Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ice climbing on the North Yorkshire Moors

Not too far from Whitby are the North Yorkshire Moors a venue not known for it's ice climbing. But here up at Fryup Dale there is a lengthy crag which with a few days of freezing weather comes into condition.

It's a long slog from the car parked just above Lealholm, deep snow North Yorkshire Moors.
Nowhere is the climbing above 20' to 30' but it's almost all vertical and can provide an hour or two fun 'sport' routes. Protection is limited to trees or stakes above the crag. But ice climbing on the North Yorkshire Moors is possible! And this is only three days before Christmas!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Jilly the Dog

8 years ago Trish drove myself and the two grandchildren who were staying with us, to; ”Pick up my Christmas present”. An unknown destination and present lay ahead. “You’ve always wanted one”, she said, “You’ll really like it” (Case of wine or whiskey?)

Later, as we drove away from the address, I stared at the little blond puppy that was crying on my lap. I know I’d gone on about wanting a dog – but a dog’s for life not just Christmas, I didn’t mean it!. It was an aspiration perhaps. Too much trouble perhaps? Maybe I only liked the idea of owning one?. It might cramp my style. I couldn’t go climbing, canoeing, skiing, mountaineering, could I? After all a dogs for life not just for Christmas, isn’t it?

Driving home the subject of names came up. Trish said it was called Lily. Number two Grandchild sitting in the back, coincidently called Lily, burst out crying indignantly; “I don’t want to be called the same name as a dog” she wailed. With my newly acquired alter ego now asleep on my lap I announced it would be called Fang. Or Killer, or Ripper.  Lilly & Georgia  in the back seat protested vocally and persistently. “Anyway she is a girl and you don’t call girls that kind of name”, one of them observed. Georgia suggested that as the previous owner called her Lily, a simple change to Jilly would suffice and would not offend the sensibilities of her sister. This was greeted by a loud, “Yes” from Lily. .

As we drove home I suggested to them that Jilly would do for dinner and asked them which bit they would like for the weekend joint, suggesting that we could have a leg each, which was an improvement on a chicken shared between four after all. More protests from the back followed loudly.

Jilly was whining on my lap and I gave her some gentle strokes. “Well”, I thought, she’d live outside in a kennel. End up being a tough dog and perhaps make a tolerable companion on my forays into the outdoors and nights in Igloos, snow holes, canoeing trips and so on., If I had to go to places where dogs were excluded, I could always tie her up with extra helpings of dog food!

I couldn’t let her outside that night as it was pointed out I didn’t own a kennel and without one she might be eaten by a fox. A large cardboard box was placed next to the Stanley and the children put her in and showered her with good night kisses and hugs.

Christmas morning dawned cold and bright and we’d ignored the odd crying from the kitchen during the night Carefully hidden dog food and treats appeared from cupboards and quickly disappeared down Jilly’s mouth.. I could see that the dog wasn’t going to starve to death. She could stay another few days anyway.

I needed a walk. Jilly, no doubt deciding I was a food source, decided to follow and ran at my heels. This was fine until we got to the Bog Field and she didn’t know that the bright green bits were wet. Very wet! Not wanting to upset the grandchildren too much by leaving her I pulled her out of the deep black water where she was struggling and let her go. She gamely ran at my heels over every obstacle I put in her way. I was suitably impressed by her spirit. A few minutes later she stopped and whined. Clearly she was going to be a liability! She was shivering. Mmmm? Ok, she was rather small and wet, and it was rather chilly. I picked her up and tucked her into my jacket. A few minutes later and she wanted to be down and off again, exploring and running and sniffing at everything and anything as she ran alongside me. A few minutes later and she ran out of steam and ground to a halt. I picked her up and ran back to the house wondering what was wrong with the present.

”Where did you go and how far was it”, I was asked when we arrived home.

“She’s tired”, Trish announced, after I told her where we’d been. Jilly was now fast asleep in her cardboard box. Outside would clearly have to wait!

As her stamina increased, our forays into the hills got longer and longer. The landscape I looked at obtained new meanings as she quickly spotted where the fox, badger, mice and the hares lived or passed, her nose following the scent trails across the fields and though the hedges.

Scrambling up a steep rocky gully to the summit of Ireland’s highest mountain proved she was quick and fast over the steepest rock and followed me along the narrowest of cliff ledges sometimes in deep snow. She helped in map work when I struggled in cloud and darkness along rocky mountainsides quickly noticing that she picked the best routes. She proved she had an excellent memory and could retrace exactly the route we’d trodden months before when revisiting climbs and walks. She proved equally adept at canoeing and wasn’t put off by the biggest or wettest rapids spending the trip testing the air and enjoying the views.

One spring night sleeping under the stars with no sleeping bag and only a bivvi-bag as shelter I shivered with cold. Outside, so did Jilly. With little prompting she joined me under the shelter and we soon warmed up together.

But I really knew who was the real softy when hedge-laying on a wet, windy, cold day in Co.Kerry. Soaked to the skin she shivered in long grass uncomplaining. I took a fleece jacket and covered her. Eating my sandwiches later I realised I’d forgotten her lunch. We shared my sandwiches that day!

Jilly has become my companion on long walks and runs, birdwatching trips and other excursions into the outdoors. And I wouldn’t have it any other way either. Dogs are not just for Christmas!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dry Stone Walling & Google

The Good, Bad, Ugly and the unexpected from Google

This was going to be easy. I'd been asked to write an article on Dry Stone Walling and Google for Sean Adcock of the North Wales Branch of the Drystone Walling Association's magazine Stonechat.

"Punch “drystone walls” into Google and go through them – see what is out there – good and bad".

Page 1 until ? Well, I gave up the careful prowl at around page 20 of google results and started page hopping until I gave up at page 35 when my browser refused to open any more sites.


So what did I discover? Well,, most surprisingly was the fact that most sites I turned up were entirely as you would expect in that they were relevant and mostly quite good. Along the way I discovered a few odds and ends. I discovered that in answers at Yahoo.com a thread which stated a stone wall would cost to build anything from £30 to £300 per metre depending on who you believed. I also found a wall costing only £4.99. I found out you could attend a drystone walling course in Switzerland for £435 including 3 nights full board & breakfast at www.myswiterland.com. I also discovered the Catalan for drystone waller is “Margerer”

As you probably have already discovered, a search on google produces mostly waller’s own websites, several dswa pages, amazon books and rather amusingly a few portal sight which lists areas with drystone wallers in it. Swiss Cottage in London was listed and isn’t known for it’s walling traditions so I couldn’t resist a quick visit. It listed three walling sites, one of which was a quarry in the Black Mountains an address in Armagh which is in Ireland so I had a look to see what was going on there. (Nothing). An address in surrey turned out to be a builders merchang so I’m still trying to work out the link with Swiss Cottage. I pressed the back button.

The first interesting site was “Sticks and Stones’, http://www.omlxi.com/sticks_stones/index.php a Tasmainian site by two gents. One a waller, the other a hedgelayer. Yes, both are practised in Tasmania even if only by these two and you can see their work.

By page 5 some odd drystone walling sites appear. Attracted by www.opendemocrfacy.net and it’s appealing, ‘Reshaping The Dry Stone Wall of Irish history’ title I gave it ago. After all I’d lived there for 10 years and never, ever come across this book. The book’s description was as follows:, “This book of twenty-five chapters is a selection of papers presented at a conference organised by the British Association for Irish Studies held at the University of Salford in September 2005. An additional commissioned chapter deals with the fortunes of the two major Unionist parties since the Belfast Agreement of 1998, in particular tracking the transition of the Democratic Unionists from opposition to the ‘Trimble-Adams Pact’ to miraculous support for a Robinson-McGuinness Executive. Appropriately, the book retains the diversity of the papers’ subject matter and, in keeping with recent academic...” Back space again!! I eventually worked out the relevance of the title with help from Trish. I’ll leave you to work it out too. Good luck.

On page seven I turned up http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/412167 an animated video of “Old Man Pie” building a wall. Stupidly I expected an instructional video but it turned out to be an animated video almost showing wall building. Don’t bother but good if you like watching or listening to something pointless. “I build a wall around my home, It keeps out enemies and friends”. Oh, go on I suppose it was a bit of fun after all!

In total contrast and well worth looking at is the video by Mick Soft at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIHc09Z5hvw. It’s a good micky take at wallers who talk about walling in some kind of hushed and referential manner. .The man does not confine his wit to us wallers either. If you follow the links watch his take on tree surgeons too.

A site known to many is Norman Haddow’s blogspot

http://wallswithoutmortar.blogspot.com and is a simple blog containing many excellent pictures and articles on walling from many countries. Well worth the visit. This site is an education in itself.

Another interesting site http://www.astoneuponastone.com/ the home of the Drystone walling association of Australia. Lots of pictures of.....errr,,, Australian Walls!

The first techno site I found with an extensive report on the strength of drystone walls, conducted by the University of Bath, can be found at http://www.bath.ac.uk/ace/dry-stone-2/

Of real interest to us wallers and probably well know is The National Stone Centre, especially the Millennium Wall at http://www.nationalstonecentre.org.uk/vs_millenniumwall.html. Numerous walls from around the UK built in regional styles using stone from around the UK and of course built by many different wallers from around the UK.

For those wallers who actually turn up to give an estimate then this site http://www.lowimpact.org/products_dry_stone_walling.html offers a solution. Just send them as many details as you can and they’ll give an estimate of the cost for them to build. This company would be a welcomed contributor to regular enquiries on the DSWA forum when it comes to questions of costs and speeds.

On the web you can also buy a complete Flexible drystone wall from JAVIS-JSTONEOOS-FLEXIBLE-DRY-STONE-WALLING and it will only cost a pound or two. But before you get excited it turned out to be the sort you get in a plastic bag and use on model railways and the like. I found another one advertised as, ‘suitable for model railways’ at £4.99.

The MPs have also been claiming for stonework. Janis Anderson Rossingdale MP paid several hundred pounds for walling on her home. (I’m not sure which one!) read more here in the Manchester Evening News http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/s/1121367_janet_andersons_dry_stone_wall

As we go further into google some new and unexpected stuff comes up This University of Huddersfield page http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/4729/ provides us with an extract from a thesis entitled, “Tacit knowledge, learning & expertise in drystone walling” (Farrar, Nicholas Stewart 2006) Reading the extract was interesting and one day I’ll get around to reading the whole thesis which can be read by clicking the link. At 277 pages you’ll be doing a lot of reading – in fact you’ll get to page 134 before you meet a wall or even a waller. On page 243 there are some useful lessons in support of the DSWA walling qualifications.

If you want an expensive book on stonewalling try Colin Sowerby’s http://www.thedrystonewaller.com/products.htm 6 pages for £5, an e-book claiming to be a concise guide to walling. Obviously some of us know far too much for our own good.

Flikr interestingly didn’t come up until page 20 and there are thousands of pictures which I’ll let you trawl through at your leisure.

The stone foundation www.stonefoundation.org an american site worth a visit even if I found the navigation a little confusing.

There are a number of good sites describing how to build a wall. But by far the worse is this one http://homeideas.howstuffworks.com/walls-and-boundaries/how-to-approach-building-a-dry-stone-wall.htm. If you are a knew nothing before looking at this site you’ll still know nothing afterwards.

You can even watch a stone wall being repaired. By invisible people no doubt at http://www.byrdir.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/stonewall.gif

Way down the listings on page 18 or so was this european site http://www.conselldemallorca.net/mediambient/pedra/pedraensec.php?idioma=ing&opcio=1 A Mallorca based site, of which a large portion is devoted to the rebuilding and conservation of their drystone walls and structures and is available in several languages which perhaps is a reflection on the recognition of the world wide interest in drystone walling. Conservation isn’t just a British thing!

And so on. I got to page 34 on google before my PC started to have a bad internet day but not before I noticed, “Taylors Master Guide to gardening which stated that “Drystone walls are ideal for gardening as they give when the ground moves as it freezes in winter.”

I’ll end my tedious tour here as the last paragraph could promote some discussion amongst anorak clad wallers. Oh, and if anyone does discover some really truly awful walling sites please let Sean know, because I couldn’t find them!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Canoeing the River Esk North Yorkshire

Monday 1st December.

A clear but frosty morning after a day of continuous rain on the Sunday and it looks like a good day to go for a paddle. I'm soon at Grosmont, several miles upriver from Whitby.
I drop the canoe off next to the bridge, drive back to Sleights where I leave the car and jog the few miles back to the canoe. It takes just over 40 minutes and I put my paddling boots on and a warm fleece as I'll soon cool down.

A paddle of about two hours downriver to Sleights or beyond looks on the cards. The section between here and Sleights is varied paddling through woods and fields and passes under the Esk Valley railway a number of times. It's a quiet paddle and well sheltered. There's plenty to interest paddlers. It's fairly straighforward and is the best section on the river Esk for an open canoe. Between Lealhom and Grosmont there is plenty to interest the keen Kayaker

The put in at the ford in Grosmont. The river has been very high, look at the debris hanging in the tree top right! It looks line fun.

Plenty of grade II makes for an interesting paddle between here and Sleights about two hours paddling away, through a mainly wooded valley and past a few interesting man made structures.

The first one being a fishermans shelter partially built into a cliff. The air temperature is hovering just above freezing and I'm having difficulty keeping my hands warm.

Plenty of small drops, some easier than others but enough to keep you interested. Gravel bars, and twisting turns.

And for those of you old enough to remember, this is the actor Ian Carmichael's house, camera shake notwithstanding - but I was paddling aswell!

My bowman, Jilly, with canoeing & mountaineering experience in Ireland and England. She's fine at the bow but only knows doggy paddle.

Some of the river passes by undercut cliffs but none of this interests her

There's some interesting wildlife to be spotted. These are (I think) otter tracks, we see kingfisher, dipper, a little grebe, several goosander and a pair of red breasted mergansers and numerous grey wagtails. The odd deer scurry away from the bank Jilly jumps ship at one point and dives overboard on seeing a squirrel and chases it along the bank requiring me to go ashore.

A good chance to stretch the legs!

And so the river continues, passing through woods, ravines, twists and turns, the odd island, and here, demonstrating the height the river reached at the weekend by several log jambs

The first take out point is easily noticed by a huge metal bridge (The road to Pickering) replacing one, previously washed away in floods in the 1930s.

And here's the take out point at Sleights Weir. It's an awkward carry out to get to the car park next to the Salmon Leap pub, but you can carry on to Whitby or another take out just before Ruswarp boats, where beyond that is the only other weir which involves a carry over.

I've heard of people paddling over Sleights weir in kayaks, but there is a strong undertow in high conditions and I'd not chance it in any condition!. At extremely high conditions there is only a foot drop but who knows what lies underwater.

In the many years I've lived here I've never seen another paddler on this or any other stretch of the Esk other than below the Dam at Sleights which is heavily used by a couple of local outdoor centres.

And here's the same dam taken Monday 26 November 2012 after heavy rain.  The river level was at 2.88 meters as recorded by the Environment Agency.     __________________

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ian Bailey (2)

We never told any of our visitors about the murder. Nor did we tell them that the only person arrested for it, and the only person who confessed to it lived up the road.

Ian Bailey sued several papers claiming they said he murdered Sophie du Plaintier.. He lost.

It was around this time that Mr Bailey's behaviour towards me changed alarmingly. For several years I had walked across the fields bordering Mr Bailey's property (actually it belongs to Jules Thomas, his partner, but never mind). More recently I'd used the fields for walking our dog. The fields belonged to my good friend Richard Connell.

Then one day I was crossing the fields and Bailey appeared at his boundary shouting and screaming. I don't know exactly what as it was windy.

I thought I'd give the police this information as he was rather an odd character.

Too late, I was informed by the Schull team. "He's made a complaint about you". And so came to pass numerious episodes of Ian Bailey complaining about me walking the fields where I live and had permission to walk. More upsettingly the country police manning the 'barracks', as Irish police stations are known', were out of their depth. On one occasion I had one of them, an unpleasant fat and rather lazy man called Guarda Kellihier come to me, interview me under caution and accuse me of making, "Obscene pig noises outside Ian Bailey's house on the public road".

Quickly realising Kellihier was out of his depths I asked him what an 'obscene pig noise' sounds like. He couldn't tell me. "So I can't really comment, can I", replied.
"Will ye sign this?", he asked me, after having written out his statement of our meeting. "No" I replied. And he realised that he'd spent the last 5 minutes of writing out his acount of his interview for me to sign was wasted.

He then told me I was being unreasonable. I quickly told him that if you come to someones house, tell them they have been making obscene pig like noises, they can hardly be called unreasonable if the person making the complaint cannot tell me what they sound like in the first place.

The next phase now involved threatening letters from Ian Bailey's defence lawyers.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Living next to a suspected Killer

On December 23rd 1996 French film maker Sophie du Plantier was brutally murdered at her West Cork home in Ireland. The killer was never convicted and there was only one suspect, Ian Bailey who lived with Jules Thomas. (You can google "Ian Bailey+Schull and you'll get dozens of links!)

Ian Bailey lived with his partner Jules Thomas
about 150 meters up the road from us. He beat here up a number of times, sometimes enough to hospitalise her.

I have been asked many times what it was like living next to these two. And many times I've been asked, did I think he was the murderer? I'll answer the first question only, although it is public knowledge he beat Jules up a number of times, once so badly she had to be rushed to hospital in Cork City some 65 miles away. You can make up your own mind whether he you think he murdered Sophie.

Although my relationship with Ian Bailey was initially cordial he soon showed an unpleasant streak and was prone to angry outbursts.

Although later we bought the house from them, initially Jules let me rent the place until the contracts were signed. My first brush with them occurred after the water supply broke down. Ian Bailey brought a litre bottle of water round. "we are getting someone to fix it" he said, as he bid me a jolly goodbye. No one came, that day. Or the next. So I got someone to fix it myself. A couple of weeks later Jules came round demanding the rent. I told her I had no money at hand but perhaps she'd like to settle this, and i handed her the bill for the water repairman. "You just can't win' she said as she threw the bill on the floor, and that was the last time I spoke to her.

Some weeks later just prior to the contract being signed I put outside one of the rusty old fridges that were rotting and rusting in the corner of what was left of the kitchen and stood it outside. I couldn't believe anyone would have wanted it anyway it was so rusty and dirty. Ian and Jules saw it and came immediately knocking at the door. Ian was tense and obviously angry. Jules sat quietly in the background. "You being here is costing me money" he frowned at me. I asked why and in reply he said that this was his studio where he wrote his material!! - I felt like telling him that he needed to ask Jules why she was selling the house to me then!. But he was angry and it was obvious there was no reasoning with him. Beads of sweat formed on his brow. He was clearly angry.

There were one or two unpleasant exchanges but nothing untoward until some time after we bought the house he approached me angrily swearing and shouting about me spying on him. Obviously he didn't like me birdwatching in the vicinity of his house.

Other than that we never spoke much as he was always rather sullen. But it all got worse once he'd taken the many newspapers to court for liable, claiming they had wrongly accused him of the murder.

Upset and angry that he'd lost his legal challenge and not liking the fall into obscurity he took some of his anger out on me.

His behaviour towards me changed dramatically. I'll post future posts about his outbursts, complaining to the police, my neighbour and of the numerous solicitors letters I received. Slightly more worrying he was collecting pictures of me whilst I was out walking!.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

NATO Naval Communications Competition

Well, here I am receiving a little prize from the Captain of HMS Mercury for taking part in the Nato Naval Communications Competition at the Naval Station of St. Kruis, in Brugge, Belgium. Just in case you are wondering why I look so young - this picture was taken in 1970. I joined up in 1966 and left in 1974.

This competition consisted of four operators from each of the NATO countries' navies, competing in morse transmission, reception, tele printing, & reading flashing lights. Those doing morse transmission also had to do morse reception at 36wpm which was the competition standard.

Eight of us were recruited volunteers from across the navy we spent six weeks improving our skills in HMS Mercury before four of us went to Brugge, one of many venues used throughout the competition's history. I ended up doing morse transmission (MTX) for the competition which was scored using a combination of speed & accuracy transmission.

From the eight the best four at the end of the six weeks were selected to go to the competition.

Our Chief was CRS Mick Puttick (G3LIK) a keen radio amateur - and still is!

Here we are at the Belgian naval base, St.Kruis.
Left to Right:-

LRO Happy Sadd - MRX (Morse Reception)
RO2(G) Buster Brown (FRX) (Flashing Light)
Sub Lt. Murphy ( i/c)
CRS, Mick Puttick (G3LIK) team trainer
Me! (MTX = Morse Transmission)
Belgian senior rate i/c the Belgian team and a radio ham too.
Front, RO2 Taff Welstead (TTX) (Teleprinter)

And here is where we practiced.  (from left to right)One of the Italians, Me at the front, German immediately behind me.  An American and the Dutch operator far right. 
Much more about the NATO  Naval Communications Competition (NAVCOMCOMP), can be found on this website > then Communicator magazine > look in the Sprin 1970 edition and you can scroll down the magazine until you find more details of the team for that year.  Plus lots of information regarding Royal Naval communications.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Saltergate Gallows fell race

Lovely clear Sunday morning and decided to take part in a 8.5mile route with just about 1000ft of ascent at Saltersgate on the North Yorkshire Moors.

Only just made the start as I forgot my trainers and had to turn around to pick them up. Car park at the Hole of Horcum was jam packed full of runners, many of whom were warming up when I arrived. I only just managed to pin my number on before I got to the start!.

The route can be seen here.

I managed to run 99% of the course apart from a couple of up-hill sections. Not bad for a 59 year old!! I came 60th out of 120 runners and was 2nd out of 12 in may age group . Finishing time was 80 minutes. I may even partake in a few more!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Autumn visitors to Robin Hood's Bay


From our home at the top of the bank I could see skeins of geese flying south, high in the clear blue skies un-noticed by the remaining visitors admiring the views from the top of the bank. And more came by that night calling in the moonlight in their thousands, unheard by customer sitting outside the Grosvenor Hotel.

The following day saw the first autumn gale and I noticed a pair of House Martins were still flying around houses along Mount Pleasant. Not all our avian visitors had left either. But these birds will make their massive migration south across the Sahara to southern Africa to join the swifts which left the village much earlier, a journey of several thousand miles without stopping!. But it’s nothing for a swift. One adult feeding young was ringed bird in the UK at it’s nest in a school belfry, was caught later the same day in Germany. Released a second time it was back feeding it’s young later the same day. A round journey of five hundred miles to feed it’s young.

When many of our human visitors go home for winter they are replaced by many thousands of other visitors, mostly unseen and ignored as they fly at night. Yet these birds have made some of the most dangerous journeys to get here. Even before they start some will have survived encounters with Wolves, foxes or Grizzlies in the great arctic tundra maybe only a week or two ago!

Brent geese, make the dangerous journey flying from Northern Canada over the Greenland icecap, across the ocean to Iceland and ending up in Ireland and the UK. A distance of over 4000 miles covering around 800 miles per day. It is a dangerous journey indeed. I wondered whether the geese overhead were the very ones we’ve heard Cree Indians in Northern Canada imitating to lure them within range of their guns whilst canoeing on a remote northern tundra river a couple of years back.

One radio tagged goose named Kerry was observed to have stopped flying near Resolute bay in the far north of Canada. Anxious to learn what had happened the trackers traced the signal to the home of an Inuit hunter. It was laid frozen in the freezer, food for winter, the tracking device still attached.

Geese have also been observed flying thousands of feet higher than Everest in air so rarefied and cold that would render us humans dead, and frozen in minutes.

Walking along the cliff path at Bay Ness I could see another visitor. Far below the walkers enjoying the late summer sun, a Red Throated Diver fished in the sea below. These too are visitors from the far north and one species even makes it to the shores around Ireland from it’s summer home in Canada. You’ve probably all heard these birds on TV as their eerie, evocative and haunting calls are often heard on programmes about Canada’s wilderness.

Walking on the beach today I saw some other visitors, Dunlins, Redshanks, Turnstones & Godwits, waders from also from the far north, busy feeding on the waters edge, most refuelling before continuing south to winter on the Humber estuary. A visitor walking too close scared them into flight not knowing or caring that these birds were tired and very hungry, having lost a large proportion of their body weight to make it this far. High above the cliffs of Bay Ness a pair of Peregrine falcons searched for likely prey. Some of these waders won’t make it through the winter and many will never make it back to their northern breeding grounds. Many will be blown off course and perish unseen at sea.

Soon our hedgerows, fields and trees will throng with Fieldfares and Redwings, visitors from Siberia and northern Europe gorging on hawthorn, mountain ash and other berries, hungry after their long journey. I have no doubt that one clear night soon I’ll hear these calling above our house as they cross the North Sea to safety in our fields. Some of the Redwings may have flown from Iceland, which will have required a night time flight over the sea of 800 miles. Many other winter visitors cross the North Sea to avoid the harsh central European winters including Robins Chaffinches, Bramblings, and Starlings.

So next time you think all our visitors have gone just spare a thought for those visitors passing overhead unseen in the dark or resting on the beach or in the fields. And the next time you look outside remember that the Robin or Chaffinch you see may have just flown in from Siberia!!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Busy Week

Well, we've been busy getting the house done up. Almost everythings done. We have a functional bathroom, dining room one bedroom and a sort of office cum library.

Out with the Hawk and Owl Trust on Fylingdales moor on Friday and we saw a Merlin. As we returned through Maybecks a Goshawk appeared over the trees. In the car park I noticed that the Piri Piri which featured in several papers which reported on the park's efforts to eradicate this invasive New Zealand weed was unsuccessful. In the very area where several people had been pulling out, I found several more plants and seed heads. This was an area the size of a bed!!

Saturday I was out as voluntary ranger with my partner Trish. Our first outing in 'uniform' Very self conscious but a few people asked us questions, something which they normally do not unless you obviously look like a local. A small drama occurred when I noticed my magnetic badge dropped off un-noticed. Half an hours hunt for it and I discovered it where I'd lent over a fence!!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

John Boddy - The Rake in the Trunk

A recent visit to John Boddy timber merchants of Boroughbridge reunited me with this treasure.
It is a trunk of a tree approximately three feet in width. Embedded in the trunk is a rake, part of which you can see. It was discovered around 25 years ago whilst it was being cut up. I believe it was an oak..

OK not too exciting perhaps but consider this. Perhaps 150 years ago, someone was out using the rake. Taking a break, they hung the rake from a small branch of a nearby tree. The rake forgotten was left in the tree. The tree continued to grow for another 50 or more years around it, until it could no longer be seen. Until it was cut down. The tree is much more decayed than I remember from former visits and it is a shame it will continue to rot until this interesting relic is no more. How many more secrets do the inside of trees still hold?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Coming Home to Whitby

Fifteen years away and ten of those in the South West of the real Ireland. Trish & myself are often asked why we left our quiet haven on the Mizen Peninsular, perhaps it was just too quiet?. Perhaps we got the seven year itch? Who knows? But where to move to next? So many places and choices, we discussed places in the UK and abroad.

Some weeks later we were sitting in a Yorkshire Dales pub talking to a couple opposite savouring my pint of real beer (an impossibility in Ireland!).

“Where are you from?”, I asked the man.

“I’m from here.”, he explained, “This is my home – it’s where I belong. It’s all mine”, as his arm swept around in an expansive arc to include all of the dales scenery too.

On the long drive back to Eire I felt envious of the dalesman who may not have travelled the world, may not have been to some of the most remote places on the planet, nor climbed alpine peaks or travelled unknown rivers hundreds of miles from anywhere. We wanted to live somewhere where we would feel we belonged too.

Driving back we thought about and later discounted Australia, Canada, Spain, Sweden, Croatia and various parts of the UK in succession. It later turned out we were too old to get into Canada and we decided we certainly would be by the time we learned to speak to the locals in Croatia or Sweden.

Some months later, en-route to visit mum in Whitby, our choice now narrowed down to Yorkshire, we decided to reconnoitre a Dales market town the right size and ideally placed. Plenty of climbing, walking, canoeing and birdwatching to keep me going and enough shops, all within an hours drive. It was the RAF flight trainers I heard first as we stepped out in front of the lovely Victorian terraced house we’d come to view overlooking the river that did it for us. The lady I asked, explained they droned on and on from 9am to 5pm, Monday through to Friday. We got back in the car and drove to another town, clutching another house brochure. A cold spring chill blew through the market place. Two pubs were for sale and a shop sign hung by a frayed bit of wire, creaking in the wind, the shop clearly unopened for many months. A string of racehorses walked up to the stables at one end of the square. No one else was in sight. Despite the evidence of our own eyes, this was a one-horse town. And so our quest for the perfect place continued on.

Later, driving over the moors, the abbey came into view like it always does and we drove down to mother’s. She told us the local news and goings on. Out shopping we bumped into old friends and told one of our house hunting efforts and travels. “Well Dave you’re home now”. He was right. This was where we belonged!.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Irish Drystone Walls

Just before I left Ireland I was asked to write a bit on Irish Stone Walls. Published by the North Wales Branch of the Drystone Walling Association of GB this is now available on-line by reading my article which starts at page 7 of 'Stonechat'. There's lots of other interesting stuff in the rest of Sean Adcock's publication too.

Just to give you a taste of the amazing treasures here's one I took not far from where I lived in Co.Cork.

Oh, yes, I build them too!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Black Poplar & Red Kite

Out and about between Goathland and Grosmont at the weekend and I saw a Red Kite flying towards Grosmont. Absolutely unmistakable forked tail. My first sighting of this bird on the North Yorkshire Moors.

Later whilst walking down the footpath next to Whitby hospital I noticed the Black Poplar which had been pollarded a few years ago had finally died. I've managed to get some cuttings but there's little hope of collecting any viable material from this tree, the only one in this area and there are none within the boundary of the national park. Contacting Phil Yardley the Scarborough Borough Tree officer has resulted in the promise that someone else will try and obtain some viable cuttings. But rare trees don't seem to have the same value as rare animals or birds.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Long Walk

A clear and sunny sky a couple of weeks ago saw me a couple of miles north of Thorton-le-dale near the entrance to Dalby forest. I had just enough gear for an overnight trip + Jilly my dog.

A 30km walk north through Bickly I arrived at high Langdale near the source of the R.Derwent. around 8:30. A break for some food followed and I waited at an excellent felled clearing for Nightjars. These nocturnal birds appeared at 10pm along with barking Roe Deer and a couple of foxes.

A struggle east around at high Langdale farm I eventually decided to bivvi in the middle of sheep grazed field. Finishing off my last drop of whiskey around 12pm I slid into my winter sleeping bag liner and into my bivvi bag. It was much colder than I expected and I got little sleep. In the clear dawn I noticed ground frost on my bag!! Away at 5am I walked back to Robin Hood's Bay via Jugger howe beck. Very hard going in the deep heather and Bog Myrtle. Arrived at RHB around 1pm having completed around 47km.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Penny Hedge

The Penny Hedge is planted every year in Whitby on the east side of the R.Esk on the day before Ascention Eve in May. The origins of this custom are over 800 years old and this is an early account of the origins:-

‘In the fifth year of the reign of King Henry II three noblemen were hunting a wild boar on Eskdaleside, near Whitby. The boar, being wounded and hotly pursued by the hounds, took refuge in the Chapel and Hermitage at Eskdaleside, which was then occupied by a monk from Whitby Abbey. The monk closed the door to keep out the hounds, and when the hunters came along they, in their anger, set upon him with their boar-staves. The monk, being on the point of death, sent for the Abbot of Whitby who would have had them put to death. The monk, however, forgave them and said their lives would be spared ‘if they be content to be enjoyned to this Penance, for the safeguard of their souls’. The Penance is as follows:- “You and yours shall hold your lands of the Abbot of Whitby, and his Successors in this Manner: That upon Ascension-Eve, you, or some of you, shall come to the Wood of the Strayhead, which is in Eskdaleside, the same Day at Sunrising, and there shall the Officer of the Abbot blow his horn, to the intent that you may know how to find him, and he shall deliver unto you, William de Bruce, ten Stakes, ten Stout-Stowers and ten Yedders, to be cut be you, or those that come for you, with a knife of a Penny Price; and you, Ralph de Piercie, shall take one and twenty of each sort, to be cut in the same manner; and you, Allatson, shall take nine of each sort, to be cut as aforesaid; and to be taken on your backs, and carried to the town of Whitby; and so to be there before nine of the Clock (if it be full Sea, to cease Service), as long as it is low water, at nine of the Clock, the same hour each of you shall set your Stakes at the Brim of the Water, each stake a yard from another, and so Yedder them, as with Yedders, and Stake on each side with your Stout-Stowers that they stand three Tides without removing by the Force of the Water. Each of you shall make them in several places at the Hour above-named (except it be full Sea at that hour, which, when it shall happen to pass, that Service shall cease), and you shall do this Service in remembrance that you did most cruelly slay me. And that you may the better call to God for Repentance, and find Mercy, and do good Works, the Officer of Eskdaleside shall blow his Horn, Out on you, Out on you, for the heinous Crime of you. And if you and your Successors do refuse this Service, so long as it not be full sea at that Hour aforesaid, you and yours shall forfeit all your land to the Abbot, or his successors. Thus I do entreat the Abbot that you may have your lives and Goods for this Service and you to promise by your Parts in Heaven, that it shall be done by you and your successors, as it is aforesaid.”
Nowadays the ceremony is carried out by the owner of some land which formerly belonged to the Abbot:- In this case it is Lol Hogson from Fylingthorpe and Tim Osborne blowing the ancient horn on completition of the hedge and he follows this up with the cry of‘Out on ye, Out on ye’. He is the bailiff to the Manor of Flyingdales.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Heather or Trees?

Those who know the North York Moors will know how trees are on the increase. When both the Scarborough, Guisborough and the Pickering roads to Whitby were fenced off in the 1970's to exclude sheep from the road sides these un-grazed areas are now becoming colonised by trees plus the odd one or two planted by people like me. I was talking to one of the full time-park rangers recently and he told me that the National Park Authority had at one time discussed cutting these roadside trees down but the idea had only been rejected on labour costs.

Most people will know that the entire NYM heather habitat was entirely created by man during the bronze age by a combination of deforestration, overgrazing and climate change. It is by definition an artifical habitat and so too therefore is all the wildlife associated with it. As these roadside verges prove, along with other areas of fenced off moorland, such as the area to the north of Fylingdales early warning centre, left to nature the Moorlands would soon turn to woodland.

So I discovered with interest from another ranger last week that two of my juniper trees I planted some 20 or 30 years ago on the side of a well know moorland road are now being looked after by the same national park that recently discussed removing roadside trees. I recently reported the fact that these two juniper trees have recently been partially covered in soil following road works. The parks I was told, are now going to remove the offending soil from around the trees to avoid permanent damage to the trees.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

National Park Ranger

I waited for the ranger to contact me to see where & when to meet him. No phone call was forthcoming, so I called him. "Oh, we've swapped duties - you'll be with Stuart Rees...".
So I give him a call. No answer. I eventually manage to make contact in the morning of our patrol.

Trish drops me off att Goathland (Aidensfield) in the morning and I talk to the car park attendant John, whom I've known for many years, until a couple arrive. One is obviously my ranger, but the other is not and I'm introduced. Pauline I assume is his girlfriend, whom it appears is going to join us. We start off down the incline to Beck Hole. From the incline we turn left to take the footpath along West Beck and head up the road to Julian Park collecting some litter as we go. We leave the road and take the footpath directly back to Beck Hole. At the incline again we meet a large party of walkers on the railway walking back to Goathland. My ranger adroitly avoids the crowds and chooses to return via the road. This is strange as I thought with all the badges and things we're the 'face of the park'. I smile and ask him if he doesn't want to get asked questions but receive no reply. We immediately turn onto the Goathland Road.

At 12ish I'm getting hungry and were nearly back in Goathland.
"Shall we stop here for lunch?", I suggest, at a quiet spot just outside the village. Before the ranger answers Pauline says she needs to get back home. So no lunch stop is required on this patrol!.

We've probably covered a little over 7 Km in just over 2 hours.

As Trish was not planning to return to pick me up until 4ish I decide there is no point in returning all the way to Goathland and at the Darnholm turn off we say goodbye and I head back across the moors to Whitby.

I quickly reach the old Whinstone mine & quarry, noticing the now caved in entrance to the mine I've spent many enjoyable times exploring. I wonder how many bats were trapped inside.

Nearing Barkers Crag high on Sleights moor I see a female Ring Ouzel - my first for many years as they are very rare in Ireland. A little later a Wheater appears in front.

Nearing Sleights Trish 'phones. She's locked herself out of the house in RHB and we've no spare keys. Oh, and we've just had, almost , all the windows double glazed.

She picks me up at Sleights and taken to RHB I soon force entry through a small top window of the only window frame without double glazing. Thank god for rotten wooden window frames.

My trusty Raleigh Tour-lite is in the garage so as it is still only 4:30pm I elect to cycle back along the lineside to Whitby. I hear a Whitethroat, Yellow Hammer and many Blackcaps singing along the railway line past Stainsacre. In the sky I spot a large bird. Seagull? It turns out to be a female Harrier but I can't identify which. I watch it slowly fly north at a hight of a couple of hundred feet.

Sunday dinner is three bacon rolls!!.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Heather Burning

A letter recently appeared in The Whitby Gazette, complaining about the burning of our moors in autumn and spring, commenting on the damage it did to wildlife.

Burning is carried out in autumn and early spring outside the nesting season. Only heather is burnt, and in small one or two acre patches at most. It is done to benefit grouse. Gamekeepers only burn mature heather. The new flush of heather growth is prime feeding stuff for the grouse. Grouse prefer to nest in short heather that is neither too short nor too mature. Burning benefits other moorland birds, especially the golden plover which only nests on bare moorland patches. These only occur after burning.

Without the burning the heather would grow too tall for grouse to nest in and the grouse would find it difficult to feed or nest. Eventually numbers of grouse and other birds such as the golden plover, which require short growth - or none- to nest would eventually fall in numbers as can be seen on any moor which is not used for grouse shooting. The irony is that without burning to benefit the grouse, trees would rapidly occupy the moorland, something that can already be seen alongside fenced roadsides and areas such as Flylingdales Moor which is no longer used for shooting, or grazing by sheep. Within a 100 years the moors would be replaced with forest.

Whether this should happen is not something I'm going to comment on.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Voluntary Ranger - North York Moors

The weekend's activities commenced with a run across the moors from Ellerbeck to our house in RHB - a total of around 17km.
Sunday was spent with another voluntary ranger at the NYM mobile display unit (MDU for those who want to be correct - 'The Caravan' for the rest of us). The commonest questions asked by the public?
  • Have you any change for the car park?
  • How did Robin Hood's Bay get it's name?
  • Where's the town centre?
Not too challenging for anyone whose from these parts but nice to meet the public, especially the kids who I encourage to search for fossils in our 'fossil bucket'. "Yes that really is a fossil".

Running back to Whitby in the evening I heard a Garden Warbler singing in scrub near the railway line. To confirm my ID I desperately tried to get a view but it remained out of sight. A classic Garden Warbler.

And today I spent the day with full time ranger Matt Fitzgerald whilst we checked out the three 'black spots' for camping, fires and litter. These are Maybecks, Wheeldale bridge and Wheeldale ford. But no litter or fires as the coldish weather had put people off barbecues perhaps. So as Matt hadn't been up to Pinkney's bothy (see another post) we walked up to it only to discover upon reading the logbook (and later confirmed on the internet) that this bothy is to be removed. Not before time, as it was the subject of much littering and vandalism. I've stayed myself in this bothy many times, so it is with some sadness knowing that the next time I pass that way they'll be no more Pinkney's. The local gamekeeper was also fed up with removing the resulting litter and is no doubt quite happy.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Gamekeeper's Gibbet

Another Sunday. As a voluntary ranger I was out this weekend with assistant ranger Harry Nightingale and we spent the day checking out the local trouble spots for the remains of last night's excesses. Wheeldale bridge turned up several bags of rubbish - beer cans, bottles, barbecues and a tree which had been cut down to use as a campfire.

However this was brightened by the wonderful view into Little Fryup from Oakley Walls

And not far from Danby centre on the Oakley Walls side, I came across a sight I'd not seen in over 25 years. A 'gamekeeper's' gibbet. This one contained dozens of moles. I used to see them with stoats, weasles, rats, crows and numerous birds of prey.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Last Week

A varied week.
Sunday. Ran back to Whitby from the other side of Egton with dog in brilliant weather (15km) and found an occupied Barn Owl's nest.
Monday. Removed turquoise bathroom & tiles from our new house in Robin Hood's Bay
Tuesday. Trish dropped me off at Sneaton Rd/Scarborough Rd junction. Did my BTO bird survey, walked to house in RHB. Re-fixed/replaced damaged floor boards in one of the b/rooms, then walked back to Whitby and saw a Little Owl on the way. (total 12km)
Thursday. Went to the newly opened 'Homebase' store in Whitby.
Friday. Joined the Hawk & Owl Trust volunteers to erect a bird hide deep in Dalby forest. Saw two adders on the way in.
Saturday. Went with Trish to order new bath, sinks & toilets and then Trish won £70 worth of vouchers with a promotion run by Yorkshire Radio.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Song Bird Survival?

I read a bit in the paper recently about a new website 'Song Bird Survival' (.songbird-survival.org.uk) The website states that there is a need to exterminate or control song bird predators such as birds of prey, crows, and other predators - including grey squirrels & domestic cats. Now I won't go into the rights and wrongs of the latter two in terms of small bird predation, but why save songbirds at the expense of our indigenous predators?

The web site contains many flaws in its reasoning. There is no definition of what a song bird is to start with.

'Song birds', whatever they are, have been around long before we came along. And so have their predators such the Magpie, Crows & birds of prey.

I'm thinking of a 'Save our Worms' campaign and the aim is to reduce the number of Thrushes, blackbirds and other worm predators. After they have as much right to live as those birds that prey on 'song birds'.

Messing around with nature just messes it up!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Walking

Easter Sunday dawned sunny so setting off from our new house at RHB we immediately saw our first Swallow and took the now well used coastal path to almost Ravenscar before turning off up to the railway. A small clump of willows in a gully produced, surprisingly a male Tree Sparrow, followed by a male Reed Bunting and then a pair of Stonechats. Returning to RHB via the railway produced a couple of Willow Warblers in suitable habitat near the old Stoupe Brow quarry, now home to several Fulmars. Trish of course heard the Willow Warblers, I had to make do with spotting one before it vanished again. This quarry has two rather large boulders somewhat larger than some houses and comparable to similar such boulders in the lake-district such as the Bowder Stone and others. A line of old rusting bolts up the shear face of one an indication of a practice climb in the late 1960's.
Total distance about 8 miles

Easter Monday I joined North Yorkshire Moors National Park volunteer ranger Richard Simpson on a patrol around Goathland district, taking in Darnholme, Julian Park, where I saw 3 Yellow hammers and a newly hatched clutch of Mallards in the nearbye pond, on to Hazel Head, Hunt House and Simons Howe where we saw our first few walkers. Returning via the old mere created in victorian times for winter skating, and the old golf course built at the same period,, we encountered our first mass hoards of visitors.
We covered around 9 miles.

Before returning home I had a quick excursion to the old whinstone mine but discovered the entrance had collapsed and the exit along the fault line had been blocked off and was unable to locate this. I've had many interesting trips through this mine.

On my way back to my car I noticed a young male inside a car, who judging from his lack of clothes and jerky movements was pre-occupied with having sex with either the rear seat or a hidden passenger. I waved hello as I passed but he did not respond. The lack of manners today is........!!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Another Chance?

I read my Whitby Gazette on Tuesday only to discover that two thieves who robbed a Whitby store after traveling from Preston Park in Hull have been effectively let off by Judge Steven Ashurst by having their sentence deferred for 6 months provided they stay out of trouble. (Whitby Gazette - Tuesday 7th April)

Michael Smith ( 21criminal convictions + 8 kids!) and Daniel Turner (93 criminal convictions) go free because the judge at York was considering, "Giving both men a chance to prove themselves".

Good god! They've already had a total of 114 chances, how many more do they need?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Birds singing in the night

I've spent many nights on the moors in all seasons and weathers. But spring is my favourite for listening to birds. Many birds sing or can be heard at night. 'Drumming' Snipe, the sound coming from feathers as the fly, and of the Grasshopper Warbler's lovely 'reeling' sound - which sounds just like the ratchet on a fishing reel slowly being turned are well known bird sounds and can be hear in the dark on the moors. Lapwings are another night time favourite. Nightjars too can be heard in recently felled parts of Dalby and other forests, their songs again sound mechanical, almost like a scooter or small motor bike. These birds too are curious and I've had them hover close over my head several times. Binoculars are handy at night too and I've often watched them sitting on forest tracks. (binoculars should make the scene a little brighter!!).

Fox, Badger and Deer will often approach you at night with much more confidence than during the day. My first encounter with the sound of a Barn Owl was initiated at night by the strange 'Shhhhhhhhhhhhh' sound coming from a barn late on night which I soon discovered coming from their nest in a nearbye building, now turned into holiday cottages at Stainsacre.

Many birds are far easier to identify by their sounds and songs. The Chiff Chaff which I first heard this year on the 17th of March is a migrant from Africa. A 'little brown job' (LBJ), as birders call it and other, similar looking birds. But it's sound - a 'chiff-chaff', is unique and unlike any other LBJ. So you don't even have to look for it in the canopy above. The Chiff Chaff looks similar to a Willow Warbler but the song is totally different and makes them easy to tell apart.

In fact identifying most birds by song is far easier than by sight. In addition once you can identify a few birds by sound it makes birding much more interesting as you identify the bird without seeing it. Something which is often very difficult for many woodland birds once the leaves are out.

There are some birds which are very rarely seen but are easily identified by sound. An obvious one would be the Grasshopper Warbler. Less obvious would be the now rare Corncrake - which calls day and night - and very few birders have ever seen one! Another is the tiny Quail with its 'Wet-my-lips' repeated over and over from grass or crops. Again, easy to hear but almost never seen.

Age takes it toll unfortunately and with each passing year my hearing gets worse. I even have difficulty hearing Skylarks, one of my favourites and Trish, my partner has now become my ears. It looks like a hearing aid is my next purchase.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Whitby Dog Shit

Its clear from the Whitby Gazette that I'm not the only one disgusted by the amount of dog shit in and around Whitby.
What annoys me more is that the council has spent several years asking people to put the dog shit into plastic bags and dispose of it properly. Now the hedges & fences around Whitby are full of plastic bags containing dog shit. These festoon the paths and byeways around Whitby. Hanging from branches and fences they litter the landscape and are an eyesore. Non bio degradable these plastic bags hang from bushes for month after month. If it is possible to pick up dog shit in a bag why cannot the owners simply use the bag to throw the offending dog dirt out of harms way and later put the empty plastic bag in a bin? If they can't be bothered to carry their dog's mess to the nearest bin why don't they purchase bio-degradable bags - at least these rot down.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Management Training

Having spent many years as a management trainer I wrote a bit or two for an Irish training magazine, First Train whilst I lived in Ireland. Some of the articles in this magazine rather exposed their lack of experience in some fields. In this instance it was role playing. The owner of Beyond The Board Room Training read this article and invited me to contribute it to his 'Learning know how'.

To read my first contribution click

My next article was on the current usage of
quad bikes, paintball games, firewalking and so on under the guise of 'team building' events. To read more of this click here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Whitby gazette article

The Whitby Gazette, our local paper, did a bit on my winter x-country skiing adventures.

If you want to read the bit they did click here

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bird Migration Champions

The Song Thrushes have been singing for the last few weeks. Within three weeks the first of the long distance migrants will be arriving from Africa.

Most of us marvel at the annual migration of well-known birds such as the Swallow and House Martin to and from Africa.

Many of us will also have heard of the long migration of some Arctic Terns which winter in the Antarctic and Summer in the Arctic this the longest know bird migration. Many of these and other birds are regular fliers in between migrations, so at least they have some flying exercise before they set off. If you consider the Swift for example, I doubt its migration to and from Africa causes much trouble at all. One ringed as an adult at a nest in England was caught later feeding the same day in Germany having followed a warm front across Europe to hunt for the increased insect supply. These birds spend almost their entire lives on the wing so I don’t see anything particularly difficult about flying to Africa. The same could be said for the Swallow and House Martin.

Amongst the contenders for super bird contenders might be the many warblers such as chiff-chaffs and the like. These spend a lot of time hoping around and taking relatively short flights in pursuit of food before eventually setting off to Africa.

Other birds which winter here and breed in the Artic such as the many waders and the divers also make long journeys much of it over the sea. Some make mistakes and are quite capable of crossing the Atlantic ocean in one go. Again the waders keep their hand in so to speak over winter and the divers at least can take a break on the sea. No, these birds don’t rate in my view.

There are however, two birds which do rate as Olympic champions and are quite capable of making the epic journey to and from Africa without any prior exercise. Many birdwatchers have never seen either two fly and many have never seen them either, but only heard them!!. These two species spend their entire lives on the ground and will fly only under extreme duress. Both are small birds and one is very small.

What are they? The Corncrake and the Quail!. These small birds (the Quail is little bigger than a sparrow) can literally take off one day and fly the whole distance from Africa, across open seas, after having probably never even flapped their wings once whilst in their summer or winter haunts. This is to my mind truly the feat of Olympic champions.

Monday, February 16, 2009

White Rabbits in Yorkshire

As all my friends know I'm a keen naturalist. Because I'm out and about a lot I get to see lots of wildlife and often, rare wildlife. Trish, Bernie a wildlife ranger from the national park, and myself were out on Saturday when we spotted this animal up near the Beck Hole/Goathland road junction.

We initially thought it might be a Hare but only mountain hares turn white in winter, and in any case they do not occur in the North Yorkshire Moors area. Hares even when they turn white always have black tips to their ears. So that meant it must be a rabbit but rabbits don't turn white. This was not an albino either as they have pink eyes and nose. This is a very rare giant wild white rabbit.

The shame is that this very, very rare rabbit, caught on camera for the first time ever, has now become extinct, the first North Yorkshire causality of global warming and the recent thaw.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Chaos at Blue Bank

I spent an hour stuck on Blue Bank this afternoon, a well known hill into and out of Whitby. It was chaos and only an inch of snow. Just before the drop down I noticed several drivers stopping. I joined the queue. I was told "The roads blocked". Given that it had only started to snow a few minutes earlier and there was only an inch of snow I just had to get out of my car to investigate and took my shovel with me.

A look down the hill told me everything. Some drivers were carrying on like they were at Santa Pod, wheels spinning & smoke curling up from tyres, a 4X4 stuck in nearly an inch of the stuff. I asked her if it was in 4 wheel drive. "I wouldn't know, my husbands never told me where to stick it". The council worker who was helping me apread the piles of rock salt onto the road made the kind suggestion to her that he'd show her where to stick it. (Don't worry she declined that offer). Most of the drivers who got out of their cars simply wandered around looking like escaped sheep from a lunatic asylum. None did anything remotely constructive unless 'looking at the other drivers' could be included.

Others walked past me into the village at Sleights. "We've left our cars and we're walking home we've been told the roads blocked". Rubbish! I told them, " its an inch of snow and this rock salt will have it all melted. Go back to your car and wait".

Another lorry driver was causing more chaos by trying to turn around on the 1:6 hill and now no one could get up - or down.

Eventually the rock salt took effect and the traffic started to move. one driver attempted to drive on the snow rather than on the grit and rock salt. I suggested he drive on the clear bits which were now gritted and melted. "No way mate - I'm not ruining the body work". And promptly skidded into a car on the other side of the road.

Then I saw my bank manager who'd managed to skid into a ditch and was stuck. "Not my fault! I was coming down the hill and the blokes in front braked. The only way I could avoid them was to turn into this ditch" I told him in that case he was driving too close!!. I got my rope out of the car and my council friend got the lorry and we pulled him out of the ditch. "I want 5% for that" I told him. "You'll be lucky - we'll be charging you to keep your money soon", he replied, as he went his way.

As me and my council friend worked our way down the hill I noted only one other person out of their vehicle using a shovel. He turned out to be an old farmer I knew from years back and was about 85.

Three other drivers couldn't be bothered to wait any longer and over took my parked car. One of these pratts wound down his window and asked us why we couldn't work harder as he past me on his way down hill before skidding into the lorry slewed across the road around the bend. (Oh, yes I laughed!!!! - and he heard me!)

Then the gritter turned up. Of course it couldn't get by. So I helped the gritter tow the offending lorry out of the way. At which all the up hill drivers accelerated and wheels spinning proceeded to skid everywhere but up hill. I suggested to the first driver that he might like to use less speed and not skid his wheels. But he clearly didn't understand instructions and carried on wearing rubber off his tyres, as did several of the drivers behind. They got nowhere. I left.

Luckily my downhill side of the road had now melted enough snow so i carefully drove down the hill with most of the remaining cars following. As I reached the first of the islands in the road a car had managed to skid on to it and was now straddled over the now crushed sign telling us to keep left.

As I passed I gave him a nice cheery smile to keep his spirits up (he was one of three that couldn't wait earlier on) as he surveyed the damage. I stopped to speak to my council worker friend. "I'm not helping him - the boss has just told me to get back to work at the depot and collect more salt"

We went on our way promising to have a drink together later on at the Red Lion.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Skiing on The North York Moors (2)

Another fine Sunday and this time it's off to Blakey Ridge and the Red-lion. Much to my surprise the snow on the moors was still too soft to ski across without forever sinking into the heather, so with my skis waxed up it was down to the old railway track, northwest along the railway. Within minutes I outdistance the two struggling walkers in the snow as my skis run smoothly on the unmarked snow. An hour later I leave the track and carefully pick my way through the heather choosing the firmest bits of snow to reach Howdale Hill (410m).

This could be the arctic!

I sit and enjoy the panoramic views. Nothing but lovely snow. 11 miles to the North I can just see Boulby mine on the coast near Staithes.

Looking south I can see the clouds rising from the power stations of Drax and two others near the Humber. Drax is 50 miles away as the crow flies.

Lunch eaten in the sun.
The temperature is -- 4c but feels warmer. A couple of miles back down the track the two walkers struggle on. Skis back on and its a careful descent back to the old railway line and to Blakey. The 6km back take me an hour. It is chaos at Blakey. Cars and people everywhere enjoying the snow. A quick look around and there is not a single person more than 100 yards from the car park. The arctic is not quite like this!!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

X-Country Skiing on the North York Moors

A light fall of snow lay outside the house. Skis were put in the car and I headed off to Saltersgate in a fair snow storm which covered the road from Sleights to Saltersgate.
The car park was quite full even at 1030am. Setting off along Saltersgate Brow in a chilly wind I didn't stop until I got to Malo Cross.

(left) Plenty of snow lay in the Hole of Horcum

(Left) Saltersgate Brow

A very cold wind blew from the north and much of the new snow had been blown off leaving a very fast surface of old smooth snow to ski on.

The temperature was --3c

(Left) Me at Malo Cross

After a difficult descending traverse on the north side of the brow I arrived at Malo Cross. This cross has an unusual history in that it was stolen from this position many years ago and was eventually spotted in a garden in Pickering from where it was returned to its original spot.

One of the benefits of skiing in the forestry in Dalby forest is that logging traffic create very fast, stable ski tracks. Apart from the climb up onto Crosscliffe Brow from School Farm I was on skis for the whole of the trip and was back at the car just after 2pm covering around 19 km

Oh, and another highlight was seeing my first ever Goshawk soaring above Crosscliffe Brow.