The House at Hoylandswaine

I FOUND this drawing pasted inside the front cover of a secondhand book. You wouldn’t have got that if you’d been downloading an e-book. It’s dated 8 May 1922, a Monday, and it’s apparently by a C A Clifford. The postman must have knocked on the door of this house on that Monday morning as Clifford records that he (possibly she?) received the book by post from publishers and that he paid 8 shillings and sixpence (42.5 pence but equivalent to about £9 in value today).

He left his mark on the book, stamping and writing his name and address in it seven times, in the front, back and middle. He gives his address as ‘Hoylandswaine, Nr. Penistone, Nr Sheffield’. I’d like to go there to see if I can identify the house.

I can tell you a little more about Hoylandswaine as the book is Place-Names of South-West Yorkshire, by Armitage Goodall, M.A., late scholar of Queens’ College, published by the Cambridge University Press in 1914.

Place-names aren’t always what they seem, he tells us, for instance, you might guess that Armitage Bridge near Huddersfield gets its name from one of the author’s namesakes, the Armitage family who have long been associated with the area. In fact the family probably owe their name to the place; there was a Hermitage here. In a charter of 1212, the Normans refer to it as ‘Heremitagie que jacet juxta Caldwenedene brook’, the hermitage which lies beside the Caldwenedene brook’. The local people soon dropped the ‘h’ from this Old French word, and it appears as ‘ermitage’ in a deed of 1352.

Hoylandswaine was, he suggests, the Viking Sveinn’s  piece of ‘high land’. It is recorded as Holande in the Domesday Book, which in the local dialect soon became Hoyland.

I find these place-names fascinating as I can often relate them to a landscape I know. It’s as if our Viking, Anglo-Saxon, Norman, Celtic and Roman predecessors are still there, evoked in the names we use every day.

Whistle and I’ll Come to You

This feeling of a historical presence in the landscape is a feature of M R James’s short stories, published as Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. In The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral the spirits dwell in ancient timbers, in Whistle and I’ll Come to You it’s a bone flute that triggers the supernatural events. One of my favourites involves a curious etching of an ancient house that alarmingly shows signs of life. In fact, can’t you see a face at the gable end window of The House at Hoylandswaine?! Those lace curtains were closed a moment ago . . . weren’t they?

It doesn’t surprise me that the leading member of the Editorial Committee of the Cambridge Archaeological and Ethnological Series, who published this Place-Names book, dealing as it does with a species of ‘ghost’ in the landscape, was M R James himself, Litt.D., F.B.A. and Provost of King’s College.


Meadow Buttercup

THIS Meadow Buttercup, Ranunculus acris, has grown to about a foot tall with flowers three-quarters of inch across in the week or two since we last mowed the lawn. Ranunculus, the Latin name for the buttercup, comes from the Latin Rana, for frog, as this genus of plants grows in damp places.

In preparation for planting our tomatoes, I’ve been spring-cleaning the greenhouse. Below the staging, behind the plastic bags of compost and grit, as I swept up the winter’s debris, I disturbed the greenhouse’s resident Common Frog, Rana temporaria, which hopped off to find a damp crevice behind the water butt.

Nearby, in crevices in the concrete footings of the greenhouse, a couple of Smooth Newts, Triturus vulgaris, hunted invertebrates (the larger had some kind of invertebrate prey in its mouth – a small spider?) in a macro-habitat of moss plants that resembled a miniaturised version of the Giant Club Moss forests that its giant amphibian ancestors had swum and slithered through right here, 300 million years ago. I say ‘right here’ but at that time our part of the Earth’s crust lay near the equator. True flowering plants, such as buttercups, had yet to evolve.

Everyday Sketchbook

CHARLOTTE’S Ice Cream Parlour  at Whitley, with its assortment of farm animals and its panoramic views across the Calder Valley, is a relaxing place to draw. It’s up on a ridge-top but on a windy day you can retreat to the shelter of the cafe . . . and perhaps sample the Real Jersey Ice Cream.

As well as a contented Jersey cow there are a couple of donkeys, some heavily pregnant nanny goats and rare breed sheep.

Peacocks are displaying to the peahens, a black hen is leading her brood of black chicks across the meadow and, adding an exotic touch, a couple of rheas (or are they young ostriches?) are strutting along in the paddock by the car park.

The donkeys wander over to meet visitors and indulge in a bit of mutual grooming.

I’m back to working in the Crawford & Black portrait format sketchbook – that’s the one with the 96 gsm acid free cartridge which I find a bit thin and absorbent for my pen and watercolour sketches but it will do for everyday. When I get the chance for some natural history drawing, I’ll go back to landscape format.

Recent snatched sketches in my ‘everyday’ sketchbook include the backs of some shops and this tubular metal chair.

Pond in a Pocket-Park

Longlands Road, Dewsbury, OS ref: SE 233229

LEAVING my mum for her physiotherapy session at Dewsbury Hospital, I set off in search of a takeaway coffee then head off with it, via a gap in a stone wall, into a pocket-sized park, no larger than a football pitch.

As I sit down to draw this Water Mint, Mentha aquatica, growing in the pond, I crush some of its leaves that are growing on the bank in the mown turf, releasing a delicious cool, clean aroma of spearmint.

Three juvenile and one adult Moorhen dabble around the pond and come out to peck about on the grassy slope. A Blackbird sings from the trees in the leafy margins of the park.

Yellow Flag

The heads of Great Reedmace, Typha latifolia, are bursting into feathery white seeds, while behind them a few Yellow Flag Iris, Iris pseudacorus, are starting to unfurl their flowers.

Still on my learning curve, I refer to a book and add a few botanical terms and Latin names. Iris was the Greek goddess of the rainbow but pseudacorus means false.

Typha is from the Greek name for the Reedmace, while latifolia means broad-leaved.

Landscape Format

This little park is the perfect place to take a short break from a morning spent in or on our way to waiting rooms; in the doctor’s earlier I’d had to make do with drawing my hand – again!

I’m inspired, as I often am, by starting a new sketchbook. I gave up on my previous sketchbook – a birthday present from a kind friend – because I didn’t like the absorbent and rather thin paper. For my pen and watercolour wash work I prefer a thicker, smoother cartridge, so it’s back to a Pink Pig, made at a factory not far from home up at Emley, and this time, with travel to wilder places (rather than travel to waiting rooms!) in mind, I’ve gone for a spiral bound A5 (about 8 inches x 5.5 inches) sketchbook in landscape format. It seems perfect for the drawings and notes I’ve got in mind but it’s a format that I’ve used only once before, as far as I remember. With printed booklets in mind I usually go for portrait format.

I’d like to go for colour whenever I can (I finished off the sketch of my hand in colour later) and for wildlife . . . whenever I can escape through a gap in the wall.

Canary Island Ivy

MY BROTHER Bill gave me a large Canary Island Ivy as a house plant about 25 years ago. In a few years it had outgrown its corner in my studio and I planted it out by the larch-lap fence behind the greenhouse. It had survived for twenty winters, providing a nest site for Blackbirds and Song Thrushes, but last winter proved too much for it.

I’m not sure now whether the larch-lap fence is supporting the twisting stems of the ivy or whether the ivy is holding up the fence. The main stem is the thickness of a man’s arm. The spreading vines twist around like an untidy version of Celtic knotwork. Although it’s evident that they won’t sprout again, I’m not in a hurry to cut back the plant back as it’s now such an attractive subject to draw; more so than when it was just a wall of foliage.

Besides, as I started to draw and moved an old post that had been leaning by the fence, a Blackbird flew out in alarm. I’m aware that a pair has been nesting in the mass of dead ivy stems and foliage that juts out above the corner of the fence.

Canary Island Ivy, Hedera canariensis, is a native of the Azores and Canary Islands and is less hardy than our native Ivy, Hedera helix. The popular house plant variety that I planted here on the fence and on our garden shed – where it also died back this winter – was Gloire de Marengo which has large variagated leaves, with green centres and creamy white margins. Our native ivy is still looking fine although a late frost a couple of weeks ago killed some of the young sappy spring shoots. They looked as if they had been individually scorched.

Raised Bed

THIS FLAGGY piece of sandstone on the edge of the raised bed was probably shattered by frost during the winter. The fragments have created a miniature landscape, surrounded by a lush forest of buckler-leaved sorrel, a bitter-tasting herb which likes this well-drained sunny spot.

The wolf spider is at home here too. Two females alternate between sunning themselves on the mini-cliff below and retreating into shady crevices to cool off. I say females because they’re both carrying egg cocoons and, as far as I know, it’s the female who provides the parental care. The cocoon, of dimpled spider’s silk, is over twice the size of the spider’s thorax. I notice one touching its cocoon with its back legs and I’m guessing that she was testing the temperature or perhaps the humidity of the bundle of eggs that she is incubating.

A group of House Sparrows are enjoying a dust-bath in the fine tilth of one of the veg beds – right where we sowed the perpetual spinach!

By the way, these drawings were made with dip pen and Daler-Rowney Calli ink. Although this is described on the label as ‘non-clogging, pigmented, waterproof calligraphy ink’ it does take – in places anyway – rather a long time to dry so that it ran into the watercolour wash. I didn’t have this problem when using my ArtPen with Noodler’s ink to draw the Aquilegia but I was keen to use the ‘inkiness’ of dip pen for my drawing of the shattered sandstone.


AS A WILD FLOWER, Common Columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris, occurs throughout Europe except in the far north but it is also frequently found as a garden escape. This plant, 16 inches tall with flowers 2 inches across, has made itself at home in our flower border – we never planted it there but it has sprung up near the bird feeder.

Commn Columbine often hybridises with other species of Aquilegia grown in gardens but this specimen comes close to the typical appearance of wild species; for instance, its stamens scarcely protrude beyond the petals.

The hooked spur behind each flower gives the plant its botanical name because of a resemblance to an eagle, Aquila, but its medieval Latin name Columbina, meaning a dove-like plant, seems nearer the mark as the five flowers with their wing-like petals look like a little gaggle of pigeons getting together.

With that long spur behind the flower, it’s not surprising that the main pollinators are long-tongued bees.

Botanical Drawing

Every spring, I feel the need to learn more about botany as, in May in particular, so many wild flowers appear in quick succession. But after all the distractions from my artwork that I’ve had for the past nine or ten months, I also feel the need to get back into the habit of drawing; real drawings that you might spend an hour or more on, rather than the snatched sketches that fill the bulk of my sketchbooks.

By drawing flowers I can combine those two; I can get some drawing practice while I learn more about botany through close observation. Drawing is great from that point of view because you can be wholly absorbed in the artistic process of drawing and yet also totally involved in the scientific discipline of close observation.

This second Columbine was growing on the raised bed. It’s larger than the other plant, growing 27 inches tall with flowers up to 3 inches in diameter.

9.34 a.m. As I drew it, I was aware of a movement behind me to my left; a vole was scurrying and pausing, apparently oblivious to my presence, by the shed door before disappearing under the shed. Later it emerged again and made its way under the hatch of the compost bin.

I believe that it’s a Short-tailed Vole, otherwise known as the Field Vole, Microtus agrestis.

I went back to the first plant to draw it in close up and from above in order to show more of the structure of the flower. You get a better view of those bird-like flowers.

In his Complete Herbal, Culpeper suggested Columbine for sore throats, liver complaints and jaundice.

“The seed also taken in wine causeth a speedy delivery of women in childbirth ; if one draught suffice not let her drink a second, and it will be found effectual. The Spaniards used to eat a piece of the root thereof in a morning fasting, many days together, to help them when troubled with stone in the reins or kidneys.”

In Shakespearean English, reins is a synonym for kidneys.

I wouldn’t recommend you to try any of these remedies; Columbine is a member of the – often poisonous – buttercup family, so I would treat it with caution.

Getting back to Sketching

I FEEL AS IF I’ve got out of the habit of sketching at every opportunity but odd sketches are beginning to appear in my A5 sketchbook again, so that’s a good sign.

Inspired by Fabrice Moireau’s Paris Sketchbook, a birthday present from Barbara, I’ve been trying to shift the balance of my drawings a bit from line to watercolour. Moireau also convinced me that it would be worth trying pencil again but these recent sketches have been done in odd moments when I haven’t had a pencil to hand.

Sox the border collie was snoozing in Rickaro Bookshop in Horbury.

The back garden of the Victorian villa (top) is my mum’s, drawn on a sunny afternoon.

And that’s it, except for an old wall by the co-op car park in Horbury. Not much to show for the last week or so but better than nothing.

Nest Robber

A COMMOTION before breakfast; six Blackbirds and a Mistle Thrush are gathered in what looks to me like indignant rage around a Magpie on the back lawn which is down at the edge of the pond, attacking a plump nestling, pecking at its head. I know that I should no more wish that Magpies wouldn’t take the chicks from ‘our’ back garden nests than I should wish that Osprey’s shouldn’t swoop on trout or that lions shouldn’t attack zebras but it’s difficult not to feel involved as this turns out to be chick from a Blackbird’s nest in the Ivy behind our herb bed.

We’ve been following the progress of the parents’ nest-building and feeding from the kitchen window, only yards from the nest. They’ve been busy over the past few days shuttling in a supply of worms and insects.

Deciding that it would be too late to rescue this chick anyway, I leave the garden birds to sort it out between themselves.

But, after breakfast, when I go down the garden to open the greenhouse, I discover a second chick. It looks like a miniature oven-ready chicken, naked, plump and bleary-eyed, with a row of plastic-looking quills along its stubby wings. Only it’s parents could love it. It’s got a spot of blood near the base of its bill but is otherwise unscathed. The Magpie must have been disturbed before this chick suffered the fate of its sibling, which the Magpie carried off down to the vegatable beds to finish eating.

I put my head into the Ivy and with some difficulty spot the nest, on a twining branch on the far side of the hedge. With a stick I poke away the remains of a third chick, hanging over the nest from a twig, which the Magpie had evidently killed in its attempt to make off with it.

I retrieve the surviving chick from the lawn and place it so that it’s as comfortable as it can be in the nest. It’s still warm and, I guess, healthy enough.

I’m anxious that the parents will have desserted the nest but by the end of the afternoon they’re back again, so it looks as if they’ve found the youngster. A day later male and female are still taking turns to pop in with food so it looks as if the Magpie hasn’t been back . . . so far.


HUNDREDS OF small Cowslips are in flower on the grassy plateau in the centre of Walton Colliery Nature Park, just 2 miles south-east of the centre of Wakefield. I’m impressed by the transformation that has taken place during the past 20 years or so from grey spoil heap to copse, heathy meadow and pond. Now a Local Nature Reserve, it’s probably the best place to see Grass Snake and Adder, although I’ve yet to see either, and for insects, such as the rare Short-winged Conehead bush-cricket which astonished conservation volunteers when they came across it last summer; this species had previously not been recorded in Yorkshire for 80 years. It shows how creating the right habitat (with perhaps a bit of help from global warming!) can benefit wildlife.

This particular Cowslip, Primula veris, growing at the foot of the slope, was bigger those in on the plateau. The lusher growth might be the result deeper soils, resulting from rainwash on the slope and it may be that, down here in the dappled shade of a copse of sapling broadleaf trees, there’s more shelter from wind and sun.

Cowslips are typically found on limy soils. I always imagine that former colliery spoil heaps would give rise to acid soils but there’s more to the coal measures than sulphur-rich coal; sometimes shale can be lime-rich. Mussel bands from the coal measures, as the name suggests, can be stuffed with lime-rich fossil shells. However, growing amongst the Cowslips was Sorrel, typical of acid soils and with leaves that have an acid taste.

As I was drawing the Cowslip, a Brimstone Butterfly, Gonepteryx rhamni, flew past and rested in the sun on a nearby Dandelion. Speckled Woods were amongst the other butterflies to be found in the patchwork of grassland and copses at Walton Colliery Nature Park.


These three fungi are – I guess – earthballs that have burst open to distribute their ochre-coloured spores. They’re growing on the plateau in a sunny, grassy corner sheltered by  a copse amongst the leaves of Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, and fine glossy leaves of grass (Wavy-hair?).