Saturday 1st September – The Grey Horse – A rather poignant moment when Bill arrives on his own. Dill the Dog greets him and then stands in the middle of the room looking around for her friend Prince. “He’s gone”, says Bill sadly. It takes a few more minutes before she realises the old spaniel is not there and lays down quietly.
Monday 3rd September – Bagger Woods – These woods lay on a hillside near Hood Green to the west of Barnsley. It is cool and quiet wandering own the path between the mixture of broadleaves and softwoods. No bird song in the air, just ticks, wheeps and chirps of tits and warblers. A Wood Pigeon coos then flies off with a crack of its wings.
Green Moor – A village on the ridge between the valleys created by the Don and Little Don rivers. A pair of seats overlooks the valley through which the Don flows. A road runs along the hillside a short distance from the wooded valley floor. Above lies Huthwaite Wood, then Huthwaite Common and on the hilltop is Thurgoland. Just below the seats and the current retaining wall is an older wall which would have lay beside the old track down to California quarry. Sandstone quarries were worked on a large scale in the area. During the 19th century stone paving was transported by sea to London. There was a “Greenmoor” Wharf at Southwark, and some of the stone flags around the Houses of Parliament came from these quarries. Rail replaced the sea route, going from Wortley Station where there was a stone sawmill. Behind me is the Green Moor Church, a Methodist chapel. The road is called Castle View, although I am unclear as to what castle is being referred to, Stainborough Castle seems too far away. Sheep graze the rough pasture below. Up Chapel Lane and past the old Church Hall which is an activity centre for the Boys Brigade. Rooks are worrying a Kestrel over the fields behind the houses lining the road. The lane reaches a T-junction and I turn left along a rough track which has been laid with fine large flags at some stage, but only a few now remain. A footpath leads up the hill beside the cricket field. The drystone walls at each end of the pitch have been painted white. A Pied Wagtail stalks across the grass. A flock of Meadow Pipits, some chasing each other and swirling and swooping in the air, crosses the top of the field.
Towards the summit is the Isle of Skye quarry. This was the first quarry in Green Moor. By the Victorian era it was owned by Booth and Co. The boulders extracted were the largest in the area and had a fine sheen and pale green colour. The quarry was up to sixty feet deep but closed at the end of the 19th century. A good number of rough rectangular slabs still lay in piles around the area. A Painted Lady butterfly is feeding on the masses of purple Heather. At the top of the hill is a toposcope on a stone plinth. The map points out, to the east, the great power stations in East Yorkshire, Ferrybridge, Eggborough and Drax. As usual, York Minster is lost in the haze. To the west, Hunshelf Bank drops steeply down to the steel mill and town of Stocksbridge, then the land rises to the Moors rolling along the skyline, their peaks just gentle rises – West Nab, Cakes of Bread (fifteen foot high tors of gritstone weathered to resemble loaves of bread), Back Tor, Featherbed Moss, Margery Hill (just the highest at 1791 feet), Pike Lowe and Holme Moss. A little, brightly coloured butterfly flits up from the grass, a Small Copper. Along the hill top to the Jubilee fire basket and then back to the cricket field. I sit here a while in the sunshine. The view of the ridge is somewhat marred by mobile telephone masts and electricity pylons. Swallows sweep over the closely mown grass. A large plume of black smoke followed by billowing steam rises in the distance from Royston coking plant. Crane Flies are numerous, clattering into my face. The moon is pale, high in the sky.
Tuesday 4th September – Finkle Street – A lane runs off of the junction for the A616 trunk road and the A629. Rough Lane runs through fields of rough meadow and harvested grain. Large numbers of Wood Pigeons are gleaning the latter. To the north-west is the steep escarpment of Hunshelf Bank and Green Moor where I wandered yesterday. The hedgerows are looking tired, the leaves have lost their shine and brown patches are appearing. The lane rises and then drops down into a valley of rocky fields. A disused quarry stands at the edge of a field of sheep. A small stream, mainly rocky pools, runs through the valley. The road rises again. A flock of over twenty Red-legged Partridge fly up from the edge of a field. The road comes to a T-junction at Moor End Farm. The metalled road ceases and farm tracks take over. Further up the hill across a field is a wood called The Height. Noisy Jays are screeching, hidden in the trees. A Yellowhammer flies over. The northwards track drops down past fields then through a gate onto Gosling Moor. The moor is a hillside with a sparse covering of trees, Oaks and Silver Birch. Large cobbles have been laid in the track, but it is now rough and broken. The track descends to Gosling Moor Farm and Finkle Street. The name “Finkle Street” is quite common and has various explanations. One is that “Finkle” comes from the Old Norse meaning a bend or dog-leg. There is a old Danish word, vincle meaning a corner. A footpath leads eastwards and then south, back over the fields towards Rough Lane. The path passes through a gate into a very marshy area. Dill the Dog makes heavy weather of it and soon gets shiny black legs; I get wet feet.
The path continues across a field of cows. To avoid the cows we follow the edge to a gate, on which there is an owl pellet, and then across to the far side and through a collapsed wall. Again, Dill the Dog struggles over the fallen stones. (It may be added that she is in a foul mood and clearly does not want to be out walking anywhere!) On cow stands and stares at us the whole way, the others continue to graze. The trunk road provides a constant background noise. A Hare disappears behind a wall. Up the field several birds squeak and disappear. They look like large Guinea Fowl, but were probably female Pheasants. I go up to check but they have gone. Some male Ring-necked Pheasants are across in another field. Suddenly a Common Buzzard appears gliding near the road. They are becoming much commoner around here in recent years. Up the field and back into the cow field. Here is a stile of stone steps over the wall. Dill the Dog has to be helped over, a messy job as she is still very muddy. The path becomes very boggy again. Yellow vetches and blue Devilsbit Scabious grow amongst the sedges. Another stile takes the path onto Rough Lane.
Wednesday 5th September – Huddersfield – I have been promising myself a trip on the Penistone-Huddersfield railway line for many a year. So off I go. The train arrives at Barnsley late, but at least it is here unlike the Leeds train that has been cancelled, leaving a lot of grumpy people on the platform. The fare is reasonable in comparison with driving, taking parking costs into account. The problem is that the fare structure cannot accommodate couples or families, except on some special routes, and two or more people paying this level of fare makes the car a more economical (if, obviously less environmentally friendly) option. The train heads out to Penistone past wheat fields that have been mostly harvested now. One field has been ploughed and farrowed. A lot of the journey to Penistone is through woodland, dark and still. After Penistone the line crosses a long viaduct over the River Don and then over the A628. Through a longish tunnel and then the fields near Gunthwaite. There are many deep cuttings and then another very high viaduct over the River Holme and Denby Dale. On past Shepley and Stocksmoor station and into another long tunnel, emerging near Brockholes. The line is single track and the “unused” platform at Brockholes has the old station house, now looking like a private dwelling, but still with a long sign saying “London, Midland and Scottish Railway” on the wall and LYR etched windows. Three more stations, Honley (where on again the “unused” platform there is a closed stairway with the original iron railings, so many having been removed during the Second World War), Berry Brow and Lockwood and the line joins the main Trans-Pennine route at Springwood Junction. Shortly we enter Huddersfield Station. From inside, the station looks like a fairly typical Victorian affair, but leaving the front entrance reveals a far more magnificent vista. The main entrance is a classical style façade designed by James Piggott Pritchard in 1847-8 with a Corinthian portico of the consisting of six columns in width and two in depth. Two smaller entrances in a similar style sit at each end of the main façade, both now leading into pubs. Pevsner regarded the station as “one of the best early railway stations in England.”
On the station forecourt is a large statue of Harold Wilson, former Prime Minister and scion of Huddersfield. Opposite is St George’s Square. In the centre is a circular garden with a circular central wall which looks like it ought to contain a fountain or something. Opposite the station is Lion Buildings, with a large stone lion on the roof, built in 1853. To the right is another imposing building, once building society offices, with Britannia on the top. Opposite this is the George Hotel, built in 1851 on the site of an earlier one built in 1687. It was here in 1895 that Rugby League was born. Past the Lion Building and into the main shopping streets. Many of the imposing Victorian buildings, built in pale sandstone, remain although there are some unfortunate modern interlopers. (Do architects really think steel, concrete and glass edifices are in keeping with Victorian architecture? Or are they just interested in their own egoist designs regardless of their inappropriateness.) There are yards, often with the names of old taverns, behind the shops, many seemingly used just for storage. The Art Gallery has a nice exhibition of Japanese prints from the early 19th century and some modern works.
The parish church of St Peter is surrounded by scaffolding and the tranquillity inside is rather marred by banging and workmen shouting into their mobile telephones. A church has stood here for nearly a millennium. The first was built by Walter de Laci, second son of Ilbert de Laci who, as mentioned before here, was the Norman Lord of a large part of Yorkshire. There is a story that Walter was thrown from his horse in a swampy area between Huddersfield and Halifax and, fearing death, vowed to found a church in Huddersfield if he survived. He did and so founded the church around 1090-1100. There was no church recorded in the Domesday Book of 1085, which states that Oderesfelt was held by Godwin from Ilbert. After the de Lacis fell from grace, the Manor of Huddersfield was given to Hugh de Laval, who gave advowson (patronage and tithe rights) to Nostell Priory. The church was rebuilt in the perpendicular style in 1503-1506. The church was much rebuilt again in the 1830s. There are long arcades and galleries over the aisles and a large pillared canopy over the alter. It is difficult to see the church properly because of the works being undertaken. Outside the walkway is, as typical around the West Riding, laid with gravestones from the early 18th to mid 19th centuries. The outside of the Open Market is a gaudy affair of reds and blues, but the market is closed today. I head back to the station and one of the pubs – The Head of Steam – which has some good ales of which I partake before getting the train home.
Saturday 8th September – North Yorkshire – Sutton Bank – This steep road up onto the North York Moors is slow. It is not clear what is holding up the traffic but it is clear that many drivers are not good at steep hill starts! We reach the top, at 981 feet, with a smell of burning, as in clutch burn, but when we turn into the car park it is clear that a car in front in the source as it is parked with its bonnet open to cool down. We head off over the road to the view point, which has a toposcope (presented by the Automobile Association) displaying the direction to places in the distance across the Vale of York. Chiffchaffs and Dunnocks are singing in the woods behind the steep escarpment. The great cliffs were created when ice sheets advanced during the late Devensian cold stage (c.18,000 - 10,000 BP) filling the Vale of York with ice. When the weather turned warmer, an enormous quantity of meltwater flowed south cutting channels between the edge of the ice and the adjacent hills. Lake Gormire, far below amongst broadleaved woodland is the only natural lake in the National Park, developed in one of these channels. Folk tales and legends of Gormire abound, with horses featuring in many. One tells of a local knight who tricked the Abbot of Rievaulx into lending him his white mare. The mare would not respond to his commands and as Whitestonecliffe loomed closer he heard an unearthly laugh from behind. As he plunged over the cliff into Lake Gormire, his horror was complete as he turned to see the Abbot behind him transformed into the devil! The great white cliff of Roulston Scar lays like a headland sea-cliff further round. Below are large mixed woods, rising up and covering Hood Hill where a single tree rises above all others on its summit. A small aeroplane pulls a glider into view having taken off from the gliding club behind the scar. A plaque has been erected to the memory of Allied aircrew who lost their lives in this area, “not the least the crew of Halifax bomber JD105 10sqn Melbourne which crashed within half a mile of this site May 5th 1943.” “Also in memory of the pilot of an F46 Sabre XD733 92sqn Linton-on-Ouse, September 21st 1954.” These hills, like the Peak and Lake Districts were very dangerous to aircrews in black-out conditions with less reliable altimeters than today. A Green Woodpecker alights on a pine tree but soon drops off down the slope into more trees.
Byland Abbey – The road to Byland Abbey leaves the main road at Tom Smith’s Cross and drops steeply through Wass Moor, an extensive woodland. It passes through the village of Wass, where the pub is the Wombwell Arms, and onto the valley bottom where the ruins of Byland Abbey stand. This abbey was in the Middle Ages one of the great northern monasteries along with Rievaulx and Fountains. The monks were initially a community of the order of Savigny, an early 12th century order that aimed to return to the strict austerity of the Rule of Benedict. In 1128 the Savigniac monks founded an abbey at Furness in Cumbria under the patronage of Stephen, Count of Boulogne, who would eventually succeed to the English throne. In 1134, a new colony under Gerold founded a daughter house at Calder on the west coast of Cumbria. The site proved unsuitable and, as was not uncommon the monks moved again. However, it was 43 years and six moves that they finally established their permanent home in Byland in 1177. By then, the abbot of Savigny had agreed with the Cistercian Bernard of Clairvaux to merge their orders. The site was a marsh but the monks cleared it, creating a number of fish pools which are no longer present and the earliest buildings, the west range had been completed by 1165. The church was not completed until the 1190s. It was now the largest Cistercian church in Britain and one of the earliest in the Gothic style. In 1322, the Scots pillaged the abbey after they had surprised and defeated Edward II at nearby Shaws Moor. The monastery was abandoned in 1538 by order of Henry VIII and stripped of everything of value. In 1540 the site was given to Sir William Pickering and over the next few centuries was passed to the Wotton, Stapylton and Wombwell families before being placed in the hands of the Office of Works in 1921. Much restoration work is under way at present resulting in a lot of scaffolding, but this cannot hide the magnificence of the building. The west front towers above the visitor with three entrances and above the semicircular remains of the frame of a great rose window. A single tower remains. There is a long view down the nave and presbytery and north and south transepts. Many of the 13th century tiled floors are still here. To the south of the nave is a large cloister, one of the largest in England. Beyond are the domestic ranges, chapter house, dormitories and reredorters (latrines). The fire place of the Abbot’s house remains with a fine herring bone pattern tiled fireplace. This building was still standing and used by a farmer until the end of the 18th century. Opposite the entrance is the Abbey Hotel, once a large farm house with ivy covering much of its front and two stone dogs guarding the front entrance. Down the road beside the hotel is a farm where the original abbey gatehouse still arches over the road.
Helmsley – We stop briefly in this lovely little town to buy some lunch. The centre is very crowded with coach trippers, a group who look like they are heading to a wedding or a party, even some locals doing their shopping!
Nawton – One of a pair of villages with Beadlam that straddle the road to Scarborough. We are camping at Cherry Tree Park camp site. Tent set up and it is a cold beer in the sunshine, although slow moving clouds cause sudden temperature drops. The road back to the village is Station Road, and the station is still there with the platform outside a splendid station building, but is now a private dwelling. The track is a sunken lawn. In the centre of the village is a bus shelter which consists of a circular wooden shelter with an Elm tree growing up through the centre. The tree was was planted to celebrate the birth of the third Earl of Feversham and the wooden seat, dedicated to the memory of his half brother, one of Lady Marjorie Beckett’s sons, David Duncombe, who died in a car accident in 1929. The local church, which is in Beadlam, was built in the 19th century and has an unusual weather-boarded bell turret that was built in 1961. The houses are built of a nice pale limestone. I check the local pub which has John Smith’s Cask, not my favourite, but after some fish and chips in the early evening, we discover they also have Theakston’s Dark Mild, a much better brew. An interesting tale regards the local school. When the gentry and the clergy decided to take over Nawton’s parish school for the Church of England from the mainly Methodist working people in the 1890s, they took on more than they bargained for. An account from the time records: “On the Monday morning when it was expected that forcible possession would be taken a crowd of determined men stood guard at the old schoolroom. Some of them carried in their hands things stronger than verbal arguments.” One resident, Arthur Wilson, was even evicted from his cottage by the Earl of Feversham after resisting intimidation over the school, but the villagers won out and the school was saved.
Sunday 9th September – North Yorkshire – Nawton – Tawny Owls have been calling throughout the night. Several times a distant pack of hounds starts barking furiously. The moon is at the very end of its waning cycle, there will be a new moon on Tuesday. Beside it, low in the pre-dawn sky, Venus is brilliant. Just after sunrise, I wander down the lane beyond Station Road with Dill the Dog. She is full of beans this morning, trotting to and fro excitedly (she will pay for it later when she has great difficulty getting up the stairs at home to go to bed). Cawing Rooks pass over in an almost continuous stream. Opposite the entrance to a farm, there is a entrance to a harvested corn field where numerous rats dash for cover as I appear.
Hovingham – A beautiful village some miles to the south of Nawton. It is built around Hovingham Hall, the seat of the Worsley family since 1563; the current resident, Sir Marcus Worsley is the brother of the Duchess of Kent. The Worsleys were from Lancashire and allegedly descended from Elias, a giant who died in the Crusades. Thomas Worsley built the hall in the Palladian style between 1750 and 1770. From the main street, the entrance is through a riding school, a open area where concerts are sometimes held. The main façade faces out across Hovingham Park. The church has an Anglo-Saxon tower, but the rest was rebuilt in 1860. A stream runs through the village and is crossed from the church by a ford and a small footbridge. The scent of roses and lavender fill the morning air.
Kirkham Priory – Lying just south of the A64, York to Scarborough road, this ruined priory stands beside the River Derwent. The site is entered through a late 13th or early 14th century gatehouse. On the face over the arched entrance are carved stone shields of the de Clare, de Roos, Espec, Vaux, Fitz-Ralph, Scrote and de Fortibus families as well as the Arms of England and the figures of George and the Dragon, Christ, St Philip, St Batholomew and David and Goliath. A niche is present for the Crucifixion, but that carving is now missing. Kirkham was founded by Walter l’Espec of Helmsley. The first prior was Espec’s uncle, William, rector of Garton and a canon of Nostell Priory. The founders were Augustians at the time of establishment in 1122 on the site of an earlier late Saxon church. However, Espec became drawn to the Cistercians and founded Rievaulx in 1131. In 1132, Waltheof, stepson of King David of Scotland became the third prior and attempted to convert Kirkham into a Cistercian house. This was rejected by some canons who were offered a new site at Linton on Ouse which would have received all the coloured glass, vestments, plate and books, leaving Kirkham with plain glass and a single bell. This did not happen and the priory remained Augustian. The church was extensively rebuilt in 1170 and some parts again in 1280. The outer buildings, including the infirmary, kitchen, dormitory and refectory are from the late 13th century. The priory survived the first round of monastic closures by Henry VIII in 1536, but was closed in 1538 when the prior and seventeen of its canons signed a deed of surrender in exchange for pensions. Everything of value was stripped from the buildings and the site was sold to Henry Knevett in 1540. It is said that much of the stone from the site was removed to build nearby Howsham Hall. Now there is little but low walls but a few features remain, in particular a tall window at the eastern end, where there would have been a rose window above the altar. The cloister retains a pair of arches on the inside walls of which the traces of painting can still be discerned. A Cherry tree occupies one corner of the cloister. During the Second World War the site was used for training in preparation for the Normandy Landings. A large hole was dug near the ruins to test waterproofing techniques for military vehicles. Both Churchill and the Royal Family visited the site during this period. Meadows run down to the River Derwent, an enchanting view. The railway runs along the valley on the opposite side and there is a staffed signal box and old-style crossing gates, which stop us both ways!
Tuesday 11th September – Wharncliffe – The Trans-Pennine Trail runs along the old Manchester-Sheffield railway line and can be joined near the bottom of Finkle Street Lane. Up onto the bridge and just beyond stands what was Wortley Station, closed in 1955 and now a private dwelling. It has the date 1888 on the front of the building. The track is dry and dusty. I am somewhat saddened that I have had to leave Dill the Dog behind. After a short walk down the canal this morning she made it clear that she was quite happy to sleep on the couch for the rest of the day. It seems strange walking at a brisk pace without having to stop to wait for her to catch up. Most the plants on the verge of the path are brown and dead. A few birds mutter and squeak but there are no songs. The path passes under the Stocksbridge by-pass and starts climbing up into Wharncliffe Woods. The woods were once part of the great Sherwood Forest. Later they became the property of the Wortley family. A Mr. Oliver Heywood of Coley, near Halifax, related that:
Oak and Birch woods cover the hillside. Just a couple of Boletus fungi are present. The path divides with the TPT heading down the valley and my path continues to climb through Wharncliffe Heath, although this was once called Hey Stack Coppy. To one side is a large pool of water. The path is quite badly damaged by the heavy rains in the early summer – the permeable membrane under the hardcore is showing through. There are a lot of Speckled Wood butterflies flitting to and fro. A Great Spotted Woodpecker calls from the trees, which now include a number of Sweet Chestnuts. A large dragonfly zigzags ahead. At last a bird song as a Robin sings sweetly and a Jay screeches. The path passes a dense softwood plantation; last time I was here this was open heath with just small fir saplings a couple of feet high. At Wharncliffe Moor, ahead is a wide open area of moorland containing sheep. My path heads westwards through the trees until it suddenly opens out onto Wharncliffe Crags. The wooded valley lies below the crags of wind and rain carved gritstone. Suddenly there is a bat flitting across the edge of the crag. I understand all British bats are noctural, yet here is one feeding on a hot summer’s morning. It eventually disappears over the woods. The path runs along the top of crag and then across Upper Rock where a path descends into a woodland of fairly young Birch and Oak. Somewhere around here is Dragons Well, but there is little relationship between the paths on the ground and the map, so I fail to locate it. The story of the Wharncliffe Dragon is told in the poem, “The Dragon of Wantley” published in Thomas Percy’s “Reliques of Ancient Poetry” in 1767:
Now, the poem is a satire and the dragon was Sir Francis Wortley, the diocese ecclesiastic who had a disagreement with the parishioners of Wharncliffe regarding how much the parish owed (under the law of “First Fruits”), so the poem makes him a dragon. More of More Hall was a lawyer who brought a suit against Wortley and succeeded, giving the parishioners relief. It is interesting that Mr Heywood’s words regarding Sir Francis’ great grandfather should be similar to this story. Eventually, after following a badly eroded track, the TPT is found again. I stroll back up the path, Plank Gate, in the sunshine until it joins the railway and back to Wortley Station.
Wednesday 12th September – Fleets Dam – The River Dearne is very low, and somewhat malodorous. However, this does not seem to deter a turquoise jewel of a Kingfisher that flashes upstream to a branch under an overhanging bush. The willow carr is green and slimy looking. Fleets Dam is quiet until the Grey Herons are disturbed. There is one atop each of the three water conditioning units and at least three more in bushes or on fishing platforms. Anyone passing sends one flying off with two yelps and a muttering through a closed beak. The new bank between the path and river, erected as a flood defence, is already covered with plant life, mainly a yellow crucifer with some Shepherd’s Purse. A Chiffchaff and Robin sing. There are no hirundines until a sole House Martin passes over. A single Great Crested Grebe dives.
Friday 14th September – Wharncliffe – The Trans-Pennine Trail enters Wharncliffe Woods off of Woodhead Road a little way out of Grenoside. The path drops down through Hague’s Wood, gently curving this way and that. It is windy and overcast. A small example of Beefsteak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica) grows out of an Oak. The fungus is edible, but not worth bothering about. It causes a brown discolouration in the wood called “Brown Oak” which is much prized by furniture makers. The path passes Stead Spring, although most water features are dry after the prolonged period of rainless weather. This year has been quite bizarre weather-wise. A delightful spring followed by the downpours of early summer and widespread flooding and now it has not rained for weeks on end. The path continues to drop and passes Broomhead Spring and Sough Dike, rather more a damp ditch than a stream. There is almost silence in the woods, just the noise of wind in the tree tops and my boots crunching the hardcore path. Occasionally a tit will chirrup and once there is the jip of an unseen Crossbill high overhead. The woods open up at a junction. Mouse Park Gate heads north, south and west paths head around Oughtibridge Hagg and my path heads north-west. The area to the north of the path has been cleared with just a few trees left and much of the ground is covered by two foot high Birch saplings. A black and white cow is munching quietly. Up the path is another junction where a waterfall is marked on the map, and there it is but no water. Another junction further up has a pile of rocks on one side. From them there are extensive views over Todwick and Redmires woods, over the River Don, hidden below and then on to the opposite hillsides, covered by the village of Wharncliffe Side and higher up to farms. I keep heading north-west and the path begins to descend.
A small path heads north-east towards Wharncliffe Crags. The path grows increasingly steep. Through the trees above a stone building can be seen. Finally, pulling on Birch saplings I get up the path and out onto the top of the crags. Wharncliffe Lodge stands on the edge. The lodge was built in the reign of Henry VIII by Sir Thomas Wortley so that, “whereunto he might resort to hear the wild bucks bell.” Interestingly, John Hobson wrote a diary in which he recorded on 31st May 1725: “At Wharncliffe lodge, where they are erecting a new building, within which they bury underground a stone with an inscription now illegible, said to be, Pray for the soul of Sir Richard Wortley, who builded a lodge here in the year 1510.” The problem with this record is that Sir Richard Wortley was not born until 1565! A path runs north along the top of the crags. Here a tree has cracked and the trunk lies over at 90° angle but branches have shot upwards in a row and are covered in leaves. Somewhere below is Dragon’s Well, but I still cannot find the path to it. The one on the map simply is not there, the land is ankle-breaking rocks covered with undergrowth and bracken. So I retreat out over Wharncliffe Chase along the Lodge Road, by Burnt Hill Plantation. Sheep graze the moorland. Swallows are low over the grasses and heather. A Kestrel hovers high above. Just before the road is Chase Lodge where there is a kennel of Basset Hounds, which set up a tumultuous barking, jet black eyes and wagging tails from behind the fence. Along Woodhead Road is an quite breathtaking view across South and East Yorkshire. Hoober Stand and Keppel’s Tower stand out in the landscape. In the misty distance, the great power stations stand. Between the road and the chase is a long drystone wall, blackened with age. It is sad to see that any repairs to the wall are of a far inferior quality of stone laying. Just beyond Hall Head Farm is what looks like a well in the field with large slabs of gritstone capping it.
Sunday 16th September – Home – Tomatoes are ripening and there are finally some courgettes appearing on the only plant that survived the attention of slugs. The Runner Beans are cropping heavily. There is a short shower of rain, the first in weeks and not nearly enough. However, it seems to be enough rain for a frog that starts croaking from the pond. There are windfall apples everywhere. As quick as we collect them up more fall. I am not making cider this year so there is a large pile in the kitchen. No idea what I am going to do with them.
Tuesday 18th September – Deepcar – A somewhat circular wander around this north Sheffield village at the confluence of the Rivers Don and Little Don. The name is simply descriptive – Deep Carr (a wet marshy area). A bridge in Station Road crosses the River Don. A large industrial estate covers much of the area. It ends near the river where the Lowood Working Men’s Club stands in a building of 1891 that has been much extended on the ground floor. Over the bridge and up a footpath that rises steeply through woodland. Much of the area has old buildings – gates, walls, fences etc., fallen into ruin, being submerged into the woods. The path comes to a fenced off railway and sidings – the line that runs to the Stockbridge steelworks. Back down the path is a strange chittering call. I think it is a Grey Squirrel and probably an alarm call as a Sparrowhawk comes into view, circling just above the trees. The peace is then shattered by a helicopter that comes across Wharncliffe and hovers over the woods for some time before moving off; possibly someone checking the numerous electricity lines that criss-cross the area. Back down on the road I head to the main road into Deepcar. A quick look at the Little Don passing under the road and then back up towards the bypass. Just after the railway bridge taking the line to the steelworks, a path heads off. It enters some open rough ground and then descends steeply down to the river. The path runs alongside the low, clear waters of the Don. On the other side is a channel that has walls of natural rock and prepared stone. At one point there is a lipped run-off to the river, crossed by a wooden bridge. A Grey Heron takes off and flies upstream. It seems unusual to see a heron in these deep dark woods. A little further on there is a weir and an old bridge of sleepers on a substantial cast-iron base. On the other side of the river stands a substantial stone wall some fifteen feet high. A path of sorts, rises through twisted tree roots and stones and gouges, products of the summer’s heavy rains. At the top of the slope is a railway bridge. On the other side, a square cobbled track leads up into Wharncliffe Woods. The other direction leads back to the railway sidings and back down to Station Road. The road rises with a long drop to the western side onto old industrial sites, mostly bulldozed. The Station House is a magnificent affair, now a private house with a large cast-iron fence and a barking Alsatian. The station was opened in 1845 and closed in 1959.
Royd – Up the other side of the Deepcar valley is an extensive housing estate spreading out across the hillside. The road goes on up to Bolsterstone, but I stop by the golf course in Townend Road. A public byway, Common Lane runs off across the hillside next to the fairways. Across the valley the grey-brown gritstone of Wharncliffe Crags breaks the green of the woods. The golf course ends and common land takes over – Townend Common. On the skyline are hummocks and hillocks, remains of old mine adits (horizontal mine shafts) and spoil heaps, now covered in heathers and bilberry. The track arrives at Hollin Edge Farm and turns westwards and rises to Hollin Edge Height. The views are stunning, south through the valleys to Sheffield, west to the moors with Pike Low on the horizon, east across the valley to Wharncliffe, Hunshelf and in the gap near Wortley, right across towards East Yorkshire. Meadow Pipits are calling as they cross the hill top, Allman Well Hill. The well is no longer present. The Dragon of Wantley (see above) used to fly across the valley to drink at the well (although why this should be is unclear as there is a well by his den in Wharncliffe). It is said there are three large boulders on the hillside below Townend Common that the dragon dropped. The path continues round the hill to Height Lathe and then drops to More Hall Reservoir below. A large flock of Goldfinches twitters in the garden of Bank House. The path crosses the hillside past a small wood and out into open fields. It then divides around Cote House, although walkers are redirected to the north of the premises. The path leads on to Bolsterstones but my path leads north. Rooks, Carrion Crows and Jackdaws are feeding in the fields. On the summit of the hill, some way off the path is “Walders Low”. A cairn and tall stone marks the site of a barrow, supposedly the burial place of a Saxon chieftain called Walder who gave his name to Waldershelf (shelf being Norse for watchtower) which was the name for the manor that was the seat of local government in these parts until 1861. From here the path drops down across the golf course back to Townsend Road.
Saturday 22nd September – Higham – A short walk down the hill from The Engineer pub. Dill the Dog is plodding and not really interested in going far. Across the valley, humming with the traffic on the M1 motorway, the hills are shaded grey with mist. A Robin sings from a wire and a Great Tit calls a single note. A flock of Linnets and Goldfinches head off over the fields. A Wren hops along a fence, ticking a warning.
Monday 24th September – Barnsley Canal, Old Mill – It has been stormy overnight, strong winds roaring through the trees outside. This morning is wet. The rain is not heavy though as I wander along the tow-path. Long-tailed Tits are squeaking through the willows. Small fish break the water’s surface. The wind is dropping. Gnats float in the air under the shade of a tree.
Barnsley Canal – Down Willowbank in the early afternoon. A Willow Tit buzzes its call very close to me, but is hidden in the dense Hawthorn scrub. Goldfinches flit across the canal, twittering to each other. The local horse keeper has replaced a wire around a post at the old lock with barbed wire which rips my trousers – a typically thoughtless action by one of the less popular residents of these parts! Up the hillside the grass is scattered with Red Clover, yellow Hawksbits, pink-blue Field Scabious and white Yarrow. Small birds, probably Chaffinches and tits are darting in and out of the Hawthorn bushes. At the top of the hill is the railway. Overhead pillows of clouds seem motionless, some luminously white, others ominously dark grey. House Martins are moving over the hill, high in the sky. A train passes sending up a cloud of fluffy Rosebay Willowherb seed in its slipstream. A Kestrel circles, pausing to hover briefly, then circles some more before gliding away, all without a single wing beat. A rasping Mistle Thrush passes travelling north. It is quite high and there must be more wind at that height as it seems to be having quite hard time making progress. The wind picks up at my level and rain is threatening.
Wednesday 26th September – Sprotbrough – I stop on the Melton Road, looking for a site called the “Long Cairn” or “King Hengist Rein”. This is a chambered cairn or burial site. However, it appears to be on private property and there is no access, or even sighting to be had. So I move on down to the lock on the River Don. The track goes past the Boat Inn, formally the Ferryboat Inn, where Walter Scott wrote “Ivanhoe” in 1819. The track enters the local nature reserve at Pot Ridings Wood. The ings are down the hill, between here and the river. Some Mallard and Mute Swans are feeding. The track comes to an end at a field, but another path heads along the field. This opens out into a scrubby area, scattered with pale grey limestone boulders. There is a outcrop of dolomite around here – limestone containing a very high level of magnesium. It is quarried on the other side of the river. A path drops down to Nursery Lane which leads up under the bridge of the disused railway that ran through Sprotbrough station. The passenger line was closed in 1903, but it was still used for freight until 1964. The road joins Cadeby Road and opposite is Scabba Wood. There is a Middle Neolithic Rock Shelter in these woods, but again, the is no access to the site.
Conisbrough – For years I have driven past the shining white tower of Conisbrough Castle and vowed to visit it one day. Today I finally make it. The town of Conisbrough is older than the castle. Its name comes from Cyningesburh – “the defended burgh of the king”, which indicates it was the property of a Saxon king. The church of St Peter was first founded as a wooden building in 540CE. A stone church was built in 740, unusual as stone was still rarely used for buildings. In the porch is a Romano-British relief carving of either the Madonna and Child or St Peter holding the gates of Heaven. Inside the church there are a number of features which show that the nave with its arched walls were once the outside walls before the chancel was enlarged in about 1066 and the side aisles added in the 13th and 14th centuries. There are gouges in the wall where locals would sharpen weapons and implements. Blocked windows are high on the nave wall. In the south aisle is a ornately carved stone which may have been a “tomb chest” (a grave cover) or a memorial. A carving depicts a knight defending a bishop against a dragon. From the 12th century, this may be an very early depiction of George and the Dragon. Beside it is a tomb cover with what is believed to be two Ravens, the symbols of the de Warrens who had the lands after the Conquest. A recess in the wall, an aumbry, held the communion sacraments and adjacent is the piscina where they were washed. Behind the altar are the remains of Jacobean box pews. Above is the eastern window, depicting the Birth, Baptism, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. It was installed as part of the 1886 refurbishment during which the vestry was destroyed, the Lychnascope damaged and its wooden door lost. Rare wall paintings were destroyed and no record kept of the inscriptions. Ancient Pews were also destroyed, as was the stone Altar. A letter in the Times and others described it as “Very bad, what was once dignified, solemn, and most interesting is now vulgar, glaring, and insipid.” There is a very rare example of a window in the chancel, now blocked. In the north aisle is the altar top from the castle chapel, brought here in 1923. In the north aisle wall between the nave is a “hagioscope” or “squint” through which the congregation in this part of the church could see the priest administering sacraments at the altar. Below is what is said to be a copy of a mediaeval piscina. In the outer wall is the tomb of Nicholas Boswell, a church benefactor. There are a number of fine windows, one depicting St Cecilia and St Martha, two 13th century windows rebuilt into the north aisle in 1866, another is said to show Prioress Atwell of Lewes Priory, to whom the church had been given in the early 12th century by William Warenne, the second earl and finally the Emmaus Window, a fine triple window near the tower of two men meeting with Jesus on the road to Emmaus (“Their eyes were opened and they knew him” – Luke 23:31). The pews were carved by Robert Thomson, “The Mouseman of Kilburn” who carved mice on his works.
The castle is built in a stunning white limestone which shines out across the countryside. The first castle here was built around 1070, a typical motte and bailey design of wood by William, the first Earl Warenne. The stone castle was built by the fifth earl, Hamelin Plantagenet, the illegitimate half-brother of Henry II, in around 1180. The cylindrical keep is unique in England, the nearest example being Mortemer, near Dieppe, which was also held by the de Warennes. The stone curtain walls and the building within the bailey were probably built by Hamelin’s son, another William in the early 13th century. The castle was held by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster in 1317 but after he led a rebellion against Edward II, he was executed at Pontefract and the castle became crown property. John de Warenne had the castle back in 1326 but reverted to the crown in 1347. Edward III conferred the estate on his youngest son, Edmund Langley. It passed to Richard Duke of York in 1446, who died in the Battle of Wakefield in 1460 and passed the castle to his son, who became Edward IV in 1461, making it crown property again. It remained crown property but suffered much neglect. Much stonework had fallen by 1537 according to a survey carried out for Henry VIII, who granted the remains to the Carey family who owned it until it was bought by the local council in the 1940s. Some walls remain, the walls of outer ward are gone completely and one section of the bailey wall has fallen down the steep slope. The slope is protected by a substantial fence, good for health and safety but very disfiguring for the view! The footings of the Great Hall, Chapel, Kitchens and the Earl’s Chamber are still present. The centrepiece of the castle is the keep. The entrance is on the second floor, where a drawbridge made attack difficult. A deep hole is in this floor leading down to basements and a well. The first floor was the Lord’s Hall, although much entertaining would have been in the Great Hall which stood in the bailey. A short run of stairs leads to the garderobe (the toilet), a stone recess with a hole and shute leading to the outside of the castle. A grand fireplace on one side would have helped to keep the cold draughts at bay. The next level is the Lord’s Chamber with a chapel, washbasin, fireplace and latrine. The stairs, which have been anticlockwise to this level are now clockwise to the top of the keep. Clockwise stairs means that a swordsman up the stairs can fight a swordsman below him using his right hand, whilst his opponent either has to use his left or move out to the outside of the step and lose the protection on the inner wall. The top has two water cisterns, a bread oven and a shelter. The views are extensive across the Don valley and up and down the course of the river.
Thursday 27th September – Silkstone Fall – A huge, bright Hunter’s Moon lit up the sky last night. Today it is dull and trying to rain. The woods are quiet until a Wren lets rip with a blast of song, before falling silent again. These woods are old, having been here for several centuries. The colliery beyond the railway came in the mid 19th century and has now gone. The paths and streams follow the same routes they did 150 years ago. Some of the big Sweet Chestnuts and Oaks could be that old, the pines and birches will be younger. Pale anaemic looking Earth Balls are scattered over the soil but no edible species of fungi seem to be around. It feels cold. Autumn is truly with us.
Saturday 29th September – Whitkirk – Now a part of Leeds, Whitkirk is a village close to Temple Newsam, a large Jacobean house where Lord Darnley, husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, was born in 1545. It was the seat of the Ingram family until bought by Leeds Council in 1922. The village now spreads over a large area but would have centred on the Church of St Mary. There are rows of pots of dahlias in the church hall and the church itself is being decorated for Harvest Festival. The village is mainly known for being the home of the engineer John Smeaton, who built the third Eddistone lighthouse in 1759 and is buried just behind the main altar. The church is mainly 14th and 15th century, although vicars can be traced back to 1185 and there was probably a church before that. A monument to Edward Ingram, Viscount Irwin is in black and white marble with a finely dressed gentleman and woman in a draped headress and gown at its base. Above the chancel, white marble heads adorn the base of each roof arch. By the main door is a plaque in marble of Lord William Gordon in his kilt. A fine organ is on the end wall with choir stalls beneath. A goodly number of 18th century gravestones stand in the churchyard. The road to Temple Newsam is lined with modern houses, although a few grander buildings survive – the Manor and Coach houses. A long drive heads for the main house with a stone commemorating the Temple Newsam Millennium Woodland, 2000 to one side and extensive playing fields to the other. Off through the fields, well populated with dog walkers. Carrion Crows, Rooks, Magpies and a sole Black-headed Gull stalk the grass. A passageway leads out from the fields in “bungalow land”. Long crescents of bungalows cover the landscape. Too many have sacrificed their front gardens to concrete stands for motor vehicles. Others have pretty floral displays. Most of the street names are a variation on Temple Gate. I wander in curves, steadily moving back towards the main road. The bungalows stop and older property takes over, indicating the proximity of the village centre.