Tankersley Park

Tankersley Park“From Rotherham we turned north west to Wentworth, on purpose to see the old seat of Tankersley and the park, where I saw the largest red deer that, I believe, are in this part of Europe: One of the hinds, I think, was larger than my horse, and he was not a very small pad of fourteen hands and half high. This was anciently the dwelling of the great Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, beheaded in King Charles the First’s time, by a law, ex post facto, voted afterward not to be drawn into a precedent. The body lies interred in Wentworth Church.”

Daniel Defoe, A tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain, 1727

M1 near TankersleyAs you head north on the M1 from Sheffield to Wakefield you pass the Park, now a golf course, visited by Defoe in the 1720s. There had been 280 deer in the park in 1653 but by the late 1800s the Park had long been split up and the remaining deer were removed to Wentworth.

golf courseThe mounds on the golf course are spoil from shallow pits dug to get at a layer of ironstone. Sparse, rabbit-nibbled grasses, yarrow, birdsfoot trefoil and other wildflowers cover each circular mound of shale but in the central depression, where the old shaft has caved in, thorn and elder bushes take root.

Churchill TankThese ironworkings date from the 1790s, after the break-up of Tankersley Park, and by 1850 about 250 ironstone miners worked here.

Over one thousand Churchill Tanks were assembled here during World War II in a factory which stood on a site 500 yards west of the M1.

Tankersley Church‘Many were slain and some taken prisoners’ when the Royalists won a victory over the Roundheads in the Battle of Tankersley Moor, 1643. Sir Francis Wortley, a Royalist who led a troop of some 900 men in the battle, had cannon balls made at his forge a nearby Wortley. TankersleyCannon balls and a bullet found on the battlefield are preserved in Tankersley Church, which stands on the hill overlooking the motorway.


A winter’s afternoon: ‘It was as cold and crisp as an ice cream with . . . um . . a crispy coating. The Moon rose like a pizza splodged with mozzarella . . .’

Okay, I’ll have to face it, after a harrowing day, a short walk over Horbury Bridge to the post office isn’t going to give me the material I need for my ongoing nature diary.

For once there are no birds on either the canal or the river . . . but what’s that bicycle doing down there on the strandline?

There was an early feminist proverb: ‘A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.’ Perhaps this one has been abandoned by a large Sea Trout (see http://wildyorkshire.blog/2011/01/salmon-or-sea-trout/ ) trying to make its way upstream.

A flock of a dozen or more Jackdaws flies over as the Sun sets and the fleecy clouds over the wood are tinted coral red like flamingos.

More lights in the wood this evening; bright blue starbursts threading  through the trees. A police search?

No, it’s a group of lads (or possibly fish, I can’t actually see them in the darkness) are cycling around the quarry area.

The rear lights are equally clear: ‘Blue as they approach, red as they recede,’ – like the spectra of stars moving around our galaxy – as Alan Garner described motorway traffic in his novel Red Shift.

Great writer Garner; he’d never have come up with ‘The Moon rose like a pizza.’

Compost Bin

The main component in this compost bin isn’t the timber or the nails; it’s the sheer intellectual effort involved!

Working with recycled timber means that you’re improvising all the time, planning which piece to use where. The only materials we bought at the local builders’ yard were two packets of galvanised nails and one sheet of outdoor plywood for the lids and one of the ‘doors’.

So is  it really worth all this effort for a compost bin?! Of course! The compost bin is at the heart of the garden, turning plant waste into valuable humus (another bonus is that at last we’ve whittled down the stack of timber that I salvaged ‘because it would be useful’ but which has been leaning against the shed for several years!)

This double bin holds 2.5 cubic yards of compost (almost 2 cubic metres) which would weigh about 1 ton (or somewhere in the region of 1000 kilograms) depending on how wet or dry it was. Imagine bringing that lot home from the garden centre! And, for that matter, think of the cost of transport if we sent our garden waste away with the local authority collection. We told them we didn’t require a bin when the scheme started but we did take them up on an offer for a recycled plastic compost bin which sits in another corner of the garden, by the shed.

I had to manhandle my mum’s compost wheelie bin down her driveway this morning so I’m well aware how heavy bulky organic matter can be.

What I don’t like about this design of compost bin:

  • it’s so large now that it shades one end of the greenhouse
  • with the lid on, the birds can’t get at it – although I’m sure the Toads will find their way to it

Covering the compost and insulating it from the weather helps speed up the composting process. This bin is double-walled with cardboard cartons acting as insulation in the cavity. When the cardboard starts to rot down, that can go into the compost too (if I can find a way of lifting it out of the narrow cavity, that is).

produceIt’s unfortunate that the compost will be out of bounds to birds in future but at least the Robin got a chance to hop around the disturbed ground as we worked today, almost under our feet.

We’re going to have some amazing crops of vegetables from the compost this bin will produce!

Birds at a Glance

chaffinchThese aren’t drawings of the birds’ ‘true’, accurate appearance – it would be easier to study a bird book for an authoritative version of that – but they aren’t drawings of the birds as I saw them either; they’re drawings of the way I remembered the appearance of the bird after I’d looked at it for as long as possible, which wasn’t long enough, through binoculars.

This way of drawing varies from my normal approach where I look and look and look again, building up a drawing from dozens, probably hundreds, of little observations. blackbirdThat’s not an option with most of the birds in our garden. I took mental notes of shape and colour during my one lingering look at each bird and then tried to stick to that, rather than revert to the familiar picture of, say, a Blackbird, that I might already carry in my mind.

I gave myself license not to worry if the final drawing didn’t look all that much like the bird. As I say, I could have referred to a bird book if that had been my aim but these are the colours and the shapes, as accurately and honestly as I could transfer them from memory to paper.

The species I drew are male Chaffinch, Starling, female and male Blackbird, Great Tit and Woodpigeon. I used an ArtPen with brown Noodler’s waterproof ink and Cotman watercolours.

Ash Trees at Dusk

Coxley Wood, sunset

blue titrobin and blackbird4 pm; I was going to draw birds but there was little activity by the time I’d filled up the feeders and settled down with my sketchbook. A couple of Blue Tits briefly peer out from the hedge, a Robin flits about below, a Blackbird pecks in distracted haste at the bare earth of the border while over in the wood, three Woodpigeons are clattering around in the tops of the Ashes.

Ash, Horbury CemeteryYesterday morning I was sorry to see this large Ash (left) in Horbury Cemetery being felled, one of several that are to go. It appears to be a healthy specimen but there’s no doubt that in some gale over the next decade or so it would have blown down, causing considerable damage to the houses that were built adjacent to the cemetery in the 1960s, when the tree was probably already half a century old (if I get the opportunity, I’ll count the rings). Unfortunately trees can do more than damage property and this autumn, during one evening of high winds punctuated by more powerful gusts, a huge bough from a tree at Stanley Churchyard crashed down onto a passing car, fatally injuring a woman.

Luckily the Ashes and Crack Willows in my watercolour of the lower end of Coxley Wood, don’t threaten any road or property and it’s highly unlikely that anyone would risk walking through in the kind of high winds which caused the accident at Stanley.

Spring Mill Beck

Spring Mill Beck
Alder, Spring Mill Beck

Working on my latest booklet of local walks, I’m discovering the odd footpath that I’ve never walked on before, then there are others, like the one beside Spring Mill Beck (above), that I’ve known since childhood but walked on only a handful of occasions. Some footpaths don’t connect with any of my regular routes so, although they might be nearer to home than some of my favourites, there’s rarely the opportunity to visit them.

My first memory of this path alongside the beck between Ossett Spa and Horbury, was of walking it with my younger brother Bill in the 1960s when I was in my early teens. We spotted a Toad on the path ahead of us and this was such a rare find that we decided we’d take it home so that it could live in the moist, ferny toadatmosphere of father’s greenhouse. We’d heard that having a Toad in the greenhouse was a natural form of pest control. I wouldn’t relocate a Toad for this reason today!

Carr Lodge play areaBill caught it and carried it home, a mile through the streets of Horbury, in one of his shoes.

Bill and I used to climb up the quarry face at Storrs Hill but today’s children don’t have to go further than the local park to climb. Since the last time I walked through Carr Lodge Park in Horbury these climbing rocks have been erected in the play area. The rock in the foreground isn’t suffering from a mystery virus; those spots are climbing holds inserted in the rock. If no one had been looking I’d have been tempted to give it a try!

The Hawk and the Squirrel

Harris HawkWatching a Grey Squirrel carrying bedding to its drey the other day, I was thinking what an easy life these suburban squirrels must have, with no natural enemies apart from the occasional Fox, which can’t follow them up into the tree-tops. But the squirrels of Spring Mill Park must be well aware of one powerful predator that has been hawking around the area for the last 14 years; this North American Harris Hawk, Parabuteo unicinctus, one of three which belong to a local falconer.

grey squirrelHe exercises them regularly but confides to me that it’s now getting a bit too much for him. When the bird goes down on prey it’s not like a retriever dog, it won’t bring the prey back to him, so it might end up half a mile away – as the hawk flies – up the slope in one of the pastures between Spring Mill Park and the motorway.

This hawk can easily tackle prey such as Rabbits and Magpies but if you’re hawking for Grey Squirrels – which, for all their cuteness, are often seen as a pest species, here in Britain where they’ve been introduced – the hawk needs to be equipped with special leg-guards as the squirrel, when caught, can swivel around and use its impressive incisors to bite into the back of the hawk’s legs, potentially inflicting permanent damage.

Flying weight is critical for hawking; fly a bird that’s even a few grams over its ideal weight and it will happily soar about all day without bothering to go for prey. This female Harris Hawk, I’m informed, needs to weigh in at precisely 2 pounds, 1 ounce and 3 grams, when it is taken out to hunt.

goshawkThe falconer was once surprised, when he was calling back one of his hawks, by the sudden appearance of a Goshawk which flew down and perched on the fence nearby. It had jesses so he managed to get near it and take it back to his avairy. The ring, which all captive falcons wear, revealed that it had been lost by a falconer who lives at Addingham, 23 miles to the north-west of Spring Mill, so he was able to reunite the bird with its owner.

Sparrows on the Shed

roofing felt x 60

This photograph looks rather like a scree-slope on a Lakeland fell but in fact each of these slate-like fragments is less than a millimetre across, smaller than the commas on this page. It’s a piece of roofing felt taken at 60x magnification through my microscope. The felt is bitumen-coated with a ‘green mineral’ finish, but it looks browner in my photograph. The flaky shapes and the colour make me guess that this is a green variety of Muscovite mica called fuchsite. The flakes (laminæ) of Muscovite are thin and surprisingly flexible, so they’re ideal as a coating on rolls of roofing felt.

There’s another mineral present; the rounded, glassy mineral near the bottom left-hand corner is a worn grain of sand, silica.

Fuchsite is rich in chromium but like other micas, as a form of silicate, it has a chemical composition based on aluminium, silica and oxygen (AlSi3O10). Micas are part of the group of minerals known as Phyllosilicates or sheet silicates, which take their name from phyllon, the Greek for leaf.

sparrows on the shedIt was sparrows pecking on our newly felted shed roof that prompted me to take a closer look at its composition. Why should sparrows feel the need to peck at flakes of mica?

Muscovite is 2-4 on the Mohs scale of hardness, depending whether you’re testing the softer ‘sides’ or the harder face of the flakes. This means that it’s somewhere between a finger-nail and a pocket-knife in hardness, so the sparrows might swallow it as a form of ‘gritting’. The flakes might be used in the bird’s gizzard to help grind down the seeds and grain that form its staple diet. Fuchsite is made of clayey minerals so it might also have medicinal properties that help with digestion, just as we’d take kaolin, a fine white clay that is another form of sheet sillicate.

sparrows on a wallSparrows will also peck at mortar on walls (right), which gives them access to more minerals; silica in the sand and the calcium carbonate in the cement.

When Paul and I put the new roofing felt I predicted that the sparrows would love it: “It’s like putting a new sheet of Tydsan in a budgie’s cage!”

Tydsan is the trade name of sheets of sandpaper, cut to size.

“Our budgies had to make do with newspaper in their cages!” Paul tells me.

Muddy Boots

Busht Beck

muddy bootsIt’s good for me to have a walks booklet to write at this time of year as I’m sure that I wouldn’t otherwise have set out on a six mile walk, crossing some unfamiliar corners of the countryside, and that would have been a pity because I’ve enjoyed the walk a lot, despite the muddy boots!

My ambition in life is to be able to drawn direct from nature but practically on a day like today, in locations that are a muddy half mile tramp from the nearest road, that’s impossible, so I go for the approach Wainwright used when he illustrated his famous guides to the Lakeland Fells; I take plenty of photographs which I can then draw at leisure indoors. Wainwright had to use black and white photographic prints, I can sit at the widescreen of my computer or load a few images onto a memory stick and draw them from our widescreen television downstairs. I feel I’m not being so unsociable with Barbara if I take my work downstairs; she can get on with whatever she’s doing and we can have some music on in the background. The average drawing takes me one CD album to complete.

With the ground so muddy and the paths so trampled, the hedges and woods so stark and bare, I find myself looking for other subjects to suggest how attractive the walk can be. Architectural details look good at any time of year and I also look for untrampled corners like mossy trees trunks and streams, or, even better, the two combined as on this bend on Bushy Beck (above) downstream from Ardsley Reservoir.

I took 83 photographs on this 6 mile walk. Any change of direction in the path, any stile or bridge is always worth recording, just in case I need it to illustrate a tricky point on the walk.

Shed Roof

garden shed
Our garden shed in its heyday, painted as a sample when I was working on illustrations for Dr Hessayon's Garden Expert guides.

Paul the gardener tells me that one year he and his father decided to record all the produce they harvested from their vegetable garden, which is about the size of a tennis court. The total weight of apples, onions, potatoes, carrots, cabbages, soft fruits and so on was three-quarters of a ton!

This morning we’re re-roofing my garden shed.

garden path“That should last us out!” he suggests.

Well, I hope it doesn’t last us out but I think it’s got a chance of lasting out the twenty-year old shed itself, which is looking rather battered and weatherworn where we’ve cut back the Ivy that engulfed it.

Spot the shed! – in this photograph of the back garden (right), the Ivy-covered shed is on the right. People would walk down the path and not notice that we had a shed until they walked back up and saw the side with the door in.