Years ago, when I led a series of Calder Valley Walks as a further education class, these slopes between Ossett and Dewsbury were the western limits to our explorations. It wasn’t one of our regular routes and my memory of our occasional winter visits is of trying to locate an indistinct footpath that zigzagged aimlessly across a dark, muddy, misty, featureless ploughed field. I’m pleased to discover, coming back a decade later, that the wayward footpath has now been replaced by a new logical version which follows a ditch straight down the slope.
It’s amazing how much the landscape has changed since I was last here; the new footpath now leads to a plantation of poplars, planted with regimental precision, which have grown ten or fifteen feet tall since my last visit. I have memories of these as ‘whips’, freshly planted in plastic rabbit-guards. ‘It would be interesting to come back here, to see how it changes’, I suggested, looking at the newly landscaped slopes.
There’s new planting too on the banks of the Calder with an area of willows which I guess have been planted as bio-fuel. Old maps of the Calder valley show osier beds where willow was grown for basket making. The baskets were hand-made on an industrial scale by Burdekins, now located at Flushdyke near Spring Mill but today a furniture store. The bulk of their trade was for textile mills including large baskets for spindles of yarn and wheeled baskets for the rag recycling trade. Baskets for pigeons and pets were a sideline for them.
The name Runtlings may be Old English for ‘the meadow with the ditch’.
‘Ings’ can mean ‘meadow’, ‘hill’ or ‘place’. ‘Rene’ of ‘ryne’ is a ‘ditch’ or ‘channel’ and a ‘run’ is a ‘stream’. But I wonder if the name might derive from ‘hruna’; a tree trunk or log used as a conduit for water.
Drawings to follow! Please come back in a day or two . . .
When the snow returned yesterday morning almost an inch fell, although it wasn’t as cold as it was after last year’s snowfalls. When I’ve cleared the driveway it’s been powdery but yesterday afternoon it was just starting to turn slushy, so it was heavier and slushily sticky to clear from the paving slabs. Powdery snow leaves the driveway cleaner; slush leaves it damp and filthy.
As the snow fell, Blackbirds, Fieldfares and Redwings came to the Golden Hornet crab apple, the one that we pruned on Monday. The snow-covered little apples, golden until mid-autumn (left) but now frosted and brown, proved a big attraction. We counted eight Redwings and five Fieldfare around midday, although I guess that at times there were more.
My pen and ink drawings from my 1979 Sketchbook of the Natural History of the Country Round Wakefield don’t do justice to these attractive winter thrushes. The Fieldfare’s light grey, chestnut and whitish plumage is striking against a snowy landscape, as is the chestnut red beneath the wings of the Redwing. I often have difficulty picking out the red of the Redwing when I see it in silhouette in bushes or in flight but it was very obvious today, at close quarters seen through the 10 x 50 binoculars that I keep by the studio window.
The shapes of the birds were different today; Blackbird, Redwing and Fieldfare all had a more rounded silhouette as they had their feathers fluffed out against the cold.
Today I saw cormorant and goosanders on the Calder; the increasing number of ducks on the river is an indication of how water quality has improved. I was delighted to see this photograph (left) in an e-mail, taken on a mobile phone by local angler Keith Inglehearn, who had been fishing for pike in the River Calder at Horbury Bridge on 31 December.
“I caught the fish pictured on a whole mackerel and it weighed 6 pounds.” Keith tells me “It was returned carefully to the water and swam off strongly.”
To me this looks like a salmon so I contacted Kevin Sunderland, who has been monitoring their return into the Aire and Calder. Kevin tells me: “I’m no expert on these things but my initial thoughts are that the fish isn’t a salmon but is probably a sea trout. I base this solely on the fact that the tail does not appear to be forked as in a salmon.
“I went to Knottingley on 5th November to see what the effect the flooded river would have on Knottingley Weir. I believe that any fish below the weir would have got up. I went to Kirkthorpe on 15th November and witnessed numerous large fish attempting to ascend the weir, presumably the fish which had got up Knottingley a week previously. Maybe the fish which Keith caught was one of these.”
I’m hoping that the experts at the Environment Agency will be able to help us identify the species. If Sea Trout can migrate up river and find their way up Kirkthorpe Weir at Wakefield it shouldn’t long before the Salmon follow them.
“It really is remarkable for the river to be holding fish like this.” says Keith, “I have lived around this area all my life and I have been an angler for the last 43 years. I remember very well what the state of the river and canal was like when I was a youngster!”
St Mary’s Church, Gawthorpe, 102 years old this year, stood close to the western boundary of Ossett, between Chickenley Heath and Ossett Street Side. I drew it in 1999 shortly before the vicar, Rev. Paul Maybury, moved on to Holy Trinity, Ossett’s cathedral-sized parish church, which is 50 yards long with a spire, at 226 feet, almost rivalling that of Wakefield Cathedral, 3.5 miles to the east, which at 247 feet is the tallest in Yorkshire. Ossett’s spire tends to be more prominent when seen from the local countryside as the church stands at 357 feet above sea level – over 200 feet higher than Bichehill where the cathedral stands. St Mary’s never had a tower, just the belfry at its east end above the chancel arch.
It closed in 2002 and there were plans a couple of years ago to convert the building into luxury flats but the state of the housing market must have made that scheme impossible.
It was a shock to drive past today and see that demolition was in progress. I know that the spirit of a church lies in its congregation and the building is just the place they meet but it’s also a monument to the craftsmen who built it so I feel that it’s a shame that it has proved impossible to find an alternative use for building.
Gawthorpe St Mary’s Cricket Club, founded in 1928, still play at Slazenger’s Sports Club, Horbury, but the pub where the committee met across the road from St Mary’s Church has also closed. The pub is an attractive stone building that is suitable for residential use so it isn’t boarded up like some pubs that have closed recently.
Demolition of St Mary’s, 6 January 2011
A woman walking past with her dog told me that yesterday the pulpit was still in place but that has disappeared today. She remembers the church as a focus for the community with school services taking place there and her sister’s wedding.
As you can see the building was built to last. The fittings have been stripped out but presumably the stonework will go to architectural salvage. Hope they saved any stained glass. I wonder if the churchyard trees will be allowed to remain.
I was surprised to see the church organ amongst the rubble. You’d think it would have been worth advertising on e-Bay.
“It’s a shame that I can’t turn my chair around and look out of the window.” says Betty when we visit her in her first floor ward in the old building at Pinderfields. Sitting at the end of the bed all I can see is a strip of sky framed by one end of the vertical blinds. Inevitably the sky changes continuously as I paint and having such a limited field of view means that I can’t follow a particular cloud as it moves – morphing as it goes – from west to east.
With the tail end of a cold I’m not in the alert responsive mode that you need to keep track of changing colour and changing forms simultaneously, so I go for my ArtPen loaded with brown ArtPen ink, blotting the lines with my waterbrush for a rudimentary pen and wash effect.
It’s surprising to find so much open space between suburban Ossett , one of its industrial estates and junction 40 of the M1. From Spring Mill Lane, now closed to traffic, there are views across the playing fields and the 9 hole Springmill Municipal Golf Course south across the Calder Valley to Woolley Edge and east to the scrubby scarp slope of Lupset. Most of the wildlife interest here lies in the narrow valley of Spring Mill Beck, landscaped in the 1970s or 1980s as a public open space and now popular with dog walkers.
On the pond – which I guess is what remains of the old mill dam – there were fifty Mallards, mainly drakes with a pair of Moorhens skulking along the bank.
I wouldn’t have guessed that this bundle of twigs was a squirrel’s drey if I hadn’t seen one Grey Squirrel follow another into it. It must be a snug fit for them.
The male – often several males – pursue the female during courtship, which takes place in December and again in May.
In the plantation beyond the dam Long-tailed Tits made their way through the branches while Blackbirds foraged in the leaf litter below. A flock of Goldfinches flitted about in bushes close to adjacent back gardens, perhaps attracted to bird-feeders there.
It’s a good time of year to cut back hedges and shrubs in the garden so that we’ll have a light, airy space ready to plant the veg beds in the spring.
Our garden shed has for years been so overgrown with Ivy and so overhung by Hawthorn that visually it’s become an extension of the hedge. It’s now looking more like a shed again, the Ivy cut back to the level of the gutters so that they won’t get blocked with leaves again so easily. Cutting back the hedge reveals that the roofing felt has rotted away in places so I want to re-felt it before the spring.
We chose the Golden Hornet crab apple as the ideal wildlife/decorative tree for a small garden. It is briefly covered with blossoms in the spring then in the late summer their are masses of golden apples, each half the size of a golf ball but these turn brown with the first frosts. This is usually when Blackbirds and other thrushes really start to take an interest in them. It’s now about twice the size that I’d originally imagined that it would grow to when I planted it about 20 years ago so today we’ve lopped off some of the branches to give it a more symmetrical goblet shape.
Even in our small, sheltered garden there are differences in microclimate from one side to another. In the beds on the south-west side in the shade and shelter of a tall hedge, much of the soil remains frozen while on the sunnier north-east side, it has thawed out.
Lush, evergreen and a mistily mysterious; there’s a jungly feel to the hollow around the ponds below Seckar Heath. Shaggy columns of Ivy-covered Silver Birches rise from an understorey of Rhododendrons. One of the birch boughs has fallen by the path, perhaps brought down by the extra weight of snow gathering on the Ivy.
The ponds were once formal pools in the garden of photographer Warner Gothard who left Seckar Heath to the people of Wakefield and Barnsley when he died in 1960. Seckar Heath, mid-way between the two cities, is a Local Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
From the ponds we walk through woodland of oaks and occasional pines (Corsican, I guess) on the steep path up to the heath which lies on an outcrop of gritty sandstone.
On a patch of heath that appears to have been deliberately burnt or cut, fresh green shoots of Heather are now beginning to regenerate. Oak and birch saplings have been cut back to keep the heath open. Blocks of the heath are cut every 20 years, preventing the trees shading out the Heather which predominates along with Gorse, Bracken and the glossy leaves of Wavy Hair-grass at the top (western) end of the heath.
In the belt of Sessile Oaks and Silver Birches at this end of the reserve, a flock of twenty Redwings are turning over the leaf litter. I always picture Redwings flocking to Hawthorn hedges to feast on the berries so it’s interesting to see them foraging for invertebrates in the same way that Blackbirds and other thrushes would.
Also seen: Long-tailed tit, Woodpigeons, Magpie, Robin, Chaffinch, Jay, Scaly Earthball, Scleroderma verrucosum.
I was looking up at the Witch’s Broom on the branches of a birch when a flock of about 30 redpolls circled above the trees here in Stoneycliffe Wood nature reserve for a minute or so before settling in the top branches of another birch some distance away. On this dull drizzly morning all that I could make out was their grey-brown rounded silhouettes and a slight v-shaped notch at the end of the tail.
My hearing doesn’t make the grade when it comes to birdwatching but Barbara could hear the chittering of the flock, usually the first sign of redpolls for those who don’t happen to be looking up at Witches’ Broom as they fly by.
The Witches’ Broom that grows on silver birch in the form of a mass of twigs that you might at first take to be a nest or squirrel’s drey is caused by the fungus Taphrina turgida. Another, unrelated, fungus on a birch stump nearby was birch bracket, Piptoporus betulinus.
Velvet Shank, Flammulina velutipes (left), growing here on an oak log, is a winter fungus with the ability to survive freezing.
Turkeytail, Trametes versicolor, is another bracket fungus which grows on birch stumps and on other deciduous timber.
The shuttlecock tufts of male fern, Dryopteris filis-mas, have been flattened by the snow but the fronds are still green. The lower stems of male fern are covered with brown scales (right).