In September last year, Simon and I spent a week away in the Peak District, Derbyshire. We stayed in an old toll booth, now refurbished as a cottage. And, apart from a cafe next door, run by the cottage’s owners, and a large house (former hotel?) across the road, there was a lack of neighbours. Or so we thought…
First thing one morning, we heard a thud downstairs. Was this 1800s building actually haunted and was there a ghoul floating around the kitchen, staring mournfully at the chocolate it was unable to enjoy, or was there a possible burglar at the door or window? Neither prospect was particularly palatable.
Was it an intruder trying to get in?
It was. Not just one, but several. It was a gang of girls who meant no harm but were intrigued by our cottage. They could see in through the large windows and watch us sitting in front of the television. We were their very own version of TV. It must get a tad dull being a sheep so who needs Netflix or the BBC when you can watch humans sit on a settee watching TV, reading, eating and drinking?
Top quality entertainment. But it turned out we were so popular as TV stars they wanted to meet us and ask for our autographs.
What big events are happening right now in a global sense? Well, for many of us we’re in the season of Advent, leading up to Christmas, and there is the football World Cup, for once held in winter this year. But have you heard of the COP15 UN Biodiversity Conference taking place in Montreal, Canada? I hadn’t until I came across it by accident on the internet. Unlike the Cop27 Climate Change conference (where VIPs attended on their private jets), I have not heard very much about this one.
When Extinction Rebellion first protested, I grew hopeful that, finally, people may wake up to all the problems facing nature. But their focus is on humans and climate change, not the ongoing destruction of wildlife and natural habitat. I believe the two are actually connected and it is only by working alongside nature, rather than against it, that we will live in a more sustainable world.
Without a doubt, there is a nature emergency. A study by conservation charity WWF revealed that the world had lost 69 per cent of its animal populations between 1970 and 2018. Losing wildlife habitat has been one of the biggest causes… and it has an impact on the climate too.
Here’s what the WWF says: “Forests are crucial as they are home to over 80% of the world’s land-based species of animals, plants and insects. Millions of people and species depend on forests, and they play a crucial role in helping to regulate the world’s climate. Yet deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has just hit an all-time high and if we lose the Amazon, we lose the fight to limit climate change – it’s that simple.”
“According to the UN, we lose 100,000 sq. km of natural forest globally every year – that’s an area of forest the size of London lost every week, or roughly one football pitch every 2 seconds. Only 17% of what’s left has any kind of proper protection.”
The biodiversity conference, which will run until December 19, will involve nearly 200 countries aiming to reach an agreement on stopping and reversing the decline of nature by 2030. At the opening, UN Secretary-General António Guterres gave a stark message, saying: “Deforestation and desertification are creating wastelands of once-thriving ecosystems, our land, water and air are poisoned by chemicals and pesticides, and choked with plastics.”
Words I agree with but will this be another case of a conference full of ‘blah, blah, blah’ (as Greta Grunberg once said)? Regrettably, I have no expectations from this Biodiversity Conference. Targets will be set and, more than likely, ignored. I wish, like Elvis Presley sang, there would be: “A little less conversation, a little more action please.”
I don’t like leaving things on a negative note so, although I don’t trust governments or big corporations to do the right thing, and the nature crisis can seem overwhelming, we can take little steps to alleviate the issue. Think globally, act locally is one phrase I’ve heard. If you have a garden, you could plant various flowers, trees and shrubs to create havens for insects and birds, join wildlife charities, volunteer at conservation groups… Be a nature ally (although we are all part of nature whether we realise it or not). By supporting wildlife, we help ourselves as well, both in terms of the climate issue but also our mental wellbeing.
Malham is a most unusual place, home to Queen of the Fairies and her magical waterfall, a 300 million-year-old pavement (none of this modern tarmac stuff of today) and a scenic tarn. And then there’s the intimidating Gordale Scar…
I can see why Malham has featured in films such as Harry Potter with its magical setting. We set off from Malham village, directions sending us to the way of Janet’s Foss. A nice and easy walk took us to a wooded glen, complete with waterfall and small pool. A woman was wild swimming and I hoped she didn’t think I was taking a photo of her when I was aiming for the waterfall!
We saw a dipper flying to and from a nest under ivy, high up over the waterfall, and bee nests made of books along the trees. One time I came here I followed Simon over the rocks in the pool to a small cave at the other end. Needless to say, I stumbled into the water and got my shoes and socks soaking wet.
So who is or was Janet? It’s believed Janet (sometimes Jennet) is a fairy queen who lives in a cave at the back of the waterfall. (Maybe she was watching me and laughing when I got my feet wet that time?!) The word Foss means waterfall in Nordic and can also appear as the word ‘Force’ in English. It is such a magical setting that it doesn’t surprise me that a fairy queen lives here…
We continued on our way to the section I was dreading, the limestone ravine that is Gordale Scar. Gordale Scar is a hidden gorge with two waterfalls that hardy hikers scramble over to get to the top. The first time I came here, I climbed this but not without wanting to turn back mid-way. The gaps between the leg holds seemed too vast for my little legs. But then a small 9-year-old girl bravely climbed past me and I thought if she can do it, so can I. But the last time and this time I gazed at it, wishing I could do it but my legs were tired and the lack of people climbing put me off. Yet when there are several people doing it, it feels safer somehow. The rocks were also wet and looked slippery so that’s my excuse!
We left the limestone ravine behind but rather than taking the long way back to Malham Tarn, we walked up a steep hill. It was steep but no scrambling was needed so an improvement on the 330ft high Gordale Scar! Finally at the top, we travelled on the flat, through moorland to Malham Tarn, a beautiful glacial lake. Here we took a short break, eating our sandwiches.
From there, we continued to the famous 70 metre (230ft) Malham Cove. A series of steps took us to the famous 300-million-year-old limestone pavement. Except for its colour and being of a different stone (limestone as opposed to volcanic rock), it’s a little like the Giants Causeway, another geological wonder, although Malham Cove doesn’t have any legendary giants, more’s the pity. Most of the rocks are large and flat but there are gaps between each one. Another thing to be aware of is that it does look very steep – and potentially dangerous – when you venture nearer to the edge. Not a place to venture if you haven’t a head for heights. Poignantly we saw notices for The Samaritans on the way here.
Once you pick your way past all the giant blocks, there’s more steps to climb down and then a long path.
Once back in the village of Malham, we looked for a cafe for a well-earned pot of tea. The first eatery was full but we went back to Beck Hall, a hotel restaurant which we encountered on the way back. In an idyllic setting, overlooking the river, it was the perfect ending for a great walk. And a good place to rest our weary legs!
FACTS OF THE DAY
Gordale Scar was formed on the Middle Craven Fault. This is a fault line of 22 miles and runs from The Yorkshire Dales to Cumbria.
According to the Yorkshire Dales National Park website: “The torrents of glacial meltwater that flowed over it cut down through faults in the rock. Successive Ice Ages have carved it deeper and deeper over thousands of years to create the deep gorge we see today.”
Over millions of years, Malham Cove was eroded by water and ice. It is believed that the site was once covered with massive sheets of ice. The Yorkshire Dales website explains: “As these glaciers ground their way over the landscape they plucked rock from the face of the Cove and carried it away. Each time the glaciers melted, huge floods of water further eroded the face of the Cove.” (https://www.yorkshiredales.org.uk)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
After our six-mile walk, a refreshing pot of tea was enjoyed at the little &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.
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.
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.
It’s very pleasing to see that my budding camellia a couple of weeks ago has blossomed into the above beautiful flower. It was a housewarming present and I’ve had it since 2012 – it’s celebrating its 10th anniversary this year! For the first few years, it did not flower but its glossy dark green leaves indicated that it was healthy. Then a couple of years ago, it presented its first flower and has never looked back. A lovely splash of colour at the bottom of my garden.
At the start of this year I wanted to get fit (or at least fitter). I also wanted to be more proactive in looking after nature and the environment. So why not combine the two and start litter-picking walks?
This morning I went on my first, only a 10-minute one to start off. I left my house complete with litter-picking gloves, a litter-picker and a reusable carrier bag. (I’d bought the gloves and litter-picker last year when I felt inspired – and then promptly forgot about them until very recently). There are those who take big black bin bags with them and are much more productive but this was my first attempt.
I actually would like to say that I came home with an empty bag with no litter to be seen, but alas, barely a couple of minutes away in a wooded spot, there was a remnant of a child’s toy (too heavy for me to carry in my bag), a blue disposable face mask (I was too squeamish to pick it up even with gloves and litter-picker), a ‘World’s Best Grandad’ badge (that went into the bag) and various drink cans and bottles. The cans and bottles were the most numerous.
This was all in one spot. I have no idea why anyone would throw litter on the ground but I can certainly see why people go litter-picking. It helps you get fit, keeps places – city or country – clean and tidy and it felt productive too.
Litter-picking can be done by individuals or by groups and there may be organised local litter-picks that people can join (something I might look into). Safety should also be thought of too. I’ll use my litter pick and gloves but there are some items I will avoid picking up. In fact Keep Britain Tidy says litter pickers should leave clinical waste such as needles/syringes, instead advising people to make a note of their location and inform the local council. But leaving the potentially hazardous material behind, there are still plenty of other crisp packets and plastic bottles, drink cans and sweet wrappers to pick up.
One Saturday in January I embarked on a wintry morning ramble along the River Idle in Nottinghamshire with Simon. We parked on Chainbridge Lane and headed towards the river. On the map it’s called the ‘Riverside Discovery’ walk and I thought this was all part of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s Idle Valley Nature Reserve at first. It was a sunny, cold day with frost on the ground. Instead of making the ground slippy, it actually made the walk more pleasant as it meant the path was less muddy. As time passed, this frost melted and the ground became muddier.
A couple passing by mentioned a large gathering of siskins further up, adding: “You’ll hear them before you see them”. In the meantime we came across a clearing where many trees – conifers I guess? – had been felled. This was part of the nature reserve so I presume the plan is to plant native trees instead.
We also came across a swan family of varying ages swimming in the river.
I had forgotten about the siskins by the time we heard their calls coming from the trees. The siskins could be seen perched on the branches but the sun blocked out their vivid yellow colour and we saw them as silhouettes instead.
It was quiet on our walk with only a few walkers and dogs but as we entered the Idle Valley Nature Reserve – 450 hectares of lakes, wetland, scrub and grassland – we encountered increasing numbers of people. This particular reserve, run by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, is both a Local Wildlife Site (LWS) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s largest reserve and one of the largest sites for nature conservation in the East Midlands.
We reached the visitor centre where Simon had a warming bowl of soup and I enjoyed a filling jacket potato. Our table had a very pleasant view of Belmoor Lake. The visitor centre has a shop, toilets and cafe. It is also called a Rural Learning Centre and looks like it’s connected to North Notts College. I also noticed a sign for Muddy Fork – Social and Therapeutic Horticulture. I believe that nature, whether it’s in the form of gardening, walks or voluntary work, can do wonders for our wellbeing. It’s good to know that there are programmes like this out there.
A Willow Tunnel and boardwalk took us back into the reserve, passing a natural playground on the left and Belmoor Lake on the right. Bug arch sculptures were dotted along the path.
We later saw a flock of lapwings flying overhead and goldeneye on the lake.
It was only afterwards when I was reading up about the reserve that I discovered that beavers have been reintroduced here, after an absence of more than 400 years. I also found that Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust offers regular beaver enclosure tours. It would be wonderful to see a beaver!
According to the Wildlife Trust website: “A pair and a family with four kits have been released into an enclosed section of Idle Valley Nature Reserve. We have created one of the largest beaver enclosures in the UK and in November 2021 released eight beavers, including four kits (baby beavers), to this area securely separated from the River Idle and closely monitored.”
The nature reserve was once gravel pits and was known as Sutton & Lound Gravel Pits, which was incorporated with Hallcroft & Bellmoor Pits near Retford. The whole site was bought by Notts Wildlife Trust.
Although there is still greenery in my garden, it lacks colour (except for my vibrant sun-yellow mahonia) at this time of year. But I have noticed a few early signs of spring. My perennial lungwort has started to flower, as it does about this time every year. I have found the plant to be as popular with bees as humans.
My primroses can also always be relied upon to provide a splash of colour at this time of year.
This time of year (start of February) is a turning point in the Celtic calendar with its festival Imbolc marking the beginning of spring, halfway between the winter equinox and the spring equinox. Looks like my garden agrees and I look forward to seeing more glimpses of spring awakening from my currently sleeping perennials over the next few weeks.
The plant got its common name because its leaves are shaped like lungs, and lungwort was indeed once used medicinally to treat lung ailments.