News Blog 2005

December 2005 Weather Summary:

Max 12º C (54º F), Min – 7º C (19º F). Total Rainfall 60cms (2¼ inches). Actual temperature at 0930 hours on 1 Nov 2005: 5º C (41º F). First mild and dry, then  cold with up to 2 inches of level snow just after Christmas. All thawed by New Year.

31 Dec 2005    Pollarded the rest of the 3rd coop and also the self-sown ash below the high current electricity cables at the very top of Bank field. A very enjoyable time was had by both man and dog, then home for a late night to watch the firework display at the London Eye. No I don’t know why Flag is terrified of the occasional firework going off half a mile away in Sleights, but still doesn’t mind 7 tons of them going off on the telly… Happy New Year to everyone (except for their petrified pets)!

30 Dec 2005    More snow overnight with strengthening winds during the morning, so I settled for a mainly indoor day. I bet those 200 motorists trapped in their cars by snow drifts on the road between York and Hull wish they had done the same!

Down here in the bottom of the dale it is just blustery and snowing lightly (from the west this time), but up on the moortop, where there is no shelter, any strong winds soon whip up the lying snow across several square miles and blow it into drifts. The police continue to advise that no one should go anywhere. By early afternoon the thaw had begun, the icicles on the flume had gone and the Groves Dyke snowman is looking a bit sad and droopy. Sub-zero temperatures are forecast again for tonight, then rain as a warm front crosses the country.

The snow on the drive had melted enough by mid-morning to take the car out and go shopping in Whitby. Wow! The Co-op car park was full to capacity, with a ‘one out – one in’ system in operation, just like mid-August! Hardly a spare trolley to be found, aisles full of people, shelves emptying rapidly and PA calls for ‘All check-out trained staff to the check-outs, please.’ No, this is NOT panic buying before a bank holiday, it’s just the first time for several days that very large numbers of rural residents have been able to get their cars out to go shopping.

29 Dec 2005    The drive is still too slippery for vehicles to get all the way up to the house, so I just walked to the village for meat and groceries. No danger of starving over the New Year bank holiday now! The main roads, buses and trains are all running normally, so Whitby and beyond are only a bus stop away. The sun is shining, there is no wind and everything is very pretty. Spent some time with the camera, just in case this is the last snow ever seen here, then started to dismantle the big old apple tree which keeled over during the summer, while my faithful companion went off to excavate further up the wood. By 3pm the sun was weakening and so low that the cold began to bite and we soon headed back for the great indoors and all that lovely dry firewood from last winter.

A 15-minute bird count from my conservatory gave: chaffinch 4, blackbird 3, blue tit 3, great tit 3, coal tit 1, greenfinch 1, marsh tit 1, robin 1 (1005-1020 hours, overnight min of 22ºF, now very cold, 3/8 cloud, calm and dry). A bank vole appeared briefly and 9 long tailed tit arrived too late for a mention.

28 Dec 2005    Snow fell overnight and is still falling in the form of wintry showers, some quite heavy. My pond is frozen over again, with a layer of hailstones on top of the ice. Bits of grass still show through the snow on the lawns, but this could be because the grass is so long, not because the snow layer is so thin! Both the milkman and the postman had to walk up the drive this morning. The moor roads are open but police are warning everyone to ‘just stay at home’. Small white clouds scuttle westward against a near black sky and the snowflakes fall diagonally in the easterly wind, until the low winter sun shines again between the showers.

Flag insisted on being in the great outdoors (digging holes) while I settled for a day of genteel firelog sawing and stacking under the pole barn. When the snow eased and the children from Groves Dyke began to build a snowman, Flag immediately  abandoned the wood and its wildlife, and spent the rest of the morning ‘helping’ with the snowman instead. Far more fun, he said!

27 Dec 2005    Christmas has been survived and even enjoyed. Snow was forecast for last night but it seems to have gone to East Anglia and Kent instead, leaving Sleights with yet more dry, mild and sunny weather. The rain gauge reads 1¾ inches so far this month.

The Third Coop, singled last winter, was polled this morning. Or, to put it another way, the third coup (Norman French meaning ‘blow’) of coppiced (cut back every few years to encourage the growth of vigorous young stems) hazel trees was pollarded (truncating the trunk several feet above the ground to prevent grazing animals, in this case roe deer, from eating the young shoots) before noon today. And very enjoyable it was, too. Several long, whippy rods were left tall so they can be bent over and pegged into the ground to ‘layer’ and create new hazel trees to extend the coop, but this procedure is best done in the spring.

A goodly collection of cut hazel poles is now leaning against a nearby tree to dry out, lose weight and then be carried down the hill to the woodyard later in the year. Another nearby tree is now dangling with potential Unique Walking Sticks and (a new line, this) Harry Potter-Esk wands (I suspect that ‘Harry Potter’ is copyright, so these are just ‘in the style of’). The firewood and walking sticks will take a year to season, but the wands may be ready for this summer. I wonder if the Grosmont to Pickering steam railway, used in the film, would sell them? They already sell locally made traditional heather besoms – better known as Harry Potter broomsticks – which is a real bonus for the economy of one local farm!

23 Dec 2005    There were 3 roe deer in the field just above the wood this morning, grazing amongst the thistles and ignoring me completely (Flag being both unaware and out of sight in the long grass). As I got closer and closer, their nerve finally failed them at about 20 yards and they ambled off up the hill, only to be joined by another 2 which I hadn’t even noticed.

Having ignored the poor dog for most of the last week, we went for a good stroll along the beach at Sandsend. Mild weather, bright sunshine but a bit of a cool breeze. We passed an elderly couple on their folding chairs, with their brightly coloured windbreak tapped into the sand. She was reading a magazine and he was admiring the view – in  December.

At Sandsend the Sandside Cafe (the big wooden shed just above the beach) was open for business and fairly busy with strollers – in late December. Every single outside table was taken, bar one, so I grabbed it and enjoyed a coffee and a lovely slice of homemade walnut cake (Flag had the walnut, of course – it’s in his contract). And what was I wearing? Short sleeved shirt and fleece (unzipped) – on Christmas Eve Eve! Crazy weather.

Driving down through Sleights in late afternoon, after a bit of last minute dashing around, visiting, buying even more food, buying even more presents, etc, I noticed poor old Santa Claus, in full regalia, waiting at the bus shelter. It’s not just builders, you know, you just can’t get reliable reindeer either…

I wish you a Happy Humbug and a peaceful New Year!

22 Dec 2005    Finished! The last few little jobs were completed by lunchtime, which gave time (just!) to rearrange the furniture back to normal (Isn’t ‘normal’ a nice word? I like ‘normal’.) and finish cleaning. In fact, the last bit of dysoning in the conservatory (or ‘sawmill’ as it has been known for the past few weeks) was still in progress as the guests arrived for Christmas week! Now that is what I call ‘cutting it a bit fine’ and I promise I will never do it again. In fact, I will never do any more building work again. Ever.

Conclusion: The new kitchen is FAR better and seems to be far bigger, too. It was well worth doing, but – there is no point is allowing 6 weeks for a builder to complete a job, if most of the work is left until the last 3 or 4 days and then completed at a frantic pace, with late night and early morning sessions to make up all the time lost by just starting with the occasional day’s work here and the occasional day there. ‘I like a deadline, it makes you concentrate’ said the builder…

21 Dec 2005    The builder, his wife, the joiner, the plumber and I worked feverously all day to get everything ready for the Christmas guests to arrive at 3pm. In fact, they aren’t due until tomorrow afternoon, but I didn’t tell him that – and it did have the desired effect! What a pity the gas inspector decided to put a cat amongst the pigeons by announcing about 2.30pm ‘I shall have to disconnect the gas because the under floor ventilator no longer meets the new regulations.’

WHAT?!?

The solution was to take the plumber off the washing machine fitting and put him onto drilling a nice new 5 inch diameter (97 sq cms) ventilator through the outside wall (with draught excluder) before the gas man would sign-off the annual service and inspection. Just what we needed, thank-you British Gas and the Health and Safety Executive: ruin the cavity wall insulation, increase the heat loss, use more gas, pay for using more gas, increase British Gas profits, increase fossil fuel consumption and increase Climate Change. Good, innit?

It has been mild and sunny today. So mild, in fact, that I noticed the first policeman in summer plumage (shirt sleeves – short – and stab vest) on foot patrol in Whitby. Crazy clothing for North Yorkshire in late December, but at least we now know that British Gas and the HSE are doing their bit to make it even crazier…

20 Dec 2005    The builder’s bits were removed from the dining room (some via the window onto the patio!), the room cleaned and the carpet fitters were able to do  exactly what it says on their van. The dining room has had a bit of paintwork touched-up and now looks very smart. The kitchen is (almost) finished and now there is just the kitchen door to re-hang, the new fridge-freezer to move into the old larder, the washing machine to move into the new utility room – and an entire hall and conservatory-full of builder’s other bits to remove. Once that has all been done, THEN the cleaning can begin…

Bright, sunny and less cold today with some rain forecast for tonight (the rain gauge is still at 1½ inches of rain so far this month) and my pond has thawed completely.

19 Dec 2005    The electrician finished wiring-up the new kitchen sockets this morning, then the builder and joiner spent all afternoon and a good part of the evening making good the skirting and door frames, changing the kitchen door to open into the hall, etc, etc. Why do it gradually over 6 weeks, when you can wait until the last 3 days and then really get a move on with it?!? The carpet fitter is due (again) tomorrow, having had to admit defeat on his last two appointments because there were still too many bits of wood, tools, bits of kitchen units, etc, etc all over the floor! Poor man! Tomorrow morning I WILL clear the dining room floor ready for his 3rd attempt to re-lay the carpet – even if it means piling up any remaining ‘work in progress’ in the hall instead…

There has been some light snow on the moortops (there wasn’t any in Cumbria nor the Pennines 2 days ago) but all the roads are open as normal. The temperature is just above freezing and my pond is still frozen over. Several smokey fires smouldered on Egton Moor as the shepherd / gamekeeper swiddened the tough old heather to rejuvenate the roots into producing the tender young shoots required by both sheep and grouse.

18 Dec 2005    The builder spent much of today working on various bits and bobs (that will teach me to go on holiday again and imagine that it will all be finished on my return)! The kitchen units and worktops are now in place, the tiling is finished, the appliances are in position and the new kitchen looks and feels a LOT bigger.

A walk around the wood revealed not a single holly berry, not even in Hollywood itself, but a visit to this almost inaccessible area showed that the electricity company’s forest contractors had been in recently and felled half a dozen 15-year old ash trees under the ‘leccy wires. They are just the right diameter for fire logs (c3 to 6 inches) and will do very nicely thank-you – once I have carried them down to the woodyard, sawn and stacked them for a year or two to season.

9 Dec 2005    Hooray! The new kitchen floor tiles went down today (and they do look rather nice) and I bought the new fridge – freezer (A-rated for energy efficiency, of course), which will be delivered next week… Progress!

6 Dec 2005    The final coat of paint was added today, while Flag and I had a very pleasant stroll on the beach at Sandsend. The rain has stopped (1 inch so far this month), the temperature has risen (only one fleece required on the beach) and the sun is shining brightly (wide brimmed hat needed to keep the low sun out of my eyes).

At the moment the tiler is waiting for the electrician to finish before he can start, the electrician is waiting for the joiner, the joiner is waiting for the plumber, the plumber is waiting for the gas man, the gas man is waiting for the painter and the painter is waiting for the plaster to dry and the plaster is slow to dry because the central heating is off and the central heating is off because the kitchen and dining room radiators are being altered and the plumber is waiting for the painter, etc, etc. Don’t panic! There are some ‘bits of work’ to do tomorrow, the new floor tiles go down the day after and then the joiner can get on with fitting the new kitchen units, which the plumber and gas man can then connect, so that the tiler can finish the job off, then the carpet fitter is already booked to re-lay the dining room carpet and then all the furniture can be returned to its rightful place – and the cleaning can begin…

A 15 minute count (0915 – 0930) revealed: blue tit 4, chaffinch 4, blackbird 3, coal tit 1, dunnock 1, great tit 1, marsh tit 1. A baby bank vole also put in a brief appearance.

British Gas have been concerned about how little gas Groves Dyke has been using over the last year – and then discovered that their meter had stopped entirely! Now, I accept that the house hasn’t been using absolutely no gas so at all so far this year, but it seems that it has used so little gas that the poor old gas meter just ground to a halt! They were a bit suspicious about what I might have been up to, until I explained about the super insulation of both loft and cavity walls, the double glazing and the solar panels. They now accept that it ‘may just have slowed down  a bit too much’ and planned to replace it today, until they realised that it would be easier to wait until all the kitchen work is completed. How very similar to the electricity inspector’s visit some years ago, when their computer flagged-up that I ‘just wasn’t using enough electricity’!

The solar panels were installed at Groves Dyke in 1991 by Solarec (Yorkshire) and since then have clocked up 22,926 hours of ‘solar gain’ (ie ‘free’ hot water). This is just over 25% of all the daylight hours (61,170 hours) available in the past 14 years. The solar system cost about £3000 in 1991 and has had just one 10-year routine maintenance check in all that time.

Groves Bank’s solar panels were installed by the same company in 1994 at a similar  price and have now clocked up 18,648 hours of solar gain in the 48,180 hours of daylight over these 11 years, again working for about 25% of the available daylight hours. So why do we need to build more nuclear power stations when even in North Yorkshire there is more than enough solar energy to worry both the electricity and the gas company? Could it be that they may have some kind of vested interest in keeping energy demand high, so that all their shareholders make a good profit every year, for years to come? Ah, yes – it’s those good old Market Forces again!

4 Dec 2005    The painter returned to add another coat of paint to the new kitchen, while dog and I pottered in the wood: he looking for anything that did not require any more digging and I looking for anything that did not require bending my by now rather stiff elbow!

3 Dec 2005    Cool, grey, damp and drizzly today, so I drove the car out of the pole barn, set up the saw house and spent the morning under cover with the big bow saw and the big pile of poles. By lunchtime Flag had got really involved with a new excavation nearby and I had got really involved with an ever growing wall of firelogs – so we continued there all afternoon as well. By dusk Flag was barely visible behind a mound of freshly dug soil and I was barely visible behind a wall of freshly sawn logs. The saw horse was removed, the car replaced, the dog washed and the sawyer bathed and both one man and his dog had a great day and considered that the pole barn was well and truly christened today.

2 Dec 2005    The painter started work today on the new kitchen, now that the plaster has dried (the cold weather didn’t help it to dry out over the past couple of weeks). Painting should be finished by the middle of next week, then the new floor tiles go down and then the new kitchen units can be mantled (opposite of dismantled)… I hope it all goes to schedule as the carpet un-fitter has been booked to relay the dining room carpet 2 weeks from today!

November 2005 Weather Summary:

Max 17º C (64º F), Min – 5º C (23º F). Total Rainfall 108cms (4¼ inches). Actual temperature at 0930 hours on 1 Nov 2005: 6º C (44º F). First a mild and windy month, then wet and then a cold snap towards the end.

30 Nov 2005    Above freezing again. Not warm, but at least it’s less cold than a few days ago. The sun shone weakly as Flag started a new excavation in Bank Orchard, while I just sawed up the fallen oak limb from earlier this summer. This was the second case of Sudden Limb Drop from the General Oak (just a little less senior than the Major Oak). On the first occasion the falling limb snapped off a sound limb on its way down, so the running total is 3 fallen limbs from just 2 cases of SLD – which is itself usually an act of desperation by the tree to reduce water loss in times of severe drought. I also collected the very first crop from the young medlar tree which we planted there about 10 years ago. ‘Ripe’ may not be the correct word, but they have now been ‘bletted’ (ie softened) by the first hard frost of the winter, which (apparently) makes them as near edible as they are ever likely to get! With a total crop of just 8 fruits, the culinary possibilities seem a bit limited…

Yesterday the road from Scarborough to Whitby was snow covered and only just ‘passable with care’ and by evening the temperature had dropped enough for screen wash (even with antifreeze in) to just freeze solid on contact with the windscreen. Nasty. The Whitby to Scarborough road even made the evening TV News, with a lovely shot of the RAF Fylingdales early warning station on a snow-covered moortop.

Also on the news: It seems the UK is going to rely on more nuclear power stations to produce our electricity and ‘reduce our CO2 emissions in future’. Except they won’t, of course, because all you can do with nuclear power is produce electricity and electricity power generation is not the main contributor to our rising CO2 levels.

The main culprits are actually: 1. Road traffic (why are there more gas guzzling 4x4s within the M25 than in the rest of the UK put together? It must be all those really steep mountainous roads in Greater London and all those really deep flowing fords across the River Thames, I suppose. And why, with the purest drinking water in the world, do we really need to send 42 tonne lorry loads of bottled Scottish water to England and then send a different fleet of wagons carrying English bottled water to Scotland? It must be urgently, though, as all those wagons hurtle up and down the motorways at 80 mph!) and 2: Air traffic (can those ‘silly money’ air fares be anything to do with the fact that there is no tax of any sort on aviation fuel, so that we can all fly off to the sun and get our annual dose of skin cancer for next to nothing? Just think of all the money we’ve saved!) and 3: Wasting energy eg heating poorly insulated buildings (we don’t give elderly people properly insulated houses to live in, we just dole out winter heating allowances year after year so that they can continue to pump more and more energy into cold houses full of draughts, thus killing far more of our elderly in the UK every winter than in any Scandinavian country) or leaving electrical equipment on Stand-By (which alone would cut our CO2 emissions by 20%, if we just walked all the way across the room and turned the TV or computer OFF for a change)! No, far easier to leave it all on Stand-By all the time and then drive across the suburbs – probably in a 4×4 – and pay to join an expensive gym where we can exercise by running on an electrically driven conveyor belt, instead. Isn’t it a good thing that we are the most intelligent species on the world? The dolphins would probably have made a real mess of it by now…

Still, who wants to save a mere 33% of our UK energy requirements by using a bit of common sense occasionally (switch it Off; insulate buildings properly; reduce consumption generally, and repair, reuse or recycle things before we just throw them away and go buy another one), when we can always build a few more heavily subsidised and completely uneconomic nuclear power stations to produce even more toxic waste (which we still don’t know how to dispose of safely) which our children’s children will have to guard for the next 240,000 years (even longer than human civilisation has already existed), while at the same time creating vast amounts of CO2 in their construction / maintenance / running / decommissioning AND at the same time provide lots of terrorists with lots more really interesting targets, in order to produce even more electricity – which we will continue to waste 33% of? Good, innit?

NB: Niall has now dismounted from his hobby horse and it is safe to come out from behind your chair again. The Energy Saving Trust (www.est.org.uk) has lots of information and suggestions, plus a collection of all the best energy saving offers from various electricity companies, etc.

28 Nov 2005    Another ¾ of an inch of wintry showers fell last night, bringing the rain gauge up to 4 inches. It is 5º F above freezing but feels raw and cold. The ditch I cleared out yesterday is flowing brink-full today and the beck is as high as I have seen it since the Stickery flooded in the spring. There is some water from the repaired culvert seeping out through the retaining wall, but hopefully this is an acceptable, if disappointing, leak.

27 Nov 2005    Occasional wintry showers but mainly bright and sunny. Any sleet or hail that falls just melts on contact. A heron flew off reluctantly from the ground near the viewpoint at the top of the wood.

Another ½ inch of rain has fallen since I came home. A 15-minute bird count from my conservatory gave: chaffinch 7, blackbird 4, blue tit 3, great tit 3, wood pigeon 3, coal tit 2, robin 2, bull finch 1, dunnock 1 and kestrel 1. A single bank vole also appeared under the feeders. Shortly after the count period ended, 2 marsh tits and a sparrow hawk decided to make a belated appearance, but I shan’t even mention them. (7/8 cloud, showery, raw and calm, 1020 – 1035 hours).

Leafing today, with armfuls of fallen leaves to sweep or rake and then carry away. Clearing the fallen leaves from the ditch is best done by walking slowly downstream (in wellies, of course!) and pushing wodges of soggy leaves into temporary dams, before lifting them aside with one boot while balancing precariously on the other. Flag seemed to enjoy this even more than I did – still, it is an opportunity to get muddy and wet at the same time!

25 Nov 2005    A few days in the Lake District were very enjoyable. Cold, but enjoyable – and this time it was dry (for a change)! There was no snow in Cumbria, no snow on the Pennines and none until I got to the highest bits of the North York Moors, where only a light dusting remained.

The rain gauge now shows 2¾ inches so far this month.

17 Nov 2005    This morning the lawns and the roof of the pole barn were white with frost, but the bright sun soon cleared it all away. The plasterer and his mate were back again today for more ‘dotting and dabbing’ in the kitchen and larder, then a general tidy-up before quitting time.

Flag and I flushed the first woodcock of the winter from the top of the wood this morning.

The grass cutting gang from Scarborough Borough Council gave the verges on Whitby’s Mayfield Road and The Switchbacks their final mow of the season (mid-November but it was still growing) while North Yorkshire County Council lorries whizzed past, gritting the roads for another frost tonight – never, Never, NEVER have I seen or even heard of both events happening in the same place at the same time! Global warming, climate change, climate chaos – or what?

Talking of climate chaos, the Loss Adjustors’ letter arrived this morning to say that they had approved all the expenditure over the last few months on my flooded Stickery, and that a cheque for just over £8000 would soon be on its way – thank goodness!

16 Nov 2005    First wintry shower of the season, with a slight scattering of hail stones on the road just outside Whitby. It was only when I got to Sandsend and found  very little beach to walk on, that I realised the Northerly airflow carrying those wintry  showers had actually been strong Northerly winds and had whipped up a big sea with hundreds of white horses galloping full tilt for the shore. On what little sand there was, I managed to walk Flag around the 5 turnstones and 6 ringed plovers (they had quite enough to contend with, without being forced to take to the air unnecessarily!) until one of those big white horses came and took his tennis ball away. ‘Fear not’ I said, ‘For now I always carry a spare’ and we continued merrily on our way – until the second ball was washed away as well. Flag was keen to go after it, but I persuaded him not to (with difficulty).

By tea time the plasterer had finished day one of sheeting and skimming the exposed brickwork and the construction phase now looks well advanced.

14 Nov 2005    First frost of the winter last night, with ice on the gate and the car windscreen at 2230, but this morning it was all gone, the sun was out and the air temperature was notably cooler. Perhaps autumn has finally arrived – now that the trees have lost most of their leaves!

The plasterer is due on Wednesday to finish off the walls, then the new kitchen floor tiles will be laid…

A green woodpecker flew out of the pole barn as I drove the car in. I think we both looked quite surprised.

13 Nov 2005    Over night rain (now up to 1¾ inches so far this month) but bright, dry, sunny and mild this morning. Fifteen minutes recording at the feeding station revealed: Chaffinch 5, Great Tit 3, Blue Tit 2, Coal Tit 2, Dunnock 2, Blackbird 1, Greenfinch 1, Marsh Tit 1,  Robin 1, Wood Pigeon 1 and Bank Vole 1 (0945 – 1000 hours, 3/8 cloud cover and Force 2 Easterly wind). A sparrowhawk swooped in just too late for inclusion, and a skein of 90 geese gabble ratcheted their way south across the dale.

Having de-brambled the line of the drain, I continued work in that area just in case the digger turned up. But, surprise, surprise, it didn’t. So I de-brambled the old hedge between Dyke orchard and the pole barn, and still the digger didn’t show up. Then I decided to remove all the long redundant barbed wire entanglement from the old hedge as well – which seemed like a very appropriate thing to be doing at 11 am on Remembrance Sunday.

12 Nov 2005    A fine, dry and sunny day to do 3 loads of washing and drying (mostly wet and muddy dog towels!) and to carry down a few more firelogs. The paths are still too wet and slippery for the Chinese transport system, so back to the ‘one log in each hand’ method. This was soon abandoned in favour of opening up the next section of the ditch behind Dyke orchard, just in case a different dinky digger (with its own driver) turns up tomorrow…

11 Nov 2005    A day of rest, perhaps to let the mortar on the new lintel set?

10 Nov 2005      This bright, mild and sunny morning a wasp flew in through the open bathroom window and then, luckily, flew out again. Thinking of which, the leaning ash tree is completely naked now (its leaves having fallen this autumn without changing colour) while the major oak and its fellow officers are semi-naked, following the strong winds. Only the smaller and the lower down in the dale trees are still fully clothed, still waiting for the first frost.

Plumber and brickie completed the first fix plumbing (including my laundry, thank goodness) and the loose plaster removal and tidy up by lunchtime.

9 Nov 2005    The early electrician catches the chance to get on unhindered before anyone else arrives and, when the brickie does arrive, the new kitchen counter is built. Here endeth the destruction stage and the construction stage hath begun…

Heavy overnight rain has brought the rain gauge up to 1¼ inches so far this month and the River Esk is running high – but still my beck has hardly reached more than a trickle, so the Stickery flood relief work has still to be seriously tested. Bright, dry and sunny all day, but a few degrees colder when we walked / ran (ie: I walked and Flag ran) on the beach at Sandsend.

8 Nov 2005    Today the builder built, the brickie bricked, the plumber plumbed and the electrician did what electricians do and by the end of the day the ceiling props were up, the new lintel was in, the wall between the kitchen and dining room was down (as planned) and the first fix plumbing was completed and nobody had got in anybody’s way. Much.

It rained hard from mid-afternoon onwards and throughout much of the night.

7 Nov 2005    Today the plumber, the builder and I all joined forces to empty my Laundry, locate and then trace every pipe in and around the whole of Groves Dyke to work out what exactly had been connected to what over the many years that various bits of work have been carried out, and then rationalise all the pipework so that the hot water is still hot by the time it arrives where it is wanted and the cold water can be turned off in an emergency at the nearest stop tap. That is how it is all arranged now, but it certainly wasn’t how it has been for the last 20 years!

Mild, sunny weather has returned and carrying logs down to the woodshed resumed this afternoon – apart from a stroll on the beach.

6 Nov 2005    The horribly wet and windy weather finally arrived this morning, although more windy that wet. It was very odd to sit comfortably in my conservatory while the still mild south westerly gale toppled my plastic patio chairs and blew them tumbling up the hill to the woodyard. Neither dog nor I felt like doing any outdoor work until the gale blew itself out and the sun shone later that day.

5 Nov 2005    Isn’t it nice having Saturdays off? The horribly wet and windy forecast was completely wrong for today, so I had a very pleasant 2 hour drive across the Yorkshire Wolds, over the Humber Bridge and into North Lincolnshire to collect a Gnome Man coffee table I had just bought on Ebay. Then a quick visit to Gainsthorpe Deserted Medieval Village (not a patch on Wharram Percy DMV, which I had passed just south of Malton), followed by a very nice lunch of homemade soup and homemade organic stone ground bread from the windmill cum bakery just alongside the cafe. This was a happy (but completely accidental) discovery with a Whitby connection, as Rick Stein has declared this miller cum baker at Kirton in Lindsey to be one of his Food Heros. He was right about The Magpie’s fish and chips and he was right about this bread, too!

The afternoon was spent at Blacktoft Sands RSPB reserve (near Ousefleet, off the A161 between Goole and Scunthorpe) reacquainting myself with such nice things as Shoveller, Gadwall, Whooper Swans and Marsh Harrier. Wonderful.

Bonfire night was much less appreciated, especially by Flag who shivered with fear throughout the entire evening as volley after volley of fireworks went off throughout Sleights. Closing the heavy curtains and turning the telly UP VERY LOUD was useless. The homeopathic remedy I had been given for him seemed to have little effect either, so I doubled and even tripled the dose without noticeable improvement. At least, with no active ingredients, there is little chance of giving him an overdose…

I wonder why we celebrate an unsuccessful terrorist atrocity on 11/5 1605, when we all find the successful one on 9/11 2001 so upsetting?

4 Nov 2006    A noisy morning as work began on jack hammering a pipe run across the concrete kitchen floor. The noise and vibration permeated both houses until Flag and I decided to go out and leave them to it.

3 Nov 2005    The reinforced concrete lintel for the new kitchen was delivered by wagon at 0745 this morning. Oh good. Just what I really wanted: a Neanderthal weight-lifting session before breakfast. Then work continued (at a more reasonable hour) on carrying an awful lot of awful heavy tiles from the poor car, removing curtains and arranging dust sheets before ripping out door frames, skirting boards, wall tiles, old electrics, old plumbing, etc, not to mention lifting enough dining room floorboards to locate the gas pipe and decide how it could be extended to the new gas hob in the kitchen.

Strong Southerly gales continued throughout the day, with occasional showers but mild, so very mild! A Red Admiral butterfly, which had probably settled down in the conservatory for the winter, woke up and assumed that winter must be over already. It battered itself repeatedly against the glass until I gave up and let it out into the great outdoors. Thank goodness for this wet and windy weather on the run up to Bonfire Night, as poor Flag hasn’t had to contend with a single firework. Yet…

2 Nov 2005    Off to B&Q on Teesside to choose the new floor and wall tiles. I am told that some people actually enjoy going to very busy places far away on grand shopping expeditions, but I am glad to say that I have never suffered from this affliction. I don’t know where exactly I was taken, as I have no intention of ever going there again, but if it isn’t called ‘Big Shed Avenue’ then it really ought to be!

October 2005 Weather Summary:

Max 21º C (70º F), Min 2º C (36º F). Total Rainfall 61 cms (2½ inches). Actual temperature at 0930 hours on 1 Nov 2005: 9º C (48º F). An unseasonably mild month with ‘average’ rainfall and with strong Southerly winds (warm and dry) towards the end.

31 October 2005    Kitchen demolition began in Groves Dyke. Water and central heating have been turned off, appliances removed and the 15-year old Farouche (?) kitchen units ripped out.

29 October 2005    I continued de-brambling my way along the line of the old ditch behind Groves Dyke orchard, ready for the dinky digger to dig it out – which will be the first time in the last 30 years to my knowledge. The preparation is a bit less urgent now, as the digger is not now arriving on Monday…

The paths around the wood have dried out a lot, so I carried down a couple of coolie-loads of sycamore logs to the woodshed. As I prepared the second load, I heard the sound of a very big Gabble Ratchet, as c700 grey geese flew south across the Esk Valley. Very impressive! No wonder the locals were so terrified of the noise, if they didn’t think to look up for passing skeins of migrating geese.

27 October 2005    This morning I un-stacked all the logs from one bay of the pole barn, so that the dinky digger will be able to drive through the side of the pole barn to get to the other side of the ‘leccy pole stay wire in the ditch.

The new kitchen units, work tops, etc arrived in the back of a van and are now stacked up in the dining room. The rain has gone (2¼ inches so far this month), the wind is warm, the sky is blue and the sun is shining strongly. Very strongly. So strongly, in fact, that it called for lunch out of doors at Sandend – but a hat was necessary to keep the sun out of my eyes. Every single outdoor table was full and I felt sorry for the poor waitress, as she dashed back and forth when she might have been expecting a bit of an end-of-season lull.

The beach was pretty busy with half-term holiday-makers and the cars were parked bum to tum all the way from Sandsend to Raithwaite Beck. Whitby is also very busy, with the combination of wonderful weather, school holidays AND the first Goths of the winter gathering for their 10th anniversary Goth Fest at Whitby. Over 1,000 are expected this Halloween weekend, filling every hotel and guesthouse in Whitby, dancing to lots of Goth bands at Whitby Spa and other venues, drinking lots of brightly coloured cocktails, remaining very polite and peaceful throughout – and pumping something like £100,000 into the town’s economy. So should it matter that they dress all in black, paint their faces white, dye their hair red and have an unnatural interest in vampires, Dracula and death? Bram Stoker has a lot to answer for!

26 October 2005    We emptied the dining room and stacked everything up in the sitting room before T & C left. The carpet unfitter arrived in the afternoon and lifted the carpet & underlay carefully. They are now rolled up for safety and stored on the landing until the gasman has beeneth.

24 October 2005    An afternoon trip to Filey produced a windswept yellowhammer (which tried to disguise itself as something really interesting) on the tip of the Brigg, with small parties of winter thrushes (redwing and fieldfare) and blackbirds just moving from west to east as they arrived after their sea crossing. There were even more in Parish Wood and on the strip crops. At Filey Dams a dabchick dived amongst the mallard and teal, while a couple of black tailed godwits (‘blackwits’) mixed with the redshank, snipe and curlew feeding on the mud.

23 October 2005    T & C are staying in Groves Dyke for a few days and T, as ever, came up with a First: in this case the first fieldfare of the winter calling ‘chacka-chacka-chacka’ in the wood. We walked on the beach, gamely hanging on to our umbrellas as the mild blustery wind drove showers at our faces. Flag ran and then lay in the shallows, trying to convince us that the North Sea is at its warmest in October. He failed.

22 October 2006    The barometer has fallen from ‘Fair’ to ‘Change’ (ie below 29.5 mb) for the first time in many weeks, as bands of light and steady rain cross the country. The rain gauge is now showing 1½ inches of rain since the beginning of the month. Still no overnight frost, so the autumn colour is rather slow to appear. The ash trees are starting to drop their still-green leaves, the little beech hedge by the pole barn is the only bit of bright red and apple trees are just turning a lighter shade of green. They are also dropping a big crop of apples, as well as leaves, and Flag enjoys running after them as they roll downhill. Wonderful! An endless supply of self-propelled ‘tennis balls’. Perhaps I should have called him Newton?

20 October 2005    This morning was spent looking at the CAD pictures and the item listing of the new Groves Dyke kitchen, double checking the details and making a few corrections. The carpet un-fitter was booked for next Wednesday pm, which means that all the dining room furniture has to be moved into the sitting room in the am (so that the gas man can get under the floor boards to extend the gas pipe to the new gas hob) and the new kitchen units are being delivered on the Thursday, to be stacked at one side of the dining room ready for wall demolition to start on Mon, with the bricks being handed out the window and into the motorised wheel barrow (on hire for the day) to be moved around the outside of the house to my front lawn, where the (reliable) dinky digger (on hire for the day) will be ripping up half of my top lawn, to lay them as hardcore for my new patio, with the spoil being moved to the woodyard (to fill in all the holes which Flag has dug over the past couple of years), before moving round to clean out the ditch behind the Groves Dyke orchard. Simple, innit? I’m sure it will all go like clockwork, janoattameen?

After such a busy morning (my brain hurts) I took Flag to Bridge Cottage Cafe in Sandsend for lunch. Mine, not his. It was pleasantly warm, the sun was shining but I had taken a hat to keep it out of my eyes, and lunch was enjoyed (by me, not him) out of doors and without the need for a coat. In late October!

Isn’t Climate Change wonderful? Good thing it’s not going to affect us…

19 October 2005    Busy week, so I can’t remember what happened when, exactly. Today was supposed to be a very wet day, but it wasn’t. Not here anyway, even if Cornwall did have 2 inches of rain in just 3 hours. Presumably it wasn’t on Boscastle again, or we would have heard all about it!

The Met Office has issued advance warning of a very, very cold winter ‘probably’ just ahead, advising the Natioanl Health Service to be prepared for large numbers of casualties with hyperthermia (just add that to the imminent Bird Flu pandemic)! All we need now is for some terrorists to disrupt the Russian gas pipeline that the UK now depends on, since we have already used up most of our own North Sea gas. Or perhaps we could all be encouraged to insulate our houses rather better, instead of just wasting more money on more fuel in an effort to keep warm? No? Silly idea. Never mind, we are the most intelligent species in the world and most of us in the First World usually manage to muddle along regardless, no matter how stupid our actions. In anticipation, Flag and I carried more firelogs down to the wood shed and also began sawing up the cordwood from the fallen sycamore and stacking it in the woodshed, which is now just over half full of firelogs.

On one recent morning walk around the wood (and I’ve forgotten which day it was) I found myself eyeball to eyeball with a roe doe at the top of the wood. She was just the other side of the sheep net fence and refused to move, so I settled down for a long stand off to see what she was up to.  A couple of minutes later a frantic young deer, about half grown, galloped alongside my side of the fence. It rushed up and down the fenceline, throwing itself against the wire netting every so often and just bouncing back again, too panic struck to remember anything its mummy had ever taught it about the Green Cross Code for Deer. I moved further along the path, ready to grab Flag in case he arrived in hot pursuit, but happily he was elsewhere (and probably still running in the wrong direction). The youngster relaxed a little as I moved away from its mum, paused to consider its situation, and then remembered to 1. Always Back Away from the Fence before 2. Running Towards it at Right Angles so that you can 3. Jump Over it Safely. It ran to its mum (I bet she said ‘I told you so!’) and together they fled across the fields and were gone in seconds. Pity really, it was just the right size for my freezer…

17 October 2005    Flag helped (not a lot) to de-jungle the ditch at the back of Dyke Orchard, ready for someone (reliable) with a dinky digger to come and clean it out a bit. Overhanging hawthorns were removed, together with numerous brambles, stray strands of rusty barbed wire and several very rotten fence rails. By midday we were out the other side again (ie behind the pole barn), having discovered that some time in the 1960s the electricity board had anchored the stay of their ‘leccy pole right in the middle of the ditch! No way the dinky digger can work its way up the full length of the ditch, so everything upstream of the ‘leccy pole will have to be dug out by hand. Oh good.

16 October 2005    A 15-minute bird count this morning gave: chaffinch 4, dunnock 2, blackbird 1, blue tit 1, coal tit 1, great tit 1, magpie 1, robin 1. High above the wood a circling Kestrel was mobbed by a couple of carrion crows. (1020 – 1035 hours. wind Force 2 Southerly, dry and mild). Once the counting period was over, a greenfinch and a bank vole appeared and a couple of jays flew silently across the woodyard. This is still the season of mellow fruitfulness, which probably explains why so few birds need to visit the feeding station. There has been only ½ ” of rain so far this month and only a couple of chilly dawns.

Carrying just 2 logs per day from the fallen sycamore down to the woodshed is a bit too slow, so today I tried carrying 4 or 5 logs in a sling. That was fine but a bit lopsided, so better with a slingful of logs in each hand. Good, but a bit heavy. So I put a pole across my shoulders and hung a slingful of logs from each end. Carrying this ‘port and starboard’ across both shoulders was ok but on the steepest and slipperiest parts of the path it did seem like just one slip and this would be a very good way to dislocate both shoulders at the same time. How did traditional milkmaids manage to carry 2 full buckets on a yoke safely, I wonder? Perhaps their route from the milking shed to the dairy was less steep – but probably just as slippery.

So I tried carrying the pole ‘fore and aft’ across just one shoulder and that was the answer. Much less precarious and with far less swinging and swaying. Devilishly cunning, these traditional Chinese coolies. No wonder they have been doing it this way for 5,000 years! Four logs per sling is the ideal number, so with just 10 trips I soon had 80 logs stacked in the woodshed. This is even better than sliding 20 logs at a time downhill on the homemade slipe (a beach combed plastic bread tray fixed to 2 wooden runners), as the empty sledge has to be dragged back up the hill again for the next load.

Steam trains have been running back and forth all day, from Grosmont to Whitby, with lots of huffing, puffing and whistling just a couple of hundred yards away. Very pleasant.

13 October 2005    Spent this morning with the kitchen designer and the project manager, working out what is required for the new kitchen in Groves Dyke and then leaving him to use a bit of computer-aided design to make it all fit. Then I chose all the doors, worktops and appliances, ready for work to start early next month.

Strimmed the Dyke Orchard this afternoon, all except a big clump of dog’s mercury in the middle. This plant is an indicator species for ancient woodland, which is always reassuring.

12 October 2005    A few days holiday in Edinburgh was very enjoyable, with a mere 10,000 Pink Feet Geese at Aberlady Bay in the Firth of Forth. ‘Landform’ in the Museum of Modern Art is wonderful and I hope the digger driver got an award as well, but I’m still not sure about all the other exhibits there… still, it’s good to know that Andy Goldsworthy is not the only great Earth Artist.

Called in at The Alnwick Gardens for ‘lunch up a tree’ on the way north and again on the way back home again. The Treehouse (and its restaurant) are mind bogglingly brilliant and recommended to absolutely everyone who is still a child at heart. 500,000 visitors so far this year can’t be wrong!

On this morning’s walk around Groves Coppice Flag put up 3 roe deer and chased them in several different directions simultaneously. Quite an achievement! The silver birch have almost lost their leaves already and the wild cherry are the next to species to change colour. Does this mean that it is that time of year again – already?!

Strimmed half the woodyard and half of the silt pond area.

1 October 2005    A fine, warm, sunny day with a large yellowy / green dragonfly patrolling the pond and basking on the stone wall. Had lunch out of doors at the Bridge Cottage cafe in Sandsend where the all day breakfast is highly recommended.

The trees are still all green, with no sign of autumn colour yet. The chiffchaff is still calling in a half-hearted sort of way and neither buzzard nor roe deer have put in another appearance. The British Trust for Ornithology’s national Tawny Owl Survey starts this month and I have volunteered myself to take part in a 20 minute listening session every week for the next several months. Nothing too complicated, just sitting outdoors (ok, in the conservatory, but with the door open) and listening. I think I can do that ok.

September 2005 Weather Summary:

Max 26º C (78º F), Min 1º C (34º F). Total Rainfall 65 cms (2½ inches). Actual temperature at 0930 hours on 1 Aug 2005: 12º C (54º F). A mild month, but often with a stiff breeze.

28 Sept 2005    Strimmed the path around the wood this morning (last time this year? I wonder…) and then half the woodyard, bits of the beck and half of the wildflower bank by the Stickery steps.

A wagon arrived and took the dinky digger away, just as I was about to put a ‘For Sale’ sign on it. The job’s a good ‘un!

26 Sept 2005    From the viewpoint at the top of the wood this morning I noticed a roe doe with two well grown young in the field above. Even though they were only 25 yards away, they were completely oblivious and continued to graze head down amongst the thistles. It was only when I got tired of standing and tried to slide onto the bench that they noticed me and bounded away. Flag continued to snuffle for bank voles in the wood, equally oblivious.

While the dry weather continues I used the new (nice insurance man) hedge trimmer to seriously attack the box hedge and also to tidy up some of the other hedges. Then lots of raking and numerous wheel barrow loads of trimmings up to the woodyard bonfire site before the rains duly arrived.

25 Sept 2005    Today was a good day to move a windrow of cut and split firelogs from the fallen sycamore behind the second hazel coup, some 30 paces through the hazels, to the side of the path. There they were re-stacked ready for me to carry a couple down to the woodshed every day on the morning dog walk. Now let me see… 200 firelogs at 2 per day will take about 100 days… which will be about 3 months… which means that that particular windrow will have moved to the woodshed in time for Christmas, with another 2 windrows to follow. That’s ok then. No rush.

24 September 2005    It was only when the buzzard finally glided from the top of the leaning ash tree behind the woodyard, that the noisy mobbing of a couple of dozen rooks was finally explained! What a nice cabaret to watch while having breakfast in the conservatory! This first buzzard is a completely new species for the wood and indeed for the Sleights area, and is probably a youngster on its first solo travels after being kicked out of its parents’ territory. Despite the many square miles of apparently suitable territory in the North York Moors, buzzards are almost non-existent here, so perhaps it has come across the Vale of York from the Yorkshire Dales, or even from the Scottish borders? I hope it decides to hang around, as the mewing call of a couple of buzzards soaring high above Groves Coppice would be the ultimate, and very unexpected, approval of our tree planting efforts ‘way back in 1982!

22 September 2006    A fine sunny day for pottering in the wood, having a picnic on the newly completed table, checking the hazel coups, tending the blackthorn shoots, opening up a gap for the young, self-sown rowan tree and generally enjoying the wood. Flag approved, too.

21 September 2005    A mild and misty morning exploring Staithes with Flag. He was very good and enjoyed exploring (off the lead) the great rocky scaur exposed at this very low spring tide. Luckily he didn’t set off to chase the gulls, nor did he do the splits on the slippery, sea-weedy rocks. Not, indeed, did I.

Lunch was taken at the now sunny harbour side watching Hydrex, the giant son of Fiat and Hitachi, waken with a start, stretch his long metal neck and yawn his rusty metal jaws before trundling off across the harbour sands to his prized collection of great green boulders. The controller sat within, his beer belly relaxing on his thighs as his nimble fingers flew across the levers, pinching gently, lifting here, twisting there, moving it a smidgeon and finally nudging yet another 10 ton Norwegian marble block into line. The plaque by the harbour railings said that the head of DEFRA Flood Committee had officially marked the completion of this £3½ million cliff stabilisation and harbour improvement scheme in 2002, but that clearly wasn’t true…

I wonder what young James Cook would have made of all this work on the harbour where he first met the sea? I wonder if those two legendary mermaids ever realised that this would be the result of their curse on the village which once held them captive in a coal shed for many a long month, when they swore that ‘The sea will flow to Jackdaw Well!’ as they finally escaped from the confines of the harbour and back to the open sea?

19 Sept 2005    Yes! The dinky digger, driver, tipper wagon and a couple of men returned to finish the job. Three and a bit more loads of soil were removed, the digger opened-up the culvert, a plastic pipe was inserted and joined to the recent pipe, the cap stones were raised a few inches on a cement bed, the cap stones replaced and covered in soil, the pipe entrance was concreted to make sure that all the water goes into the pipe, the old steps were covered with soil and all the area was levelled and tidied. Wow! At last!

While all that was going on, I tied Flag to an apple tree at one end of Bank Orchard and then I started strimming the other end. We swopped ends at half-time and by mid-afternoon the job was complete: he had dug several large holes and I had completed the strimming. It would have been easier and quicker to strim if the brambles hadn’t been so though and woody, but the high pollen count in June had meant no cutting after the spring flowers had set seed, so this was the first cut of the year. Note to self: no matter what the excuse, do NOT omit the June cut – if you do, it takes more than twice as long in September.

18 Sept 2005    Bright, warm, dry and sunny weather returns. Pottered in the wood before sunbathing in the Stickery.

15 September 2005    A day of cool wind and steady drizzle but an evening of sitting by the nice hot wood burning stove. Already? In mid-September?

12 September 2005    Following the heavy rain at the end of last week (1½ inches so far this week) a new leak has appeared from the culvert into the trench around the Stickery, just a couple of feet upstream of the newly piped section. The nice Loss Adjuster man says to go ahead with whatever is required to put it right, which means that the firm supplying the digger are now required to do some additional work as well. Oh good.

Strimmed the steepest and most difficult half of Bank orchard, its first cut of this year since the June cut was abandoned due to high pollen counts. It took about 2 hours, followed by another 1½ hours sweeping the bits of cut grass off the drive. Still, waiting for the perfect combination – of no wind AND the available time, the energy, the dry weather and the inclination – would have meant an even longer delay.

11 September 2006    Flag dug under the fallen cherry tree seat while I worked on the picnic table beside it.

10 September 2005    Still dull and drizzly this morning. The dog dish just outside the Stickery (a favourite haunt of newts) contained a couple of inches of rain water – and 11 young toads this morning! They were all scrabbling about but unable to get out until I provided them with a wooden island.

Strimmed the path around the wood and half of the woodyard. Digger? No, don’t be silly.

9 September 2005    A wet night and a wet day (the first this month) and the rain gauge is now showing about 1 inch.

8 September 2005    Another visit to Scampston Walled Garden near Malton. The garden is as impressive as ever and the cafe is even better. I have eaten lots of lamb shanks, from here to Cumbria and beyond, but these ones really get the red rosette.

7 September 2005    To Runswick Bay with friends for a stroll on the beach with Flag. He was fine until we were heading back to the cafe when he decided to get involved with a lady who was throwing stones into the sea for her spaniel. Flag thought this was far more interesting than being a faithful and obedient companion, so he totally ignored me and barked to encourage the lady to keep on throwing stones. Which she did. And on. And on and on and on. And on. And on. So we all went and had our coffee, keeping one eye on the nice lady and waiting for her arm to get tired. Which it did. Eventually. Once she had stopped I was able to get him back under control again and we left with a very tired, very pleased and very soggy doggy.

5 September 2005    Another Purple Picnic and walk in Bumble Wood, but this one was even better ‘cos it included not only some very good friends but also a bag of Coopland’s cheese straws and lots of strawberries!

August 2005 Weather Summary:

Max 28º C (83º F), Min 4º C (40º F). Total Rainfall 60 cms (2⅜ inches). Actual temperature at 0930 hours on 1 Aug 2005: 19º C (66º F). An strange month with too many contrasts: it started cool and grey, then became hot and sunny, then thunderstorms and downpours the night before Egton Show, then hot and dry and sunny.

Hello! Several days have gone missing… I typed them in and saved them as normal – and now they have gone! I wonder where they went?? I know they must be somewhere, so I’ll skip that problem for now and just carry on where I left off, in the hope that I can find them again later…

28 August 2005    No dinky digger yesterday to complete the job, so I pruned the living willow Twigwam a bit more and then planted the cuttings at the very top of the wood (Bankside, as opposed to Dykeside). Its not the best time of year for planting trees, but it did need some serious pruning to stop it looking more like a living willow Hedgehog than a Tree-pee!

Three or four Jays were very noisy up there, presumably searching for acorns and Zit (the Great Spotted Woodpecker) has also been calling throughout the wood. A couple of Kestrels had a mid-air screaming match over the wood, presumably a parent chasing one of their young away from their breeding territory – no KIPPERS* in this family!

*KIPPERS: Kids In Parents’ Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings, of course.

26 August 2005    On the way to Ruswarp yesterday evening I had to break suddenly for one of the many ducks crossing the road by the weir – except this was no duck, this was a cormorant walking across the road, to demand its evening breadcrumbs from one of the houses. A cormorant? Yes! Walking across the road?? Yes!! For breadcrumbs??? Yes!!! (And no, I hadn’t been drinking).

The heather is looking magnificent just now and I must go for another purple walk in the next few days to appreciate it at its very best. Perhaps a drive from Castleton to Hutton-le-Hole via the Lion Inn on Blakey Rigg, with a bit of a walk around the head of High Farndale on the old railway line? Or maybe on the Hamer road from Egton Bridge to Rosedale? Or even the Little Fryup Dale to Rosedale road, via Trough House? Or why not the… Never mind which, just as long as it is very wild and very purple!

The new steps are completed and I now have a proper path from house to Stickery again for the first time in months, but there is a bit of a drop on one side into the trench, until I get some safety rails up! Now all I need is the dinky digger back again to spread the several tons of soil it piled up last time…

24 August 2005    Gales and heavy overnight rain were exactly what Egton Show did NOT need, but the rain stopped by midday, the sun came out and smallish crowds enjoyed the biggest agricultural show in the North York Moors.

Victoria Farm Garden Centre, just a mile outside Whitby on the A171 Guisborough road, now stocks some of my Unique Walking Sticks from today. This is in addition to Dunsley Hall Hotel and Larpool Hall Hotel and, of course, newly reopened Stickery itself.

The retaining wall around the Stickery was completed and digging out the new path / steps began, uncovering just below the surface the capstones of the leaking stone-lined culvert. Removal of two hearth stone sized capstones revealed a dry culvert, meaning that the water was leaking out just a few feet further upstream. Digging down about 2 or 3 feet and removing a third enormous capstone (some 6 inches thick and about 3 feet by 2) revealed the damaged area, which was by-passed by 10 feet of 9 inch diameter plastic pipe cemented into place. Does this make it a Triple Hearth By-pass?

23 August 2005    Hot and sunny again today. Work re-started this afternoon on the new retaining wall alongside the Stickery, so now there is just the culvert exploration / repairs, the new path and the tidying-up to do…

22 August 2005    It rained hard from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, then cleared up again. The total rainfall so far this month is just under 2 inches – but Egton Show is on Wednesday and you can guess what that will mean!

21 August 2005    The Stickery re-opened this afternoon, for the first time since the flood damage in April. Now I can get back into production, at last! Click here for Unique Walking Sticks.

20 August 2005    Strimmed half the woodyard and the path along the top of Bank Orchard as far as the fallen oak limb.

18 August 2005    This evening a mini frog, as big as a little finger nail, crossed the edge of the pond in a number of mini hops before taking a mini freefall down to the patio far below. Then it set off across the patio, with lots of mini rests every few mini hops and eventually it reached the edge of the lawn and disappeared from sight. See you back here in about 3 years from now, little fella…

I took Flag to the beach at Sandsend this evening and this now 90% reliable dog proved his 10% unreliability by setting off in hot pursuit of a passing speed boat. It was already being chased by a man on a string, so presumably Flag didn’t want him to catch it first! Luckily the water skier fell in, so the boat slowed and then circled back, closely followed by Flag in the shallows, which gave me the chance to get him back under control!

A common seal bobbed about just off shore, as did about 20 guillemots.

17 August 2005    Tidied up the now-withered hedge cuttings, then decided that the mad dog and Irishman should not be out in all this mid-day sun, so I started moving some of the work benches, tools and equipment back into the now repaired Stickery. If only the work outside the building was also complete…

This evening a roe buck strolled unconcernedly across the lawn as I sat in my conservatory and Flag lay on the patio (fast asleep).

15 August 2005    Summer weather returns! It’s hot, dry and sunny just like it ought to be in August. I trimmed a few hedges before the battery and I ran out of energy. A few goldfinches have been feeding on the thistle seeds just opposite the kitchen windows, so light that they hardly bend the stems. A family of bullfinches have been calling their characteristic ‘deep’ contact call throughout the day and when Flag found the body of a young one with a broken neck under a window, the constant ‘deep’ became even more plaintive. This ‘deep’ mourning lasted for the rest of the day.

The moors are looking absolutely magnificent just now and it would be a shame to waste all that purple, so Flag and I went for a little stroll over the moors above Lealholm. We followed the monk’s trod past the guide stone, struck off across the purple heather to the old coach road and back round. Two snipe flushed (yes, he was on a lead) and no grouse. Seems they have had a very poor breeding season this year due to the wet spring.

12 August 2005    Some heavy rain today. Cool and overcast all day – so much so that I even lit the wood burning stove this evening! In mid-August!

10 August 2005    Not a bad day today, weather-wise. A bit sunny and a bit warm, but dry at least. This month it has been rather cool and grey, with about a ½ inch of rain so far. Certainly not the kind of hot, dry August weather required for sitting on the beach.

The driver of the dinky digger (but no dinky digger) and two others almost completed the retaining wall alongside the Stickery today. That only leaves the retaining wall to cap, the new set of steps to dig and construct, the inspection pit to dig out, the culvert to repair as required and then all the tons of spoil to remove or regrade…

8 August 2005    Strimmed the path around the wood this afternoon, then half the woodyard and half the beck. Then, ever the optimist, all of the wildflower bank by the Stickery where the new steps are to be built – when the dinky digger and team finally reappear…

7 August 2005    Took Flag to the Wintergill plantation on the moor edge above Egton Bridge. He travelled without incident (he used to get so car-sick) and we enjoyed a walk on the public footpath to admire the purple heather. Just a few more days and a bit of bright sunshine and the moors will be looking absolutely wonderful…

5 Aug 2005    Another driver arrived this afternoon and took the dinky digger away – but there are still 2 days work to do!

Whitby Regatta this weekend, with millions of people (well, it feels like millions) and the weather less than perfect (cool and a bit grey). It is nice to see the Grand Turk back in Whitby again for the next several weeks, after her exciting role as HMS Victory in the Trafalgar anniversary celebrations.

4 August 2005    The small kestrel perched on top of the road sign at the top of Blue Bank (just above Sleights) turned out to be a merlin! But I had driven past by the time I realised…

3 August 2005    Pulled a mere 3 Ragweed plants from the wood today (25 years ago it used to take 2 of us several hours to remove them all) and another 12 plants from Bank orchard. The meadow sweet is in full frothy flower in the orchard and the grass is far too long (blasted hay fever)!

1 August 2005    The new concrete floor was laid today. Shovelled, not poured. All 2½ tons of it! Then the digger driver was called away to an emergency job elsewhere and nobody was seen again, until 5 August…

July 2005 Weather Summary:

Max 31º C (87º F), Min 8º C (46º F). Total Rainfall 110 cms (4¼ inches). Actual temperature at 0930 hours on 1 Aug 2005: 14º C (58º F). A hot, dry month with just a couple of wet days in the first week and a couple of wet days in the last week. Downright cool towards the end of the month and I even lit the wood burner a couple of evenings!

31 July 2005    I rescued some bits of building stone from the spoil heap by the Stickery, then pottered in the garden.

30 July 2005    Work continued on raising the retaining wall a bit further and the persistent drizzle began again. I spent the afternoon tending the bonfire, on the assumption that the fire risk is now about zero and nobody in their right mind would have any washing hanging out to dry. Talking of nutters, Flag appreciated the rain softened soil and excavated the woodyard still further.

29 July 2005    Another 1¼ inches of rain last night. Thanks a bunch. Surprisingly, the grass in the fields is long and the trees are in full leaf, so much of the rainfall has been retained (rather than running off downhill immediately) and the beck hasn’t actually risen much. Work continued on concreting the floor of the L-shaped trench around the Stickery to lead the water into the pipe and away. Two courses of concrete blocks are being built along one side to help retain the hillside and prevent any more slumps.

The River Esk is a bit higher and now coming over the top of the Salmon Leap weir. I didn’t see any actually leaping as a result of this ‘fresh’ but a couple of anglers were casting their lines in the pool below the weir.

28 July 2005    The National Park ‘Extreme Fire Risk’ signs have done the trick: after weeks without any rain the warning signs went up all over the moors on Monday – and by breakfast today it was raining hard! Just what you don’t want when you are trying to pour concrete.

Using a little bit of quick-setting cement the new drain under the Stickery floor is in place and (hopefully) may be suitable for the new floor tomorrow…

27 July 2005    Working on the L-shaped trench around one side and one end of the Stickery, the contractors have discovered a steady flow of water into what is supposed to be a pretty dry trench. By removing more mud, silt and soil from the side trench they have discovered that the water must be coming from the end trench. That means removing the concrete slab path over the trench and then removing the 14 inches of mud and silt to reveal a leak, presumably from the culvert a few yards away. More excavations required tomorrow before any concrete floor can be laid and any new path can be excavated and created…

26 July 2005    The dinky digger and gang reappeared bright and early this morning (oh good) and removed the flood damaged concrete floor of my Stickery. Water continued to weep through the end wall, however, requiring further excavations tomorrow before any new concrete floor can be poured…

Apparently there were over a dozen Tall-ish Ships visited Whitby over the weekend before sailing on to the main event on the Tyne. The regional television has appreciated the sheer size, beauty and gracefulness of these magnificent white birds and they have featured large on the local news over the last few days. I certainly remember the life-defining thrill of the Grand Parade of Sail when the Tall Ships Race visited the Mersey ‘way back in 1982. Who could ever forget the sight of the world’s largest sailing ship, the Krusenstern, with its uniformed crew evenly distributed along every yard arm as it sailed out past the Royal Yacht Britannia and into a everlasting Liverpool Bay sunset?

25 July 2005    Today I carried down the final 2 branches from the fallen sycamore and added them to the (almost complete) new cord in the woodyard. All the shorter, fatter branches and all the split logs are still to be carried down over the next 6 months…

No sign of the Not Very Tall Ships in Whitby today. A few of them spent the weekend in Whitby as an overflow, while the really Tall Ships (too big for Whitby) were visiting Newcastle.

A light shower this afternoon was the first rain for days, with the rain gauge still showing 2¼ inches since the beginning of this month.

24 July 2005    I tackled the still-flowering rosebay willow herbs in the ditch behind the pole barn, sawed through the fallen hawthorn brought down by the storm thrown willows behind the orchard and sawed up a few more bits of bendy beech branches from the disappearing cord. Flag spent the morning helping by digging holes in the rock hard soil, then spent the afternoon limping on one front leg (the wrenched toe one) while still trying to dig with the other leg! My efforts to stop his digging and let his sore leg recover were not appreciated and eventually I had to shut him indoors to stop him. This gave me the chance to strim half the woodyard, half the top pond, half the wild flower bank and 3/5ths of the beck.

A 15-minute count at the feeding station (now serving a limited summer menu of  peanuts, lard and the occasional handful of sunflower hearts) gave: Dunnock 3, Chaffinch 3, Great Tit 3, Blackbird 2 (all with juvenile/s), Coal Tit 1, Marsh Tit 1, Robin 1, Wood Pigeon 1 and a Willow Warbler / Chiffchaff 1. (0930 – 0945, 6/8 cloud, warm, dry, calm, bright).

21 July 2005    Just back from an unexpected few days in Fife, for Jimmy’s funeral.

St Andrews is only just recovering from some major golfing event, with 100+ portacabins in a ‘Contractor’s Village’, miles of temporary security fencing, a temporary footbridge across the main road, acres of great white marquees, thousands of plastic seats and miles of scaffolding for stands, a fleet of cherry-pickers for cameramen and hundreds of pallets waiting to be taken away – until next year. Wow!  All this just to pay someone millions of pounds for wearing a logo on their shirt while they knock a little ball into a hole in the ground and being ignored by thousands of people pouring free drinks down their necks in the corporate hospitality suites. Too many similarities to some funerals, really – but not, I’m glad to say, this one.

The new tree house at Alnwick Gardens is every bit as wonderful as the publicity suggests. I can thoroughly recommend the Northumberland Sausages with Mustard Mash and Red Onion Gravy, enjoyed some 15 feet off the ground while watching others at the tops of the turrets or walking across the swing bridges on the treetop walk.

17 July 2005    A very pleasant day for a bit of pottering in the garden. Pulling weeds from the heather beds at the front of the house, a bit of log sawing (the cord of bendy beech branches is now down to less than half size) and planning an extension to the raftings by my pond. All this sun and hot weather calls for the creation of some extra shade near the pond. This is a particular problem in the late afternoon, when the only cool place to sit near the house is in the corner of the yard between the kitchen and the downstairs loo!

16 July 2005    Still hot, dry and sunny – but just a few degrees cooler, less humid and now it’s downright pleasant. The tawny owls were quite noisy last night, which is said to indicate rain, but that seems unlikely. Perhaps it was just the young birds demanding food from the parents.

One of the old apple trees at the far end of the big orchard has collapsed down the hill. It was hit by the two big oak branches which snapped off last year but seemed to survive that ok. Now the sheer weight of its own full canopy seems to have been the final leaf and over she went. I will let it be until the autumn when all the leaves are off, the apples are picked and the sap has fallen – then it will be time to cut it hard back to the stump and wait to see if it will coppice…

11 July 2005    The new hedge trimmer made short work of tidying-up a couple more hedges, but the hot weather made even shorter work of me! The temperature has been up to 84º F already this month and that is just too darned hot for me…

Pulled a dozen ragwort plants out of the wildflower bank by the Stickery, also a few rosebay willowherbs from the heather clumps and trimmed back the daft young elm tree still trying to grow in mid-heather. I see there are half a dozen more ragwort flowering in the big orchard (which is long overdue for strimming) which will have to be pulled before they seed.

8 July 2005    A great spotted woodpecker flew into the orchard by Groves Dyke conservatory and lingered for a few minutes. Later in the day a green woodpecker was seen on the front lawn. Now all that is needed is a lesser spotted woodpecker and I’ll have the full set…

My email problems continue… Please phone instead! 01947 811404. Thanks!

7 July 2005    By late morning the rain had stopped, with 2¼ inches since the beginning of the month, almost all of that in the last 36 hours – and the strange thing was: no flooding! Not here, not locally and not anywhere else! It just goes to show how a different rainfall rate, not to mention longer grass height and much more tree leaf cover can account for a great deal more rain than earlier in the season.

An outing to Scampston Hall Walled Garden and Garden Restaurant, just East of Malton, was very interesting and enjoyable (now that the pollen count has fallen again!) and can be recommended to gardeners and gourmets alike. And especially recommended if you are a gardening gourmet or a gourmet gardener.

Nesting in the wall of the walled garden was a Spotted Flycatcher, the first and only ones I have seen this year.

6 July 2005    Today it rained from just after dawn until midnight. Sometimes hard and torrential, sometimes just a steady drizzle, but always rain, rain and more rain.

4 July 2005    A cloudy day for a trip to Runswick Bay with Flag. He seems to have recovered completely from his sore toe & covered a lot of beach at very high speed, ably assisted by my nephew FCW.

It seems that I was not the only one suffering from hay fever last month. Over one period of 12 consecutive days the UK pollen count was ‘Very High’ on 10 of those days, causing problems for even some adults who have never suffered before. ‘Just a unique combination of prolonged hot weather and a late plant season’ they said. I just hope it remains unique!

 

June 2005 Weather Summary

Maximum temperature 90ºF / 32ºC. Minimum 37ºF / 3ºC. Actual at 0930 today was 72ºF / 24ºC. Rainfall total for the month was 1⅜ inch / 35mm. A very hot, dry month with some thunder storms. At Helmsley, 40 miles away, there was serious flooding one night.

29 June 2005    It’s cooler! It’s damper! It’s wonderful! For the first time in about 2 weeks my eyes have stopped itching, my nose has stopped running and I haven’t sneezed once today. Oh bliss! Exams, anyone?

Flag’s follow-up visit to the vet today has given him the all clear as far as a possible broken toe was concerned, so his ‘only very badly bruised toe’ is now getting some light exercise again. And so am I.

The very first signs of purple heather are just appearing on the moors as the odd clump of bell heather (Erica cinerea) comes into flower. The ling (Calluna vulgaris) is still a few weeks behind, as usual.

Strimmed the path around the wood, half of the woodyard and a section of the beck.

27 June 2005    The dog is still on lawn exercise only, the sun is still far too hot, the temperature, the pollen count and the sneeze rate are still far too high, so not a lot got done today. Tried some hedge trimming with the new trimmer (from the nice insurance people) in the relative coolth of the evening, but the dust from the bone dry hedge set my convulsive sneezing off again, so I had to stop before I accidentally cut anything of a non-vegetational nature.

My emails are still NBG, so yet more apologies to anyone still waiting for a reply (including the kind offer of a trimmer!).

25 June 2005    A baby bunny caused a minor flurry of excitement when it decided to hide behind the dustbins just before 10 am on change-over day. Between the four of us (no dog) we managed to herd it safely back towards the orchard for a bit of basic re-programming from mum and dad. Pah! Kids today! Whatever happened to common sense?!

24 June 2005     After another 4 days of unbearable heat it was the Glastonbury Festival which seems to have taken the brunt of the latest thunderstorms and torrential rain. Sorry about that Glastonbury, but we are still sorting out the last lot, so it’s somebody else’s turn this time.

Emails are still being sporadic, no matter what I try. I do seem to be receiving all (most? some? a few?) of them, but send mails from here is only occasionally successful. More apologies if you haven’t had a reply, please phone me if it is urgent.

22 June 2005    More high temperatures (90ºF at Groves Dyke) and more high pollen counts (sneeze, sniffle at Groves Bank), neither of which is of any use to man or beast. I took the poor hot dog to the beach on Monday evening to paddle (me) or lie (him) in the North Sea. We both enjoyed that and then he met a little doggie friend and a great time was had by all, with lots of running and playing. As we left I noticed he had a minor limp, but by next morning he wouldn’t put one front paw to the ground. The vet diagnosed a badly bruised, possibly broken, toe and so now it is lawn exercise only for the next 10 days.

Helmsley and upper Ryedale continue to mop up after the weekend floods. No human lives were lost, but several bridges were swept away, many houses damaged and tens of millions of pounds worth of damage done. The main problem now is to find and dispose of the hundreds of sheep (and some cattle) which were swept out of their fields and drowned. Many of the now decomposing corpses are snagged up in the hedges and treetops, just to make the task even more unpleasant.

19 June 2005    Hotter! And sticky-er! Something nasty must be coming, so Flag and I braved the heat, the humidity and the pollen to spend this morning in the beck preparing for the next flash flood. He was lying in the water and keeping cool, while I was sneezing and hammering tennalised fence posts into the bed of the stream, getting hotter and hotter and less and less impressed with those who don’t believe in climate change, (mentioning no names, George W Bush). Hopefully, the first post will catch any big branches washing down in the next flood and the second row of posts will catch the medium sized branches. That should leave only the small branches to get caught in the original screen, which may prevent the beck blocking completely again, overflowing again and flooding the garage. Again.

By late afternoon there were distant rumbles of thunder and an occasional flash of lightening, as the poor dog became more and more distressed. The sky clouded over and the thunder and lightening increased, but at least both temperature and humidity dropped enough to become almost bearable. Within an hour the sky had become almost black, the distant thunder rumbled continuously and lightening flickered every few seconds. On almost the longest day of the year, when it should have been daylight until 10pm, the 6 o’clock diesel train went back up the dale with all its interior lights on. It rained a bit, but not too much and the thunder and lightening kept their distance from Sleights.

By 7.30 pm the storm had eased, the black cloud rolled away, the sun shone again and poor Flag (not to mention the rest of us) began to relax. The television transmitter on Bilsdale Moor near Helmsley had stopped working earlier in the storm, so only those with satellite TV or listening to the radio knew about the dramatic downpour and flash floods affecting Helmsley and Sutton Bank, just 40 miles away in the far South west of the National Park. The River Rye had burst its banks, bridges swept away, parts of Helmsley under 4 feet of water, one building at Sutton-under-Whitestone-Cliff  washed away and 2 RAF rescue helicopters (one from Anglesey, with special heat seeking equipment) were spending the night plucking stranded residents and visitors from the roofs of cars, houses and tree tops.

C’mon, George W! Just how bad does it have to get before a Texas oil millionaire like you stops believing all those Climate Change denials from the oil industry?

18 June 2005    Hot! And sticky! It was 80º F at the back of the house by 10 am and the pollen count is high (sniffle, sneeze). Pity all the poor people with hay fever trying to do their exams this month. It always struck me when I was exam fodder that if only the person who invented the academic year had been a hay fever sufferer, too, then the whole academic process would have been shifted along by a couple of months…

The maximum temperature recorded today in the shade at the back of Groves Dyke was 86º F. Far too hot for comfort.

16 June 2005    Warmer again, which is a bit more like June is supposed to be. On the way around the wood this morning Flag suddenly dived into the long grass and then surfaced with that ‘Me? No, I haven’t got anything in my mouth’ look on his face, which means exactly the opposite! He wasn’t keen to show me what it was, and I wasn’t keen to put my fingers inside his mouth in case whatever it was took a nip. Eventually he opened his mouth and a baby blue tit fell out onto the ground with a shrill cheep. I put it safely by the edge of the path where mum and dad could return to feed it and led the poor disgusted dog away to have a much more boring breakfast.

15 June 2005    Managed to strim the path around the wood this morning, just before the rain returned again.

Problems with my out-going emails continue, with only a random few getting through. Most of them just bounce, so more apologies to anyone still waiting for a reply. If urgent, please phone me (see Contact, above).

12 June 2005    Only managed an hour in the wood today, before being rained off. Almost all the sycamore poles which were stacked amongst the blackthorn behind the second hazel coup are now in a much more accessible stack by the side of the path. That should avoid daily disturbance of the long tailed tits nesting in the blackthorn, not to mention me getting soaked on wet mornings by pushing through the dense hazel growth! The new cord in the woodyard is now almost complete, thanks to carrying down two sycamore poles everyday as I walk Flag around the wood.

11 June 2005    The recently acquired pair of Gnome Man chest of drawers (made by Thomas Whittaker of Littlebeck, Whitby) has today been put into Groves Dyke, as bedside units in the double bedroom. If you don’t know about the Gnome Man of nearby  Littlebeck, click here.

9 June 2005    So far this month there has been ¾ inch of rain, the maximum temperature has been up to 74º and the minimum down to 36ºF.

Apologies to anyone who has emailed me and not had a reply. Please blame BT-Yahoo, who have been playing silly beggars with my out-going emails.

8 June 2005    Hot and sunny, so off to Runswick Bay for dog walks on the beach and dog walker lunch at the Royal pub, sitting outside overlooking the bay in all its splendour. Back home after lunch for the exhausted dog to recover and for the exhausted dog walker to get kitted up and strim the beck (rotational mowing again, to encourage the wild flowers), the steps and bank, the front of Groves Dyke and half of the woodyard. Enough already!

5 June 2005    Dry, warm and sunny. Lopped back a few briars and sagging branches around the path, then strimmed the edge of the drive.

3 June 2005    Two very heavy and thundery showers gave ½  inch of rain today, bring the total so far this month to ¾.

1 June 2005    A wet morning, ideal for catching up on admin in the office and jetlag in the brain. The dinky digger has not returned to continue work on the Stickery flood damage, but all the grass has grown and is ready for strimming again and the hedges are all ready for trimming – but I still haven’t heard from Electrolux with the price of a replacement for the soggy / muddy trimmer…

May 2005 Weather Summary

Maximum temperature 76ºF / 24ºC. Minimum 32ºF / 0ºC. Actual at 0930 today was 58ºF / 14ºC. Rainfall total for the month was 1 inch / 25mm. A dry month with some very warm days and some fairly cool nights.

31 May 2005    I have just returned from a wildlife holiday on board the MV Sea Lion in Alaska, with Lindblad Expeditions. They specialise in everything from ‘belly botany’ to ‘charismatic mega-fauna’ and it was all very impressive. Their Daily Expedition Reports (DERs) for the time I was there (as well as all their current reports) can be seen on their website (click here: http://www.expeditions.com/dersearch/derdetail.asp?id=8092 ), but suffice it to say that it was great. Lots of Humpback Whales, Sea Lions, Harbour Seals and Porpoises, Grizzly Bears, etc – not to mention the Tufted Puffins (nickname: Toasted Muffins), but I will anyway. This wasn’t quite the trip that Anthea and I had originally planned, but it was a wonderful experience and I recommend it highly.

15 May 2005    A lovely warm, dry and sunny day for pottering around the wood with a pair of secateurs, cutting pegs and layering the long flexible hazel stems around the edges of the four hazel coups. By pegging the stems down to touch the damp soil these branches will grow roots this summer and come winter they can be severed from their parent this winter, to create new and independent trees to extend the area of each coup in the traditional manner. After all the noise and excitement of yesterday’s high tech mechanical visitor, this was a very restful and relaxing occupation.

14 May 2005    The dinky digger arrived just before 8am and spent most of the day removing the whitebeam tree (that stump was very well rooted!) and then digging out and reshaping the landslide by the garage. Another visit will be required next weekend to slope off the trench a bit more and then remove what remains of the  concrete floor inside the garage. It is rather sobering to see just how much work is required to undo what Mother Nature managed to achieve in just a couple of hours of torrential rainfall last month.

On the way around the wood this morning Flag was led astray by a very provocative and badly injured hen pheasant which suddenly leapt into the air from just under his nose, calling loudly and flapping gamely as it struggled to keep just ahead of his teeth. Some of us, a little older and only just slightly wiser, stayed stock still and watched the spot where she first appeared… and sure enough, there were the young pheasant chicks crouching, still and silent, in the long grass. Having led him a merry dance and a safe distance, the ‘injured’ mother flew off strongly, leaving poor Flag to gallop about wildly in entirely the wrong place. Pheasants 1, Golden Retrievers 0. Mother Nature wins again!

11 May 2005    Cool, grey and with a chill Northerly wind. Still no sign of the ash trees coming into leaf. Moved about a ton of the newly sawn whitebeam branches from the car park and stacked them behind the pole barn. That must be about 4 years’ wood supply by now!

9 May 2005    A very pleasant day to dig holes in the woodyard, not to mention sawing up more of the cord of bendy beech branches and stack the resulting firelogs in the woodshed for next winter. It feels a bit strange to be sawing up next winter’s firewood while still lighting the woodburner in the chilly evenings and still burning last winter’s stockpile – but this has been a late spring.

The green woodpecker called loudly from the wood and appeared briefly in the woodyard while I was having my lunch. The first willow warbler of the year sang in the wood.

7 May 2005    The whitebeam by the side of the garage has been felled, in preparation for the dinky digger which will dig out and slope off one side of the trench alongside the garage, then rip out the remains of the garage floor ready to lay down a membrane before pouring a new concrete floor without a drain in the middle. Apart from the slightly leafy whitebeam branches to trim and stack in the woodyard, there is also the whole garage to empty of all its contents.

All the trees in the wood are now in leaf except for the ash, so perhaps it will only be a very small splash?

4 May 2005    Already this month there has been a ¼ inch of rain and the temperature has reached 72º F, but overall it has been warm, sunny and dry with occasional heavy showers. Isn’t that supposed to be April?

2 May 2005    On May Day some people go Morris Dancing or cheese rolling. Me? I just get a ladder and climb down into the damp, dark, overgrown and bramble filled trench along one side of the garage. Armed only with a pair of secateurs and a leather gauntlet, I snip my way along, throwing all the cuttings up onto the orchard. After a couple of hours work all was revealed. The flood waters from the blocked beck had filled the trench several feet deep, caused a mini landslide on the orchard side, blocked the outlet drain, escaped under the garage wall, burst up through the concrete floor and flooded the garage. Wow. Very impressive.

Flag came to admire the newly cleared trench. Thinking I had just dug it, he gave up his own mini-excavations and just lay down and looked at me and my trench, full of admiration – and jealously.

1 May 2005    Continued to trim up the smaller sycamore branches, still snagged on top of the second hazel coup and accompanying blackthorn. This is time consuming work but it does clear the hazel coppice, will create some blackthorn walking sticks and provides another ton of firelogs for next winter.

This afternoon I finished scraping the sand and silt off the drive, then trimmed back the edge of the trench at the side of the Stickery, clearing the way for tomorrow’s flood damage assessment.

April 2005 Weather Summary

Maximum temperature 68ºF / ?ºC. Minimum 26ºF / -4ºC. Actual at 0930 today was 58ºF / ?ºC. Calm, dry and misty. Rainfall total for the month was 3¼ inches / 80mm. A very varied month with hot, dry and sunny weather at the beginning and end, but with major flooding on the night of 15th, causing damage to the garage at Groves Bank. My rain gauge recorded only 1 inch of rain that night but I suspect that there was much more – perhaps it was so gusty and raining so hard that it either blew or bounced out of the funnel before dropping into the measuring cylinder?

30 April 2005    Flag proudly carried his ‘freshly killed’ tennis ball up the drive after lunch – and completely failed to notice the roe deer standing in the corner of the field, just 20 yards to one side. It watched us pass and then strolled off down the side of the field, too cheeky to run or jump the fence. The tennis ball was carried as far as the gap in the stone wall to where the newly hatched blue tits were calling from their nest deep within, and then abandoned for some urgent snuffling.

The big oak tree is now definitely in leaf, while the leaning ash shows no sign of leaf. A couple of cowslips are in flower near the Stickery, a dozen early purple orchids punctuate Bank orchard and a red campion is fully out, too.

This afternoon I swept the flood debris off the drive, now that it has been seen by the nice insurance man.

29 April 2005    The builder has removed all the broken slabs of concrete from the stickery floor, exposing a glazed clay pipe which drained the trench on one side of the building and carried the water away. What was also revealed was a badly made junction with another pipe, which was what allowed the flood waters to leak out and burst up through the concrete. Oh dear – not quite as straight forward as first appeared!

28 April 2005    The County Council is working on the arrestor bed at Blue Bank, the steep hill between Sleights and the moortop. All that heavy rain ten days ago had washed the PFA pellets (pulverised fly ash) out of the upper 30 yards, leaving just a 3 foot drop to a very hard concrete floor. Today the pellets are being replaced, so that next time a vehicle’s brakes fail on the 20% descent it can drive into the arrestor bed where the pellets will collapse under its weight, absorbing its energy and increasing the drag as it sinks deeper and deeper until it is brought to a halt. Safely. Much better than careering down through the village at increasing speed until it crashes into another car or somebody’s house, as has happened all too often in the past.

27 April 2005    The Loss Adjuster visited today to examine the damage to the floor of the Stickery cum Garage. He suggested I get someone in to ‘start investigating’ and provide a quote.

25 April 2005    Another very pleasant afternoon, so I dragged several bundles of sycamore branches down to the woodyard, sawed them into cord lengths and added them to the ever growing new cord (now about ⅔ complete). Restacked the last of last year’s firelogs in the woodshed into one corner, to make room for dismantling and sawing up the cord of bendy beech into firelogs for next winter. An odd sound from the next field turned out to be my first cuckoo of the year, but it did sound very strange.

Today’s score is: Flag 1, Pygmy Shrew 0.

Who needs Longworth traps to do a small mammal survey of the wood?

24 April 2005    Hot, dry, sunny and definitely summer again, just perfect for a couple of hours trimming up and stacking medium-sized sycamore branches in the wood. Probably a bit thin as firewood, but since I’ve paid for them I’m jolly well going to use them. A Green Woodpecker yaffled at the other side of the wood and Flag managed to dig up, catch and kill a pygmy shrew all by himself.

Opened the Stickery this afternoon, mainly to dry out the building and get myself a suntan in the process…

23 April 2005    Today I fixed the reed matting on top of the raftings over the deck. Now Groves Dyke guests can retreat into the shaded end of the decking if it get too sunny and now meals on the decking can be eaten safe in the knowledge that the House Martins nesting above are well protected  from the humans – and vice versa!

20 April 2005    The warm sunny weather continues (It’s summer again!) and it looks like the oak is going to beat the ash (Oak before ash, In for a splash – ha! That was a heck of a splash the other night!).

Saw the first house martins of the year fly over Woodlands just after lunch (3 of them) and then the first swallow (1) flying over Aislaby later this afternoon.

19 April 2005    Today’s Whitby Gazette carries the story of a man who tried to drive through a local ford on Friday evening and was surprised to find his car stopped by the water, the waters rise up to his chest, having to kick the car door open, swimming up to the surface, grabbing onto something wooden and eventually dragging himself up onto the footbridge alongside the ford and lying there cold, exhausted and shocked until he was rescued! The accompanying photo of the ford at Grosmont shows the depth gauge at ’6 feet’ deep.

18 April 2005    The insurance company has noted my report and will be sending a loss adjuster ‘but it may be a while because they are all a bit busy…’

17 April 2005    I had left the torn and ripped leather gauntlets I used yesterday to pull handfuls of debris from the drains on the wall to dry overnight, and this morning they were hard with frost. Very odd!

This morning I split and stacked the very last of the sycamore logs in the wood, then started to salvage any branches that were almost worth having as fire logs, even if they were only just over 1 inch diameter. Having just paid almost £300 for the chainsaw work to clear up after the Big Wind, I’d better make full use of all the produce, not just the nice big bits!

Unlocking the garage doors this afternoon, I discovered the full extent of the recent flood damage: The garage floor was an inch deep in slimy mud, with a one foot high ‘tide line’ all around the walls. Flag’s sofa is a soggy write-off and, worst of all, the concrete floor of the garage has been cracked wide open and burst upwards by the force of the water, leaving a void of indeterminate depth below. I think this will have to be an insurance job…

I sat in the warm sun with the garage doors wide open so that both garage and I could dry out and recover.

16 April 2005    Wow! Yesterday evening it really rained, like I haven’t heard it rain here before. A gusty wind threw torrential rain against my kitchen window all evening and I could hear that the River Esk and the little beck through my garden were both in full flood. Thank goodness I had enough sense to stay well away from them until daylight this morning!

The ditch down the side of Dyke orchard had blocked and the water had backed up, over flowed and been flowing through the gateway and off down the drive. Clearing the accumulated twigs from the entrance to the pipe did the trick and the flow returned to its normal course. I did the same to the gratings on the main drive and the pond subsided. In my own garden, the beck had also blocked behind the stone seat and water had been flowing around the seat, across the lawn and back into its proper course again a few  yards further down. This had happened once before, years ago and I had then marked the pipe entrance with a fence post. Thanks only to this landmark, I was able to dig down through a foot of accumulated silt, sand, gravel and twigs until, with a satisfying gurgle, the pipe entrance was exposed again and the beck resumed its normal course under the stone seat and lawn. The landscape of the beck and pond had been altered so radically overnight that I couldn’t begin to locate the inlet pipe to my stone patio pond. (The pond, I noticed later, now has an inlet delta of sand and silt which must weigh over a ton – and all of which will have to be dug out with a bucket…).

Twenty yards downstream the inlet to the culvert under my garage had also become choked with debris. The beck had backed up until it had overflowed down the concrete steps, around the sides of the garage, under the garden gate and onto the main drive, choking the grating 50 yards ‘downstream’ and continuing another 100 yards until the next grating. Removing handfuls of debris from the protective grill to the culvert allowed the water to flow normally again and gave me my first chance to survey the whole situation a bit more calmly.

I have known this little beck for 30 years and I have never seen this garage culvert get blocked completely before, nor seen the water overflow down the garage steps before. A look up at the fields above and behind the house showed that every single blade of grass has been bent ‘downstream’, as a vast sheet of shallow water must have flowed down the whole daleside from Aislaby moor, several hundred feet above. Yet, strangely, my rain gauge registered only 1 inch of rain – had all the really heavy rain fallen only on the moortop? – or had it rained SO hard that it had just bounced back out of the rain gauge again? Very odd. Newcastle (c100 miles further north) recorded 3 inches of rain that night.

The rest of Saturday morning was spent removing debris from all the watercourses, just in case it rains again tonight. At one point I looked down on a heavily swollen River Esk and watched a full-sized tree being swept downstream at high speed, without even the slightest pause or check as it passed over the 6 inch step in the water level which was all there was to indicate the position of the Salmon Leap weir far below the surface. Wow!

15 April 2005    The new bathroom in Groves Dyke was completed on time and looks wonderful! The suite is entirely new and the lay-out is much better, with far more circulation space and the new carpet looks much brighter.

Yesterday and today have been cool and wet, with sheets of rain blowing across the moors. Whatever happened to summer? I have even started up my wood burning stove again!

13 April 2005    Guess what my builder found when he removed the side panel of my bathroom window, fitted by Everest Double Glazing Ltd in 2002/3?

Not a hard wood subframe.

Not a soft wood subframe.

Not even a solid wood subframe of any sort – but two strips of plywood!

Yes, that’s right!!

Two strips of plywood!!!

One strip looks like ¾ inch ply and the other ½ inch ply and together they make up a bit of subframe  about 1¼ inches across and about 3 feet long. This fills in the space between the Everest window frame and the brickwork, all the way down the right hand side of my bathroom window.

Now Everest might say that this is part of the original house, but since the house was built more than 50 years ago (was plywood invented then?) by a local master builder called Garbutt, I suspect that this carpenter’s cock-up must be much more recent. And since Garbutt built the house so well that no repairs have ever been required (until I asked Everest to ‘improve’ it by adding their ‘Fit the Best’ double glazed windows), I can only assume that this botched plywood subframe was installed by the Everest Fitter who fitted the Everest window in 2002 and wasn’t spotted by the Everest Inspector who declared that all 7 of the only-just-fitted windows would have to be repaired!

And if anyone should ever question whether I am telling the truth or not, I have taken the following precautions:

1. I have seen it for myself and:

2. My builder has seen it for himself and:

3. My plumber has seen it for himself and:

4. I have the photographs and finally:

5. The plywood has been left untouched and in situ…

Any other questions?

This morning was grey and damp again, with more rain forecast for this afternoon, so I finished off the bonfire season with a small one in Dyke orchard to dispose of the hedge clippings, then a slightly bigger one in Bank orchard to remove the last traces of the storm damaged oak limbs.

11 April 2005    Flag has spent the last few days digging somewhere just beyond the woodyard, returning when called with a great big grin on his muddy face. Today his excited barking indicated that something was only-just-out-of-reach…, but then he sounded distant again. And then nearby. Then distant again. Then nearby. I went into the wood to investigate and found him standing beside the Major Oak and barking in frustration at its roots – then he scrabbled into the freshly dug hole underneath its roots and disappeared until only his back paws and the end of his furiously wagging tail were still showing – and barked, very indistinctly and very well muffled by the hundred tons of the 200-year old oak tree he was busy under-mining!

Once he had shuffled out again I tried to explain why this wasn’t a good idea, as I filled in the hole and reinforced it with a barricade of branches. I’ve had quite enough of trapped dogs and of trees with hinges, thank-you.

10 April 2005    Warm, dry sunny weather has returned and I spent the morning up in the wood splitting and stacking the remaining ‘drums’ of sycamore. By lunch time only half a dozen drums remained intact.

The rainfall so far this month is about 1 inch.

9 April 2005    The sound of surf pounding the coast is clearly audible from the garden this morning. Still a bit blustery but I lit a bonfire of the hedge clippings anyway. This could have been a mistake as the smoke swirled around the orchard and sparks were carried into the wood. Luckily everything is still damp from yesterday’s hail, sleet and snow. Wet again this afternoon, so I took advantage of the pole barn to split and stack the last of the oak logs.

8 April 2005    Northerly gales brought a return to winter weather, with a good dusting of snow on the high moors. On lower ground the hail, sleet and snow just melted away on contact with the warm ground.

5 April 2005    The accumulated clutter of assorted external pipes, gutter heads and overflows from the bathroom was removed today and rationalised into a much simpler and neater system. And now none of it ever needs painting. Wonderful.

4 April 2005    Work began today on the new Groves Dyke bathroom and by mid-afternoon the old suite had been ripped out.

Getting the bath out involved removing some bricks from under the new (2002) Everest window, revealing a wooden block of untreated, white softwood – not the ‘All our sub frames are Mahogany’ I had been told before Everest started work! (When I had protested that Mahogany from unsustainably managed tropical rain forest was very inappropriate, they had changed their story to ‘Well actually, its sustainably managed European Redwood’, which I then agreed to). All I can say is, if this block is of ‘European Redwood’ (which turns out to be common or garden Scots Pine), then what on earth is all the dark red wood they used for my window sills, etc? Is that actually tropical rainforest Mahogany, after all?! How dare they!

(Don’t you know about my problems with Everest Double Glazing and the work they carried out at Groves Dyke Holiday Cottage a few years ago? Oh, do click here to find out all about it…)

This evening a roebuck stood stock still in Dyke orchard, watching Flag hurtle blindly down the drive on the trail of some exciting scent. Once he had gone past within 5 yards, the buck strolled off in the opposite direction to disappear into the wood, leaving poor Flag searching vainly in entirely the wrong place. I think I could even hear the deer chuckling to itself as went past!

3 April 2005    Log splitting and stacking this morning up in the wood. By lunchtime about half of the sycamore logs were done and so was I. After recovering, I carried half a dozen armfuls of hedge cuttings up into Dyke orchard and dumped them on top of the well charred willow stumps.

The sun was strong enough and warm enough this afternoon to spend a very lazy hour just sitting still and enjoying its warmth. Highly recommended! But the tall, floppy and overhanging garden hedge required some serious surgery before too many birds start nesting and this occupied the rest of the day.

2 April 2005    Flag and I spent the day de-brambling the last remaining patch by the big bonfire site in Bank orchard. Had the bonfire gone up as imagined, these brambles would have been burned off in the process – but since the fire struggled from beginning to end, a little bit more Men’s’ Downhill with Secateurs was required instead.

1 April 2005    The new suite for Groves Dyke bathroom was delivered today. More sun today!

March 2005 Weather Summary

Maximum temperature 64ºF / 17ºC. Minimum 26ºF / -4ºC. Actual at 0930 today was 47ºF / 8ºC. Calm, dry and misty. Rainfall total for the month is 3 inches / 75mm. The month started with blizzards and snowdrifts soon turning to wintry showers, then dry, mild and cloudy for days on end before turning wet again at the end of the month.

31 March 2005    A weasel ran across the patio to investigate the stone walls under the feeding station and later a female great spotted woodpecker, the first I have seen or heard for several months, fed on the peanut cake.

The sun finally broke through the all pervading cloud cover for the first time in what feels like weeks. Wonderful!

30 March 2005    The fire risk is still Very Low, so I decided to light the top edge of the big bonfire, hoping it would burn away most of the fuel nearest the phone wires first, before moving downslope and really getting the main body of fuel going. How embarrassing it would be if it just took off, melted the wires and I couldn’t even phone for the fire brigade before the whole wood caught light…

What actually happened was that the whole pile was so wet and so sodden that I had to coax each individual branch to catch light, nursing the poor pathetic fire every inch of the way, adding cardboard and using the weed wand to revive the flames from time to time, with never any danger of a decent fire. It was 4 hours later and mid-afternoon before the flames really got going, by which time the phone lines and the wood were quite safe. Phew! Relax… and breath again…

28 March 2005    More than an inch of rain fell last night, so this morning was spent unblocking drains and removing the countless twigs brought down by January’s big wind from as many water courses as possible, just in case the heavy rains continues.

Dryer by mid afternoon, so I moved a bit of the medium sized bonfire in Bank orchard down the hill and away from the big oak. It burned well and I was able to gradually dismantle the original bonfire, throwing each bit onto the fire and eventually cleared the whole site. Work was interrupted twice by having to go and kill Flag’s latest trophies: first a bank vole and then a shrew. He looks so disappointed when his latest new ‘toy’ suddenly stops squeaking!

Only the big bonfire left to do…

27 March 2005    The East weekend was cool, grey, overcast and miserable. This morning was mizzling so much that the splitting axe kept slipping out of my hands, so I abandoned splitting and stacking the sycamore in the wood and retreated to my nice new pole barn to carry, split and stack willow logs in the dry.

21 March 2005    Bonfire Day! The perfect weather continued and 5 different piles of lop and top in Bank Orchard were burned in 2 small and 1 medium-sized bonfires. The orchard looks much better now, with just one medium and 1 very large stack still to burn. The former is almost underneath the General Oak (just a bit inferior to the Major Oak) and the latter is just too damn near the bottom of the wood, not to mention the phone wires. Both will have to be dragged a bit further downhill before they are safe to light.

The frogs have all disappeared now, but flowering wood anemones have joined the ‘wild’ daffodils, ‘tame’ daffodils, primroses and dog’s mercury. The willows are just coming into leaf and the sunny weather has been replaced with mild and grey.

20 Mar 2005    Another warm, dry spring day. 15 minutes watching the feeding station produced: Blue Tit 5, Chaffinch 5, Blackbird 3, Great Tit 3, Robin 3 (squabbling again) Dunnock 2, Marsh Tit 2, Coal Tit 1, Long Tailed Tit 1, Wood Pigeon 1, Bank Vole 1 and a single Chiffchaff calling in the wood (1020-1035, F1SW, 8/8). Just after the count a young Roe buck suddenly leapt into the garden and stood in the middle of the lawn behind the pond. It look around and then strolled towards the pond. Now I knew, and it didn’t, that Flag was lying fast asleep and just out of deer-sight on the patio between me and the pond and that when the deer got a bit closer he would suddenly wake up, leap up and set off in very hot pursuit and doubtless follow the deer over several barbed wire fences and through several fields full of pregnant ewes – and so, sadly, I gently waved my hand and the deer ran off silently into the wood. Flag slept soundly through it all and was none the wiser.

The morning was spent in the wood splitting a ton or more of the sycamore windrows. The cylinders split easily but are still heavy with sap so I re-stacked the firelogs onsite for another few months of drying.

19 Mar 2005    Perfect day for a bonfire, still, damp and overcast. The big pile of lop and top from the storm damaged willows in Groves Dyke orchard has now been burnt on top of the willow stumps, so stop them coppicing. Normally I would encourage them, but these two are just too near to the septic tank and willows are renowned for having very intrusive root systems.

18 Mar 2005    Heard the first chiffchaff of the year in the wood today. The ground has dried out again after the last few days of mild, dry weather and already some of the sawn-up sycamore has been carried down to the woodyard.

17 Mar 2005    The mild spring weather continues, with 3 lapwing displaying on the moor top at Silla Howe. The frogs in the pond continue to purr contentedly and the willow twigwam is just coming into leaf. This evening I noticed three newts walking across the back yard from different directions, but all heading for the pond. The Long March has begun!

16 March 2005    Spring arrived this morning with 30 to 35 frogs jostling for position in the pond, all calling loudly like a friendly little group of mopeds. Half a dozen hand span blobs of frogspawn were added to during the day, until it all became one big blob about 2 feet across. This is the highest number and largest blob I can remember in the 6 years that the pond has existed.

14 March 2005    A 1 hour drive to Redcar, the South Gare and the Tees estuary. Surprisingly few birds around but a grey seal, a red breasted merganser drake and a red throated diver all enlivened a fairly thin sprinkling of redshank, oystercatcher, turnstone and gulls.

13 March 2005    Two newts in the dog dish by the Stickery, the first of the year.

12 March 2005    No spawn, just a layer of ice on the pond instead.

11 March 2005    Several large (female) frogs croaking in the pond this evening… spawn tomorrow?

9 Mar 2005    The Inspector Called – to check that Groves Dyke was still up to Yorkshire Tourist Board 3 Star standard – which it is. He approved of the new conservatory and deck, understood that a 7 week let in January and February had delayed (but paid for!) the bathroom refurbishment – which is now booked in for early April – and we discussed my plans for the kitchen refurbishment and new utility room in November and December 2005.

8 Mar 2005    A day of driving drizzle, adding another ½ inch of rain today to the 1 inch of wintry showers so far this month.

6 Mar 2005    Today I stacked about 4 or 5 tons of the newly sawn sycamore into three North / South windrows, just to get them up off the ground before they start to rot. Each piece is up to 16 inches diameter and 18 inches long. These cylinders of sycamore were laid on their sides onto runners (straight-ish branches) reaching uphill for several yards from a substantial tree, then another layer on top and another on top of that. The wind can blow all around to dry them off and the sun can shine on the easterly ends in the forenoon and the westerly ends in the afternoon. I will try to split them into firelogs before they dry out too much and re-stack them on site for a year until they loose about 50% of their weight by evaporation. Then (and only then!) will I start to carry them down to the woodyard! Another 2 or 3 tons of Sycamore will remain in the now-vertical-again tree stump, which will probably grow a set of coppice poles (Thinks: must remember that when these are very tall and very heavy, the next big storm may hinge the whole damn thing through 90º again… Another thinks: this could be a handy way of carrying out tree surgery without having to climb the tree… must try to patent that!). Another ton of branches has been roughly stacked for carrying downhill when the path is less slippery and dangerous. That leaves about another ton of useful branches still snagged up in the neighbouring trees, not to mention the same again of minor lop and top. I am sure there is a good 2 or 3 years’ worth of firewood available all told – but then it will take me 2 or 3 years to carry it all down to the house, anyway…

The Green Woodpecker and the Nuthatch were calling as I worked (and Flag played), as was the steam train shuttling back and forth to Whitby.

5 Mar 2005    The thaw has well and truly begun, with green fields reappearing in all directions. The river Esk is almost full with melt water off the moors and the path around the wood is so muddy as to be almost impassable – but I have managed to carry a couple of logs down to the woodyard every day.

As I sawed these up for the new cord, the long lost sound of a steam train whistle echoed around the dale. She was a special excursion from Grosmont to Whitby, marking the reopening of the Esk Valley Line to steam. All 7 carriages were full of happy smiling faces and everyone waved at everybody else at the slightest provocation.

Began to stack the oak logs in the pole barn to form the final section of ‘wall’, while Flag dug a new hole designed to kick mud all over the stone approach to the barn. Now there is mud absolutely everywhere, including those few places which weren’t already muddy – still, if a thing is worth doing…

3 March 2005    Snowing steadily again this morning and the lawns are now more white than green. Three roe deer strolled from the wood to the drive and Flag got excited but failed to connect. A 15 minute bird count at the feeding station showed: Blue Tit 3, Great Tit 3, Long Tailed Tit 3, Chaffinch 2, Coal Tit 2, Dunnock 2, Blackbird 1 and Wood Pigeon 1 (0915-0930, 7/8 cloud, calm, light snow / hail showers, 32ºF.

Geoff and Selina came back again today to chainsaw the fallen oak limbs in Bank orchard and drive them to the pole barn in the pickup.

The main roads across the moors are completely black again, but with an endless expanse of unbroken show stretching for miles on either side.

2 March 2005    This morning, to my astonishment, the tree stump they had worked on yesterday had flipped upright again! Sometime during the night the whole root plate, some 24 feet in length and weighing many tons, had toppled back into its proper place, returning the tree stump to the vertical again. Phew! Good thing it didn’t happen while they were still standing on top and sawing the counter weight branches off!

Snowing heavily again this morning and beginning to lie, but then it stopped, the sky cleared, the sun shone a bit and the lawns turned green again. Still too cold to melt on the moortop, I’m sure – but I have no intention of going up there to check…

1 March 2005    Geoff returned with Guy to chainsaw the big wind-thrown sycamore on the western edge of the wood. With its huge root plate standing on edge, the 4 main trunks lying horizontally but 6 feet off the ground and its branches pressing down on the blackthorn spiney and the hazel coppice, this was a very tricky operation. Standing on the horizontal trunks, they gradually worked their way from the crown towards the root plate, cutting off the branches and shortening the trunks as they went. By late afternoon the tree was reduced to a man-sized stump, still lying horizontally in mid-air and supported only by the up-turned root plate, while all around lay the sawn branches and the 18 inch long ‘drums’ of the cut trunks.

February 2005 Weather Summary

Maximum 52ºF / 11ºC. Minimum 26ºF / -4ºC. Actual at 0930 today was 35ºF / 3ºC. Rainfall total for month 2¾ inches / 35mm. A long period of high pressure throughout most of the month kept mild, dry and sunny conditions, replaced in the last few days of the month with colder, weather and a major blizzard on on the 24th. Several inches of snow fell on the moortop and drifts were up to 15 feet deep.

28 Feb 2005    On the regional TV news this evening was the relief of the Lion Inn high on Blakey Ridge, where the publican and one walker were marooned by the snow on Tuesday 22nd. It was Saturday 26th before the first snowplough managed to clear the road to them and the camera crew was able to go and record the 15 foot snowdrift up against the side of the building. Howzat for a lock-in!

27 Feb 2005    This morning I burned all the lop and top from the fallen willows, clearing the right of way for the first time since the tree was blown over in early January. Flag continued to dig and chew (yes, chew) his way under the stump in his quest for some elusive wood mouse. I don’t know just how many calories there are in an average wood mouse, but over the last day and a half Flag must have expended several thousand calories trying to dig it out!

26 Feb 2005    I spent the day carrying, splitting and stacking the willow. About half of it now forms the ‘walls’ of the pole barn (stacked between the perimeter poles) and the other half I stacked in the orchard where the ground is now so wet and muddy that the wheelbarrow just sank.

25 Feb 2005    A much quieter day weather-wise. The lawns around the house are still  green, but the moortop is very white. Geoff and Selina arrived to chainsaw the last of the fallen willow tree behind Groves Dyke orchard and to fell the partly uprooted willow next to it.

24 Feb 2005    This was the day of the Big Blizzard! Down here in the bottom of the dale it was very windy, sleety, green and soggy – but whatever the weather is doing down here, it is always ten times worse on the moortop. Just a mile away at the top end of Sleights everything was covered in several inches of cold, white, fluffy stuff and the A169 going up Blue Bank onto the moor was down to one lane. Beyond the Littlebeck turnoff, a ‘Police. Road Closed’ sign in the middle of the road was ignored by one local driver who wanted to get to Pickering. After a few miles of tricky driving and somewhere in the middle of nowhere, he caught up with the snowplough gritter wagon just as it gave up at a snowdrift three times taller than it was, did a three point turn and headed back to Whitby. He followed it.

The weather had eased by early afternoon and the main roads were reopened. On the regional TV news this evening was the story of the RAC patrolman who got stuck in a snowdrift on the Hamer road between Egton Bridge and Rosedale. Just what he thought he was doing on such a minor little road in such awful weather was not recorded, but he was eventually rescued after 8 hours in his van, calling for help on his radio and his mobile phone. The snowplough was unable to reach him due to the deep drifts across the road. The RAF rescue helicopter was unable to reach him due to the 70 mph winds and horizontally ‘falling’ snow on the moortop. It took a local farmer in a powerful tractor to get to him, with the immortal words ‘I thought you were supposed to rescue me!’

22 Feb 2005    Sleights is still surrounded by green fields but the moortop is inches deep in snow. It seems the A169 to Pickering was blocked for a time yesterday, probably due to either snow drifts at the Fox and Rabbit or a lorry stuck on the steep hairpin bend at Saltersgate. The snow showers continued off and on throughout the day and by evening even the fields around Sleights were turning white.

My rain gauge has recorded over an inch of rain in the past couple of days, most of it falling as sleet and melting on contact with the ground. If the temperature had be a degree or two below freezing instead, that would have been about a foot of snow.

21 Feb 2005    Yesterday I went back to the big sycamore up in the wood. Flag got on with the serious business of digging enough holes nearby to catch a poor wood mouse (which I had to kill for him), while I just wasted time clearing away more squashed blackthorn and hazel from underneath the fallen tree. We both abandoned our tasks when a particularly heavy hail shower started and refused to stop, but the hailstones are still just melting away.

This morning it was back to wintry showers of hail and sleet, which melted away before the next shower. A walk around the wood just after one snow shower revealed lots and lots of rabbit prints, suggesting either a couple of very active rabbits or else far more rabbits than I had imagined. In the past few months I have only every seen 2 at the same time.

Geoff arrived to inspect the various trees I asked him to chainsaw: the original 2 intertwined oak limbs which came down in Bank orchard before Christmas and then the various trees damaged in the big wind in early January: the fallen willow behind Dyke orchard and the partly uprooted one next to it; the partly uprooted apple in Bank orchard and then the big sycamore up in the wood. That should be enough firewood for the next 3 winters! Always assuming I can carry down the 10 tons or so of sycamore from way up in the wood… Let me see… at a rate of 2 logs per dog walk per day for 3 years… Yes, it should be possible. Who needs to pay a fortune to keep fit by joining a gym and run nowhere fast on a glorified hamster wheel?!

19 Feb 2005    Fine, dry and sunny one minute, then cold, wet wintry hail showers the next. The temperature is still just above freezing, so the hailstones just melt away in a few minutes, but everything is wet and sloppy. The rain gauge now shows about ½ inch of rain so far this month.

In view of the short, sharp showers I picked a job which involves walking past the house every few minutes, so that I can seek sanctuary as required – carrying the oak branches from the uphill end of Bank orchard, along the drive, through the gate, up the 16 steps, around the 4 sharp corners, through the yard and into the far end of the pole barn. I lost count of just how many branches there were, but while I was doing that Flag had enough time to dig a great big pit under the big oak tree itself. That should make it a lot more stable, thanks a bunch!

16 Feb 2005    A cold night with ice on the pond this morning, soon melted by a warm, bright sun. The wind has gone and now that the woodshed is down to half-full, I spent a very pleasant morning in the woodyard sawing pieces from last winter’s cord. Each 4 foot 6 inch long piece of cordwood needs just 2 cuts to produce 3 firelogs, each 18 inches long and just the right size for my wood burning stove.

Being a lazy sort of person, I just threw each newly sawn firelog from the woodyard, across the back lawn and into the yard by the house. Meanwhile and unbeknownst to me, Flag (being a retriever sort of dog) was also busy – collecting each freshly landed firelog from the yard and carrying them all back towards the woodyard…

15 Feb 2005    The Whitby Gazette today announced that Network Rail (formerly Railtrack, formerly British Rail) has just completed the £2½ million upgrade of the Esk Valley line from Middlesbrough to Whitby, via Sleights. In the past month over 10,000 tonnes of stone have been brought in (by train, thank goodness!), as well as new sleepers and new continuous rail, so that the line can now carry the heavier steam trains as well as diesels. This job has been postponed so many times that we were all beginning to think we would never see another steam train in Whitby.

Now all we need is for Yorkshire Forward (sorry, but that is the best they could come up with for what used to be called the Yorkshire Development Board) and the Yorkshire Tourist Board (recently taken over by Yorkshire Forward) and the UK Government (via Yorkshire Forward) and the European Community (in the form of the UK Government, via Yorkshire Forward) to put back the 10 miles of track between Pickering and Malton (ripped up by dear old Dr Beeching in the 1960s ‘to save money’) and then – and only then – can we once again have direct rail communication from Whitby (via the steam preservation line from Grosmont to Pickering) to the National Railway Museum in York. Just think of all the Special Steam Excursions we could have then, each delivering 1000 people into Whitby town centre with not a single car involved!

Until that wonderful day, however, we will all have to go on travelling by rail from York to Darlington, change and wait for a Darlington to Middlesbrough train and then change and wait for a very infrequent Middlesbrough to Whitby train. Nobody will, of course, so we will all continue to use our cars – aided only by the £2 million Park and Ride by bus scheme planned for Whitby by North Yorkshire County Council (90% funded by Government). Then we can sit in a Park and Ride bus, stuck in the middle of the same traffic jam in Bagdale and Whitby town centre as all the other traffic – while a heavily subsidised (and almost empty) diesel train trundles down the Esk Valley and into Whitby town centre. Good, innit?

13 Feb 2005    Continued working on, around and under the fallen sycamore yesterday and today. The weather is cooler thanks to strong Northerly winds, with occasional wintry showers.

The female Great Spotted Woodpecker returned briefly to the feeding station this morning and just grabbed a bite to eat.

9 Feb 2005    A good day for a drive across the moor with friends. I was surprised to see just how many trees have been brought down, with noticeable numbers at Skelder Plantation, Egton Bridge (but the Giant Redwoods there seem to have escaped), Rosedale and Hutton-le-Hole.

Wintry showers this evening brought the first measurable rainfall (⅜ inch) so far this very dry and mild month.

7 Feb 2005    Today was a ‘Let’s see how much of the lop and top I can remove from under the fallen sycamore without bringing it all crashing down on my head’ day. Answer: Quite a lot.

The sycamore branches (‘legs’) are being left well alone; the blackthorns, up to 6 inch diameter, are being sawn through one by one, while the pollarded hazel stems are being carefully snipped as little as possible and pushed and pulled back into the vertical as much as possible. Once the whole area is cleared a bit more, the man with the chainsaw can be invited (in one of his quiet moments) to come and cut through the now horizontal 2 foot sycamore trunk and bring the whole thing safely down to the ground…

6 Feb 2005    Spent today de-snagging a snapped-off ash limb from a neighbouring oak. Both were planted in the 1980s, but all the ash trees we were provided with tended to fork about head height into two main stems – and eventually splitting down the middle in a strong wind.

It was while I was busy bringing this one down to ground level that I gradually realised how much brighter the sky was. Not just better weather, not just more daylight, but mainly due to the disappearance of the 100 year old sycamore that used to stand in the hedge behind the blackthorn spinney that is next to the second hazel coup. Where is that big sycamore now? Lying across the blackthorn spinney and pressing it down onto and into the second hazel coup! In fact, he whole 10 tons of it is precariously propped some 6 feet up in the air by the occasional sycamore branch, a few blackthorn stems and several hazel polls. The butt end is still firmly attached to its root plate, which is now vertical. Oh good. That’ll be fun.

Either I just didn’t see that this mature tree had been brought down by the big wind or, more likely, it was critically weakened by the hurricane but remained upright – and then keeled over several days later. Not only was it standing on the western edge of the wood, but it was also heavily covered in ivy. It’s not that the ivy that actually the tree, it’s just that the additional sail area created by the ivy leaves provides enough wind resistance to snap the roots of the tree itself – and down she comes.

5 Feb 2005    The bright, dry sunny weather has returned, but with a bit of a cooler edge. This morning 3 roe deer scampered around the wood, utterly confusing poor Flag, who galloped off in all directions but didn’t manage to bump into any of them.

Several clumps of snowdrops are now in full flower in both orchards, with just a few individual daffodils in almost bursting yellow bud…

Cleared another self-sown multi-stemmed sycamore from Bank orchard (hopefully without crushing too many of the daffodil shoots) and carried the 6 pole sized stems to the woodyard for stacking into the newest cord – which is now almost up to half its proper height of 4 feet. At dusk a roe deer strolled up the orchard and right past the sycamore stool I was working on this morning.

Took a few of my Unique Walking Sticks (click here) to sell at ‘Earth Wind and Fire’, the Whitby shop on the corner of Bridge Street and Church Street. Nice to have such a central location.

Yesterday a female Great Spotted Woodpecker, the first I have seen for weeks, landed briefly on the feeding station but didn’t pluck up enough courage to actually eat anything and flew off without sampling any of the delights on offer. Women!!

January 2005 Weather Summary:

Maximum 56ºF / 13ºC. Minimum 24ºF/-4ºC. Actual at 0930 hours today: 44ºF/6ºC. Precipitation: 1½ inches / 35 mm. Early in the month a very severe westerly storm damaged many trees and buildings in and around Sleights. The month was mild and dry, with a cooler and wetter final week.

30 Jan 2005    A slightly better day after an overnight frost. At 1010 am it was 1/8 cloud cover, calm, dry, sunny and mild and a 1 hour Big Garden Birdwatch produced: Long Tailed Tit 8, Blue Tit 7, Chaffinch 3, Blackbird 2, Dunnock 2, Great Tit 2, Robin 2, Coal Tit, 1, Kestrel 1, Magpie 1, Marsh Tit 1, Wood Pigeon 1. The heavily pregnant Bank Vole obliged with several appearances, but the Heron waited until afternoon before landing by the beck, and the Jays in the wood were even later. Later still, a Green Woodpecker yaffled briefly from the wood.

Later I dismantled the fallen dead cherry tree, brought down by the storm.

The local parish magazine records that at St John’s church in Sleights the big wind at the beginning of this month felled a tree which destroyed part of the churchyard wall, while at All Saints’ church in nearby Ugglebarnby (‘Owl Beard’s village’) roof slates and two large [sandstone] coping stones were blown off the roof, causing damage worth up to £1000.

29 Jan 2005    I woke to a normal dawn chorus today, instead of the recent and all too familiar song of the weekend chainsaws, still clearing up the fallen timber from the big wind.

After a 1 hour watch of the feeding station (for the Big Garden Birdwatch), I carried the last of the coppiced sycamore from Bank orchard to the woodyard. The poles are ready to be cut into 4 feet 6 inch lengths for the new cord and the rods were woven into the woodyard fence.

In Whitby 2 Turnstones scuttled on the concrete walkway by the swing bridge, completely ignoring all the afternoon shoppers nearby. Upstream, 150 redshank roosted on one of the pontoons by the new luxury housing development (what is so ‘luxury’ about those huge high blocks of ticky-tacky flats?) near Spittal Bridge (which was originally ‘hospital’ bridge, meaning the leper hospital built 1 mile outside the town centre for all the infected soldiers returning from the Crusades).

On the golf course some 30 Oystercatchers loafed on the empty greens, while on the beach the surf was still quite high, even though the tide was well out. The remains of 2 guillemots were found in the tideline and the sheltered sandy gully used last year by the nesting sand martins is now part missing and part fully exposed to the elements.

28 Jan 2005    Sheets of rain have been sweeping across the moor today, still driven by a northerly wind. It really is quite remarkable to watch the heavy raindrops falling at 45º to the vertical! I hope it improves a bit for this weekend’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch…

25 Jan 2005    Strong northerly winds on Sunday evening brought cold, raw weather with frequent wintry showers. Only ¾ of an inch of rain had fallen so far this month, but these wintry showers will soon push up the month’s total. The sound of the storm driven surf pounding the coast three miles away can be heard from here. The noise is tempered by the trees and muffled by the miles but is still unmistakable.

23 Jan 2005    Spent the last couple of days working in the wood and orchard. It has been fine, dry, sunny and cold with ice on the pond for several days. Poor Flag hasn’t yet  worked out that licking the ice on his bucket of water in the yard isn’t quite the same as having a proper drink.

Yesterday a 15 minute bird count at the feeding station revealed Blue Tit 5, Chaffinch 5, Blackbird 3, Robin 3, Dunnock 2, Long Tailed Tit 2, Wood Pigeon 2, Coal Tit 1, Great Tit 1, Marsh Tit 1, Magpie 1 and a Kestrel soared above the wood and perched at the top of the leaning ash tree (1010 – 1025, 1/8 cloud cover, Force 2 northerly. Later, 6 Long Tailed Tits arrived and a male Bullfinch basked in the woodyard. No sign of the female Great Spotted Woodpecker which reappeared yesterday for the first time in months, plucked up just enough courage to land on the feeding station twice, but not enough to actually feed.

Dyke orchard has now had all its brambles snipped, but the first snowdrop is already in flower and the first daffodil is in bud, so I made no attempt to rake the cut brambles off. In Bank orchard the brambles are as before and the snowdrop and daffodil shoots are several inches high. Several more sycamores were coppiced and the big pile of lop and top from the fallen oak limbs has been restacked, after being blown downhill and scattered by the storm. Further storm damage includes a partly uprooted mature apple tree which may, I hope, re-root and not topple down the slope.

17 Jan 2005    Good news for air travellers was announced today: a new international agreement now means that flying will become even cheaper. Great. But aren’t these lucky air passengers the same people who complain about higher insurance premiums due to increasingly frequent and increasingly severe heat waves, droughts, floods and storm damage? Obviously, 2 + 2 must equal 22…

16 Jan 2005    A lovely morning, calm, dry, mild (mid-40s) and sunny. A leisurely stroll around the wood to trim off the occasional bramble or briar and straighten the odd willow sapling. Discovered that a 20-year old goat willow had been partly uprooted and needed a couple of branches removed to keep the path open.

The daffodil shoots in Groves Dyke lawn are now almost 6 inches high and snowdrop shoots are also showing, so too late to strim the Dyke orchard. Instead, I snipped as many brambles as I could find with secateurs and then stopped walking about on it.

The afternoon was spent in Bank orchard, clearing the remaining bramble clump by my newly-invented method of walking backwards into it, while kicking backwards to ‘roll’ the entire clump down the steep slope, snipping through any rooted bramble stems with mini-loppers as they become exposed. I think this new sport has a real future and, when it is eventually accepted by the Olympic Committee, I might just enter the Men’s 100m Downhill…

Cleared (almost) all the brambles in the orchard, except for the bit where the bonfire will be sited. Coppiced several of the sycamores which will be inaccessible once the daffs are flowering, leaving others which can be reached from the top of the retaining wall. When the traditional varieties of apple, pear, damson, quince and medlar saplings (planted over the last 8 years) are well enough established to prevent any landslides, then all the non-fruit trees will be removed completely. Until then, I think it is best to let the sycamores continue to hold the soil in place.

15 Jan 2005    Spent this morning sorting out the fallen willow tree at the back of Dyke Orchard. All the firewood-sized branches were thrown back onto my property, all the lesser lop and top was stacked ready for a bonfire when they dry out a bit and all of the main trunk, still at a funny angle, was left well alone for someone else to deal with. The bits of Hazel rod rescued from the poor hazel tree now lying crushed underneath the Willow were used to strengthen the deadwood fence of the wood yard.

After lunch I sorted, split and stacked the ton of very green oak which Geoff (who cuts the grass in the summer) had tipped inside the pole barn a couple of days ago. I must remember to ask whose tree it used to be, before the Big Wind flattened it.

12 Jan 2005    Clearing up after the storm continues, but then Whitby had another problem to cope with. The intense low pressure system associated with the storm (946 millibars when it was off western Scotland a few days ago) moved off towards Scandinavia. The resulting tidal surge moving down the North Sea reached Whitby just as the spring high tide was due, raising the already very high tide another metre and flooding parts of Whitby. There was a flood warning, but it was issued 30 minutes after the shops, pubs and restaurants around Dock End were ankle-deep. The new owner of Trenchers restaurant (who paid £3 million for it just before Christmas) started his ‘open all year’ policy just in time to find himself sweeping the salt water out the front door. Just as well that these floods were only due to a normal spring tide and a North Sea surge and that there was no onshore gale nor heavy rainfall on the moors as well.

One shopkeeper asked the firefighters why they weren’t pumping the ankle-deep flood waters out of his premises and got the response: ‘Where to? This is sea level!’

10 Jan 2005    A full walk around the wood revealed lots of broken branches (mostly the ones already dead from Grey Squirrel damage) as well as a fallen Cherry (very poorly) and a mature Sycamore on the top boundary with a limb snapped off. My milkman had a very narrow escape on Saturday when a huge oak tree fell across the road to Ruswarp just as he drove past, but luckily only the small, topmost branches hit the rear of his milk float!

Part of Sleights (not me) had no electricity from Sat dawn to Sunday teatime, 6 mature Lime trees have been lost on the Esk Hall avenue, an dangerously leaning electricity pole at the bottom of Blue Bank has had to be replaced and lots of houses have lost lots of slates. A mile away at Aislaby one old house had part of its slate roof sucked upwards and the loft hatch lifted and then crashed upwards against the rafters before falling back down again woke everyone in the house. Nearby a traditional pantiled cottage has the roof ‘rippled’ and now stands with alternate vertical stripes of sound and dislodged tiles. At Grosmont (4 miles up the dale from Groves Bank) an amateur met station recorded a gust of 125 mph. According to the Beaufort Wind Scale details sent by SA (many thanks) this is 50mph more than Hurricane Force 12.

Aye, it’s been a bit fresh!

Any coincidence that I could fly from my nearest airport at Middlesbrough to Stansted for just £9 and from there to almost anywhere in Europe for just £18? Or that gas guzzling 4×4 ‘Chelsea Tractors’ continue to choke our city suburbs, for no apparent reason, other than fashion? Or that there is still no VAT on aviation fuel and still no USA acceptance of the Kyoto Agreement? And we all wonder why the climate is changing and why more severe weather is happening more often!

Good, innit?

9 Jan 2005    The Daffodil shoots are already appearing in Dyke orchard, where the wind thrown Willow is still snagged at 45º on my neighbour’s hedge. The sound of chainsaws in all directions was non-stop while I paused for lunch. Returning to the Willow after lunch, I found that my nice neighbour had already removed much of the fallen tree. That’s why the chainsaws sounded so close! Finished the penultimate bramble clump in Bank orchard.

8 Jan 2005    Wow! That was a windy night! A ‘gale’ is Force 8 on the Beaufort Scale, a ‘Severe Gale’ is Force 9, a ‘Storm’ is Force 10 and I’m not quite sure what comes next, but it got pretty damn close last night. It was dry (only ¾ of an inch of rain has fallen so far this month) but the wind was very blustery, buffeting everything from almost every direction for hours on end. The noise woke me about 6am. The radio switched itself on after every power cut. Listening to BBC Radio 4, it seems that their transmitters were off air on several occasions, even when the electricity here was still on.

I got up to find my yard gate had snapped its rope and was swinging wildly back and forth, trying to batter itself to bits. A shortened walk around part of the wood, avoiding as many mature trees as possible, just in case they were about to topple over. Then the rescuing of the stainless steel barbecue, which was rolling about on the patio, and the bins in the yard and the bin lids in the orchard. The dog’s breakfast was served in an unconventional receptacle, as the proper dog dish was only rediscovered under the hedge some time later. The house is intact (well done and thank-you Mr Garbutt, the local Master Builder!), both the conservatories are intact and the pole barn is still in one piece (well done & thank-you Nephew Chris).

A very relaxed morning was spent in my conservatory, watching the birds make the most of the feeding station (5 Robins sharing, with only the minimum of bickering) as the storm blew itself out by lunchtime. A walk up Woodlands Drive, now littered with snapped off twigs and occasional branches up to 6 inches diameter, gave a view across the dale to Esk Hall, where that magnificent double avenue of mature Lime trees, a local landmark for miles, now has several gaps. Another walk around my own patch revealed that at the back of Dyke orchard a big Willow tree, about 18 inches butt diameter, has fallen across the right-of-way and is now snagged on my neighbour’s post and rail fence. By dusk, I had cleared a way for Mick the retired farmer to get under the fallen tree to reach his small rare breed flock of Teeswater Sheep. If I leave it overnight, chances are that the tree will settle down to ground level and then I can really get on top of it. Literally.

Q: What do you do if a big tree is about to fall on your head?

A: Cross your ankles.

Q: Will that help?

A: No, not much – but it will make it easier to unscrew you out of the ground afterwards.

[I was told that joke by a Head Forester, so it must be true].

Elsewhere in Sleights there are reports of slates ripped off roofs, in Goathland windows broken and more slates ripped off, and the roads to Beckhole are blocked by fallen trees. Further afield high sided vehicles are banned from the A66 and the M62, North Wales and Cumbria have dozens of flood warnings. The entire city of Carlisle is cut off by road and police are appealing for small boat owners to come and help rescue people trapped in their flooded homes. In Dumfries and Galloway the Larne – Cairnryan car ferry has run aground near Cairnryan harbour, with 100 people on board.

And what does the national news have to say about all this? ‘Blustery winds continue to affect the North.’ Ha! They had a damn site more to say about it when it was a bit windy one night near London, way back in 1987! Still, the main UK weather story really has to be the major flooding of Carlisle. It seems they had 9 inches of rain (about the average for 2 months) in just 36 hours. Any storm damage here is relatively minor compared to that!

7 Jan 2005    Very windy last night, still gale force today and tonight an ‘Emergency Severe Weather Warning’ (almost unheard of) from the Met Office for all of Southern Scotland and Northern England, warning of even more severe gales. It seems that the A66 was closed this afternoon – the emergency services were unable to recover an overturned wagon because every time they tried to cone-off the affected lane, the storm just blew all the traffic cones away! Oh dear. Mustn’t laugh…

New supplies of proper peanut flour fat cake delivered today and the Long Tailed Tits were delighted with ‘the real thing’ within 10 minutes of hanging it up. Luckily, the male Sparrowhawk visited the feeding station just a few minutes too soon.

5 Jan 2005    Another suitable afternoon to work on Bank Orchard and the strimming is now complete. That is not to say that all the brambles have gone, however, as one clump is just too thick and strong for my brush cutter! Back to good old fashioned secateurs, mini-loppers and rake, I’m afraid – which will delay completion a bit longer. Still, it’s an awful lot quieter.

4 Jan 2005    The strong Westerly winds and occasional showers ended by lunchtime and the afternoon was spent strimming another third of Bank Orchard. The steep slope was still a bit wet and slippery and the low sun reflected off the inside of my visor, making it almost impossible to see what I was strimming. Eventually the ever increasing layer of mud flung onto the outside of the visor made it completely impossible to see what I was strimming. Still and all, George (the autopilot) seems to have done a good job and all the easy bits are now done. That just leaves the really difficult, thickly brambled third for another day…

I seem to have run out of the fat cake made with peanut flour, which the Long Tailed Tits appreciate so much. They were not at all impressed with the block of lard which I put in their usual feeder as a substitute and quickly abandoned it for the whole peanuts in another feeder instead! Must get onto CJ Wildbird Food to order some more. Quickly!

1 Jan 2005    An overnight frost. By 10 am the sky was cloudless with a light breeze from the North West. A 15 minute count from my conservatory overlooking the feeding station produced: Blue Tit 5, Chaffinch 4, Coal Tit 2, Robin 2, Blackbird 1, Dunnock 1, Great 1, Kestrel 1, Long Tailed Tit 1, Marsh Tit 1, Nuthatch 1, Wood Pigeon 1. A Bank Vole also appeared.

Rain is forecast for later today, so I continued work in Bank Orchard, planning to get a couple of hours’ work done before the rain arrived. I had planned to use the strimmer again, but it was such a lovely, peaceful morning that I took pity on all those with hangovers and decided not to. Instead I coppiced the self-sown Ash and Sycamores (which shouldn’t be in the orchard anyway) using my nice new ratchet-ing mega loppers – which are absolutely wonderful and slice through stems up to 2½ inches thick with very little effort. I wish I had bought these years ago! The rods created were trimmed, carried to the drive and woven into the deadwood fence alongside the drive.

Still no sign of rain after lunch, so I continued for another couple of hours until it finally arrived about 3pm. And very welcome it was, too – even Flag was glad of a rest from digging holes!