Thursday, 1 December 2016

A stroll through Scholes and Wentworth

Yesterday's walk was one I've done many times, yet one I will never get tired of repeating. We started just outside the village of Scholes and walked up the main street, admiring the gorgeous houses and giving a quick fuss to the horses as we passed. Before long, we reached the entrance to Scholes Coppice and Sybil made the most of her freedom by promptly finding a squirrel to chase.

Keppel's Column
An immediate right turn saw us heading up onto Keppel's Field, with the Column dominating from the top right-hand corner. Sybil was truly enjoying the walk now; the field was unusually busy for a weekday, with plenty of other dogs for her to annoy. We skirted around the cattle enclosure and re-entered Scholes Coppice, passing the Iron Age Fort of Caesar's Camp.

Sybil at Caesar's Camp

Bumping into an old friend
It was here we saw my niece and her Labrador, Meg. Meg went crazy, jumping up at me and trying to eat my camera, as I hadn't seen her for a while and she had obviously missed me. Sybil came up and had a quick sniff and fuss then disappeared again, back to terrorizing the local squirrels. We parted ways and carried on towards Wentworth via the Greasbrough Dams, crossing over a field with ridiculously heavy clay soil that stuck to my boots and slowed progress considerably.

Taking half the field with me

Greasbrough Dams
After shaking the worst of the mud off, we finally reached the dams. At the estate road we turned left, heading towards Wentworth Woodhouse which had recently been in the news for being awarded a substantial amount of cash for it's renovation. Curiously, a collection of vehicles were parked outside the stately home. Getting closer, I noticed that one of the trucks had "TV and Film Make Up" written on the side; obviously something was being filmed here. But what? And more importantly, was this my chance to shine by sneaking onto camera and getting my fifteen minutes of fame?

A gentleman working for the company informed us that a drama called King Charles III was being filmed and would be broadcast on the TV next year. The conversation proved to be very interesting, as he also told us other programmes that had used Wentworth Woodhouse as a filming location, such as Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

Wentworth Woodhouse, TV star
Thanking him, we moved on and had a brief look at the old stables behind the house. Sadly, no horses are still around to call this their home, so we moved on and came out into Wentworth village. It was at this point I managed to twist my ankle badly, making the rest of the walk a rather painful effort; being a hardy Northerner, however, I was able to grin and bear it.

View from the stable gates

The old stables

The stable gates

The stable gates
Passing Wentworth Garden Centre, we then crossed a large field that took us back down towards Scholes. Keppel's Column appeared on the horizon, empathising how far I had walked; which made me feel slightly better considering how tender my ankle was feeling.

One of the many follies in the area

Morley Pond
Even Sybil was tiring by now, and mindful of her arthritic hips we made it a steady walk back to the car. Two injured, tired, yet totally relaxed and happy creatures finally made it home and spent the res of the evening having a well-deserved cuddle and resting up for the next adventure.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Oh Deer. A bracing walk along White Edge.

Thursday was the first time in a long while that I have managed to get out for a decent walk by myself. With my own mental health suffering as of late and Sybil recently being diagnosed with arthritis in her hips, we've been limited to short local walks and allotment duties. But having heard about the red deer lurking in the Peak District near the Longshaw Estate, I was determined to go and see them.

Padley Gorge
The train to Sheffield was delayed and as a result Sybil and I ended up sandwiched between a suited businessman and an equally posh lady in a black skirt and expensive blouse. After years of taking Sybil on public transport, I've discovered that the other passengers will react to her in one of two ways: they will smile as she wags her tail and forces them to make eye contact with her, eventually resulting in them fussing her for the duration of the journey. Or they will scowl and do their best to ignore her as she inches closer and closer to them, intent on winning them over yet failing miserably. Our travelling companions on this train unfortunately fell into the latter group and pointedly brushed their clothes down as Sybil got too close to them. I would get her to sit in front of my legs only for the train to lurch sideways each time, unsettling her and making her stand up again. Our suited friends eyed her warily, frowning at the dog hairs drifting through the carriage ready to land on their designer clothes. Our discomfort finally ended as we pulled into Sheffield station where Sybil was just as keen to leave the train as I was.

Padley Gorge's glorious Autumn colours
The next train in our journey was waiting for us to board and Sybil dragged me along the platform, eager to get the travelling over and get to a place she could finally be off-lead. This time, we had a block of four seats to ourselves and indeed most of the carriage, as no doubt most people were too sensible to spend such a cold day out in the hills when rain was forecast. I settled in my seat, pulling Sybil out of the way when a lady with a bike got on. This time, Sybil's magic worked and she was soon getting her much-needed attention from the woman while we chatted and soon found we had quite a lot in common. It seemed we both used walking as a type of therapy to improve our mental health. She told me how exercise and being outdoors helps to lift her mood while I mentioned how my anxiety can make it incredibly difficult to get out of the house sometimes, and how important Sybil was to me in that respect. By the time the train reached our station, Sybil was practically sitting on the woman's knee and I hastily removed my weapon of mass affection and we all left the train together, parting ways at the Grindleford Café and wishing each other luck for our respective walks.


Our route took us up through Padley Gorge, an amazingly beautiful woodland with living moss on every rock and the autumn colours offering a scene unrivalled by any television screen or mobile phone display. We've walked through this wood many times, but never at the height of this season so it was especially wonderful to see. All too soon the view opened up towards Carl Wark and Higger Tor and we headed over towards the Longshaw Estate.

Carl Wark and Higger Tor

Longshaw pond
It was at this point that I realised I'd forgotten something important: my camera battery. I'd charged it the night before, but in a moment of unexplainable stupidity I'd neglected to put it back in the camera. So I had a rather useless camera body now taking up space in my backpack and only my phone camera to take pictures with. I wouldn't be too upset; only, my phone camera is rubbish at taking decent photos using the zoom, and the main purpose of this walk was to see the deer which would obviously be some distance away. I consoled myself by indulging in a hot chocolate at the Longshaw tearoom before continuing the journey toward the busy A road at the beginning of White Edge Moor.

Everything the light touches...
Carefully crossing the road, we joined a track that quickly became rough and uneven. It didn't faze Sybil though; she bounded along in front as easily as if she was half-mountain goat rather than half-collie. We followed the Edge to the left, enjoying the fantastic views of the Dark Peak - the green hills in the distance contrasting nicely with the bracken-clad slopes immediately below us. It wasn't long before I spotted my first deer on the horizon: an impressive-looking stag with several hinds. I was ecstatic, and happily shared my binoculars with a passing dog-walker whilst Sybil attempted to play nicely with his spaniel. I decided to carry on to the trig point after another group of hikers told me there were more deer further along the Edge; and sure enough after a decent stretch of walking, more stags appeared to my left, even closer this time. I tried my best to get a photo of them, and managed these very blurry ones after placing my phone camera up to my binoculars and using the extra "zoom" the best I could.

First stag

A young stag with his own little harem
Eating my lunch whilst sitting so close to these majestic beasts was easily one of the highlights of my life. I finished my sandwiches just as the weather started closing in, so with my hood firmly up and hands in pockets, I whistled to Sybil and we started back the way we had come.

At the trig point

Companion Stones
Walking back was a difficult slog in the wind and rain, especially with this being my first challenging hike in a long time. Running only on banana sandwiches, it was a relief to finally reach the tearoom again and I treated myself to another hot chocolate, mainly to warm my hands up, and a flapjack which of course I shared with my loyal walking companion. Although not so loyal on the way back through Padley Gorge, where she decided she would join two gentlemen in front rather than stick to the snail's pace I was setting.

Thankfully the train journey home was uneventful, as we missed the main rush hour and worn-out Sybil was more interested in curling up under my seat than seeking out new friends. A hot bath and warm food were calling me, along with my friend Adam when I managed to get signal on my phone. "Do you fancy coming to a bonfire tonight?"

Oh deer.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Potteric Carr Springwatch Festival

I love a good festival; that is, as long as there are no alcohol, partying or noisy screaming bands involved. A nice, calm nature festival is more up my street and indeed, there was just the thing being held over the weekend at Potteric Carr nature reserve. I arrived at the reserve just in time to sign up for the Stroll and Sketch event - a gentle stroll around part of the reserve with plenty of chances for sketching various scenes.

Afterwards the café beckoned and I enjoyed a delicious veggie sausage sandwich, before having a wander around the different stalls.  

Four Spotted Chaser
Clutching a handful of leaflets, I paid a visit to the Willow Pool Hide, always a popular one; most likely due to its proximity to the café but also because of some of the gems it occasionally reveals. Today there were no water rails or kingfishers, at least not whilst I was there, but there was a rather sweet rat picking through the spoils.

View from the hide

Hungry rat

Female Chaffinch

Coot family

Male Chaffinch

I then took a good walk around the reserve, following the wetland trail. I spotted a couple of distant little egrets, along with plenty of butterflies and blue damselflies.

Little Egret

Ragged Robin

Dog Rose

Yellow Iris
Eventually it was time to turn back, so I followed the route back round, stopping briefly at the West Scrape Hide where, to my delight, I heard a bittern booming. Unfortunately it was concealed in the reedbeds, but just hearing one close by is exciting in itself.

Perch in the Mother Drain

Common Spotted Orchid

Honey Bees
The path was diverted away from the butterfly garden. Nature reserves, much like my allotment, are a constant work-in-progress and never really seem to be "finished", as such. This diversion took me past a small but cheerful display of orchids. The one species of orchid I haven't yet seen, but would love to, is the bee orchid. Hopefully I will manage to see some this summer.

I paused by the bee hives, watching the honey bees busy working. Then it was back through the visitor centre and over to the bus stop, slightly browner in skin-tone than when I had arrived and much lighter in my mood.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Spring has Sprung

Spring is finally here in South Yorkshire! I've been visiting the allotment almost every day, trying to get as much digging finished as possible before the last frosts in May. I'm certainly getting there, only got a few more beds to dig now and I've had wood and aluminium covering the ground to kill the grass and weeds off so it's easier to dig.

Pond and wildflower area

Still plenty of raking to do!

It's getting there...slowly
I've sown the wildflower seeds next to the little pond; this year I've covered them with a little polytunnel to stop the birds eating most of them. Last year I had plenty of cornflowers grow but not much else - I'd love lots of poppies this year.

The greenhouse - looking a little worse for wear after the Autumn storms

Some of the flowers in the bulb border. The hyacinths smell gorgeous - 15 in total.
The bulbs are looking gorgeous. The tulips are yet to flower, and the little snakes-head fritillaries are slowly pushing their way out of the soil at the front. I'm going to edge this border off with bricks, to try and stop the grass creeping back, and also to make it look a little neater.

The sweet peas and "eating" peas (as I call them) are germinating in the greenhouse. I have planted loads of each, as peas are my favourite veg - the only veg I will eat willingly - and I can never get enough of the smell of sweet pea flowers.

However, the Mouse War has begun again, as like last year. Last spring, I rather naively left all my seedtrays of peas on the greenhouse floor. Within a matter of days, every single one had been dug up and eaten. So this year, I placed my pea seeds into the horticultural equivalent of Fort Knox. As you can see, nearly every one has germinated. My sunflower, sweetcorn and, most gut-wrenchingly, my dahlia seeds, were left to fend for themselves on the floor this time and the mouse has decided to snack on those instead.

So it is now gloves off. I've replanted my seeds and dug out every available piece of wire grid and netting I can find lying around on the plot, and created barriers no scheming little mouse can cross. It seems to have worked so far; but just to ensure the fellow doesn't get hungry enough to find a way past my defences, I've left a little peace offering:

Dried mealworm bait
Dried mealworms are on the menu tonight; the peanuts went down well earlier this week too.
Natalie 1: Mouse 1.