3.10 p.m., 45°F, 7ºC; A little black fly visits the tiny flowers dotted with yellow stamens of the golden saxifrage, growing on the bank of the beck in the wood. In Plant and Planet, Anthony Huxley writes that golden saxifrage is also pollinated by springtails. Springtails feed amongst the leaf litter and need humid conditions.
It’s not obvious from my drawing, but, when I went back and checked, I found that this is the opposite-leaved golden saxifrage (there’s also an alternate-leaved species), Chrysoslenium oppositifolium, a common native plant of wet, acid soils in habitats such as woodland flushes, springs and stream sides.
The golden saxifrage is dotted along the waters edge like dapples of sunlight in this rare un-trampled corner of the wood, alongside bramble, nettle, lesser celandine and bluebell (not yet in flower) which spread further onto the banking amongst holly, hazel and hawthorn.
Blackbird and robin are singing, a pair of wrens perch on a log and flit off into the undergrowth. There’s a clatter of wings in the top of an ivy-covered alder as one wood pigeon harasses another.
On our morning errands, we take a break at Starbuck’s, Calder Park, next to junction 39 of the M1 motorway. We’re on the verge of spring but in the view from our table the only area of green is winter wheat on the far side of the Calder valley at Lupset.
Black-headed gulls, now with neat chocolate brown masks, flap and glide in random search mode above the car park. A town pigeon zooms off on more urgent business.
We like to walk the full circuit of the medieval city walls of York when the daffodils are out and today we found the perfect latte (and orange carrot cake) stop half way around at Gatehouse Coffee, Walmgate Bar. Two of the windows in the upper room are medieval style cross-shaped arrow slits but this later leaded casement window looks out onto the impressive barbican, a pre-gatehouse obstacle that any attacker would have to negotiate if they were determined to storm Walmgate Bar.
Kings & queens, knights and bishops, have entered York through the four main medieval ‘bars’ or gatehouses in the walls of York and they’re still doing battle today as a couple finish a tense chess game at the table by the window.
‘I could have taken your rook,’ the woman suggests.
‘You could have taken the rook, but you’d still have lost the game!’ the man retorts.
An onlooker, a woman who has been reclining on a bench in the corner, walks over to inspect the board:
‘If you don’t mind me saying, what I would have done is . . . ‘
Luckily the inquest on the game doesn’t escalate and the couple leave, still the best of friends.
On our outward train journey from Leeds the trees are still bare but crows are building. Gorse is in blossom on a south-facing rocky embankment in Leeds.
On the return journey at four o’clock a little to the east of Church Fenton, I spot a roe deer on farmland close to a belt of trees. It’s years, probably ten or fifteen years, since I’ve seen one.
11.20 a.m, mid-height stratus, cool breeze: I’m reminded of the piece of childhood writing that I re-read the other day (Blue Remembered Hills):
‘I found a dry bog plant and a stone with water trickling down the middle and green on the stone around it’
That was when I was aged nine and here I am, over half a century later, still fascinated by the plants and rocks of millstone grit moorland. No wonder I feel as if I’ve come back down to earth every time that we get out here.
I add colour using watercolour pencils but, once again, I’ve forgotten to bring my water-brush so I dab it with a finger moistened in a puddle on the moorland track.
Giant Club Moss Fossil
I draw the club moss fossil in the comfort of the Bank View Cafe at the end of the walk. I’ve spotted a few impressions of Carboniferous plants in the millstone grit blocks that make up some stretches of the path at Langsett and someone has brought together a small selection of plant fossils on the windowsill in the cafe. Shouldn’t every cafe should have a collection of local fossils, rocks and minerals?
11.10 a.m., 49ºF, 9ºC, Wakefield Cathedral; A flock of town pigeons circles and chacking jackdaws return to the belfry ia the louvred shutters, unperturbed by the presence of a peregrine preening on a crocket, halfway up the north-east side of the spire.
It’s wonderful to be able to sit on a bench in the precinct and sketch a peregrine. When I started birdwatching in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the first peregrines that I saw were in a remote glen in Scotland and on the far south-west corner of Wales, on the Pembrokeshire coast.
Over much of the country they had been wiped out through partly through persecution but probably more because of pesticide residues in their prey species, which caused a thinning of the shells of their eggs.
2.30 p.m., overcast, merest hint of drizzle, 51ºF, 11ºC: Frog activity has started again in the pond. I counted seven but I guess there are ten in all, hidden in corners.
In the branches of the crab apple a greenfinch gives its nasal intake of breath through clenched teeth call – ‘Jeeeez!’
Blue tits continue to take an interest in the nest-box. Two female blackbirds fight it out by the shed. A male hops in between the two of them, as if to say ‘now cool it down.’
We two frogs together clinging
There are two frogs at my feet, one clinging to the other at the edge of the pond. I’m relieved to see the elegantly wafting tail of a male smooth newt in the depths below. I did wonder whether the female blackbird that developed the knack of catching them last year had eliminated them altogether.
I cleared overhanging plants and a lot of the pondweed a month ago so if the same female returns this year, she won’t be able to perch on so much emergent vegetation. I’ve left a big clump of pondweed in the deepest section so there’s plenty of room for the newts to hide.
4.25 p.m., 40ºF, 5ºC: I find peonies more interesting to draw when the buds are opening up than when they open up into frothy flower-heads, which in our garden often get battered down by summer rain.
There was a dispute over the patio nest box this afternoon: two blue tits looked on anxiously from the clothes line as a female sparrow perched on the front of the box taking a good look in the nest-hole. Sparrows and blue tits took an interest in the box last year but it was finally occupied by red-tailed bumblebees. These birds had better stake their claim soon.
The mixed pack of Wildlife Haven bulbs that we put in a shady, clayey north-east facing bed at the front of the house last autumn are doing well. I’ll put some more elsewhere in the garden next autumn.
The crocuses Cream Beauty and Ruby Giant are in flower but not open on this cool afternoon (39ºF, 4ºC).
Winter aconites are starting to show and we’re curious to see the aliums and the eranthis also included in this selection.
I prefer the miniature daffodils to the full size version in this bed. The clumps of large daffodils usually end up sprawling over the path, weighed down after rain.
Link:Verve and Blooma who produced the collection of Wildlife Haven bulbs for pollinators (which were stocked at B&Q last autumn)
Driving over the bridge at Torside Reservoir brought back memories of my first impressions of hill country.
One Sunday in February 1961 we drove over Holme Moss and down into Longdendale, alongside the reservoir to visit my grandad who was in a nursing home in Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire (now Greater Manchester).
In my drawing, I rearranged the landscape to tell a story; in reality the dam is a mile to the west of the bridge. I like those little details: two hikers, a figure throwing a ball for a dog and a train trundling along the Sheffield to Manchester line, which ran through the Woodhead Tunnel. Continue reading “Blue Remembered Hills”
Torside Reservoir, Woodhead, Longdendale, from the road to Holme Moss. Yesterday in his budget George Osborne suggested a new Sheffield to Manchester route via an eighteen mile long tunnel. On a day like today, I’d prefer to stick with the old route.
Woodhead is a scattered settlement on the A628 Sheffield to Manchester in the Peak District National Park, Derbyshire.