Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Half past four

Grey evening near Shep's Hill. The moors disappear into mizzle.

More signs....

...of Spring this morning on Akely Bank. Alder catkins, a pale sun....

... and snowdrops at the top of the bank, in the grass verge by the houses....

Sunday, 25 January 2009


Midday and my regular walk on White Lane but further on up to a puddly Fanshawegate Lane as far as Fanshawegate Hall. Then down into Gillfield Wood. I find this entrance into the wood otherworldly. Apart from the brook, it's eerily quiet.
Today is Garden Birdwatch day. I failed to watch birds in my garden, but walking, there is a lot of pre Spring activity and song:

First up, I heard a curlew over the park - or a starling was a good mimic. Blackheaded gulls too having a bit of arga warga. The usual rooks, jackdaws, pigeons, starlings, blackbirds. At the bottom of the park in the trees, the chaffinches flit and flash. Robins in their usual territories on Aldam Road and into the woods. Great tits really see-sawing away. Very high sounds up at the top of the White Lane - often goldcrests here, so I think that's what I might be hearing. Lots of chaffinches again up near Woodthorpe. The lovely white doves in the old stackyard at Fanshawegate. No fieldfares in the fields below Fanshawegate although I've seen them here stripping hawthorn berries. The middle of Gillfield very quiet apart from the great tits and a short drum from a woodpecker. Later there will be chacking calls from flocks of jackdaws as they fly back to roost in Eccleshall Woods. Back near the first kissing gate on the edge of the wood, long tailed tits, blue tits, and a big party of finches - a bullfinch, chaffinches, greenfinches. Then, a robin, close on a low branch, his beak wide open, singing out Spring....

The oak and ash....

Yesterday a late afternoon walk with Maisie up the White Lane (or White Line as Rony's family call it).

Towards Woodthorpe is one of my favourite trees - it marks the top of the hill against the sky. I have decided to keep a photo journal of this tree too, along with the oak tree outside Greenoak Park. See my Flickr site to look at these as they accumulate over the seasons....

Back through the darkening Gillfield Woods. Robins sing out their territories.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Rookeries and oakeries

The rooks just outside Greenoak Park cawing away this morning with the occasional chack from the smaller jackdaws. How do they know it won't be long until they have to renovate their nests? The little rookery in the beeches here is just by the council houses. Some residents - including my friend Barbara, love the rooks and feed them all sorts of scraps. I bet they're not universally valued though - the decibel level must be pretty high at times.

Rookeries tend to be extremely ancient - many hundreds of years old according to England in Particular," the marvellous encylopaedia of all things "commonplace, local, vernacular and distinctive." This book especially singles out Ranmoor Cliffe rookery which has been recorded by Sheffield Bird Study Group for the last forty years. I keep meaning to check it out. Evidently the residents there are appreciative - "They really make you feel that you are somewhere other than the suburb of a large city."

Back at our end of the park I try taking pictures of the oak tree at the entrance - also pretty ancient although how old I don't know. This area used to be known as Greenoak but this venerable tree is pretty much the only one left. Lots of oaks in the woods although most of these are American red oaks planted in the 1950's I think. This last remaining oak here was recently threatened by possible widening of the park entrance. Luckily local people stopped this happening. I think I might have a go at keeping an ongoing record of this tree over the seasons.....


Went up onto Blacka Moor last Sunday with the Blacka Blogger in search of the red deer and some discussion on the controversies over the present management of of Blacka. Encouraging the landscape for the herd of red deer who have made their own way in, and for local people who love the scrubby mix of birch, alder and moorland here, seems much the most sensible and respectful way to go. There's a sort of eco-racism that operates sometimes about particular plants and creatures. While I am all for conserving habitats where possible, working with the wonderful birds, beasts and birch that have made their way must surely be important? Blacka Blogger has made me determined to look some more into these real disagreements - not just in Sheffield - between how much the wild landscape should be "managed" to encourage particular landscapes, and how much they should be left. And what is wild? Is there a "good" wild and a "bad" wild?

("Bewilderness" is an invented term and a title for a poem by fellow poet Joan. Lovely eh?)

Saturday, 17 January 2009

urban creep

We walked up to the end of Gillfield wood this morning.
The new 30 and 40mph signs are up already despite the objections and comments deadline only being yesterday. Cynical or what? Cars still speeding like billyo though. Don't these lamp standards look absolutely vile across the open countryside? Do these planners have eyes at all?
We found Chris the birdwatcher at the site where the new bus terminus will be, clearing litter. Good on him. He saw waxwings this morning in a fruit tree near the closed Spar shop on Busheywood Road.
Maisie and I came back through the wood. At our end we saw long tailed tits - lots round here lately. Perching on a gutter on a house near the scout hut was a grey wagtail wagging its bum at us. Perhaps we should all paint our bums and wag them at the people who make these ridiculous decisions.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Scrabbling about

Today Christine and I explored the deepest disused and presumably most ancient holloway on old Totley Lane down from Bradway. There are three levels at the Totley end, near Brook Hall and the Lodge. As one "road" became deep and muddy from packhorses and carts - it was abandoned and another path made higher up. Here we find an old purse and bag where some bad boy has chucked his stolen goods.

And an old fallen tree in the bottom, looking like something out of Tolkien.

Much singing from the birds today. The robins' songs seem less wistful, more confident. Later on, two were fighting over their territory at the edge of Greenoak Park.

Last night I was part of a small group (but set to grow larger) who have formed to fight the awful new lights on the A621 Baslow Road. These are huge, close together and line the open countryside and moorland outside Totley. The group also wants to monitor and campaign against other inappropriate development and creeping urbanisation in the city's green fringe , close to the Peak Park. The group is to be called SPACE - Sheffield and Peak Against Urban Encroachment. So - watch this SPACE!

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

George Hukin, razorgrinder

George Hukin and Edward Carpenter

Sometime last year, I discovered that George Hukin, - socialist razorgrinder and unrequited love of Victorian radical Edward Carpenter - lived with his wife Fanny round the corner from us in Brook Cottages on Mickley Lane. These were the same cottages (demolished in the 1950's) where Harry Brierley, the inventor of stainless steel lived. Brierley learned to make shoes and sandals from another of Carpenter's friends, George Adams. They must have met through Hukin.
Today, via Rony at Radio Sheffield, I had a postcard from Don Alexander. Don used to run a shop selling Sheffield knives and other goods on Eccleshall Road. He had found my mention of George Hukin - and his burial under a hedge at Holmesfield Church - in the Sheffield Telegraph and wrote to me to say that George's nephew, Billy Hukin, was the last of Sheffield's cut-throat razorgrinders and visited him most days in his shop. Billy died in 1994 aged 73. "A great bloke," Don says, " a typical independent Sheffield artisan - his own man, subject to no creed. Full of life, always keen to learn and understanding of today's youths."

He went on to say that the brothers - George, Walt and William all worked as razorgrinders at Turners near the Sheffield Midland Station and that a showcase of their products is at the Millenium Galleries. Bill's dad set up on his own and Bill himself started as a 13 year old in 1917 (the year of George's death - probably from grinders lung).

Mild mizzlings

Mild on our walk this morning and the birds are very vocal. Lots of great tits now - I always think they sound like bicycle pumps but some people remember it by "tea-cher, tea-cher." Whole party of goldfinches in the trees and hedgerows on the path down to Totley Hall from Gillfield Wood.

It starts to mizzle as we cut through onto Grove Road and home.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Wind, birds and Christian vandalism...

Spectacular sunrise through our bedroom window this morning (although not as deep as these colours would suggest). Huge flocks of jackdaws chacked their way over our roof then southwards across to the fields around Holmesfield. They make a return journey at dusk - Avril says to their roosts in Eccleshall Woods.

Talking of Avril - yesterday her garden - very near the main road at Totley Rise - was full of redwings feeding on cotoneaster berries.

After breakfast, Maisie and I set off through the park. The chaffinches are very much in evidence at the bottom - including some beautiful buff pink breasts on the males. How come
I only see them there in Winter? Then, onto Gillfield Woods. Lots of squeaking from long tailed tits flitting about in the trees. And yesterday and today are the first times for ages that I have heard the bicycle pump noises of the great tits. Do they stop doing this for much of the year?

Although ancient, Gillfield Woods were replanted sometime mid last century with American Red Oak replacing the native oak. The difference in the leaves is very noticable.

American red oak (left); native oak (right)
According to Mel Jones, an expert on local woodland, this will have had quite an effect on the flora and fauna of these woods. However, they are still full of bluebells and wood anemones in the Spring.
Back via Totley Hall Lane and the church to see whether the rumour was true - that the evalgelical vicar had chopped down several mature trees. It was. Not very Christian eh? Perhaps he'd like to be more evangelical about trees. Inside I could hear them all twanging their guitars and clapping along.

Railtrack vandals

A walk through Poynton Wood. Beyond the railway fence, wholesale deforestation of all the trees right the way along the line. It not only looks dreadful, but the effect on birds and wildlife must be incalculable. All this with no consultation, no accountabilty. My friend Gwen who lives nearby got a letter to say it would happen - that's all.
Meanwhile, our crusade to get the City Council to remove the new lights alongside open moorland outside Totley gathers apace with a meeting of locals on Wednesday. Not just nimbyism I think - the effect on the countryside is visible for miles around, let alone the lightening of the night skies. Walkers, tourists, all use this road, this open land.

Monday, 5 January 2009

A surprise sprinking of snow......

.........over Greenoak Park from our window this morning. St George's Farm (where Ruskin set up some squabbling bootmakers to grow fruit) winks from its hill.

Later we take the chesty car up to Dick's garage at Dore. We walk the old coffin route alongside the trickle of the Bushey - an old path which I am sure many residents don't even know about as it is hidden away between two suburban streets - Busheywood Road and Devonshire Road. The robins sing wistfully.

Here's another old Derbyshire squeezer stile at the end near Tesco Express.....

I truly hate Tesco's.

Across the Baslow Road and up a very slippery bank past the flats and up stone steps onto the top of Prospect Road, Woodland Place and Queen Victoria Road. The view across to Houndkirk Moors sparkles this morning:

Back down Queen Victoria Road and I take a picture of Woodland Villas which I recently discovered by a process of deduction was briefly lived in by Edward Carpenter, the gay Victorian radical and simple-lifer (recent fascinating biography written by Sheila Rowbotham). He wrote to Walt Whitman from here, describing the view.

At the bottom of the road I suddenly notice (and how many times have I walked past here?) the old grindstones set each side of the driveway of the flats on the corner of Queen Victoria Road and Mickley Lane. Perhaps there were grinders on the Totley Brook here? Certainly George Hukin, Carpenter's friend and unrequited love lived a few yards from here and was a razor grinder.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

A frozzer..

Maisie and I take a different direction this morning - down the little footpath at the end of the Grove Road bungalows (built as holiday homes in the 20's?) and round past The Crown and up Penny Lane towards Strawberry Lea (hey - I hear a song coming on...). Then curve off and round the beautifully cobbled footpath past the old Chapel. According to local historian Brian Edwards, a man called Marriot Fox laid these setts in 1946. What care he took! The stone squeezer is a real Derbyshire feature.


A walk up the holloway to Woodthorpe - hey - give that man a fishing rod and a pond...

Then along by Hare Wood - funny, it looks like one from the shape on maps. Last time I was up here I found a travellers' encampment deep in the wood complete with scaffolding for tarpaulines and old lager cans...
Views of our house from the top of the ridge..

Then up and onto Rodmoor Road where I saw the first bit of hedge laying around here. There are evidently different regional variations in doing it - a bit like stonewalling. This one is on the Yorkshire/Derbyshire border near Mickley Farm.

Then found a milestone or sort of marker incorporated into a wall...

Back via the old bridleway from Bradway which near our end has three parallel levels - as holloways got deeper and muddier, higher paths were cut. Past the guard fierce dog chained behind a gate. Unfortunately my batteries ran out, otherwise I'd have snapped up his ugly mug, poor beast...

Friday, 2 January 2009

White coal and holloways

We take the car up to Holmesfield Church carpark and walk into the woods. Once a medieval deer park, the earthworks around the wood to keep the deer in are still visible. We go in via a new wide path but rapidly veer off it into the steepling beeches. Hollows where wood was burnt for white coal - used to smelt lead - are still visible. The woods in Totley, here, and in the Cordwell Valley were all a valuable resource for this white coal. Most, apart from this one are now unmanaged and neglected.
We return via Hob Lane - an ancient deep holloway alongside the wood, once part of an important track running south to north.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

New Year, new blog

A frosty start to my New Year's resolution to keep track of my patch. Up the White Lane with Maisie to Woodthorpe where snags of sheep fleece on the fences are laced with rime. The snapping cold sits sharp in my chest. Whitened pines at the top are like the ornaments on Christmas cakes. Everything has become faery and the air is so still, almost palpable. Bass hum of the traffic on Baslow Road, distant cronk of ravens.

Then along Fanshawegate Lane to the Hall where I hoped to meet the owners to ask about its history, but no such luck. I recently discovered that George Adams, the socialist sandalmaker and erstwhile friend of Edward Carpenter was living here in 1901 and drew it for the republished journal of Lady Anne Fanshawe. Lady Anne was the stimulus for the recent Channel 4 drama about the Civil War - The Devil's Whore.

On Boxing Day, I found another of the houses Adams lived in with his wife Lucy after he fell out with Carpenter - Adamfield on Fox Lane. I'm rapidly becoming an expert (bore?) on the obscurer reaches of North Derbyshire socialist history....