31 May 2020


Moorland pool shrinking in the drought
Two or three weeks ago I headed out to walk the northern end of Stanage Edge. Stupidly, I left my faithful "Sony" bridge camera at the bottom of our stairs. Yesterday, I retraced my steps with camera in hand after parking close to Moscar Lodge on the A57.

As it happens, Saturday was a much better day for photography than on the last visit though I did not hear that plaintive cuckoo. The sky was as clear as crystal and Aegean blue. Meadow pipts bobbed about the bone dry heather and bog cotton as  two sheep in their woolly jumpers sought green sustenance under the sun's glare. Again I disturbed a couple of red grouse and a mountain hare.
Blobs of bog cotton dancing in the breeze
This time I was not alone. An Asian family snaked up the track to the rocks at Stanage End and a group of lithe rock climbers pitted their wits against Crows Chin - a mighty block of millstone grit that looks out over Moscar Moor towards Hordron Edge and the upper valley of The River Derwent.
"...lithe rock climbers pitted their wits against Crows Chin"
A young woman with a red face, desperately grasping a plastic water bottle, plodded after her errant boyfriend saying, "Are you sure it's this way Shane? Can't we have a sit down?" She was terribly overweight but at least she was out in the sunshine, getting some exercise. 
Ruin of a grouse shooters' cabin near Stanage End
For me it was four miles maximum. I saw water reflecting sunshine two hundred yards away and went over to photograph that moorland pool - now shrinking in the drought and I pottered about the remains of long disused stone quarries at Stanage End.

It felt good to be alive - my bootsteps transporting me smoothly over the rough landscape and my heart feeling light and carefree. Maybe one day - if I get to be a really old man - I will look back upon such rambles, smiling with fond remembrance: how it was in those bygone days.
Approaching Stanage End

30 May 2020


The peregrine chicks yesterday evening.
You can also see their perching father's shadow.
For several years, peregrine falcons have raised young on the tower of St George's Church in the centre of Sheffield. I have blogged about this before. Bird lovers from around the world can watch the nest activity from the comfort of their own homes. Go here.

This year there are two hungry chicks and they are gradually  losing their downy feathers, reaching the point where they will fledge and leave their lofty nest. Let us hope that they do not end up living on local grouse moors where covertly, landowners have encouraged the shooting of raptors that might affect the highly questionable "joy" of grouse shooting expeditions.

When I returned to Clint, high at the top of Shatton Lane, i finished reading "Yorkshire - A Lyrical History of England's Greatest County" by Richard K. Morris. Of course, being a proud Yorkshireman I had really looked forward to reading this book but I found it kind of fragmented. Good in parts but hard going in others.

Born on the same day as me but six years earlier, Morris is by profession and academic enquiry an archaeologist. That historical background is very evident in the book. By the way, it is worth noting that he is not a Yorkshireman but someone who has lived here most of his adult life having married a Yorkshirewoman to whom the book is dedicated.

Topics it swerves round include the Viking invasion, The City of Sheffield and the manufacturing of steel products, William Wilberforce the great anti-slavery campaigner, land ownership and grand houses, football, cricket, The Yorkshire Dales and popular music. It's as if Morris dipped his hand in the Yorkshire bran tub and came out with twelve parcels, leaving various others behind.

However, to give the book its credit it revealed to me many things I did not know about my home county and some passages were absorbing - including illuminating tales of wartime conscientious objectors and how the legends of Robin Hood are connected with the county's Barnsdale region between Doncaster and Pontefract. I also learnt about Inclesmoor to the south of The Humber - a large watery settlement of the middle ages of which there is virtually no trace left behind.

Yesterday, I planted out four healthy courgette plants and sowed three rows of seeds - white radishes, lollo rosso lettuce and purple sprouting broccoli. I gave everything a good soaking with my hose...no, not that one! After three months with very little rain, Yorkshire Water are already warning households to be sensible about water usage as our reservoirs are now only 70% full. Maybe we should all do a raindance.

Finally, R.I.P. George Floyd - cruelly killed by a policeman in Minneapolis on May 25th 2020. No wonder fires are now burning. The rage is always there - just waiting to be ignited.

29 May 2020


That is where I parked my South Korean buddy yesterday. High above The Hope Valley and the little village of Shatton. He was fuming when I got back to him for there was no shade and it was the hottest day of the year so far.

"Jesus God! You have been away two and a half hours," he said. "I thought my petrol tank was going to explode in this heat!"

"Chill out mate!" I replied, pulling a deckchair out of the boot (American: trunk). I drank cold water and read my book for an hour before driving Clint home. Nobody else passed by.
View to Win Hill from Shatton Lane
My walk had been circular and the landscape was very familiar. What is the opposite of virgin territory I wonder?

If you searched this blog you would certainly find previous references to Offerton Hall, Highlow Hall, Abney and Shatton Moor for I have walked there before. For the fashionistas out there, my walking outfit was similar to last week's but this time my shorts were khaki and my T-shirt was from Panama City Beach, Florida (2010). Is it really ten years since our daughter Frances was there for Spring Break?
Offerton Hall
The walk was quite lovely - and not so long - around five miles. Near Abney the sheep and fattening lambs were seeking shelter from the sunshine. Mothers panted in the lee of  walls and under the few shady trees large segments of flocks clustered together. It will be the same for the next few days. No sign of rain. I am glad I am not a sheep.
Highlow Hall
A shy lamb at Abney

28 May 2020


Where shall I walk today? I look at a map of my region and I have covered every inch of it within fifteen miles of this house. It is nice to walk in what I call "virgin territory" as I did on Monday when Clint delivered me to Laxton in Nottinghamshire.

That was an hour away and I don't wish to drive that sort of distance today so I guess I am going to have to cover old ground. Mind you, revisiting a circular walk I have completed in the past is never quite the same. The season, the light, the changes we see in nature -it's always subtly different from before.

Another sunny morning in Lockdown Land. These past three months - March, April and now May have all been exceptionally dry. The earth is crying out for rain.

On Monday I walked by two vast fields of broad beans. They were hanging on but hardly thriving in their sun-baked clay soil. In this country, most farmers rely upon rain from the sky to make their crops grow, We are not set up for artificial irrigation in the way that farms are in southern France or the Central Valley of California. Usually our problem is too much rainwater rather than too little.

Anyway, I need to get my act together now. The countryside is calling though I still don't know where I am going. I will tell you later where I went - assuming I make it home of course...

27 May 2020


Were crows ever scared of scarecrows? I doubt it. Crows are pretty intelligent creatures. Between themselves, they probably laugh or caw about pathetic dummies flapping about in farmers' fields. Besides, even if they were scared of them, an acre of farmland would require at least fifty scarecrows to make any difference.

Visitors seemed to like the keyworker scarecrow image I showed you yesterday, so here are two more members of Laxton's army of scarecrows:-
Finally, here's another real life scarecrow from Number 10 Downing Street. He is Dominic Cummings, the prime minister's senior adviser. This odious weasel broke the country's strict lockdown rules to travel 260 miles north one night at the end of March. He headed from London up to his parents' farm in County Durham with his wife and four year old son.
When spotlighted about this flagrant breach of the guidelines, what did he come up with? Weasel words of course. No apology. Just weasel words and what is more - the big blonde scarecrow - Johnson himself - has so far stood by Cummings in spite of a tsunami of criticism that has seen Johnson's popularity plunge like a lift in The Shard.

Ironically, Cummings is responsible for the government's pandemic slogans - "STAY HOME/ PROTECT THE NHS/ SAVE LIVES" and later "STAY ALERT/CONTROL THE VIRUS/ SAVE LIVES". And yet he could not follow his own instructions. The reek of hypocrisy is very disgusting.

26 May 2020


Abandoned Moat Farm  in Edgmanton
Laxton is a village in Nottinghamshire. Its main claim to fame is that it is the only village in England that still operates the medieval "open field system" of agriculture.

I was there yesterday, still making a fashion statement, but this time my top was an authentic New York City Fire Department (NYFD) grey T-shirt, By the way, thinking about the good 'ol USA, it is generally believed that places there called Lexington can thank Laxton for their name.

What a joy it was to be out there in the May sunshine, plodding along rarely trodden public footpaths that took me to three more villages: Edgmanton, Weston and Moorhouse. I saw many things and creatures too: cattle and sheep, a badger and two hares that did not hang around long enough for me to get my camera out, a peacock, partridges, a fox, white geese with goslings and a barking brown dog that came out to "greet" me at Ladywood Farm.
Laxton Church (Grade I listed) and dedicated to  St Michael the Archangel
Encountering unleashed dogs is one of the main perils of country walking. You approach farms with trepidation - aware that at any moment a dog may appear to  drive you from its territory. Usually, they are chained up or in  cages but once in a while there are scary meetings with dogs that are allowed to run free - even though the landowner is well aware that a public right of way passes through their property. As in urban areas, there are irresponsible dog owners out in the countryside too. Fortunately, I have never been bitten but I have had to say "Good boy!" on many occasions when I really meant "Back off Satan!"
Not dandelion but hawkweed in West Field, Laxton
I moved over the landscape like a beetle. In twelve miles I didn't see another rambler. Several sections of path were untrodden or badly signed. So different from The Peak District in that regard. 

In lovely Edgmanton, anxious mothers called their children indoors as the stranger in the NYFD T-shirt plodded by. But soon he was gone - beetling along past the remains of ancient fish ponds and hedgerows with history. No stone wall field boundaries out there.
Approaching the village of Weston and the spire of  All Saints Church
When I got back to Clint it was after five o'clock.

"Come on! Get your shoes on!" he snapped. "I'm sick of waiting here. One of those mucky tractors was eyeing me up earlier on. Let's get back to Sheffield tout suite!"
Key worker scarecrow competition in Laxton. That's what COVID does to your head.

24 May 2020


On Sunday May 10th, the British government changed its public coronavirus slogan from "Stay Home/Protect the NHS/ Save Lives" to "Stay Alert/Control The Virus/Save Lives". Generally, this change has been met with puzzlement and has been criticised for being far too vague. 

The instruction  to "Stay Alert" has been echoing in my head for two weeks now. I thought of small mammals in the long grass, sailors in crows' nests and soldiers looking through night vision binoculars at the 38th parallel in Korea. But this was the poem I came up with...

Stay Alert

Like beauty danger lurks
A  highwayman
Ready to disarm you
To rob you of your breath.
Look left, look right,
Check your way is clear
For it may be very near
Skulking in the shadows
Of unease
Concealed by trembling trees
Or waiting round the bend
Just up ahead
With the unsung dead.
Said the T-shirt
Stay Alert
Choose vigilance
To secure a
Stay of execution
- Your contribution
To saving lives.

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