February 2006

Wednesday 1st February – Fleets Dam – The day is grey and cold, barely rising above freezing. The Kingfisher seems to be a permanent feature now, flashing like a turquoise dart across the water. A whooshing noise drums from overhead. A pair of Mute Swan fly over then circle back over the lake before deciding to move on. A Robin sits in a Hawthorn bush, singing. A small flock of Siskin are back on the Alder tree.

Thursday 2nd February – Wortley Top Forge – Another grey and frozen day. The fields and trees on Hoylandswaine top are covered in a white rime. Down at the forge, the River Don flows quietly. A Dipper stands on a rock in the middle of the river. It watches my approach and then whirrs off upstream. The woods seem cold and empty. Gullies drain the fields up above the valley. One had a bridge of tree roots spanning it. The path comes to Thurgoland. Old Mill Lane is lined with houses built in the latter part of the last century. Bullfinches and Coal Tits feed in ornamental trees in front garden. There is a screaming sound from ahead. A Sparrowhawk bursts out of an evergreen shrub and lands on the driveway of a house. Under its claws is a screaming Blackbird. The hawk’s black, shining eyes watch me. One wing is outstretched, the barring visible though the quills. Its breast is a pale blush of pink. We stand and watch one another motionless. Then I move and the Sparrowhawk is up and off over the garage with its prey. Rooks are noisy high over the woods on the hillsides above. Back down the river, a small flock of Redpoll are feeding high in the trees. Blue and Long-tailed Tits are also up there.

Friday 3rd February – Holmfirth to Upperthong – The River Holme runs through this busy village, or is it a town? There is a path but it disappears as the river runs through some industrial premises – some are old Victorian mills converted to workshops, others foundries which are probably originals. I follow the busy Huddersfield road for a spell, then turn up the road to Meltham. Just up the hill a short way, a footpath leads down to a small bridge across a stream which gushes down over a little stone weir. The path leads on up the hillside through woods and emerges on a track above Holmfirth. The track continues up for a while before dropping back down towards the stream. Chaffinches are cheeping in the trees. The stream is surrounded by a strip of woodland consisting mainly of Silver Birch, Oak and Holly. The track is now a path and starts to rise again. Peering over a wall sends a large flock of Rooks and Black-headed Gulls up from the pasture in a noisy mass. The stream tumbles down a rocky bed. Over another dry stone wall is a herd of black and brown Aberdeen Angus bullocks. A path leads off into Upperthong, an interesting name apparently derived from thing a Norse word for a military site. The village, mainly known as the burial place of Bill Owen, is made up of old weavers’ cottages and many barn conversions and new build. The streets seem rather grandly named, Town Gate and Upperthong Gate. One can hardly imagine a gatehouse or the like here, but the word gate in this context comes from the Norse again, gata, a road or street. A track heads straight back down the hill to Holmfirth. The first metalled road encountered is prosaically named Hill. The descent becomes remarkably steep as it approaches the main road, not a place to walk in slippery conditions.

Monday 6th February – Holmfirth – Down the Penistone Road Bamforthinto the town centre. Smoke rises from the foundry in the valley below. A sign above a darkened building is flaking away but the name Bamforth – Illustrators and Publishers can still be read. James Bamforth was a magic lantern maker who during two periods, 1898-1900 and 1913-1915 made a historically significant series of films. In the period between the production of these films, Bamforth concentrated on picture postcard manufacturing. The First World War made it impossible to get film (the chemicals were required for making explosives) and after the war, Bamforth returned to postcards and became famous for his saucy seaside pictures. Production ceased in 1990. Along Hollowgate which runs beside the River Holme. Just beyond the market, a Dipper stands on a stone in the river. Past the Toll Bridge and on past weavers cottages. There is a stretch of the old cobbled road surface here. Unfortunately, the road stops soon after and I have to retrace my steps. Above the newly built houses here, the hillside climbs in small fields containing a few cows, chickens and Guinea fowl. Three steel plaques a fastened to a riverside railing. They commemorate disastrous floods in the Holme Towservalley – 1738, 1777 and 1852, the last being the worst when the Bilberry reservoir failed during heavy rain due to construction faults. 81 lives were lost and the event made front page news in the London Illustrated News. Up Daisy Hill which runs behind the church. Here is the Owd Towser, a small stone building from the 1500s built on God’s Acre – the land around the church. A toll was charged to cross church land and this formed part of the vicar’s wages. The building has been used as a church lockup, Police, Fire and Ambulance station and a mortuary. In 1685, Reverend Edmund Robinson was locked up here for coin clipping and later executed at York. His son was also imprisoned but was later an employee of the Royal Mint. The road climbs up through narrow streets of cottages and house built into the steep hillside. From Cinderhills Road there is a fine view over the town and the main routes out towards Holme Moss and Greenfields. At the top of Cinderhills is a small council estate – possibly the least most suitable site for such. A track leads off across Stake Lane Bank to Wooldale Cliff. Here crags rise some thirty feet from the path. Sadly, they are disfigured with graffiti. The wind is cold and strong up here. A pair of Carrion Crows fly across harrying a Sparrowhawk.

Wednesday 8th February – Newmillerdam – A path runs off the sharp bend on the road towards Chapelthorpe. It heads back towards the country park woods. I hope to pick up the disused railway line than runs along the edge of the woods. I am surprised when the path dips down and straight onto the bed of the railway just after it passes under the A61. Clearly a lot of infilling has occurred. The lin