Hills – A real October morning, very heavy dew and a nip in the air. But the sun soon warms and dries everything. I am surprised when a Hare bounds away from near the path and up the slope towards the football club training grounds. Bindweed climbs over bushes, its white trumpet flowers saluting the morn.
Barnsley Canal – An afternoon stroll in really quite hot sunshine. Numerous Dragonflies are over the water – Red Darters and Blue and Brown Hawkers. One darter rests on a stone next to me as I watch the water. It ignores Dill the Dog, which is not a problem as she fails to see it. Wasps are dropping onto the bubbly mass of water weed to drink. The tow-path is dusty. Seven Grey Herons are in the field over the Dearne with Rooks. The field has been ploughed and farrowed and is as dusty as the path. One heron takes advantage and is laying down, dusting its feathers. I drop off the tow-path into the rough meadow. The masses of thistle heads have attracted a large flock of Goldfinches, which twitter noisily. There is a burned out car in the field and two more that have been fired and pushed into the river by local morons. Apart from this the water is clear as it bubbles over the various artificial obstacles that have been placed here over the years and the natural upturned ridge of harder stone. A rounded seam of coal can be seen in the sandstone that rises above the river on the far bank. Back across the meadow. Here cattle and sheep have kept the grass short and clean. In the middle is an area of marsh with an established reed bed. The path leads through this on a dry track until it meets the stream which flows crystal clear down the valley. Various rocks, planks, bricks and bits of branch form stepping “stones”. Unfortunately, one branch is old and rotten and breaks, dumping my foot in the water. Dill the Dog has no need of such things and frolics in the water, gulping up mouthfuls and coughing loudly.
Wednesday 2nd October – Silkstone Fall – Overnight the first decent amount of rain since early September fell. It is humid in the woods, walking brings only a light perspiration, but it does not evaporate off my clothes and I am soon damp. There are a few fungi around. One of the first I later make a tentative identification as Lepiota castanea, an uncommon and possibly poisonous member of the Lepiota family. It is scaly both on top and around the stem. There are Earth Balls all over the area in large numbers. Although apparently a delicacy in eastern Europe, they are generally considered poisonous here. Larger ones look bloated and yellowing, rather unpleasant in fact. There is a single Blue and Yellow Russula (Russula cyanoxantha), an edible species at last. A number of Stinkhorns rise in the undergrowth, although they are somewhat droopy! I pick up what looks like a largish Puffball, but it seems heavy. When I get it home and cut it in half, it reveals a skin, under which there is a gelatinous layer, then a greenish grey centre with a white garlic clove shaped section. It is a Stinkhorn egg – the “Devil’s Egg”. Over the Barnsley-Penistone railway line and into the old workings. The area is a dense wood of Birch and Oak mainly. The shells of old buildings are crumbling as plant roots crack open the mortar between bricks. Up onto the slag heap. Dill the Dog is on high alert after chasing a Grey Squirrel, and is off again, this time after a young Fox, which disappears without difficulty. The top of heap is covered with Silver Birches and is usually full of Fly Agaric and a few boletus at this time of year, but both are scarce. I find a few Brown Birch Boletus in poor condition. Back down and on the other side of the woods a Sweet Chestnut is beginning to shed its prickly fruiting bodies. However, the chestnuts inside are tiny and immature. There is a different call from the background sound of Tits coming from some firs, it sounds like Crossbill, but I only catch sight of something winging off deeper into the woods. Suddenly Dill the Dog is off again, this time it is two Fox cubs, but she makes a half-hearted chase and they easily slip off into a thicket which probably contains the earth.
Friday 4th October – Silkstone Fall – Overnight rain again encourages me to look again for fungi, but little has come up. A small Beefsteak Fungus grows on a dead root. The colour is like raw steak and is edible but hardly worth bothering about. False Honey Fungus has also appeared, again edible but not worth the effort. Nothing else has come through though – somewhat disappointing.
Tuesday 8th October – Barnsley Canal – A very bright morning. Robins and Mistle Thrushes move around the Hawthorns, the latter rasping loudly before flying off up Willowbank. Male Blackbirds are singing whilst others are chasing around the allotment at the foot of the slope by the canal. A Bullfinch perches at the top of a bush. Linnets move through, twittering. A young Cormorant is on a dead tree in the Loop, drying its wings.
Wednesday 9th October – Barnsley Canal – A different day from yesterday, quite chilly with a brisk wind. Blue Tits, Blackbirds and Robins seem irritable – angry ticks, churrs and mutterings. The Cormorant is again in the dead tree. However, the sun is bright and shine in my eyes on the return leg. In the afternoon, I go down Willowbank. Dill the Dog is bright as a button and bounces around everywhere, rolls in the grass then stops and looks about to see if anyone was watching. A decent foraging flock of Blue and Long-tailed Tits move over the hill from Hawthorn to Hawthorn. Rooks gambol overhead in the wind. The trees are turning, yellows, oranges and browns appearing all over. A few late flowers bloom, commonest being Autumn Hawkbit.
Tuesday 15th October – Barnsley Canal, Old Mill – The autumn winds and rain have arrived. After a very dry September and early part of this month, there has been rain over the weekend and now the first major autumn depression has swept in from the Atlantic. Little is happening along the canal. Leaves are beginning to turn – yellow edges and tips appearing on Birches and Ashes. Tits give an occasional squeak and a grunt from a corvine in the woods below. A Grey Heron rises from the canal bank and then reappears over the valley following another, croaking gutturally. It then swings round and goes back down the canal, landing by the tiny spur that is all that remains of the branch from over the now demolished aqueduct. Unfortunately, it is disturbed again when Dill the Dog and I appear round the corner and it flies off down the valley.
Wednesday 16th October – Grange Lane – A blustery morning. Peter has brought Jasper the monster dog along. Jasper simply uses Dill the Dog as a hurdle, jumping over her with hardly any leg lift necessary. A flock of Redwings rise out from the woods up on the hill and fly off across the valley. This is my first sighting this autumn of these winter visiting thrushes. A Jackdaw caws as it wheels in the wind. A good number of Rooks are also enjoying the updrafts diving and sailing the currents and hassling passing Magpies. There are late Fly Agaric under Silver Birches. A Sparrowhawk sails overhead. A Jay and a Magpie rise from the trees with loud squawks – these two species find it hard to co-exist. Dill the Dog has been knocked over by Jasper several times in the ditch that runs around the hill – she is soaked and loving it!
Saturday 19th October – Old Mill, Fleets Dam – The first serious visit by Jack Frost of autumn. Fortunately, I picked all my outdoor tomatoes and the last of the courgettes yesterday. The frost on the grass sparkles in the bright morning sun. A Robin sings somewhere over the river. There are two overgrown ponds beside the ASDA supermarket, hidden in the willow scrub. This is typical “Willow Carr” environment, wet with willows growing in the muddy edges. It is quite rare now but, at one time, was a common feature of the South Yorkshire landscape. Grey Herons occupy the unused fishing pegs around Fleets Dam lake. One is disturbed and flies off with an angry squawk. Black-headed Gulls cruise around the perimeter of the water looking for scraps. Back near the car park, the River Dearne plunges over an ugly concrete weir (make uglier by rubbish, including an armchair in the water and graffiti all over the walls). Water vapour rises from the bubbling water. A Grey Wagtail calls and bobs from a piece of fallen masonry in the pool beneath the weir. Coming back up to home, the car’s external sensor shows the temperature at zero.
Sunday 20th October – Wey and Godalming Navigations, Surrey – A damp cool morning. I join the canal at Coxes Mill. Coxes Lock was opened in 1653 and is the deepest unmanned lock on the UK canal system. Although it is quite early on a Sunday morning, there is already a boat in the lock. A family of Mute Swans is around the lock gates. Cormorants fly regularly overhead. A few Black-headed Gulls and Coots are on the large feeder lake. There are numerous Mallard, both pure and feral mixtures are on the canal. A Kingfisher flies upstream like an arrow. A Grey Wagtail bobs from side to side of the canal piping as it does. Small fish jump. The canal goes under the road at New Haw Lock. There is a nice Lock Keeper’s cottage, renovated in the 1980s. One the opposite side is a long line of cruisers and canal boats, some not used for some time as evidenced by the coating of green mould all over them. The tow path is lined by large Oaks. One has a small arch at its base made by two roots dividing as they enter the soil. Someone has put a tiny door handle and a notice saying “Home Sweet Home” and placed Oak acorns up around the “door” entrance. A quite enchanting little tableau. Grey Squirrels abound, much to the frustration of Dill the Dog. The canal passes under the grim and noisy M25 motorway. Someone has a small lot here with a garden shed, a sign saying “The Pig Inn – Dogswater Ales ”, a collections of old 70s and 80s Triumph motorcars and lovely clematis and a towering sunflower. Next comes the junction where the Basingstoke Canal heads off, 31 miles to Greywell according to the sign which also indicated 12 miles to Guildford and 16½ miles to Godalming. There is a series of bridges – a corrugated iron box construction carrying power lines, a light wooden footbridge and a steel railway bridge. It is also clearly a good spot for fish as there are anglers lining the bank. On the return leg, the Mute Swans and Canada Geese have moved a long way up the canal. They cruise around where the gardens of large houses meet the water, sometimes with a cruiser docked. Not a poor neighbourhood! Back at Coxes Lock, a Great Crested Grebe has ventured onto the canal.
Thursday 24th October – Ludlow, Shropshire – Ludlow sits upon a hill overlooking the River Teme. Our hotel, the Charlton Arms, over looks the river and the narrow old stone bridge that carries the road from the South. After booking in and a pint, we head up into the town. Each side of the road is lined by old terraced cottages until the town gates. The deep groove is still in place down which the gates slid. Above the gatehouse, the houses are larger with many fine examples of half-timbering. At the top of the hill stands the old Market Hall, where traders still have stalls. Streets wind off in different directions, intersecting each other from odd angles – thankfully, no modern street planning here. We drop over the hill beside the parish church and round the hillside and back up towards the castle. Blue Tits and Great Tits work their way through the trees. We do not go into the castle as we have Dill the Dog with us. Outside the gate stands a cannon captured at Sevastopol in 1853. Down one street stands the Angel, known to been on the site in 1555, but could be older. In 1822, the Aurora made the trip to London in 27 hours, a remarkable feat considering the state of the roads in those days. We have a fine evening in the hotel (which is actually a pub). Six real ales on hand pump and a one-man band playing old 60s music is the way to really relax. And unusually these days, Dill the Dog was made welcome in the bar and lapped up the attention.
Friday 25th October – Ludlow – Plans to do anything today are shelved as rain sheets down. We visit the market in the Castle Square and then a local butcher where we purchase a piece of pork from a rare breed, Berkshire Black pig for Kay’s Sunday dinner. As we cross back up the bridge over the Teme, the water is so deep and fast it covers our shoes. It is a soggy drive home through flooded roads and yet more rain.
Saturday 26th October – Barnsley Canal – There is a strong wind, a precursor for the gales forecast for the weekend, but there is sunshine. The tow-path is muddy with large puddles. A Mute Swan is washing in the canal at the foot of Willowbank. Flocks have Redwings have descended on the area and wheel around excitedly. There are also good numbers of Blackbirds. Wrens tick from either side of the canal. The Loop is flooded. Magpies are mobbing something in a copse beyond the fields on the other side of the river. I glimpse a largish brown bird which disappears again into the trees – possibly an owl. Wood Pigeons are feeding in good numbers on the winter wheat. A pair of Sky Larks climb above the field. A Willow Tits calls nasally from Hawthorns. Beyond the footbridge, a Dog Rose has climbed a Hawthorn and now there is a scarlet cascade of hips down towards the water.