News Blog 2003

Weather for December 2003:     Rainfall 4¼ inches (110 mm). Maximum 53º F (12º C). Minimum 18º F (-8º C). Actual 34º F (2º C) at 0930 hours on 1/1/2004. One of the wettest months this year, with a cold snap in mid-month and again at the very end of the month.

31/12/03    New Year’s Eve and a very cold day. Even in the sun the frost never eased all day, making the soil too hard for Flag to dig. Just as well really, as the woodyard now looks like the wrong end of a well used artillery range. The forecast warns of a dramatic change in the weather tonight, with blizzards sweeping across ‘the North’ (of where? The UK? Scotland? England? The Home Counties? Watford Gap?).

27/12/03 onwards     Several good, cold, dry and sunny days, just right for working in the wood. This winter’s hedge-laying will be at the far end of the very gappy hedge dividing the Groves Bank orchard and the wood. The near end of this hedge (from the beck to the big Holly tree) was laid about 5 years ago and is growing well, but still with a few gaps. I started by cutting off some Holly boughs and two of these were used to ‘deck the hall’ (except putting them on the deck would have hurt Flag’s feet, so I hung them from the hall ceiling instead).

I sawed through the main Ivy stems (one of them 2 inches in diameter) growing up the 2nd biggest Oak tree in the wood, before preparing the rest of the hedge by ‘siding-up.’ This entails removing all the bushy side branches from front and back (shouldn’t that be left and right?), leaving only a tall, narrow hedge to be leaned over carefully, stem by stem, onto its side. This brings all the vigorous new growth down to ground level and makes the hedge more stock-proof. As I was doing this I noticed a huge Oak limb, snapped off the tree some years ago and now snagged along the length of the hedge. The butt end was about 8 feet off the ground and about as thick as a well fed Giant Python – not the sort of thing you want to be removing the supports from under… I trimmed off a bit of the thin end and decided to go away and do something safer.

Over the next couple of days two stacks of poles cut last winter were carried to the woodyard. One was from the 20-year old Ash trees which used to touch the phone wires at the bottom of the wood, the other from the self-sown trees at the top of the wood which were coppiced last winter to stop them reaching the electricity wires. Once down, they were sawn into firelogs and stacked neatly in the woodshed. Returning to the snagged Oak limb, I was delighted to discover that it had since slithered down the hedge all by itself and now lay safely on the ground waiting for someone with a chainsaw. When sawn into 18 inch lengths and split, that will be another ton of well seasoned firelogs, thank-you very much.

The ice in Flag’s water bucket was too thick to break with my heel, so I had to use a stick. The Groves Bank pond is well frozen but the flume in the beck is fluming well, with a couple of magnificent 2 feet long stalactites hanging from the end.

26/12/03    The Dog Lovers’ magnetic poetry kit makes an excellent present. So far, it has created the following on the fridge door:

My canine companion is always so happy. Play and run, chase the squirrel, fetch the ball, have a cuddle then wags his beautiful big tail and dreams of being good.

I’m not sure about the tense but then again, they both have a limited vocabulary…

23/12/03    The snow has almost all melted away, leaving just the lines of drifted snow in every hedgeback. From the top of the wood, this gives the field pattern of the Esk Valley a beautiful white lace effect, spread out across the whole daleside.

In mild, thawing, overcast and occasional light drizzle, the feeding station produced: Long Tailed Tit 8, Blue Tit 3, Great Tit 3, Robin 3, Coal Tit 2, Dunnock 2, Blackbird 1, Chaffinch 1, Marsh Tit 1 and Song Thrush 1.

22/12/03    The snow started falling yesterday evening and I had to abandon the car part way up the drive, just where it gets really steep. The last time I tried to get up after the wheels started spinning, I only succeeded in slithering sideways towards the ditch!  I heard the snowplough rattling over the bridge a couple of times during the night, trying to keep the A169 from Whitby to Pickering open.

By lunchtime today about 2 inches had fallen and a slight thaw had begun. I used the snow shovel to clear a couple of wheel tracks, removed the brick from behind the wheel and drove the car up and down a few times before parking at the top. Flag helped by digging for something exciting in the orchard, which only disturbed the Blackbirds and Redwing feeding on the fallen apples.

BBC Radio 2 reported that the A169 was ‘passable with care’, but anyone who knows the North York Moors would use the coast road instead (A171 Whitby to Scarborough), where the lower altitude and the ‘warming influence of the North Sea’ (HA!) usually make it an better option.

21/12/03    Nasty weather was forecast for last night but this morning there was no snow, just gale force Northerly winds. Flag enjoyed a gallop on the beach at Sandsend, where he met lots of other people and dogs in the limited sandy area left uncovered by the big waves, but I couldn’t stand the stress of seeing him almost carried away by the waves on at least two occasions within ten minutes. He was totally unaware of just how much danger he was in, while I was all too aware that he was very lucky to have been washed UP onto the beach twice, when he could just as easily have been washed out to sea…

James Godbold, the local blacksmith at Egton, made and delivered the chimney and smoke hood as per my specifications – and it works! The Stickery now has a small woodburner in the corner, which not only gets rid of all the walking stick off-cuts but also makes it several degrees warmer and ten times more comfortable.

20/12/03    Back from another few days in the Lake District – darker, colder and wetter than last time but I still had 3 good weather days for walking and birding.

10/12/03    The temperature has risen and the frost has gone. The pond was only partly frozen for a day or two but Flag had trouble getting a drink. He was reduced to licking the ice on top, until I smashed it for him. A flock of 8 Long-tailed Tits descended on the feeding station, but they have not become daily visitors. Yet.

In cool (38ºF), dry, sunny (0/8ths cloud cover) weather with a light SW breeze (Force 2) a 15-minute count at the feeding station gave: Blue Tit 4, Chaffinch 4, Great Tit 3, Blackbird 2, Coal Tit 2, Robin 2, Dunnock 1, Marsh Tit 1, Wood Pigeon 1.

Later 4 Redwing flew into the treetops to bask in the sun. A magnificent cock Pheasant strutted across the woodyard to investigate the newly-dug soil around the new cord, then realised that Digger the daft dog was still excavating just the other side! It withdrew quietly and Flag carried on, completely unaware…

8/12/03    A hard frost last night has turned the lawn crispy. Under the trees the grass is still green, so even the bare branches offer some protection. A lovely dry, sunny day with a couple of heather burning fires up near Danby Low Moor, the smoke drifting lazily to the North. These are swiddening fires, the age-old traditional way of providing food for Sheep and Grouse by burning off the old heather stems in the winter to encourage the production of tasty young shoots in the next few years.

6/12/03    Flag and I moved a whole criss-cross stack of Hazel poles from the Second Coup down to the woodyard this afternoon. I did most of the carrying and dragging, while he checked the condition of the subsoil at both locations. It seems to be ok.

5/12/03    Another dry, bright and sunny day but with a touch of ground frost on the lawns. The River Esk is still quite high with several inches of water overflowing the whole width of the Salmon Leap weir. Looking down from the drive you can watch lots of stupid fish leaping up (and occasionally over) the weir – the brighter ones use the fish pass at the side, but you can’t quite see that from up here. The fish look to be about 12 inches long, so probably Sea Trout rather than Salmon – but the Sea Trout Weir just doesn’t sound right and besides, the pub just downstream would have to change it’s name, too!

3/12/03    The wood is wet. It rained all Saturday, was fine all Sunday, an inch of rain fell on Monday, Tuesday was fine, another ¼ inch fell last night and today the sky is dry and the wood is deliciously damp and misty. Fungi have appeared for almost the first time this autumn. A Jay has been calling and a couple of Roe Deer bounded from their less damp cover.

The River Esk is as high as I have seen it for months and the Salmon Leap weir is roaring, but still nowhere near ‘brink-full discharge.’

Eight Long-tailed Tits descended briefly on the feeding station this morning and a Nuthatch fed like there is no tomorrow. The excavations in the woodyard have filled with water but that still doesn’t stop Flag digging still further…

Weather for November 2003 as measured at Groves Dyke: Temperatures: Max: 58º Fahrenheit (15º Centigrade) and Min: 22º Fahrenheit (-6º Centigrade). Current temperature at 0930 hours): 46º Fahrenheit (8º Centigrade). Rainfall: 2 inches (50 mm) in the rain gauge on the gatepost. Summary: A mild, dry for much of the month, with only ½ inch of rain by 22nd, then the other 1½ inches falling in the final week. The very low minimum temperature was due to a very hard overnight frost while I was away on holiday.

30/11/03    Over an inch of rain fell in the last 24 hours, but today it is back to mild, dry and sunny weather. The path around the wood is wet and slippery for the first time in months and is littered with twigs brought down by yesterday’s squally weather.

29/11/03    Nice to be back home again after a few days in the Lake District. It was fairly mild, dry and sunny most of the week in the Lakes, but today North Yorkshire is wet, wet, wet!

20/11/03    The Tree Sparrow and the Nuthatch are still using the feeding station daily and a new strip of tarmac has appeared (as arranged) at the bottom of the drive. The Ash trees still have a good crop of Ash keys (seeds) hanging on the branches, but the Hawthorn and Holly seem to be having a poor berry year.

The mild weather continues, but overcast and a bit showery. The rain gauge is reading just over ½ inch since the first of the month and there is talk of a hosepipe ban in some areas of England, to conserve what little water there is in some of the reservoirs. By now we would normally be expecting wet winter weather to top-up the reservoirs after such a dry spring, summer and autumn – but if we have a dry winter as well, then next summer could be very interesting…

17/11/03    A bit cooler than yesterday and a new species appeared on the Feeding Station this morning: a Tree Sparrow. I think this is the first time it has been recorded at Groves Bank, even though it appears regularly on bird tables elsewhere in Sleights, Aislaby and Goathland. It seems to like the Niger seed best. The Nuthatch returned and repeatedly fed head-down on the peanuts – I hope it doesn’t get indigestion! A 15 minute count  (8/8ths cloud, Force 3 SW, cooler, showery) produced: Blue Tit 4, Great Tit 4, Chaffinch 2, Coal Tit 2, Marsh Tit 2, Dunnock 1, Nuthatch 1, Robin 1, Tree Sparrow 1. Also 1 Bank Vole.

15/11/03    Wet and windy yesterday, but not as bad down here as on higher ground, and not as bad on the East coast as on the West. The last of the autumn leaves have been stripped-off although the rain gauge is still reading less than ½ inch. Still mild.

Sitting in the conservatory I noticed a dark line which seemed to extend from an upper branch at the very top of the wood. It grew longer and seemed to stream from the tree itself. Smoke? Unravelled audio tape? Gradually it revealed itself to be another, bigger skein of geese, much higher than before. Some 150 of them came  into view from the North and headed in a crooked ‘V’ over the wood, over the house and away.

12/11/03    After last night’s rain the rain gauge now reads ¼ inch since the beginning of the month. Yesterday afternoon was spent sawing logs in the woodyard, ruined only by Flag’s third disappearing trick in the last four days. He did reappear a couple of hours later, but far too late to save the ‘I think I can trust him off the lead now’ experiment.

A skein of c50 ‘black geese’ (probably Barnacle Geese) flew south, just audible in the distance.

09/11/03    Notwithstanding his 2 hour disappearance yesterday (excavating a new site in the wood and ignoring all my calls and whistles) I took Flag on the beach at Sandsend. Yesterday’s cool wind has gone, the sun is shining again and a Peregrine Falcon powered over the golf course and away inland. The tide was out and rainfall has been so low that Raithwate Beck, East Row and West Row Becks were all such trickles that they petered-out in the sand long before reaching the sea.

Had soup and a sandwich out of doors at Witz End Cafe and walked back again. Flag had a great gallop but it didn’t stop him rushing off in mid-afternoon and disappearing for another couple of hours… until a kind resident on the wrong side of the main road phoned to say that they had just found him wandering on the road to Ruswarp! That settles it. Back on the lead again!

A Nuthatch visited the the feeding station briefly, then a Grey Wagtail paid a flying visit to the pond.

06/11/03    To Scarborough, where a Kingfisher perched on a seaweedy rock just off the Sealife Centre and a couple of Snipe joined hundreds of Curlew, Lapwing, Redshanks and Turnstone, not to mention more hundreds of assorted Gulls and the usual number of c200 unusual Wigeon feeding on the rocky pools as high tide approached. At the harbour I strolled along to the end of the central pier searching for Purple Sandpipers but saw none, just lots of contractors and heavy machinery doing something noisy. I joined a few other people who were sitting on the benches at the end of the pier enjoying the warmth of the sun – in November!? Later, at Filey Dams, a Black-tailed Godwit sewed along the edge of the muddy pond by the East Hide.

05/11/03    A very mild night, dry and with a southerly breeze – just perfect for pouring the new concrete floor of the conservatory.

The strong winds over the weekend have stripped many leaves off the trees. The leaning Ash in the wood is now completely naked but the Beech, Hazel, Oak, Sycamore and Silver Birch trees are still decent and look magnificent. Almost as good as my ‘Autumn Gold’ curtains, in fact.

04/11/03    While chatting to Kev in the Conservatory a Sparrowhawk flew across the patio, turned by the peanut cake feeder, grabbed something small and feathered, probably a Blue Tit, and carried it off for breakfast. Nice to have a witness when these exciting events happen.

The doorframes for the new conservatory are being fitted today, the new concrete floor should be going down tomorrow and the timber framework has been tannalised and will be dry enough to put up in a few days… but the glass will be another week…

03/11/03    While chatting to Steve in the conservatory a Kestrel dropped in for a quick Bank Vole, but missed. It must have been hovering over our heads, then swooped onto the side of the drystone wall behind the pond and clung there for a second by it’s talon-tips, before flopping off and flying away still hungry.

02/11/03    Didn’t like the look of the very tall cord, so I took ½ ton of wood off the top and stacked it at the end. Now it looks like a proper cord of cordwood, composed of 4 foot lengths stacked horizontally until 4 feet high and 8 feet long (with a bit added on at one end)!

The sea at Sandsend wasn’t too stormy this morning (being an offshore wind) but the tideline was littered with the broken remains of hundreds of palm-sized crabs and a scattering of ‘Lion’s Tail’ seaweed.

The Solution to the Beckhole Conundrum:

I (under) stand, you (under) take, to (over) come, any (under) taking.

There are lots more where that came from, but you will have to visit the Birch Hall Inn at Beckhole to see them for yourself!

A 15 minute mid-morning count from the conservatory showed: Great Tit 3, Chaffinch 3, Coal Tit 3, Blackbird 2, Blue Tit 2, Wood Pigeon 2, Dunnock 1, Marsh Tit 1, Robin 1 – but then it was 8/8ths cloud, SW winds gusting to Force 6 and mild with heavy showers.

01/11/03    Split the remaining ½ ton of delivered logs, replaced the rotting runners and uprights of the old cord with tannalised ones, then stacked the whole 1½ tons back into a new (and rather tall) cord. Phew!

The first Redwings are feeding on the haws in the wood, with lots of Blackbirds. No sight or sound yet of that other winter migrant from Scandinavia, the Fieldfare.

A very stormy night with a South Westerly gale.

Weather for October 2003 as measured at Groves Dyke: Temperatures: Max: 64º Fahrenheit (18º Centigrade) and Min: 28º Fahrenheit (-2º Centigrade). Current temperature at 0930 hours): 50º Fahrenheit (10º Centigrade). Rainfall: 2⅝ inches (68 mm) in the rain gauge on the gatepost. Summary: The mildest October on record in the UK, according to the Met Office. Dry for much of the month, with one very wet day and night just after mid-month and another very wet night at the end.

28/10/03    Via Green End (near Goathland) to Beckhole for lunch at the most old fashioned of all the traditional pubs in the North York Moors – Birch Hall Inn. We sat in the (very) small front room of the old pub (no kids allowed in the only very slightly bigger bar at the side) to eat our Beckhole Butties and puzzle out the many faded conundrums pinned to the walls. I’m not sure if alcohol helps or hinders the process, but here is one of the easier ones:


Which is, of course: Too wise (YY) you are (UR), Too wise (YY) you be (UB), I see you are (ICUR), too wise for me (YY4ME).

I think I need another drink…

Now try this one:

STAND         TAKE        TO              TAKING

I                       YOU         COME        ANY

Good, innit? (Explanation in a few days…)

27/10/03    Something, probably a Badger, has dug a hole near the second Hazel coup to get at an underground Wasps’ nest. The side of the paper-like nest had been ripped open to get at the grubs and a few dozy Wasps still clung to the outside of the structure.

Having been in Tourist mode last week, I continued the theme today and took my relations to Whitby Abbey to try out English Heritage’s new £3½ million visitor centre (pretty good), lunch at The Shambles overlooking the harbour (relax and enjoy the wonderful view, there is no hurry – apparently), then on to see the extension to the Captain Cook Museum in Grape Lane (which adds considerably to the experience). The sailing ship Grand Turk (of Hornblower fame) is still berthed in the middle of Whitby and looks just perfect. The evening queue for the Magpie Cafe (‘the best fish and chips in the world’) was as long as ever, so we settled for Trenchers Cafe (which must be the second best fish and chips in Whitby) and they were excellent.

The mild, dry, sunny weather continues…

24/10/03    I get back from some lovely autumn sun in Edinburgh to find that 2 inches of rain have fallen here since the start of the month (most of it fell one night, apparently) and there was a minimum temperature of 30º F. The leaning Ash tree has now dropped almost all its leaves and there isn’t a single green tree in sight – every tree is a wonderful mixture of yellows, browns and reds. The wood seems to be alive with Blackbirds feeding on the haws and a Jay calls occasionally as it flies back and forth.

All the brickwork for the new conservatory is now complete – only the woodwork and glazing still to do…

17/10/03    Bright sunny days and chilly nights, but still no overnight frosts. Only ¼ inch of rain so far this month…

14/10/03    Work on the new conservatory began yesterday morning when the footings were dug out and today the concrete is being mixed and poured! The measurements are 12 feet long by 8 feet wide, the same size as my own conservatory. Let’s hope the new Groves Dyke conservatory gives as much pleasure and enjoyment as the Groves Bank one did (and does).

Autumn continues to advance, with a cool east wind reducing the warmth of the sun. The trees are changing colour rapidly, with the vivid yellow Poplars by the River Esk taking first place, closely followed by the crimson leaves of the Wild Cherry trees in the wood.

10/10/03    Only a ¼ of an inch of rain so far this month and the minimum temperature hasn’t quite dropped to freezing yet, but a few cold nights and windy days have brought a touch of autumn to the trees. The Whitebeam by the Stickery has lost about half it’s leaves, the remainder being the brownest and yellowiest of all the trees. The leaning Ash has dropped lots of leaves which are still green, perhaps because of the summer drought? The brown patches on the other Ash trees are due to the large bunches of ‘keys’ (seeds) still hanging from the branches. Beech trees are just beginning to turn yellow and the Beech-lined Woodlands Drive is beginning to look spectacular.

Flag has achieved 2 whole weeks of not being on a lead when walking around the wood nor up the drive, which is wonderful – but the Woodyard now looks like a badly ploughed field! He was delighted with a present of 5 tennis balls in a packet and soon had everyone trained to fetch them if one rolled away under the gate!

6/10/03    The water remaining in the pond is still knee-deep, but I was able to get in and really get to grips with the Iris island. All the usual techniques were tried and then abandoned. The only one that worked was to keep trimming off little lumps with a kitchen knife until, eventually, the remaining mass was small enough and light enough to pick up and set on the edge of the pond. There it will remain for a few days to drip dry and allow any mini-beasts to wriggle back into the pond. The inlet flow was returned by lunchtime.

Conclusions: 1. Never do it again. 2. Buy waders before doing it again. 3. Never assume that a stack of 3 car tyres will actually contain an Iris clump.

While I was spending 2 hours in the pond, a Sparrowhawk suddenly grabbed a Blue-tit from the feeding station alongside the pond. The two birds struggled briefly in the air and almost dropped into the pond beside me! Then the Sprawk recovered from the shock of seeing the Creature from the Brown Lagoon (me), subdued the Bluey and flew off to eat it. I don’t know which of us was most surprised! Probably the Blue Tit…

5/10/03    Still mild enough to eat a bacon butty out of doors at the Beach Cafe, after a windy walk along the narrow sands. Onshore winds drove quite impressive breakers far up the beach and gave Flag his first impromptu surfing lesson when he lay down to cool off in the shallows!

Having failed to even move the ever growing island of Yellow Flag Iris in the pond yesterday, I diverted the inlet and spent the afternoon siphoning-out the water. The level dropped by about 2 feet, exposing the top of the Iris clump.

4/10/03    A male Kestrel perched on a dead branch at the very top of the leaning Ash tree, ignoring the Rook’s objections. Suddenly a female Sparrowhawk swooped unsuccessfully past the feeding station and perched for a moment on the crossbar. A Jay called loudly from the wood. Later, 5 Long Tailed Tits and a small flock of Chaffinches returned to feed.

1/10/03    Flag put up 2 Roe Deer in the wood this morning, chased them for a few seconds and then returned to me when I called. Wow! Possible he appreciates being off the lead for the first time since his accident, or (more likely) he is so tired from digging under the bonfire site that he hasn’t the energy to run very far.

The trees are just beginning to change colour now, but the vast majority are still very green. The air feels cooler and today I lit the wood burning stove for the first time this autumn. More than half the green logs are now split and once again I can confirm that Confucius IS right: ‘He who cuts his own firewood warms himself twice.’

Weather for September 2003 as measured at Groves Dyke: Temperatures: Max: 77º Fahrenheit (25º Centigrade) and Min: 33º Fahrenheit (1º Centigrade). Current temperature at 0930 hours): 45º Fahrenheit (7º Centigrade). Rainfall: 2¾ inches (70 mm) in the rain gauge on the gatepost. Summary: Pleasantly warm until the last 4 days, when it became noticeably colder. Dry for much of the month, with a little rain in the first few days and then another 2 inches of rain falling over the weekend of the big moorland fire at Ravenscar.

29/9/03    We spent a very successful morning working in the woodyard. I split and stacked the recent delivery of green logs and Flag continued digging-up the bonfire site. I reckon I have split ½ a ton of logs and he has shifted almost as much topsoil.

The Blackberries are past their best but not yet ruined by a frost. Big clumps of Elderberries have dropped onto the ground and the Ash trees are heavy with  keys. The Pyracantha berries by the pond have turned from green to yellow to orange and are just approaching red.

The Chiffchaff is still calling in the wood and the House Martins still chatter under the eaves. Yesterday evening a Frog croaked from the clump of Flag Iris in the pond, the first I have heard for months. Sorry, mate, you may have just got comfortable for the winter, but that big clump is taking over the whole pond and it’s has to go!

27/9/03    Two Grey Wagtails swooped on the pond this morning and investigated the margins for a few minutes.

Later, when I was walking Flag on Aislaby Moor, I hear the unmistakable sound of the ‘Gabble Ratchet’ – that terrifying monster of local legend that sometimes frequents the moortops. Looking upwards and searching hard, I could just make out the familiar ‘V’ of a skein of c150 wild geese migrating high above me, calling ‘like the pack of devil’s hell hounds’ which used to send local people scurrying downhill for company and reassurance. Even Canon Atkinson (author of ‘Forty Years in a Moorland Parish’) recounted how he once ran from the Gabble Ratchet!

They were probably Greylag Geese I encountered this morning, but my ear for goose calls is not good enough to be certain.

25/9/03    These last couple of days have been feeling a bit autumnal, for the first time. Warm, dry and sunny in the daytime, but with clear skies overnight. The minimum dropped overnight to 34 degree Fahrenheit, so there was probably a ground frost in the early hours (not that I noticed it)!

On my way back from Whitby I noticed the local forester was felling some over-hanging trees by the junction at Briggswath. His Transit wagon was full of timber, so I stopped to ask if he had a customer in mind – or would he like one just 200 yards away? He said he would and, for a mere £35, I am now the proud owner of 1½ tons of very green Ash, Sycamore and Willow. He dumped it as near the woodyard as he could get. It’s in great big lumps, so I will have to split it so that I can carry it into the woodyard, then stack it for a year or more to season.

I have now hand sawn the last of the 2001/2002 cord (from singling the 2nd Hazel Coup) into firelogs and stacked them in the woodshed ready to burn this winter (2003/2004). The wood cut last winter (2002/2003, from pollarding the 2nd coup) is partly carried down from the wood and is being stacked into a cord for next winter (2004/2005). Yesterday’s lorry-load of bought wood from Briggswath will be split and stacked in the next few days, for burning in 2005/2006)…

Q: ‘Do you have any hobbies?’          A: ‘Yes, I have a wood burning stove.’

24/9/03    Drove to Ravenscar to survey the fire damaged moor. A blackened ‘V’ points down the scrubby hillside to the remains of a litter bin in the lay-by just off the A171 Whitby / Scarborough where the Lyke Wake Walk leaves Jugger Howe Moor and crosses the road. The fire had done the same, jumping across the main road to Stoup Brow Moor and sweeping all before it, onwards and upwards, until the moor drops down the other side to the coast of Robin Hood’s Bay.

It looks like a quick surface burn but the crew of the one remaining fire engine told me that there were still one or two ‘hot spots’ in the middle of the moor. They were digging down to reach the seat of these underground fires, then using their All Terrain Vehicle to ferry water to soak the excavations.

The two inches of rain which has fallen in the last 4 days was very well timed. Let’s hope we are always so lucky…

22/9/03    My good intentions to spend the day working in the wood were diverted by a day of almost continuous heavy rain, so I worked in the Stickery instead. By late afternoon the rain had cleared up and I got some outdoor work done after all.

21/9/03    A cooler, drier day. Two Roe Deer does strolled down from the wood and browsed on the brambles around the willow arch. Hard luck, deer, I’ve already picked the best brambles from there!

On the Feeding Station: 1035 – 1050 am. Force 3 SW. 4/8 cloud. Chaffinch 6, Blur Tit 5, Great Tit 3, Marsh Tit 2, Wood Pigeon 2, Coal Tit 1, Dunnock 1, Greenfinch 1, Chiffchaff 1 (calling), Long Tailed Tit 1.

20/9/03    Just what the fire doctor ordered! It rained all night. About 1 inch fell by mid-morning, which won’t be enough to extinguish the flames but it will cool everything down a bit and give the fire fighters a better chance. The real damage will be if the fire has set light to the peat soil itself, not just to the heather on the surface. If it has, then it could burn for months. Just like it did in 1976.

19/9/03    It seems that the fire began in the lay-by where the infamous Lyke Wake Walk crosses the A171 Whitby / Scarborough road, probably from a fag or barbecue. Moron!

I seem to remember that in our ‘first’ big drought during the summer of 1976 there were about 100 moor fires in this National Park – and more than half of them were along the route of the Lyke Wake Walk. I think that says something about the dangers of unofficial challenge hikes across unsuitable terrain (and about the kinds of people who use them).

It started to rain in the afternoon, which is exactly what is needed. Long may it continue.

18/9/03    Driving along the Guisborough / Whitby road this afternoon I met the Mobile Command Unit of North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service. It was heading for Ravenscar at top speed with all lights flashing. Must be really serious…

Yes, it is. Half of all the fire fighters in North Yorkshire are tackling the fire. The Whitby / Scarborough road is closed due to the drifting smoke. About 6 square miles of moor (all designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest) have already been burnt. Several isolated farms and houses have been evacuated. The fire fronts extend for 4 miles and are being fanned by a 25 mph wind. Heavy earth-moving equipment is being used to create fire breaks and a helicopter is dropping thousands of gallons of water.

With a very dry summer and only 3/4 of an inch of rain so far this month, the moors are tinder dry…

17/9/03    Returning from a disappointing afternoon’s birding on the River Tees at the South Gare, I noticed what I thought was a bank of sea fog as I passed Staithes. Odd that it should be at right-angles to the coast… but not if it is actually the smoke from a big moor fire!

From Sleights roundabout that, sadly, was exactly what it was. No wonder it was visible from 20 miles away! It seems to be somewhere towards Ravenscar.

15/9/03    Pottered in the garden this morning, with the usual canine assistance from the mad dog (ie Flag dug another hole in the woodyard). I raked the pondweed out of the pond – and used it to fill-in Flag’s previous efforts – then started work behind the caravan with the slasher, cutting and flattening the Thistles, Brambles and (worst of all) Rosebay Willow Herb before the millions of fluffy seeds parachute off on the wind. It’s hot, it’s outdoors, it’s midday, it’s England, it’s sunny, it’s very energetic work and I think I ought to stop for lunch before somebody writes a song about it.

Sitting under the raftings to cool down, a young Grey Wagtail landed by the pond, walked across the patio and seemed determined to join us. I kept still, Flag didn’t move a muscle and the Grey Wag paced up and down indecisively for a whole minute, before flying off.

12/9/03    Warm sunny weather has returned, with a couple of Peacock butterflies getting tipsy on the fallen Plums. The Great Spotted Woodpecker has been calling, but keeps out of sight. Jays are also calling from the wood, where the Elder trees are heavily laden with fruit but the Holly berries are few and far between.

House Martins were much in evidence yesterday evening, flying ’round the house in great excitement. Perhaps the latest brood has just fledged from under the eaves, or maybe they are just getting ready to leave for the winter…

11/9/03    Another longer than usual drive and a good healthy walk for dog and self. No Kingfisher this time, but a Roe Deer sprang from the bushes and ran along the lane ahead of us. I persuaded Flag not to give chase. Then another walker approached in the distance, preventing the deer’s escape. It spun around and galloped back towards us, realised its mistake, reversed direction again. And again. And again. In sheer panic it ran back and forth between us as we approached each other until, in sheer desperation, it clattered through the hedge and fled across the field. Poor Flag!

Just a lunchtime sandwich at the pub before walking back again, but sadly it came with a side salad and a big bowl of chips. So much for the ‘healthy walk.’

8/9/03    Strimmed the path around the wood this morning. It didn’t take long and used less than a tank of fuel, which just shows how little the grass has grown over the past few months. Strimmed the beck in anticipation of any autumnal downpours and began to remove the now massive Yellow Flag Iris from the pond.

7/9/03    Not content with catching a Common Shrew in the woodyard a few days ago, Flag went after something a bit bigger today. We were down on the beach when a jet-ski zoomed past just offshore. This was too much for the idiot dog and he set off at full gallop along the water’s edge. Somewhere just beyond the golf course the jet ski made a sweeping u-turn and came back again, still followed fairly closely by Flag. Another u-turn by Upgang and another trip alongside the golf course – and back again. This time I stood in his path (No! Flag’s, not the Skier’s) and grabbed him as he galloped past. I reckon the golf course is at least half a mile long, so 4 lengths of it must be about 2 miles in a matter of minutes. I wonder what goes on in that tiny brain cell of his?

Half an inch of rain fell in less than an hour yesterday lunchtime, bringing this month’s total up to 3/4 of an inch so far. Otherwise sunny, dry and mild.

4/9/03    Autumn is a good time for birding at Filey, just 30 miles down the coast. First to the Country Park Cafe on the headland (Filey Brigg, properly called Carr Naze) for a cuppa and a look at the Bird Log to see what’s about. Then walked 20 yards to join all the other birders looking at a Greenish Warbler in the tree tops (caught a glimpse). Walked onto the tapering headland itself, with a couple of dozen Goldfinches on the thistles (more impressive than the Greenish Warbler).

Drove into Filey town for an excellent lunch at the Victoria Court restaurant in the Crescent, then on to Filey Dams for more nice birds. A Greenshank, a Green Sandpiper, 4 Dabchick and 5 Black Tailed Godwits, all really close to the East Hide (as well as lots of other, less remarkable, birds).

3/9/03    Hello, its back to summer again. No wind, no cloud, no rain, just lots of sun and nice and warm again. What a vast improvement!

Not only that, but I can now take Flag more than 3 miles without him being car sick, thanks to advice from two different people. One suggested putting him in the front passenger’s foot well (and Flag suggested that the front passenger’s seat was even better) and another got him some homeopathic sugar pills containing (or not containing?) Diesel Oil Smoke and Cocculus Indica. It works! I don’t know which, but it works! Thank-you ‘I’ and thank-you ‘K’.

We had a nice drive up the Esk Valley and a good 4 mile walk with, to cap it all, a passing Kingfisher flying downstream (my first for years).

Photos of the Twigwam have just been added. Click here to see them.

2/9/03    I spent a while in the hide at Scaling Dam. A Greenshank fed at the water’s edge as a Curlew bathed nearby. Further out a couple of Great Crested Grebes were swimming and on the far shore c250 feral Grey Lag Geese were loafing. No sign of any passing Osprey, nor any mention in the log book, but this year (just for a change) I don’t want to hear about it the week after it was last seen there.

1/9/03    A good crop of Blackberries on the brambles in the wood. Very nice when freshly picked and added to muesli!

Weather for August 2003 as measured at Groves Dyke: Temperatures: Max: 88 degrees Fahrenheit (31 degrees Centigrade) and Min: 40 degrees Fahrenheit (5 Centigrade). Current temperature: 54 degrees Fahrenheit (12 Centigrade). Rainfall: 2 inches (50 mm) in the rain gauge on the gatepost. Summary: Record breaking heat wave, with 100 degrees F recorded for the first time ever in England (Heathrow). Uncomfortably hot here at a mere 88 degrees. Dry for much of the month, with heavy showers on the Bank Holiday weekend and again in the last 3 days of the month. Temperatures plummeted in the final week, with a cold northerly airflow.

31/8/03    Cool, Force 3 Northerly, 3/8 cloud cover and dry. A 15-minute observation from the conservatory (10.05 – 10.20) revealed the following at the Feeding Station (and beyond): Chaffinch 8, Blue Tit 4, Great Tit 2, Robin 2, Blackbird 1, Collared Dove 1, Coal Tit 1, Dunnock 1, Greenfinch 1, House Martin 1, Marsh Tit 1, Wood Pigeon 1. A Bank Vole completed the picture and then, just after the counting period ended, 3 Goldfinches visited the woodyard (but I will mention them anyway)!

30/9/03    Only half an inch of rain all month, then suddenly another inch in the last 36 hours, then even more this morning! Is this a mad rush, in the final few days of the month, to achieve the average monthly rainfall after all? At least the cool north wind has eased.

28/8/03    The high pressure system has gone, replaced by a cool northerly airflow, with lots of lovely rain. The sky is overcast and temperatures have dropped overnight from the high sixties or low seventies to the very low sixties. Yes, I did put some extra clothes on today. Yes, I did have some nice hot soup for lunch today. Yes, I did light the gas fire today. Yes, I know its still August, but after this year’s record temperatures I’m just not used to normal summer weather any more…

26/8/03    A single Goldfinch twittered from a perch above the thistle crop. Don’t just sit there looking beautiful, go and tell all your friends and relations!

A flock of c80 Lapwings circled high over the fields near the new A171 / A169 roundabout (a vast improvement on the old T-junction) and could be seen from the kitchen window – so I have added them to the Bird List.

25/8/03    Being August Bank Holiday Monday it rained for about an hour in the afternoon, then went beck to being overcast. A couple of nights of steady drizzle will be required to really dampen the ground and flesh-out the blackberries a bit.

24/8/03    Flag left the beach looking a bit like someone who has lost £10 note and found a fiver. Or in his case, lost his tennis ball and found a frisbee.

Being August Bank Holiday Sunday, it rained for about half an hour, then became sunny again. The Sand Martins are very active, swooping low over the water’s edge, then high over the neighbouring golf course. A couple of Sandwich Terns called and dived just offshore, but no sign of any Skuas.

The Plum tree next to the Groves Dyke clothesline is heavily laden with lovely, ripe yellow plums (not the Victoria plum tree alongside, which cropped so well last year). All the low level ones have been picked and eaten already, now its just a matter of working out how to get the masses remaining above the standing-on-the-roof-of-a-Land-Rover height…

20/8/03    Took D and I along the little moorland road from Egton Bridge and the Delves, over High Hamer to Rosedale. The Heather (Ling / Calluna vulgaris) is now in full bloom and maximum purple-ness, all 192 square miles of it. Magnificent! We drove up Rosedale until we ran out of tarmac, then turned around and went back to the East Kilns and parked.

Walked past the 8 massive 19th Century calcinating kilns (recently stabilised) and along the abandoned railway track which once carried 3 million tons of iron ore across the moors to a sleepy little fishing village called Middlesbrough. Nowadays, Tees-side is the biggest petrochemical centre in the UK, but it all began with this little railway line and the ironstone from Rosedale…

We could have walked all the way to lunch at the Lion Inn on Blakey Rigg, but we didn’t. The car was much easier and we stopped to watch a Grouse shoot en route. Now that farming hill sheep is almost worthless (last year each hill sheep cost £1 to shear and each fleece was sold for 50 pence), the future management of the largest expanse of heather moor in England and Wales depends even more on Grouse shooting. Each gun pays upwards of £1000 for a day’s shooting, so with six guns on each shoot and (in a good Grouse year like this one) several shooting days per year on each moor, that adds up to an awful lot more than any number of scraggy hill sheep. Thus the future of the largest moorland in England and Wales now depends on some of the National Park’s visitors killing some of the National Park’s wildlife – now there is a nice dilemma for the conservationist!

Isn’t the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy wonderful?

The Lion was as busy as ever, as befits an isolated pub on an ancient pack horse road (now tarmac), in the middle of a vast sea of purple and almost 1000 feet up. Inside the pub it is cool, dark and as genuinely traditional as anyone could wish for, with lots of real home cooked, hand cut ham in the sandwiches.

What a wonderful day! And don’t mention the Jam Roly-Poly pudding.

19/8/03    Another hot and sunny day with D and I, this time to Ravenscar (the best view in the National Park), then walking from Stoop Beck along the beach to Boggle Hole. A small party of 17 Turnstones flew past as the tide receded. Sadly, the tide was still too high, so we were forced to tackle the giant steps up to Farside Farm (which six foot six, long-legged countryside manager built these enormous steps, suitable only for other six foot six, long-legged people and not for lesser mortals like us?!?) and then to Robin Hood’s Bay for lunch, recovery and leg extensions.

The new National Trust visitor Centre in the old coastguard building was open (free) and full of all kinds of interesting, interactive exhibits, some of which were actually in working order. Walked back to Stoop Beck via the beach (Thank Goodness! we all said) then set off for Sleights. A flock of c70 House Sparrows, the biggest flock I have seen recently, were on the Stoop Brow road. Then home to Groves Bank for another cuppa and a tour of Groves Coppice.

Then G turned up almost unexpectedly, with a wonderful marquetry box and a superb set of nesting Russian Dolls. See his website to buy all your Christmas presents, which will help him provide yet more medical aid for Russian children.

18/8/03    A stroll along the Monks’ Trod on Lealholm Moor with D and I, then a brisk yomp up the old Coach Road to Danby Beacon before returning to Lealholm Moor for a perfect Purple Picnic in glorious sunshine, overlooking the Esk Valley. Then to the National Park’s Moors Centre at Danby for a well earned cuppa (and a little bit of bat rescue-ing) before returning them to ‘the Royal on the hill.’

16/8/03    A great day out with C and G to check the purple-ness of the moortop (all ok!) then to Staithes and on to Runswick Bay for lunch. Home via Lythe Bank and the second best view in the National Park.

13/8/03    Flag discovered a Mole rowing awkwardly over the farm track  to Aislaby but I persuaded him to leave it alone. Blackberry pickers were out getting a good crop further up the track. A Kestrel joined us for breakfast, flopping suddenly onto the lawn then hopping about with some little wood mousey thing held in one foot, before carrying it off to eat elsewhere.

The hide at Scaling Dam gave good views of 3 Great Crested Grebe and 4 Dabchick, as well as a couple of hundred (feral) Greylag Geese. The tide was out by the time I got to Staithes so this time I was able to dabble in some of the excellent rock pools there – but beware the incoming tide! Another Bacon and Brie Baguette, every bit as good as the last, then into the Art Centre to collect my new driftwood painting by Lucy Wilson: ‘Little mermaids in the sea, with the Dolphins wild and free, to you we give our dreams to keep, while we close our eyes sleep.’

11/8/03    A few thunder plumps put a bit of a dampener on Whitby Regatta, but it will take more than that to reduce the success of this year’s event. Tonight thousands will go to watch the fireworks on the cliff top, while hundreds (like me) will be staying at home with the curtains pulled and the TV turned up loud, trying to reassure the poor terrified dog.

Woops, spoke too soon! Two hours of steady rain at mid-day produced almost ½ an inch of rain. Yes, we did need rain but no, we didn’t need it just then!

Yesterday Heathrow airport was the first place in the UK ever to record a temperature of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. How appropriate, since a goodly proportion of the UK’s greenhouse gases are emitted by aircraft engines burning untaxed fuel. Perhaps we should add VAT to aviation fuel before we decide to build more airports, and then wait to see if air travel continues to increase as predicted..?

9/8/03    Yesterday was misty in the morning, then sunny and too darn hot again in the afternoon. Today, sadly, all the mist has disappeared and now it is just too hot morning, noon and night. The maximum is reading 88 degrees, probably the highest I have ever recorded at Groves Bank! Still, it is Whitby Regatta this weekend…

I noticed Flag was in the yard playing with something which cheeped loudly. He ‘gave’ obediently and the little brown bird turned out to be a Treecreeper, probably a youngster who though it could fly through the kitchen window. It seemed uninjured, if a bit surprised, and I released it onto a tree trunk in the orchard (much to Flag’s indignation).

7/8/03    A whole day off to enjoy the moors and coast. A lovely cool, damp sea mist tempted me to Staithes first, especially when I realised that it must be 6 or 7 years since I was last there. Disgraceful! Parking is still at the top of the hill, then walk down to sea level and the last remaining ‘unspoilt’ Yorkshire fishing village. Young James Cook first met the sea at Staithes and he would still recognise much of it. There is a good smell of wet fish about the place, unlike Runswick Bay or Robin Hood’s Bay which are almost completely gentrified. The new western breakwater makes it easy to walk from Cowbar Nab to the harbour mouth, to see a young Gannet, several Sandwich Terns and a steady drift of Kittiwakes moving through the mist. A dozen busy House Martin nests are glued under the overhanging strata on the end of the Nab itself. The tide was high, so I didn’t get to explore the new eastern breakwater and the vast rock scaur with all its rock pools beyond.

The Bacon and Brie Baguette at the Sea Drift cafe is as good as ever and very pleasant al fresco, followed by their very special Coble Cake and cream. The whole village is looking upbeat and very festive for their Lifeboat weekend. Called into the Arts Centre and bought two pictures by local artist Lucy Wilson. ‘Sits the peaceful village in a quiet bay, huddled in between the cliffs sending wood smoke  skywards.’ That one is for my picture wall, the other is painted on a piece of  driftwood and will soon adorn the landing in Groves Dyke. Walked back up to the car park via the maze of fascinating steps and alleyways – infinitely better than slogging back up by the road.

Then inland and south to find the sun: still misty on the low moors, misty at Castleton, misty on the high moors, brightening in Farndale (the Daffy Caffy is open daily in August, except Mondays), brighter in Hutton-le-Hole and almost sunny in Rosedale. Then back over the moors, now looking proper purple in the sunlight, via High Hamer (1 Red Grouse) and Glaisdale Rigg. Bought a compulsory pork pie in Glaisdale and home to Sleights. What a wonderful fix of blooming heather! Must do it again sometime…

6/8/03    85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 Centigrade) by mid afternoon, but with a high mist and a slight breeze. Took Flag for a cooling-off stroll on the beach after tea and even then a parking space was a rarity near Sandsend! Whitby was chock-a-block as crowds promenaded past the Grand Turk.

Back home to find there was a power cut as a result of a ‘widespread cable failure’ due to the excessive temperature. High voltage cables are always warm due to the electricity flowing along them, so raise the air temperature too much as well and the cable fails, diverting more current via the remaining cables, which then overheat as well, etc, etc. So railway tracks buckle, power cables fail and we STILL insist on driving gas-guzzling 4 x 4s in suburbia. Isn’t Global Warming wonderful? Good thing its got nothing to do with us, isn’t it…

4/8/03    A Green Woodpecker yaffled in the wood this morning and a Nuthatch shouted back, but I didn’t see either. (Why is it called ‘bird watching?’). Hazelnuts scrunch underfoot as I walk through the Fourth Coup, Elderberries are just turning from green to black and a couple of Roe Deer stroll across the drive and into the wood, daring Flag to  slip his lead and chase them over another barbed wire fence. And he’s daft enough to try!

It is 10 am and the temperature is already 70 Fahrenheit and probably going to beat  the 82 degrees reached yesterday. Isn’t Global Warming wonderful? (Not).

3/8/03    The Second Coup, where the Hazel trees were pollarded (beheaded) at the beginning of this year, is now a mass of Thistles and a cloud of Thistledown. Young Rabbits scuttled away as Flag and I approached and I could see him thinking ‘If it wasn’t for this lead, I could be having bite-size baby bunnies for breakfast!’ Tough luck, doggie dear, you had your chance.

Sand Martins were in evidence towards Sandsend, flying from the beach to the boulder clay cliffs and back, with up to a dozen birds clinging around the nesting burrows. Young birds, perhaps, just finding their wings for the first time? Looks like they have had a pretty good breeding season.

The sailing ship Grand Turk arrived in Whitby last week and will be here for several weeks. Not a patch on the Endeavour, of course, but she does look good berthed in the middle of Whitby. A flock of c100 Lapwings flapped around the fields near Sleights roundabout, which means they have finished their nesting season on the moortop and are now gathering up for the winter.

1st August 2003    The rest of the country got the downpours as forecast, but the North York Moors escaped again. As ever, we are very grateful to Wales, Cumbria and the Pennines who take the brunt of any rain heading in our direction. That’s why the North York Moors is the driest National Park in the UK! Pity the fire risk is so high…

A 15-minute count at the feeding station this morning (0910 – 0925, 2/8 cloud, Force 3 Southerly, dry, bright, sunny & warm: Blue Tit 8, Chaffinch 6, Great Tit 4,  Blackbird 2, Robin 2, Coal Tit 1, Dunnock 1, Marsh Tit 1, Wood Pigeon 1. The most notable  was a single Spotted Flycatcher, the first I have seen this year. It sat on the crossbar of the feeding station and watched all the to-ing and fro-ing for a few minutes, then flew to the edge of the wood yard and flew little sorties, always returning to the same perch.

Weather for July 2003 as measured at Groves Dyke: Temperatures: Max: 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Centigrade) and Min: 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 Centigrade). Current temperature: 67 degrees Fahrenheit (19 Centigrade). Rainfall: 1½ inches (37mm) in the rain gauge on the gatepost. Summary: Mild and dry, but overcast for much of the month.

28/7/03    A bit of drizzle this morning, but still mild. The rainfall so far this month has been a smidgen under 1½ inches, but according to the weather forecast, that may rise a bit in the next few days… [It didn’t].

The first ripe cherry appeared on one of the Geans (Wild Cherry) trees in the wood, but some lucky little beastie got to it before I did! Never mind – it was probably sour anyway…

23/7/03    Got another apology from the Executive Chairman of Everest for this ‘further irritation’ which he considers is already covered under their normal warranty. In other words, no more compensation then…

Another Sparrowhawk made a killing today, as it swooped onto its unsuspecting prey at Groves Dyke and carried it away, still protesting loudly – but pointlessly. Never mind, it was only a Blue Tit, so nothing of any significance. Anyway, might is always right and what was prey put here for, if it wasn’t so that the big predators could gobble it all up and get fat?

13/7/03    Warm, dry  and windy weather has brought down the first windfalls in the orchard and the Blackbirds are taking advantage already. A Roe Deer scuttled off in the wood as Flag and I approached, the first I have seen for a while. A ewe and her two lambs have broken into the wood & will need to be evicted…

21/07/03    Another Everest team of fitters (the 5th in 9 months…) arrived this morning to replace the shattered pane in the twin bedroom window and add the two missing screws to the hinge in the bathroom window. They also added an extra screw in the twin bedroom window to support the fawlty one they discovered! OK, what’s next?

17/7/03    This morning was deliciously cool and damp as a sea roke (fret) rolled in from the coast, shrouding everything in a moist grey fog. The grass was damp, the air was damp and water dripped from every leaf-tip as the mist condensed. Even the beck flow had increased – but not a drop of rain. A tiny Froglet, small enough to perch on a thumbnail, headed away from the beck and across the vast expanse of the patio…

A couple of miles further inland, drivers suddenly found themselves leaving the blazing sunshine and disappearing into the mist, then realising they were driving with both their sunglasses and their dipped headlights on – welcome to Whitby!

The Bell Heather has created small patches of purple scattered across the moortop. It prefers the driest areas and flowers a few weeks before the main Ling Heather, the prelude to the main event of 192 square miles of glorious purple stretching forty miles from the Vale of York to the coast.

16/7/03    Got a letter from Everest Leeds telling me that the cracked window had been caused by ‘a screw that was too long.’ Wow – I wonder how they knew that?!?

13/7/03    Horribly hot again (84 degrees F) and the block of lard on the feeding station has melted and dribbled down the woodwork – but the Great Spotted Woodpecker doesn’t seem to mind.

12/7/03    Only 3 small Ragwort (the Yellow Peril of poisoned livestock fame) found flowering in the wood this summer. Twenty years ago we would spend a couple of days uprooting them all from around the young trees.

9/7/03    Today I surveyed the Everest Surveyor’s every move as he dismantled every Everest handle and checked every Everest hinge of every Everest window in Groves Dyke, to double double check that they had been fitted properly – and they were (apart from the two missing screws in the hinge of the bathroom window)! He also confirmed that the now single glazed double glazed window in the twin bedroom was safe and secure – which it is. A date has been agreed next week for the new replacement replacement double glazed pane to be fitted and I have demanded another letter of explanation and further apology (plus a better offer of compensation) from the Executive Chairman of Everest Double Glazing. Watch this space…

One of the problems with spending all my time dealing with Everest is that I forget to record what else has been happening here, so here are a few random records of recent (forgotten) date:

The pile of raked-out pond weed left on the edge to drain produced 5 Dragonfly nymphs within 30 minutes, followed more slowly by 5 Common Newts, including a very small one almost certainly hatched this year.

A miniature Frog hopped across the yard one evening, the first of this year’s hatching.

The Song Thrush can be heard smashing snail shells on its anvil during the day, then singing of ‘Baked beans, baked beans, baked beans’ from the treetops in the evening.

Flag mugged yet another dog on the beach and, when I returned the ball to its rightful owner with my usual apology of ‘I’m sorry, he’s a rescue dog obsessed with tennis balls’ the lady replied ‘Yes, I think we met you here last year!’

8/7/03    Lots of activity behind the scenes, but what is really important is that everyone can still have a normal holiday at Groves Dyke, so don’t worry! At my insistence, an Everest surveyor is due tomorrow morning to double check all the other windows for competent workmanship and supervision. Another replacement replacement double glazed window pane is being manufactured as we speak and will be fitted in a few weeks.

An adult male Great Spotted Woodpecker has joined his offspring in visiting the feeding station, with a young Green Woodpecker still frequenting the front lawns.

Yesterday evening the Endeavour replica left Whitby and sailed into a magnificent sunset, with thousands of well-wishers lining the harbour and the piers to wish her ‘Bon Voyage’ and ‘Safe Home!’

4/7/03    Stop Press: Everest Strikes Again! The sun shone yesterday evening and, Groves Dyke being vacant after a short break booking, I went in to open the windows. On moving the window handle in the twin bedroom the large (newly installed in February 2003) picture window made a ‘hiss’ noise and instantly turned itself into a pane of frosted glass! The next hour was spent moving the furniture against the far wall, taping up the window like I was expecting an air raid and laying down dust sheets to catch any falling glass. Thanks, Everest.

When I rang Customer Care at Everest HQ the poor man remembered me from our all too frequent conversations in the spring! He arranged for Everest Leeds to contact me. They said: ‘Oh yes, that will probably be a stress fracture – it sometimes just happens…’ My opinion was that the only thing around here that is going to fracture under stress is ME! They promised to send their fitters out the same day to board it up – that will look pretty for 3 or 4 weeks at the height of the summer season, while they start to make another new window. Again.

Now, call me suspicious if you like, but I decided to invite the same independent building surveyor as last time to examine the window BEFORE Everest arrived and removed any potential evidence. Good thing I did! He found that the handle which should have had 4 screws of a very particular type, had only 3 – plus an empty screw hole. Of those 3, only 2 were of the correct type (1/4 inch flat-ended). Of those two, one was so sub-standard that it fell out when touched with a fingertip and hadn’t been doing anything useful at all. The odd screw was of entirely the wrong type (self-tapping) and far too long (5/8 inch) and the sharp point had been rubbing on the glass since the window was fitted in February this year!

When the Everest fitters arrived (the 4th different team of Everest fitters to work on Groves Dyke in 8 months) they came up with a much better solution: Just remove all the shattered glass from the inner pane, make safe the edges and leave the outer pane in place as a ‘single glazed’ double glazed window. MUCH better than the proposed sheet of plywood! I’m glad somebody at Everest has some good ideas occasionally…

Have you missed the whole sorry saga of Everest double glazing at Groves Dyke? New readers: Click Here…

3/7/03    3/4 of an inch of rain so far this month! A soggy Wood Mouse joined the soggy Bank Vole eating soggy Sunflower hearts below the soggy feeding station this soggy morning.

As a Marsh Tit fed on Niger seed from the special feeder, a Goldfinch sang from the telephone wires above. I do wish they would read the text books and get it the right way ’round!

2/7/03    Four Swifts hawked for insects high over the weir. Sadly, these are the only Swifts I have seen near Groves Bank this year – when once there were screaming flocks of thirty or forty birds wheeling high above. Its a pity that global warming is extending the Sahara, drying-up the (literally) vital oasis along the birds’ migration routes – not to mention being equally inconvenient for the local nomadic people, of course. Good thing we’re not the cause of it – isn’t it?

1/7/03    Two young Great Spotted Woodpeckers on the feeding station at the back of the house AND an adult and a juvenile Green Woodpecker feeding along the edge of the terrace on the front lawn. Not bad for one morning!

The River Esk is as high as I have seen it since February or March, with muddy water roaring over the Salmon Leap weir, just upstream of Sleights Bridge.

The new Traffic Calming measures are now complete at Briggswath (by the River Gardens). Two chicanes (one on a blind corner), each with a clearly marked Cycle Lane 20 feet long. That must be the Briggswath Cycle Track, then…


Weather for June 2003 as measured at Groves Dyke: Temperatures: Max: 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Centigrade) and Min: 44 degrees Fahrenheit (7 Centigrade). Current temperature: 64 degrees Fahrenheit (18 Centigrade). Rainfall: 2 and 3/4 inches (70mm) in the new rain gauge on the gatepost. Summary: Too damn hot to begin with, then spectacular thunder & lightening with heavy rain for a few hours (3/4 inch). Then cooler and dull for several weeks, ending with 3 or four days and nights of heavy rain.

29/6/03    The JAC family at Groves Dyke saw a Grasshopper Warbler near Whitby beach at Upgang and a Raven on the beach below the golf course today (perhaps it had come from Ravenscar?!).

28/6/03    Just back from a few days holiday in Northumberland, suitable sunburnt after non-stop sunshine. I am delighted to report that the water gardens at Alnwick Castle are still excellent, the 35,000 pairs of Puffins breeding on the Farne Islands are all well, Cragside is flourishing and the Chillingham Wild Cattle are very exciting and well worth a visit.

Here in Sleights, two juvenile Great Spotted Woodpeckers are now using the feeding station and the JEF family staying at Groves Dyke saw two Roe Deer walking through the front garden.

19/6/03    A 15 minute count at the feeding station this morning (0915 – 0930 hours, Force 3 SW, warm, dry & sunny) revealed: Blue Tit 6, Chaffinch 5, Great 4, Marsh Tit 3, Dunnock 2, Greenfinch 2,  Blackbird 1, Coal Tit 1, Collared Dove 1, Jackdaw 1, Magpie 1, Robin 1, Willow Chiff (either a Willow Warbler or a Chiffchaff, but it didn’t sing) 1. Also 1 Bank Vole but no young Great Spotted Woodpecker because it heard I was doing a count today.

The Second Hazel Coup is now a mini forest of flowering Thistles, as tall as the trees we pollard-ed just 6 months ago. If I let the Thistles go to seed then the charm of 60 Goldfinches might reappear in a few months.

A Painted Lady butterfly, newly migrated from Africa, was flying along the grassy roadside verge at Sandsend. Talking of tropical things at Sandsend today: the Coconut Milk Tart at Witz End Cafe is excellent, especially when enjoyed in their new ‘Walled Garden’ after a good walk on the beach!

18/6/03    Pleasantly cool today, after yesterday’s thunderstorms. A 1/4 inch of rain fell in the last 24 hours, bring the total for this month up to 1/2 inch.

17/6/03    The weather forecasters were right: at 5 o’clock this morning I was awakened by a most impressive thunderstorm rolling over the moors. A 5 second gap between flash and thunderclap means the lightening is 1 mile away. This one was about 2 miles away, got gradually closer and closer until it was just half a mile away (too close!), before moving away again. Then the heavens opened and it rained hard, but only for half an hour.

16/6/03    The young Woodpecker has plucked up enough courage to investigate the feeders and now flies directly to the wooden uprights and pecks happily at the block of lard.

Only a quarter of an inch of rain has fallen so far this month. The lower (wetter) path around the wood is now so dry that the soil has developed cracks, some of them up to eight inches long and half an inch wide. As the soil dries out, Earthworms go deeper and become inactive, so the Moles are forced out onto the surface in a desperate search for alternative food. Today I found a dead Mole lying next to the path. Its still hot and dry and sunny today, so I think I will just have to get on and strim the orchard before this fine weather breaks tomorrow. I was hoping for some cooler weather (with a lower pollen count) before I started such a major operation. ‘Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun’ indeed!

Five hours of strimming later and the big orchard is done! And so am I.

Passers-by may notice that the very far corner (plus a strip near the top of the slope) are still uncut. This is entirely due to my management policy of ‘rotational mowing’ of herb-rich grassland  – and has nothing whatsoever to do with: 1) Not strimming that damn wasps’ nest again and 2) Running out of energy!

13/6/03    A young Great Spotted Woodpecker (my first of the summer), complete with red cap, sat on the telephone pole in the woodyard and ‘chick-ed’ enviously at all the other birds on the feeding station. Then it flew away, still hungry.

11/6/03    A strange noise in the dogend turned out to be a young Robin trying to get out via the closed window (having come in via the open door). When I eventually located it, it was hiding (of all places!) in Flag’s toybox. He was convinced it would squeak if he bit it, but I got there first and released it into the hedge – much to Flag’s disappointment.

9/6/03    Ate my first ‘crop’ of Wild Strawberries from the wildflower meadow at the side of the stickery, as I strimmed another section to get rid of the long grasses and the Micklemass Daisies (lots more in the orchard). Sorry, wildlife, but I got there first!  The Elder trees are just coming into flower in the wood and this year I might get myself organised to make some Elderberry wine – assuming the wildlife doesn’t beat me to it.

I have finally given in and bought Flag his very own tennis ball (you know he is obsessed with tennis balls) because I thought it would be better if he was obsessed with ME and MY tennis ball, and not the one belonging to the man and his dog at the far end of the beach. It seems to have worked! Now he carries it around with him all day, only putting it down (very reluctantly) to eat his ‘breky’ and his ‘suppertimes.’ Now why didn’t I think of that a year ago? Sometimes he wakes up and forgets where he put it, but I quickly retrieve it for him and he relaxes again. Yes, I think he really has me fully trained now…

7/6/03    The Blue Tit family have left the nestbox outside the kitchen window and they, with lots of other young families, are now exploring the feeding station, the garden and the wood. The place is HOTCHING with young birds at the moment. Assorted young Blue, Great, Coal, Long Tailed and Marsh Tits (not to mention Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Robin, Dunnocks and Blackbirds) sit pathetically on top of the bird feeders, quivering their wings and demanding food, while their frantic parents dash back and forth demonstrating the various feeding techniques required. Kids!

Today I installed a selection of mobility aids in Groves Dyke, as required by the new Tourist Board ‘Disabled Accessible Scheme’ (which isn’t even English – it ought to be the Disabled Accessibility Scheme and the English Tourist Board ought to be blushing). These include a shower stool, a toilet frame, a toilet seat booster, a bath board and a bath stool. Handrails are just waiting to be fitted to the walls next to toilets, bath and shower and I am still searching for cordless doorbells as alarms for the bathroom and shower room.

5/6/03    ‘Like a big ball of golden sunshine’ is how someone described the huge clump of Yellow Flag Iris now flowering in my pond. This year it has expanded to about a third of the pond and if it ever invents intergalactic travel then whole civilisations could be in peril.

The Sand Martins on the beach have been busy excavating new nest burrows, with about 30 now visible. The weather has cooled down a bit and with more cloud, so a stroll on the beach is very pleasant. Ah, the warmth of the sun and the coolth of the sea is downright nice.

Strimmed the path around the wood again (yes, already) and then the other half of the woodyard and also around the caravan. As well as wrote a Duty of Care Statement at the insistence of Scarborough Borough Council about ‘Trade Waste’ from Groves Dyke Holiday Cottage. If you don’t believe it either, then click here.

4/6/03    Extracts from the independent Building Surveyor’s Report on Everest’s new windows at Groves Dyke have now been added to my Windows Blog, as well as my first letter to the Managing Director of Everest: click here…

But don’t worry! The fawlty windows were repaired before the cottage reopened in March this year and Groves Dyke Holiday Cottage is back to normal – now with even better views from the rooms than before!

2/6/03    ‘You and Yours’ on BBC Radio 4 featured someone who had compiled an online diary or web log (‘blog’) of their unhappy experiences with a major retailer. Would you like to read my Windows Blog about Everest, their double glazing craftsmanship at Groves Dyke Holiday Cottage and their Customer Care techniques? Yes? Then click here…

1/6/06    Still far too hot, but at least there is some cloud and a bit of a breeze today.

A male Green Woodpecker clung to the electricity pole in the woodyard before flying down to investigate the bonfire site. Sadly, having failed to strim the grass yesterday, it was impossible for me to see what he was doing on the ground! Happily, having failed to strim the grass yesterday, a brightly coloured male Bullfinch was very visible, clinging to the long grass stems and feeding on the seedheads as he bent them almost to the ground.

The two new nestboxes next to Groves Dyke are both occupied by Blue Tits. The family in the box just outside the kitchen window get very excited every time I open the laundry door. The other family, in the box in the orchard opposite the front door, are less advanced but will be fun to watch from the new conservatory – once it is built… (probably this winter). It would have been built already, but I was too busy trying to sort out the problems created by Everest Double Glazing…

Weather for May 2003 as measured at Groves Dyke: Temperatures: Max: 82 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Centigrade) and Min: 34 degrees Fahrenheit (2 Centigrade). Current temperature: 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 Centigrade). Rainfall: 1 inch and 3/8 (35mm) in the new rain gauge on the gatepost. Summary: Cooler, cloudier  and damper than last month, with an oppressive heatwave in the last few days.

31/5/03    The Maximum thermometer has just reached 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Too hot for gardening (and anyway, the wild flowers are looking nice). Too hot to trim the hedges (and anyway, the birds are still nesting). Too hot to strim the path around the wood (and anyway, the wild flowers are looking nice AND the birds are still nesting).

Basically, its just too hot…

29/5/03    The heatwave has arrived, so breakfast has to be under the raftings on the patio, now that the conservatory is too hot. The Yellow Flag Iris in the Groves Bank pond and beck are just coming into flower (See ‘Flags’ in ‘Photos’).

Took Flag onto the beach to cool off a bit and he enjoyed laying in the shallows. The Sand Martins have found a new sandy layer in the ever eroding  boulder clay cliffs and have dug 12 nest holes. The Endeavour is berthed in the middle of Whitby harbour and looks just right. Lots of people about but none of the vast queues waiting to board, like there were on her first visit 6 years ago.

25/5/03    A 15-minute watch at the feeding station this morning (10.30 -10.45, bright, dry, calm, sunny and warm) produced: Blackbird 2, Chaffinch 2, Collared Dove 2, Robin 2, Blue Tit 1, Dunnock 1, Greenfinch 1, Great Spotted Woodpecker (female) 1, Wood Pigeon 1. Bank Vole 1.

24/5/03    Great Spotted Woodpeckers: One. Andalusian Hemipodes: Nil.

The Australian replica of Captain Cook’s Endeavour is back ‘home’ again in Whitby and will be staying here for several weeks. She arrived on Thursday evening to a tumultuous welcome, firing her canon as she sailed into port. Even the rain stopped and the sun came out to say Hello. NB: Six years after she first sailed into Whitby, we are still arguing about building our own replica of Captain Cook’s other ship, the Resolution…

23/5/03    The female Great Spotted Woodpecker continues to visit the feeding station every morning, but I still haven’t seen an Andalusian Hemipode yet…

20/5/03    Two young Robins sat in the middle of the feeding station this morning, demanding food, as their parents finished their breakfasts. A pair of Collared Doves and a pair of Greenfinches were also feeding. Suddenly a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew onto the upright and worked her way towards the fat feeder. And only the day before yesterday I was lamenting the fact that I hadn’t heard one drumming, and only seen one once, since the start of this year!

OK, then, let’s try this: I haven’t seen an Andalusian Hemipode (yes, they do exist) for over 50 years. [Stand by to add a new species to the British List in a couple of days…]

18/5/03    From the 1st to the 15th of this month just 1/2 inch of rain fell, which equalled the total for March and April together. Then on the 16th the drought really broke, with another 1/2 inch falling on just the 16th, 17th and 18th – but mostly the 17th! Heavy showers (some very heavy), with sunny intervals.

A family of at least 8 Long-tailed Tits is busy in the wood, the little ‘Flying Teaspoons’ flitting about and ‘Seep-ing’ to each other as they go. The Green Woodpecker yaffled briefly, which reminded me that I still haven’t heard the Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming this year…

A stroll on the beach gave Flag the chance to have his first ‘proper’ gallop. I walked about 2 miles and he ran about 20, greeting every other dog on the beach, playing with all the children, retrieving everybody else’s stick or ball, lying in the shallows to cool down, rolling in the sand to dry off and then, just as I was ready to leave the beach, dashing off to say Hello to yet another dog in the distance. I think he has made a full recovery!

12/5/03    Nothing like a stroll along the 14th Century packhorse road on Lealholm Rigg, then back by the 18th Century stagecoach road, to clear the cobwebs! Wonderful!! Pity the only wildlife see or heard was one Kestrel and one Rabbit. Whatever happened to the Red Grouse, Curlew, Lapwing, Meadow Pipit (‘Mipit’) and the Sky Lark since I was last up here a couple of years ago?

10/5/03    The Living Willow Twigwam is growing apace and needed to be tied-in with lots of string to maintain its conical shape. Must remember to keep removing the old ties at the same time, so that it doesn’t become a Stringwam…

Rotational strimming of the becksides in Groves Bank garden is well underway, with 2 of the 10 sections strimmed each week. This creates patches of wet grassland at 5 different ages and stages, each with their own wildflowers and associated insects.

A magnificent Cockchafer beetle wandered across the back yard, recognisable by its flat surface, its grey colour, its concrete texture and its enclosing walls – no, sorry, not the yard, the beetle! – its large size, its brown back, its exposed abdomen and its feathery-tipped antennae!

An even more magnificent Pheasant made a regal entrance in the evening, strolling down through the Willow arch, across the woodyard and onto the dog lawn to feed on the fallen grain below the feeders. Tonight it  was a solo performance. Last night he was accompanied on stage by his dowdy wife, who followed at a respectful distance, as befits his grand status and self-importance.

8/5/03    Lunchtime snack in Sandsend at Witz End Cafe, watching the Mallard trying to cross the main road and how they stop the traffic every few minutes. Very exciting! Which reminds me: Two Ballymena ducks were crossing the road when one said ‘Quack, quack.’ To which the other replied sharply ‘Dinny say that tae me, I’m going as quack as I can!’

Then off to Glaisdale for one of their famous pork pies, to be eaten on the warm, sunny moortop above Caper Hill with the whole Queen of the Dales laid out below me. The Red Grouse, as ever, didn’t approve and called ‘Go back! Go back! Go back!’ – but I didn’t. Along Glaisdale Rigg (ridge) to pace out the last, desperate, dying jump of the legendary Mickle Black Hart of Thirkel (the big, black Red Deer stag of Glaisdale) between the two moorland stones of Hart Leap. 14 yards, as ever. A few Lapwing displayed their territorial tumble flight and the bubbling call of a Curlew drifted across the heather.

The hide at Scaling Dam reservoir is as badly positioned as ever, but two families of Grey Lags with half a dozen goslings each, and 6 Great Crested Grebes were visible. Sadly, the Hen Harrier mentioned in the bird log a few days earlier, was not.

At Runswick Bay 4 Sandwich Terns circled and dived repeatedly just offshore. What a nice afternoon!

7/5/03    Strimmed the paths around the wood this afternoon, as well as the lower half of the woodyard. Hot!

4/5/03    The weather has been mild, sunny and showery for the past few days. Already this month there has been c1/2 an inch of rain – as much rain has fallen in the past 4 days as for the whole of the previous 8 weeks!

There seems to be more wildlife about in the wood, now that I keep Flag on a lead. A Roe Deer was browsing the brambles at the viewpoint as we crossed the upper footbridge and emerged unexpectedly beside it. Poor Flag was beside himself! A Kestrel flew off from the ground just 50 yards further along. The Great Spotted Woodpecker went ‘chick!’ from the direction of the beck and later perched on the feeding station for the first time this year.

The daft dog is having a restful day today, following his first brief gallop on the beach since his accident in March. He had a lovely time, running free, lying in the sea, meeting lots of other dogs and generally being himself again.

This Bank Holiday weekend steam trains are trundling back and forth between Whitby and Grosmont every hour, to mark the 30th anniversary of the North York Moors Steam Railway – and they are all full of passengers. The usual Network Rail diesels ( 4 trains per day) also pass – and they are almost empty. Now is that a marketing problem, or is that a marketing problem? I think I may have found the answer to Whitby’s proposed Park and Ride scheme…

Weather for April 2003 as measured at Groves Dyke: Temperatures: Max: 74 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Centigrade) and Min: 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 Centigrade). Current temperature: 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Centigrade). Rainfall: Just over 3/4 inch (20mm) in the new rain gauge on the gatepost. Summary: A little cooler and cloudier than last month, but dry until the final few days.

30/4/03    Wednesday    Yesterday Flag managed a 2 mile walk, his longest for months, with no problem and came home with all flags flying. Last week when we tried the same walk he was definitely at half mast within half a mile, so we just abandoned the attempt until he had a few more days to recover his strength.

Today I celebrated his recovery by leaving him at home and pottering about for a day. Down on the beach (yes, in time for lunch), then off to Robin Hood’s Bay for the first time in years to explore the new road to the beach, the recent sea defences and the traditional sticky bun shops. All present and correct. Came home via Littlebeck, where a new information panel has been added by the ford. As well as the Coast to Coast Walk, the old Alum Works and the Rose Queen, it mentions Tom Whittaker, the ‘Gnome Man’ woodcarver who worked there and who made the dining room furniture in Groves Dyke.

While having my sun-downer in the conservatory the regular Bank Vole under the bird seed feeders was joined by the occasional Wood Mouse. Suddenly a tiny baby Rabbit blundered into the middle of the back yard. Seeing me, and realising its mistake, it quickly froze and disguised itself as a very tasty young Rabbit. After a long pause it decided that mummy was probably wrong, so it sat up and washed its little ears instead. Very thoroughly. Flag was fast asleep after yesterday’s exertions and didn’t notice it tucking itself into the corner of the yard by the little round table.

I rushed Flag into the sitting room and closed the back door to give the silly little bunny time to think of a Plan B. An hour later I was amazed to see a tiny Rabbit hop up the half dozen steps to the sitting room door and paw at the glass door. Quick as a flash Flag, lying just inside the same door, continued to snore contentedly and dream dreams of who knows what exciting chases. After a few seconds, the Rabbit gave up, hopped back down the steps and wandered off down the path to adventures new…

28/4/03    Monday.    Proper rain fell over the weekend, with the gauge now reading about 1/2 inch. Enough already!

A Siskin, the first for a long time, joined the Greenfinches on the Sunflower heart feeder and a Green-veined White butterfly flew past. The Marsh Marigolds in the Groves Bank pond are just coming into flower and Bugle is appearing in the wood, as are a few Bluebells. Two Cowslips are in flower just outside the Stickery. This evening the first House Martins of the year appeared and flew round and round the house excitedly – probably the same ones that nested (or hatched) in the eves of Groves Dyke last year and, hopefully, will nest there again this year…

An unseen bird with a scratchy song sang from the depths of Groves Dyke orchard but without Anthea, my musical advisor, I can’t tell if it is a Blackcap or a Whitethroat. Ouch.

25/4/03    Friday.    The Tawny Owls were noisy yesterday morning, a strong indication that it was going to rain – and they were right! By teatime a gentle rain had begun, the first rain this month and for a good bit of the month before as well. The Tawnys were silent last night (too wet to woo?) and by this morning the yard had dried off but the grass was still damp. I rushed to the rain gauge to see just how much had fallen overnight, but there wasn’t even enough to register.

The Greenfinches on the feeders were joined by the Goldfinch and we all watched each other having breakfast. Goldie has given up on the Niger seed (bought especially, with its specialist feeder, to be irresistible to Goldies) and now prefers the Sunflower hearts. The glitterati can be so fickle!

My first Swallow of the year was seen yesterday near Ruswarp weir.

23/4/03    Wednesday.    Back to the ‘normal’ hot, dry, summer weather again. I can remember when we used to have proper seasons. And they used to come in the right order, too.

Yesterday’s Goldfinch has not reappeared. I was hoping it would become as frequent a visitor to the Niger seed as the pair of Greenfinches has to the Sunflower hearts. Seed consumption generally has fallen as more wild food becomes available – and I still have a whole sack of Peanuts!

A pile of raked-up Blanket Weed, a green filamentous algae, continues to drip dry and de-bug on the side of the pond. When first put there a rather energetic creepy-crawly made a quick wriggle for the water and was promptly eaten by an observant Robin. A pack of Barley straw has now been added to the pond. As it rots away it will remove some of the surplus nitrogen from the water and inhibit excessive algal growth.

A Cuckoo, the first of the year, was heard in nearby Littlebeck – but not by me. Yet.

21/4/03    Monday.    A degree warmer and the cold east wind has eased, but still no rain. Near Osmotherly, on the western edge of the North York Moors, some 6 square miles of moorland has been destroyed by fire and nearer home the Steam Trains had to ferry fire-fighters and their equipment into Newtondale Gorge to put out another major blaze. Sorry to admit it in the middle of a Bank Holiday weekend, but we could do with some rain.

We walked right around the wood this morning, for the first time since Flag’s accident. Everything is in leaf, if not in flower! The Blackthorn spinneys (‘spine-ys’ because of their ‘spines’ or thorns) are ablaze with white blossom, as are the Wild Cherry trees. The first Early Purple Orchid is out in Bank Orchard and in the wood  Bugle is also in flower, as is Pignut and Red Campion.

19/4/03    Saturday.    Where has the summer weather gone?! All that nice hot / warm and very dry weather vanished overnight as we were plunged into sudden typical  April weather. How unreasonable! The means relighting the woodburner and adding an extra layer of clothing!

The leaning Ash tree still looks as if it is about to bud at any moment, while the Major Oak has just got on with it and turned green almost overnight. So that will be ‘Oak before Ash, In for a splash.’ after all. Only the Beech trees still show absolutely no sign of opening their leaves yet.

17/4/03    Thursday.    I thought a good cure for Cabin Fever would be spending a day in Whitby, pottering along the old streets just looking at ye windows of ye olde shoppes, strolling by the harbourside and generally getting out and about a bit for what feels like the first time in 3 weeks. The roads are already busy for Easter so I left the car at home and took the No 95 bus (£1 for 3 miles).

I tried the newly reopened North Beach Cafe (at the bottom of the Cliff Lift) for lunch and was very pleased with their Art Deco, local produce and Fair Trade style. Infinitely better than the boarded-up, vandalised and graffiti-covered mystery building I have known for the past 30 years. Car-free shopping is possible in Whitby, thanks to the Co-op’s free home delivery service (Sleights on Tuesdays and Thursdays), but the town centre’s cleverly timed Easter Weekend road marking operation had created such chaos that the buses were almost at a standstill and I had to get a taxi home (£4.70 for 3 miles). Isn’t rural public transport wonderful?

The first Swallow of the year has been seen in Sleights, but sadly not by me and not in my airspace.

16/4/03    Wednesday.    The blob of frogspawn has just hatched! Talking of pondlife, did you see ‘Watchdog’ on BBC TV last night? It was all about a double glazing firm with unhappy customers. You may think its just as well that there are a few reputable and dependable firms in the business – but I couldn’t possible comment.

Flag had his stitches out today and seems to have made a full recovery, but has learned absolutely nothing in the process. Already he has been trying to chase Grey Squirrels and Wood Pigeons off the feeding station, so I think he has condemned himself to spending the rest of his life on a lead. Plus a few more trips every week to run free on the beach, of course.

14/4/03    Monday.    Everest Double Glazing plc came (as arranged) to complete the 11 missing / outstanding items at Groves Dyke, so now it is possible to lock and unlock all of the windows, the big new Venetian blind can and has now been fitted and, when the plaster skimming has dried, the painting of the sitting room and the double bedroom can finally be completed.

Odd that the Managing Director at Everest House in Hertfordshire hasn’t yet replied to (or even acknowledged) my letter of 2/4/03 to him / her… Perhaps addressing it to ‘The Managing Director (Personal and Confidential)’ and sending it by Recorded Delivery has confused their internal postroom?

12/4/03    Saturday.    Re-roofing the kennel gave Flag his first chance in weeks to snoofle about in the woodyard, which he really enjoyed. Otherwise, its still pretty much ‘confined to barracks’ for both of us. Boring.

The Hawthorn and the Sycamore are now in leaf and the first Dandelion, Dog Violet, Ramsom (Wild Garlic) and Lesser Stitchwort have flowered. Still dry but cloudy and cool, so no more frog activity in the pond and only one big mass of frogspawn.

8/4/03    Tuesday.    The patient is getting a bit impatient now, which is probably a good sign. Unless your stitches itch and you can’t scratch them because of the big plastic hood designed to prevent you doing exactly that. Poor Flag, but he is recovering rapidly now.

In the annual Bud Race between the big Leaning Ash and the Major Oak, it would appear that the Ash is going to win. So that means: ‘Ash before Oak, in for a soak’ (as opposed to ‘Oak before Ash, only a splash’). Still and all, there is no sign of any rain of any kind. The rain gauge still sez zero for this month and the bright, sunny days and cold nights continue, but now with a cool breeze which requires something extra on top of the T-shirt.

4/3/03    Friday.    Flag recovering well indoors while I sneaked off up the wood to plant the last of the Living Willow rods, before they take root in the bucket of water! They were going to become a Temple of the Winds, but that sounded a bit too grand so now it is just a Folly and, since it is next to where Flag had his accident, I picked a few strands of his hair off the fence and planted it with the willows and christened it: ‘Flag’s Folly.’

The Wild Cherry (Gean) trees in the wood are all in flower and the path has become a winding yellow carpet of Lesser Celandine. The Plum tree in the orchard at Groves Dyke is now in flower, the tame Daffodils in the gardens are still showing well but the wild Daffs in the Bank Orchard are failing. Geoff and Selina started grass cutting today.

3/4/03    Thursday.    Recovering well, growling at a Gray Squirrel (Tree Rat) on the feeding station this morning and bringing toys from his toy box by afternoon. A Green-veined White Butterfly flew past the CJS office window this afternoon.

2/4/03    Wednesday.    Flag had to have his stitches replaced today as the wounds were not healing properly. First Red Campion in flower today.

 Weather for March 2003 as measured at Groves Dyke: Temperatures: Max: 64 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Centigrade) and Min: 24 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 Centigrade). Current temperature: 46 degrees Fahrenheit (8 Centigrade). Rainfall: Just over 1/2 inch (15mm) in the new rain gauge on the gatepost. Summary: A prolonged spell of bright, calm, dry, sunny days and frosty nights, later replaced with milder weather but still dry and sunny. The Met Office said : ‘The sunniest March on record.’

30/3/03    Sunday.    Clocks ‘Spring forward’ an hour today, so we can all enjoy the light evenings from now until the autumn. Flag and I had a very restful day, sitting in the conservatory, reading all the Sunday papers and watching the natural world go by, including 4 Chaffinches, 4 Dunnocks, 4 Blue Tits, 3 Great Tits, 2 Robins, 2 Long Tailed Tits, 2 Wood Pigeons and 1 Coal Tit in 15 minutes mid-morning. Two Grey Squirrels came perilously close to the conservatory but Flag was content just to observe them without getting excited – at least it took his mind off his itchy stitches. Now that he is feeling a bit brighter he is able to control his large conical plastic head collar more easily and steer it around the room and through doorways without colliding with everything. And he can do an excellent imitation of a floodlight!

29/3/03    Saturday.    A routine check-up at the vet and all seems to be healing well. The continuing bright, dry, sunny weather has brought the Groves Dyke Hawthorn hedge into leaf today and the Groves Bank pond was a froggie frenzy, with 12 or more frogs and the first Frogspawn of the year. The Living Willow from Somerset was delivered on Thursday, so Alan and I rushed up to Aislaby Lodge Cottages to build / plant a Twigwam for them, too. All done in 1 hour. Phew! The Weasel came ahunting in front of my conservatory in late afternoon, but Flag was asleep and missed it.

28/3/03    Friday.    This morning Flag was able to walk out to the yard unaided and eat his breakfast as usual – a vast improvement on the past several days and nights since his horrific accident earlier this week. He was probably chasing a deer and tried to follow it over a barbed wire fence, but only got part way over before getting snagged on the top wire. He was in a pitiful state by the time I found him, unhooked him and rushed him to the vet. Now he is nursing dozens of stitches and a great big Elizabethan collar to stop him from removing them too soon. A drastic reminder to all who are young and have no sense, NOT to tangle with a barbed wire fence!

24/3/03    Monday.    A heavy shower just after dawn has brought the rainfall so far this month to a mere smidgen over 1/2 an inch (sorry, I’m not fully metrified yet). Then the sun came out and stayed out for the rest of the day. By early afternoon the Groves Bank pond was positively purring, with 12 little Froggy noses sticking up out of the water in a chorus of courtship.

A nice letter of apology arrived from Everest Leeds today with an improved offer of compensation…

22/3/03    Saturday. Another lovely day to be in the wood. Alan and I finished pollarding the self-sown trees at the top of the wood, then layered about six of the Hazels in the Second Coup. This is the traditional way of extending a Hazel coppice, bending down a long stem from each stool (root) and pegging it into the ground so that it will strike roots of its own and eventually become an independent stool.

The first Wood Anemone are now in flower in the wood. Then we built another deadwood fence to replace the post and rope fence at the side of the Woodyard. Flag helped by digging an enormous hole. Yes, another one.

21/3/03    Friday. First Chiffchaff of the year singing in the wood. Geoff and Selina, who cut the grass in summer, sawed the firelogs and stacked them neatly. Sadly, all those big, thick logs have sawn down to fill just 1/6th of the woodshed. Still, it was Geoff and Selina and a pint of petrol from the Middle East that did all the hard work, not just me and a bowsaw!

20/3/03    Thursday.    Day One of World War Three?

I moved the thickest Ash logs from the firebreak (too near the wasps’ nest!) to the woodyard for Geoff & Selina to cut up with a chainsaw. Flag helped by digging an enormous hole.

19/3/03    Wednesday. Everest Leeds rang to agree a suitable date to complete the missing bits. Their suggestion of ‘next week’ was very welcome but would have inconvenienced my holiday cottage customers, so I have booked them in for less than a day’s work on 14/4/03. At least this way I can give advance warning to anyone who books that week.

The sun shone all day and the Willow trees (including the Twigwam) are just coming into leaf. Mayfield Road on the outskirts of Whitby is always the first Hawthorn hedge in the area to turn green and this spring is no exception. A Peacock butterfly emerged from its winter hibernation and was feeding on the Primroses on Woodlands Drive, while a Small Tortoiseshell was the first butterfly recorded in Groves Dyke garden this year. I ate my lunch while sitting in the sun in the front garden and listened to the first 5 Frogs purring (why is it called ‘croaking?’) in the Groves Bank pond. SPRING!

18/3/03    Tuesday.    Heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming in the wood for the first time this year. I wonder why they don’t visit the feeding station every day like they used to? Perhaps a reduction in numbers?? Perhaps predation by the increasing numbers of Grey Squirrels??? Perhaps the Whitby Co-op now sells a different flavour of lard???? A Grey Wagtail visited the Groves Bank pond and then explored the woodyard, while a Sparrowhawk soared in a territorial display above the wood.

The head of Everest Double Glazing in Leeds came to negotiate my compensation claim today. I showed him the white cement mixed on the black tarmac parking space, the hole made by the foot through the patio chair, the broken patio paving slab, the 4 missing rubber buffers, the two missing keys, the un-skimmed plaster, the missing internal trim, the warping wood, the excessive mortar outside, the excessive silicon inside, the offset windows, the sheaf of contemporaneous notes of working days / non-working days / telephone calls, the independent building surveyor’s report, etc, etc and he said he would write to me in about ‘two weeks.’ This means, of course, that the ‘4 day job’ that was expected to start on 11th November 2002 and which is still not completely finished, will now be running into its SIXTH month! Still, I am delighted that Groves Dyke Holiday Cottage is now fully habitable again – and it probably does take a long time to accept responsibility for such an extensive catalogue of disasters and to write a suitably apologetic letter…

17/3/03    Monday.    Back home and all the Daffodils around Groves Bank and Groves Dyke are fully out now and looking absolutely magnificent. A trip to Farndale to see the wild Daffs will be required soon, preferably before all this mild, dry weather ends.

11/3/03    Tuesday.    Off to the Lake District for a few days walking. What a strange National Park it is – all their moors are pointed and all their dales are flooded! But they do have Goosanders near Skelwith Bridge, Buzzards and Ravens at Langdale and one or two daffodils at Grasmere. I took a poem from Whitby for William Wordsworth, but he wasn’t at Dove Cottage when I called:

I wandered lonely as a sheep that floats on high over Whitby,

When all at once a collie dog jumped up in the air and bit me.

(With thanks to the Editor of Whitby’s ‘NewsdESK’ newsletter.

8/3/03    Saturday.    Raked the excess pondweed out of the Groves Bank pond and left it to drain on the side. No visible wildlife disturbed and no need to disturb the frogspawn when it arrives, probably in the next few weeks…

Northern Electric’s forestry contractors are due in a week or two to cut back any trees growing under their wires. Alan and I decided to pollard (behead) all the offending self-sown young trees today, so that they are the way I want them and not cut back to ground level by the contractors. This way they will continue to grow and we can continue to crop them for firewood, but they won’t grow tall enough to interfere with the leccy supply. If they were cut back to ground level, the rabbits and the deer would prevent them ever growing into anything more useful than a bush*.

While we were busy doing that, Flag was busy digging. Suddenly he came up to me and I could just hear a faint squeaking noise. Thinking he had injured himself, I examined his mouth and discovered that the injured party was actually the poor Bank Vole he was offering me. I put it out of its misery and praised Flag in a rather half-hearted way. He trotted off happily and carried on digging in the hope of finding another ‘squeaky toy.’

*Talking of whom, the early warning station on the moortop seems rather busy this spring, with lots of people, wagons and mechanical diggers on site. So this is ‘just up-grading the software?’

7/3/03    Friday.    A wet afternoon just to prove that the new rain gauge really works. It does. 1/4 of an inch of rain fell between lunch and tea time, the first recordable rainfall for weeks. Oh good.

6/3/03    Thursday.    One showery day and then back to bright, dry and sunny weather. The new rain gauge hasn’t even registered anything yet for this month – not that I actually want it to rain, you understand! The birds are eating less seed at the feeding station now but the one food which is disappearing faster than anything is the ‘Peanut Cake with Insects’ (mmm, yummy) from the RSPB web shop. This morning I put out a new 1kg block and my bet is that it will last less than a week, but at least all the Long Tailed Tits are looking very well fed!

Daffs continue to bud and flower, together with Snowdrops and Primroses. Crocus is also in flower now and the first Lesser Celandines were flowering yesterday on Woodlands Drive. Arum Lily, sometimes called Lords and Ladies, leaves are appearing in the wood. Dog’s Mercury, an indicator species of Ancient Woodland (pre-1600 AD), is now in drifts under the trees.

A mild, dry, sunny day and a free afternoon was a perfect combination to start sawing up the coppiced Ash we felled recently and stacking it into a new cord to season for next winter’s fuel supply. Flag helped by digging another enormous hole where I didn’t want one, just by the woodyard fence.

4/3/02    Tuesday.    It is actually raining this morning, for the first time in ages – but only a little. Still mild and calm, but now overcast as well.

1/3/03    Saturday.    The new rain gauge is now fixed to the wooden gatepost between Groves Dyke and Groves Bank. The total rainfall for the last week in Feb was less than 1/4 of an inch.

This morning 5 Long Tailed Tit, 4 Blue Tit, 3 Great Tit, 2 Blackbird, 2 Chaffinch, 2 Dunnock, 2 Robin and 1 Coal Tit were seen at the feeding station in 15 minutes. This is fewer birds of fewer species, as might be expected with milder weather and longer days.

The 20 year old coppiced Ash has now all been cut and stacked to season for next winter’s fuel. This winter has been so mild (and the house now so well insulated) that I have often let the wood burning stove go out during the day and only relight it in the evenings, so I may soon have a surplus of firelogs!

Maximum and Minimum temperatures for February 2003 as measured at Groves Dyke were:       Max: 52 degrees Fahrenheit (11 degrees Centigrade) and Min: 18 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 Centigrade). Current temperature: 42 degrees Fahrenheit (5 Centigrade). Early snow soon melted from the lower ground, then a prolonged spell of bright, calm, dry, sunny days and very frosty nights, later replaced with milder weather but still dry and sunny.

27/2/03    Thursday.    More mild, dry, sunny weather. Greenfinch have been ‘sucking their teeth’ (ie singing) more than usual today and one even tried the Niger seed feeder for the first time in weeks. A Siskin, also notable by its absence, appeared today on the Sunflower hearts feeder and a Jay pottered on the grass in the Woodyard. Spring is in the air, as confirmed by a Magpie with a twig in its beak flying over the wood to some (hopefully) distant nest site.

Everest HQ rang today to tell me that Everest Leeds was offering to knock about £500 off my bill by way of compensation. I told them not to be silly, as I had rather more than a 5% discount in mind for the 14 week’s loss of Holiday Cottage income, loss of sleep, loss of weight and loss of temper which their loss of reputation had caused me…

25/2/03    Tuesday.    Mild, dry, sunny weather continues. I think this is the third year in a row that we have had ‘summer’ weather in February, which always begs the question ‘Does this mean that we will get February weather in the summer?’ Isn’t global warming wonderful? Anyway, Everest Double Glazing have finished the final window today – apart from the 5 missing bits which weren’t in the ‘double-checked’ kit. This means that they have taken a mere 4 months to complete a 4 day job which should have been done and dusted by mid-November last year. Now to wait and see just how much they would like to charge me for the privilege of having my windows fitted by ‘the best’…

The Weasel re-appeared in / out / over / under/ through and along the dry stone wall by the bird feeding station this morning. It really does ‘insinuate’ itself through the stonework in the most amazing way and appears to be almost completely boneless. It searched back and forth along the wall, then trotted off across the patio towards the beck. Its intended prey, the Bank Vole, must have been secreted within the tiniest crevice and was seen safe and well later in the day.

22/2/03    Saturday.    This morning was the first time for over a week that I was able to fill the dog dish by dipping it in the pond, without it just going ‘clunk’ on the thick ice.  The weather is now milder but still dry and sunny.

Improved the dog-defences in the yard to stop scavenging hounds from knocking over the flowerpots when trying to hoover under the bird feeding station. Later we cut and stacked some more 20 year old Ash coppice from the fire break above the big orchard. A few of the small ‘wild’ Daffodils in the orchard are just starting to open their flowers, the big ‘tame’ Daffs in the Groves Dyke lawn are already well advanced.

21/2/03    Friday.    Very little frost last night, for the first time in a week, and another bright, dry, sunny day today. The path around the wood is not frozen hard this morning, for the first time in ages, but I still got around without getting muddy because it has just been so dry for so long. I suppose someone will be warning us all about impending water shortages soon…

Everest have just completed 2 days repair work, are working again today and will also be returning on Tuesday.

1/2 Price Special Offer for Late Bookings – now available throughout the year!

16/2/03    Monday.    The pattern of bright, sunny days and cold frosty nights continues, with thick ice covering the Groves Bank pond for nearly a week. The wild birds are in constant attendance at the feeding station, a 15 minute count this morning revealed: Blue Tit 5, Long Tailed Tit 4, Great Tit 4, Robin 3, Chaffinch 3, Blackbird 2, Dunnock 2, Wood Pigeon 2, Collared Dove 1, Coal Tit 1, Marsh Tit 1, Wren 1.

15/2/03    Saturday.    Near the garage we removed the Hawthorn that had grown between the lamp post and the steps, casting shadows just where they weren’t wanted. We also continued cutting the 20 year old Ash stems from the ‘fire break’ above the big orchard, to add to next winter’s firewood supply. The leaning Apple tree was pruned drastically to prevent it toppling onto the main drive. Shouldn’t really be working in the orchard as the Daffodil shoots are well grown and some are already in flower. More Primroses are out and the Dog’s Mercury is flowering, too. Not that you would notice that one without close examination.

14/2/03    Friday.    A bright sunny morning with a hard overnight frost. It was even possible to walk around the wood without getting my wellies muddy! The temperature this morning is 24 degrees F (-5C) but at some time since the beginning of the month it has been down to 20F.

13/2/03    Thursday.    But don’t relax too soon: today I got a letter from Everest Leeds saying ‘The… installation has now been completed, but there is still a balance showing.’ Hard to believe, isn’t it? I think I had better let Everest HQ know. Again.

He said ‘It beggars belief.’ I agreed, but then I have had 4 months of it, he has only had 2!

11/2/03    Tuesday.    A stroll to the end of Whitby’s West Pier is a good way to relax, especially if it is shirt-sleeve weather like today. Five Purple Sandpiper were still roosting in the joints of the stonework on the East Pier. On the West Pier another seven worked their way over the concrete sill just below the link to the pier extension. The tide was well out so any other ‘Purps’ that had been roosting on the piers were probably well scattered along the rocky coastline, feeding while they could before returning to roost at the next high tide.

Well offshore towards Saltwick Nab was a scattered flock of two dozen Eider Duck and beyond them a tight pack of 20 Common Scoter. A Common Seal was loafing in the harbour mouth and a single Black Headed Gull with a completely black head approved of my summer plumage, too.

10/2/03    Monday.    Everest HQ rang this morning and, on their third call, were pleased to be able to tell me that their most experienced team of installers would arrive at Groves Dyke on Wed 19th of February 2003 and would replace the two big replacement windows completely, would replace all the internal joinery on four of the other windows and would have the whole job perfect in two days. Wonderful! Progress at last!! Roll on Friday 21st!!!

9/2/03    Sunday.    The tide was quite high and the beach quite busy with people and dogs. A flock of 50 Oystercatchers circled over the beach at Sandsend and headed inland to some high tide roost on a coastal field. Four Turnstone explored the council car park, feeding on the bits of seaweed hurled over the sea wall by last week’s northerly gales. 300 Lapwing wheeled above the Sleights roundabout as they moved from one field to another.

8/2/03    Saturday.    Continued de-brambling the Groves Bank orchard, cutting back the encroaching hedges, re-staking young fruit trees and felling a couple of Ash stems for next winter’s  firewood.

6/2/03    Thursday.       I left the green of the dale and went for a relaxing drive over the moors to Pickering. The A169 itself is completely clear of snow but the evidence of last week’s blizzards can still be seen. Patchy snow still covers the moortops and a few drifts up to 6 feet high remain banked up on the verges against the roadside hedges and stone walls.

5/2/03    Wednesday.    I have left Everest HQ alone for 2 weeks so that they could sort themselves out but today I gave up waiting hopefully and rang them for a progress report. He said (and I quote) ‘Oh yes, I was hoping our Leeds office would have given me some good news by now…’    I suggested that as there was no point in expecting Everest Leeds to do anything without being nagged at, he would have to chase them up himself, just like I used to do before I lost all confidence in them and decided to deal only with Everest HQ in future! He agreed that ‘two week’s silence is unacceptable’ and also that the job taking ‘four months is unacceptable.’

Just as an experiment, I rang Everest Double Glazing’s national enquiry line and asked if a salesman could come and visit me ‘about some windows.’ An appointment was made for 3pm ‘tomorrow’ but within 2 hours the salesman himself rang to say that he could be with me in just 15 minutes! What a pity that Everest’s Installation and Customer Care departments are not quite as enthusiastic. When I showed him what he had sold me last August, he did have the decency to apologise for the workmanship.

4/2/03    Tuesday.    About 2 inches of snow fell overnight but the sun shone, the temperature rose and by mid-afternoon all the low level snow had melted away again.

3/2/03    Monday.    More snow overnight with about 2 inches lying on the lawns this morning. A fine and sunny day, so almost all the low-lying snow melted away by afternoon but the moortops in general and Goathland in particular are still deep and crisp and uneven. Some snow drifts are several feet deep in places.

Down at sea level Sandsend still bears the signs of the recent northerly gales. The main road through the village is no longer the usual black tarmac colour because now it is covered in a couple of inches of yellow sand, blown (or washed?) off the beach. It was certainly a bit rough last week and I have heard that in Whitby the waves were breaking along the upper deck of the pier extensions!

2/2/03    Sunday.    Today is Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Nation Garden Bird Count Day. It is mild, dry, with 1/8 cloud cover, the snow has all melted and the wind is a Force 3 Westerly. In one hour’s birding from my conservatory the maximum number of each species seen at any one time (including over flights) was: Long Tailed Tit 7, Blue Tit 6, Blackbird 5, Great Tit 5, Chaffinch 4, Greater Black Backed Gull 4, Jackdaw 4, Rook 3, Coal Tit 2, Herring Gull 2, Magpie 2, Marsh Tit 2, Robin 2, Dunnock 1, Nuthatch 1, Kestrel 1, Wren 1. Also Bank Vole 2 and Grey Squirrel (Tree Rat) 1.

There was quite a respectable dawn chorus this morning, with the Great Tit ‘singing’ (sawing!) throughout the morning.

1/2/03    Saturday    Calm, mild and sunny again! The snow on this (south facing) side of the dale has melted but there is still some at the hedge backs on the opposite daleside – just enough to etch the field shapes with white lines. Still some drifts on the moortop which will take a few days to melt away.

The Hazel poles for the new Twigwam at Aislaby Lodge Cottages were carried down to the car park and the rest of the afternoon was spent de-brambling the fruit trees in the Groves Bank orchard. I had intended to strim the orchard this winter, but the daffs are already several inches tall and the first Primroses and Snowdrops are in flower, which means that the next strimming will be in June when the spring flowers have finished and set seed. Which also means that the Wasp nest at the far end will be active again, which is why the orchard didn’t get strimmed properly last summer!

Maximum and Minimum temperatures for January 2003 as measured at Groves Dyke were:       Max: 58 degrees Fahrenheit (14 degrees Centigrade) and Min: 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 Centigrade). Current temperature  41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 Centigrade). A very mild month with a blizzard which closed the roads for a few hours and then took a couple of days to disappear.

31/1/03    Friday.    The blizzards of yesterday were bad enough to close the roads across the moors, leaving England cut off from Whitby for several hours. The problem, as ever, was not the depth of snowfall but rather the gale force winds blowing the snow off miles of open moorland and dumping it in drifts several feet deep at the first fence, ditch or bend in the road. Just the kind of weather to make you wish that you had some decent double glazing.

Today the wind has dropped and the main roads are all passable with care. Another inch of snow has fallen overnight and reveals just how many rabbits hop around the wood every day. No wonder Flag dashes around like an Englishman!

30/1/03    Thursday.    There is an inch of lying snow this morning, with frequent squally snow showers, a blustery North East wind and the temperature hovering around freezing. Between showers the feeding station becomes busy, with the following species recorded in 15 minutes: Long Tailed Tit 6, Great Tit 5, Blackbird 4, Blue Tit 3, Chaffinch 3, Robin 2, Coal Tit 1, Dunnock 1, Marsh Tit 1, Nuthatch 1. One Bank Vole appeared briefly and two flocks of Redwing (about 20 in each) dived into the wood.

29/1/03    Wednesday.    ‘The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow!’ Luckily, being a North wind, it should miss the south-facing Everest Double Glazing Ltd window (which they fitted last month) with the gap which I have stuffed up with a tea towel and weighed down with pebbles. (See 29/12/02).

When there is a lull in the wind I can hear the distant roar of the waves crashing on the shore at Whitby, three miles away – but I havn’t heard a cheep from Everest Double Glazing Ltd…

26/1/03    Sunday.    Ridiculously mild today, so much so that the beach was crowded and my T-shirt  was quite sufficient (and trousers!). It is 58 degrees F outside and the Met Office says that if tomorrow is just a fraction warmer than it will be the UK’s mildest January day ever recorded. Don’t worry, they also said that there will be Arctic winds throughout the UK by the end of the week. So that will be alright then,

25/1/03    Saturday.    A dry, mild, sunny day so Alan and I felled one of the 20 year old Scots Pines which needed thinning to give the neighbouring trees more space. It was the biggest tree dropped so far and quite a challenge with just a bow saw. Once the lop and top had been removed the big stick itself was 12 inches diameter at the base and just a whisker over 30 feet long.

We also carried down the last of the Hazel poles to build another Twigwam at Aislaby Lodge Cottages, then tidied-up the Brambles and fallen branches in the orchard next to Groves Dyke. The Daffodils there are up to 6 inches tall and a few are in bud, some Snowdrops are just opening and the Pussy Willow are well out.

23/1/03    Thursday.    I have calmed down a little now, so I rang Everest Double Glazing HQ to discuss the situation with someone in their national customer care department. I am assured that all will be well and I would like to think that they are right. I still have a little confidence left in their national HQ…

22/1/03    Wednesday.    Back to mild and showery weather and once again the path around the wood is muddy and slippery. My friendly neighbourhood Stoat reappeared this morning to enliven my breakfast. This time it was hunting (not dancing), all around the woodyard, then onto the dog lawn, along the hedge to the feeding station, over the dry stone wall, across the patio, within feet of the conservatory, up the steps, along the back of the pond, into the water spout and reversed out again, up the other steps, around the flower pots, down the steps, over the lawn to the beck, up the beck, around the stone seat, across to the woodyard and back into the wood. I am delighted to report that this time he didn’t join me for breakfast.

It is now 2 weeks since I last spoke to Everest Double Glazing Ltd and I am sure that they have been very busy re-making the two big windows for Groves Dyke, ready to fit them in the very near future and that they will contact me any day now to let me know exactly when…

Yes! There has been a letter from the Leeds office of Everest Double Glazing  today. It sez ‘Since the work is substantially completed* [my italics], we would ask that you make payment of 80% of the outstanding sum, retaining the remainder until the work has been completed… We hope that you will see this as a fair compromise…’

In a word? ‘NO!’

*Does this mean that Everest Double Glazing Ltd thinks that a job is ‘substantially completed’ when only 1 out of the 7 Everest replacement windows has been fitted correctly and of the remaining six Everest windows, 2 have yet to be ripped out and replaced completely and the remaining 4 still have to have the internal joinery ripped out and replaced properly and then all the internal plasterwork has to be made good?

This appears to be a whole new kind of Customer Care and one with which I am not familiar – I think it is high time I checked with Everest Double Glazing Ltd’s head office to see if they have changed their Customer Care policy recently…

18/1/03    Saturday.    A calm, dry, sunny and mild day, perfect for spending several hours finishing the pollarding of the second Hazel coup. Now all the singled Hazel stems have been sawn-off about 5 feet above the ground and all the re-growth (from just below the cut) will be well above deer grazing height. While I was doing that, Flag was excavating nearby for something very large and very desirable, probably a Bronze Age settlement or maybe a Roman Villa. I think he is going to be an archaeologist when he grows up. No, that should be ‘if’.

Some of the Hazels are carrying catkins already and down in Groves Dyke  orchard the Daffodil shoots are 6 inches tall. Crazy weather!

15/1/03    Wednesday.    The new curtains for the new, bigger windows in Groves Dyke will be ready for hanging next week – pity the windows won’t be. And as for Everest Double Glazing Ltd…

The temperature is still in the high 50s F and its dry, sunny and windy. Ideal drying weather and it is now possible to walk around the wood without sliding about in the mud. A baby Bank Vole has appeared at the feeding station, so the Weasel and the Stoat didn’t kill everything after all.

13/1/03    Monday.    Ridiculously mild today at 50 degrees F. Yesterday I finished treating the rafters in the Stickery for woodworm. Not a nice job but it had to be done. Now I can start moving the blanks (potential walking sticks which were cut last winter and have been seasoning up in the wood for a year) to the Stickery and store them in the rafters until required…

11/1/03    Saturday.    During ‘Ten O’clocks’ (a bit like ‘Elevenses’ but earlier) in the conservatory we were lucky enough to see a Weasel insinuating itself along the stone wall behind the pond – which probably explains why the Bank Vole hasn’t been seen today nor yesterday. A few minutes later we were even luckier to see a Stoat as well. (Just remember the old rhyme ‘A Weasel is weasily told from a Stoat, what is stoatally different’). It dashed across the woodyard before dashing  back again, its black-tipped tail held up in the air. Back and forth it went, leaping and circling for no apparent reason, but actually ‘dancing’ to attract and mesmerise the nearby Rabbits.

When the moment was right we were lucky enough to see it change tactics and make a dash for a big Rabbit. It chased it down the path from the wood to the car park, then back up through the Willow arch, then down again, then up again before catching it in full view on the path. We were then unlucky enough to hear the Rabbit squeal and watch it struggle, breaking away occasionally before being recaptured. The drama continued to unfold in the woodyard itself. Every time there was a silence we would say ‘Thank goodness, it’s finally killed it at last’, only to be riveted by yet more squeals and yet more struggles. It happened time after time, again and again. It carried on and on. And on. And on, as we watched helplessly. There was no point in me dashing out to scare the Stoat away and kill the Rabbit because that Rabbit would still be dead, the Stoat would still be hungry and some other poor Rabbit would be eaten instead. So we just went on watching and listening in horror. It was only after a full 15 minutes of first hand British nature ‘red in tooth and claw’ that we realised it was finally over – and that we had been mesmerised and incapacitated every bit as much as the Rabbit.

After lunch Alan and I pollarded more Hazels in the Second Coup. The same Coup that Alan and I had singled in January 2002 and the same coup that Anthea, Alan and I had opened-up in 2001 and the same coup that Anthea and I had planted for the wildlife in 1982. And that included Stoats.

8/1/03    Wednesday.    All the low-lying snow and ice has melted away last night. Today is milder (40 degrees F), calm and showery with bright sunny intervals. A feeding station bird count from 0915 to 0930 showed: Long Tailed Tit 9; Blackbird 6; Blue Tit 5; Chaffinch 4; Great Tit 3; Dunnock 2; Marsh Tit 2; Robin 2; Marsh Tit 1; Wood Pigeon 1 – and no Bank Vole.

Now that the new year has begun and both Groves Dyke and Groves Bank kitchen windows look out onto the new (minor) feeding station with Groves Coppice beyond, I will spend the next few days adding ‘K3’ to the Bird List for all those species seen or heard from the Kitchen window in 2003.

7/1/03    Tuesday afternoon and no letter from Everest Double Glazing Ltd!  Perhaps I am only one of several disappointed and furious customers? Perhaps there are so many that it takes several days to contact them all?? I rang them to enquire and was informed that the windows in the dining room and the sitting room are now being completely re-manufactured and when ready (in about 3 weeks I believe) the two big windows which Everest Double Glazing Ltd made and fitted last month will be ripped out and they will install these new ones – properly this time, I hope. Also the wooden linings of some windows upstairs will be replaced by an Everest joiner who has done it before. I did ask if he thought NOT keeping the customer informed of progress was a good example of good Customer Care but I am not sure that I got a proper answer…

A bit more snow last night but thanks to the ‘warming’ effect of the North Sea (ha!) the temperature in the dale is still hovering around zero, so it thaws a bit every day and refreezes every night. The ice on the pond is only 1/4 of an inch thick. The moortop, on the other hand, is much colder and still covered in snow, although the roads have been kept clear throughout.

6/1/03    Monday evening. Strange that Everest Double Glazing Ltd hasn’t phoned their most disappointed and most furious customer, now that their Leeds office is back at work today. Perhaps they are writing me a nice letter of apology with some useful suggestions about how to rescue the situation? It will probably arrive by Special Delivery tomorrow…

Flag bumped into an old acquaintance this morning – literally. He flushed a Roe Deer, which ran for the pignet fence around the wood but instead of leaping over it effortlessly, this time it blundered into it, bounced off and fell on the ground. Following on too close and too fast (like most modern drivers), he blundered into it, somersaulted over it and landed in an untidy heap just beyond. The deer recovered first, got up, doubled-back into the wood and was gone, with neither apparently any the worse for this close encounter of the frost kind.

5/1/03    Sunday. The temperature is still hovering around freezing and the feeding station is even busier. A 15-minute count produced: Long Tailed Tit 8, Blue Tit 4, Chaffinch 4, Great Tit 3, Marsh Tit 2, Blackbird 2, Dunnock 2, Coal Tit 1, Nuthatch 1. Bank Vole 1.

The only berries remaining now are occasional Rose Hips in the wood, the 2 Cotoneaster bushes outside my sitting room window (11 Blackbirds and a Bank Vole in the branches at one stage) and the Guelder Roses in Groves Dyke lawn.

4/1/03    Saturday. Half an inch of snow this morning, with wintery showers of rain, sleet or snow throughout the day. Alan, Callum and I made a serious start on improving the new steps in the wood, with three different versions now under trial to see which is most cost effective. We also pollarded (decapitated) a token Hazel in the Second Coup now that a) we can get there more safely and b) there has been a proper frost for the first time this winter. This is the start of pollarding all the Second Coup, just as Anthea and I did the First Coup several years ago and which is now coppicing very successfully.

3/1/03    Friday. The rain finally stopped this morning and the sun shone brightly for a while – and then the sleet began and then it snowed! There are 120 Flood Warnings in England and Wales today. A good frost tonight will help by freezing the sodden peat on the moortops and giving the drains, becks and rivers a chance to get back to normal levels. I walked around the wood for the first time in several days, but the paths are treacherous and every new step is a potential mudslide.

I wonder how well incomplete Everest Double Glazing Ltd installations cope with  snow? Still, their Leeds office will be back to work on Monday and I am sure they can’t wait to contact me…

2/1/03    Thursday. ‘By heck, but we’ve ‘ad some watter!’ The 8″ diameter dog dish with 1.5″ sides was full to the brim this morning and full again by tea time. I know its not the correct diameter for a rain gauge and it wasn’t poured into a measuring cylinder, but I reckon there must have been well over 2″ of rain in the last 24 hours. Certainly the new 15″ diameter pipe under the main drive could only just take the flow from the ditch through Groves Dyke orchard and the grid had to be checked every few hours to remove blockages of twigs and leaves. Similar checks were needed on the beck through Groves Bank garden. What perfect weather for an incomplete Everest Double Glazing Ltd installation. Still, it is the pantomime season…

1/1/03    Wednesday. New Year’s Day. Mild, grey, showery and calm. A 1045 – 1100 am bird count of the feeding station produced: Long Tailed Tit 6, Blue Tit 5, Chaffinch 4, Marsh Tit 3 (highest ever recorded here), Great Tit 2, Robin 2, Blackbird 1, Coal Tit 1, Dunnock 1. And not a single Bank Vole (probably overdid the celebrations last night).