AFTER SO many Robin Hood talks during the past two days we’re here on a Wakefield Naturalists’ Society field meeting at a place which has long been associated with the outlaw. At the start of The Little Gest Robin Hood stands leaning against a tree in Barnsdale Forest. The forest was extensive and stretched northwards from the borders of Sherwood, so which part of Barnsdale did the ballad writers have in mind?
As at the start of the story Robin tells Little John, William Scarlock and Much to ‘go up to Sayles’ to scan the Great North Road for a ‘dinner guest’ (one who will subsequently be asked to pay!) they must be down here in Brockadale. Sayles is an outcrop overlooking the valley, now marked on the map as Sayles Plantation. Going back as far as 1841, iron age earthworks at Sayles were shown on the Ordnance Survey map as ‘Castle Hills’. Castle Hill is surrounded by several tower-like crags so it could have served as a look-out post and a defensible position for a band of archers.
Castle Hill was excavated a few years ago prior to an extension of quarrying operations. If the archaeologists discovered Robin’s hidden booty, they kept quiet about it.
Now managed, in part, as a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve, Brockadale straddles the borders of North and West Yorkshire.
Chapel Lane, Little Smeaton, 10 a.m.
JULY IS the middle of our summer but in the hedgerows there’s a feeling that autumn isn’t too far away. Hawthorn berries are beginning to appear – still green at the moment – but these damsons by the lay-by are well on their way to being ripe.
I’d always assumed that the ‘brock’ in Brockadale referred to the badger but apparently it means ‘broken dale’; the slopes are broken by craggy outcrops of magnesian limestone. The name might refer to quarrying on the valley slopes.
Perforate St John’s Wort (note the little ‘perforations’ when you hold a leaf up to the light, left) was used to treat wounds in Robin Hood’s day by the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, who had a preceptory at Newland, near Wakefield, and were Robert Hode’s close neighbours in the town on Warrengate, where Robin and the Hospitallers both held property.
The chalky soil that makes the limestone meadows so refreshingly different to the buttercup meadows that I’m so familiar with elsewhere on the coal measures and gritstone country of West Yorkshire.
This morning there are hundreds of 6-spot burnet moths about, some of them basking or feeding on the flowers of scabious and clustered bellflower.
There are also a few marbled white butterflies around today, mainly basking on a plant by the outcrop (top picture).
Sheep and cattle graze in the field below. Grazing is an essential part of the management of the grasslands, helping prevent bushes taking over and shading out the limestone meadow flowers.
Most of these drawings were made in Brockadale in July 2009. I was revisiting the east of England locations that I first drawn in July 1979 while working on my Richard Bell’s Britain sketchbook for Collins. There were so many places to revisit during July that I had to find some way of dealing with the rain. I took a pop-up shelter that I’d bought at Netto and set it up overlooking Brockadale (top picture).
I got some funny looks from passing dog walkers but at least I was able to work on my drawings most of the time except when the wind blew the rain straight down the valley and into my tent. I then zipped up the opening of the shelter and ate my picnic lunch snug in my shelter perched on the outcrop, as the rain battered against the canvas.