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.