Monday 6th December – Willowbank – It is dark on Willowbank, although my eyes are desensitised by the glare of lights from the car salesrooms on the Wakefield Road. Although they are over half a mile away, the light pollution is irritating. However, behind the lea of Hawthorns, visibility is low – a waning moon casts little light. A repeated tuwitt tuwitt comes from further up the hill, occasionally broken by a full blown woohoo. Tawny Owls are laying stake to their territory. A Magpie chacks and a Robin sings weakly. It is mild and damp.
Barnsley Canal – In the afternoon, the wind is beginning to rise. The canal tow-path is actually reasonably dry. There is still a huge quantity of Haws on the bushes, but these will start to diminish as there is also a large number of winter thrushes in the valley. Redwings shoot out from nearly every bush. Small flocks wheel overhead and dive down into another clump of Hawthorns.
Sunday 12th December – Worsbrough Village – The old Barrow Colliery has long disappeared. My notes of March 1997 record the landscaping and planting of thousands of saplings. These are now decent sized trees forming a dense thicket across the top of the hill. We walk down the crumbling road that leads to the track over the hill and another down to Worsbrough Dale. A Green Woodpecker calls and then flies overhead and into a stand of trees. Another woodpecker flies over and into a Beech not far away. It is a Great Spotted. A Mistle Thrush also flies up into the trees and stands there, erect and alert.
Scout Dyke Reservoir – It is grey and misty on the edge of the Pennine Moors. A flock of Lapwings flies the length of the reservoir and out over the fields. A herd of cattle move down a rough pasture on the far side. Blue Tits call from the pines. A Wren is ticking from the scrub at the base of the trees. Out on the water a few Great Crested Grebes have their clearly defined territories and are diving within them. A few Tufted Duck swim near the far bank and are joined by another half dozen that fly in. I can hear Mallard and eventually locate further up the edge. Fieldfares are feasting on Haws near to the road. Blackbirds fly to and fro in the bushes.
Ingbirchworth Reservoir – The water lays still and bleak. Towards the top end there is a sizable flock of gulls – mainly Black-headed and Herring. I cannot locate any wildfowl but there will doubtless be a few lurking in the reeds.
Monday 20th December – M62 – The trans-Pennine motorway crosses the backbone of England near Saddleworth Moor. I have to exchange a van for one from the Widnes depot and meet here, near the highest point of any motorway in England. It is cold and bleak. The brown grasses, brown heathers and brown bracken are getting paler as it is covered by the wind-blown snow. The flakes are small and it is hardly enough to call more than a shower.
Fleets Dam – The afternoon is grey and it is darkening rapidly. Much of the lake has a thin veneer of ice, although it is thick enough on the western side to support a large flock of Black-headed Gulls. Despite the expanse of ice available, they squabble about spaces. A Wren darts up from the waterside and under a Hawthorn bush.
Thursday 23rd December – Trans-Pennine Way, Penistone – The trail follows the old, abandoned railway track between Sheffield and Manchester, via Dunford Bridge, where it travels under the Pennines. It is blowing a serious gale across the fields and the wind is funnelled down the railway cuttings. A Goldfinch alights on the fence separating the track from Penistone Showground. It twitters briefly and then flies off. A small path leads off to the municipal cemetery. Many of the graves here are relatively recent. I retrace my route along the edge of the fields leading back to the showground. There are old pillars of stone marking where a lost gate in a lost wall stood.
Christmas Day, Saturday 25th December – Fleets Dam – At eight thirty in the morning, Kay and I exchange a single Christmas present (before the main family affair) and outside it suddenly starts snowing heavily. It does not last long. At Fleets Dam the sun sparkles across the water. A single Grey Heron sits on one of the water conditioning machines. A few Black-headed Gulls fly around. It starts sleeting and so a retreat is called back to a warm house and Christmas Day.
New Year’s Eve, Friday 31st December – Nunney – We finish the year where we started, in Somerset. It has rained overnight and the ground is sodden. Sheep drift away as we enter the large field, except for Peter and Jo’s two remaining lambs in the adjoining paddock which come running over baaing loudly when they see Jasper. A cock Common Pheasant flies across the field from near the path but does not seem unduly worried about the dogs as it lands only twenty yards away and continues to feed. A large flock of Fieldfares flies overhead. Rooks caw from the nearby rookery.
Alfred’s Tower – A tall triangular folly on the top of the hill above Stourhead, the source of the River Stour. Started in 1765 and finished in 1772, it was built by Henry Flitcroft, designer of Hoober Stand in Wentworth, South Yorkshire, for Henry Hoare II. An engraved stone carries the inscription:
Hutton, author of Highways and Byways of Somerset (Pub MacMillan 1912) was unimpressed, calling it foolish. The hill is covered with trees apart from a long and fairly broad ride of grass. A large flock of Chaffinches is feeding in the mixed woodland, along with Great and Blue Tits. It is very muddy and Dill the Dog and Jasper is soon filthy. We meet another dog, an Old English Sheepdog, called Dill, the first I have come across since naming Dill the Dog some twelve years ago. A Raven flies across the treetops, cronking.