Ramblings

September 2006


Friday 1st September – Willowbank – The early morning is grey and very damp. The rising sun is hidden behind a bank of cloud. There is a gusty wind rippling the branches of the Hawthorns. An excited twittering comes from above. About forty House Martins are drifting across the sky at about one hundred feet, each moving in a seemingly Brownian motion. They steadily move southwards.

Sunday 3rd September – Oxfordshire – We returned from visiting the in-laws in Surrey via the M40 motorway. Lesser Black-backed Gulls regularly drifted overhead. Fields were being shared by sheep and large flocks of Rooks. From High Wycombe, over the Chiltern Hills and down through the Cherwell Valley Red Kites are now well established. They float on the slightest breeze, wings hardly moving, drifting, soaring and gliding down over the land. One of the great successes of bird reintroduction.

Friday 9th September – Willowbank – Last night the moon rose huge and orange in the South-east. A large chunk had been bitten out of its top by a partial eclipse. A couple of hours later, it was high in the clear night sky, white and luminous. This clear sky has resulted in a very cool morning. The grass down Willowbank is saturated with dew and probably not far from frost. A cloud of mist rolls along the Dearne river valley.

Saturday 10th September – Barnsley Canal – It is misty as I head down Willowbank and the grass is sodden with dew. Most flowers have turned to seed, especially Rosebay Willowherb whose white fluffy seed heads are everywhere. However, there are still patches of Common Toadflax, pretty yellow and orange lipped flowers on stems surrounded with whorls of thin leaves. Fungi are appearing is large quantities now. A group of one of the brown russula family is under a thicket of Birch saplings. There are brown amanitas with white spots, probably the extremely poisonous Panther Caps, some already rotting boletes and a few puffballs up on the top of the hillside. Long-tailed Tits have formed flocks and squeak noisily as they move through the trees. A dozen or more Moorhens make a dash for the reeds edging the canal. The reed beds are now over six foot high and dense. Up the hill there is an area of longish Showgrass which is covered in thousands of spider webs all white with dew. The small Hawthorns here are also hosts to numerous webs, mostly small dense patches of white, but some of the more traditional webs of the garden spider family. I collect a small bag of Blackberries for a crumble and another of Sloes for Sloe Gin.

Penistone Show – The annual show takes place. We park in a field with hundreds, if not thousands of other vehicles. The show is crowded. Kay is fascinated by the judging of the pigs. They are guided around the small show area using a crook and a board. They clearly are not wishing to go in the direction that their handlers wish! The other livestock tents are full of fine cattle, sheep and the usual weird and wonderful fowls and ducks. One little duck has a splendid topknot but seems keen to be out of its cage. The malt whisky stall draws me, as usual. I manage to avoid the £1000 bottle, but still spend over £70 on a couple of bottles.

Tuesday 11th September – Home – Mid-evening I take Dill the Dog over to the old reservoir, a green area just up the road. As we arrive, the wind increases in strength and there are flashes of lightning from Manchester, Derbyshire and closest, from Doncaster way. It has been a very warm day, one of the hottest on record in some places, and the sun’s energy has now been violently released in the form of electric storms. Just as we head back rain starts to pound the pavements and we are soaked in the short time it takes to reach home.

Thursday 13th September – Willowbank – The area is very wet. Although it is still green and a Chiffchaff sings as though it is Spring, everything looks tired and ready to fall dormant until next year.

Saturday 16th September – Saltaire – We catch a train from town to Saltaire. It still calls at Castleford and Normanton, which greatly adds to the journey time. The contrast between the Barnsley to Leeds train and the one to Skipton could not be greater. We rattle, creak and rock our way to Leeds and then glide almost silently out of Leeds for the couple of stops to Saltaire. It is the last day of the annual festival in Titus Salt’s model village. There is a continental market in the main street. Piles of crusty bread, gooey pastries, soft cheeses, meaty sausages, dried and candied fruits of every kind and lots of takeaway snacks. We have a couple of open baguettes with cheese and sausage. The only thing missing is the fruit and garlic stall, which seems odd, they are usually at these markets. We head back down the hill past Salt’s Mill and over the River Aire. The river is wide and flows rapidly over a weir. Beyond is Robert Park, where there are further stalls and amusements. An avenue runs along the far side of the park with a round terrace looking out over the cricket pitch where a match is in progress. The scoreboard is electronic, so no-one standing hanging up tin plates with the number of runs etc. as in the old days. A large statue of Titus Salt stands on this terrace. On the sides of the base are two bronze plaques, one depicting an Angora and the other an Alpaca. Although Salt was not the first person on England to use Alpaca, he was the most successful.

We wander back through the stalls, over the river and back up towards Saltaire. The church is open so we pay a visit. Building was commenced in 1858. The prime mover for the building of the church was William Evans Glyde, although the cost of over £16,000 was borne entirely by Sir Titus Salt. The church is of Italianate design by Messrs Lockwood and Mawson. The masons were Messrs Moulson of Bradford. Entry to the church is through a vestibule where there is the almost inevitable bust of Titus Salt. The main body of the church is light and airy. There is a delightful flower display. A master class in trombone playing is underway. The walls are a simple pale blue-grey with dark green and black marble. The window reveals and door frames appear to be pale brown marble, but are painted wood. Just off the main part of the church, towards the front, is the mausoleum where eight members of the Salt family, including Titus are interred. A white stone memorial was carved by John Adams-Aston. The tower, supported on Corinthian columns, held a peal of six bells which were sold for scrap in 1940 or 41. They had probably not been rung since Armistice Day 1918. However, in 2003 a new set of bells were installed by Maggie Silver in memory of her husband Jonathan who was one of the people mainly responsible for converting Salt’s Mill from an abandoned mill to the impressive arts and retail centre it is today. The bells are named and inscribed as tradition demands:-

Treble Mary Tell out my soul
2 Peter To God be the Glory
3 Lydia May Jesus be praised
4 Jonathan I know that my Redeemer Liveth
5 Martha Crown Him with many crowns
Tenor Titus Sweet is the work, my God, my King

From the church we walked back through through the market to the Institute where there were exhibitions and craft stalls. Oh, and a Beer Festival. So it was several pints and then off to the West Yorkshire Organic Group Show at the college in the next street. There was the usual excellent display of organically grown vegetables and it was pleasing to see that a school garden had won a number of prizes. I reckoned I may have been in with a shout in the Runner bean and garlic classes. So after looking longingly at many fine specimens of vegetables I have failed on again this year, it was back to the Beer Festival until supplies ran out!

Friday 22nd September – Willowbank – The equinox is past and it is now Autumn, and it really feels like it. It is cooler and very damp. The only bird sounds are a couple of Robins in full song. A large boletus, probably Birch Boletus, is growing on a steep area of old colliery spoil heap under Silver Birches.

Howden – The River Ouse is very wide at the point the M62 motorway crosses it on a great arching bridge. Immediately to the east a road leads off to Howden, a small town, and then on towards the coast. Large flocks of Golden Plover are flying in all directions.

Saturday 23rd September – Barnsley Canal – It is misty and very damp, but not cold. A Carrion Crow flies over the open grassland towards the top of Willowbank croaking harshly and loudly. Robins are singing. Down by the canal and up the horse paddocks below Tinkers Pond there are numerous Blackbirds, mainly young ones. A Great Tit makes a desultory attempt at singing but soon gives up. Even a passing Goldfinch flock is making a subdued attempt at their normal noisy and excited twittering. Past the bridge a female Common Pheasant runs hither and thither before disappearing down the bank into the rough pasture below. Dill the Dog fails to spot her but obviously notices her scent and is peering around trying to locate the source. The reed beds are beginning to turn brown. On the hillside there are several areas of Horse Mushrooms, Agaricus arvensis. I crop a couple of pounds which will make some soup.

Sunday 24th September – Grange Gate – Another misty morn dawns. Mistle Thrushes fly overhead rasping loudly. The asphalt path is cracked badly for a short distance. I imagine this is a result of July’s heat wave, rather than subsidence. Ground movement is, of course, very common around here as beneath our feet is a honeycomb of mining tunnels, but this path is on the bed of an old railway and should be pretty stable. Magpies chatter in the woods. Blue Tits are feeding in the Willows and Alders lining the path. Toadflax is still in flower, the last remnants of summer. Small Oaks have large fat acorns ripening. I climb a steep, badly eroded path up into the Birch and Oak woods on the hillside towards Ardsley. Dill the Dog slips and runs back down to the bottom and is reluctant to try again. She eventually makes it up but is not pleased by the steepness. In the end, it is a waste of effort as the expected boletus fungi are nowhere is sight. Back down along the track and a Jay flies silently across the fields.