14 July 2019

Working in the study with the window wide open first thing this morning, I heard the noise of somebody pottering about outside. It carried on for quite some time, growing more and more distracting. Eventually, it began to sound as if they were pottering right underneath the window. A really bold burglar, perhaps? I went over the window, and found myself looking straight down at a roe deer that was trying to work out whether it could jump our narrow side-gate.

I ran to get Jen and my camera, and managed to get some nice shots of the deer as it trotted across the front lawn and clambered over the tumbled-down section of our wall. I guess that explains how it tumbled down.

After lunch, Jen and took a walk around the lanes. There were loads of butterflies about. I impressed Jen by being able to identify a ringlet butterfly, although I soon coughed I only recognised it because I’d had to look one up last week.

13 July 2019

Took Rosie the cocker spaniel for a walk in Crow Nest Wood while Jen gabbed with her mum. The weather was almost unbearably humid. Rosie clearly agreed.

Crow Nest Wood
Crow Nest Wood

As we drove home through town, the streets were packed full of people in weird Victorian costumes, wearing goggles, pocket watches, bustles, you name it. Fairly standard garb for Hebden Bridge, we reckoned, but it turned out to be people celebrating the Steampunk Weekend. Every weekend seems to be something this time of year.

11 July 2019

We’re nearing peak moulting season. The back lawn had several feathers on it this morning, including a magnificent present from one of the local magpies.

A sparrowhawk flew across the bonnet of my car as I drove home along Height Road. I’d like to say I observed it closely, but I was too busy slamming on my brakes. The only real impression: huge yellow feet!

10 July 2019

I returned home to find a dead swallow fledgling on the patio. It must have flown into the dining room window. No incredible migration to South Africa for this poor thing. Gone, and never saw a lion.

I scooped its stiff body into the coal shovel, its head flopping to one side, neck broken. Such an incredible beak—so wide! An adaptation for scooping up insects, of course.

I walked over to the garden wall and flung the almost weightless corpse into the field: the poor creature’s brief, final flight.

9 July 2019

[ Wirral ]

A pub dinner in Parkgate with my dear friend Stense. I arrived early, as usual, and parked on the front outside the pub. There was a heron fishing in the big pool on the marsh. I also spotted a mini starling murmuration: fifty or so birds rose from the marsh, flashed back and forth in the sky for a while, then descended on to a chimney stack. A couple of minutes later, a second mini-murmuration, with the birds landing on a different rooftop.

After dinner, Stense and I marvelled at the sun beginning to set over the pool. The heron had left, replaced by the silhouettes of geese and goslings drifting on the glowing water. Stupidly, I hadn’t brought my camera. I took a single snap with my phone, explaining it would be crap. I was wrong. Camera phones have come a long way.

Dee Marshes, Parkgate, sunset
Dee Marshes, Parkgate, sunset

J.M.W. Turner painted a Dee sunset from Parkgate, but, according to the Tate’s website, the watercolour’s whereabouts are currently unknown.

Parkgate’s sunsets are slightly less glorious these days, marred as they have been by hundreds of wind turbines on the horizon.

8 July 2019

It’s was such a pleasant morning, it would have seemed rude not to head up on to the Moor. So pleasant, in fact, that, once I was up there, I decided to take a detour via Churn Milk Joan, Miller’s Grave, Robin Hood’s Penny Stone, and the Greenwood Stone. (I describe making the same detour in a chapter of On the Moor.)

Churn Milk Joan is a famous local landmark: a standing stone erected to mark the boundary between the parishes of Wadsworth and Midgley. Evidently, Joan was also significant in a previous life, as she bears four prehistoric cup marks, carved by our Bronze Age or late Neolithic predecessors for purposes unknown. The Greenwood Stone also marks the parish boundary, but the only carving on that stone is considerably younger, marking the year of its erection (1775, if I read it correctly, although I’ve never been confident of the final digit, which might also be read as a 4).

Like Churn Milk Joan, as its name implies, Robin Hood’s Penny Stone, a large boulder in the middle of nowhere, is a place where locals traditionally left pennies. The tradition continues to this day, although I stupidly left all my cash at home. A short distance from Robin Hood’s Penny Stone lies Miller’s Grave, a Bronze Age burial cairn.

Miller’s Grave
Miller’s Grave

As on the previous occasion I was on the Moor, unusually, I didn’t see a single red grouse, although I did hear one calling go back! from somewhere in the heather. I was also disappointed, once again, not to see any of my beloved wheatears or lapwings. But I did get a few nice shots of meadow pipits, and saw a kestrel being chased off by a rook.

📷 More photos from the Moor walk »

On an errand in the afternoon, I walked down into Hebden Bridge via Nutclough Wood. Butterflies were out in profusion along the bridleway. Not just the usual crowd, either. I spotted and photographed what I later worked out to be a ringlet and a large skipper (being confident of the former, but not of the latter).

There were loads of unripe hazelnuts on the lower branches as I passed through the wood. Presumably, hazelnuts gave Nutclough Wood the first syllable of its name; the clough being the narrow ravine in which the wood is situated.

Nutclough Wood
Nutclough Wood

📷 More photos from the Nutclough walk »

6 July 2019

Half a dead magpie appeared overnight at the side of the hedge, courtesy, I presume, of one of the local cats. A pair of swallows were flying frantically back and forth, low across the back lawn, gathering insects to feed lazy offspring perched on telephone wires above the gate.

Later, long-tailed tits kicked up a commotion in the trees at the side of the road as I climbed the stile and made my way down through the woods into Hebden Bridge. I was en route to the latest Caught by the River event at the Trades Club.

Caught by the River stage

Today’s event was dedicated to fiction. Despite reading almost no fiction these days, I enjoyed it immensely—especially the sessions in which various pairs of authors had conversations on stage. My favourite quote was a passing  remark made by the author Helen Mort: “It never gets easier; it just gets better.” She was referring to running and rock-climbing, but the writer in me realised it also applies to writing. (Or, at least, I hope it does.)

4 July 2019

I returned home to find that the fields surrounding the house had been mown in my absence. Unfortunate timing: watching the local kestrels following the tractor as it mows the field is always a thrill—though not for the local rodents simultaneously trying to escape mower blades and kestrel talons.

A lone kestrel hovered above the gate from our back lawn into the side field: a mopping-up exercise.