Ramblings

July 2002


Monday 1st July – Blackburn Meadows – There is little on the ponds – a pair of juvenile Great Crested Grebe (where are the parents?), a few Black-headed Gulls and a pair of Mute Swans with five cygnets. The flowers, on the other hand are in profusion. Field Scabious, Black and Greater Knapweeds, Ragwort, Common Melitot and various other members of the pea family. Thistles and nettles are being used as climbing stakes by Greater Bindweed. Teasels are bright green and soft. Around the back of the ponds, Great Willowherb is starting to bloom, both Meadow and Bloody Cranesbills and Field Poppies. In the second pond, a pair of Grey Herons, one a juvenile, stand hunched. A Dabchick dives through the covering of waterweed. Swifts and House Martins feed overhead.

Tuesday 2nd July – North Yorkshire – We set off to Whitby for a couple of days break. Just north of Pickering there are belts of torrential rain. They line the road like curtains of water. Suddenly, a swirling white cloud is ahead and a funnel starts to form – a small tornado. The funnel barely forms before it breaks up but damage can be seen by the small broken branches on the road. High on the North York Moors the ugly block of Fylingdales early warning system scars the view. The moors roll away to the north. Rooks, Lapwings and Meadow Pipits pass. A Sky Lark sings high above. We pass through Goathland but do not stop. Since it was used in the television drama Heartbeat, the little village is awash with tourists. On down from the moors into Whitby.

Church

Whitby – We find our guest house and head down into the town. Whitby is well-known as both a fishing port and for the abbey high on the headland to the south of the town. Narrow streets run down to the old fish docks. The area on the north side of the harbour is a typical English seaside resort – games arcades, fish and chips and pubs. Barkers call out for trips around the harbour and bay. One of the pleasure craft is a small replica of HM Bark Endeavour. The real replica Endeavour is docked further up. The original Bark took Captain James Cook, who learned his seacraft at Whitby, to the South Seas. The actual reason for the voyage was to observe a transit of the sun by the planet Venus, predicted to occur on the 3rd June 1769. Cook sailed to Tahiti and witnessed the eclipse. He then sailed on to discover New Zealand and Australia. Crowds are lined up to go on board the Endeavour. The presence of many people eating brings in large numbers of Herring Gulls and it is a good opportunity to closely observe their first and second summer plumages! We head off up the 199 steps to the headland, past St Mary's Church and on to the Abbey. The Northumbrian king, Oswy, founded a monastery here in 657. It flourished under the rule of St Hild (usually called Hilda) but was destroyed by marauding Danes around 867. It was rebuilt by the Norman knight, Reinfrid in the 1070s. It became one of the great medieval abbeys of Yorkshire, but was suppressed by Henry VIII in 1539. The buildings were bought by a prominent local family, the Cholmleys. Whilst most of the monastery was demolished, the abbey church was preserved, possibly as a navigation mark for shipping. The Cholmleys used the abbot’s lodgings as a house. In the 1670s the house was redesigned with a grand new front range which is now the visitor centre. The great ruined walls of the abbey church still have an aura of majesty and power. Swallows fly low across the grass. Great columns of weather etched limestone tower above. An interesting fact is gleaned from the centre; wooden boats always have problems with fouling on their undersides by marine life. The way this was dealt with here was to gather lots of Gorse and burn it against the beached ships. The gorse burns fast and hot, melting the tar and resealing the planks and removing marine debris, but not long enough to cause damage to the timbers. The Gorse is called Whin, hence the origin of the name of the bird, the Whinchat.

Wednesday 3rd July – Whitby – A flotilla of small boats leave the harbour at about 7:30am taking angling parties out to sea. The sea is smooth and blue. A great pair of whale bones forms an arch on the southern headland. Sloping cliffs that lead down to the beach are covered in grasses and flowers, yellow vetches, Red Clover, Ragwort and Spotted Orchids. The cry of Herring Gulls rings out from the roof tops.

Robin Hood’s Bay – South of Whitby, a small fishing village nestles in a crack in the cliffs. The village developed in the 15th and 16th Centuries, there is a house by the hard dated 1680. The rest of the village, further up the hill is of grander houses for the sea captains. A stream runs down the hill, often under the houses. We head along the bay. The area is well known for fossils, but I find only a piece of belemnite and a piece of mudstone covered in broken shells. The geology is complex with thin layers of soft sandstone over layers of mudstone. On the way back the incoming tide has reached the boulders used as a sea defence, so we have to take off our shoes and socks and wade around to reach the slope back into the village. A grand house up the hill has an interesting history. In the late 19th Century, navvies were brought in to build the railway between Scarborough and Whitby. There were many drunken fights between the navvies and the locals with broken heads and drunken broken legs. Combatants were hauled off to Whitby gaol, but in 1886 a local lock-up and police station was built. It fell out of use and was sold to the present owners in 1941 and named Beckfield. From the top of the hill above the village the sea can be scanned. There are both swimming and passing alcids, mainly Razorbills. Cormorants, Fulmars and Gannets are also flying through. A dolphin or porpoise breeches.

Thursday 4th July – North York Moors – On our way back home, my childhood pleasures are reawakened with a trip on the North Yorks Moors Railway. Before setting off, a quick visit to the locomotive sheds, bringing back memories of similar visits over thirty years ago. The route to the sheds leads though a tunnel, probably the first railway tunnel in the world built in 1835 by George Stephenson for the Whitby to Pickering Railway, one of the first railway lines built. At this time, trains were horse-drawn carriages on rails. Various engines stand in the shed, many brought from the breakers yard at Barry in Glamorgan, where I saw them in 1966. Especial note was the A2 EnginePacific Blue Peter, which I seem to recall I saw pulling in an express in Edinburgh in 1965. We board the train at Grosmont and are pulled by the Southern Railway Schools Class 4-4-0 engine, 30926, Repton, built in 1934. The journey travels through the beautiful Esk Valley, rising nearly 500 feet across Goathland Summit at 532 feet, across Fen Bog to Newton Dale Halt, then through a steep sided moorland valley to Levisham and on down Newton Dale, a great glacial overflow channel, carved in the last Ice Age by the overflow from a huge eleven mile long, 400 foot deep lake in Eskdale and then on to Pickering. Along the journey, many fields are steep with sheep, including one magnificent specimen with a double twist to its horns. Foxgloves grow in profusion along the side of the track. A single stalk of white flowers (Giant Bellflower?) rises from a bank. Much of the area beside the track is boggy with lots of reeds and Meadow Sweet. The River Esk is crossed many times as it winds its way down the valley. High on the hillsides are sandstone outcrops, painted purple by heathers. For the return journey, we are pulled by a British Railways Class 4MT 2-6-0, 75014, Braveheart, built at Swindon in 1951 – as old as me!

Monday 8th July – Stairfoot – The weather remains changeable. Along the old railway and new flowers emerge amid those that have been around for some weeks now. Rest Harrow, a pink pea type creeps along beside the path, whilst St John’s Wort rises behind. Another ground hugging straggler, the Rockrose sends up pretty yellow flowers. Half a pigeon’s egg lays on the path. Yellowhammers are plentiful and calling. Meadow Browns and Comma butterflies flit across the tall grasses.

Tuesday 9th July – Barnsley Canal – A pink umbellifer type plant is growing down in the damp of the bottom of the canal near Smithies Lane. It is Orpine, also known as Livelong as its thick fleshy leaves keep it alive for a long time after being picked. A female Sparrowhawk slips away across the river. Chiffchaffs are still calling. Two Black-headed Gulls look odd sitting at the top of one of the dead trees in the Loop. Bloodsuckers (although of course, they are not, – they are a beetle, Rhagonycha fulva) are on Ragwort.

Thursday 11th July – Blackburn Meadows – Banks are covered in Lucerne, one of the pea family, in varying shades of dark purple to white. They are being visited by bees, including a bright orange bottomed Bumble Bee. Small yellow Water Lilies are coming into flower on the School Pond. A noisy Dunnock calls from Broom and Gorse. Swifts and House Martins sweep low over the main pools. Yarrow looks like an umbellifer, but is actually a member of the Daisy family. One plant has pink flowers, whilst most the others are white. The lagoon is very low again. Rabbits feed on the lush vegetation on the mud. A fluffy young Lapwing totters around seeking food. Large black slugs with orange undersides slime their way across the track. Black and orange striped caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth feed on Ragwort. A Reed Bunting feeds a juvenile as large as itself. The ponds are quiet. A family of Mute Swans preens, a few Black-headed Gulls squabble as usual, Dabchicks are diving and a single female Mallard drifts around. A large Purple Toadflax grows next to the path.

Monday 15th July – Carlton Marsh – Just after 9:00 in the morning and it is sweltering hot. The area of shrubbery and pathways at the entrance to Carlton Marsh is now overgrown and shady – a decent bit of management is needed here. Up on the old railway that runs to Cudworth the sun beats down. Meadow flowers bloom in profusion – purple thistle like Greater and Lesser Knapweeds, pink Musk Mallow, yellow St John’s Wort and Ragwort, purple Tufted Vetch and yellow Trefoils, white umbellifers, Red Clover, yellow Lady’s Bedstraw and a deep rich pink rose. Down on the marshes are swathes of Meadow Sweet. Overhead dozens of Swifts climb, soar, dive and swerve through the air, fattening themselves before heading south to Africa. On the lake, Mallards are in eclipse. A male Ruddy Duck is still resplendent in his chestnut plumage and blue bill. Another gleams silver with water as it re-emerges from a dive. A Reed Warbler hops sideways up a reed and then heads off into the Hawthorn scrub. A large bronze dragonfly hawks past. Sedge Warblers and Willow Tits are calling. A Dabchick preens itself and a Moorhen creeps around the base of the reed bed. A Grey Heron steps slowly and deliberately through the shallows. The hot weather has meant the emergence of masses of butterflies – Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns are especially numerous. Green-veined Whites are feeding on Knapweeds. Small Skippers are tiny copper gems and a surprise is a Grizzled Skipper, a black spotted white little butterfly. 6-Spot Burnets are mating on Ragwort. A short half-hearted yelp means a Green Woodpecker is nearby, whilst a chip reveals the location of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Over on a pond in an open meadow, a Grey Heron takes off and a large blue dragonfly hunts over the rather limited patches of reed. Tansy is just coming into flower, tight yellow buttons on deeply scented leaves, once used to flavour eggs. An Oak has beautiful light green new leaves. Down in the visitor area, the School Pond is also a bit dilapidated, but gorgeous White Water-lilies are opening. Back in the car, Dill the Dog and I both have a long drink of water.

Tuesday 16th July – Barnsley Canal – A Reed Warbler flies into the reed bed near the old Mute Swan nest mound. It soon shuffles up a reed and dashes off into the nearby Hawthorns. It must be the bird singing earlier in the year and have attracted a mate to nest. It is somewhat cooler this morning with a slight breeze. A Moorhen feeds and a Blackbird drinks at the foot of Willowbank.

Eyam – A village in the Derbyshire Dales, famous as the Plague Village. There are several trunks of the start of the story. In 1665, plague was raging in London. In one trunk of the story, Alexander Hadfield, the village tailor took delivery of material ordered from London. It was damp and was spread out to dry. The material was full of plague carrying fleas. In another version, George Viccars arrived from London carrying fleas in his clothes and lodged with Mary and Alexander Hadfield. He was wet and his clothes were spread to dry. Either way, Viccars contracted plague and died on 7th September 1665. Fifteen days later Mary’s son Edward was buried followed by several neighbours. The death rate rose throughout the winter and some families fled the district. The Rector, William Mompesson, supported by the former encumbant, Thomas Stanley decided to ask the villagers to quarantine the village to stop the plague spreading. Food and medical supplies were left at the Boundary Stone and Mompesson’s Well. The plague lasted until October 1666. It claimed 260 lives out of 800 villagers. The cottage where Mary and Alexander Hadfield lived is in a row next to the church in Church Street. Pretty little buildings in a warm brown stone, they belie the horror that was seen here so long ago. Up the road, a tiny market hall stands on a green which contains the old village stocks. These were mainly used for punishing unruly lead miners, this being a major industry here. Some galena (lead ore), Fluorspar and Barytes are still mined locally. The church, S