Ramblings

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 Gents lavatory maintains the Victorian magnificence with pale chocolate, grey and white marble surrounds with white urinal by George Jennings, Patentee of Palace Wharf, Stangate, Lambeth, London (under the Royal Crest) with a blue target to reduce splashing!

Friday 13th July – Frodingham Railway Cutting, Scunthorpe – Cooler and windier weather has replaced the muggy heat of recent weeks. The grasses in the Nature Reserve stand high. A splendid display of Spotted Orchids rises in the centre. Meadow Browns flutter and a small skipper moves over the numerous purple heads of Black Knapweed. The skipper is too restless to identify positively. A Burnett Moth, red spots on black wings, feeds on a knapweed. A Chiffchaff calls half-hearted from trees on the railway side of the site.

Saturday 14th July – Wombwell Ings – Up the old road. Looks like a decent crop of Sloes will be ready in the autumn. We follow the Dearne eastwards towards the old railway. The crop in the field beside the path is strange – a mixture of oilseed Rape and Broad Beans. Lots of other rough ground species are mixed in at the edge of the field – Melilots, Field Poppies, Tansy and Thistles. Great Burnet grows near the river, its flowers are tiny and form oval dark red heads. Up on the railway, Chaffinches and Whitethroats are in song. Haresfoot Clover is common, as are Ragwort, St John’s Wort and Tansy. Evening Primrose are far fewer in number but their large pale yellow flowers stand out against the dark green Gorse and Broom. The moon is pale in the late morning sky.

Chester

Wednesday 18th July – Chester – The City of Chester stands on the site of the Roman fortress of Castra Deva, which was built between AD47-77. It still has a complete city wall ringing the city centre. In the centre there are rows of shops on two levels with half-timbered buildings in black and white above. A set of arches proclaims Three Old Arches 1274. However, it is not all as it seems! The Elizabethan half-timbering is dated in places and is mainly late Victorian, i.e. late 19th century. Arches take the roads under the city walls. A canal runs to the north and over it, beside the modern road is a little bridge. This is the Bridge of Sighs, so called because convicts crossed it from the gaol to the chapel in the Blue Coats Hospital on the opposite side to receive last rites before execution.

The cathedral is not big by many standards. It has a splendid set of wood carvings on the arms of chairs in the Quire stalls. One is of an elephant and castle, done by someone who had clearly never seen a real elephant – the hooves are a bit of a give-away. Another is an owl eating a rather large mouse. The original church on the site was probably built to house the relics of St Werburgh. She was the daughter of the Mercian king Wulfere. She became a nun and eventually an abbess, renowned for her holiness and reforms. She is often depicted with geese, recalling the legend of her restoring to life a goose stolen and killed by a servant. She died in the early 8th century. The church was turned into a Benedictine abbey by Hugh Lupus, second Earl of Chester with help from Anselm, Abbott of Bec in Normandy. Work on the abbey started in 1092. It took some 150 years to build the abbey and was rebuilt twice over. The second rebuild had just finished when, in 1540, Henry VIII dissolved the monastery. It was returned the following year as the cathedral in the new Diocese of Chester. The cathedral fell into a poor state until the latter part of the 19th century, when Dean Hewson called in Sir George Gilbert Scott as chief architect of the refurbishment, which was continued by his grandson, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.

There is little left of the Roman amphitheatre, particularly with the wall of a nunnery cutting straight across its circle. Some of the city walls show damage of sieges from the Civil War. There are splendid rows of neat cottages, both inside and outside the walls. The walls themselves make a good walk around the city. Various towers remain, including Charles Tower, from which Charles I stood and watched his army defeated at the Battle of Rowston Moor on 24th September 1645. Above the door is a phoenix rising, the sign of the Guild of Printers and Stationers who met there until the 17th century. The River Dee is crossed by a relatively narrow bridge to the south east. A Cormorant stands, wings outstretched on a shingle bank. Mallard waddle up the fast flowing weir. A Grey Heron stands, for some reason, in an old lifebuoy on the mud. To the southwest, a much larger bridge crosses the river. The sandstone from which it is constructed contains crystals of quartz which sparkle in the infrequent sunlight. Swifts, in large numbers, hunt insects over the river.

Sunday 22nd July – Pugneys’ Country Park – A bright morning. A Little Grebe dives on the small pond whilst a young Coot tries to look like a larger species of grebe in an attempt to fool me! Sand Martins are constantly sweeping overhead. Great Crested Grebes and Tufted Duck are diving in the sand pit lake. There is a huge number of steel piles at the far end – it would seem that the lake needs reinforcing to prevent water seepage into the nearby housing. On the shingle bar, half a dozen Common Terns sleep in a large roost of Black-headed Gulls. We climb the stiles to walk along the Aire and Calder Navigation. Several large dragonflies hawk past but are off too quick to get any real chance of identifying them. Young Greenfinches noisily move along the bushes at the base of the banking. Common Terns call as they fly up the river.

Home – It is time to start removing the Broad Beans. About a quarter of the row yields enough pods for tonight’s dinner. Even less of the Mangetout peas are removed having provided a decent bowlful. Weeding is a constant chore – various members of the dandelion family and Shepherds Purse are in large numbers. An old tree against the wall is yielding a vast crop of cherries, but they are all high up and difficult to pick. This is not, of course, a problem for the Blue Tits and Blackbirds that are feasting on them. Recent high winds have greatly thinned the apple crop, but this is probably not a bad thing as the remaining apples will grow better with less competition. Courgettes are coming along nicely, although a number have suffered from rot because of the recent wet weather. The tomatoes are flowering and need staking.

Saturday 28th July – Barnsley Canal – The Mute Swans still have two, now large, cygnets. The great bundles of grey fluff sit in the nest mound with their mother whilst the Cob watches Dill the Dog warily. Gatekeepers are everywhere, by far the most numerous butterflies. Meadow Browns, Commas and Small Whites are also feeding on the Black Knapweed, Black Horehound, Thistles and Rosebay Willowherb flowers. One Gatekeeper clearly regards a head of thistle as its own property and harries off a Small White that dares to land. Vast swathes of Himalayan Balsam are in flower along the river. Great Burdock is just about to flower, its rich purple flowers peeking out of the bristling head. Bird song is limited – the mournful wheeep of a Willow Warbler and the sharp chack of a Blackcap. In the distance a Carrion Crow caws. Young Moorhens scurry across the green covered canal to seek the shelter and safety of the reeds. It is very hot. Flies buzz annoying around my head. A small group of Bullfinches is feeding in the reed bed. They slip away to the cover of a Silver Birch.