New Year’s Eve

meadowA couple  of days ago our barometer reached 1040 millibars, as high as I ever remember seeing it. Another 25 millibars and it would have gone off the scale. High pressure gives us settled weather, in this case cold days and even colder nights, so the inch of snow we had late on Boxing Day has lingered.

This morning ground frost on a section of pavement that I’d cleared resembled a thin coating of snow.

applesBefore the frost we harvested the last of the Howgate Wonder cookers and used them in apple bakewell tarts and a mini apple pie.

Emley Moor

On Christmas Eve, a coffee stop at Create cafe in the Wakefield One building gave me a brief pause to sketch the skyline to the southwest towards the Emley Moor transmitter.

Squabbling Squirrels


But we did manage one trip further afield before Christmas. On the 17th we made a delivery to our book suppliers before Christmas, zipping down the motorway to Orgreave but coming back via the Peak District.

siskinAt the Riverlife cafe at Bamford in the High Peak, siskin and nuthatch were among the birds coming to the feeders with a couple of squirrels fighting it out for control of the squirrel feeder below. While their fight escalated into a chase, a third squirrel sneaked in and fed in peace. C’est la guerre!

head-butting sheep

There’s more fighting over food as we walk along the lane at Castleton. Two sheep are head-butting each other over the last scraps left in the feed bucket.

lane at Castleton

The Cat and the Rat

cat in the hedgeA neighbour’s cat watches intently through the hawthorn hedge from its vantage point on next door’s concrete coal bunker.

It pounces and chases a brown rat, coming close to catching it. The rat looks healthy enough but it has been behaving strangely, roaming about in the afternoon sunshine, showing little concern for danger. For a while it stopped and was nibbling at the edge of the frosty, still mainly snow-covered lawn. brown ratPerhaps it has eaten poison bait put out by one of our neighbours and it’s now feeling thirsty, which seems to be one of the symptoms of rat poison. Ponds are currently deep frozen so perhaps it was quenching its thirst with ice crystals.

Fan Palm

Fan palmThe fan palms weren’t looking bedraggled after recent heavy frosts. It wasn’t a promising morning for the crazy golf at Pirate Island, Outlet Village, Castleford, where these temperate climate palms have been planted. The attendants were checking out the course, using one of the log raft bridges across the water hazard to break the ice.

After two or three hours in Middle Earth watching the last instalment of The Hobbit, I did a quick sketch of these owls on display by the climbing wall at Xscape. £3 to hold a bird of prey, £2 for a reptiles.

Sunflower Heart Feeders

My thanks to my friend David Stubbs for taking over the camera and filming these visitors to our bird feeders. Most birds dash quickly in and out but the nuthatch seems for confident and stays put for ten seconds or more, giving David more chance to focus on a particular perch.

I recorded a ‘wildtrack’ of ambient sound but the occasional clicking of the feeders and background bird calls didn’t really register. Thinking what kind of music might suit the continuous dipping and diving of visiting birds, I searched the YouTube music catalogue for a jig and came up with Spirited Jig NoMel-Ah 2 Music from the ‘Ah 2’ Filtered Music Catalog, so my thanks to the performers for making that available.

Coxley Quarry

The heavily jointed and irregularly bedded sandstone always looked untrustworthy and a rockfall occurred some twenty-five or thirty years ago. Moss, fern and ash have colonised the jumble of boulders. The patterns of iron staining in one corner of the quarry fascinate me; there’s such a contrast between the iron concretions and the pure white lens of quartz sand. Large pebbles somehow got incorporated into a well-sorted sandbank at the time the sediment was laid down in a river or estuary 300 million years ago.

The graffiti isn’t so ancient.

Leek Soup


The leek bed might be looking neglected and weedy but it’s still productive. Looking down the garden I could see that some of the plants were starting to bolt, starting to send up flowering shoots that are tough and solid.

The garden shades colour that I used for the raised beds is a pretty good match for them.

leeksThese leeks gave us our lunch – two bowls of leek and potato soup – with a bit left over for tomorrow lunch and we stashed four bags of chopped leeks in the freezer, enough for another twelve portions.

Return to Willow Island

It might the shortest day but there’s just time before the light fades to get into the wood. The days will be getting longer from now on so I feel that after a difficult and disrupted autumn there couldn’t be a better time to get back to nature and to creative work. There isn’t time to sit and draw in what’s left of the daylight but, after enjoying the black and white photography challenge last month, I’m keen to push my skills in another direction and have a go at making little movies again.

These still photographs were taken on my FujiFilm FinePix S6800 digital camera, the background sound recorded in one take using my iPad Mini and the whole thing put together in iMovie.

I used the Alon Dictaphone app for the recording. It’s free but the file transfer extension is a £1.69 in app purchase and I felt it was worth another 69 pence to remove the advertising banner which floats annoyingly in the foreground as you’re holding your precious iPad inches above a babbling eddy in the brook!

Links; Alon Dictaphone

Just Visiting

trainerWe’re helping out with a short spell of visiting and I could spend a couple of hours reading or writing or drawing from a photograph but I’d rather not cut myself off entirely from what is going on around me so I do what I usually do; start drawing whatever I can find of interest around me.

As I’ve drawn my hands a couple of times on similar occasions, I go for the only other organic subject that I can find; my feet.

The blurb on the box suggested that these trainers are urbane and understated enough to wear when you’re out for a coffee but with their rugged tread and Goretex lining they’re ready should you suddenly find yourself invited to join an adventurous trek across the moors.

trainerHow could I resist! That fits my demographic perfectly.

Wakefield’s Old Park

  • Stanley Hall.

This walk, which starts and finishes at Wakefield cathedral and passes Pinderfields, the Old Park and the Chantry Chapel. There are a number of Robin Hood connections, including a sculpture of his sparring partner George-a-Green, the Jolly Pinder of Wakefield. On 25 January 1316 the maidservant of Robert Hode, was fined two pence for taking dry wood and green vegetation from the Old Park. This walk must pass very near the scene of the crime!

More about Robert Hode and the early Robin Hood ballads in my Walks in Robin Hood’s Wakefield, available in local bookshops, visitor centres and some farm shops. Also available online, post free in the UK, from Willow Island Editions, price £2.99.

The walk passes the site of St Swithen’s chantry chapel. Walk it while you can because there are plans for a relief road which it is proposed will go through the Old Park, later the site of Parkhill Colliery, linking with the roundabout near Wakefield Hospice at Stanley Hall.

King of the Meadow

Biscuit and friendThis is when it takes so long to get through the Christmas cards, when I start getting tempted to draw cartoons in the neighbours’ cards.

Biscuit is a pony with attitude problems but I’m not sure who would come out on top if there was a contest to see who was King of the Meadow, Biscuit or that bruiser of the black and white cat. He’s the kind of cat you see trotting down the road with a vole in his mouth and he’s been known to bust through a neighbour’s cat-flap and push the resident cats away from their food to eat it himself.