I’ve put myself out of action by landing badly on my heel whilst bouldering without a crash pad, just when I was preparing for a long distance walk. So with the grouse shooting season soon to be upon us, I’ll share a post from Rapture Prosecution of a press release from Rewilding Britain which highlights the fact that OUR National Parks host substantial areas of Grouse Driven Moors. Certainly worth a read.
The evidence of damage to protected habitats, increased flooding, greenhouse gas emissions from moor burn, and of course, the illegal persecution of protected wildlife, especially birds of prey and small mammals caused by the grouse shooting community is pretty damning. But our politicians do little about it.
The more the public are aware of the problems, the more chance of some legislative reform. There are lots of people (Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay etc) out there trying to raise the profile of the damage, if not criminality, caused by the shooting community. So sharing this post may open more eyes and ears to the situation. There are plenty of petitions to add your names to, every little helps.
I was back up there tonight. As I walked in, I could see the six ducklings swimming about below. Their activity seemed frenetic – darting hither and thither. But no sign of Mother Duck. My anxiety rose, suspecting her fate. How would the ducklings survive?
I sat around in the light rain watching their activities.
Thankfully after perhaps an hour in flew Mother Duck who immediately took control of the situation and heralded her offspring into the dense bracken with much chirping and squeaking. They will be safe tonight.
Whilst poking about on one of the quarry walls I became aware of a constant buzzing noise. Wasps were flying about, and there in front of me was the biggest wasps’ nest I’ve ever seen, over a foot high. Time to retreat.
I could hear rustling in the ferns behind me all evening and when I looked some movement in the vegetation and the occasional squeak, but no clue as to what was in there. I was bouldering on the north facing wall of Sweden Quarry, which gave shade from the hot sun, even so I was sweating profusely, we are just not accustomed to temperatures in the high 20s. The quarry hosts quite a bit of bird life – blackbird, wren, robin, chiffchaff, blackcap, mallard and no doubt many more. Barn owls nested earlier in the season. It is a great place to sit and take in the ambience such as it is with old tyres, fencing and rotting trees cut down in the plantation a few years ago. The pool at the bottom has shrunk greatly in this recent drought.
I was about to leave when I spotted something yellow out of the corner of my eye, in fact, there were two yellow blobs in the grass. The squeaking became louder as Mother Duck led her brood out of hiding down to the drying up pool at the base of the quarry. The other four chicks were brown and well camouflaged, it was the two yellow ones that gave the game away. I grabbed my phone for a quick shot, but then realised they were out to play for a while, so I was able to retrieve my camera and sit down to enjoy their display. Mother floated quietly whilst the chicks darted about exploring, exercising their legs and no doubt eating the odd green morsel. After some time, Mother decided they had had enough and marched them back into the undergrowth to hide away for the night. I hope the ducklings survive but fear for the yellow ones who are all too obvious to any predator. I will report back on further sightings over the next week. (Still six there two days later) So how unusual are yellow ducklings? Mallards, Muscovy and domestic ducks have occasional yellow ducklings, many of these develop into white ducks – so we will see.
The joys of living in the Ribble Valley on an evening like this.
It was a lovely evening when I got round to another litter pick on Longridge Fell, I’ve been away. A Sunday often gives good results. The fields below in the Chipping valley were a wonderful patchwork as some have been cut ahead of others. The usual cans and crisp packets occupy the first few hundred metres from the car park. From then on there was little in evidence, perhaps someone else is covering the same route? Tonight however I must have been following in the footsteps of a chain smoker as there were cigarette butts at regular intervals, 20 a day? I don’t know how he or she had the puff to get to the top. As well as being a litter problem, I wondered about the fire hazard, as the fell is much drier than usual..
On the way back down, curlews were making a racket and sure enough a dog walker had his spaniel running around the fell. Of course, “he was well-behaved off the lead”
A little farther I came across a bird watcher I knew, he’d also had words with the dog walker to no avail. We chatted about curlews and other species still to be seen up here.
By the time I got back to the car, the sun’s rays were becoming weaker. Always a walk worth doing.
Tuesday, May 25th, 10 miles. Killamarsh to Chesterfield.
Rain was forecast for the afternoon, so I boarded the first bus to Killamarsh, it took well over an hour to reach the destination having travelled around most of the Chesterfield district. I’ve become used to sitting for all this time with my face mask on. Calling at the hospital we picked up a drunk who had probably been released from casualty, as could be expected he caused some chaos on board before staggering off in the middle of nowhere.
I alighted at the Canal Bridge stop where I finished yesterday, but it was difficult to make out the bridge as the canal was filled in, encouragingly though was a sign for The Cuckoo Way to Chesterfield. The Greenway runs all the way to Renishaw and is a facility I hope the locals make use of, there were very few on it today. So I disappeared into the undergrowth on the edge of a housing estate. The line of the canal was just a ditch to my left, at least it doesn’t seem to have been built over. The Cuckoo Way roundels, which I explained yesterday, were a help in navigating where the canal has all but disappeared.
Turning a corner the Trans Pennine Trail cycling route appears to the right following an old railway line. One could walk on the cycleway but I preferred to stay on the “towpath”. All of a sudden there was water in the canal, this section has been a fishery part of the Sitwell Estate. Coming towards me was a gentleman and his hound, he turned out to be the water bailiff for the estate. During the periods when we’ve not been allowed to travel far local fishing became a boom pastime and he was kept busy supervising the waters. He told me of the plans to restore more stretches of the canal, how to save and transfer the fish and how the line of the HS2 was coming through the region adding complications to the scheme. In this age of zoom conferences and working more from home will another railway be needed? The canal reverts to a ditch farther on.
The water bailiff goes on his way.
The line of the canal, the towpath and the Trans-Pennine Trail alongside.
The Greenway continued at times narrow and muddy, at others alongside the redundant canal. The cycle way has gone elsewhere. It passed the outskirts of Renishaw and then as a footpath following the filled in canal across open fields. Good progress was made as the way was clear ahead, although I had no idea of where I really was.
Approaching Staveley the canal originally was carried on a high embankment to cross the River Doe Lea, this is apparent on the ground except at the river itself, Staveley Puddlebank.
A lot of work is being undertaken at Staveley with a new lock and a basin constructed. This is some achievement as much of the labour is voluntary, Chesterfield Canal Trust. It was easy to get lost here with the new works and the many cycle routes.
Lunch was eaten on a bench next to the old Mill Green bridge. Men were fishing in the basin using very lifelike lures. As I sat two vessels came up the canal. The first powering a reed cutter and his mate using a rake to clear the water. In front of my eyes, the raker pulled a bath out of the canal – catch of the day. A little farther along he’d netted a bike and a supermarket trolley or were they art installations?.
Much friendlier than they look.
Catch of the day.
Entertainment over, I set off on the last few miles into Chesterfield. The towpath remained good and a café was open at Hollingwood Lock. On this section to Tapton new locks and bridges have already been built, and the canal is viable, although the only two boats I saw were from the Canal Trust used for pleasure trips raising money for the restoration cause. If you had a boat why would you put it on a section of canal only navigable for six miles.
And then there was a mile to go…
The end of the 6mile navigable section is short of the city and the rather dreary water comes to an end by building development sites which were basins in the years of the working canal. There are plans for a new showcase canal basin close to the city centre.
This lady’s not for turning.
First and last lock.
Even if the canal peters out before you get into Chesterfield, the sight of that twisted landmark is inspiring.
On reflection, I think it would be better to walk the way in the opposite direction with a far better finish at the Trent in West Stockwith.
46 miles of varied walking and I only became lost once in the housing estates of Killamarsh. I never heard a cuckoo, but I found a plausible reason for the Cuckoo tag,
Wednesday, 26th May. 10 miles. Worksop to Killamarsh.
I found myself changing trains in Sheffield, but all went well and I was in Worksop by 9.30. Getting out of Worksop was more pleasant than getting in on the Eastern side had been – that old adage “West End Girls” comes to mind as I hum the almost Miles Davis like composition, hear that trumpet interlude!. The west ends of many towns and cities in England were usually cleaner and healthier to live in with the prevailing wind blowing the smog to the east ends.
Excuse my indulgence.
Back to the inauspicious start at an enclosed lock under the main street, but then all was lovely and green as this canal walk has been so far. I thought the sign was probably unnecessary.
I’m sure these were Tufted Ducks.
Today was going to be a day of locks, 30 were needed to raise the canal up to the Norwood Tunnel which went through the limestone ridge in the path of the canal between the Trent and Chesterfield, “The Giants Staircase”. Several of them were double or treble locks where there is no basin between the locks, these are quite rare in England. An amazing feat at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This stretch has been restored between 1995 and 2003, but the work is ongoing.
Eight locks up and I arrived at Shireoaks Marina, originally a C19th basin for a local colliery -the last coal left here in 1949. I had read about a recent building in the traditional way of a Cuckoo Boat, Dawn Rose, and that she was moored in the marina. I could find no way into the marina so if she was there I was denied a sight which is a shame.
Entrance to Shireoaks Marina.
The marina through the railings.
About this point I started to notice Cuckoo Way roundels. The birds didn’t look like cuckoos to me and I later read that they are choughs borrowed from Retford’s coat of arms and incorporated into the original Chesterfield Canal seal and now used in the Trusts emblem. The diamonds were from Chesterfield’s seal.
It was good to find some of those lovely Peak and Northern signs along the way.Above Shireoaks was the start of more climbing, the seven Turnerwood Locks and some old cottages picturesquely situated on the towpath. It was here I met a man cycling the towpath on a 1970s Claud Butler bike, one of the elite British bikes at the time. We chatted all things cycling and it was obvious he was very proud of his steed. Notice the Shimano gears with down tube shifters.
Around the corner a swan was sitting on her nest, it was only a few years ago that someone shot a pen in the same spot leaving the cob distraught. Why? Let’s hope this bird brings up a successful brood.
I was now at the bottom of the Thorpe series of locks with two triple locks and two double locks, 15 locks in half a mile all in sylvan scenery. I was suitably awestruck.
At the top the canal levels out. On the right is one of those old farms with accumulated junk from 50 years ago. I would have loved to explore deeper into the undergrowth but the whole place had a forbidding atmosphere.
Farther on was a DL – CC boundary stone which I’m still trying to decipher. The canal has the rail line running close by it and just before Kiveton Park station is the wharf where stone quarried nearby was loaded and taken off to London to rebuild the Houses of Parliament after they burnt down in 1834. At Dog Kennet Bridge the towpath changes sides for the short stretch to the blocked Norwood Tunnel. The last turnabout point is rather ornate. The tunnel ran for 2,880 yards before it was blocked by mining subsidence in 1907. I have to walk over the top.
The walk over was quite pleasant first past Kiveton Waters fishery, their café was closed, then through the old reclaimed colliery land where care was needed with the many paths going in all directions. Dropping downhill through fields there was an underpass for the M1 and then slowly water appeared on the left where the Norwood Locks had been. These were a series of 13 in a third of a mile, three treble and one quadruple. They are all filled in now. The way passes extravagant houses with traces of canal stonework in the water channel running alongside. It was whilst looking into the garden of one house that a kingfisher flew straight towards me, landed on a reed and then flew back again showing me all its colours.
Bits of the canal reappeared and then vanished under houses in Killamarsh where land was sold off. I became disorientated in the estates and reappeared at the bus stop 3minutes before the bus came down the hill. I have to get back here tomorrow morning hoping the line of the canal will be more obvious. It has been very short-sighted to build a housing estate here and it will be a major engineering undertaking to connect the two halves of the navigable canal.
Rather than end today on a sour note, here are a few photos of the detail that goes into lock construction.
Saturday May 22nd. 6.5 miles. Clayworth to Retford.
The bus drops me off opposite St. Peter’s Church, this originates from the C13th but was much altered in the C19th. Murals by the arts and crafts artist Phoebe Traquair cover all four walls of the chancel, but there was no entry today. Outside though the churchyard wall contains a large boulder, perhaps unearthed by navvies digging the canal or was it a meteorite landing in the village? The village cottages were bedecked in clematis and all was quiet on the little lane leading to the canal at Otters Bridge, now down to number 68..
This was the start of a delightful walking through open countryside, views across the flat drained fields, lively birdsong and the all-pervading Mayflower scent. A roe deer was seen scampering across an open field, mother mallards shepherding their broods and swans protecting their cygnets. There were long stretches of reed beds and I heard several warblers but only caught sight of the one Reed Warbler.
‘There are boats moored up alongside the headquarters of the Retford and Worksop Boat Club. Much tinkering is going on, but nobody is sailing. Today’s prize for the corniest boat name goes to Goldilocks.
Several canal side pubs were passed, but none looked inviting, plastic children’s play areas and hastily concocted Covid dining areas. One, The Hop Pole, reflected on the acres of hops grown locally in the C18th until the canal ruined their trade by bringing hops from Kent, which had a better taste. Another of interest on the outskirts of Retford, the Packet Inn, was once the terminus for the weekly packet boat from Clayworth bringing people and produce to market. This was a two-hour journey and the return was an alcohol fuelled party.
Bridge 61 is named Bonemill bridge alongside the building where bones were crushed for use as fertiliser. All these bridges and the older warehouses are constructed with attractive local bricks which have aged well.
Alongside the canal a garden has been furnished with signs and the occupant was all to pleased to chat about them.
After miles without, the first lock of the day was named Whitsunday Pie Lock, this strange title having many dubious origins. It is the last wide lock on the canal. People were fishing unsuccessfully for perch and a couple had pulled up in their boat having cruised out of Retford for the weekend. They had just opened a bottle of wine and were in no hurry to proceed. This resulted in a lengthy conversation about boating, Covid and the best pubs in Retford. They had named their newish boat Our Lass – they were well and truly Yorkshire born and bred. For some reason I omitted to take a photo. The next couple walking their greyhound were just as chatty and seemed to have all the time in the day, maybe life is more relaxed around here. Eventually I came into Retford with more old warehouses making an appearance. As is often the case these have been either converted into attractive living accommodation or become cafés or restaurants. so it was pleasant enough as the rural scene turned to urban hustle and bustle. The Town Lock is much narrower than those before, a good place to finish for the day.
Monday, May 24th. 10 miles. West Stockwith to Clayworth.
The bus to W Stockwith went around the houses more than once, at one time reversing the way through Misterton. I have a tight logistical transport plan to enable me to walk linearly and I was beginning to see it go wrong on the first day, or is it the third? – it is too complicated to explain.
Suffice to say I started the walk at the canal basin next to the River Trent. Is this the start or the end of the canal, well it depends, but in my case it is the start. 46 miles to go.
The River Trent is wide here and tidal, boats used to access it from or to the basin by the first lock. The canal as far as Retford had locks wide enough to accommodate the larger River Barges. People are busy tinkering with their boats in the basin and the sign says the lockkeeper is on duty from his converted warehouse.
The River Trent with the old winch which pulled engine-less vessels into the basin.
The river lock and keepers cottage.
1798 warehouse, now the lock-keeper’s office.
A busy basin.
A few boats were moored up on the first stretch of the canal. The towpath surface to Misterton has recently been improved and there are benches at regular intervals, that’s a good start. The May Blossom was a delight, often lining both sides of the water, the theme of the day really. The sun was shining and the wayside flowers vying for attention. Life outside Lancashire was good.
The start of the canal.
Alongside Misterton, swans had made their nest on the towpath side, apparently if the male is on the path you had better turn around. Today he was too busy chasing ducks that came near the female on the nest.
The brick bridges are all numbered, counting down from 85, and modern mileposts are in place counting down from 45. I don’t know if any of the original mile markers have survived.
Bridge 82 0f 85.
One mile gone, 45 to go.
The rest of the morning is spent out in open countryside with hardly a habitation to be seen. I chat with a couple of lady dog walkers who tell me about the wild life I may or may not see. Kingfishers and otters are at the top of the ranks. One stretch of reeds is full of the song of Reed Warblers, but I only catch a glance of them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgFDzVeyg94
The surrounding countryside is flat agricultural land as far as the eye can see, there is nothing here for the fellsman. Having said that I do pass at a distance Gringley-on-the-hill, an ancient village with far-reaching views. I can just spot its church tower on zoom.
Lunch is taken sat on the steps of Shaw Lock. On the adjacent bridge are the initials of the builder and date. In a field nearby is an old brick works, boats brought coal in to a wharf and took the bricks out.
More wild woods and lush verges followed until I came to the mouth of Drakeholes Tunnel. Here the path goes over the top as did the horses whilst the boatmen pushed the barges through.
At the other end of the tunnel was a small wharf and across the road an Inn due to reopen soon, but will they still serve beer?
The next bridge along is named Face Bridge but the face on the keystone is very weathered. The bridge is ornate as it was the on the driveway to Wiseton Hall. The canal bends around the estate because the owner stated that it should not be built within 200 yds of the hall. The power of the upper classes.
There had not been much traffic on the canal but in the last mile along comes a boat and two men paddleboarding.
I need to pay attention to the bridge numbers as I leave the canal at no. 68, Otters Bridge, to climb up to Clayworth and the end of my first day. I arrive just as the rain does.
I’m fascinated by the history of the countryside. I glean as much as I can from books, maps and the internet. The origin of names: lost houses and tracks: the local industries from way back: family trees and intrigue. So when I come across a reliable source of information to one of my regular walking areas I’m delighted. The area in question is Hurst Green and Stonyhurst and somebody has set up a Facebook page dealing with precisely that. https://www.facebook.com/hurstgreenandstonyhursthistory
I was alerted to it by a comment from its author on my Stonyhurst crosses walk for which I found it difficult to obtain information. I have some catching up to do with the posts so far, but I did notice one on a waterfall on Dean Brook below Hurst Green – Raven Lumb Falls. Over the years I have scrambled up a few of the brooks coming down from Longridge Fell to the Ribchester and Hurst Green areas, but I was unaware of this location. It didn’t take me long to identify its approximate position on the OS map and this morning I set off to explore.
Hurst Green was busy with walkers, most probably following the Tolkien Trail which I did a few weeks ago. Today I set off down Lambing Clough Lane, there were certainly plenty of lambs about. At the ‘farm’ I took a public footpath, strangely unsigned, down towards Dean Brook where it is joined by Bailey Brook at a footbridge. There is an open green area here, locally referred to as Pickleholme. I now followed the stream up into Merrick’s Wood.
Celandines and Wood Anemones were still in flower, but as a bonus the Bluebells were just coming into bloom in blue patches under the trees.
There was more water in the brook than I had expected after all this dry weather, I would have been better in wellingtons to walk directly upstream, as it was, I used precarious little tracks with an ever present risk of tumbling down the steep bank into the water.
Anyhow, I made progress until at a bend the fall came into view. The water had carved out a passage through the sandstone cliff. Care was needed boulder hopping here as I don’t think anyone would have found me if I’d had an accident. The grid reference, for anyone foolish enough to follow in my footsteps, SD 6830 3746.
What a delightful spot deep in the woods with a lively flow of water. There was some tat left by gill scramblers from Hothersall Hall. The rope was in bad condition so I removed what I could reach. I need to return when the water level is even lower to try and scramble up the falls.
I sat for half an hour and watched a Dipper coming backwards and forwards, with grubs in its mouth, to a nest hidden in the rock. A pair of Grey Wagtails, or Yellow? were flitting about in the stream.
What a pleasant way to spend a morning.
When I arrived back at the Shireburn Alms the beer garden, sorry dining terrace, was full of diners enjoying the sunshine and their freedom to eat out. A far cry from down below.
Today I went out to try and improve the route by avoiding too many main roads and keeping outside the circle of ever-increasing hosing developments. I also had a new camera which I wanted to play with, it has far too many features for me to come to terms with quickly.
What a beautiful Easter Monday, blue skies, lots of sunshine and a cold wind. Perfect. Well not quite – they have taken out all the hedges on a new development. Our slate artist has summed it up nicely on a Hedge Sparrow triptych. [Richard Price – see transcript at end of post.]
I linked up with the route on Pinfold Lane where several parties were scanning the wetlands with binoculars.
I had a brief look, there is a digger in the background, and carried on my way down towards Bury’s Farm. A farmer was rolling his field – a picture from the past.
I found a better, more rural, route around Alston and on across the main road. I found my way through peoples drives and gardens back into fields before picking up the old rail Preston – Longridge line and onto home ground. The blackthorn and cherries were blossoming.
It has been a walk of contrasts – trying to balance the rural with the creeping urbanisation. It’s time for the hills.
You don’t see many hedges these days, and the hedges you do see they’re not that thorny, it’s a shame, and when I say a hedge I’m not talking about a row of twigs between two lines of rusty barbed wire, or more likely just a big prairie where there were whole cities of hedges not fifty years ago, a big desert more like, and I mean thick hedges, with trees nearby for a bit of shade and a field not a road not too far off so you can nip out for an insect or two when you or the youngsters feel like a snack, a whole hedgerow system, as it says in the book, and seven out of ten sparrows say the same, and that’s an underestimate, we want a place you can feel safe in again, we’re social animals, we want our social life back, and the sooner the better, because in a good hedge you can always talk things over, make decisions, have a laugh if you want to, sing, even with a voice like mine!
My birthday happens to coincide with the date Lockdown commenced last year. There seemed quite a fuss about this [not my birthday], whilst I have every sympathy with the thousands of families affected by Covid deaths and they should not be forgotten, I am not one for lighting candles or creating memorial days for an event we have not dealt with very satisfactorily. I would almost go so far as to say they are devious attempts by the government to distract our attention from the failings and flag wave for our vaccine successes. Dangerous tactics.
Back to today’s walk, which I have completed many times recently, to make an occasion of it I took a picnic with me to enjoy higher up. Last year I visited the limestone quarry opposite Arbour Farm occasionally for its wildlife so as I pass today I have a look in. There are a couple of roe deer scampering away and a hare following. It’s too soon for any significant flowers but there a few mallards on the water and pheasants taking cover. In the past this area has been used as a shoot and the birds fed in the season. All around are spent shotgun cartridges. I take particular note as I’ve just been reading a DEFRA report of the latest attempts to ban lead ammunition. Lead ammunition could be phased out under government plans to help protect wildlife and nature, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow announced today (23 March). There has been a wealth of evidence that lead is damaging to humans, wildlife and the environment and yet a large amount of lead ammunition is discharged every year. Apart from the yearly slaughter of birds there is research showing wild fowl ingest lead pellets, mistaken for food, causing considerable deaths from poisoning. The Government have been slow to do anything about it and a voluntary transition by the shooting industry has not worked. A recent review showed the majority of game birds sold to the public had been killed using lead shot. So all change then – well not quite – the Government is proposing a two-year review of the evidence and then public consideration. A typical fudge when the hunting and shooting brigade are involved. Why don’t we just get on and ban it now. [In Denmark, hunters have had to use alternatives since 1996, when lead shot was banned]
Moving on I made my way up onto the fell and found a sheltered spot for my simple Birthday picnic in a little quarry nearby. I have recently started climbing in here again after many years, there is a small wall suitable for bouldering away from the Covid crowds that are making themselves unwelcome at the usual bouldering spot, Craig Y Longridge. It is up here that I have been regularly seeing Barn Owls flying around at dusk. Today a kestrel was hovering not far from me and a pair of Buzzards were wheeling high in the sky. Nice place for a picnic in the sun.
I wander home down the switchback lane. I had various texts etc appear on my phone from absent friends and family and in my porch a box of beer and a single malt. Not such a bad birthday after all.
We drive the 4 miles to Chipping and meet up in the village hall car park. I had promised Mike it would be sunny for him to have a morning away from the builders working on his garage. He is pitching the roof, adding solar panels, electric charge point and enlarging his drive with stone sets etc. etc. I think it is a larger job than he had first envisaged, though he should know. Anyhow there was no sign of the sun, in fact it was grey and cold when we set off at 9.30.
This is a walk we have done many times, but it makes use of, on the whole, well surfaced farm tracks in the foothills of the Bowland Hills. The snowdrops in the grounds of Leagram Hall had finished flowering which was a shame though there were primroses on the lane banks. From Laund sheep farm we cut across to renovated Park Gate where the only field of the day linked up with tracks at the empty Park Style. This whole area is rough upland and the Lapwings and Curlews were in good evidence today. They get a chance to breed up here as the fields don’t get cut until later in the year, if ever. A pair of Buzzards are soaring high above. Down one of the tracks we see a stoat in its white winter coat running ahead of us, quite exciting. At Lickhurst we meet up with the bridleway coming from Saddle Side, not taken today because it is very boggy in parts. There were notices on the gate warning people not to take vehicles along it. This is the first time I’ve seen this but apparently during lockdown 4X4s have been coming out in the night on these lanes. Of course most of them have been registered in Manchester/Liverpool, often with no tax or insurance. There are a group of people who think they can do what they like and escape notice during lockdown. The track has been severely damaged by these morons.
We walk on down the road and over three bridges which have replaced fords in the time I’ve lived in the area, Lickhurst could be impossible to reach after heavy winter rain in the past. I show Mike the long single span clapper bridge, 6 metres of solid grit stone, and we wonder how they handled it here. It must have been brought here from some distance as all is limestone in the vicinity. Upstream is a fish ladder I’ve not noticed before.
We walk on past that isolated iconic red phone box…
We have friends living in the next group of houses and we have a chat and an illicit coffee over the garden wall. Sheila has a heavenly glow in the photo. The bridleway leading onwards crosses the beck encountered before at a ford, fortunately there is a footbridge just up stream, [Greystoneley Brook which soon joins the Hodder at Stakes Farm near the stepping stones] This whole area has had its trees harvested last year and looks very bare, but thousands of new trees have been planted so it will be interesting to see how it matures.
The lane passes close to a large almost intact lime kiln in an extensive quarry, another detour. At the end of the lane we meet a chatty horse rider.
On the road back Mike met a retired school teacher who was responsible for getting his children off to a good start. More catching up chat ensues. With all the ‘delays’ we don’t get back to the car till nearly 2pm by which time the sun has come out.
Whilst mentioning the birds we saw today I should also like to report that most evenings while I’ve been bouldering up on the fell a pair of barn owls have been quartering the open areas, a majestic sight as they fly past close by without a sound. The days are getting noticeably longer and there have been some beautiful sunsets to coincide with the Spring equinox.
Protections for mountain hares have come into force from today, in what campaigners are calling National Mountain Hare Day. The new regulations mean that it is illegal to intentionally kill, injure or take mountain hares without a licence.
The following is worth a read, I’m just spreading the word. We can only cross our fingers and hope the powers that be will enact this regulation on Scottish grouse moors. I always worry when it starts mentioning “a licence”
As I lay in the mud at the bottom of the bank, mopping the blood dripping down my forehead and checking my limbs for breakages, my thoughts drifted to casualty departments in the middle of the Covid crisis. Earlier in the day I’d been chatting to friends who were telling me that senior staff at Preston Hospital have stopped cycling whilst casualty is under pressure, they don’t want any broken bones. For the last week I’ve been looking up at Fairsnape Fell wondering about an ascent and then imagining a helicopter rescue and all the recriminations, so I’ve kept to the lanes for relative safety. Yet here I was lucky to get away with grazing and a blow to my ego. The brambles that had ensnared me were still wrapped around my legs. Being covered from head to foot in mud I drew surprised glances as I shuffled back to my car.
The rest of the gentle stroll in the sunshine had gone well. Brockholes is a nature reserve based on flooded gravel pits easily seen from the M6 coming south at J31. The Preston Guild Wheel cycling route goes through the middle of it so I’ve visited it many times but not in any depth. The only time I’ve called at the café/visitor centre was many years ago with Mel on one of his visits up north. My plan for today was to walk around the boundary of the reserve.
I had parked up near the crematorium in Grimsargh after one of those guilt laden 4 mile drives ‘staying local’. The guild wheel route soon brought me down that steep bank into the reserve, here I turned left to reach the River Ribble thus avoiding the busy central areas. A good track followed the river all the way to the motorway bridge. Apart from the friends I unexpectedly met there were a couple of fishermen and only the occasional birdwatcher – you can tell them by the size of their telescopes. I wonder if there is some unwritten competition for the largest. I saw two Egrets by the river.
At the motorway I transferred to the gravel track bordering the west side of the lakes and was surprised as to how quickly I became almost immune to the traffic noise. There was one hide along here from where I saw ducks, grebes and swans – must get one of those big scopes, my equipment isn’t big enough. It was shortly afterwards I dived into the mud.
Just before going back up the steep hill I took a few minutes sat on a log, partly to clean my wounds and partly to watch the wild life feeding on crumbs left by a previous passer-by. Tits, a nuthatch and grey squirrels were my final tally for the day.
Last year I had a chance meeting with an old acquaintance from many years ago. He has always been a keen amateur naturalist. I have on a wall in my study a collection of Mountain Butterflies he gave me 40 years ago, when it was still acceptable to stick pins through insects. When I met him last he told me about work he had been doing on some redundant reservoirs in neighbouring Grimsargh. They were being converted into nature wetlands, and he encouraged me to visit. So that was my plan today. I was halfway out of Longridge when I realised, too late, I’d forgotten my pocket binoculars!
There used to be a railway from Longridge to Preston calling at Grimsargh. It served the stone quarries in Longridge from1840 but also provided a passenger service [closed 1930] and a goods service for the cotton mills until 1967. I should write a post one day on what remains of the line in the area. From Stone Bridge I followed close to the line of the railway down into the Shay Lane Industrial Estate, a fine way to start a country walk. There is a surprising variety of businesses along here hidden away from the rest of the village. Cheeses, timbers, metal shelving, builders’ merchant, fruit and veg supplier, JCB, as well as many smaller units.
There’s more than one way to decorate a tree.
At the end is Shay Lane Farm, always neat and tidy. From there I took to the fields alongside Savick Brook, they were sufficiently frozen to avoid wet feet. The contrast from Industrial to rural was sudden.
I came into Grimsargh at Dixon’s Farm where a branch railway line heading to Whittingham Hospital could be clearly identified. In 1889, a private branch line was opened northwards from Grimsargh to Whittingham Asylum two miles away. As well as supplies, hospital staff and visitors were carried free of charge in converted goods brake vans. The line continued in use until 1957 connecting with bus services after the main line was closed to passengers.
The Whittingham Hospital branch line.
J D 1736
The map below shows the railway lines as well as the Reservoirs.
1930map. National Library of Scotland.
While I was at Grimsargh Green I visited the large garden of a friend to wish her a distant Happy New Year, strange times. I then took a footpath following the line of the railway towards the reservoirs, but they were securely surrounded by metal fencing and I ended up going a long way round to gain the path through them.
Line to Longridge.
There was no public access to the wetlands themselves and of course today there was no wet – just ice. The smallest reservoir has been developed as a reed bed. I now realise there is a viewing point over the two lakes from a different access point, next time. Not a bird insight except for a curious robin.
I was soon out onto the main road and Elston Lane. My footpath onwards was blocked by new development with a closure notice lasting until Feb 2021, but it looks as though this situation will continue for much longer, I hope the locals insist on the footpath being reinstated once the building work is completed.
Looking at the map I found other paths to circumvent the problem and was soon walking back to Alston and fields over to Longridge.
I need to return to spend more time at the wetlands if we are allowed out. I’m hoping Boris will swiftly follow the sensible proactive steps of the Scottish and Welsh assemblies to keep on top of this Covid-19 crisis, and we must all do our part and act responsibly.
Here are the top ten most read RPUK blogs over the last 12 months…
Satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle found poisoned on grouse moor in Cairngorms National Park (here)
Golden eagle Tom disappears in suspicious circumstances on Scottish grouse moor (here)
Missing eagle’s satellite tag found cut and wrapped in lead, dumped in river at Strathbraan (here)
45 hen harriers ‘missing’ or confirmed illegally killed since 2018 (here)
The five brood meddled hen harriers from 2019 are all ‘missing’ (here)
Scottish Government commits to develop immediate licensing scheme for driven grouse shooting (here)
The eagle’s satellite tag found in the river: poetic injustice (here)
Licensing scheme for release of pheasants and red-legged partridge in England following Wild Justice legal challenge (here)
Post mortem reveals Welsh golden eagle had suffered gunshot injury (here)
RSPB announces its ‘new’ policy on gamebird shooting (here)
I’m sad and angry at the same time.
Sad because of the cruelty and persecution of our birds of prey.
Angry because I have no confidence that the powers that be, government and law enforcement, will deal with these criminal acts. I would like you all, in 2021, to spend a little time to keep abreast of the problem and make representations to your elected MPs that this situation cannot be tolerated.
I hope this will be my last post for now on the ills of the grouse moor. I’ve recently tried to highlight raptor persecution and today want to bring to your attention the vast losses of other wild life occuring on grouse moors. The more the public become aware of these killings the more the pressure on politicians. So read the article, spread the news and sign the petition.
Hundreds of thousands of innocent animals – foxes, stoats, weasels, and hedgehogs, as well as birds are killed in traps and snares on Scottish grouse moors every year. This is having a massive environmental impact as these moors cover a fifth of the land in Scotland. The same is happening in the rest of the UK.
The League Against Cruel Sports have just published an article with a link to the full report.
There is a petition for you to sign at the end of this post.
I wrote a few days ago about Hen Harrier Day and I hope some of you may have had a chance to watch part of the virtual presentation on YouTube. There were some excellent videos of Hen Harriers in flight and their courting display. Amongst the many features of the programme, several respected environmentalists added to a balanced debate on Raptor Persecution over grouse moors. I would imagine there will be footage available on YouTube if you missed it.
Moving on, I received a post today from Raptor Persecution UK, a rather polarised group, from which I have extracted the following factual information which I present without comment. It is a list of Hen Harriers, mainly tagged, that have disappeared or been confirmed killed since the beginning of 2018. Other Raptor deaths have not been included.
It makes a depressing read.
February 2018: Hen harrier Saorsa ‘disappeared’ in the Angus Glens in Scotland. The Scottish Gamekeepers Association later published information claiming the bird had been re-sighted. The RSPB dismissed this as “completely false”.
5 February 2018: Hen harrier Marc ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Durham.
9 February 2018: Hen harrier Aalin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales.
March 2018: Hen harrier Blue ‘disappeared’ in the Lake District National Park.
March 2018: Hen harrier Finn ‘disappeared’ near Moffat in Scotland.
18 April 2018: Hen harrier Lia ‘disappeared’ in Wales and her corpse was retrieved in a field in May 2018. Cause of death was unconfirmed but police treating the death as suspicious.
8 August 2018: Hen harrier Hilma ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Northumberland.
16 August 2018: Hen harrier Athena ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland.
26 August 2018: Hen Harrier Octavia ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park.
29 August 2018: Hen harrier Margot ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland.
29 August 2018: Hen Harrier Heulwen ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales.
3 September 2018: Hen harrier Stelmaria ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland.
24 September 2018: Hen harrier Heather ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland.
2 October 2018: Hen harrier Mabel ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
3 October 2018: Hen Harrier Thor ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Bowland, Lancashire.
23 October 2018: Hen harrier Tom ‘disappeared’ in South Wales.
26 October 2018: Hen harrier Arthur ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park.
1 November 2018: Hen harrier Barney ‘disappeared’ on Bodmin Moor.
10 November 2018: Hen harrier Rannoch ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland. Her corpse was found nearby in May 2019 – she’d been killed in an illegally-set spring trap.
14 November 2018: Hen harrier River ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB. Her corpse was found nearby in April 2019 – she’d been illegally shot.
16 January 2019: Hen harrier Vulcan ‘disappeared’ in Wiltshire close to Natural England’s proposed reintroduction site.
7 February 2019: Hen harrier Skylar ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire.
22 April 2019: Hen harrier Marci ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park.
26 April 2019: Hen harrier Rain ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Nairnshire.
11 May 2019: An untagged male hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set trap next to his nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire. He didn’t survive.
7 June 2019: An untagged hen harrier was found dead on a grouse moor in Scotland. A post mortem stated the bird had died as a result of ‘penetrating trauma’ injuries and that this bird had previously been shot.
5 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 1 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor nr Dalnaspidal on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park.
11 September 2019: Hen harrier Romario ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park.
14 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183704) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines.
23 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #55149) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines.
24 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 2 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor at Invercauld in the Cairngorms National Park.
10 October 2019: Hen harrier Ada ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North Pennines AONB.
12 October 2019: Hen harrier Thistle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Sutherland.
18 October 2019: Member of the public reports the witnessed shooting of an untagged male hen harrier on White Syke Hill in North Yorkshire.
November 2019: Hen harrier Mary found illegally poisoned on a pheasant shoot in Ireland.
January 2020: Members of the public report the witnessed shooting of a male hen harrier on Threshfield Moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
1 April 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183703) ‘disappeared’ in an unnamed location, tag intermittent.
5 April 2020: Hen harrier Hoolie ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park.
8 April 2020: Hen harrier Marlin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park.
21 May 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183701) ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Cumbria shortly after returning from wintering in France.
27 May 2020: Hen harrier Silver ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on Leadhills Estate, Scotland.
Nobody has been prosecuted for any of these cases.
If you’re are concerned by the illegal raptor persecution on grouse moors please send a pre-written letter to your MP urging action. All you need to do is add in your postcode.
Launched on Saturday by Wild Justice, RSPB and Hen Harrier Action, over 29,000 people have signed up so far, meaning that 29,000 e-letters are on their way to our parliamentary representatives. Please join in HERE