Horbury Bridge, May Day Bank Holiday Monday, 9.30 a.m.; a heron gets up from the edge of the old weir and flies downstream. The sober grey livery, black wing-tips and ‘wing light’ white patches on the leading edge of the wings give it the appearance of an RAF transport plane. The ‘black goggles’ eye-stripe makes it look determined. Will it fly over the bridge or under the arch?
It veers towards the arch on the Horbury side and disappears beneath. Then we realise why; a cormorant appears and flies off up the river. The pool below the weir is evidently private fishing.
Looking down on the action from such close quarters, we get a better view of a cormorant than any we had in Scarborough last week.
Heron and cormorant were birds from another world in my school days; spectacular images in the Observer’s Book of Birds in romantic, rugged settings.
The grass on the Onward Christian Soldiers memorial stone green at Horbury Bridge has been allowed to grow as the daffodils fade away and now the dandelions are in flower. A single fasciated dandelion is growing behind the bench.
Fasciation occurs when the the apical meristem (growing tip) of a plant becomes elongated instead of growing as a single point. This can be a genetic or hormonal abnormality but it can also be caused by a fungus, bacteria or virus. Alternatively it could be a reaction to something in the plant’s environment.
The dandelion on the left is growing from a crack between concrete paviers at the edge of our driveway. I decided that I’d enjoy drawing it before weeding it out. This is the first proper drawing that I’ve done with my new Lamy Safari fountain pen. It’s giving me a similar result to a dip pen and Indian ink but it’s much more convenient.
Some memories of Ardsley Reservoir, north-east of Wakefield, from Brian Asquith, a reader of my booklet ‘Walks in the Rhubarb Triangle’;
From 1938 – 1947 my mother and father ran Thirlmere Stores, at the entrance to Thirlmere Drive (now a private house). From my bedroom window I looked out across what we called the Red Wood (you call it Westerton Wood) to the reservoir. During the war trees were felled in the wood and strung across the reservoir to prevent seaplanes landing there.
In the wood was a mine shaft with a wall around 10/12 feet high and we used to lob stones down it and they made a loud noise as they descended the shaft. The larger the stone the louder the noise. Apparently the shaft was sunk around the same time that the reservoir was constructed and the owners were not allowed to tunnel under the reservoir. This apparently ended in a court case which eventually went to the House of Lords. The mine owners lost and the shaft was never used.
There were several ponds in the area, all gone now with the building of so many houses, where we caught sticklebacks. I seem to remember some stringy looking spawn with black hyphens in the middle rather than the spherical black dots of frogspawn which we took to be newt spawn. Later on I think we found it to be toad spawn.
One of the ponds was what we called the Jowett Pond, in Haigh Moor Road, near the entrance to the reservoir but on a map I have, dated 1938, it is shown as Jude’s Pond. Around the reservoir was a ditch where we used to find crested newts but I don’t know if they are still there. We had to climb over the wall surreptitiously as the reservoir was not open to the public in those days.
No doubt you know about Lee Gap Fair, which was a horse fair held at Upper Green, (the western end of Westerton Road, which started with a Royal Charter, in the 12th century and was still going when I was a boy.
The fields it was held in were built over many years ago.
The Rhubarb Asquiths
I asked Brian if he was related to the rhubarb-growing Asquith family, or to the prime-minister of a century ago, H H Asquith;
Sorry I am not from a rhubarb family (we used to call rhubarb “tusky” – I don’t know if that is a West Ardsley word or a Yorkshire word). My grandparents worked in the pits. My grandfather Asquith was a miner at Topcliffe pit (Tingley) in, I think, the 1900 census but in the next one for 1910 he was a screen operator, which usually meant you weren’t fit to go down the pit. My mother’s father was also a miner.
My father worked at Armitages Brick Works at Howley Park. I don’t think I am related to HH although, if asked, I usually say that I was born in the same town as him but he was born in the big house, which is now a furniture shop (probably a bit of poetic license), whilst I was born in a terrace house, near Morley park, which is still a terrace house near Morley park.
A grey squirrel approaches the bird feeders but I rattle open the patio doors and send him away. The problem is that our bird feeders aren’t squirrel-proof and we’ve had the plastic perches and seed-hoppers nibbled away in the past. Time to grease the pole, I’m afraid. I don’t like doing it but I’ve yet to come up with a better solution.
The leaping squirrel is another rough from my children’s picture book Deep in the Wood. I was trying to see the world from a squirrel’s point of view. What would it be like to be up there leaping with the squirrel?
You can see where I’ve had to adjust the head, sticking on a new version. The darker lines on both these drawings show where they were traced down onto watercolour paper for the final artwork. The squirrel with the nut was an early version of the cover. We didn’t use it because it looked as if the book was just about squirrels. A new version of the cover featured all the animals that appear in the book.
There are patches and small drifts of wood sorrel alongside the path through the plantation alongside the reservoir at Langsett. On a tree-stump there are discarded scales and the nibbled core of a pine cone, left there by a squirrel.
We hear our first willow warbler singing as well as a resident wren.
A mallard duck is accompanied by ten ducklings and followed by a second adult female. She gathers her dispersed brood from our shore of the reservoir, where they’re foraging for insects or plant material on the surface of the water and they follow her in single file towards the far shore.
Red grouse are calling on the moor and perching, as they do on rocks and broken walls.
There’s a sandpiper feeding at the water’s edge where the little river enters the reservoir on the southern shore and there more sandpipers on the stone embankment at the dam head.
The Mist in the Mirror
Only a brief chance to draw the ornate balcony of Matcham’s Opera House in Wakefield before the curtain goes up on Susan Hill’s ghost story The Mist in the Mirror.
You might think that the teapot on the mantlepiece is part of the set but I drew this when we went back for coffee at Richard and Carole’s after the show.
Once again these are drawn with my new Lamy Safari pen.