July 2001

Sunday 1st July – Worsbrough – A track leads from Worsbrough Village down towards Worsbrough Dale. It once skirted the Barrow Pit and now one leg heads off across the reclaimed hills of slag towards Blacker Hill, the other towards Worsbrough Dale is now a narrow path. This path is flanked by large patches of Comfrey with purple, pink and blue flowers. Large areas of Elder are in flower. Blackberries are also in flower. A Blackcap sings from a thicket. Old Oaks stand with broken limbs, bulbous and pallid bracket fungi Inonotus dryadeus with deadly mycelium penetrating the Oak’s heart. Below, young Oaks await the passing of their parents so they can shoot skywards. A Beech has similar boles and wounds where branches have sheered away. One dead branch still remains attached and a Carrion Crow is sitting on it, silhouetted against the grey sky.

Monday 2nd July – Home – The strange weather patterns continue. After a very wet winter, it is now a drought. Apart from a few insignificant showers, there have been only a couple of days of serious rain in the last two months, at least. The level in the ponds is falling rapidly now. The tadpoles are swarming around the edges of one pond. Some are now developing their hind legs. I feed them on small sticks of goldfish food. The surface ripples and swirls as the tadpoles fight over the food. The Loos Tennis Ball lettuces have all bolted, although there are still leaves in plenty. The Red Oak Leaf lettuce is growing well. Small crops of Broad Beans are ready. The modern variety of Mangetout peas are almost ready, they will crop heavily. But the old Eat All variety has only half a dozen beautiful pink and purple flowers. I need to find space to put in Ragged Jack Kale, another old variety no longer allowed to be sold. The Leeks are in and Courgettes in flower. Runner Beans are heading rapidly to the top of the eight foot bamboo poles. Young Blue Tits are uncertain what to do in human presence, flitting clumsily around the apple trees before deciding to depart over the wall. Something has been raiding the near ripe strawberries, a net hopefully will protect them.

Sunday 8th July – River Cuck, East Sussex – Stalwarts of what was once the Red Ramblers, a group of socialist walkers, still meet for a Sunday stroll. This month the walk is up the Cuck Valley from Friston Forest to Alfriston and back. We set off through dark, mossy and very humid woods. A few pale pink Foxgloves are anaemic brethren of the rich pink ones that grow in the open. Pallid fungus emerges from rotting stumps. The path rises slowly then drops steeply to the back of Charleston Manor. The path rises again over a hill of barley. House Martins sweep across the grain. Black Horehound, Dock, Common Mallow and Lesser Bindweed, all plants of waste ground, are profuse beside the path that runs up the edge of the field. On the other side of the valley, the Cuckmere White Horse is getting overgrown because Foot and Mouth disease has prevented the volunteers from cleaning it. The down side of the hill passes Clapham House, once the home of Charles and Emma Hamilton. She is famous as the mistress of Lord Nelson. Given Nelson’s frequent battles with the French, it seems odd that until a few years ago, the house had been owned by the French Diplomatic Service. Trees beside the track will bear a fine crop of Crab Apples.

The path meets the road in Litlington. We then cut down to the river and cross to the west bank. The river is tidal here and the gentle trickle down the valley indicates it is low tide. Numerous Reed Warblers are in song, some in really quite small clumps of reed. We lunch in Alfriston and return on the eastern bank. There are just a few dragonflies about, one of the large yellow and black striped ones and a damselfly with a blue body and dark wing patches – probably a Banded Agrion. Flocks of non-breeding Mute Swans are on the river. The thistle family is well represented in the fields with several varieties. A Black-headed Gull roost is forming in the rough meadows. A Green Woodpecker flies across the valley into an untypical habitat of low scrub. We take tea in the tea gardens in Litlington and then return to continue down the river bank. A White Plume Moth alights on a nettle, an extraordinary insect whose forewings are split into two feathery plumes and their hindwings into three.

Brighton Racecourse – It is sad to see nearly all the allotments here have been abandoned. The ones that were opened in the Seventies never did well, the lack of water and the thin soil on chalk bedrock defeated aspirant gardeners long ago, but the loss of the large area of well established sites is disappointing. Great Knapweed is flowering in profusion. A Marbled White flutters past – something of a rarity in Southern England and absent from elsewhere in the country.

Monday 9th July – Adur Valley – A brief walk up a section of the West Sussex Coastal Link. The track here follows the long closed Shoreham to Steyning railway line. The River Adur meanders across the meadows. Red Admiral butterflies feed on the purple flowers of Buddleia, quite rightly also known as the Butterfly Bush. Some logs have been carved into serpents spiralling around wooden columns. They were designed by local people and carved by a sculptor.

Thursday 12thJuly – Calder Vale – Purples and yellows fight for supremacy. Purples are represented by Spear Thistles and Black Knapweed; yellows by the worts, Ragwort and St John’s Wort. The supporting cast includes Teasels, Stonecrops and a plant I fail to identify – leaves like geraniums, cloud of pale yellow flowers, stumpy like cabbages. Dark grey clouds glide overhead, causing frequent showers.

County Hall – Wakefield – A Victorian pile typical of Northern cities, a somewhat foreboding Gothic building of soot stained pale sandstone. I am attending a meeting in the Council Chamber, although the West Riding of Yorkshire County Council is no longer in existence as an entity. All the furniture is carved mahogany. A wide semi-circle of seats face the imposing raised dais where the Mayor and senior councillors sat. Lighting comes from extraordinary confections of brass hang from a beam and domed ceiling. Windows contain fine leaded glass with stained glass shields of arms. Life-size plaster relief Muses adorn the bases of the dome. In the ante chamber, a coloured raised mural runs round the walls. One depicts the death of Richard of York at the Battle of Wakefield (1460), The others are of Margaret of Anjou delivering her son to the robbers (1463), Henry VII receiving the crown of England at Bosworth Field (1485) and the procession of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York (1486). A strange multicoloured inlaid marble table depicts armour and weapons. The Ge