Cuckoo’s Nest Halt

Blacker Wood

Last April, after a winter that had lingered on and on, we were keen to get out as soon as the spring blossom started to appear. A friend, Philippa Coultish, was taking us around her local patch: the valley of Park Gate Dike, northeast of Skelmanthorpe. Because of the ‘Beast from the East’ snowstorms, we were a bit early for the flowers we’d planned to see in Blacker Wood.

Denby Dale Walks

On our way back towards the town, we walked parallel with the Kirklees Light Railway and watched one of the narrow gauge steam trains make a stop up at Cuckoo’s Nest Halt. I’ve yet to take a trip on the railway but hope we can return to walk from station to station alongside the line, then get the train back.

There’s an excellent pack of leaflets, Walking in and around Denby Dale with fourteen walks, centred on Denby Dale, Skelmanthorpe, Clayton West and Emley.


Denby Dale Walkers are Welcome leaflets, available as PDFs.


Drawn from a photograph taken by the Middle Lake, Nostell Priory, April 2018

If Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen was asked to design an aquatic insect, this is what he might come up with. The smoke-tinted wings of the alderfly are folded like a roof and supported by a tracery of veins, in the style of a Tiffany lamp. Despite these stylish wings they don’t venture far from the water’s edge.

The alderfly larva is a predator, using powerful pincer-like jaws to to prey on aquatic insects such as caddis and mayfly larvae.

Evernia Lichen

This tuft of Evernia prunastri, a common grey-green foliose (leaf-like) lichen was growing on a twig at the edge of the copse alongside the Balk at Netherton. Its branching pattern, always dividing into two, reminds me of fronds of seaweed. Evernia means ‘branched’.

The fronds (the branches of thallus, or body of the lichen) are strap-shaped (not cylindrical, as in a similar-looking lichen, Ramalina), usually paler underneath. You’re probably thinking that if this is a lichen where are the spore-producing bodies? They’re rarely seen and reproduction is often via those granules – the soredia – dotted all over the surface, which can eventually break off to form new lichens.

From Twig to Wig

In Lichens, an Illustrated Guide, Frank S Dobson lists the numerous uses that this lichen has been put to: as wadding for shotguns and as powder for wigs; as a flavouring in bread in the Middle East; as a fixative for perfume; and as an antibiotic, although Dobson adds that it has been known to trigger an allergy in woodcutters. Long-tailed tits use it to camouflage their nests.

It is distributed throughout Britain and is very common on twigs, rocks, fences and even on consolidated sand dunes and it can cope with a moderate amount of pollution.

The Stile at Coxley Dam

stile at Coxley Dam
The stile today.

In the spring of 1996, I took my easel to the car park at the bottom of Coxley Lane and painted, in acrylics, a small canvas of this stile. I like the informal way the stile invites you to step over and explore.

As a subject, the variety of simple shapes is appealing to draw. Unlike the more user-friendly metal kissing gate fifty yards along the path that goes up to the right, this homemade stile is something that has grown from the landscape with those two blocks of local sandstone and the self-sown ash tree.

Coxley stile

The ash saplings appear to have grown from the stump of a tree which has been felled. The one in the foreground has grown over the past twenty-two years to engulf a third sandstone block, clearly visible on the right in the original painting.

The Coxley Stile canvas is now in the private collection of an astute and discerning couple (have to say that as they read this blog) in Cumbria.

New Bench

Larch bench

There’s a new bench at Newmillerdam Country Park by the bridge at the top end of the lake.

“Is it home grown?”, I ask the men who’ve assembled it.
“Yes, it was grown here.”
“What sort of timber did you go for?”
“It’s larch: larch lasts longer.”

Newmillerdam, 1973.
Causeway and top end of lake, Newmillerdam, September 1973, Agfacolor slide taken by Richard Brook. The lake is now entirely surrounded by woodland.

The conifers here were planted for use as pit props. Who would have thought at the time they were planted in the 1970s that, by the time they were mature, deep mining and opencast mining would have disappeared from the Wakefield area.

White Shorthorn

White Shorthorn bull

As happens to me with so many farm animals, as soon as I tried to photograph him in a relaxed, natural pose, this White Shorthorn bull immediately stopped what he was doing – grazing – and looked straight at the camera with a suspicious ‘what are you doing?’ expression.

White Shorthorns are a rare breed, well adapted to being out in all weathers and here at Nethergill Farm in Langstrothdale they’re free to roam, either in the fields around the farm or on the open hillside beyond Oughtershaw Beck. They tend to have a daily routine, making their way down from their preferred overnight quarters towards the beck during the morning.

White Shorthorn Bull

Along with some light grazing by a limited number of sheep, the White Shorthorns act as landscape managers here, rather like the Longhorns on the Knepp Wildland Project in West Sussex.

Wildlife projects at Nethergill include managing the meadows to encourage wild flowers, the woodland to encourage red squirrels and the beck for fish, insects, birds and the occasional visit by an otter.


Chris & Fiona Clark run the award-winning Eco-Farm at Nethergill but the bull belongs to a farmer friend of theirs in Cumbria – Gordon
“Gordon takes our calves when old enough,” Fiona tells me, “and we use his mature bulls to cosy up with our girls. 
‘Trump’ is the new kid on the block, 2 years old. Probably weighs 700kg approx. 
The ladies rule at Nethergill he sidles up to each female over several weeks. 
His technique obviously worked as all bar 1 are in calf due this Summer.” 


Nethergill Eco-Farm and Self Catering Accommodation in the Yorkshire Dales

Knepp Wildlife Project

Billy Goat

billy goat

This billy goat at Oughtershaw in Langstrothdale, photographed in September, had something that he wanted to tell us, bleating away urgently and even standing up on his hing legs, leaning on the drystone wall, so that he could get a better look at us. I went over to the gate and he soon stuck his head through. With a little gentle help from me, he was able to extricate himself but I think that he would have been all right on its own because it’s probably something that he’s in the habit of doing: his horns have been cut back to just the right length for him to be able to free himself with a tilt of his head.

I’ve used flat colour beneath the pen and ink layer in this iPad drawing, drawn in Clip Studio Paint.

goat and gate

Spotted Redshanks

Spotted Redshanks

I drew these spotted redshanks for the cover of The Aire Valley Wetlands, compiled and published by Richard L. Brook and the Wakefield Naturalists’ Society in 1976. I’d originally drawn them for a much-delayed 1973 Bird Report, to show autumn migrants at Horbury Wyke but Richard retained the drawing because of the Wyke’s remarkable likeness to Mickletown Ings, which he considered a key wetland in the Aire Valley.

Aire Valley Wetlands, 1976

Richard and I had recorded four spotted redshanks at the Wyke between the 14th and 18th September, 1973. This was Yorkshire’s only inland record of more than two together during the year, which saw an exceptionally good autumn passage for this wader, although Richard suspected that increased coverage might account for this, with reports coming in from Wintersett Reservoir, and from the sewage farms at Stanley, Knostrop and Heckmondwike.

Also shown are three ruffs in autumn plumage, the male still displaying, and a curlew sandpiper which, at that time at least, had not been recorded at the Wyke.

The original cover also included, in flight, two redshanks (with white wing-bars) and one spotted redshank (trailing legs).

My illustration was in pen and ink only but I’ve added colour in Clip Studio Paint on the iPad because I’m using the drawing in my Wild Yorkshire nature diary for the March edition of the Dalesman.

Going with the Grain : a Black & White Challenge

oak boughs

A challenge for our New Year’s morning walk; we’ve set our cameras to black and white. The ‘Art Filter’ on my Olympus E-M10II also mimics the grain of 35mm film, so this takes me back to my art college days when we’d process the film and make 10 x 8 inch prints of the more successful images.

Working with a digital camera has the advantage that you get to see the subject in black and white in the viewfinder, so you’re more aware of tonal values as you compose your shot. The mossy boughs of this oak in Coxley Wood look suitably Tolkienesque in colour but grainy monochrome gives a starker, documentary feel to the image.

These ivy stems climbing a willow by the beck that emerges at the foot of the Balk in Netherton also benefit from black and white which emphasises the writhing lines. I wonder if I’ll be able to resist turning them into an iPad drawing? It would be lovely to draw in digital pen (or ordinary pen for that matter).

We could have just gone out with our cameras set to colour and we’d have had more control over the transfer to black and white using Photoshop but I don’t think that we’d have been looking for subjects in the same way.

cement mixer

This vintage cement mixer at the newly reconstructed Coxley Mill Engine House is exactly the kind of subject that used to attract me when we were sent out with a Pentax – my favourite camera at the time – on the intensive three-week photography course at the Royal College of Art. Even so, I decided to crop the photographs that I took this morning in a square format, which is taking me back to my first ever camera, an Ilford Sprite – I still remember that it cost 27 shillings and sixpence – which took 127mm roll film with a square format.

Once again this subject, a much-used cement mixer, works well in grainy black and white, as it brings out the rusty, crusty textures.

And naturally, finding myself reverting to retro mode, I couldn’t resist a neighbour’s Volkswagen Beetle.


Drawn at the dog-friendly Lakeside Cafe, Newmillerdam

Harley is the kind of dog, or rather hound, that I’d expect to see in a Breughel painting. If I had a hound like Harley, I’d be regularly pausing to draw him as his wayward curls are the perfect match for my equally wayward drawing.

He’s a labrador/poodle cross whose unusual colouring comes from his chocolate labrador mother and merle poodle dad. Merle refers to the mottled patchwork of his markings. He’s not quite as efficient as a poodle for not shedding hairs but at least they’re not the fine hairs that you’d get from a labrador.

A year old, he would make a good working dog as he can spend the entire day roaming around the Dales without tiring.