Posted in Environment, Nature, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Walks in the Yorkshire Dales – A Short Country Break

Grass Wood

Deer in Grass Wood, Yorkshire Dales

Grass Wood is one of the largest broadleaved woodlands in the Yorkshire Dales and is managed by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.  It is mostly an ash woodland with limestone terraces but sadly here, as well as in other areas of the country, ash dieback has meant some of those trees have had to be cut down.

Grass Wood

While on our Yorkshire Dales break, we had a quick look here en route back to Grassington. An information board detailed the beauty spot’s history and nature. Apparently back in the 1700s a convict had been hung not far from the signpost. The rather grisly named ‘Gibbet Hill’ was the site where the body of a local blacksmith and thief was hung. Tom Lee had been executed in York in 1768, ‘as a warning to any potential miscreants’. Two years earlier, he had been convicted of murdering Dr Richard Petty. Tom Lee had hid Dr Petty’s body in the River Wharfe near Burnsall and nearly avoided conviction but, unfortunately for Lee, his apprentice confessed.

A couple of days later, we went back for a longer walk.

Is this Gibbet Hill in Grass Wood?

We parked at a small car park at Grass Wood. It was early evening, about 4pm, so plenty of time before dusk and the path was clearly seen. We saw bluebells, yellow primroses and dog violets, and heard a woodpecker tapping away on a tree. We came across an empty egg, perhaps dropped by jackdaws. We did not know what bird had laid it.

Mystery egg

The path had a surprising incline upwards. Simon, getting hungry, asked: “Shall we carry on, or turn back?” But we decided to continue for a while further. We came across what looked like a large limestone ridge and I wondered if it was one of the two iron age forts located here but there were no signs indicating this was the case.

A dog barked in the distance and I assumed someone was walking their pet in the woodland. Simon was a little further on from me and had stopped.

“Shush,” he said as he pointed towards something. The animal he was looking at was camouflaged by the surrounding trees but when I saw it move, I realised it was a deer. Usually when an animal such as a deer spots you, they run off. But this one was observing us, the trees helping to conceal it. The barks continued in the background and it turned out to be another deer rather than a dog.

Deer in Grass Wood

I had seen fleeting glimpses of deer before but they were always quick glances, before the deer sharply moved on. This time the deer was relaxed and curiously watched us watching her. After a while she moved on as did we.

Bluebells in Grass Wood

We then came across a sign towards Far Gregory Fort, the iron age hillfort, so we veered left up another incline. According to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, its Victorian discoverers supposed it to be a Brigantian Fort established against Roman invasion. There were rocks but it was hard to know for certain – without archeological knowledge – that this was indeed a place where people lived during Iron Age times. We saw an old campfire site but Simon was convinced that it would have been quite recently used. There is another Iron Age settlement site elsewhere in the wood.

Fort Gregory

The path back to the car park was not quite so easy to follow if you change direction, looking for hillforts.

At one point, Simon asked, “What was the name of the film about people being lost in the woods?”

Grass Wood

I had started thinking about the Blair Witch Project too… (And of course, there was always Gibbet Hill with its grisly history at the other side of the wood…)

Still, thankfully it was daylight and many hours to be comfortably lost in the wood before it got dark and the imagination went into overdrive! Up and over and back down and down.

We heard a sudden rustling movement and it turned out we had surprised a deer who was sleeping. This time, the startled deer ran off.

We carried on down the slopes, what goes up must come down after all, and we remembered a river on that side of the wood so we headed in that direction. Eventually we saw a stile out of the wood, climbed up and out, and now we were on the road. The easy part now, I mused.

Or not. We had earlier walked past log piles and on our way back we came across these again. Logically we would presume that our car park must be nearby… Or maybe not.

Iron Age Fort?

Our walk along the road took us to the first entrance, the one we went in on the Sunday. But where was our car park? I was sure we hadn’t passed it and that we had passed the log pile. But as we retraced our steps we finally discovered that our car park – which neither of us had taken much notice of beforehand – was very hidden, secluded and secret, its tiny entrance could be – and was – easily missed.

So our trip to Grass Wood came to an end, and we took home our magical memory of the deer observing us peacefully.

Posted in Chickens, Pets, Self-sufficiency

Queen of the Pecking Order

Dottie is the new leader

Cosy Cottage Garden now has a new boss – her name is Dottie.

The bantams’ previous head of state, Jemima, was an assertive and sensible leader. She took her duties seriously, whether it was telling Mabel off for brooding or alerting the others when a threat, such as a cat, appeared. After her sad illness and death earlier this year, for a while it looked like there was no new Queen of the Pecking Order, or even a pecking order.

The old days – former boss Jemima holds a conference

So the girls did their own thing. Ava would dreamily wander around before perching somewhere to meditate and ponder the mysteries of life, Mabel foraged for tasty greens, destroying honesty and other flowers in the process, Dottie dug away – usually in the tubs where I was trying to grow onions.

“No need for these little things, not sure what they are, but they’re not worms. Keep getting in the way of my worms, toss them out, that’s what I’ll do. They’re only in the way here. Hmm, I’m sure I spotted a worm here… Dig, dig, dig away, merrily into the dirt…”

But hens need someone in charge, so gradually Dottie took control of the situation. She proved a different type of leader to Jemima, more laissez-faire and easygoing. In a different world, she would not have made mother hen with her hands-off approach to the role. But Ava had no interest, Mabel was inclined to be more concerned about food than social affairs and Dottie may be dizzy but she was the eldest of the three.

Dottie complains about a lack of mealworms

She is no natural boss and does suit her name ‘Dottie’ in her character, as well as her appearance. She is not particularly interested in important security issues such as cats and hawks. Instead I see her outside my patio doors, alongside her compatriots, demanding sunflower seeds and mealworms. She will never gain a reputation for wisdom but she has excellent negotiation skills when it comes to titbits. However, unlike Jemima, who would call the others over whenever mealworms were handed out, Dottie keeps news of such treats to herself.

She is no autocrat. Instead of rebuking Mabel, who is starting to go through the broody process again, Dottie sits alongside her companionably, Ava next to her.

When asked about being a leader, Dottie replies: “We all do what we like but I’m the boss of course.”

Posted in Fitness challenges, Nature, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Walks in the Yorkshire Dales – Walk 2: Buckden Pike

At the top of Buckden Pike – looking tired and windswept!

Buckden Pike – 702 metres (2,303 ft)

It had been a while since I had walked up a hill (the 500ft Pendle Hill was the last on a particularly sodden wet and windy day, I didn’t make it to the top on that occasion) and I felt a sense of trepidation at the idea of walking up one of the Dales hills. I love hills and mountains, the views from them en route or on the top, the sense of achievement, having reached the top, the sense of achievement having reached the bottom, the feeling of a well-earned pot of tea afterwards (and maybe a slice of cake?) But the actual journey itself of going up a hill… My lungs protesting at every step: “This is too much, Clare. Take a breath, look at the scenery. Have some water.”

And never does water taste so wonderful as it does while going up a hill!

The start of the journey

We parked in a car park in Buckden, close to the start of our trek. Next to the car park was a wooden gate leading to a path in a field. There was a signpost stating Buckden Pike – two and a quarter miles.

A nice short walk then! Ha! It didn’t feel like that to me – never trust a sign pointing up a hill.

The signpost directing us to Buckden Pike

Apart from the sounds of the skylark and curlew, sightings of wheatears and pippits, it felt like we were the only ones on the Dales. It was so quiet and peaceful. Maybe it was because it was Monday and the week after the Easter holidays. But it did feel like we were the only two inhabitants on the dales. Not a soul or hint of civilisation could be seen.

Yorkshire Dales

A steep hill – where we noticed wild pansies – took us to the top where we walked along the ridge to the trig point at 702 metres. Buckden Pike actually narrowly misses out on being the highest peak in this area, it is Great Whernside which earns this title. Instead, Buckden Pike is the seventh highest peak in the Yorkshire Dales and is eight metres higher than Pen-y-ghent itself – one of the ‘Yorkshire Three Peaks’. I had gone up Great Whernside (704 metres) before – or at least most of it as it was a terrible day weather-wise. (You can read that story here: https://cosycottageandthequestforthegoodlife.wordpress.com/2020/05/23/trek-diary-part-1-oct-nov-2017-2/).

From the top of Buckden Pike, on a clear day, one can see the three peaks Pen Y Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough.

Buckden Pike

There is a stone slab pavement at the top. According to the National Trust: ‘The moorland here is important blanket bog and we are creating a path with old mill flagstones. This will protect the delicate peat from erosion.’

On the way back, along the ridge and then over a ladder stile into another field, we came across the Polish War Memorial commemorating a crash from a Second World War plane. Five Polish soldiers died when their plane crashed in 1942. If you look closely at the base of the memorial, you’ll see a fox’s head. That’s because the only survivor reached the village of Cray in the snow by following a fox’s footprints.

The memorial on top of Buckden Pike

We continued along a stone wall, gradually going downhill. There were some boggy areas, considering how the recent weather had been fairly dry I could imagine how soggy it could get if there had been recent rainfall. Some walks turn off at Starbotton, the next village but we carried on until Kettlewell.

Not too far from Kettlewell, we came across an older couple, who looked as tired as I felt and yet they had only really embarked on their journey. Luckily for them, they were heading back to Starbotton, not quite as far as the trek we were on.

The &Then cafe we went to yesterday in Kettlewell was closed so we ventured into the cosy Bluebell Inn for a well deserved pot of tea and glass of lemonade. We noted ‘local wild foraged garlic’ among other tasty items on the menu. The menu was tempting for an evening meal. (And indeed we did return on our last evening). Once refreshed, we continued along the River Wharfe back to Buckden. This time the sign said four miles…

We saw a lamb on the other side of the fence which provoked a dilemma, should we help or would intervention make things worse?

On the first night, Simon had proved to be a successful sheep wrangler, helping to herd a few straggler sheep and lambs away from the road, and then away from the nearby housing estate back into their own field. They had ended up in a neighbour’s garden, munching away at the lawn, at one point! But this was a different scenario and we didn’t want to startle the lamb into running off and getting lost. As it turned out, while we were pondering this, the lamb ducked under the fence and went back into its own field itself. Problem solved!

Lambs in the Yorkshire Dales

On our gentle river stroll back to Buckden, we saw river debris evidence of what looked like recent flooding and a male goosander. We also saw what looked like mandarin or wood ducks. From a steep hill climb to a relaxing river stroll, this walk had plenty of variety.

Posted in Fitness challenges, Nature, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Walks in the Yorkshire Dales – Walk One: Grassington to Kettlewell

Yorkshire Dales

The Dales Way – Grassington to Kettlewell (12 miles)

It was the first full day of our Yorkshire Dales break, we had enjoyed a hearty breakfast and were now all set to explore the surrounding countryside. This ramble, the first of our holiday, would be a village to village walk via The Dales Way in Wharfdale. We took our sticks from the car and started walking away from our dwelling in Grassington to a nearby path leading into a field. Although we didn’t go up any steep hills, the various inclines meant I was glad we had our walking sticks. It was approximately six miles to Kettlewell and another six miles back.

In case you were wondering, the word ‘dale’ means ‘lowland valley’ which gives an idea of the type of terrain we were walking in today. This part of Yorkshire is also noted for its limestone scenery (although nowhere beats Malham for that, more about Malham in another blog post).

On our journey, we also went past Conistone Dib, a dry limestone gorge. We saw an oystercatcher and pipits and heard the call of the curlew. Our walk through the fields gradually took us to our mid-way point, a little hamlet called Conistone.

Conistone

There appeared to be a maypole in the middle of the village. I wonder if it was used for maypole dancing back in the day, or maybe even nowadays?

Back on the dales, we spotted a curious rocky ‘hill’ which we nicknamed the ‘castle’. I later learned that it’s a limestone outcrop and its real name is Conistone Pie not Conistone Castle! I suppose it does look a little like a pie to a hungry rambler from a distance …

Off the dales and onto a quiet road nearing Kettlewell, we went past Scargill House, a Christian holiday and conference centre founded in 1959.

We also came across two unusual ‘locals’. We were used to seeing white fluffy animals grazing grass – but these two ‘sheep’ looked rather different!

Alpacas grazing in the Yorkshire Dales

After our six-mile walk, a refreshing pot of tea was enjoyed at the little &then cafe in Kettlewell.

&then cafe in Kettlewell

We then explored St Mary’s church and churchyard. According to the church’s website, it’s situated beneath the slopes of Great Whernside.

Kettlewell Church

The beautiful churchyard is home to various wildflowers and limestone gravestones. There is also a meadow labyrinth, made of limestone and created in 2020. It’s no surprise that, in 2021, it won North Yorkshire’s Best Churchyard Competition.

Rather than going back via the dales, we headed back along the quiet country single road. Normally we would avoid roads but apart from a long convoy of MG sports cars (I felt sorry for the motorist who was heading in their direction and had to reverse some way to let them pass), this was very quiet and more like a country lane.

We took a quick detour into Grass Wood on the way back, but it was much bigger than expected so we decided to explore it another day. If we looked over to the right, we could see the River Wharf flowing beside us.

River Wharfe

It was a very pleasant walk, with ups and downs (on the Dales Way towards Kettlewell rather than the flat road going back) but nothing too strenuous. Even so, I was certainly ready for my pizza meal that evening at The Foresters Arms in Grassington!

  • Facts of the Day
  • 1. The word ‘Dale’ ‘probably shares a common root with the Welsh ‘dol‘, meaning meadow, pasture, valley’ (Country Walking Magazine).
  • 2.  The Dales Way is a long distance footpath of about 80 miles. It runs from Ilkley to Bowness-on-Windermere.

Posted in Environment

A curious discovery

Picture by Simon Hunter

One day Simon sent me a photo of a curious discovery he had made at a landfill site where he works. Side by side amongst the leaves were a smooth-skinned common frog and a darker warty-skinned common toad. These two amphibian companions seemed to be happy sitting side by side despite being of different species. They’re both amphibians so, although they live on land, they still require water or a moist environment. This is definitely the case during breeding season when they produce spawn in water. As youngsters, they lived in water as tadpoles.

Outside the breeding season, both frogs and toads are solitary creatures so it would be unusual to see two frogs together, let alone a frog and a toad. Frogs prefer wet or damp habitats (your garden may have a resident frog if you have a pond) while toads generally like drier land such as hedgerows, woodland, gardens, and grassland.

Frog and toad next to each other Picture by Simon Hunter

Other differences are in the way they move, frogs have longer legs and hop while toads slowly walk or crawl. The frog has smooth skin while the toad has dry, warty skin. This type of skin has an advantage for the toad. While the frog’s long legs means it can hop away from danger, the toad’s bumbling movement could make it more of a target. How can it protect itself? By making itself unpalatable… and threatening.

According to the Woodland Trust: “The common toad has foul tasting skin to put predators off eating them. They also puff up when threatened.”

So be warned!

Marianne Taylor’s The Nature Book describes the differences as:

The common frog has ‘smooth skin, usually a distinctive dark bandit mask and a bouncy demeanour’. The common toad is a ‘slower, more bumbling creature, with a blunter nose, warty skin and more inclined to stand up tall and hiss at you when threatened’.

For more information on frogs and toads, visit: https://www.froglife.org/

Posted in Pets

The naughtiest dog

Photo by Tanino on Pexels.com

The year 2020 was a memorable year for the wrong reasons but it was also a year where Cosy Cottage awarded its first ‘Naughtiest Dog of the Year’ trophy. True, the trophy is an imaginary one due to cost restraints, but the accolade is still there.

Actually there are quite a few contenders for the Naughtiest Dog trophy. My family dogs Teddy and Molly are always prime candidates but I will select Max, Simon’s sister’s dog. Max is a springer spaniel who I met while on holiday with Simon in his sister’s caravan in Norfolk.

One day Simon’s sister and brother-in-law went out and we said we would take Max for a walk on the beach.

I once had – and sometimes still have – dreams of becoming a dog walker. I also had dreams of becoming a dog trainer until I realised I was unable to train Teddy and Molly, my family’s jack russells. I preferred to give dogs tasty treats rather than commands. In other words, I was too soft.

But I could always become a dog walker? Right? I took Max’s lead and he pulled… and pulled. I never realised dogs were so strong. Teddy pulls but as a small dog he’s manageable. But Max? And he wasn’t even a big dog, he was a springer spaniel – a medium-sized one! I gave him back to Simon in defeat.

Photo by Tanino on Pexels.com

“I need to rejoin the gym,” I admitted.

We brought Max to the nearby beach where Simon let him off the lead.

“He won’t run off, will he?” I fretted, thinking of all the possible perils of walking someone else’s dog.

Yet for some reason, we were under the impression that he was well behaved. We were mistaken.

He ran off.

And not only was Max strong, but he was fast. He turned out to be the strongest, fastest dog in the world. (He was awarded for those categories too).

We both called Max’s name (it seemed he was deaf too) and Simon (thankfully much fitter and faster than me) ran after him.

And ran.

And ran.

Although I was running too, I could no longer see Simon, let alone Max. But eventually both were spotted coming back. This time Max was on a lead.

It turned out that Max was also a thief. While running his marathon, he decided he would steal another dog’s ball. By the time Max had been retrieved, the other dog and his guardian had gone but Max defiantly had the ball in his mouth. I hope the other dog wasn’t too upset.

I suspect there is a picture of Max in the police stations of Norfolk, Most Wanted Ball Stealer – have you seen this dog?

Max, you may be a very charming fellow, but you deserve the Naughtiest Dog Trophy.

Posted in Pets, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

Among the gentle giants at the National Shire Horse Show

For one weekend in March, Newark Showfield in Nottinghamshire turned into the land of the giants, but have no fear as these were as gentle as they were dignified. They were Shire horses attending their own equine version of Crufts.

Shire Horse Show Pictures by Simon Hunter

There was an array of classes for them to compete in and all ages took part. I had assumed they were black horses but there were bay and silver colours too. I was beginning to wonder why it was just geldings and stallions but it was actually ladies’ day the following day when the mares would get preened up. The overall winner would compete in the National Horse Show in Birmingham later on in the year.

Shire horses were once used to pull carts and we got a glimpse of this during another competition where drainage companies competed with breweries.

There was a selection of vintage tractors and other farming machines on display, and, as at these types of events in general, a host of stalls selling refreshments and merchandise, and promoting charities.

It all felt so very ordinary as we wandered about that I forgot how last year this enjoyable event would not have been allowed to happen.

I always get Shires mixed up with Clydesdales as they are both large horses. I knew the Shires were large – 17.2 hands – and is the largest horse in the world. What I didn’t realise was their war history, an irony as they have a reputation for being so calm. While I picture Shires working on the canal, pulling freight barges along, they actually came into being through war in the medieval ages. I had a look at the Shire Horse Society’s website to find out its history…

Back in medieval ages, knights wearing armour were too heavy for the small British horses such as the Dartmoor so heavier breeds came over from Flanders, Germany and Holland. And so the War Horse aka the Great Horse appeared on the scene.

Farmers then took advantage of the Shire’s great strength and it started ploughing and pulling heavy loads (taking over from the oxen). During the Industrial Revolution, the Shire towed barges along the newly constructed canals, as well as drays, trams and wagons.

Technology in the form of railways, tractors and cars meant the need for Shires declined and they were no longer needed on barges, farms or roads. Although the breed’s numbers fell to a few thousand in the 1960s, they are becoming popular again and are seen on small farms, agricultural shows, ploughing matches, forestry and rural life museums, among other places. They are also seen as the more environmental option when it comes to working on the land.

I’m glad to see that these dignified giants will be around for a long time yet.

Posted in Chickens, Pets

Tribute to Jemima

It is rare to find a genuinely good leader – but that is what Jemima was. Her fluffy white plumage hid a sensible, fair and assertive personality, which won her the place of Mother Hen of the pecking order.

She never became tame in the way Mabel was (always in the hope of titbits) or Florence or Dottie when in the egg laying mood. Even when she laid eggs, she disdained human contact. Saying that, she did make friends with my godson Noah, eight at the time, who, on a visit, often brought her into my house.

She arrived with Dottie and the slightly younger Florence back in September 2017. A white egg arrived the next day. I never knew who laid it, although Dottie claimed credit by proclaiming to all and sundry. But it could have been Jemima. She was a quiet girl, not chatting for the sake of it and never boasting about her achievements, even after laying an egg.

Soon after she arrived, Simon called her wise. She always had that air of knowing more than the others.

Jemima with her best friend Dottie

Jemima and Dottie became good pals but she was always respected by all the hens.

Jemima leads a meeting

Jemima took her duties seriously. She was quiet but if she thought there was danger she would alert the others with an alarm call. On these occasions, Mabel was second in command, joining in the chorus. Whether it was a cat, a sparrow hawk or a false alarm, the pair would loudly tell the others to ‘Be safe, be alert. There’s danger about’…

Broody Buddies – Jemima with Florence

Every summer was broody time, a special occasion she celebrated with Florence and Mabel. Last year, she outgrew it and focused on laying eggs. How angry she was that Mabel was still taking part! She would go over to Mabel and give her an angry peck. I had to step in and make sure it didn’t become bullying. Jemima was mostly fair but you still wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her.

Recently Jemima became ill and although she apparently got better, she went downhill again before passing away.

That day Dottie looked around her as if to say, “Where’s Jemima?”

They will miss her, as will I.