News Blog 2006

December 2006 Weather Summary: Total Rainfall: 68mm (2½ inches). Temperatures: Max: 13ºC (56ºF); Min: -6ºC (21ºF). Actual temperature at 0930 on 1 Jan 2007: 6ºC (42ºF).

A mainly dull and mild month, with just a week of sunny days and hard overnight frosts, then back to mild, grey weather again. The last few days of the month were remarkable for a whole series of wild, wet and windy days alternating with calm, dry and sunny days, as a number of low pressure systems swept across the UK.

31 Dec 2006     Carried more poles down from the wood to the woodyard for sawing into 4 feet 6 inch lengths of cordwood and stacking into a cord for 2 year’s seasoning. These will be ready for my woodburner in the winter of 2008/9.

30 Dec 2006    Another inch of rain fell since yesterday, bring this month’s rainfall total up from 1½ to 2½ inches. A couple of Roe Deer trotted off across the field above the wood this morning. Later in the day the male Sparrowhawk chased the small birds round and round the feeding station, before perching on the peanut feeder to rest, recover and reconsider his unsuccessful hunting strategy. A Nuthatch and 7 Long Tailed Tit visited, once all the excitement had died down again.

I checked and cleared all the drains in anticipation of the next intense low pressure system expected to cross the NE of England. More rain and more gales, so I removed the horizontal limb from a lopsided 25 year old Oak near the top of the wood. Hopefully, it will now be less likely to topple over in the storm.

29 Dec 2006    It rained last night, as forecast, and the bonfire had burned away to nothing and gone out. Gale force winds then began and the rain and wind continued all day. Apart from a little tidying-up, this was a good day to curl up by my wood burning stove and read one of the many good books received for Christmas. Especially ‘The Woodland House’ by Ben Law, as featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs. Excellent!

While preparing lunch I noticed that the gale had moved the big slab of slate in the yard outside. This slab, which had once been the side panel of the old bath in Groves Dyke, and is destined to become the top of my new south patio table, had been leaning against the back wall of the house. It is about 6 feet long, 2 feet wide and an inch thick, so it must weigh over a hundredweight (sorry, I have no idea what that is in litres), but still a super strong gust of wind had lifted it from the wall, swivelled it around slightly and deposited it partly across the kitchen window! Luckily, neither slab nor window was damaged.

28 Dec 2006    Not only did the weather permit, but it positively invited a full day’s hedge laying! A mild day, dry, calm and sunny was just what was required for hedging with lots of help from SA. We spent the morning clearing several yards of gappy hedge, removing any dead or dying Hawthorn stems and any unsuitable species like Brambles, Elder, Sycamore, Ivy, etc. By lunchtime we had prepared several yards of hedge and created a huge heap nearby for burning.

We were joined after lunch by AR, who struggled manfully to light the bonfire and eventually managed to do it very successfully (with the help of a sack of kindling and a Stihl leaf blower set to Gale Force 8! The actual hedge-laying began under the big Ash trees a little further along where the trees and their roots made normal staking impossible, so we just used the living tree trunks as stakes and cut, split, leaned and wove the Hawthorn and Hazel pleachers in and out between them. You won’t find this technique in any textbook, but as SA said ‘You always have to work with whatever is available’. Shall we call this type of hedging ‘Sleights Style’, perhaps?

27 Dec 2006    This seems to have been a CRAFT Christmas. CRAFT? Can’t Remember A Flipping Thing! But it was good.

The dull, grey, fairly mild and dry weather gave way to a bit of sunshine this afternoon and I swept up yet more leaves, cleared heaps of rotting apples from the drains, carried and sawed a few more logs, prepared the empty cord frame for this winter’s felling and thinning, replaced the bow saw blades and bought a new lightweight hand axe in anticipation of tomorrow’s proposed hedge laying at the back of Groves Dyke orchard (weather permitting).

Every morning for the past week a Blackbird has provided an hour’s worth of dawn chorus from a Hawthorn behind the pole barn, while other Blackies were feasting frantically on the berries. Is the singer a resident bird and the others are migrants from further North, I wonder?

22 Dec 2006    Email, broadband and linked mobile phone now working properly, at last! Lots of dashing about, wrapping things, posting things, etc, etc, while the whole country (apparently) has been covered in cold, dense fog. Well, that’s certainly one way to slow down climate change by reducing excess flights from Heathrow and lots of other airports – The Planet Strikes Back!

And while the whole of the UK was under this still, stagnant and sub-zero high pressure system, I bet not one single wind turbine managed to produce a single megawatt of electricity. If only the government would see sense and spend all those almost pointless wind power subsidies on simply insulating every property in the UK, then we could save c20% of our energy needs, instead of building more production which we then waste 20% of – and ruin the landscape into the bargain.

15 Dec 2006    Still calm but now raining. This has already been confirmed by the Met Office at the warmest year ever in the UK over the past 350 years, the warmest month ever in July 2006, the warmest autumn ever in 2006, and the 10 warmest years ever recorded in the UK have all been within the last 12 years. Methinks the trend is still upwards because I had to kill a Wasp which was flying around the kitchen this afternoon. In mid-December!

13 Dec 2006    The wind has stopped! For the first time in what seems like ages, a clam day. I took the old codger for a walk on the beach at Sandsend and yes, Flag came too. We pottered sedately along the beach in the sunshine and admired the waves from afar. Neither of us galloped for miles and neither of us felt inclined to lie in the shallows. In fact, for the first time ever, we both returned to the car completely dry. A couple of dozen Oystercatchers loafed on the golf course as we drove past.

Web access & email have gone funny again and BT are still promising to send the missing bit of kit…

12 Dec 2006    The dry, mild-ish (7° C) and very windy weather continues. Plastic patio chairs were retrieved from around the garden. Again. Two Roe Deer fled before the Flaghound at the top of the wood, but he returned soon after. Carrying branches down from the wood is getting more exciting, as the ground becomes wetter and more slippery.

Groves Dyke Holiday Cottage was inspected for the Yorkshire Tourist Board this afternoon, as arranged. Hopefully the ‘new’ kitchen and Utility Room (completed almost a year ago) will get a few extra Brownie Points, not to mention the even newer terrace at the entrance, the half-doors on the sitting room, the extra banister on the staircase, etc…

And then a cold call from a new Everest employee this afternoon: “I’m just checking that everything is OK with the products you bought from us a few years ago…” he said, before I interrupted his spiel and brought him up to speed on just who is still Everest’s most annoyed customer. He dropped his sales pitch and eventually even his loyal defence as I piled on the evidence. Poor man, but then I didn’t ask him to phone me, did I?

10 Dec 2006    Wild and windy again. The rain gauge says just over 1 inch so far this month and we did have a good hard frost a few nights ago – but I have forgotten which! All this windy weather means that my wood burning stove is eating logs like there is no tomorrow, no matter how much I try to reduce the burning rate. At least the weather is mainly dry and not too cold.

7 Dec 2006    A trip to Seal Sands National Nature Reserve on the North Tees with T & C, spoilt only by an accident and resulting traffic chaos on the A19, an unwanted 1 hour tour of Billingham as all the diverted traffic tried to find its way back to the A19, nowhere for lunch except the big shed and apartment complex which is now Hartlepool Marina (is this really what Scarborough Borough Council plans for Whitby harbour? May the Ombudsman help us prevent it!), failing light and a high tide. Never mind, we did see more bird species today than T & C saw in 2 weeks in China: c36 compared to 15. What have they done to all the birds in China? Eaten them? Poisoned them with industrial pollution? Eradicated them to reduce the risk of Bird Flu?

5 Dec 2006    The sun shone and the wind blew but we still enjoyed a lovely walk along the old railway line from Larpool Viaduct to Stainsacre and back, just part of the new National Cycle Network around the British Isles. This stretch is spoilt only by the new housing development which some idiots at Scarborough Borough Council have given Planning Permission for and which is now looming up alongside this 120 foot high, 6 million brick, Grade 2 Listed Building Victorian Viaduct. Brilliant!

2 Dec 2006    Gale Force 8 winds, gusting to Severe Gale Force 9, are forecast for this evening and tonight. Offshore there have even been warnings to shipping of Storm Force 10 and even Violent Storm Force 11 winds. Wow, that’s just one stage less than Hurricane Force 12!

November 2006 Weather Summary:

Total Rainfall: 67mm (2½ inches).

Temperatures: Max: 13ºC (56ºF); Min: -2ºC (28ºF).

Actual temperature at 0930 on 1 Dec 2006: 10ºC (49ºF). much cooler, N breeze, 6/8 cloud cover, showery. A second consecutive mild month, only slightly cooler than last month.

30 Nov 2006    Just returned from a quick dash to the Lake District for a few days, memorable as being one of the mildest late November breaks in over 25 years. B, J & E have been house-sitting and dog-minding while I was away, so all is well. Still nothing from BT, so I have just unplugged all the BT Broadband bits and returned to the good old fashioned dial-up and pay as you go connection – while also paying for the super new, high tech and completely non-working BT Broadband.

23 Nov 2006    No sign of the missing bit of kit from BT and now my email and web access is starting to misbehave. Watch this space…

21 Nov 2006    I’ve lost track of the last few days, what with concentrating on preparing the hedge for laying (removing loads of rusty barbed wire, wrapping it around rotten fence posts & carrying it down to the road for proper disposal), boarding up the back of the pole barn with ‘hit and miss’ vertical slats (which will let half the wind blow through and which will look better from the outside), tidying-up around the pole barn (re-arranging the contents to get the overflow undercover) while the dry, sunny weather holds and installing Broadband (ha!) when it doesn’t.

In the wet and windy bits my local whizkid, an IT professional, spent 3 hours trying to get my new BT Broadband set up (almost) and link my BT mobile phone to it, so that I can get a signal even in a house at the bottom of the dale. Not yet. It seems a bit of the kit is missing & BT will send it in a few days…

A very wet and windy night on the 19th removed most of the leaves from the more exposed trees. Apart from the evergreens, the Hazel leaves are still mostly green and intact, the Beech leaves are all brown and intact, the Oak leaves are all brown and half gone, the Ash trees are festooned with bunches of keys and no leaves, and everything else is bare poled – unless it is very well sheltered.

16 Nov 2006    A nice trip up the coast to a possible new wild bird feeding station for the general public, near Staithes, based on the idea of the long established one in the Birdwatchers’ Car Park at Forge Valley, Scarborough. Just a few minor formalities to check out first, like ownership, access, permission, funding, etc, etc…

It was such a nice day I took Flag to the Spindrift cafe by Staithes harbour for lunch. Of the 4 outside tables, 2 were already occupied and (with fleeces zipped) we all enjoyed some homemade soup and the wonderful view. Not bad for mid-November!

An afternoon drive along Eskdaleside from Sleights to Grosmont provided good views of the woodland below in all its magnificent autumn colour. This has only just reached its peak in the last few days, with many trees still largely green. Very odd, so late in the year. Especially when only last week the Yucca at Sneaton Castle in Whitby were already in full flower with next year’s blooms. Weird.

14 Nov 2006    And still the wonderful weather continues! We spent a good 5 hours in Bank Orchard, digging holes, chasing apples down the slope and digging more holes. One of us also finished dismantling the fallen Apple tree, clearing a bramble clump onto a suitable bonfire site and felling 8 fair sized Sycamore saplings. And it wasn’t Flag.

Now that the Rabbit numbers are increasing in this area, the horrible man-made myxomatosis has reappeared and I have to interrupt my walks occasionally to put some poor suffering bunny out of its misery. Just what I wanted. Isn’t germ warfare wonderful? Thanks a bunch, Australia.

12 Nov 2006    Another day of near perfect weather for working in the wood. Flag wriggled his way into the very centre of a large and brambly habitat pile, while I removed a small, self-sown and misshapen Gean, as well as the Rose Hip which had protected it from the Roe Deer. A couple of other branches were also removed to create a clearing just big enough to fell a 25 year old Ash tree into. Once that is down and tidied away, I’ll be able to drop a second Ash and then the four young Oaks on the edge of the clearing will finally have some space to grow and some sunlight to do it with.

A Green Woodpecker yaffled from the other side of the wood for much of the day.

10 Nov 2006    Now that I have finished sawing up the wood stored across the far end of the pole barn, I removed the now redundant upright from the middle and added some boarding across the end. This will not only screen that end but will also keep the work and storage area dryer.

8 Nov 2006    After a morning of sawing logs, I went to Dunsley Hall Country House Hotel near Whitby, to top up their Unique Walking Sticks from Whitby display and I was tempted to have lunch on their patio. The sky was clear, sun was shining brightly and there was a sheltered corner of the lawn – but even so it was a mite too chilly to be sitting out. Pity. It would have been nice to say that early November was so mild that eating out of doors was not only possible but also downright pleasant. Never mind, their homemade Apple and Celery soup was delicious!

It might not be quite warm enough for sitting out, but Flag and I enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon dismantling the fallen Apple tree in Bank Orchard

7 Nov 2006    Wasted most of this morning trying to find out from NEDL why there was no electricity in Goathland, Egton, Glaisdale nor parts of Whitby, and when it would be working again. Someone in Goathland had phoned me to see if the electric was ok in Sleights (it was) and if I could find out when it would be back on again. Because when the leccy goes off, there is no power (as you would expect), nor heat (if you have electric controls on your gas central heating), nor cordless phones (the base set stops working), nor mobile phones (the mobile phone mast stops working and, this being a hilly area, no other masts are within range), nor email, nor broadband, nor web access (the black box in the village telephone exchanges stop working). And it hasn’t even started snowing yet!

The only thing that does still work is an old fashioned, £9.99p, no frills, just plug it into the phone socket telephone. Except very few people have them anymore, as cordless and mobiles are ‘far better’. Not.

‘It was all caused by a Yellow Phase Jumper on top of a pole’ she explained. Good God, I thought they were an endangered species! Apparently not, it’s just a mechanical thingy that ‘jumps’ and cuts out the power on the yellow phase wire. Oh good, that’s all right then. Power was eventually restored around lunchtime, people could get warm again, get in touch again, and businesses in Whitby and district could start using their email, broadband and credit card terminals again. Well done Sir Alfred!

I finished strimming the big orchard, all except for the far (wasps’ nest) corner, which can jolly well wait for a good hard frost.

6 Nov 2006    Off to Whitby this morning to attend a meeting about Scarborough Borough Council’s ‘Core Strategy Plan’ for the next 15 years. Their proposed policies include ‘complete duelling of the A64 to Scarborough’ and also ‘protecting the environment by reducing CO2 emissions’… sorry, mate, it just doesn’t work like that. If you improve the roads then you will get more traffic, which will produce even more CO2. Why not push for improving the railway which runs alongside the A64, instead? That way more people can get to Scarborough by an alternative mode of transport which produces less CO2 per passenger than an equivalent number of cars.

Anything we want to happen in and around Whitby, plus anything we do NOT want to happen, has to be written into this plan. If it isn’t in, then it just won’t happen until after 2021. Don’t worry, we have until 5pm this Friday to get our ‘consultation’ in…

Continued strimming after lunch, making the most of all this mild, dry sunny weather.

The big generator is back again at the bottom of the drive for another week, while NEDL (Northern Electric Distribution Ltd) sub-contract the renewal of all the high voltage electric string along the valley to Sir Alfred McAlpine plc, who have sub-sub-contracted the numerous bits of the work to lots and lots and lots of smaller firms, whose left hand doesn’t know what their other left hand is doing. Or when. Or where.

One local farmer is so sick, sore and tired of endless ‘electricity’ people (he reckons well over 50 different individuals, on well over 50 different occasions, in well over 50 different vehicles so far in the past 6 months), wanting to drive across his fields to ‘just check something’ that he has refused to allowed another single vehicle onto his now-sodden fields. ‘I told them my farm was all permanent grassland and that all the work would have to be done in the summer when the ground was dry – but they didn’t even start work until late September!’

So this is supposed to be better than the old and ‘inefficient’ regional electricity boards which used to be responsible for everything electrical? I think not. Well done, Maggie – another good theory which just doesn’t work in practice.

5 Nov 2006    Oh good. It’s Bonfire Night again. With lots of other people’s fireworks.

One family proudly showed me what looked like a round metal biscuit tin. Good idea, I thought. Very safe. Keep all your little fireworks inside a metal box so they don’t light accidentally with a stray spark. Just like I used to do when I was young. But no! This ‘biscuit tin’ was in fact just one firework, with a big fuse sticking out the top. I didn’t read the instructions, but I guess they probably said something like ‘Light blue touch paper and run like hell. If you make it, enjoy the shock and awe’.

What fun. Flag my gun shy gundog will just love that…

He didn’t.

He had kittens all evening.

Anybody want a kitten?

3 Nov 2006    There were 3º F of frost last night, with some white and crispy grass this morning, which Corrie so loved to roll on. This is the first frost of the winter here, so thoughts turn to hedge laying. SA, who helped me with the hedge laying last year, came for a look at this winter’s little project: laying the hedge alongside the newly dug out ditch. There is too much to lay at the lower and wider end and nothing at all to lay at the upper end, so first a bit of ‘siding-up’ will be required to narrow it down to a single hedge line, and then quite a lot of planting with ‘quicks’ (ie Hawthorn cuttings) which will take a few more years to be layable. Quickthorn is the old name for Hawthorn, as it roots so easily (we’ll soon see!) and grows into a decent hedge so quickly.

A Red Admiral butterfly fluttered happily through the orchard looking for a safe place to hibernate, while the feckless Wasps just kept on binge drinking on the rotting apples without a thought for the impending (if seasonal) climate change about to overtake them. Ha! Don’t say you weren’t warned…

By midday it was warm enough for me to enjoy my lunch in the sun on my spatio. In a t-shirt! As if that wasn’t unusual enough, I then cut the grass on the dog lawn, just to make it less shaggy looking (we don’t want a shaggy dog lawn, do we?). Then a short strimming session in the orchard, followed by a very relaxing dismantling of the poor old Apple tree which snapped off and rolled down the slope several weeks ago. It was the sheer weight of apples what done it, with a shower of rain just to add to the weight and then a little bit of a breeze and the 8 inch diameter trunk just snapped at head height. I’ll trim off the jagged bit at the top of the trunk and hopefully the tree will pollard and continue to crop for years to come.

What an unusual day, with the first frost AND Red Admiral butterflies in flight AND bad tempered Wasps AND mowing the lawn AND thinking about hedge laying – and all on the same day.

2 Nov 2006    Bright, calm, dry sunny weather as an anticyclone settles over the whole country. ‘Warm in t’ sun but cauld in t’ wind’, as they would say in these parts (Warm in the sun but cold in the wind). A Red Admiral butterfly landed on a late flower by my pond and fed briefly.

1 Nov 2006    Woopee! Today is the end of the CJS business year, which makes it ‘Retire Absolute’ day! Just another 6 months now to try to sort out the taxman and then I can really relax…

Wintry showers today, with the temperature a full 10ºC colder than a couple of days ago! This morning in the yard I could hear the sea crashing on the shore 3 miles away, after a couple of very windy days. Made full use of my pole barn to saw logs in the dry, while throwing a tennis ball out into the rain for Flag.

October 2006 Weather Summary:

Total Rainfall: 70mm (2¾ inches).

Temperatures: Max: 19ºC (66ºF); Min: 2ºC (36ºF).

Actual temperature at 0930 on 1 Nov 2006: 5ºC (40ºF), much cooler, N breeze, 6/8 cloud cover, showery. A remarkably mild month which extended the shirt-sleeved season almost to the end of the month.

30 Oct 06    The find, dry, mild and sunny weather continues and another good sized chunk of the Groves Bank orchard was strimmed. The Ash trees have lost most of their leaves now, without ever changing colour, but the trees are still look brown thanks to the huge bunches of keys (seeds) still hanging from the branches. The Oaks are only just turning brown, while the Sycamores are most autumnal of all.

The government’s Stern Report was published today, confirming Climate Change as a real and present danger. No ranting conservationist this time, Stern was head of the World Bank for many years and is now a senior government economist. His conclusions? Better to try and do something to reduce the problem now, rather than delay meaningful action until the situation is catastrophic. OK, then – how much do you really care about your grandchildren? Enough to reduce your present standard of living by 1%, as Stern recommends? Or just let the grandkids suffer the catastrophic economic depression of a 20% cut in another 20 year’s time, with 200 million climatic refugees worldwide and most food producing coastal lowlands covered by ever rising sea levels? One person interviewed at an airport reckoned it was her human right to fly off on holiday to the sun for less than £20, while another insisted that his particular suburban 4 wheel drive car was perfectly acceptable…

Sorry grandkids, they just don’t love you as much as their cheap flights and their motorised status symbols!

Tough.

29 Oct 06    The dinky digger has arrived! We spent the day cleaning out the ditch down the side of Groves Dyke orchard, then digging a new ditch across the bottom of my neighbour’s field. The soil is not soil at all, but ‘slutch’ or clay and each and every bucketful the digger lifted out had to be attacked with a spade before it would drop out of the bucket and fall to the ground with a splat. Phew.

27 Oct 06    Put the chairs back on the patio again this morning. At least it has been dry and the wind has now dropped. Just after 1030 am a skein of c60 grey geese flew south over the dale.

Off to Runswick Bay with Flag, to help with some A-Level geology fieldwork. He was even less help than I was. Even though it was supposed to be low tide, big waves were crashing into the bay and lots of surfers were taking full advantage.

26 Oct 06    Stand-up comedian Barry Cryer (aged 71) and ex-rocker Ronnie Golden were very good at the Whitby Theatre last night, both lamenting their old age. ‘My short term memory isn’t very good now… and another thing: My short term memory isn’t very good now… and another thing…’

Oh dear, it’s only funny ‘cos it’s true!

Heavy rain got even heavier last night and the winds rose to gale force. By this morning my plastic patio chairs were scattered across the lawn, another ½ inch of rain had fallen and the strong wind continued – but it is still mild! Very odd. Sawed a few more logs in the pole barn and went to Whitby shopping. There do seem to be lots of people about in Whitby and quite a few of them are Goths. Is it Halloween already?

25 Oct 06    Rain is forecast for this afternoon, but a bit of grey cloud will let me make a start on strimming the Groves Bank orchard. First strim the path along the top of the bank to the big Holly tree, then from the half-way point, strim down the steep, slippery slope to the wall at the bottom, then back along the wall to the Stickery and back up the steep hillside to the top path. Phew! Having outlined a block, refuelled the strimmer and the operator, tied the dog to a tree at a safe distance so that he can dig more holes in the next block, start the machine again and stagger across the slope cutting parallel swathes with each pass.

I think this could be the basis for a new Reality TV show: just strap a petrol driven machine to a person so that it flings a continuous stream of high speed mud and rotten fruit at them, then send them up, down and across a precipitous slope on a layer of small round Crab Apples to cut the grass, brambles, etc. Add an occasional, overgrown hole to twist ankles and break legs at the most critical balancing moments and continue, with occasional refuelling, until the person shouts ‘I’m an idiot, get me out of here!’

By early afternoon I had had enough. Then I remembered that every couple of hours of strimming always requires another hour of sweeping-up the debris from the drive below. Only another ⅔ of the orchard left to do…

A Weasel, my first sighting for many a month, wove its way through the dry stone wall behind my pond, following the trail of the daily Bank Vole, but I don’t think they met.

24 Oct 06   It must have been windy last night, as this morning in the back yard I could hear the waves crashing on the shore some 3 miles away.  The high, thin cloud soon burned away to give another lovely dry, mild and sunny day. A Wasp buzzed about in the conservatory and eventually found its way out. Perfect strimming weather!

Collecting the kit together, I disturbed a Red Admiral butterfly which had been sunning itself on a sandstone wall. By mid afternoon I had strimmed the path around the wood, strimmed the landscaped area around the Stickery, then strimmed the Groves Dyke orchard and also the line of the ditch behind the pole barn. All the flowering plants will have set seed by now, so strimming in October is the best time to scatter that seed and so produce a good crop of wildflowers for next year. The disadvantage of strimming just once a year is that the Brambles have had a whole summer to really thicken-up and create major entanglements – but strimming in June as well, when the spring-flowering plants have set their seed, is the height of the hay fever season and I much prefer brambles to pollen.

23 Oct 06    Pleasant sunny weather again yesterday and today. Strimmed all of my front lawns but never quite got around to the path around the wood. Once that is done, then I only have the annual strimming of the orchards, which is always a bit of a marathon. Maybe tomorrow…

21 Oct 06    Back to fine, dry, mild and sunny weather again. My car says it is 16º C – very odd for late October… do you think something strange is going on? Had a lovely late afternoon dog walk by the river at Grosmont, followed by coffee and sticky bun at the Hazelbush Cafe and then a nice browse at the Grosmont Gallery and Jazz Cafe.

Driving up Fair Head onto Sleights Moor I was intrigued by all the Rooks flying alongside the car and then flapping low over the heather and off out of sight. Pulling in, I could see with binoculars that each bird was carrying an acorn in its beak and probably, judging by their laboured uphill flight, lots more acorns in their crops. Bird after bird, they toiled up the field, skimmed over the moor wall and toiled across the moor. Ten birds. Twenty. Thirty. An endless procession. Driving further along the moor road, I could see the laden birds landing amongst the heather and, out of sight, presumably squirreling-away their winter store in the peat, before taking to the air much lighter and joining a return stream flying higher over the moor, back over the moor wall and back down into the Oak woods on Eskdaleside. So that is how the occasional Oak tree suddenly appears in the middle of the moor! Not that they last very long, once the sheep realise there is anything more tasty than their staple diet of heather!

20 Oct 06    Wet! Almost ¾ of an inch of rain fell last night and this morning, brightening up by mid afternoon. Sawed a few more logs under cover in the pole barn, while throwing the tennis ball out into the great outdoors for the daft dog to fetch. That way, we both got some exercise.

18 Oct 06    Like a summer’s day today, with no wind, mild weather (16ºC my car says), clear skies and warm sunshine. Strimmed the dog lawn, half the woodyard, both sides of the drive and along the front verge. Then sawed more of the Poplar stack and built the resulting firelogs into another wall of the pole barn. A pair of Jays flew silently back and forth just beyond the woodyard.

The UK Met Office says this is the mildest October on record (since c1650 AD) and that this year we had the hottest July and the warmest summer on record. Climate change? No, never! It’s just a minor fluctuation. Or is that just another spoiling story funded by the big oil companies?

17 Oct 06    The auction went well and everything was sold (click here for details). Strimmed some lawn by the beck and sawed some firewood from the pole barn. This is the load of bought-in Poplar which has been stacked inside my pole barn all summer and the sooner I get it cut into firelogs and stacked into another pole barn wall, the sooner it will be much safer to park my car under cover!

A Green Woodpecker yaffled from up in the wood and a Buzzard has been reported flying over the next village at Aislaby. Here birdie, birdie! Here birdie, birdie…

16 Oct 06    A viewing at the saleroom in Whitby before tomorrow’s auction of Tom Whittaker the Gnomeman carved figures, then off to a local food fair near Scarborough before returning to strim all the lawns while the dry weather continues. This all went according to plan, except the strimming, as the strimmer just refused to start. The local repairman is now dealing with it and it should be ready to start work tomorrow afternoon. If it hasn’t started raining by then…

15 Oct 06    The mild, grey weather continues so we pottered in the woods before I got ready for a very special retirement Sunday lunch with all the CJS team at The Horseshoe pub, Egton Bridge. They produced a wide range of excellent food which was enjoyed by all of us with our wide range of assorted food allergies.

14 Oct 06    A leisurely pottering around day. With Groves Dyke empty for the first time in months, a chance to catch up with minor jobs like freeing the utility room door a little, adding another handrail on the other side of the stairs, etc, etc.

13 Oct 06    Just back from a conference in Sherwood Forest (see RuralNet.org) where various important people said numerous things of interest to a rural audience of c250 from the far flung rural corners of England. If it all comes true, then everything in the countryside will soon be wonderful: new government agencies will soon be active in the countryside, the most deprived wards (all of them rural and hidden, not urban and obvious) will soon be revitalised, Voluntary and Social Organisations (VSOs) of all shapes and sizes will be re-energised, affordable rural housing will soon be available for all the homeless young families, scattered communities will be empowered, local produce will be cheaper than big supermarket loss leaders, everyone will have access to proper transport, education, employment and healthcare, all of us will be connected by broadband and everything, yes everything, will be wonderful. Oh good. My father used to say ‘Live old horse and you will get hay.’

Among the many points which caught my attention were:

a). Never mind subsidising under-used rural bus services, why not just give everybody Taxi Vouchers? Nice one!

And, even better:

b). Why not just change the vehicle licensing laws so that every single car in the UK will be licensed to carry fare-paying passengers?

Brilliant! That would solve the rural and the urban transport / traffic problems at a stroke. Daft ideas? No, not when they come from the Chief Executives of two of the UK’s biggest and most successful organisations dealing with rural issues. It’s just a matter of time, really… As is:

c). Remote communities which now rely almost completely on Tourism will be the hardest hit when the public transport system has been allowed to decline (as it now is) and then the price of road fuel quadruples (as it will), because no tourists will be able to afford to travel there by car and there will be no alternative mode of transport still in existence. Whitby?

8 Oct 06    On the way up the wood this morning I noticed the Roe Deer slip silently aside as Flag rampaged about without success. On the way back down again, however, he finally encountered the deer (it should have slipped aside the other way!) and chased it up the path towards me. Seeing me, it panicked and doubled back towards Flag and panicked even more, decided I was by far the lesser of two evils and rushed past me within a couple of feet. Both deer and dog disappeared, the latter reappearing 10 minutes later, panting hard and too tired to eat this breakfast without first having a rest.

Several trips up and down the wood, collecting all of last year’s crop of walking sticks and bring them down to the house. They have been hanging on the Whitebeam tree near the Third Hazel Coup since last winter and are now well seasoned and ready to start working on – just as soon as I have finished the last of the previous year’s crop.

A Nuthatch visited the feeding station for Sunflower hearts and a Goldfinch, the first for many a month, ate from the Niger seed feeder. Just after lunch a big skein of c180 grey geese called as they flew southwards high across the dale. Only the Beech trees are showing any sign of autumn colour so far…

7 Oct 06    Another nice day, clouding over and almost raining (but not quite) in the afternoon. More firelogs sawn. Will there be enough wood left in the old cord to completely fill the final section of the woodshed? Or will it run out and leave the shed almost but not quite full? Exciting, innit?

5 Oct 06    Sunny and showery again, with just over ½ an inch of rain in the gauge so far this month. I added a new bungee strap and screw-in eyes to the sawhorse (to hold the work piece steady) and sawed a few more bits of cordwood. The woodshed is now over 5/6 ths full, with what looks like just enough left in the old cord to fill the remaining 1/6 th. I worked until the batteries in my reciprocating saw ran out. A Green Woodpecker yaffled up in the wood as I ran out of energy.

Then a restful session dragging out excess pondweed and marginal plants from my pond, as Flag rediscovered his favourite game of dropping his tennis ball into the water and then barking excitedly until somebody (guess who?) scoops it out again. Etc, etc, etc.

4 Oct 06    A fine, bright, dry and sunny morning at last, so I strimmed all of my front lawns for the first time since the spatio began. Wow – that 50 square yards less to strim certainly makes a noticeable difference. Finished in time to saw a few more fire logs from the 2 year old cord and now the woodshed is almost 5/6 ths full. More geese flew over just after lunch but I didn’t get out to see them in time. Probably Pink Foot Geese, but my ear is not good enough to identify them by call alone.

3 Oct 06    The final ton of gravel was dumped in the yard and by lunchtime I had it all barrowed around to the spatio and evenly spread. C’est fini! Perhaps, after last night, I should add a little bit of something cosmic? Or perhaps even some Fung Shui? (From the Ancient Chinese Shui meaning ‘sense’ and Fung meaning ‘more money than…’). Perhaps not.

And Zen again, I might just rake the gravel into aesthetically pleasing patterns…

Flag growled at the Gabriel Hounds as another skein of 100 Geese flew high across the dale, followed a few minutes later by a small V of a dozen tail end Charlies.

Talking of growling at something intangible: British Gas Homecare has now had 10 working days since I last contacted them and since their delayed job was (eventually) completed. I had asked them for an official Complaint Form and a letter of explanation / apology, not to mention suggesting that they might like to send a nice bunch of flowers to the elderly couple staying in Groves Dyke the week they left them without proper heat – and they had promised to see if that was possible. Since then? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not a sausage.

So I got onto the British Gas www.house.co.uk website, tracked down their ‘Feedback and Complaints’ section and used it to email them a summary of their failures, including the fact that their HomeCare call centre is fairly useless. I wonder if their website is any less useless? My unique Complaint Reference Number is 0002343925. Does that really mean that my complaint is the 2,343,925 th one they have received via their website? Somehow, I am not really surprised!

2 Oct 06    C & K finished pointing the spatio and tidying-up. Just a bit more gravel required…

Off to York for the afternoon, arriving just too late to look inside the medieval Merchant Adventurers Hall, but in good time for tea at Betty’s. Discovered the cracked mirror downstairs, signed by hundreds of servicemen during the Second World War when Betty’s was the ‘unofficial Ops Room’ for many of them and especially the Canadian Air Force stationed around the city.

Then off to an evening lecture at York Museum, given by Charles Jencks the architect, garden designer and Gulbenkian Prize Winner for the wonderful ‘Landform’ (which can be seen in the garden of the Edinburgh Museum of Modern Art). His subject was ‘The Garden of Cosmic Speculation’, a private garden he created near Dumfries. All 200 of us were spellbound as he explained the scientific inspiration behind his fractile-ed patio slabs, the waves of his 3-dimentional water features, his DNA garden and his Black Hole patio which draws the admirer in and then discharges them into a parallel (but unknown) universe.

Fascinating stuff, but I found myself wishing that I had worn my tee shirt with the immortal slogan: ‘Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light’…

1 Oct 06    This morning I noticed that another heavily laden branch had snapped off the poor old Apple tree in Bank orchard.  I tidied up the stump with a bow saw and moved the jagged remnant aside as very fragrant firewood for the winter of 2008/9.

Flag’s elbows must be feeling better, too, as he spent the time digging nearby!

A Grey Wagtail made a leisurely investigation of my pond and a Jay shuttled silently back and forth from the acorn laden Major Oak in the wood.

September 2006 Weather Summary:

Total Rainfall: 73mm (2⅞ inches).

Temperatures: Max: 26ºC (80ºF); Min: 4ºC (40ºF).

Actual temperature at 0930 on 1 Oct 2006: 13ºC (56ºF), cooler, SW breeze, 4/8 cloud cover, showery. A mixed month, with a most unusual week of hot, dry Southerly winds mid-month.

30 Sept 06    I enjoyed an outdoor salad lunch at the River Gardens in Sleights, basking in the sun and enjoying the last of the summer quiche. Tomorrow is their final open day this year and it is unlikely to be suitable weather for outdoor lunches soon. Still, if it is, I now have a South Patio to enjoy it on.

29 Sept 06    Gabriel’s Hounds were calling just after lunch, as 2 skeins of unidentified Geese flew southwards high across the dale. No wonder local tradition associated their migrating calls with an impending death, something which was always a certainty when we still had proper winters.

This afternoon I joined several other local enthusiasts to coppice an area of short rotation Willow near Pickering. Planted some 5 years ago as part of a community power station project to burn locally grown biomass to produce electricity to sell to the national grid, this excellent scheme would have used low lying fallow set aside land to grow the trees (thus locking-up more atmospheric carbon), improved flood prevention, created new wildlife habitat, created local employment, reduced fuel miles and reduced fossil fuel consumption used by the electricity generating industry by replacing it with sustainable current carbon. A win, win, win, win, win, win, win situation – except it depended on so many different multi-funding sources and agencies that the whole scheme disintegrated when just one of them failed to pay up what they had promised.

So an extra 4,000 acres of Willow were planted (and subsidised) in Ryedale, which now are  just locking-up carbon, creating wildlife habitats and reducing flood risk – but no one now wants to buy it, work it or burn it or produce electricity with it. What a waste. Still, I got some useful experience in bundling the cut stems and tying them with the traditional Willow Knot (my hands still ache – now I know why we invented string!) while the others got some useful material to complete a reconstructed Iron Age round house near Bedale and to weave a traditional field fence near Robin Hood’s Bay.

Several cars and a trailer had driven across the field to the copse, but after a couple of heavy showers the only way to get the bundles of freshly cut Willow home was first to push the ‘towing’ car a couple of hundred yards to the nearest tarmac and then to man handle the heavily laden trailer the same way. Occasionally, there are times when a 4 x 4 vehicle could actually be useful, but it was interesting to note that not a single one of us woodlanders owned an Off Road vehicle. There are already far too many people who spend money they don’t really have, to buy things they don’t really need, to impress people they don’t really like. (Sorry, but no. That was said by somebody far more articulate than me).

I also discovered that one of my fellow coppicers was the person who had taken my Unique Walking Stick to Glastonbury Festival and was seen dancing with it in the field knows as ‘Lost Vagueness’. Wonderful!

27 Sept 06    More hedges to trim and cuttings to burn, but at least it is all looking a bit more respectable now. The spatio is almost complete and looks great, especially the section of modern ‘Monks’ Trod’ which forms one edge.

26 Sept 06    I lit the bonfire piled high with the bit of uprooted Box hedge from the spatio, before trimming the other hedges. No point in creating yet more cuttings to be disposed of before I have got rid of the existing ones. (I realise that this principle has never occurred to the nuclear industry, which is why they just keep on creating more and more toxic waste even though they still haven’t found a safe way of disposing of all the other toxic waste they have already created over the past 50 years…).

C & K continued with the spatio.

25 Sept 06    The temporary generator installed by Sir Alfred McAlpine plc was switched on this morning, supplying the 4 houses at this end of the drive for the next week while the high voltage electricity wires near the top of the wood are replaced. OK, so it’s not the noisiest genny in the world – but nor is it the quietest, so I am absolutely delighted that I point blank refused to have it parked immediately behind Groves Dyke.

24 Sept 06    Rain this morning, easing off by mid-day. Explored the almost  impenetrable South eastern corner of the wood, crawling under the Blackthorn scrub occasionally, and found another half-dozen plastic tree tubes littered about. These have been there since we planted and protected the young trees with them in 1985/6, even though they were supposed to biodegrade within 5 years. Ha!

23 Sept 06    Pleasantly warm, dry and bright again this morning, but without the strong winds. Nice change. My rain gauge now reads 1¾ inches so far this month, which means we had almost an inch of rain since yesterday afternoon.

22 Sept 2006    The week of hot, dry winds ended last night with a proper gale, leaving a Hawthorn tree snapped off about 10 feet up and the top half lying across the path around the wood. C & K carried on with the spatio, while I dealt with the fallen tree. By mid-afternoon 16 big flagstones had been laid and then the rain arrived – and continued for the rest of the day.

21 Sept 2006    A male Sparrowhawk swooped at the feeders, missed all the birds and then perched on the cross bar for a good swear. Excellent – in the past week I have had superb views of Merlin, Peregrine Falcon and Sparrowhawk, all within 10 miles of home! This retirement thingy is quite promising, really…

By mid-morning the mobile generator was manoeuvred into position on the main drive some 50 yards below the house. For 4 days and nights next week this will provide all the power for the 4 different households within 100 yards. They had expected to park it just behind Groves Dyke and were a bit put out when I refused, on the grounds of probable noise nuisance. ‘Which would you rather have’, he asked, ‘Peace and quiet or electricity?’ Both, I replied. Especially if another bunch of contractors are going to do it all again next year…

The hot Spanish wind continue to blow half a gale, with lots of broken twigs littering the ground. Not to mention apples, each of which Flag thinks is yet another tennis ball falling from the heavens and rolling down the drive just for his delight. Ah, Flag’s idea of heaven!

Work on my new South Patio (hereinafter referred to as the Spatio) continues in the hot sun and my car sez it’s 24ºC!

20 Sept 2006    Gaffer and I met on site to discuss the situation. He assured me that the fence would be kept stockproof in future and he explained that the ground anchor was only temporary and would be dug up again once the new pole was in place. I insisted that it would be far better to leave it (and the remains of my poor old Bernese Mountain Dog) where they were, and just cut the cables off at ground level when the job was done. He agreed. So ‘Sorry’ to all shareholders in Alfred McAlpine plc, but your annual dividend next year will be reduced by the cost of one ground anchor, which will now be left in peace to rot away over many, many years… which is a damn sight more that poor old Corrie was.

C & K cut a neat square near the bottom of the drive, ready for ‘the boys from the black stuff’ to lay a new patch of tarmac over the now whacker-ed 3 tons of hardcore. This is due to happen tomorrow or Friday…

19 Sept 2006    On my pre-breakfast walk around the wood this morning, I discovered that Sir Alfred McAlpine (or, at least, his employees) had felled a big branch onto the top fence, knocked over another 15 yards of fence to get their heavy digger into the wood to plant a huge ground anchor within 8 feet of Anthea’s memorial stone, disturbing poor old Corrie’s grave in the process. I had known that they were going to replace the electricity wires and any rotten poles, and I had arranged with their Wayleave Officer that they would be especially careful of the memorial stone which marks where Anthea’s ashes were scattered, but there had been no mention of any major excavations as well.

I rang him and he was on the ball straight away. The fence was made stockproof again before any cattle, horses or sheep had wandered into the wood and arrangements were made to meet their gaffer on site at 9 am tomorrow.

NB: Local rumour has it that whichever QUANGO or business now owns the electricity distribution network, it is planning to replace all the currently-being-replaced poles with yet another set of poles next year, but that will be a different contract with a different set of contractors getting paid to do it all over again, and a different set of fat cats getting their annual bonus. Still, anything for a more efficient UK energy system and a more buoyant national economy!

Then Flag and I set off for a nice, wild and windy lunchtime walk on the moor near Ravenscar Beacon, before visiting the National Trust coastal centre to see their new exhibition on Peak Alum Works. My car said it was an amazing 20ºC! Suitable hungry, we went into the garden at the Raven Hall Hotel (built originally for poor mad King George III, to keep him well away from London when required) and ordered one of their superb afternoon teas. Sheltering in a slightly less windy corner I admired the big, beefy ‘Kestrel’ which was hanging in the up draught 100 feet above the garden wall. What a fine, healthy looking Kessy that is, I thought, as it slid sideways across the wind… until it was almost overhead and I realised it was actually a Peregrine Falcon! Wow! It slid further inland, ‘rowed’ powerfully over the fields, then side-slipped the other way and gained more and more height until it was high over the coast again and then tipped into a power dive and vanished, wings partly folded, somewhere below and far beyond the garden wall.

I just hope it enjoyed its Rock Dove as much as I enjoyed the triple-decker plate of finger sandwiches, freshly baked scone with strawberries and cream, slice of strawberry cheesecake, home made shortbread biscuits and fruit cake. Good thing I skipped lunch, but even so, I think another brisk walk is called for…

18 Sept 2006    Flag chased a Heron which was loafing on the ground near the top of the wood. Then as I was having breakfast in the conservatory it landed on top of the woodshed and eyed the newly cleaned out pond – but Flag chased it away again. C & K returned to pour the third concrete step from my new patio and a couple of Jays screeched blue, bloody murder up in the wood.

Talking of which, British Gas rang just after 9 am to check that their engineer was on site and solving the problem. He wasn’t. I suggested that they ring me again just after 10am to check that the job was complete, as they had promised it would be.

They did. It hadn’t even been started. I asked them to ring me again just after 11 am…

They did. He had arrived! He was actually doing it!! Seems he knew nothing was amiss and had assumed that someone else had been assigned to complete the job he started and abandoned last Tuesday… Anyway, it’s only taken 6 days to do a ‘next day’ job.

By 11.30 am the job was done, both fires were working perfectly again, the central heating had been reset to come on and off as normal, the engineer had gone and I am now waiting for the Head of Complaints at British Gas to write me a nice letter. Let me predict what the bog standard ‘Woops!’ letter is likely to say: ‘Dear Mr Carson, I was disappointed to learn that our recent HomeCareless Service to you was below our normally high standards. Here at British Gas we deal with millions of phone calls and thousands of engineer visits every day and 99.99% of these are resolved without any difficulty. It is most unusual when something does go wrong, as seems to have happened in your case, and we are carrying out an in depth investigation to ensure that nothing similar can never happen again. Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience caused and rest assured that absolutely everything will be completely perfect in future. Yours insincerely, F. Bloggs (Senior Apologist for BG).’

Now let’s just wait and see how that compares…

Sawed a few more logs and strimmed the remaining Groves Dyke lawn and the lower part of the path around the wood, before finally relaxing in the late afternoon sun on my incomplete new patio, with a nice glass of wine.

17 Sept 2006    Having identified the best young Oak trees in the wood, as well as the competing Ash or Gean trees, this morning I tagged all the Oaks with red plastic strips. That was the easy bit. Then I worked out which of the competing trees had to go, in which direction and in which order, to minimise the loss and any resulting damage. Two rather too healthy young Ash trees near the Second Hazel Coup will be the first to go this winter, which should ensure the survival of the 4 neighbouring young Oaks, one of which really is a prize specimen.

16 Sept 2006    Knowing that ‘British Gas HomeCare means that if there is a crisis, you have the reassurance that you can call on us to take care of it’ – even if it is a crisis which they created – I waited patiently for ‘the very latest technology’ at British Gas (ie their computer) to instruct one of their ‘6,000 expert engineers to provide complete peace of mind’ between 10 and 12 noon today. And I waited…

At 11.15 I rang the British Gas super efficient call centre to check that someone was actually on their way, only to be told that ‘The computers are down, so we are having to do it all  manual’ and then ‘I can’t find any Groves Dyke Holiday Cottage. Can you give me the postcode? No… there’s nothing under that either…’ Supervisors were also a bit hard to find this morning, but another nice man, who gave the impression that he really knew what he was doing there, gave me his direct dial phone number before he rang off to go and walk across to the Maintenance Department to see if he could find me on their computer. He could. I do exist! ‘Yes, the parts were delivered to the collection point this morning for the engineer to collect – but the computer crash [not just a ‘glitch’, then?] meant that the engineer was never notified.’

Never mind, British Gas can still save the day! An engineer will be sent to put the broken coals back on top of the fire and remove the ‘Do Not Use’ stickers, before 3pm today, so that the elderly couple will get the proper warm welcome they expect! Good ole British Gas, I knew I could rely on them!

The tenants arrived and I apologised for the lack of heat, explained the extra electric radiators I had just put in to take the chill off such a dull and overcast day and just as I was was telling them exactly how impressed I was with British Blooming Gas and their HomeCareless 400 Agreement, the heroic British Gas engineer arrived hot wheeled from York! Fear not! The cavalry have arrived just in the nick of time!

I explained to the newly arrived engineer how the nice man at British Gas that morning had arranged for him to put the broken coals back on and remove the official stickers. ‘I can’t do that’ he said. ‘They’re broken.’ No, no , I explained patiently, the nice man at British Gas had authorised it, so it would be alright. ‘He is not an engineer, he said, ‘He can’t make arrangements like that.’ Its ok, I said, he gave me his direct dial phone number, you can speak to him yourself and get it all sorted out…

‘You have reached the voice mail of…’ So I rang the nice British Gas HomeCareless call centre again and asked to speak to the owner of the voice mail. ‘I don’t recognise that name’ she said, ‘We have 5 call centres, so he might not work in this one…’ His direct dial phone number did help, but he had already finished his shift and left. Smart man.

Another supervisor was found, but he wasn’t at all hopeful. This furious customer quoted bits of the British Gas HomeCareless Agreement at him, but to no avail. ‘We meet all of the requirements of our Terms and Conditions’ he said. Somehow, I just hadn’t got round to finding a magnifying glass to cope with the 4 pages of very small print – as a newly retired Editor, I would estimate about 6 point – which start on page 16 of their nice cuddly brochure…

The engineer talked to his boss on his phone, I shouted at the poor man on my phone, the elderly guests, (one recently discharged from hospital) tried to settle in and relax, while I insisted that the recording of our phone call be sent to the Head of Customer [WeDon’tActually] Care at British Blooming Gas HQ, while a proper British Blooming Gas Complaint Form be posted to me asap. Good, innit?

So, the upshot is: The poor engineer reset the gas central heating to be constantly on (I am sure British Blooming Gas will offer to pay for it, and the electricity for the extra radiators); the poor guests put the kettle on and sat down to begin their week’s holiday, the new artificial coals promised for Wednesday afternoon, then Saturday morning, will now be fitted on Monday morning (honest), etc, etc, and there will also be lots of complaint forms for me to complete.

Still, I can start my retirement knowing that, in the autumn of my years, I now have all the pointless comfort of a British Blooming Gas HomeCareless 400 Agreement so that ‘if there is a crisis, you have the reassurance that you can call on us to take care of it.’ Or not. Depending on whether its a weekend. Or not.

AND I get to pay just £343 / year for such a wonderful service!

So, please ask Al Quaeda not to do anything silly anywhere near a gas pipe anytime between 5pm on Fridays and 8am on Mondays. And certainly not on a Bank Holiday weekend…

Come back Victor Meldrew, you were right all along!

15 Sept 2006    I checked with the tenants that all was well, only to discover that the gas man had never returned and the gas fires were still unusable. I rang my British Gas Homecare number for Breakdowns / Servicing and spoke to a nice lady who assured me that British Gas had cancelled my HomeCare Agreement. When asked why, she explained that the engineer had found a fault and so the Agreement was now cancelled. I asked what, then, was the point of having an Agreement if it was going to be cancelled as soon as an engineer found that any work was required, but she was adamant.

‘Can I speak to your supervisor?’ I asked, but she assured me that no supervisor was available in her team. ‘Could I speak to another teams’ supervisor?’ I asked, but she assured me that there weren’t any available. I asked her to confirm that the entire British Gas call centre was operating without anyone in charge, and she put me on hold and played musak at me. Eventually she found a nice man who appeared to know what he was doing. ‘I do apologise for the engineer not returning to complete the job as promised’ he said. ‘I do apologise for you being told that your HomeCare agreement had been cancelled. I can assure you that your agreement has NOT been cancelled. I will ring you back within 20 minutes to tell you what is happening.’

And he did. ‘Owing to an unforeseeable computer glitch we are having a few problems. The new parts will be sent ready for the engineer to collect them on Saturday morning and he will be at Groves Dyke between 10 and 12 noon on Saturday to fit them and complete the job.’ Ok, so the current tenants will have been without the 2 gas fires for just over 3 days but, by sheer good luck, it has been pleasantly warm for mid September. Anyway, everything will be ready for the the elderly couple due to arrive at 3pm on Saturday…

So I went off to my last day as Editor of the Countryside Jobs Service before retiring (www.countryside-jobs.com), drank a glass of champagne and wished them all every success. On the way home a beautiful male Merlin flashed across the road just ahead of me as I topped Siller Howe moor. Now that really does make a perfect send-off absolutely complete! And so well organised, too!

14 Sept 2006    The Loss Adjustor arrived just after 8 am to look into the hole at the bottom of the drive (now filled in again). Then an AGM to attend in Whitby and then several tons of hardcore was delivered and needed barrowing around to my new patio.

13 Sept 2006    The gasman cameth yesterday, as planned, and found that the artificial coals were cracked on both living flame gas fires. ‘I’ll order the replacement artificial coals and they will arrive tomorrow, then I will fit them between 2 and 4’, he said, as he stuck a British Gas ‘Do Not Use’ sticker to each fire and left.

Luckily, I had upgraded my British Gas Homecare 200 agreement just last week to Homecare 400, which now includes inspection and maintenance of the gas back boiler and controls, all the central heating, all the plumbing, all the drains (except the septic tank) and all the electrics. Now, if anything ever goes wrong with anything, I can just make a simple call to British Gas, 24/7, and they will sort it all out for me. Isn’t that great? And all for just a bit less than £1 / day! It’s almost too good to be true, isn’t it?

They even give you a nice little booklet Homecare Guide – all the answers at your fingertips’ which explains how they will ‘provide you with the best possible service’, ‘giving you peace of mind’, ‘using the very latest technology and techniques’, ‘keep our promises to you’, ‘making your life easier’ and ‘we will always help vulnerable and elderly people we are made aware of, whether or not they are a British Gas customer’. In fact, ‘British Gas Homecare means that if there is a crisis, you have the reassurance that you can call on us to take care of it.’ And I have quoted all of that from just the first 2 pages of their Homecare Guide.

What a pity that when it comes down to it, none of it actually happens.

I waited in all afternoon but he never appeared, nor phoned to explain why not, so I ended up wasting the entire afternoon…

12 Sept 06    Cut all the Groves Bank lawns today, except the 50 square yards of incomplete South Patio, which helped. Also half the woodyard. Then spent half the afternoon waiting for the gasman to cometh and doeth the annual service in Groves Dyke. I think this calls for an early evening stroll on the beach at Sandsend…

11 Sept 2006    C & K were back to build the shuttering for my new concrete steps down from the South Patio. The reclaimed flagstones themselves were delivered late morning and look lovely – far, far better than any non-Yorkshire alternative. They came originally from Wakefield Prison, apparently, so they may feel much better now that they have been released into the wide open spaces of the moors – the ‘Land of Wild Freedom’ as the BBC titled their wildlife documentary about the North York Moors many years ago.

On the way back from Whitby this afternoon my car tells me that the temperature is 27ºC, which is a bit hot. Especially for September. A large red / brown Dragonfly oviposited in and around the pond.

Flag returned from the back of the pole barn with a freshly killed adult Rabbit in his mouth, which must have surprised both of them! He was a bit upset when I disposed of it, and even more upset when the fine weather broke with showers and distant thunder and lightening. It’s a dog’s life, innit?

10 Sept 06    Still hot, dry & sunny. 15-minutes birding from my conservatory gave: Chaffinch 5, Blue Tit 3, Bank Vole 2, Great Tit 2, Wood Pigeon 2, Blackbird 1, Dunnock 1, Nuthatch 1 (silent) and Robin 1. (1005-1020 hours, ⅛ cloud cover and morning mist burning off as the sun rose, Force 2 Westerly). Later, a Coal Tit, a Large Green Dragonfly, a Red Admiral and a Small Copper butterfly sunned themselves by the pond.

Having identified just how few ‘good’ young Oaks are left in the wood, I looked at how they could be encouraged by removing any other young trees which shade them or encroach on their canopy or root circle. The most successful species of those we planted are the Ash and the Cherry, which seem to have survival rates of over 75% (unlike the 25% or less for the Oaks). I would still like to remove the minimum of encroaching trees, so now for a bit of juggling to find just which Ash or Cherry would, if removed, benefit 2 or even 3 young Oaks… I am sure there will be an algebraic formula or a bit of ‘simple’ geometry to identify the individual, but luckily I have forgotten all of that rubbish a long time ago.

8 Sept 06    Hot, dry, sunny weather has returned so a nice shady walk by the River Esk near Grosmont was required. I scanned the river for the once common Dipper, expecting to see nothing, as usual – but that white blob, just there, very still, on a rock, too still for a Dipper, maybe plastic, but just the right size, still not moving, Yes! It dipped! A Dipper! The first time this year! It froze again, as did I, and we just watched each other, waiting for one of us to blink. It was so still and could so easily have been missed. It was just here, ten years ago, that we sat and watched a whole family of Dippers having lessons from mum and dad on how to dip, how to submerge, how to walk underwater, how to catch insects underwater, how to surface again, how to freeze, how to merge so perfectly with the running water. Now, just one bird – and it blinked first, waded, swam and then submerged before walking back up onto another rock with an insect in its beak. Wonderful. The next time it submerged, we stole silently back into the wood and left it to surface to an empty riverbank.

7 Sept 06    Took Flag for a lovely drive across the moors to Hartoft, to see a man about another 15 square yards of Yorkshire flagstones for my new South Patio. Everyone says I should buy the nice, cheap flagstones from India. Even though they have come half way around the world, they are still just half the price of traditional reclaimed Yorkshire flags. I have heard of ‘food miles’, but this is ridiculous! They look almost the same, are a bit too pale, almost limestone and they are very brittle and can’t ever be driven over. Basically, they’re just not proper Yorkshire – so I paid the full £36 / sq yd for the real thing and delivery will be early next week.

The clouds cleared, the air was mild, the sun was warm and lunch was taken in the garden of The Milburn Arms in nearby Rosedale Abbey, before driving up the dale, past Bell End Farm and up onto the moortop again towards Fat Betty, the ancient stone cross at the head of the dale. Then off along the back road to Little Fryup Dale via the end of Trough House track, past Danby Castle and Duck Bridge with a nice walk across the footbridge to the Moors Centre – just in time for afternoon tea in the garden.

Flag now associates the car with nice trips to interesting places and, provided there are enough short walks en route, seems to have got over his car sickness. That means I can be far more mobile than before, thank goodness.

6 Sept 06    Block work was laid this morning to extend the path from my ‘front’ door onto the new South Patio. This now measures some 6 yards by 8, with the Cotoneaster and Red Hot Pokers remaining in a corner shrubbery. The next stage is to pave the side nearest my house with Yorkshire flagstones, surround the rest of the area with a border of flags and then fill in the centre with gravel laid over a porous, weed-suppressing membrane. Once completed, I will have a shady patio for summer evenings and 50 square yards less of grass to cut every week.

Thinks: 50 square yards of soil removed to a depth of  about 9 inches must be about 12 cubic yards in total. At 1 ton per cubic yard, that equals 12 tons of spoil dug and barrowed by hand by 3 people in 2 days. So who needs a dinky digger and a mechanised barrow, anyway?

The septic tank was also emptied and unblocked this morning, all in less than an hour. The contractor is now required to transport it to Yorkshire Water’s sewage works near Whitby and pay them for its disposal. Does that mean that I can deduct from my water rates their costs from the c£300 which the contractor charges me? Does it heck as like! How’s that for encouraging rural households to be green and have their own individual and self contained septic tanks, instead of digging thousands of miles of extra sewage pipes?

Strimmed the Groves Dyke lawn and my dog lawn.

5 Sept 06     We continued all day, filled in (and seeded) the hollow, then widened the path above the wildflower bank before finally (and only in desperation), barrowing the final dozen loads all the way up the hill to the woodyard to fill in some of its archaeological Flag holes. Several yards of Box hedge have been also transplanted and several more yards barrowed up the hill to the bonfire.

As we worked a female Sparrowhawk swooped on a Wood Pigeon which was hoovering up the newly sown grass seed. The well fed Woodie took off in a panic, just cleared the hedge and promptly killed itself by flying into the sitting room window in Groves Dyke. The noise was impressive and the corpse fell onto the patio table, where it proved too tempting for the poor hungry Sprawk, which picked it up off the table and only just carried it across the garden and down to the corner of the lawn by the front gate. Several times it tried to pick it off the ground and fly over the woven fence, but failed. It sat on the gatepost and had a little think, as we all stood at the top of the drive and watched. Eventually, it realised it could drag it under the fence, onto open ground in the middle of the drive and then take off with the big fat Wood Pigeon in its talons. Stickability, or what?

4 Sept 06    C & K started work on my new ‘South Patio’ by stripping the turf and topsoil off my top front lawn and barrowing it on the level to a dip at the far end. I helped, as did Flag, who could have done a bit of the digging but decided instead that he would rather present his tennis ball for throwing every 5 minutes, instead.

3 Sept 06    Warm, dry and very pleasant again. I walked around the wood to do a ‘stock taking’ of the Oak trees we planted some 20 years ago. Almost half, as I suspected, have been completely killed by Grey Squirrels (tree rats!) stripping the bark off the branches. Only 22 of the original 40 planted in the early 1980s survive at all and most of those are misshapen, having have been badly damaged by Grey Squirrels (tree rats!), with the ‘leader’ shoot missing completely and only a few side branches twisting outwards and upwards. Triage management dictates that:

The only 2 ‘perfect’ specimens of young Oak in the wood will be marked as Standards and encouraged to grow even bigger and even better by removing any and all competing species nearby, no matter how healthy the neighbouring trees may be.

A few of the remaining Oak survivors are not much longer for this life and certainly not worth killing their much healthier neighbours for.

The remaining ‘damaged but still vigorous’ young Oaks will be encouraged – but not at the expense of all their neighbours as they may not survive in the long term.

I do wish the Grey Squirrels (tree rats!) hadn’t been so successful in fooling most people into thinking ‘It’s nice to see the wildlife so tame and healthy’, when in fact the vermin and imported tree rats are being encouraged at the expense of both our native Red Squirrels (now almost gone from the UK) and our native woodland.

2 Sept 2006    Wet. Flag spent this morning running down the drive after the ripe plums which drop off the trees. Once he had retrieved each plum and carried it back up to the yard he would ‘kill’ it and eat it. Lots of them. Lots and lots of them. I think he is going to be a plummer…

1 September 2006    Two Collared Doves at the feeding station this morning and CD is looking a lot less seedy!

August 2006 Weather Summary:

Total Rainfall: 90mm (3⅝ inch).

Temperatures: Max: 30ºC (88ºF); Min: 6ºC (42ºF).

Actual temperature at 0930 on 1 Sep 2006: 18ºC (64ºF), warm, windy, ⅜ cloud cover, showery. A disappointing August, often a full 20ºF cooler than last month (mid-50s F instead of mid-70s F). Frequent strong winds, often from the N, overcast skies and heavy rain – leading to the worst Whitby Regatta weather for 25 years or more.

31 August 2006    A Collared Dove (known as CD to his friends) appeared at the feeding station, looking a bit seedy – in other words, a visit from CD the seedy Collared Dove. Boom, boom! (Sorry). This is the first sighting for many months. Two Nuthatches grabbed sunflower hearts silently, while a single Greenfinch concentrated on the Niger seed feeder. A dozen red Admirals, a couple of Peacocks, a Speckled Wood and a Small Copper fed around the big white Buddleia which is now in full flower, while a large brown dragonfly flew around my pond dipping its ovipositor here and there as it ‘posited its ovis in lots of suitable places.

30 August 2006    I ordered 2 tons of hardcore and 1 ton of gravel and by lunchtime the hole was filled in, with only ¼ ton of gravel left over. Everything is safe and secure again and will be tarmac-ed over once it has had a week or two to settle. Traffic along the drive and to Groves Dyke was not and is not affected.

I strimmed all Groves Dyke lawns and all of my back lawns. Also part of the Groves Dyke orchard to let the septic tank emptying vehicle get within working distance. This is a job which needs doing about once every 5 years – or more frequently if someone blocks it up by flushing a supposedly ‘disposable’ nappy down the toilet! Total cost? About £300. Ah, the joys of being green and self sufficient in today’s effluent society…

29 August 2006    C & K arrived this morning to investigate the new hollow near the bottom of the drive. Once through the tarmac they soon found a void where ground water had washed out all the clay, leaving only the stone. Shovelling out the very loose material left an even bigger void running along the underside of the 6 inch diameter cast iron water main. In other words, groundwater had found a way along the trench in which the water main had been laid decades earlier, and had created the void.

Unsure just what to do, I rang the water company’s emergency helpline to inform them and to ask if it was safe for us to just backfill the hole with hardcore, or would additional work be required to support the couple of feet of pipe now suspended in mid air. When I eventually got through she said an engineer would come to check within 12 hours… Then we remembered that the gas main runs parallel to the water main and, although it was not visible, it might be close enough to also be affected by this erosion. So I rang the gas emergency number as well to inform them of the potential problem. They were really on the ball, answered quickly and promised a visit within 4 hours.

By the time they arrived C & K had fixed the window in the Stickery, removed a stone as an overflow for the Stickery drain and had gone away. I had to go to Whitby, but apparently the gas man came and said ‘that’s not a gas pipe, it’s only a water pipe’ and went away, while the water man said ‘ it’s not our fault, we haven’t done any digging anywhere near here’ and went away as well. Good, innit?

So we just covered the hole with a big sheet of plywood and marked it off with traffic cones for the night. All I need now is a midnight drunk to steal the plywood and kick the cones into the hole, and then an early morning drunk to fall in, break a leg and sue me for millions…

28 August 2006    A Green Woodpecker called as it flew high over the garden, where I de-brambled the Juniper now that its super early blackberries are over. Elsewhere in the wood the main crop of brambles is just beginning, the Grey Squirrels (tree rats!) are busy stripping the Hazelnuts and the paths are muddy again after another ½ inch of rain last night. The rain gauge now stands at 3½ inches so far this month and the thunder is rumbling ominously in the distance.

The newly weeded drive looks much smarter now, without its ragged green edging. Sawed a few more logs with my new-ish rechargeable reciprocating saw and now the cord of Sycamore is down to half size, while the woodshed is now up to ⅔ full. Very satisfying!

27 August 2006    15 minutes birding from my conservatory this morning gave 4 Blue Tit, 3 Great Tit, 2 Chaffinch, 2 Coal Tit, 2 Robin, 1 Dunnock, 1 Marsh Tit and 1 Wood Pigeon, not to mention 2 Bank Vole (1 a juvenile) and 3 young Rabbits (10.30 – 10.45, ⅛ cloud cover, warm, dry, sunny, Force 2 Westerly). Later a Nuthatch came to feed and later still a female Sparrowhawk swooped across the back lawn, past the feeding station and away.

A stroll through Bank orchard revealed a bumper crop of apples and crab apples, as well as 20+ Medlars. The crown of one apple tree, in fact, has snapped off under the weight and tumbled down the steep hillside and is now lodged against the tree below with its heavy but unripe apples still in place! The Victoria Plum tree in Dyke orchard is cropping well, but not as well nor as ripe as the golden plum beside it, where whole handfuls of ripe plums are there for the taking.

26 August 2006    We rounded off the purple week with an excellent meal at Prudom House in Goathland. The purple moorland views from the purple painted restaurant complemented some of the best beef we have ever tasted in our lives, and the chef should also be praised for the spectacular desserts. This is one place that can certainly go on the list for another visit!

25 August 2006    We went up the coast to the headland at Kettleness and walked a little bit of the cliff top Cleveland Way. Flag, now so well behaved, was off the lead and scouting around for Rabbits when he suddenly disappeared. A bit of increasingly frantic whistling and shouting and he was soon located part way down a very steep bit of scrubby cliff. It was clear that he was trying to come back, but unable to get through the impenetrable gorse – even though he had managed to get himself into the middle of it in the first place! By manoeuvring myself around the outside of the gorse patch I was able to coax him back through the scrub to the outside world again. He was looking very worried and then greatly relieved to be rescued, so I didn’t tell him that Corrie (our previous Bernese Mountain Dog) never had any trouble running up, down and across lots of near vertical cliff faces!

Then across the moor to Scaling Dam and up to Danby Beacon for the very best purple view in this area, before heading back to Whitby.

24 August 2006    Groves Dyke lawns cut this morning, as well as half of the woodyard, before a coastal day driving south to the beacon above Ravenscar and walking Flag out onto the sheep-less moor. He behaved himself and we were able to see how well the heather restoration work had come on since the massive wildfire here 2 or 3 years ago. Gosh, what a reformed dog Flag is!

Afternoon tea at the Raven Hall Hotel could have been the full, triple-decker with fancy cakes, sandwiches and cream scones – but we just settled for the latter. Taken on the hotel terrace in full sun, with all of Robin Hood’s Bay (the best view in the whole National Park) laid out before us, this is one event that can certainly go on the list for future occasions.

23 August 2006    The weather improved on cue as I, D and I set off to the moortop on our annual Purple Picnic. First collect the Glaisdale pork pies (the best in the world, sez I) from Ford’s Butchers in Glaisdale village, then the real Wensleydale cheese, etc from the village shop and then onwards and upwards to the moor road across the head of the dale. The food was good, the scenery was superb and the company was excellent.

Then along the Hamer moor road to Rosedale Abbey, up the dale to the Millennium Stone and turn right towards Little Fryup Dale. We strolled across the magnificent moor to Trough House, before heading down to Duck Bridge and the Moors Centre for afternoon tea. Unbeatable!

22 August 2006    The electricity company’s forestry manager visited me this morning to see about cutting any self-sown trees growing too near their wires in the wood. He had trained with the state forestry department for 5 years before leaving Poland to work and train again in Scotland, specialising in ‘Utility Forestry’ (ie how not to electrocute yourself when cutting trees very close to power lines). Now that is what I call ‘getting on yer bike!’

Got most of my lawns cut, plus a bit of the wild flower bank, a fifth of the beck and the path around the wood.

A superb drive over the purple moors with D & I to visit the House of the Mouse near Helmsley, including an excellent, very fresh and very locally grown salad at Helmsley Walled Garden. The whole garden has come on in leaps and bounds since my last visit several years ago, the Vinery has been almost completely rebuilt and now houses an excellent cafe (BBC Local Food Hero entrant) as well as the newly planted vines. Highly recommended!

Mousey Thompson’s saleroom is filled with the most impressive items of handmade Oak furniture, as ever, and their new cafe / visitor centre / gift shop and gardens were very pleasant. Popped into the National Park’s Sutton Bank Visitor Centre before returning to Whitby via Hutton-le-Hole and Blakey Rigg. We all purred with pleasure as we drive through a sea of sunny purple moorland, past the Lion Inn and down into Castleton. Purrfect!

21 August 2006    A suitable day for giving the Twigwam a good haircut, long overdue. Some of the heavier Willow rods are now added to the woven fence, some are stored in the orchard and a few have been given to a local Willow weaver who makes wonderful animals as garden ornaments – including a dog recently delivered to Prince Charles’ garden at High Grove. No, I’m afraid it does not include any of my Willows, but keep your fingers crossed for any future orders…

20 August 2006    What an odd week! Where did it go? The weather is improving but my secret supply of super early Blackberries are now over and looking very mouldy, even though the ‘main crop’ in the wood are not nearly ripe yet.

14 August 2006    The weather is improving again, thank goodness, and I got all of Groves Dyke and half of the Groves Bank grass cut this morning. It is remarkable just how quickly the patchy, green / brown areas have returned to lush green lawns again.

A young Kestrel perched on top of the electricity pole at the back of the house and swooped down from there to catch a small mammal in the woodyard. I think, technically, that that is probably cheating but maybe his feathers were still too soggy to hover properly. Is a drug test called for, d’you think?

13 August 2006    G & C were staying with me for the weekend and we were all  determined to have a barbecue. Postponed from Thursday evening (too soon), then from Friday evening (too wet), it just had to be on Saturday evening. We all sat in my conservatory with the heater on and the barbecue just a couple of yards outside the door, while the poor chef, in full cagoule and hood up, dashed out occasionally to flip the burgers. We did consider tying the burger flipper to a pole and doing it all from under cover, but dismissed this option as a silly idea! Despite, or possibly even because of, the pouring rain it turned out to be a very enjoyable (and probably even more memorable) occasion!

A cool, cloudy, wet and miserable weekend for both moors and coast. On the moors the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ is the start of the Grouse shooting season – that nice dilemma for the conservationist which is now the only thing that makes all the moorland management worthwhile, now that hill farming is practically pointless. On the coast, this weekend is ‘Whitby Regatta’ – the traditional festival and now the biggest tourist event in Whitby’s calendar. Except the strong Northerly winds kicked up such rough seas that the local rowing clubs’ race to Sandsend and back had to be cancelled, the grand parade was almost washed out, the vast crowds never really materialised. The RAF Red Arrows display team performed as planned on Sturday, which was quite an achievement considering the weather. As for the grand fireworks this evening, it may not be even possible to see them from my usual grand strand in the the moortop car park above Blue Bank, Sleights.

What a shame that so much work by so many dedicated volunteers has had such poor weather, especially this year when even Whitby Regatta had to produce a (3-inch thick!) Risk Assessment for the first time. ‘Sand castle competition? Oh dear me, that sounds very risky! What precautions will you have in place to prevent the competitors getting sunburnt if the sun is shining?’ And, as if that wasn’t daft enough and as if the parents aren’t the ones really responsible for their own children: ‘What precautions will you have in place to prevent the sand castle competitors getting hyperthermia, if the sun isn’t shining??

That just reminds me of the public swimming pool I went to for the first time, with a big sign at one end saying ‘Danger, deep water!’. So I went to the other end, where there was another big sign saying ‘Danger – shallow water!’ So what the hell are you supposed to do – just stay in the middle??

What a great pity it is that Common Sense became extinct ‘way back in the early 1990s…

My rain gauge is now reading 2¾ inches of rain so far this month, the lawns are all green again and now the grass needs cutting. Oh good.

11 August 2006    Two Roe Deer stood by the far edge of the paddock and watched us walk by on the drive. I wonder if they were the ones responsible for injuring Flag’s tail by enticing him through a barbed wire fence at top speed? Anyway, his wound is healing nicely, thank-you.

10 August 2006    Flag is recovering from a self-inflicted gash on his tail, most probably caused when clambering through a barbed wire fence in hot pursuit of a deer. Yes, I know. Again. At least this time it is not nearly as serious as last time! He can still trot about fairly happily either with very close supervision and just a bandage half-way down his tail, or else with no bandage and just a plastic ‘lamp shade’ around his neck, to stop him nibbling at the scab. Poor daft dog, he does look a bit odd with part of his magnificent ‘flag’ clipped short. Not to mention the lamp shade!

A Greenfinch sucked its teeth from the crossbar of the feeding station this morning, while a Grey Squirrel swayed its way to the nuts on the very tips of the Hazel tree branches and a Green Woodpecker yaffled from somewhere deep in the wood.

8 August 2006    Popped into the Integrated Transport Centre at Whitby railway station to collect a timetable for the Endeavour steam train service from Grosmont to Whitby, which now seems to be running daily and in addition to the normal 4 diesels per day from Middlesbrough to Whitby. “I’ll put it up in the holiday cottage near Sleights station” I said, only to be told that “We don’t stop there, only at Glaisdale, Grosmont and Whitby”! It seems that Network Rail, who own all the railway lines in the UK, charge the steam train charity £1000 per day to use the track between Grosmont and Whitby plus another £600 per day for every station stopped at! Which means that anyone in Egton Bridge, Sleights or Ruswarp can’t use the extra trains that now pass through several times per day.

Now let me see if I have got this right: The commercial Northern Rail which runs the heavily government subsidised 4 diesels / day (very fuel efficient) on the Esk Valley Line connecting Whitby and Middlesbrough have no interest in adding any extra coaches or running any additional trains (not required by their contract, so we won’t bother) on the government track on which the government agency called Network Rail have just spent an extra few million pounds to strengthen the last 2 miles of into Whitby so that it can take the heavier steam trains, while the charitable local steam railway preservation society are very keen to run extra trains and extra carriages (very fuel efficient) from Grosmont to Whitby now that the track has been strengthened, but the government agency called Network Rail charges them so much that they can only afford to stop at less than half the stations en route, while, of course, the North Yorkshire County Council (75% paid for by central government) subsidises the rural bus service (in direct competition with all the trains) so that the people from all  these villages can get to Whitby, while the new and very enthusiastic Esk Valley Community Rail Partnership charitable trust (part funded by the government’s Countryside Agency and the European Regional Fund via the government funded Rural Development Agency called Yorkshire Forward) is desperately keen to be given a ‘micro-franchise’ to run the whole of the Esk Valley line actually and for the very first time ever for the benefit of all the local community but hasn’t yet been allowed to, while at the same time the government is spending millions of pounds appealing for us all to ‘use public transport’ instead of taking the car and the government Highways Agency and the North Yorkshire County Council try Highways Department (75% government funded) struggle to maintain the road surface in the face of ever increasing temperatures (climate change due to excessive fossil fuel use) and the ever increasing vehicle numbers (very fossil fuel inefficient)!

Yes, I think I’ve got that straight. Good, innit?

Almost forgot: North Yorkshire County Council is about to spend £2m on Whitby’s first Park and Ride Scheme, with a big car park on the wrong side of the Guisborough road, a couple of miles out of town, with no loos and no shelter and shuttle buses which won’t be able to shuttle because they will get stuck in the same traffic jam in Bagdale that everybody else gets stuck in – while the heavily subsidised, very expensive and almost empty diesel trains sail in and out of Whitby 4 times a day!

May I suggest a Park and Ride by Train scheme instead, costing a quarter of the £2m earmarked for the Park and Ride by Bus? This £500,000 should be spent on creating small station car parks in farmers’ fields in most of the Esk Valley villages, with a half-hourly shuttle by train (preferably steam) from Grosmont to Whitby. This would disperse the car parking, distribute some of the money to several local farmers, revitalise the village economies, get visitors out of their cars sooner, reduce car miles and deliver large numbers of visitors into Whitby town centre without using the approach roads at all…

Sadly, this would involve several government departments working together and is thus almost impossible.

7 August 2006    Rain overnight, but still the month’s total is under 2 inches. Warm, dry and sunny again, with the temperature in the low 70sºF, so I sawed more logs from the Sycamore cord and stacked the resulting firelogs in the woodshed. Flag assisted by chewing any off cuts and rolling on his back in the sun. All in all, a very pleasant morning and the woodshed is now just over half full.

6 August 2006    Warm, dry and sunny today, so back to check off the cherry orchard – or at least to pick another container of wild cherries (Gean). This year is the best crop since they were planted in the early 1980s and the birds are getting wise to the ‘new’ food. Two magnificent Peacock Butterflies basked and fed in the meadow next to Flag’s Folly (which is still being ravaged by the Roe Deer, so only 10 of the 12 Willow saplings have survived).

Just after lunch I had an unexpected phone call from a nice man at Everest Double Glazing, ‘…just a courtesy call to make sure that there haven’t been any problems with your Everest windows, because sometimes people are a bit reluctant to say…’ I asked if this was a kind of Customer Care phone call and he agreed. I pointed out that this must be a new policy, because they showed remarkably little interest in caring for their customer when I was desperately trying to get them to take some notice when the windows were being fitted so badly that all 7 had to be repaired and 2 had to be taken out and scrapped and then 2 new ones made from scratch – or when one of the windows shattered – or when the mortar fell out from around the new frames. I think he got the impression quite quickly that I still wasn’t very impressed by Neverest and that there was absolutely no chance of me giving them any further business!

If, by any chance, you don’t know about my Everest window saga, just click here…

5 August 2006    Back to fine, warm, dry and sunny weather again, with several thousand feathers still drifting around my patio and lawns. I am not going to pick them up by hand, nor try to brush them into a heap, nor would it do the hoover any good, nor is the wind strong enough to scatter them thinly enough – so the answer was to use my Weed Wand mini-flame thrower device to singe them one by one and bunch by bunch until they shrivelled up to almost nothing and disappeared. Brilliant!

4 August 2006    Some daft young Wood Pigeon flew into my conservatory early this morning and then, dead or dying, was taken by a passing Fox or cat, leaving nothing but a few guts on my patio and ten thousand feathers all over the garden!

3 August 2006    By mid-morning, still overcast, cool and damp with a Northerly breeze, the temperature at Groves Dyke was a mere 56ºF, a full 20ºF cooler than it had been just 7 days ago!

Driving over the moors towards Guisborough the very first signs of purple are just beginning to show as the Ling, the commonest species of Heather, comes into flower. All this rain may have done the trick! Over the next few weeks the whole 192 square miles of the North York Moors will glow purple as the largest area of heather moorland left anywhere in England and Wales comes into magnificent flower. This is one of the great wildlife sights of the UK and we need to remember that the UK contains over half of all the heather moorland in the world. Who needs 1 million Wildebeest migrating across the Serengeti, when we have the North York Moors in full bloom?

The weather brightened during the day and ended up dry, warm and sunny.

2 Aug 2006    Rain last night but dry again by breakfast time for a pleasantly damp stroll around the wood, where the rescued Rowan trees are now bearing several orangey berries. Then a 15 minute bird count from my conservatory overlooking the feeding station produced: Blue Tit 3*, Great Tit 3*, Chaffinch 2*, Wood Pigeon 2, Coal Tit 1, Dunnock 1, Robin 1* and Bank Vole 1*. (8/8 cloud cover, calm, cool, showery).

The species asterisked (above) include juveniles, with the Robin now an almost red breast – but still with a rather short tail. Later I watched as a small mammal, most probably a Bank Vole, crossed the lawn from the woodyard towards my beck. It was completely above ground and looked rather disorientated, until a young Magpie swooped down beside it, pecked it a couple of times and then flew off with it in its beak.

All this rain has reduced the fire risk enough for me to light the bonfire for the first time in a couple of months or more. Once the woodshed was cleared out I was able to move the saw horse under cover and saw a few more lengths of Sycamore cordwood into fire logs, keeping an eye on the bonfire (and on Flag) at the same time. The rain got heavier and heavier until we retreated to the house as the bonfire smouldered away to nothing.

By mid-afternoon there had already been as much rain in the first 36 hours of August as there was in all 31 days of July! And still raining…

1 Aug 2006   A fine sunny morning, with temperatures in the mid 60s F and just right for a bit more fire log sawing and even a bit of hedge cutting – until the thunder and lightening started about lunchtime and the rain poured down again.

By evening everything was cold and wet, so I even resorted to lighting the woodburner – another First for the 1st of August!

July 2006 Weather Summary:

Total Rainfall: 32mm (1¼ inch).

Temperatures: Max: 33ºC (92ºF); Min: 5ºC (40ºF);

Actual temperature at 0930 on 1 Aug 2006: 16ºC (60ºF) An exceptionally hot month with the highest temperature recorded here in c5 years. Also the hottest July ever recorded for the UK as a whole.  The lawns here are still dry and cracked and the grass has hardly needed cutting, despite the very occasional thunder plump during the month and then several hours of steady rain on the final evening of the month, when normal weather was resumed.

31 July 2006    Oh a normal day at last! Cool enough and pleasant enough to do a normal day’s work, for the first time this month. Some pond weed cleaning out, some fire log sawing and stacking, some digging holes (for some of us!) and some clearing out the pole barn (long overdue).

Then it rained all evening, adding the last ¼ inch to the month’s total.

30 July 2006    It must have rained again last night, with almost the odd puddle on the patio this morning. Anyway, it now feels much fresher and much more pleasant than it has done for weeks, thank goodness.

Ragwort pulling in and around the wood today, a job which in the 1980s would have taken both of us a good half day and filled several sacks. Today, there were just 2 plants in Bank orchard, 2 in the wood (at the top of Dyke side) and another half dozen in the wildflower slope next to the Stickery. It is odd that this plant, poisonous to farm animals (especially horses), notifiable by law to Defra (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and generally not a good idea, is most commonly found on the roadsides where the county councils are responsible for producing much of the national crop of this Noxious Weed!

28 July 2006    One of the joys of summer is to drive over the moor roads with the windows wide open, enjoying the slightly cooler wind. One of the disadvantages of doing this is that, very occasionally, a passing Honey Bee is swept into the car by the slipstream! This can be quite exciting, as I discovered this afternoon, especially since I was wearing shorts and the poor insect disappeared (very annoyed) somewhere in my foot well! One emergency stop and some frantic door opening solved the problem without injury. To me, that is!

27 July 2006    My chair under the raftings was wet this morning so it must have rained last night – some time after I finally managed to get to sleep, presumably. Still, it was not enough to bother the rain gauge, so it probably doesn’t count.

At 3pm this afternoon the temperature in the shade at the back of Groves Dyke was 30º C, which is a whole 86º F in real money, and still not as hot as the 92ºF I recorded there at the very beginning of this month! Cooler weather is forecast in a couple of days (thank goodness!) and then as high again in August.

Last week’s media debate about all the ‘too hot school classrooms’ has luckily been resolved by the start of the school holidays, but the allied debate about ‘too hot hospital wards’ continues. Open the windows properly for ventilation or keep them almost closed to stop anyone falling out accidentally? (Increased infection risks if you don’t or Health and Safely hazard if you do)? Buy extra fans or ban their use completely? (Transfer any infections across several beds or just stifle patients and staff instead)? It’s not much of a choice when you realise that every extra fan or additional air conditioning unit requires yet more electricity (mostly from fossil fuels), which just creates yet more greenhouse gases and yet more global warming for next year. And still we go on building new schools and hospitals and office blocks with huge areas of south-facing glass, so that we will need more fans and more air conditioning, which needs more electricity, which creates more global warming…. and then we give the bloody architect an award for the dammed thing!

I wonder has anyone in government ever thought of designing buildings differently – a bit like the Centre for Alternative Technology has been doing in mid-Wales since the 1960s, perhaps? See www.cat.org.uk for information on both add-on features and fundamental designs to reduce the problem.

Anyway, why not create a few more greenhouse gases for the grandchildren to cope with? It’ll keep them on their toes! Or their knees…

26 July 2006    Slightly cooler this morning and the lawns are looking a bit too tufty again, so a bit of strimming is required. It took me one hour, a pint of petrol and a gallon of sweat to complete the dog lawn, a bit of the beck, half of the wildflower bank and all of Groves Dyke lawns. Those poor lawns are cracking open even more than before, with some cracks so wide that you could lose a golf ball down there! Any hotter for any longer and Flag may be searching for tennis balls! Then time for a cool bath, a bit of a collapse and back to processing more words in the nice, cool indoors. Putting the strimmer away later I was able to help myself to the first ripe Blackberries of the year. Very tasty and juicy!

Aislaby at 5pm today and my car says it is 29ºC. Time I was back indoors!

7pm and it is almost bearable again. The tide was high and Sandsend beach was busy with people, kids and dogs, so Flag was in his element – in every sense. A single Sandwich Tern plunge-dived just offshore and 3 tired Sanderlings tried to roost on the tideline between Raithwaite Beck and Upgang. Without much success, thanks to all those hot people walking their hot dogs!

24 July 2006    By 7pm the great outdoors was almost cool enough to leave the house and head for Sandsend. Flag ran and lay in the sea, while I just strolled and paddled. A single, but constantly changing, wisp of mist hung over Sandsend Ness as the clear sea air rose and condensed over the headland, before evaporating again as it moved further inland. Very pretty! Back home again about 8pm, when the temperature was still an uncomfortable 76ºF.

23 July 2006    As well as the usual bramble snipping on the path around the wood this morning, I also managed to pick a good potful of Wild Cherries from the Gean trees we planted in the early 1980s. One tree in particular (upper Bankside near the beck) has a bumper crop which weighs down the branches, but the birds do tend to get the ripest ones before I do. My home ripening answer is to pick the ripest available and then put a ripe banana into the pot with the cherries for a day or two.

22 July 2006    Thunderstorms materialised at lunch time (short and sharp) and again at tea time (longer but less rain), with almost another ¼ inch of rain falling today. This brings the rain gauge up to just under 1 inch for the whole month so far.

Ideal weather for processing words, interrupted only by Flag barking frantically from the yard. Assuming he had chucked his ball out through the gate again, I let him out and he set off down the drive even faster than a lost ball would usual call for. The family on the Groves Dyke deck explained that a Roe Deer had just run out of the wood, past the deck and off down the drive – and now I had just let Flag out to follow it! Damn! He reappeared about 5 minutes later, very hot and bothered, but without any venison.

21 July 2006    Hot again. TBH, if not worse. A couple of Green Woodpeckers flew up from the path at the top of the wood as we walked around this morning. Judging by the way one of them bumbled about as it flew off nosily, it must have been a youngster.

It was still 84ºF in the shade at 7pm this evening, so I retreated indoors to compute. How anyone in the Deep South of England is managing this hot weather, I have no idea. And the NHS Direct website at  www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk  (which the TV weather presenters keep mentioning for ‘further advice’ about coping with the severe heat wave) isn’t very helpful, either. Basically:

How to Stay Cool:    Beat the Heat!

1. If possible, avoid going out of doors at all between 11am and 3pm (when the sun is hottest);

2. If you do have to go out, then wear a hat and use a high factor UVa and UVb sun cream (smeared on thick, NOT rubbed in like vanishing cream);

3. Drink lots of water in small quantities, throughout the day;

4. Splash cold water (from the fridge?) on your hands, arms and face to cool you down;

5. Almost close the blinds or curtains of any windows which let the sun in (to keep the sun’s rays out of the house) and pull them back again when the sun is not shining in;

6. Keep windows almost closed when the house is cooler inside than outside (daytime) and keep windows open for maximum ventilation (suitably secured, of course, or use 1st floor windows if safer) when the house is warmer than outside (night time);

7. Use convection to create a breeze at night by having one downstairs window slightly open (and secured) and one upstairs window open (the hot air indoors will rise and escape via the upper window, drawing in cooler night air via the lower window);

8. Open one window on each side of the house at night, to allow a through current of air;

9. If you have less than 6 inches deep of loft insulation, or no cavity wall insulation, then contact your local Energy Advice Centre (and gas / electricity supplier) to ask about grants. Not only will good  insulation keep your house warmer in the winter (and cost you less in gas / electricity bills and fossil fuels) but it will also keep you cooler in the summer.

10. Do not take cheap holiday flights to the sun to top up your skin cancer (nor even to increase your liver damage), like most people do!

11. If you do have to use cheap flights (the fastest growing source of the greenhouse gases which cause climate change), then make them less frequently (which will let you stay a bit longer at each destination).

12. Write to your Member of Parliament, Prime Minister or President of the United States to express your concern about climate change, what it is already doing to us and our environment and how it will adversely affect your grandchildren. (NB: The appropriate form of address now appears to be: ‘Yo Blair’, etc, as appropriate)!

20 July 2006    Sea fret this morning! Or maybe it’s low cloud, but either way it blankets the moors and dales in a caressingly cool and deliciously damp mist, a welcome mist which condenses on everything and everyone, and brings new life and vigour to what has been a parched and oppressive landscape for several weeks.

Half a dozen little Froglets set off to leave my pond. One got trapped in the corner between the house and the conservatory and had to be redirected. Another became entangled in dew-soaked cobwebs, which had to be teased gently away before it could be freed in the beck. The others, which seemed to know what they were supposed to do, set off in the right direction without assistance. See you in a couple of years, guys!

By mid-afternoon the sun had burned off the mist and was as hot and as oppressive as ever, even if the grass was now a couple of shades greener than before.

19 July 2006    Yesterday was Too Damned Hot (TDH). Today it is TBH – and you know what that might make tomorrow…

An evening walk on the beach at Sandsend was very pleasant and almost cool. There was no sign of any Sand Martins but 3 Sandwich Terns ‘kerrick-ed’ as they dived just offshore. A mile further out was a lovely bank of sea mist, just tantalisingly out of reach of us poor land based species…

18 July 2006    It was already 72ºF at 9 o’clock this morning and well into the mid-80s by the time I got back from Whitby just after lunch. The Met Office and the National Health Service have issued another Severe Heat Wave Warning, but it’s far too hot to do anything out of doors. So I didn’t. Apart from playing the hose on the hot dog.

There are still 8 Smooth Newts in my pond this evening.

17 July 2006    Before it got too TDH, I strimmed any bits of any lawns anywhere that had managed to grow an inch or two (and there weren’t many!), 20% (I can’t find a symbol for 1/5th!) of the beck, ½ of the woodyard and the shady path around the wood. All done by just after 11am, so lots of time for a long, cool bath before lunch.

A great big North Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service tanker lorry was filling up from the River Esk at Ruswarp, running a shuttle service up onto the moortop at Sneaton where over 100 acres of heather were still burning. The North York Moors National Park Authority has closed the Access Areas (good ole Right to Roam and Drop My Fag End Anywhere I Damn Well Choose Bill, eh?) on the moors, but the public footpaths and bridleways across the moors are still open. Just a touch of ‘closing the moor gate after the sheep have roasted’, I think…

16 July 2006    TDH again. A still wet and very large yellow with black stripes Dragonfly, only just emerged from my pond, walked slowly across my patio. Flag was keen to go and investigate, but I wouldn’t let him. Slowly, slowly it rested in the sunlight and quivered its wings, pumping them up and letting them dry in the sun, before walking another few steps. It eventually reached the corner post of the raftings and started climbing up this mega ‘reed stem’. This was too much for the poor dog, who dived forwards and managed to bat it with a big hairy paw before I could stop him. Knocked to the ground, the poor insect struggled to its feet (all 6 of them) on a fossiliferous pebble from Sandsend (perhaps even a distant relation?) and paused to get its bearings. Picking up the whole pebble and its passenger, I placed it carefully on the side of the pond where it could continue to dry off its wings in safety and by the time The Archers was over, it had flown off.

Even hotter by then, so just a gentle bit of Bramble snipping and Hazel layering up in the shade of the wood.

15 July 2006    Hot, hot, hot! Slightly cooler at the River Gardens in Sleights for lunch.

I have now extended my ‘Dates, Prices and Availability’ page to Christmas 2007 and, I am delighted to say, at least one week in June 2007 has already been booked! This task was constantly interrupted by barking from outside and on investigation I found that Flag had good reason: yesterday I had accidentally parked one wheel of the car on top of his tennis ball and the poor dog had just noticed and couldn’t rescue it! Then off to Sandsend in the late afternoon for a cooling stroll by the water’s edge.

Yes, we had a little paddle and the North Sea was very cool!

14 July 2006    This morning in full, full sunlight a tiny, tiny Froglet hopped in tiny, tiny hoplets across the patio until it finally, finally reached the safe, safe shade of a damp, damp, dark, dark gap in the dry stone wall. I’m sure the beef steak doesn’t really work quite as quickly as that, so this must have been a super Froglet that was already due to leave my pond. A quick check of the bits of string still dangling in the pond revealed nothing but two empty clove hitches and no steak at all.

This evening the Sunflower hearts scattered on the coping stones around my pond attracted a Bank Vole, while a Wood Mouse bounced back and forth across the patio to pick up the seeds fallen on the ground. Later, a very dark and pointy Shrew popped up from the pond wall, grabbed a seed from the top and dashed back into the stonework again. This is the first Shrew I have seen for months and the first time ever that I have seen all 3 small mammals together.

12 July 2006    St George seems to have fallen from favour recently, or perhaps the Department of Transport have just abandoned that particular road safety campaign… Either way, today is the Glorious Twelfth in Northern Ireland, so if you really want to see just where 80 years of excessive flag waving (not to mention faith schools) is going to get you, just take a look ‘across the water’.

Still hot, dry and downright pleasant. The Jays have got noisy again, dashing about in the wood while the Rabbits scrabble through the parched grass to eat the more succulent roots.

10 July 2006    A silent Yaffle (Green Woodpecker) flew across the woodyard and disappeared into the wood. The casserole steak in the pond is also disappearing rapidly as the voracious tadpoles chomp away – not quite as quickly as the proverbial horse and piranhas, but still pretty impressive!

The recent rain hasn’t set the grass off again, so I trimmed a few more hedges, dragged some pondweed out of the pond (leaving it on the edge so that all the creepy crawly pond life can crawl back in again) and then used my nice new cordless reciprocating saw to cut some cordwood into firelogs. Wonderful! I must make a new resolution about sawing some wood every day…

Talking of  a New Resolution and being disappointed by the National Lottery (Lotto), have you come across the new alternative called ‘Monday – the charities lottery’? This is backed by c70 charities, who get more of every pound you spend AND they get the money almost instantly, to do with as they wish AND there are more winners because if nobody picks the ‘right’ numbers, then the jackpot is given to the person with the next  nearest numbers AND you can still get cash prizes for 3, 4 or 5 correct numbers AND every set of numbers is entered for not 1 but 2 lotteries every Monday evening. So ya boo shucks to you, Camelot!

Monday can only be played online ( www.playMonday.com ) where you can find out all the details. Good Luck!

9 July 2006    Some rain last night, but not enough to bother the rain gauge. Overcast and windy at first, then bright and calmer later in the day.

I am almost at a loss, now that the last of the Sycamore has been carried down to the woodyard, so I layered a few Hazels instead. A long branch from one Hazel stool is bent down and pegged into the bare ground about 6 feet away, so that it will take root and develop as a free-standing tree. This can then be severed from the original and eventually coppiced just like all the others. This is the traditional way of extending (or repairing) a coppice, as Hazel are very reluctant to grow from cuttings.

A Nuthatch visited the feeders again today, after a long absence. The call is a rapid, loud and insistent ‘Bleep-bleep! Bleep-bleep-bleep-bleep!’ (but without the swearwords)!

8 July 2006    A late lunch at the River Gardens in Sleights, just an easy stroll away. Homemade quiche, chocolate milkshake, sticky bun (ie all the essentials!) with a hot dog (under the table) on the riverbank, watching the House Martins hawking just above the water – and wondering which ones were from Groves Dyke.

6 July 2006    Wow! That was spectacular! Almost an inch of rain (⅝ of an inch = 22 mms) fell in less than 2 hours this afternoon as a series of thunderstorms rolled past.

The day began with a check of the max and min thermometer, which shows that some time in the last 6 days the maximum has been up to 92ºF (30ºC) and the actual temperature at 0930 hours this morning was 78ºF! Then a male Sparrowhawk missed his breakfast at my feeding station and landed briefly on the lawn to contemplate the significance of Life, The Universe and Everything. Having sorted that out, he flew off to have another go elsewhere.

Having noticed the very small number of Froglets leaving my pond (2) and the large number of Tadpoles still in my pond with long tails and no sign of any legs, I invested in 2 small pieces of casserole steak from Radfords Butchers in the village. “Just two pieces?” he asked in surprise, imagining a VERY small casserole. So I explained what I wanted them for. Nothing but the very best for MY Tadpoles! Anyway, the customer is always right, so when I got them home I tied each to a piece of string and dangled them into my pond. Within an hour I could pull up the string to find 20 or more voracious tadpoles chomping away on each morsel, finding whatever nutritional trigger was missing this year to start the normal transformation from tadpole to Frog…

Flag told me by his behaviour that all was not well and that a thunderstorm was approaching (but I had already worked it out for myself. Honest). Just before 3pm the lightening and thunder came within 3 miles (15 seconds between flash and bang), the heavens opened, the poor terrified dog cowered against my chair and the chair vibrated for the next hour as the storm rolled down the dale. It approached within 1 mile (5 seconds between flash and bang), then came even closer (½ a mile or 2.5 seconds) before passing right overhead and rumbling off across the North Sea. Normality was gradually restored and great signs of relief were heaved by all.

You wanted rain? OK, now you got rain. So what’s the problem?

Recovering in the conservatory with a relaxed (if emotionally exhausted) dog, a  stationary chair and my traditional sundowner, a male Kestrel flew up from the recently strimmed woodyard with some unlucky small mammal in his talons. So why should the Tadpoles have all the fun?

5 July 2006    Another lovely cool, misty morning so I took Flag onto the beach at Sandsend – where he promptly ran off into the mist and disappeared for 10 minutes! Then the people and dogs he had joined walked out of the mist and we were reunited again. Thank goodness they were walking towards me and not towards Whitby, otherwise we might never have been reunited.

The mist cleared mid-morning and Groves Dyke grass was cut, for the first time in two weeks. Not that it really needed it! The lawns are dry and cracked, with brown patches amongst the green. Never mind, there is a nice bit of thunder forecast for this evening. Flag won’t like it, but the grass will appreciate any rain it brings. Within reason.

4 July 2006    A single Roe Deer stood stock still in the long grass, just uphill from the viewpoint at the top of the wood. We watched each other for several  minutes before I gave in and walked away. It feels odd NOT to be carrying any firewood down the hill on my regular morning constitutional!

Still cool and misty this morning, so I started cutting the Groves Bank grass before the sun burned the mist away. More than half was done before the sun broke through, so I just kept on going until it was all cut.

After lunch I tidied up a hedge or two and then took my nice new toy into the woodyard. Yes! It works! Much less painful to cut logs to length with a rechargeable reciprocating saw than an arm powered bow saw – and sorry about the extra fossil fuel now required to produce the leccy to trickle charge the battery to saw the home grown wood for my self-sufficient current-carbon wood burner to heat my super insulated house – but at least I tried.

3 July 2006    Off to sunny Tees-side today to, amongst other things, buy a rechargeable reciprocating saw (£50) from Big Shed Avenue. If it does what I want it to do, it will save my poor elbows from any more bow saw work!

Lots of Special Offers in the Big Shed on air conditioning units – anything from £100 to £250 and upwards, depending on just how much fossil fuel you want to burn and just how much more fossil carbon you want to add in order to produce the electricity required to reduce the temperature in your particular little bit of a warmer globe. You might as well try to cool your kitchen by leaving the door of the fridge open – forgetting that the heat exchanger on the back of the fridge will have to get hotter and hotter to try to keep the fridge cooler, which it can’t do, ‘cos the kitchen just got even hotter as a result, etc, etc.

We’re all right, Jack! Aren’t there such a lot of disaster appeals for the innocent victims of droughts and famines and floods and hurricanes nowadays? I suppose we just never heard about them before. Glad we’re not involved in any way! Anyone for football?

It was so hot and sunny today that my forearms (no, not four arms!) got a bit sunburnt just driving the 40 miles there and the 40 miles back. Looking down on Whitby and Sandsend from the road over the top of Skelder I could see the sea roke lying all along the coast. The Bell Heather (Erica tetralix) on Sleights Moor is just coming into flower alongside the Fair Head road from Grosmont. It is always the first of the heathers to bloom, but is only found on the driest (!) areas of the moors.

After tea I drove into Whitby and was surprised just how pleasantly cool it was. By mid-evening the mist had penetrated as far inland as Sleights and all was cool, damp and very pleasant after a horribly hot day.

2 July 2006    Today really is a momentous day because today I carried down the last 4 loads of firewood from the big Sycamore felled by the January 2005 storm. Apart from the logs I burnt during this year’s late spring, I still have a whole cord (8 x 4 x 4 feet = 128 cubic feet) plus half a woodshed full plus assorted longer lengths still to be cut into firelogs. That should be enough for one winter!

The first ever Met Office / Department of Health Severe Heat Wave Warning was issued today, in an attempt to avoid the 20,000 deaths (mainly of elderly people) from  heat exhaustion and dehydration which France experienced a couple of years ago.

1 July 2006    Very hot. It was already 21º C (70º F) by 0930 this morning, and still climbing steadily. In mid afternoon a Kestrel hovered above the house and it was high time for a nice cool stroll on the beach. The roads were nearly empty on the way and the beach itself was almost deserted. Is something important happening somewhere?

So hot and dry that Raithwaite Beck and Upgang Back just trickle onto the beach and promptly disappear into the sand. Last year’s Sand Martin cliff was eroded away last winter, so now there are just a couple of small sandy patches in the boulder clay cliff, one with 26 holes but a very deserted look about it and only a single bird in evidence. The other patch has just 14 holes but again just a single Sand Martin in the area. Let’s hope that the next winter gales will expose a new and more suitable patch of sand – and that enough adult birds survive another year to nest there in 2007.

The roads were even more deserted on the way home. Has something momentous happened? Have all the religious leaders settled their differences and just announced world peace for evermore? Have all the political leaders just agreed on how to stop and reverse climate change? Has the United Nations found a way to stop ⅓ of the world ‘s human population (a mere 2,000,000,000 men, women and – mostly – children) being hungry every single day and every single night of their short and miserable lives?

Apparently not. It’s something far more important than any of these minor distractions: it’s lots and lots of poor mugs paying to watch 22 spoilt brats kicking a wee ball up and down a field while the multinational fat cats who organise the game, own the media and own the breweries get even richer than before on the proceeds.

OK. So it’s only me. Complaining about ‘bread or circuses’.

Really, it’s a good thing there is nothing to worry about, ‘cos we’ve got lots and lots and lots of very spectacular circuses. And anyway, it’s TDH. December 2006 Weather Summary:

Total Rainfall: 68mm (2½ inches).

Temperatures: Max: 13ºC (56ºF); Min: -6ºC (21ºF).

Actual temperature at 0930 on 1 Jan 2007: 6ºC (42ºF).

A mainly dull and mild month, with just a week of sunny days and hard overnight frosts, then back to mild, grey weather again. The last few days of the month were remarkable for a whole series of wild, wet and windy days alternating with calm, dry and sunny days, as a number of low pressure systems swept across the UK.

31 Dec 2006     Carried more poles down from the wood to the woodyard for sawing into 4 feet 6 inch lengths of cordwood and stacking into a cord for 2 year’s seasoning. These will be ready for my woodburner in the winter of 2008/9.

30 Dec 2006    Another inch of rain fell since yesterday, bring this month’s rainfall total up from 1½ to 2½ inches. A couple of Roe Deer trotted off across the field above the wood this morning. Later in the day the male Sparrowhawk chased the small birds round and round the feeding station, before perching on the peanut feeder to rest, recover and reconsider his unsuccessful hunting strategy. A Nuthatch and 7 Long Tailed Tit visited, once all the excitement had died down again.

I checked and cleared all the drains in anticipation of the next intense low pressure system expected to cross the NE of England. More rain and more gales, so I removed the horizontal limb from a lopsided 25 year old Oak near the top of the wood. Hopefully, it will now be less likely to topple over in the storm.

29 Dec 2006    It rained last night, as forecast, and the bonfire had burned away to nothing and gone out. Gale force winds then began and the rain and wind continued all day. Apart from a little tidying-up, this was a good day to curl up by my wood burning stove and read one of the many good books received for Christmas. Especially ‘The Woodland House’ by Ben Law, as featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs. Excellent!

While preparing lunch I noticed that the gale had moved the big slab of slate in the yard outside. This slab, which had once been the side panel of the old bath in Groves Dyke, and is destined to become the top of my new south patio table, had been leaning against the back wall of the house. It is about 6 feet long, 2 feet wide and an inch thick, so it must weigh over a hundredweight (sorry, I have no idea what that is in litres), but still a super strong gust of wind had lifted it from the wall, swivelled it around slightly and deposited it partly across the kitchen window! Luckily, neither slab nor window was damaged.

28 Dec 2006    Not only did the weather permit, but it positively invited a full day’s hedge laying! A mild day, dry, calm and sunny was just what was required for hedging with lots of help from SA. We spent the morning clearing several yards of gappy hedge, removing any dead or dying Hawthorn stems and any unsuitable species like Brambles, Elder, Sycamore, Ivy, etc. By lunchtime we had prepared several yards of hedge and created a huge heap nearby for burning.

We were joined after lunch by AR, who struggled manfully to light the bonfire and eventually managed to do it very successfully (with the help of a sack of kindling and a Stihl leaf blower set to Gale Force 8! The actual hedge-laying began under the big Ash trees a little further along where the trees and their roots made normal staking impossible, so we just used the living tree trunks as stakes and cut, split, leaned and wove the Hawthorn and Hazel pleachers in and out between them. You won’t find this technique in any textbook, but as SA said ‘You always have to work with whatever is available’. Shall we call this type of hedging ‘Sleights Style’, perhaps?

27 Dec 2006    This seems to have been a CRAFT Christmas. CRAFT? Can’t Remember A Flipping Thing! But it was good.

The dull, grey, fairly mild and dry weather gave way to a bit of sunshine this afternoon and I swept up yet more leaves, cleared heaps of rotting apples from the drains, carried and sawed a few more logs, prepared the empty cord frame for this winter’s felling and thinning, replaced the bow saw blades and bought a new lightweight hand axe in anticipation of tomorrow’s proposed hedge laying at the back of Groves Dyke orchard (weather permitting).

Every morning for the past week a Blackbird has provided an hour’s worth of dawn chorus from a Hawthorn behind the pole barn, while other Blackies were feasting frantically on the berries. Is the singer a resident bird and the others are migrants from further North, I wonder?

22 Dec 2006    Email, broadband and linked mobile phone now working properly, at last! Lots of dashing about, wrapping things, posting things, etc, etc, while the whole country (apparently) has been covered in cold, dense fog. Well, that’s certainly one way to slow down climate change by reducing excess flights from Heathrow and lots of other airports – The Planet Strikes Back!

And while the whole of the UK was under this still, stagnant and sub-zero high pressure system, I bet not one single wind turbine managed to produce a single megawatt of electricity. If only the government would see sense and spend all those almost pointless wind power subsidies on simply insulating every property in the UK, then we could save c20% of our energy needs, instead of building more production which we then waste 20% of – and ruin the landscape into the bargain.

15 Dec 2006    Still calm but now raining. This has already been confirmed by the Met Office at the warmest year ever in the UK over the past 350 years, the warmest month ever in July 2006, the warmest autumn ever in 2006, and the 10 warmest years ever recorded in the UK have all been within the last 12 years. Methinks the trend is still upwards because I had to kill a Wasp which was flying around the kitchen this afternoon. In mid-December!

13 Dec 2006    The wind has stopped! For the first time in what seems like ages, a clam day. I took the old codger for a walk on the beach at Sandsend and yes, Flag came too. We pottered sedately along the beach in the sunshine and admired the waves from afar. Neither of us galloped for miles and neither of us felt inclined to lie in the shallows. In fact, for the first time ever, we both returned to the car completely dry. A couple of dozen Oystercatchers loafed on the golf course as we drove past.

Web access & email have gone funny again and BT are still promising to send the missing bit of kit…

12 Dec 2006    The dry, mild-ish (7° C) and very windy weather continues. Plastic patio chairs were retrieved from around the garden. Again. Two Roe Deer fled before the Flaghound at the top of the wood, but he returned soon after. Carrying branches down from the wood is getting more exciting, as the ground becomes wetter and more slippery.

Groves Dyke Holiday Cottage was inspected for the Yorkshire Tourist Board this afternoon, as arranged. Hopefully the ‘new’ kitchen and Utility Room (completed almost a year ago) will get a few extra Brownie Points, not to mention the even newer terrace at the entrance, the half-doors on the sitting room, the extra banister on the staircase, etc…

And then a cold call from a new Everest employee this afternoon: “I’m just checking that everything is OK with the products you bought from us a few years ago…” he said, before I interrupted his spiel and brought him up to speed on just who is still Everest’s most annoyed customer. He dropped his sales pitch and eventually even his loyal defence as I piled on the evidence. Poor man, but then I didn’t ask him to phone me, did I?

10 Dec 2006    Wild and windy again. The rain gauge says just over 1 inch so far this month and we did have a good hard frost a few nights ago – but I have forgotten which! All this windy weather means that my wood burning stove is eating logs like there is no tomorrow, no matter how much I try to reduce the burning rate. At least the weather is mainly dry and not too cold.

7 Dec 2006    A trip to Seal Sands National Nature Reserve on the North Tees with T & C, spoilt only by an accident and resulting traffic chaos on the A19, an unwanted 1 hour tour of Billingham as all the diverted traffic tried to find its way back to the A19, nowhere for lunch except the big shed and apartment complex which is now Hartlepool Marina (is this really what Scarborough Borough Council plans for Whitby harbour? May the Ombudsman help us prevent it!), failing light and a high tide. Never mind, we did see more bird species today than T & C saw in 2 weeks in China: c36 compared to 15. What have they done to all the birds in China? Eaten them? Poisoned them with industrial pollution? Eradicated them to reduce the risk of Bird Flu?

5 Dec 2006    The sun shone and the wind blew but we still enjoyed a lovely walk along the old railway line from Larpool Viaduct to Stainsacre and back, just part of the new National Cycle Network around the British Isles. This stretch is spoilt only by the new housing development which some idiots at Scarborough Borough Council have given Planning Permission for and which is now looming up alongside this 120 foot high, 6 million brick, Grade 2 Listed Building Victorian Viaduct. Brilliant!

2 Dec 2006    Gale Force 8 winds, gusting to Severe Gale Force 9, are forecast for this evening and tonight. Offshore there have even been warnings to shipping of Storm Force 10 and even Violent Storm Force 11 winds. Wow, that’s just one stage less than Hurricane Force 12!

November 2006 Weather Summary:

Total Rainfall: 67mm (2½ inches).

Temperatures: Max: 13ºC (56ºF); Min: -2ºC (28ºF).

Actual temperature at 0930 on 1 Dec 2006: 10ºC (49ºF). much cooler, N breeze, 6/8 cloud cover, showery. A second consecutive mild month, only slightly cooler than last month.

30 Nov 2006    Just returned from a quick dash to the Lake District for a few days, memorable as being one of the mildest late November breaks in over 25 years. B, J & E have been house-sitting and dog-minding while I was away, so all is well. Still nothing from BT, so I have just unplugged all the BT Broadband bits and returned to the good old fashioned dial-up and pay as you go connection – while also paying for the super new, high tech and completely non-working BT Broadband.

23 Nov 2006    No sign of the missing bit of kit from BT and now my email and web access is starting to misbehave. Watch this space…

21 Nov 2006    I’ve lost track of the last few days, what with concentrating on preparing the hedge for laying (removing loads of rusty barbed wire, wrapping it around rotten fence posts & carrying it down to the road for proper disposal), boarding up the back of the pole barn with ‘hit and miss’ vertical slats (which will let half the wind blow through and which will look better from the outside), tidying-up around the pole barn (re-arranging the contents to get the overflow undercover) while the dry, sunny weather holds and installing Broadband (ha!) when it doesn’t.

In the wet and windy bits my local whizkid, an IT professional, spent 3 hours trying to get my new BT Broadband set up (almost) and link my BT mobile phone to it, so that I can get a signal even in a house at the bottom of the dale. Not yet. It seems a bit of the kit is missing & BT will send it in a few days…

A very wet and windy night on the 19th removed most of the leaves from the more exposed trees. Apart from the evergreens, the Hazel leaves are still mostly green and intact, the Beech leaves are all brown and intact, the Oak leaves are all brown and half gone, the Ash trees are festooned with bunches of keys and no leaves, and everything else is bare poled – unless it is very well sheltered.

16 Nov 2006    A nice trip up the coast to a possible new wild bird feeding station for the general public, near Staithes, based on the idea of the long established one in the Birdwatchers’ Car Park at Forge Valley, Scarborough. Just a few minor formalities to check out first, like ownership, access, permission, funding, etc, etc…

It was such a nice day I took Flag to the Spindrift cafe by Staithes harbour for lunch. Of the 4 outside tables, 2 were already occupied and (with fleeces zipped) we all enjoyed some homemade soup and the wonderful view. Not bad for mid-November!

An afternoon drive along Eskdaleside from Sleights to Grosmont provided good views of the woodland below in all its magnificent autumn colour. This has only just reached its peak in the last few days, with many trees still largely green. Very odd, so late in the year. Especially when only last week the Yucca at Sneaton Castle in Whitby were already in full flower with next year’s blooms. Weird.

14 Nov 2006    And still the wonderful weather continues! We spent a good 5 hours in Bank Orchard, digging holes, chasing apples down the slope and digging more holes. One of us also finished dismantling the fallen Apple tree, clearing a bramble clump onto a suitable bonfire site and felling 8 fair sized Sycamore saplings. And it wasn’t Flag.

Now that the Rabbit numbers are increasing in this area, the horrible man-made myxomatosis has reappeared and I have to interrupt my walks occasionally to put some poor suffering bunny out of its misery. Just what I wanted. Isn’t germ warfare wonderful? Thanks a bunch, Australia.

12 Nov 2006    Another day of near perfect weather for working in the wood. Flag wriggled his way into the very centre of a large and brambly habitat pile, while I removed a small, self-sown and misshapen Gean, as well as the Rose Hip which had protected it from the Roe Deer. A couple of other branches were also removed to create a clearing just big enough to fell a 25 year old Ash tree into. Once that is down and tidied away, I’ll be able to drop a second Ash and then the four young Oaks on the edge of the clearing will finally have some space to grow and some sunlight to do it with.

A Green Woodpecker yaffled from the other side of the wood for much of the day.

10 Nov 2006    Now that I have finished sawing up the wood stored across the far end of the pole barn, I removed the now redundant upright from the middle and added some boarding across the end. This will not only screen that end but will also keep the work and storage area dryer.

8 Nov 2006    After a morning of sawing logs, I went to Dunsley Hall Country House Hotel near Whitby, to top up their Unique Walking Sticks from Whitby display and I was tempted to have lunch on their patio. The sky was clear, sun was shining brightly and there was a sheltered corner of the lawn – but even so it was a mite too chilly to be sitting out. Pity. It would have been nice to say that early November was so mild that eating out of doors was not only possible but also downright pleasant. Never mind, their homemade Apple and Celery soup was delicious!

It might not be quite warm enough for sitting out, but Flag and I enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon dismantling the fallen Apple tree in Bank Orchard

7 Nov 2006    Wasted most of this morning trying to find out from NEDL why there was no electricity in Goathland, Egton, Glaisdale nor parts of Whitby, and when it would be working again. Someone in Goathland had phoned me to see if the electric was ok in Sleights (it was) and if I could find out when it would be back on again. Because when the leccy goes off, there is no power (as you would expect), nor heat (if you have electric controls on your gas central heating), nor cordless phones (the base set stops working), nor mobile phones (the mobile phone mast stops working and, this being a hilly area, no other masts are within range), nor email, nor broadband, nor web access (the black box in the village telephone exchanges stop working). And it hasn’t even started snowing yet!

The only thing that does still work is an old fashioned, £9.99p, no frills, just plug it into the phone socket telephone. Except very few people have them anymore, as cordless and mobiles are ‘far better’. Not.

‘It was all caused by a Yellow Phase Jumper on top of a pole’ she explained. Good God, I thought they were an endangered species! Apparently not, it’s just a mechanical thingy that ‘jumps’ and cuts out the power on the yellow phase wire. Oh good, that’s all right then. Power was eventually restored around lunchtime, people could get warm again, get in touch again, and businesses in Whitby and district could start using their email, broadband and credit card terminals again. Well done Sir Alfred!

I finished strimming the big orchard, all except for the far (wasps’ nest) corner, which can jolly well wait for a good hard frost.

6 Nov 2006    Off to Whitby this morning to attend a meeting about Scarborough Borough Council’s ‘Core Strategy Plan’ for the next 15 years. Their proposed policies include ‘complete duelling of the A64 to Scarborough’ and also ‘protecting the environment by reducing CO2 emissions’… sorry, mate, it just doesn’t work like that. If you improve the roads then you will get more traffic, which will produce even more CO2. Why not push for improving the railway which runs alongside the A64, instead? That way more people can get to Scarborough by an alternative mode of transport which produces less CO2 per passenger than an equivalent number of cars.

Anything we want to happen in and around Whitby, plus anything we do NOT want to happen, has to be written into this plan. If it isn’t in, then it just won’t happen until after 2021. Don’t worry, we have until 5pm this Friday to get our ‘consultation’ in…

Continued strimming after lunch, making the most of all this mild, dry sunny weather.

The big generator is back again at the bottom of the drive for another week, while NEDL (Northern Electric Distribution Ltd) sub-contract the renewal of all the high voltage electric string along the valley to Sir Alfred McAlpine plc, who have sub-sub-contracted the numerous bits of the work to lots and lots and lots of smaller firms, whose left hand doesn’t know what their other left hand is doing. Or when. Or where.

One local farmer is so sick, sore and tired of endless ‘electricity’ people (he reckons well over 50 different individuals, on well over 50 different occasions, in well over 50 different vehicles so far in the past 6 months), wanting to drive across his fields to ‘just check something’ that he has refused to allowed another single vehicle onto his now-sodden fields. ‘I told them my farm was all permanent grassland and that all the work would have to be done in the summer when the ground was dry – but they didn’t even start work until late September!’

So this is supposed to be better than the old and ‘inefficient’ regional electricity boards which used to be responsible for everything electrical? I think not. Well done, Maggie – another good theory which just doesn’t work in practice.

5 Nov 2006    Oh good. It’s Bonfire Night again. With lots of other people’s fireworks.

One family proudly showed me what looked like a round metal biscuit tin. Good idea, I thought. Very safe. Keep all your little fireworks inside a metal box so they don’t light accidentally with a stray spark. Just like I used to do when I was young. But no! This ‘biscuit tin’ was in fact just one firework, with a big fuse sticking out the top. I didn’t read the instructions, but I guess they probably said something like ‘Light blue touch paper and run like hell. If you make it, enjoy the shock and awe’.

What fun. Flag my gun shy gundog will just love that…

He didn’t.

He had kittens all evening.

Anybody want a kitten?

3 Nov 2006    There were 3º F of frost last night, with some white and crispy grass this morning, which Corrie so loved to roll on. This is the first frost of the winter here, so thoughts turn to hedge laying. SA, who helped me with the hedge laying last year, came for a look at this winter’s little project: laying the hedge alongside the newly dug out ditch. There is too much to lay at the lower and wider end and nothing at all to lay at the upper end, so first a bit of ‘siding-up’ will be required to narrow it down to a single hedge line, and then quite a lot of planting with ‘quicks’ (ie Hawthorn cuttings) which will take a few more years to be layable. Quickthorn is the old name for Hawthorn, as it roots so easily (we’ll soon see!) and grows into a decent hedge so quickly.

A Red Admiral butterfly fluttered happily through the orchard looking for a safe place to hibernate, while the feckless Wasps just kept on binge drinking on the rotting apples without a thought for the impending (if seasonal) climate change about to overtake them. Ha! Don’t say you weren’t warned…

By midday it was warm enough for me to enjoy my lunch in the sun on my spatio. In a t-shirt! As if that wasn’t unusual enough, I then cut the grass on the dog lawn, just to make it less shaggy looking (we don’t want a shaggy dog lawn, do we?). Then a short strimming session in the orchard, followed by a very relaxing dismantling of the poor old Apple tree which snapped off and rolled down the slope several weeks ago. It was the sheer weight of apples what done it, with a shower of rain just to add to the weight and then a little bit of a breeze and the 8 inch diameter trunk just snapped at head height. I’ll trim off the jagged bit at the top of the trunk and hopefully the tree will pollard and continue to crop for years to come.

What an unusual day, with the first frost AND Red Admiral butterflies in flight AND bad tempered Wasps AND mowing the lawn AND thinking about hedge laying – and all on the same day.

2 Nov 2006    Bright, calm, dry sunny weather as an anticyclone settles over the whole country. ‘Warm in t’ sun but cauld in t’ wind’, as they would say in these parts (Warm in the sun but cold in the wind). A Red Admiral butterfly landed on a late flower by my pond and fed briefly.

1 Nov 2006    Woopee! Today is the end of the CJS business year, which makes it ‘Retire Absolute’ day! Just another 6 months now to try to sort out the taxman and then I can really relax…

Wintry showers today, with the temperature a full 10ºC colder than a couple of days ago! This morning in the yard I could hear the sea crashing on the shore 3 miles away, after a couple of very windy days. Made full use of my pole barn to saw logs in the dry, while throwing a tennis ball out into the rain for Flag.

October 2006 Weather Summary:

Total Rainfall: 70mm (2¾ inches).

Temperatures: Max: 19ºC (66ºF); Min: 2ºC (36ºF).

Actual temperature at 0930 on 1 Nov 2006: 5ºC (40ºF), much cooler, N breeze, 6/8 cloud cover, showery. A remarkably mild month which extended the shirt-sleeved season almost to the end of the month.

30 Oct 06    The find, dry, mild and sunny weather continues and another good sized chunk of the Groves Bank orchard was strimmed. The Ash trees have lost most of their leaves now, without ever changing colour, but the trees are still look brown thanks to the huge bunches of keys (seeds) still hanging from the branches. The Oaks are only just turning brown, while the Sycamores are most autumnal of all.

The government’s Stern Report was published today, confirming Climate Change as a real and present danger. No ranting conservationist this time, Stern was head of the World Bank for many years and is now a senior government economist. His conclusions? Better to try and do something to reduce the problem now, rather than delay meaningful action until the situation is catastrophic. OK, then – how much do you really care about your grandchildren? Enough to reduce your present standard of living by 1%, as Stern recommends? Or just let the grandkids suffer the catastrophic economic depression of a 20% cut in another 20 year’s time, with 200 million climatic refugees worldwide and most food producing coastal lowlands covered by ever rising sea levels? One person interviewed at an airport reckoned it was her human right to fly off on holiday to the sun for less than £20, while another insisted that his particular suburban 4 wheel drive car was perfectly acceptable…

Sorry grandkids, they just don’t love you as much as their cheap flights and their motorised status symbols!

Tough.

29 Oct 06    The dinky digger has arrived! We spent the day cleaning out the ditch down the side of Groves Dyke orchard, then digging a new ditch across the bottom of my neighbour’s field. The soil is not soil at all, but ‘slutch’ or clay and each and every bucketful the digger lifted out had to be attacked with a spade before it would drop out of the bucket and fall to the ground with a splat. Phew.

27 Oct 06    Put the chairs back on the patio again this morning. At least it has been dry and the wind has now dropped. Just after 1030 am a skein of c60 grey geese flew south over the dale.

Off to Runswick Bay with Flag, to help with some A-Level geology fieldwork. He was even less help than I was. Even though it was supposed to be low tide, big waves were crashing into the bay and lots of surfers were taking full advantage.

26 Oct 06    Stand-up comedian Barry Cryer (aged 71) and ex-rocker Ronnie Golden were very good at the Whitby Theatre last night, both lamenting their old age. ‘My short term memory isn’t very good now… and another thing: My short term memory isn’t very good now… and another thing…’

Oh dear, it’s only funny ‘cos it’s true!

Heavy rain got even heavier last night and the winds rose to gale force. By this morning my plastic patio chairs were scattered across the lawn, another ½ inch of rain had fallen and the strong wind continued – but it is still mild! Very odd. Sawed a few more logs in the pole barn and went to Whitby shopping. There do seem to be lots of people about in Whitby and quite a few of them are Goths. Is it Halloween already?

25 Oct 06    Rain is forecast for this afternoon, but a bit of grey cloud will let me make a start on strimming the Groves Bank orchard. First strim the path along the top of the bank to the big Holly tree, then from the half-way point, strim down the steep, slippery slope to the wall at the bottom, then back along the wall to the Stickery and back up the steep hillside to the top path. Phew! Having outlined a block, refuelled the strimmer and the operator, tied the dog to a tree at a safe distance so that he can dig more holes in the next block, start the machine again and stagger across the slope cutting parallel swathes with each pass.

I think this could be the basis for a new Reality TV show: just strap a petrol driven machine to a person so that it flings a continuous stream of high speed mud and rotten fruit at them, then send them up, down and across a precipitous slope on a layer of small round Crab Apples to cut the grass, brambles, etc. Add an occasional, overgrown hole to twist ankles and break legs at the most critical balancing moments and continue, with occasional refuelling, until the person shouts ‘I’m an idiot, get me out of here!’

By early afternoon I had had enough. Then I remembered that every couple of hours of strimming always requires another hour of sweeping-up the debris from the drive below. Only another ⅔ of the orchard left to do…

A Weasel, my first sighting for many a month, wove its way through the dry stone wall behind my pond, following the trail of the daily Bank Vole, but I don’t think they met.

24 Oct 06   It must have been windy last night, as this morning in the back yard I could hear the waves crashing on the shore some 3 miles away.  The high, thin cloud soon burned away to give another lovely dry, mild and sunny day. A Wasp buzzed about in the conservatory and eventually found its way out. Perfect strimming weather!

Collecting the kit together, I disturbed a Red Admiral butterfly which had been sunning itself on a sandstone wall. By mid afternoon I had strimmed the path around the wood, strimmed the landscaped area around the Stickery, then strimmed the Groves Dyke orchard and also the line of the ditch behind the pole barn. All the flowering plants will have set seed by now, so strimming in October is the best time to scatter that seed and so produce a good crop of wildflowers for next year. The disadvantage of strimming just once a year is that the Brambles have had a whole summer to really thicken-up and create major entanglements – but strimming in June as well, when the spring-flowering plants have set their seed, is the height of the hay fever season and I much prefer brambles to pollen.

23 Oct 06    Pleasant sunny weather again yesterday and today. Strimmed all of my front lawns but never quite got around to the path around the wood. Once that is done, then I only have the annual strimming of the orchards, which is always a bit of a marathon. Maybe tomorrow…

21 Oct 06    Back to fine, dry, mild and sunny weather again. My car says it is 16º C – very odd for late October… do you think something strange is going on? Had a lovely late afternoon dog walk by the river at Grosmont, followed by coffee and sticky bun at the Hazelbush Cafe and then a nice browse at the Grosmont Gallery and Jazz Cafe.

Driving up Fair Head onto Sleights Moor I was intrigued by all the Rooks flying alongside the car and then flapping low over the heather and off out of sight. Pulling in, I could see with binoculars that each bird was carrying an acorn in its beak and probably, judging by their laboured uphill flight, lots more acorns in their crops. Bird after bird, they toiled up the field, skimmed over the moor wall and toiled across the moor. Ten birds. Twenty. Thirty. An endless procession. Driving further along the moor road, I could see the laden birds landing amongst the heather and, out of sight, presumably squirreling-away their winter store in the peat, before taking to the air much lighter and joining a return stream flying higher over the moor, back over the moor wall and back down into the Oak woods on Eskdaleside. So that is how the occasional Oak tree suddenly appears in the middle of the moor! Not that they last very long, once the sheep realise there is anything more tasty than their staple diet of heather!

20 Oct 06    Wet! Almost ¾ of an inch of rain fell last night and this morning, brightening up by mid afternoon. Sawed a few more logs under cover in the pole barn, while throwing the tennis ball out into the great outdoors for the daft dog to fetch. That way, we both got some exercise.

18 Oct 06    Like a summer’s day today, with no wind, mild weather (16ºC my car says), clear skies and warm sunshine. Strimmed the dog lawn, half the woodyard, both sides of the drive and along the front verge. Then sawed more of the Poplar stack and built the resulting firelogs into another wall of the pole barn. A pair of Jays flew silently back and forth just beyond the woodyard.

The UK Met Office says this is the mildest October on record (since c1650 AD) and that this year we had the hottest July and the warmest summer on record. Climate change? No, never! It’s just a minor fluctuation. Or is that just another spoiling story funded by the big oil companies?

17 Oct 06    The auction went well and everything was sold (click here for details). Strimmed some lawn by the beck and sawed some firewood from the pole barn. This is the load of bought-in Poplar which has been stacked inside my pole barn all summer and the sooner I get it cut into firelogs and stacked into another pole barn wall, the sooner it will be much safer to park my car under cover!

A Green Woodpecker yaffled from up in the wood and a Buzzard has been reported flying over the next village at Aislaby. Here birdie, birdie! Here birdie, birdie…

16 Oct 06    A viewing at the saleroom in Whitby before tomorrow’s auction of Tom Whittaker the Gnomeman carved figures, then off to a local food fair near Scarborough before returning to strim all the lawns while the dry weather continues. This all went according to plan, except the strimming, as the strimmer just refused to start. The local repairman is now dealing with it and it should be ready to start work tomorrow afternoon. If it hasn’t started raining by then…

15 Oct 06    The mild, grey weather continues so we pottered in the woods before I got ready for a very special retirement Sunday lunch with all the CJS team at The Horseshoe pub, Egton Bridge. They produced a wide range of excellent food which was enjoyed by all of us with our wide range of assorted food allergies.

14 Oct 06    A leisurely pottering around day. With Groves Dyke empty for the first time in months, a chance to catch up with minor jobs like freeing the utility room door a little, adding another handrail on the other side of the stairs, etc, etc.

13 Oct 06    Just back from a conference in Sherwood Forest (see RuralNet.org) where various important people said numerous things of interest to a rural audience of c250 from the far flung rural corners of England. If it all comes true, then everything in the countryside will soon be wonderful: new government agencies will soon be active in the countryside, the most deprived wards (all of them rural and hidden, not urban and obvious) will soon be revitalised, Voluntary and Social Organisations (VSOs) of all shapes and sizes will be re-energised, affordable rural housing will soon be available for all the homeless young families, scattered communities will be empowered, local produce will be cheaper than big supermarket loss leaders, everyone will have access to proper transport, education, employment and healthcare, all of us will be connected by broadband and everything, yes everything, will be wonderful. Oh good. My father used to say ‘Live old horse and you will get hay.’

Among the many points which caught my attention were:

a). Never mind subsidising under-used rural bus services, why not just give everybody Taxi Vouchers? Nice one!

And, even better:

b). Why not just change the vehicle licensing laws so that every single car in the UK will be licensed to carry fare-paying passengers?

Brilliant! That would solve the rural and the urban transport / traffic problems at a stroke. Daft ideas? No, not when they come from the Chief Executives of two of the UK’s biggest and most successful organisations dealing with rural issues. It’s just a matter of time, really… As is:

c). Remote communities which now rely almost completely on Tourism will be the hardest hit when the public transport system has been allowed to decline (as it now is) and then the price of road fuel quadruples (as it will), because no tourists will be able to afford to travel there by car and there will be no alternative mode of transport still in existence. Whitby?

8 Oct 06    On the way up the wood this morning I noticed the Roe Deer slip silently aside as Flag rampaged about without success. On the way back down again, however, he finally encountered the deer (it should have slipped aside the other way!) and chased it up the path towards me. Seeing me, it panicked and doubled back towards Flag and panicked even more, decided I was by far the lesser of two evils and rushed past me within a couple of feet. Both deer and dog disappeared, the latter reappearing 10 minutes later, panting hard and too tired to eat this breakfast without first having a rest.

Several trips up and down the wood, collecting all of last year’s crop of walking sticks and bring them down to the house. They have been hanging on the Whitebeam tree near the Third Hazel Coup since last winter and are now well seasoned and ready to start working on – just as soon as I have finished the last of the previous year’s crop.

A Nuthatch visited the feeding station for Sunflower hearts and a Goldfinch, the first for many a month, ate from the Niger seed feeder. Just after lunch a big skein of c180 grey geese called as they flew southwards high across the dale. Only the Beech trees are showing any sign of autumn colour so far…

7 Oct 06    Another nice day, clouding over and almost raining (but not quite) in the afternoon. More firelogs sawn. Will there be enough wood left in the old cord to completely fill the final section of the woodshed? Or will it run out and leave the shed almost but not quite full? Exciting, innit?

5 Oct 06    Sunny and showery again, with just over ½ an inch of rain in the gauge so far this month. I added a new bungee strap and screw-in eyes to the sawhorse (to hold the work piece steady) and sawed a few more bits of cordwood. The woodshed is now over 5/6 ths full, with what looks like just enough left in the old cord to fill the remaining 1/6 th. I worked until the batteries in my reciprocating saw ran out. A Green Woodpecker yaffled up in the wood as I ran out of energy.

Then a restful session dragging out excess pondweed and marginal plants from my pond, as Flag rediscovered his favourite game of dropping his tennis ball into the water and then barking excitedly until somebody (guess who?) scoops it out again. Etc, etc, etc.

4 Oct 06    A fine, bright, dry and sunny morning at last, so I strimmed all of my front lawns for the first time since the spatio began. Wow – that 50 square yards less to strim certainly makes a noticeable difference. Finished in time to saw a few more fire logs from the 2 year old cord and now the woodshed is almost 5/6 ths full. More geese flew over just after lunch but I didn’t get out to see them in time. Probably Pink Foot Geese, but my ear is not good enough to identify them by call alone.

3 Oct 06    The final ton of gravel was dumped in the yard and by lunchtime I had it all barrowed around to the spatio and evenly spread. C’est fini! Perhaps, after last night, I should add a little bit of something cosmic? Or perhaps even some Fung Shui? (From the Ancient Chinese Shui meaning ‘sense’ and Fung meaning ‘more money than…’). Perhaps not.

And Zen again, I might just rake the gravel into aesthetically pleasing patterns…

Flag growled at the Gabriel Hounds as another skein of 100 Geese flew high across the dale, followed a few minutes later by a small V of a dozen tail end Charlies.

Talking of growling at something intangible: British Gas Homecare has now had 10 working days since I last contacted them and since their delayed job was (eventually) completed. I had asked them for an official Complaint Form and a letter of explanation / apology, not to mention suggesting that they might like to send a nice bunch of flowers to the elderly couple staying in Groves Dyke the week they left them without proper heat – and they had promised to see if that was possible. Since then? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not a sausage.

So I got onto the British Gas www.house.co.uk website, tracked down their ‘Feedback and Complaints’ section and used it to email them a summary of their failures, including the fact that their HomeCare call centre is fairly useless. I wonder if their website is any less useless? My unique Complaint Reference Number is 0002343925. Does that really mean that my complaint is the 2,343,925 th one they have received via their website? Somehow, I am not really surprised!

2 Oct 06    C & K finished pointing the spatio and tidying-up. Just a bit more gravel required…

Off to York for the afternoon, arriving just too late to look inside the medieval Merchant Adventurers Hall, but in good time for tea at Betty’s. Discovered the cracked mirror downstairs, signed by hundreds of servicemen during the Second World War when Betty’s was the ‘unofficial Ops Room’ for many of them and especially the Canadian Air Force stationed around the city.

Then off to an evening lecture at York Museum, given by Charles Jencks the architect, garden designer and Gulbenkian Prize Winner for the wonderful ‘Landform’ (which can be seen in the garden of the Edinburgh Museum of Modern Art). His subject was ‘The Garden of Cosmic Speculation’, a private garden he created near Dumfries. All 200 of us were spellbound as he explained the scientific inspiration behind his fractile-ed patio slabs, the waves of his 3-dimentional water features, his DNA garden and his Black Hole patio which draws the admirer in and then discharges them into a parallel (but unknown) universe.

Fascinating stuff, but I found myself wishing that I had worn my tee shirt with the immortal slogan: ‘Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light’…

1 Oct 06    This morning I noticed that another heavily laden branch had snapped off the poor old Apple tree in Bank orchard.  I tidied up the stump with a bow saw and moved the jagged remnant aside as very fragrant firewood for the winter of 2008/9.

Flag’s elbows must be feeling better, too, as he spent the time digging nearby!

A Grey Wagtail made a leisurely investigation of my pond and a Jay shuttled silently back and forth from the acorn laden Major Oak in the wood.

September 2006 Weather Summary:

Total Rainfall: 73mm (2⅞ inches).

Temperatures: Max: 26ºC (80ºF); Min: 4ºC (40ºF).

Actual temperature at 0930 on 1 Oct 2006: 13ºC (56ºF), cooler, SW breeze, 4/8 cloud cover, showery. A mixed month, with a most unusual week of hot, dry Southerly winds mid-month.

30 Sept 06    I enjoyed an outdoor salad lunch at the River Gardens in Sleights, basking in the sun and enjoying the last of the summer quiche. Tomorrow is their final open day this year and it is unlikely to be suitable weather for outdoor lunches soon. Still, if it is, I now have a South Patio to enjoy it on.

29 Sept 06    Gabriel’s Hounds were calling just after lunch, as 2 skeins of unidentified Geese flew southwards high across the dale. No wonder local tradition associated their migrating calls with an impending death, something which was always a certainty when we still had proper winters.

This afternoon I joined several other local enthusiasts to coppice an area of short rotation Willow near Pickering. Planted some 5 years ago as part of a community power station project to burn locally grown biomass to produce electricity to sell to the national grid, this excellent scheme would have used low lying fallow set aside land to grow the trees (thus locking-up more atmospheric carbon), improved flood prevention, created new wildlife habitat, created local employment, reduced fuel miles and reduced fossil fuel consumption used by the electricity generating industry by replacing it with sustainable current carbon. A win, win, win, win, win, win, win situation – except it depended on so many different multi-funding sources and agencies that the whole scheme disintegrated when just one of them failed to pay up what they had promised.

So an extra 4,000 acres of Willow were planted (and subsidised) in Ryedale, which now are  just locking-up carbon, creating wildlife habitats and reducing flood risk – but no one now wants to buy it, work it or burn it or produce electricity with it. What a waste. Still, I got some useful experience in bundling the cut stems and tying them with the traditional Willow Knot (my hands still ache – now I know why we invented string!) while the others got some useful material to complete a reconstructed Iron Age round house near Bedale and to weave a traditional field fence near Robin Hood’s Bay.

Several cars and a trailer had driven across the field to the copse, but after a couple of heavy showers the only way to get the bundles of freshly cut Willow home was first to push the ‘towing’ car a couple of hundred yards to the nearest tarmac and then to man handle the heavily laden trailer the same way. Occasionally, there are times when a 4 x 4 vehicle could actually be useful, but it was interesting to note that not a single one of us woodlanders owned an Off Road vehicle. There are already far too many people who spend money they don’t really have, to buy things they don’t really need, to impress people they don’t really like. (Sorry, but no. That was said by somebody far more articulate than me).

I also discovered that one of my fellow coppicers was the person who had taken my Unique Walking Stick to Glastonbury Festival and was seen dancing with it in the field knows as ‘Lost Vagueness’. Wonderful!

27 Sept 06    More hedges to trim and cuttings to burn, but at least it is all looking a bit more respectable now. The spatio is almost complete and looks great, especially the section of modern ‘Monks’ Trod’ which forms one edge.

26 Sept 06    I lit the bonfire piled high with the bit of uprooted Box hedge from the spatio, before trimming the other hedges. No point in creating yet more cuttings to be disposed of before I have got rid of the existing ones. (I realise that this principle has never occurred to the nuclear industry, which is why they just keep on creating more and more toxic waste even though they still haven’t found a safe way of disposing of all the other toxic waste they have already created over the past 50 years…).

C & K continued with the spatio.

25 Sept 06    The temporary generator installed by Sir Alfred McAlpine plc was switched on this morning, supplying the 4 houses at this end of the drive for the next week while the high voltage electricity wires near the top of the wood are replaced. OK, so it’s not the noisiest genny in the world – but nor is it the quietest, so I am absolutely delighted that I point blank refused to have it parked immediately behind Groves Dyke.

24 Sept 06    Rain this morning, easing off by mid-day. Explored the almost  impenetrable South eastern corner of the wood, crawling under the Blackthorn scrub occasionally, and found another half-dozen plastic tree tubes littered about. These have been there since we planted and protected the young trees with them in 1985/6, even though they were supposed to biodegrade within 5 years. Ha!

23 Sept 06    Pleasantly warm, dry and bright again this morning, but without the strong winds. Nice change. My rain gauge now reads 1¾ inches so far this month, which means we had almost an inch of rain since yesterday afternoon.

22 Sept 2006    The week of hot, dry winds ended last night with a proper gale, leaving a Hawthorn tree snapped off about 10 feet up and the top half lying across the path around the wood. C & K carried on with the spatio, while I dealt with the fallen tree. By mid-afternoon 16 big flagstones had been laid and then the rain arrived – and continued for the rest of the day.

21 Sept 2006    A male Sparrowhawk swooped at the feeders, missed all the birds and then perched on the cross bar for a good swear. Excellent – in the past week I have had superb views of Merlin, Peregrine Falcon and Sparrowhawk, all within 10 miles of home! This retirement thingy is quite promising, really…

By mid-morning the mobile generator was manoeuvred into position on the main drive some 50 yards below the house. For 4 days and nights next week this will provide all the power for the 4 different households within 100 yards. They had expected to park it just behind Groves Dyke and were a bit put out when I refused, on the grounds of probable noise nuisance. ‘Which would you rather have’, he asked, ‘Peace and quiet or electricity?’ Both, I replied. Especially if another bunch of contractors are going to do it all again next year…

The hot Spanish wind continue to blow half a gale, with lots of broken twigs littering the ground. Not to mention apples, each of which Flag thinks is yet another tennis ball falling from the heavens and rolling down the drive just for his delight. Ah, Flag’s idea of heaven!

Work on my new South Patio (hereinafter referred to as the Spatio) continues in the hot sun and my car sez it’s 24ºC!

20 Sept 2006    Gaffer and I met on site to discuss the situation. He assured me that the fence would be kept stockproof in future and he explained that the ground anchor was only temporary and would be dug up again once the new pole was in place. I insisted that it would be far better to leave it (and the remains of my poor old Bernese Mountain Dog) where they were, and just cut the cables off at ground level when the job was done. He agreed. So ‘Sorry’ to all shareholders in Alfred McAlpine plc, but your annual dividend next year will be reduced by the cost of one ground anchor, which will now be left in peace to rot away over many, many years… which is a damn sight more that poor old Corrie was.

C & K cut a neat square near the bottom of the drive, ready for ‘the boys from the black stuff’ to lay a new patch of tarmac over the now whacker-ed 3 tons of hardcore. This is due to happen tomorrow or Friday…

19 Sept 2006    On my pre-breakfast walk around the wood this morning, I discovered that Sir Alfred McAlpine (or, at least, his employees) had felled a big branch onto the top fence, knocked over another 15 yards of fence to get their heavy digger into the wood to plant a huge ground anchor within 8 feet of Anthea’s memorial stone, disturbing poor old Corrie’s grave in the process. I had known that they were going to replace the electricity wires and any rotten poles, and I had arranged with their Wayleave Officer that they would be especially careful of the memorial stone which marks where Anthea’s ashes were scattered, but there had been no mention of any major excavations as well.

I rang him and he was on the ball straight away. The fence was made stockproof again before any cattle, horses or sheep had wandered into the wood and arrangements were made to meet their gaffer on site at 9 am tomorrow.

NB: Local rumour has it that whichever QUANGO or business now owns the electricity distribution network, it is planning to replace all the currently-being-replaced poles with yet another set of poles next year, but that will be a different contract with a different set of contractors getting paid to do it all over again, and a different set of fat cats getting their annual bonus. Still, anything for a more efficient UK energy system and a more buoyant national economy!

Then Flag and I set off for a nice, wild and windy lunchtime walk on the moor near Ravenscar Beacon, before visiting the National Trust coastal centre to see their new exhibition on Peak Alum Works. My car said it was an amazing 20ºC! Suitable hungry, we went into the garden at the Raven Hall Hotel (built originally for poor mad King George III, to keep him well away from London when required) and ordered one of their superb afternoon teas. Sheltering in a slightly less windy corner I admired the big, beefy ‘Kestrel’ which was hanging in the up draught 100 feet above the garden wall. What a fine, healthy looking Kessy that is, I thought, as it slid sideways across the wind… until it was almost overhead and I realised it was actually a Peregrine Falcon! Wow! It slid further inland, ‘rowed’ powerfully over the fields, then side-slipped the other way and gained more and more height until it was high over the coast again and then tipped into a power dive and vanished, wings partly folded, somewhere below and far beyond the garden wall.

I just hope it enjoyed its Rock Dove as much as I enjoyed the triple-decker plate of finger sandwiches, freshly baked scone with strawberries and cream, slice of strawberry cheesecake, home made shortbread biscuits and fruit cake. Good thing I skipped lunch, but even so, I think another brisk walk is called for…

18 Sept 2006    Flag chased a Heron which was loafing on the ground near the top of the wood. Then as I was having breakfast in the conservatory it landed on top of the woodshed and eyed the newly cleaned out pond – but Flag chased it away again. C & K returned to pour the third concrete step from my new patio and a couple of Jays screeched blue, bloody murder up in the wood.

Talking of which, British Gas rang just after 9 am to check that their engineer was on site and solving the problem. He wasn’t. I suggested that they ring me again just after 10am to check that the job was complete, as they had promised it would be.

They did. It hadn’t even been started. I asked them to ring me again just after 11 am…

They did. He had arrived! He was actually doing it!! Seems he knew nothing was amiss and had assumed that someone else had been assigned to complete the job he started and abandoned last Tuesday… Anyway, it’s only taken 6 days to do a ‘next day’ job.

By 11.30 am the job was done, both fires were working perfectly again, the central heating had been reset to come on and off as normal, the engineer had gone and I am now waiting for the Head of Complaints at British Gas to write me a nice letter. Let me predict what the bog standard ‘Woops!’ letter is likely to say: ‘Dear Mr Carson, I was disappointed to learn that our recent HomeCareless Service to you was below our normally high standards. Here at British Gas we deal with millions of phone calls and thousands of engineer visits every day and 99.99% of these are resolved without any difficulty. It is most unusual when something does go wrong, as seems to have happened in your case, and we are carrying out an in depth investigation to ensure that nothing similar can never happen again. Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience caused and rest assured that absolutely everything will be completely perfect in future. Yours insincerely, F. Bloggs (Senior Apologist for BG).’

Now let’s just wait and see how that compares…

Sawed a few more logs and strimmed the remaining Groves Dyke lawn and the lower part of the path around the wood, before finally relaxing in the late afternoon sun on my incomplete new patio, with a nice glass of wine.

17 Sept 2006    Having identified the best young Oak trees in the wood, as well as the competing Ash or Gean trees, this morning I tagged all the Oaks with red plastic strips. That was the easy bit. Then I worked out which of the competing trees had to go, in which direction and in which order, to minimise the loss and any resulting damage. Two rather too healthy young Ash trees near the Second Hazel Coup will be the first to go this winter, which should ensure the survival of the 4 neighbouring young Oaks, one of which really is a prize specimen.

16 Sept 2006    Knowing that ‘British Gas HomeCare means that if there is a crisis, you have the reassurance that you can call on us to take care of it’ – even if it is a crisis which they created – I waited patiently for ‘the very latest technology’ at British Gas (ie their computer) to instruct one of their ‘6,000 expert engineers to provide complete peace of mind’ between 10 and 12 noon today. And I waited…

At 11.15 I rang the British Gas super efficient call centre to check that someone was actually on their way, only to be told that ‘The computers are down, so we are having to do it all  manual’ and then ‘I can’t find any Groves Dyke Holiday Cottage. Can you give me the postcode? No… there’s nothing under that either…’ Supervisors were also a bit hard to find this morning, but another nice man, who gave the impression that he really knew what he was doing there, gave me his direct dial phone number before he rang off to go and walk across to the Maintenance Department to see if he could find me on their computer. He could. I do exist! ‘Yes, the parts were delivered to the collection point this morning for the engineer to collect – but the computer crash [not just a ‘glitch’, then?] meant that the engineer was never notified.’

Never mind, British Gas can still save the day! An engineer will be sent to put the broken coals back on top of the fire and remove the ‘Do Not Use’ stickers, before 3pm today, so that the elderly couple will get the proper warm welcome they expect! Good ole British Gas, I knew I could rely on them!

The tenants arrived and I apologised for the lack of heat, explained the extra electric radiators I had just put in to take the chill off such a dull and overcast day and just as I was was telling them exactly how impressed I was with British Blooming Gas and their HomeCareless 400 Agreement, the heroic British Gas engineer arrived hot wheeled from York! Fear not! The cavalry have arrived just in the nick of time!

I explained to the newly arrived engineer how the nice man at British Gas that morning had arranged for him to put the broken coals back on and remove the official stickers. ‘I can’t do that’ he said. ‘They’re broken.’ No, no , I explained patiently, the nice man at British Gas had authorised it, so it would be alright. ‘He is not an engineer, he said, ‘He can’t make arrangements like that.’ Its ok, I said, he gave me his direct dial phone number, you can speak to him yourself and get it all sorted out…

‘You have reached the voice mail of…’ So I rang the nice British Gas HomeCareless call centre again and asked to speak to the owner of the voice mail. ‘I don’t recognise that name’ she said, ‘We have 5 call centres, so he might not work in this one…’ His direct dial phone number did help, but he had already finished his shift and left. Smart man.

Another supervisor was found, but he wasn’t at all hopeful. This furious customer quoted bits of the British Gas HomeCareless Agreement at him, but to no avail. ‘We meet all of the requirements of our Terms and Conditions’ he said. Somehow, I just hadn’t got round to finding a magnifying glass to cope with the 4 pages of very small print – as a newly retired Editor, I would estimate about 6 point – which start on page 16 of their nice cuddly brochure…

The engineer talked to his boss on his phone, I shouted at the poor man on my phone, the elderly guests, (one recently discharged from hospital) tried to settle in and relax, while I insisted that the recording of our phone call be sent to the Head of Customer [WeDon’tActually] Care at British Blooming Gas HQ, while a proper British Blooming Gas Complaint Form be posted to me asap. Good, innit?

So, the upshot is: The poor engineer reset the gas central heating to be constantly on (I am sure British Blooming Gas will offer to pay for it, and the electricity for the extra radiators); the poor guests put the kettle on and sat down to begin their week’s holiday, the new artificial coals promised for Wednesday afternoon, then Saturday morning, will now be fitted on Monday morning (honest), etc, etc, and there will also be lots of complaint forms for me to complete.

Still, I can start my retirement knowing that, in the autumn of my years, I now have all the pointless comfort of a British Blooming Gas HomeCareless 400 Agreement so that ‘if there is a crisis, you have the reassurance that you can call on us to take care of it.’ Or not. Depending on whether its a weekend. Or not.

AND I get to pay just £343 / year for such a wonderful service!

So, please ask Al Quaeda not to do anything silly anywhere near a gas pipe anytime between 5pm on Fridays and 8am on Mondays. And certainly not on a Bank Holiday weekend…

Come back Victor Meldrew, you were right all along!

15 Sept 2006    I checked with the tenants that all was well, only to discover that the gas man had never returned and the gas fires were still unusable. I rang my British Gas Homecare number for Breakdowns / Servicing and spoke to a nice lady who assured me that British Gas had cancelled my HomeCare Agreement. When asked why, she explained that the engineer had found a fault and so the Agreement was now cancelled. I asked what, then, was the point of having an Agreement if it was going to be cancelled as soon as an engineer found that any work was required, but she was adamant.

‘Can I speak to your supervisor?’ I asked, but she assured me that no supervisor was available in her team. ‘Could I speak to another teams’ supervisor?’ I asked, but she assured me that there weren’t any available. I asked her to confirm that the entire British Gas call centre was operating without anyone in charge, and she put me on hold and played musak at me. Eventually she found a nice man who appeared to know what he was doing. ‘I do apologise for the engineer not returning to complete the job as promised’ he said. ‘I do apologise for you being told that your HomeCare agreement had been cancelled. I can assure you that your agreement has NOT been cancelled. I will ring you back within 20 minutes to tell you what is happening.’

And he did. ‘Owing to an unforeseeable computer glitch we are having a few problems. The new parts will be sent ready for the engineer to collect them on Saturday morning and he will be at Groves Dyke between 10 and 12 noon on Saturday to fit them and complete the job.’ Ok, so the current tenants will have been without the 2 gas fires for just over 3 days but, by sheer good luck, it has been pleasantly warm for mid September. Anyway, everything will be ready for the the elderly couple due to arrive at 3pm on Saturday…

So I went off to my last day as Editor of the Countryside Jobs Service before retiring (www.countryside-jobs.com), drank a glass of champagne and wished them all every success. On the way home a beautiful male Merlin flashed across the road just ahead of me as I topped Siller Howe moor. Now that really does make a perfect send-off absolutely complete! And so well organised, too!

14 Sept 2006    The Loss Adjustor arrived just after 8 am to look into the hole at the bottom of the drive (now filled in again). Then an AGM to attend in Whitby and then several tons of hardcore was delivered and needed barrowing around to my new patio.

13 Sept 2006    The gasman cameth yesterday, as planned, and found that the artificial coals were cracked on both living flame gas fires. ‘I’ll order the replacement artificial coals and they will arrive tomorrow, then I will fit them between 2 and 4’, he said, as he stuck a British Gas ‘Do Not Use’ sticker to each fire and left.

Luckily, I had upgraded my British Gas Homecare 200 agreement just last week to Homecare 400, which now includes inspection and maintenance of the gas back boiler and controls, all the central heating, all the plumbing, all the drains (except the septic tank) and all the electrics. Now, if anything ever goes wrong with anything, I can just make a simple call to British Gas, 24/7, and they will sort it all out for me. Isn’t that great? And all for just a bit less than £1 / day! It’s almost too good to be true, isn’t it?

They even give you a nice little booklet Homecare Guide – all the answers at your fingertips’ which explains how they will ‘provide you with the best possible service’, ‘giving you peace of mind’, ‘using the very latest technology and techniques’, ‘keep our promises to you’, ‘making your life easier’ and ‘we will always help vulnerable and elderly people we are made aware of, whether or not they are a British Gas customer’. In fact, ‘British Gas Homecare means that if there is a crisis, you have the reassurance that you can call on us to take care of it.’ And I have quoted all of that from just the first 2 pages of their Homecare Guide.

What a pity that when it comes down to it, none of it actually happens.

I waited in all afternoon but he never appeared, nor phoned to explain why not, so I ended up wasting the entire afternoon…

12 Sept 06    Cut all the Groves Bank lawns today, except the 50 square yards of incomplete South Patio, which helped. Also half the woodyard. Then spent half the afternoon waiting for the gasman to cometh and doeth the annual service in Groves Dyke. I think this calls for an early evening stroll on the beach at Sandsend…

11 Sept 2006    C & K were back to build the shuttering for my new concrete steps down from the South Patio. The reclaimed flagstones themselves were delivered late morning and look lovely – far, far better than any non-Yorkshire alternative. They came originally from Wakefield Prison, apparently, so they may feel much better now that they have been released into the wide open spaces of the moors – the ‘Land of Wild Freedom’ as the BBC titled their wildlife documentary about the North York Moors many years ago.

On the way back from Whitby this afternoon my car tells me that the temperature is 27ºC, which is a bit hot. Especially for September. A large red / brown Dragonfly oviposited in and around the pond.

Flag returned from the back of the pole barn with a freshly killed adult Rabbit in his mouth, which must have surprised both of them! He was a bit upset when I disposed of it, and even more upset when the fine weather broke with showers and distant thunder and lightening. It’s a dog’s life, innit?

10 Sept 06    Still hot, dry & sunny. 15-minutes birding from my conservatory gave: Chaffinch 5, Blue Tit 3, Bank Vole 2, Great Tit 2, Wood Pigeon 2, Blackbird 1, Dunnock 1, Nuthatch 1 (silent) and Robin 1. (1005-1020 hours, ⅛ cloud cover and morning mist burning off as the sun rose, Force 2 Westerly). Later, a Coal Tit, a Large Green Dragonfly, a Red Admiral and a Small Copper butterfly sunned themselves by the pond.

Having identified just how few ‘good’ young Oaks are left in the wood, I looked at how they could be encouraged by removing any other young trees which shade them or encroach on their canopy or root circle. The most successful species of those we planted are the Ash and the Cherry, which seem to have survival rates of over 75% (unlike the 25% or less for the Oaks). I would still like to remove the minimum of encroaching trees, so now for a bit of juggling to find just which Ash or Cherry would, if removed, benefit 2 or even 3 young Oaks… I am sure there will be an algebraic formula or a bit of ‘simple’ geometry to identify the individual, but luckily I have forgotten all of that rubbish a long time ago.

8 Sept 06    Hot, dry, sunny weather has returned so a nice shady walk by the River Esk near Grosmont was required. I scanned the river for the once common Dipper, expecting to see nothing, as usual – but that white blob, just there, very still, on a rock, too still for a Dipper, maybe plastic, but just the right size, still not moving, Yes! It dipped! A Dipper! The first time this year! It froze again, as did I, and we just watched each other, waiting for one of us to blink. It was so still and could so easily have been missed. It was just here, ten years ago, that we sat and watched a whole family of Dippers having lessons from mum and dad on how to dip, how to submerge, how to walk underwater, how to catch insects underwater, how to surface again, how to freeze, how to merge so perfectly with the running water. Now, just one bird – and it blinked first, waded, swam and then submerged before walking back up onto another rock with an insect in its beak. Wonderful. The next time it submerged, we stole silently back into the wood and left it to surface to an empty riverbank.

7 Sept 06    Took Flag for a lovely drive across the moors to Hartoft, to see a man about another 15 square yards of Yorkshire flagstones for my new South Patio. Everyone says I should buy the nice, cheap flagstones from India. Even though they have come half way around the world, they are still just half the price of traditional reclaimed Yorkshire flags. I have heard of ‘food miles’, but this is ridiculous! They look almost the same, are a bit too pale, almost limestone and they are very brittle and can’t ever be driven over. Basically, they’re just not proper Yorkshire – so I paid the full £36 / sq yd for the real thing and delivery will be early next week.

The clouds cleared, the air was mild, the sun was warm and lunch was taken in the garden of The Milburn Arms in nearby Rosedale Abbey, before driving up the dale, past Bell End Farm and up onto the moortop again towards Fat Betty, the ancient stone cross at the head of the dale. Then off along the back road to Little Fryup Dale via the end of Trough House track, past Danby Castle and Duck Bridge with a nice walk across the footbridge to the Moors Centre – just in time for afternoon tea in the garden.

Flag now associates the car with nice trips to interesting places and, provided there are enough short walks en route, seems to have got over his car sickness. That means I can be far more mobile than before, thank goodness.

6 Sept 06    Block work was laid this morning to extend the path from my ‘front’ door onto the new South Patio. This now measures some 6 yards by 8, with the Cotoneaster and Red Hot Pokers remaining in a corner shrubbery. The next stage is to pave the side nearest my house with Yorkshire flagstones, surround the rest of the area with a border of flags and then fill in the centre with gravel laid over a porous, weed-suppressing membrane. Once completed, I will have a shady patio for summer evenings and 50 square yards less of grass to cut every week.

Thinks: 50 square yards of soil removed to a depth of  about 9 inches must be about 12 cubic yards in total. At 1 ton per cubic yard, that equals 12 tons of spoil dug and barrowed by hand by 3 people in 2 days. So who needs a dinky digger and a mechanised barrow, anyway?

The septic tank was also emptied and unblocked this morning, all in less than an hour. The contractor is now required to transport it to Yorkshire Water’s sewage works near Whitby and pay them for its disposal. Does that mean that I can deduct from my water rates their costs from the c£300 which the contractor charges me? Does it heck as like! How’s that for encouraging rural households to be green and have their own individual and self contained septic tanks, instead of digging thousands of miles of extra sewage pipes?

Strimmed the Groves Dyke lawn and my dog lawn.

5 Sept 06     We continued all day, filled in (and seeded) the hollow, then widened the path above the wildflower bank before finally (and only in desperation), barrowing the final dozen loads all the way up the hill to the woodyard to fill in some of its archaeological Flag holes. Several yards of Box hedge have been also transplanted and several more yards barrowed up the hill to the bonfire.

As we worked a female Sparrowhawk swooped on a Wood Pigeon which was hoovering up the newly sown grass seed. The well fed Woodie took off in a panic, just cleared the hedge and promptly killed itself by flying into the sitting room window in Groves Dyke. The noise was impressive and the corpse fell onto the patio table, where it proved too tempting for the poor hungry Sprawk, which picked it up off the table and only just carried it across the garden and down to the corner of the lawn by the front gate. Several times it tried to pick it off the ground and fly over the woven fence, but failed. It sat on the gatepost and had a little think, as we all stood at the top of the drive and watched. Eventually, it realised it could drag it under the fence, onto open ground in the middle of the drive and then take off with the big fat Wood Pigeon in its talons. Stickability, or what?

4 Sept 06    C & K started work on my new ‘South Patio’ by stripping the turf and topsoil off my top front lawn and barrowing it on the level to a dip at the far end. I helped, as did Flag, who could have done a bit of the digging but decided instead that he would rather present his tennis ball for throwing every 5 minutes, instead.

3 Sept 06    Warm, dry and very pleasant again. I walked around the wood to do a ‘stock taking’ of the Oak trees we planted some 20 years ago. Almost half, as I suspected, have been completely killed by Grey Squirrels (tree rats!) stripping the bark off the branches. Only 22 of the original 40 planted in the early 1980s survive at all and most of those are misshapen, having have been badly damaged by Grey Squirrels (tree rats!), with the ‘leader’ shoot missing completely and only a few side branches twisting outwards and upwards. Triage management dictates that:

The only 2 ‘perfect’ specimens of young Oak in the wood will be marked as Standards and encouraged to grow even bigger and even better by removing any and all competing species nearby, no matter how healthy the neighbouring trees may be.

A few of the remaining Oak survivors are not much longer for this life and certainly not worth killing their much healthier neighbours for.

The remaining ‘damaged but still vigorous’ young Oaks will be encouraged – but not at the expense of all their neighbours as they may not survive in the long term.

I do wish the Grey Squirrels (tree rats!) hadn’t been so successful in fooling most people into thinking ‘It’s nice to see the wildlife so tame and healthy’, when in fact the vermin and imported tree rats are being encouraged at the expense of both our native Red Squirrels (now almost gone from the UK) and our native woodland.

2 Sept 2006    Wet. Flag spent this morning running down the drive after the ripe plums which drop off the trees. Once he had retrieved each plum and carried it back up to the yard he would ‘kill’ it and eat it. Lots of them. Lots and lots of them. I think he is going to be a plummer…

1 September 2006    Two Collared Doves at the feeding station this morning and CD is looking a lot less seedy!

August 2006 Weather Summary:

Total Rainfall: 90mm (3⅝ inch).

Temperatures: Max: 30ºC (88ºF); Min: 6ºC (42ºF).

Actual temperature at 0930 on 1 Sep 2006: 18ºC (64ºF), warm, windy, ⅜ cloud cover, showery. A disappointing August, often a full 20ºF cooler than last month (mid-50s F instead of mid-70s F). Frequent strong winds, often from the N, overcast skies and heavy rain – leading to the worst Whitby Regatta weather for 25 years or more.

31 August 2006    A Collared Dove (known as CD to his friends) appeared at the feeding station, looking a bit seedy – in other words, a visit from CD the seedy Collared Dove. Boom, boom! (Sorry). This is the first sighting for many months. Two Nuthatches grabbed sunflower hearts silently, while a single Greenfinch concentrated on the Niger seed feeder. A dozen red Admirals, a couple of Peacocks, a Speckled Wood and a Small Copper fed around the big white Buddleia which is now in full flower, while a large brown dragonfly flew around my pond dipping its ovipositor here and there as it ‘posited its ovis in lots of suitable places.

30 August 2006    I ordered 2 tons of hardcore and 1 ton of gravel and by lunchtime the hole was filled in, with only ¼ ton of gravel left over. Everything is safe and secure again and will be tarmac-ed over once it has had a week or two to settle. Traffic along the drive and to Groves Dyke was not and is not affected.

I strimmed all Groves Dyke lawns and all of my back lawns. Also part of the Groves Dyke orchard to let the septic tank emptying vehicle get within working distance. This is a job which needs doing about once every 5 years – or more frequently if someone blocks it up by flushing a supposedly ‘disposable’ nappy down the toilet! Total cost? About £300. Ah, the joys of being green and self sufficient in today’s effluent society…

29 August 2006    C & K arrived this morning to investigate the new hollow near the bottom of the drive. Once through the tarmac they soon found a void where ground water had washed out all the clay, leaving only the stone. Shovelling out the very loose material left an even bigger void running along the underside of the 6 inch diameter cast iron water main. In other words, groundwater had found a way along the trench in which the water main had been laid decades earlier, and had created the void.

Unsure just what to do, I rang the water company’s emergency helpline to inform them and to ask if it was safe for us to just backfill the hole with hardcore, or would additional work be required to support the couple of feet of pipe now suspended in mid air. When I eventually got through she said an engineer would come to check within 12 hours… Then we remembered that the gas main runs parallel to the water main and, although it was not visible, it might be close enough to also be affected by this erosion. So I rang the gas emergency number as well to inform them of the potential problem. They were really on the ball, answered quickly and promised a visit within 4 hours.

By the time they arrived C & K had fixed the window in the Stickery, removed a stone as an overflow for the Stickery drain and had gone away. I had to go to Whitby, but apparently the gas man came and said ‘that’s not a gas pipe, it’s only a water pipe’ and went away, while the water man said ‘ it’s not our fault, we haven’t done any digging anywhere near here’ and went away as well. Good, innit?

So we just covered the hole with a big sheet of plywood and marked it off with traffic cones for the night. All I need now is a midnight drunk to steal the plywood and kick the cones into the hole, and then an early morning drunk to fall in, break a leg and sue me for millions…

28 August 2006    A Green Woodpecker called as it flew high over the garden, where I de-brambled the Juniper now that its super early blackberries are over. Elsewhere in the wood the main crop of brambles is just beginning, the Grey Squirrels (tree rats!) are busy stripping the Hazelnuts and the paths are muddy again after another ½ inch of rain last night. The rain gauge now stands at 3½ inches so far this month and the thunder is rumbling ominously in the distance.

The newly weeded drive looks much smarter now, without its ragged green edging. Sawed a few more logs with my new-ish rechargeable reciprocating saw and now the cord of Sycamore is down to half size, while the woodshed is now up to ⅔ full. Very satisfying!

27 August 2006    15 minutes birding from my conservatory this morning gave 4 Blue Tit, 3 Great Tit, 2 Chaffinch, 2 Coal Tit, 2 Robin, 1 Dunnock, 1 Marsh Tit and 1 Wood Pigeon, not to mention 2 Bank Vole (1 a juvenile) and 3 young Rabbits (10.30 – 10.45, ⅛ cloud cover, warm, dry, sunny, Force 2 Westerly). Later a Nuthatch came to feed and later still a female Sparrowhawk swooped across the back lawn, past the feeding station and away.

A stroll through Bank orchard revealed a bumper crop of apples and crab apples, as well as 20+ Medlars. The crown of one apple tree, in fact, has snapped off under the weight and tumbled down the steep hillside and is now lodged against the tree below with its heavy but unripe apples still in place! The Victoria Plum tree in Dyke orchard is cropping well, but not as well nor as ripe as the golden plum beside it, where whole handfuls of ripe plums are there for the taking.

26 August 2006    We rounded off the purple week with an excellent meal at Prudom House in Goathland. The purple moorland views from the purple painted restaurant complemented some of the best beef we have ever tasted in our lives, and the chef should also be praised for the spectacular desserts. This is one place that can certainly go on the list for another visit!

25 August 2006    We went up the coast to the headland at Kettleness and walked a little bit of the cliff top Cleveland Way. Flag, now so well behaved, was off the lead and scouting around for Rabbits when he suddenly disappeared. A bit of increasingly frantic whistling and shouting and he was soon located part way down a very steep bit of scrubby cliff. It was clear that he was trying to come back, but unable to get through the impenetrable gorse – even though he had managed to get himself into the middle of it in the first place! By manoeuvring myself around the outside of the gorse patch I was able to coax him back through the scrub to the outside world again. He was looking very worried and then greatly relieved to be rescued, so I didn’t tell him that Corrie (our previous Bernese Mountain Dog) never had any trouble running up, down and across lots of near vertical cliff faces!

Then across the moor to Scaling Dam and up to Danby Beacon for the very best purple view in this area, before heading back to Whitby.

24 August 2006    Groves Dyke lawns cut this morning, as well as half of the woodyard, before a coastal day driving south to the beacon above Ravenscar and walking Flag out onto the sheep-less moor. He behaved himself and we were able to see how well the heather restoration work had come on since the massive wildfire here 2 or 3 years ago. Gosh, what a reformed dog Flag is!

Afternoon tea at the Raven Hall Hotel could have been the full, triple-decker with fancy cakes, sandwiches and cream scones – but we just settled for the latter. Taken on the hotel terrace in full sun, with all of Robin Hood’s Bay (the best view in the whole National Park) laid out before us, this is one event that can certainly go on the list for future occasions.

23 August 2006    The weather improved on cue as I, D and I set off to the moortop on our annual Purple Picnic. First collect the Glaisdale pork pies (the best in the world, sez I) from Ford’s Butchers in Glaisdale village, then the real Wensleydale cheese, etc from the village shop and then onwards and upwards to the moor road across the head of the dale. The food was good, the scenery was superb and the company was excellent.

Then along the Hamer moor road to Rosedale Abbey, up the dale to the Millennium Stone and turn right towards Little Fryup Dale. We strolled across the magnificent moor to Trough House, before heading down to Duck Bridge and the Moors Centre for afternoon tea. Unbeatable!

22 August 2006    The electricity company’s forestry manager visited me this morning to see about cutting any self-sown trees growing too near their wires in the wood. He had trained with the state forestry department for 5 years before leaving Poland to work and train again in Scotland, specialising in ‘Utility Forestry’ (ie how not to electrocute yourself when cutting trees very close to power lines). Now that is what I call ‘getting on yer bike!’

Got most of my lawns cut, plus a bit of the wild flower bank, a fifth of the beck and the path around the wood.

A superb drive over the purple moors with D & I to visit the House of the Mouse near Helmsley, including an excellent, very fresh and very locally grown salad at Helmsley Walled Garden. The whole garden has come on in leaps and bounds since my last visit several years ago, the Vinery has been almost completely rebuilt and now houses an excellent cafe (BBC Local Food Hero entrant) as well as the newly planted vines. Highly recommended!

Mousey Thompson’s saleroom is filled with the most impressive items of handmade Oak furniture, as ever, and their new cafe / visitor centre / gift shop and gardens were very pleasant. Popped into the National Park’s Sutton Bank Visitor Centre before returning to Whitby via Hutton-le-Hole and Blakey Rigg. We all purred with pleasure as we drive through a sea of sunny purple moorland, past the Lion Inn and down into Castleton. Purrfect!

21 August 2006    A suitable day for giving the Twigwam a good haircut, long overdue. Some of the heavier Willow rods are now added to the woven fence, some are stored in the orchard and a few have been given to a local Willow weaver who makes wonderful animals as garden ornaments – including a dog recently delivered to Prince Charles’ garden at High Grove. No, I’m afraid it does not include any of my Willows, but keep your fingers crossed for any future orders…

20 August 2006    What an odd week! Where did it go? The weather is improving but my secret supply of super early Blackberries are now over and looking very mouldy, even though the ‘main crop’ in the wood are not nearly ripe yet.

14 August 2006    The weather is improving again, thank goodness, and I got all of Groves Dyke and half of the Groves Bank grass cut this morning. It is remarkable just how quickly the patchy, green / brown areas have returned to lush green lawns again.

A young Kestrel perched on top of the electricity pole at the back of the house and swooped down from there to catch a small mammal in the woodyard. I think, technically, that that is probably cheating but maybe his feathers were still too soggy to hover properly. Is a drug test called for, d’you think?

13 August 2006    G & C were staying with me for the weekend and we were all  determined to have a barbecue. Postponed from Thursday evening (too soon), then from Friday evening (too wet), it just had to be on Saturday evening. We all sat in my conservatory with the heater on and the barbecue just a couple of yards outside the door, while the poor chef, in full cagoule and hood up, dashed out occasionally to flip the burgers. We did consider tying the burger flipper to a pole and doing it all from under cover, but dismissed this option as a silly idea! Despite, or possibly even because of, the pouring rain it turned out to be a very enjoyable (and probably even more memorable) occasion!

A cool, cloudy, wet and miserable weekend for both moors and coast. On the moors the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ is the start of the Grouse shooting season – that nice dilemma for the conservationist which is now the only thing that makes all the moorland management worthwhile, now that hill farming is practically pointless. On the coast, this weekend is ‘Whitby Regatta’ – the traditional festival and now the biggest tourist event in Whitby’s calendar. Except the strong Northerly winds kicked up such rough seas that the local rowing clubs’ race to Sandsend and back had to be cancelled, the grand parade was almost washed out, the vast crowds never really materialised. The RAF Red Arrows display team performed as planned on Sturday, which was quite an achievement considering the weather. As for the grand fireworks this evening, it may not be even possible to see them from my usual grand strand in the the moortop car park above Blue Bank, Sleights.

What a shame that so much work by so many dedicated volunteers has had such poor weather, especially this year when even Whitby Regatta had to produce a (3-inch thick!) Risk Assessment for the first time. ‘Sand castle competition? Oh dear me, that sounds very risky! What precautions will you have in place to prevent the competitors getting sunburnt if the sun is shining?’ And, as if that wasn’t daft enough and as if the parents aren’t the ones really responsible for their own children: ‘What precautions will you have in place to prevent the sand castle competitors getting hyperthermia, if the sun isn’t shining??

That just reminds me of the public swimming pool I went to for the first time, with a big sign at one end saying ‘Danger, deep water!’. So I went to the other end, where there was another big sign saying ‘Danger – shallow water!’ So what the hell are you supposed to do – just stay in the middle??

What a great pity it is that Common Sense became extinct ‘way back in the early 1990s…

My rain gauge is now reading 2¾ inches of rain so far this month, the lawns are all green again and now the grass needs cutting. Oh good.

11 August 2006    Two Roe Deer stood by the far edge of the paddock and watched us walk by on the drive. I wonder if they were the ones responsible for injuring Flag’s tail by enticing him through a barbed wire fence at top speed? Anyway, his wound is healing nicely, thank-you.

10 August 2006    Flag is recovering from a self-inflicted gash on his tail, most probably caused when clambering through a barbed wire fence in hot pursuit of a deer. Yes, I know. Again. At least this time it is not nearly as serious as last time! He can still trot about fairly happily either with very close supervision and just a bandage half-way down his tail, or else with no bandage and just a plastic ‘lamp shade’ around his neck, to stop him nibbling at the scab. Poor daft dog, he does look a bit odd with part of his magnificent ‘flag’ clipped short. Not to mention the lamp shade!

A Greenfinch sucked its teeth from the crossbar of the feeding station this morning, while a Grey Squirrel swayed its way to the nuts on the very tips of the Hazel tree branches and a Green Woodpecker yaffled from somewhere deep in the wood.

8 August 2006    Popped into the Integrated Transport Centre at Whitby railway station to collect a timetable for the Endeavour steam train service from Grosmont to Whitby, which now seems to be running daily and in addition to the normal 4 diesels per day from Middlesbrough to Whitby. “I’ll put it up in the holiday cottage near Sleights station” I said, only to be told that “We don’t stop there, only at Glaisdale, Grosmont and Whitby”! It seems that Network Rail, who own all the railway lines in the UK, charge the steam train charity £1000 per day to use the track between Grosmont and Whitby plus another £600 per day for every station stopped at! Which means that anyone in Egton Bridge, Sleights or Ruswarp can’t use the extra trains that now pass through several times per day.

Now let me see if I have got this right: The commercial Northern Rail which runs the heavily government subsidised 4 diesels / day (very fuel efficient) on the Esk Valley Line connecting Whitby and Middlesbrough have no interest in adding any extra coaches or running any additional trains (not required by their contract, so we won’t bother) on the government track on which the government agency called Network Rail have just spent an extra few million pounds to strengthen the last 2 miles of into Whitby so that it can take the heavier steam trains, while the charitable local steam railway preservation society are very keen to run extra trains and extra carriages (very fuel efficient) from Grosmont to Whitby now that the track has been strengthened, but the government agency called Network Rail charges them so much that they can only afford to stop at less than half the stations en route, while, of course, the North Yorkshire County Council (75% paid for by central government) subsidises the rural bus service (in direct competition with all the trains) so that the people from all  these villages can get to Whitby, while the new and very enthusiastic Esk Valley Community Rail Partnership charitable trust (part funded by the government’s Countryside Agency and the European Regional Fund via the government funded Rural Development Agency called Yorkshire Forward) is desperately keen to be given a ‘micro-franchise’ to run the whole of the Esk Valley line actually and for the very first time ever for the benefit of all the local community but hasn’t yet been allowed to, while at the same time the government is spending millions of pounds appealing for us all to ‘use public transport’ instead of taking the car and the government Highways Agency and the North Yorkshire County Council try Highways Department (75% government funded) struggle to maintain the road surface in the face of ever increasing temperatures (climate change due to excessive fossil fuel use) and the ever increasing vehicle numbers (very fossil fuel inefficient)!

Yes, I think I’ve got that straight. Good, innit?

Almost forgot: North Yorkshire County Council is about to spend £2m on Whitby’s first Park and Ride Scheme, with a big car park on the wrong side of the Guisborough road, a couple of miles out of town, with no loos and no shelter and shuttle buses which won’t be able to shuttle because they will get stuck in the same traffic jam in Bagdale that everybody else gets stuck in – while the heavily subsidised, very expensive and almost empty diesel trains sail in and out of Whitby 4 times a day!

May I suggest a Park and Ride by Train scheme instead, costing a quarter of the £2m earmarked for the Park and Ride by Bus? This £500,000 should be spent on creating small station car parks in farmers’ fields in most of the Esk Valley villages, with a half-hourly shuttle by train (preferably steam) from Grosmont to Whitby. This would disperse the car parking, distribute some of the money to several local farmers, revitalise the village economies, get visitors out of their cars sooner, reduce car miles and deliver large numbers of visitors into Whitby town centre without using the approach roads at all…

Sadly, this would involve several government departments working together and is thus almost impossible.

7 August 2006    Rain overnight, but still the month’s total is under 2 inches. Warm, dry and sunny again, with the temperature in the low 70sºF, so I sawed more logs from the Sycamore cord and stacked the resulting firelogs in the woodshed. Flag assisted by chewing any off cuts and rolling on his back in the sun. All in all, a very pleasant morning and the woodshed is now just over half full.

6 August 2006    Warm, dry and sunny today, so back to check off the cherry orchard – or at least to pick another container of wild cherries (Gean). This year is the best crop since they were planted in the early 1980s and the birds are getting wise to the ‘new’ food. Two magnificent Peacock Butterflies basked and fed in the meadow next to Flag’s Folly (which is still being ravaged by the Roe Deer, so only 10 of the 12 Willow saplings have survived).

Just after lunch I had an unexpected phone call from a nice man at Everest Double Glazing, ‘…just a courtesy call to make sure that there haven’t been any problems with your Everest windows, because sometimes people are a bit reluctant to say…’ I asked if this was a kind of Customer Care phone call and he agreed. I pointed out that this must be a new policy, because they showed remarkably little interest in caring for their customer when I was desperately trying to get them to take some notice when the windows were being fitted so badly that all 7 had to be repaired and 2 had to be taken out and scrapped and then 2 new ones made from scratch – or when one of the windows shattered – or when the mortar fell out from around the new frames. I think he got the impression quite quickly that I still wasn’t very impressed by Neverest and that there was absolutely no chance of me giving them any further business!

If, by any chance, you don’t know about my Everest window saga, just click here…

5 August 2006    Back to fine, warm, dry and sunny weather again, with several thousand feathers still drifting around my patio and lawns. I am not going to pick them up by hand, nor try to brush them into a heap, nor would it do the hoover any good, nor is the wind strong enough to scatter them thinly enough – so the answer was to use my Weed Wand mini-flame thrower device to singe them one by one and bunch by bunch until they shrivelled up to almost nothing and disappeared. Brilliant!

4 August 2006    Some daft young Wood Pigeon flew into my conservatory early this morning and then, dead or dying, was taken by a passing Fox or cat, leaving nothing but a few guts on my patio and ten thousand feathers all over the garden!

3 August 2006    By mid-morning, still overcast, cool and damp with a Northerly breeze, the temperature at Groves Dyke was a mere 56ºF, a full 20ºF cooler than it had been just 7 days ago!

Driving over the moors towards Guisborough the very first signs of purple are just beginning to show as the Ling, the commonest species of Heather, comes into flower. All this rain may have done the trick! Over the next few weeks the whole 192 square miles of the North York Moors will glow purple as the largest area of heather moorland left anywhere in England and Wales comes into magnificent flower. This is one of the great wildlife sights of the UK and we need to remember that the UK contains over half of all the heather moorland in the world. Who needs 1 million Wildebeest migrating across the Serengeti, when we have the North York Moors in full bloom?

The weather brightened during the day and ended up dry, warm and sunny.

2 Aug 2006    Rain last night but dry again by breakfast time for a pleasantly damp stroll around the wood, where the rescued Rowan trees are now bearing several orangey berries. Then a 15 minute bird count from my conservatory overlooking the feeding station produced: Blue Tit 3*, Great Tit 3*, Chaffinch 2*, Wood Pigeon 2, Coal Tit 1, Dunnock 1, Robin 1* and Bank Vole 1*. (8/8 cloud cover, calm, cool, showery).

The species asterisked (above) include juveniles, with the Robin now an almost red breast – but still with a rather short tail. Later I watched as a small mammal, most probably a Bank Vole, crossed the lawn from the woodyard towards my beck. It was completely above ground and looked rather disorientated, until a young Magpie swooped down beside it, pecked it a couple of times and then flew off with it in its beak.

All this rain has reduced the fire risk enough for me to light the bonfire for the first time in a couple of months or more. Once the woodshed was cleared out I was able to move the saw horse under cover and saw a few more lengths of Sycamore cordwood into fire logs, keeping an eye on the bonfire (and on Flag) at the same time. The rain got heavier and heavier until we retreated to the house as the bonfire smouldered away to nothing.

By mid-afternoon there had already been as much rain in the first 36 hours of August as there was in all 31 days of July! And still raining…

1 Aug 2006   A fine sunny morning, with temperatures in the mid 60s F and just right for a bit more fire log sawing and even a bit of hedge cutting – until the thunder and lightening started about lunchtime and the rain poured down again.

By evening everything was cold and wet, so I even resorted to lighting the woodburner – another First for the 1st of August!

July 2006 Weather Summary:

Total Rainfall: 32mm (1¼ inch).

Temperatures: Max: 33ºC (92ºF); Min: 5ºC (40ºF);

Actual temperature at 0930 on 1 Aug 2006: 16ºC (60ºF) An exceptionally hot month with the highest temperature recorded here in c5 years. Also the hottest July ever recorded for the UK as a whole.  The lawns here are still dry and cracked and the grass has hardly needed cutting, despite the very occasional thunder plump during the month and then several hours of steady rain on the final evening of the month, when normal weather was resumed.

31 July 2006    Oh a normal day at last! Cool enough and pleasant enough to do a normal day’s work, for the first time this month. Some pond weed cleaning out, some fire log sawing and stacking, some digging holes (for some of us!) and some clearing out the pole barn (long overdue).

Then it rained all evening, adding the last ¼ inch to the month’s total.

30 July 2006    It must have rained again last night, with almost the odd puddle on the patio this morning. Anyway, it now feels much fresher and much more pleasant than it has done for weeks, thank goodness.

Ragwort pulling in and around the wood today, a job which in the 1980s would have taken both of us a good half day and filled several sacks. Today, there were just 2 plants in Bank orchard, 2 in the wood (at the top of Dyke side) and another half dozen in the wildflower slope next to the Stickery. It is odd that this plant, poisonous to farm animals (especially horses), notifiable by law to Defra (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and generally not a good idea, is most commonly found on the roadsides where the county councils are responsible for producing much of the national crop of this Noxious Weed!

28 July 2006    One of the joys of summer is to drive over the moor roads with the windows wide open, enjoying the slightly cooler wind. One of the disadvantages of doing this is that, very occasionally, a passing Honey Bee is swept into the car by the slipstream! This can be quite exciting, as I discovered this afternoon, especially since I was wearing shorts and the poor insect disappeared (very annoyed) somewhere in my foot well! One emergency stop and some frantic door opening solved the problem without injury. To me, that is!

27 July 2006    My chair under the raftings was wet this morning so it must have rained last night – some time after I finally managed to get to sleep, presumably. Still, it was not enough to bother the rain gauge, so it probably doesn’t count.

At 3pm this afternoon the temperature in the shade at the back of Groves Dyke was 30º C, which is a whole 86º F in real money, and still not as hot as the 92ºF I recorded there at the very beginning of this month! Cooler weather is forecast in a couple of days (thank goodness!) and then as high again in August.

Last week’s media debate about all the ‘too hot school classrooms’ has luckily been resolved by the start of the school holidays, but the allied debate about ‘too hot hospital wards’ continues. Open the windows properly for ventilation or keep them almost closed to stop anyone falling out accidentally? (Increased infection risks if you don’t or Health and Safely hazard if you do)? Buy extra fans or ban their use completely? (Transfer any infections across several beds or just stifle patients and staff instead)? It’s not much of a choice when you realise that every extra fan or additional air conditioning unit requires yet more electricity (mostly from fossil fuels), which just creates yet more greenhouse gases and yet more global warming for next year. And still we go on building new schools and hospitals and office blocks with huge areas of south-facing glass, so that we will need more fans and more air conditioning, which needs more electricity, which creates more global warming…. and then we give the bloody architect an award for the dammed thing!

I wonder has anyone in government ever thought of designing buildings differently – a bit like the Centre for Alternative Technology has been doing in mid-Wales since the 1960s, perhaps? See www.cat.org.uk for information on both add-on features and fundamental designs to reduce the problem.

Anyway, why not create a few more greenhouse gases for the grandchildren to cope with? It’ll keep them on their toes! Or their knees…

26 July 2006    Slightly cooler this morning and the lawns are looking a bit too tufty again, so a bit of strimming is required. It took me one hour, a pint of petrol and a gallon of sweat to complete the dog lawn, a bit of the beck, half of the wildflower bank and all of Groves Dyke lawns. Those poor lawns are cracking open even more than before, with some cracks so wide that you could lose a golf ball down there! Any hotter for any longer and Flag may be searching for tennis balls! Then time for a cool bath, a bit of a collapse and back to processing more words in the nice, cool indoors. Putting the strimmer away later I was able to help myself to the first ripe Blackberries of the year. Very tasty and juicy!

Aislaby at 5pm today and my car says it is 29ºC. Time I was back indoors!

7pm and it is almost bearable again. The tide was high and Sandsend beach was busy with people, kids and dogs, so Flag was in his element – in every sense. A single Sandwich Tern plunge-dived just offshore and 3 tired Sanderlings tried to roost on the tideline between Raithwaite Beck and Upgang. Without much success, thanks to all those hot people walking their hot dogs!

24 July 2006    By 7pm the great outdoors was almost cool enough to leave the house and head for Sandsend. Flag ran and lay in the sea, while I just strolled and paddled. A single, but constantly changing, wisp of mist hung over Sandsend Ness as the clear sea air rose and condensed over the headland, before evaporating again as it moved further inland. Very pretty! Back home again about 8pm, when the temperature was still an uncomfortable 76ºF.

23 July 2006    As well as the usual bramble snipping on the path around the wood this morning, I also managed to pick a good potful of Wild Cherries from the Gean trees we planted in the early 1980s. One tree in particular (upper Bankside near the beck) has a bumper crop which weighs down the branches, but the birds do tend to get the ripest ones before I do. My home ripening answer is to pick the ripest available and then put a ripe banana into the pot with the cherries for a day or two.

22 July 2006    Thunderstorms materialised at lunch time (short and sharp) and again at tea time (longer but less rain), with almost another ¼ inch of rain falling today. This brings the rain gauge up to just under 1 inch for the whole month so far.

Ideal weather for processing words, interrupted only by Flag barking frantically from the yard. Assuming he had chucked his ball out through the gate again, I let him out and he set off down the drive even faster than a lost ball would usual call for. The family on the Groves Dyke deck explained that a Roe Deer had just run out of the wood, past the deck and off down the drive – and now I had just let Flag out to follow it! Damn! He reappeared about 5 minutes later, very hot and bothered, but without any venison.

21 July 2006    Hot again. TBH, if not worse. A couple of Green Woodpeckers flew up from the path at the top of the wood as we walked around this morning. Judging by the way one of them bumbled about as it flew off nosily, it must have been a youngster.

It was still 84ºF in the shade at 7pm this evening, so I retreated indoors to compute. How anyone in the Deep South of England is managing this hot weather, I have no idea. And the NHS Direct website at  www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk  (which the TV weather presenters keep mentioning for ‘further advice’ about coping with the severe heat wave) isn’t very helpful, either. Basically:

How to Stay Cool:    Beat the Heat!

1. If possible, avoid going out of doors at all between 11am and 3pm (when the sun is hottest);

2. If you do have to go out, then wear a hat and use a high factor UVa and UVb sun cream (smeared on thick, NOT rubbed in like vanishing cream);

3. Drink lots of water in small quantities, throughout the day;

4. Splash cold water (from the fridge?) on your hands, arms and face to cool you down;

5. Almost close the blinds or curtains of any windows which let the sun in (to keep the sun’s rays out of the house) and pull them back again when the sun is not shining in;

6. Keep windows almost closed when the house is cooler inside than outside (daytime) and keep windows open for maximum ventilation (suitably secured, of course, or use 1st floor windows if safer) when the house is warmer than outside (night time);

7. Use convection to create a breeze at night by having one downstairs window slightly open (and secured) and one upstairs window open (the hot air indoors will rise and escape via the upper window, drawing in cooler night air via the lower window);

8. Open one window on each side of the house at night, to allow a through current of air;

9. If you have less than 6 inches deep of loft insulation, or no cavity wall insulation, then contact your local Energy Advice Centre (and gas / electricity supplier) to ask about grants. Not only will good  insulation keep your house warmer in the winter (and cost you less in gas / electricity bills and fossil fuels) but it will also keep you cooler in the summer.

10. Do not take cheap holiday flights to the sun to top up your skin cancer (nor even to increase your liver damage), like most people do!

11. If you do have to use cheap flights (the fastest growing source of the greenhouse gases which cause climate change), then make them less frequently (which will let you stay a bit longer at each destination).

12. Write to your Member of Parliament, Prime Minister or President of the United States to express your concern about climate change, what it is already doing to us and our environment and how it will adversely affect your grandchildren. (NB: The appropriate form of address now appears to be: ‘Yo Blair’, etc, as appropriate)!

20 July 2006    Sea fret this morning! Or maybe it’s low cloud, but either way it blankets the moors and dales in a caressingly cool and deliciously damp mist, a welcome mist which condenses on everything and everyone, and brings new life and vigour to what has been a parched and oppressive landscape for several weeks.

Half a dozen little Froglets set off to leave my pond. One got trapped in the corner between the house and the conservatory and had to be redirected. Another became entangled in dew-soaked cobwebs, which had to be teased gently away before it could be freed in the beck. The others, which seemed to know what they were supposed to do, set off in the right direction without assistance. See you in a couple of years, guys!

By mid-afternoon the sun had burned off the mist and was as hot and as oppressive as ever, even if the grass was now a couple of shades greener than before.

19 July 2006    Yesterday was Too Damned Hot (TDH). Today it is TBH – and you know what that might make tomorrow…

An evening walk on the beach at Sandsend was very pleasant and almost cool. There was no sign of any Sand Martins but 3 Sandwich Terns ‘kerrick-ed’ as they dived just offshore. A mile further out was a lovely bank of sea mist, just tantalisingly out of reach of us poor land based species…

18 July 2006    It was already 72ºF at 9 o’clock this morning and well into the mid-80s by the time I got back from Whitby just after lunch. The Met Office and the National Health Service have issued another Severe Heat Wave Warning, but it’s far too hot to do anything out of doors. So I didn’t. Apart from playing the hose on the hot dog.

There are still 8 Smooth Newts in my pond this evening.

17 July 2006    Before it got too TDH, I strimmed any bits of any lawns anywhere that had managed to grow an inch or two (and there weren’t many!), 20% (I can’t find a symbol for 1/5th!) of the beck, ½ of the woodyard and the shady path around the wood. All done by just after 11am, so lots of time for a long, cool bath before lunch.

A great big North Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service tanker lorry was filling up from the River Esk at Ruswarp, running a shuttle service up onto the moortop at Sneaton where over 100 acres of heather were still burning. The North York Moors National Park Authority has closed the Access Areas (good ole Right to Roam and Drop My Fag End Anywhere I Damn Well Choose Bill, eh?) on the moors, but the public footpaths and bridleways across the moors are still open. Just a touch of ‘closing the moor gate after the sheep have roasted’, I think…

16 July 2006    TDH again. A still wet and very large yellow with black stripes Dragonfly, only just emerged from my pond, walked slowly across my patio. Flag was keen to go and investigate, but I wouldn’t let him. Slowly, slowly it rested in the sunlight and quivered its wings, pumping them up and letting them dry in the sun, before walking another few steps. It eventually reached the corner post of the raftings and started climbing up this mega ‘reed stem’. This was too much for the poor dog, who dived forwards and managed to bat it with a big hairy paw before I could stop him. Knocked to the ground, the poor insect struggled to its feet (all 6 of them) on a fossiliferous pebble from Sandsend (perhaps even a distant relation?) and paused to get its bearings. Picking up the whole pebble and its passenger, I placed it carefully on the side of the pond where it could continue to dry off its wings in safety and by the time The Archers was over, it had flown off.

Even hotter by then, so just a gentle bit of Bramble snipping and Hazel layering up in the shade of the wood.

15 July 2006    Hot, hot, hot! Slightly cooler at the River Gardens in Sleights for lunch.

I have now extended my ‘Dates, Prices and Availability’ page to Christmas 2007 and, I am delighted to say, at least one week in June 2007 has already been booked! This task was constantly interrupted by barking from outside and on investigation I found that Flag had good reason: yesterday I had accidentally parked one wheel of the car on top of his tennis ball and the poor dog had just noticed and couldn’t rescue it! Then off to Sandsend in the late afternoon for a cooling stroll by the water’s edge.

Yes, we had a little paddle and the North Sea was very cool!

14 July 2006    This morning in full, full sunlight a tiny, tiny Froglet hopped in tiny, tiny hoplets across the patio until it finally, finally reached the safe, safe shade of a damp, damp, dark, dark gap in the dry stone wall. I’m sure the beef steak doesn’t really work quite as quickly as that, so this must have been a super Froglet that was already due to leave my pond. A quick check of the bits of string still dangling in the pond revealed nothing but two empty clove hitches and no steak at all.

This evening the Sunflower hearts scattered on the coping stones around my pond attracted a Bank Vole, while a Wood Mouse bounced back and forth across the patio to pick up the seeds fallen on the ground. Later, a very dark and pointy Shrew popped up from the pond wall, grabbed a seed from the top and dashed back into the stonework again. This is the first Shrew I have seen for months and the first time ever that I have seen all 3 small mammals together.

12 July 2006    St George seems to have fallen from favour recently, or perhaps the Department of Transport have just abandoned that particular road safety campaign… Either way, today is the Glorious Twelfth in Northern Ireland, so if you really want to see just where 80 years of excessive flag waving (not to mention faith schools) is going to get you, just take a look ‘across the water’.

Still hot, dry and downright pleasant. The Jays have got noisy again, dashing about in the wood while the Rabbits scrabble through the parched grass to eat the more succulent roots.

10 July 2006    A silent Yaffle (Green Woodpecker) flew across the woodyard and disappeared into the wood. The casserole steak in the pond is also disappearing rapidly as the voracious tadpoles chomp away – not quite as quickly as the proverbial horse and piranhas, but still pretty impressive!

The recent rain hasn’t set the grass off again, so I trimmed a few more hedges, dragged some pondweed out of the pond (leaving it on the edge so that all the creepy crawly pond life can crawl back in again) and then used my nice new cordless reciprocating saw to cut some cordwood into firelogs. Wonderful! I must make a new resolution about sawing some wood every day…

Talking of  a New Resolution and being disappointed by the National Lottery (Lotto), have you come across the new alternative called ‘Monday – the charities lottery’? This is backed by c70 charities, who get more of every pound you spend AND they get the money almost instantly, to do with as they wish AND there are more winners because if nobody picks the ‘right’ numbers, then the jackpot is given to the person with the next  nearest numbers AND you can still get cash prizes for 3, 4 or 5 correct numbers AND every set of numbers is entered for not 1 but 2 lotteries every Monday evening. So ya boo shucks to you, Camelot!

Monday can only be played online ( www.playMonday.com ) where you can find out all the details. Good Luck!

9 July 2006    Some rain last night, but not enough to bother the rain gauge. Overcast and windy at first, then bright and calmer later in the day.

I am almost at a loss, now that the last of the Sycamore has been carried down to the woodyard, so I layered a few Hazels instead. A long branch from one Hazel stool is bent down and pegged into the bare ground about 6 feet away, so that it will take root and develop as a free-standing tree. This can then be severed from the original and eventually coppiced just like all the others. This is the traditional way of extending (or repairing) a coppice, as Hazel are very reluctant to grow from cuttings.

A Nuthatch visited the feeders again today, after a long absence. The call is a rapid, loud and insistent ‘Bleep-bleep! Bleep-bleep-bleep-bleep!’ (but without the swearwords)!

8 July 2006    A late lunch at the River Gardens in Sleights, just an easy stroll away. Homemade quiche, chocolate milkshake, sticky bun (ie all the essentials!) with a hot dog (under the table) on the riverbank, watching the House Martins hawking just above the water – and wondering which ones were from Groves Dyke.

6 July 2006    Wow! That was spectacular! Almost an inch of rain (⅝ of an inch = 22 mms) fell in less than 2 hours this afternoon as a series of thunderstorms rolled past.

The day began with a check of the max and min thermometer, which shows that some time in the last 6 days the maximum has been up to 92ºF (30ºC) and the actual temperature at 0930 hours this morning was 78ºF! Then a male Sparrowhawk missed his breakfast at my feeding station and landed briefly on the lawn to contemplate the significance of Life, The Universe and Everything. Having sorted that out, he flew off to have another go elsewhere.

Having noticed the very small number of Froglets leaving my pond (2) and the large number of Tadpoles still in my pond with long tails and no sign of any legs, I invested in 2 small pieces of casserole steak from Radfords Butchers in the village. “Just two pieces?” he asked in surprise, imagining a VERY small casserole. So I explained what I wanted them for. Nothing but the very best for MY Tadpoles! Anyway, the customer is always right, so when I got them home I tied each to a piece of string and dangled them into my pond. Within an hour I could pull up the string to find 20 or more voracious tadpoles chomping away on each morsel, finding whatever nutritional trigger was missing this year to start the normal transformation from tadpole to Frog…

Flag told me by his behaviour that all was not well and that a thunderstorm was approaching (but I had already worked it out for myself. Honest). Just before 3pm the lightening and thunder came within 3 miles (15 seconds between flash and bang), the heavens opened, the poor terrified dog cowered against my chair and the chair vibrated for the next hour as the storm rolled down the dale. It approached within 1 mile (5 seconds between flash and bang), then came even closer (½ a mile or 2.5 seconds) before passing right overhead and rumbling off across the North Sea. Normality was gradually restored and great signs of relief were heaved by all.

You wanted rain? OK, now you got rain. So what’s the problem?

Recovering in the conservatory with a relaxed (if emotionally exhausted) dog, a  stationary chair and my traditional sundowner, a male Kestrel flew up from the recently strimmed woodyard with some unlucky small mammal in his talons. So why should the Tadpoles have all the fun?

5 July 2006    Another lovely cool, misty morning so I took Flag onto the beach at Sandsend – where he promptly ran off into the mist and disappeared for 10 minutes! Then the people and dogs he had joined walked out of the mist and we were reunited again. Thank goodness they were walking towards me and not towards Whitby, otherwise we might never have been reunited.

The mist cleared mid-morning and Groves Dyke grass was cut, for the first time in two weeks. Not that it really needed it! The lawns are dry and cracked, with brown patches amongst the green. Never mind, there is a nice bit of thunder forecast for this evening. Flag won’t like it, but the grass will appreciate any rain it brings. Within reason.

4 July 2006    A single Roe Deer stood stock still in the long grass, just uphill from the viewpoint at the top of the wood. We watched each other for several  minutes before I gave in and walked away. It feels odd NOT to be carrying any firewood down the hill on my regular morning constitutional!

Still cool and misty this morning, so I started cutting the Groves Bank grass before the sun burned the mist away. More than half was done before the sun broke through, so I just kept on going until it was all cut.

After lunch I tidied up a hedge or two and then took my nice new toy into the woodyard. Yes! It works! Much less painful to cut logs to length with a rechargeable reciprocating saw than an arm powered bow saw – and sorry about the extra fossil fuel now required to produce the leccy to trickle charge the battery to saw the home grown wood for my self-sufficient current-carbon wood burner to heat my super insulated house – but at least I tried.

3 July 2006    Off to sunny Tees-side today to, amongst other things, buy a rechargeable reciprocating saw (£50) from Big Shed Avenue. If it does what I want it to do, it will save my poor elbows from any more bow saw work!

Lots of Special Offers in the Big Shed on air conditioning units – anything from £100 to £250 and upwards, depending on just how much fossil fuel you want to burn and just how much more fossil carbon you want to add in order to produce the electricity required to reduce the temperature in your particular little bit of a warmer globe. You might as well try to cool your kitchen by leaving the door of the fridge open – forgetting that the heat exchanger on the back of the fridge will have to get hotter and hotter to try to keep the fridge cooler, which it can’t do, ‘cos the kitchen just got even hotter as a result, etc, etc.

We’re all right, Jack! Aren’t there such a lot of disaster appeals for the innocent victims of droughts and famines and floods and hurricanes nowadays? I suppose we just never heard about them before. Glad we’re not involved in any way! Anyone for football?

It was so hot and sunny today that my forearms (no, not four arms!) got a bit sunburnt just driving the 40 miles there and the 40 miles back. Looking down on Whitby and Sandsend from the road over the top of Skelder I could see the sea roke lying all along the coast. The Bell Heather (Erica tetralix) on Sleights Moor is just coming into flower alongside the Fair Head road from Grosmont. It is always the first of the heathers to bloom, but is only found on the driest (!) areas of the moors.

After tea I drove into Whitby and was surprised just how pleasantly cool it was. By mid-evening the mist had penetrated as far inland as Sleights and all was cool, damp and very pleasant after a horribly hot day.

2 July 2006    Today really is a momentous day because today I carried down the last 4 loads of firewood from the big Sycamore felled by the January 2005 storm. Apart from the logs I burnt during this year’s late spring, I still have a whole cord (8 x 4 x 4 feet = 128 cubic feet) plus half a woodshed full plus assorted longer lengths still to be cut into firelogs. That should be enough for one winter!

The first ever Met Office / Department of Health Severe Heat Wave Warning was issued today, in an attempt to avoid the 20,000 deaths (mainly of elderly people) from  heat exhaustion and dehydration which France experienced a couple of years ago.

1 July 2006    Very hot. It was already 21º C (70º F) by 0930 this morning, and still climbing steadily. In mid afternoon a Kestrel hovered above the house and it was high time for a nice cool stroll on the beach. The roads were nearly empty on the way and the beach itself was almost deserted. Is something important happening somewhere?

So hot and dry that Raithwaite Beck and Upgang Back just trickle onto the beach and promptly disappear into the sand. Last year’s Sand Martin cliff was eroded away last winter, so now there are just a couple of small sandy patches in the boulder clay cliff, one with 26 holes but a very deserted look about it and only a single bird in evidence. The other patch has just 14 holes but again just a single Sand Martin in the area. Let’s hope that the next winter gales will expose a new and more suitable patch of sand – and that enough adult birds survive another year to nest there in 2007.

The roads were even more deserted on the way home. Has something momentous happened? Have all the religious leaders settled their differences and just announced world peace for evermore? Have all the political leaders just agreed on how to stop and reverse climate change? Has the United Nations found a way to stop ⅓ of the world ‘s human population (a mere 2,000,000,000 men, women and – mostly – children) being hungry every single day and every single night of their short and miserable lives?

Apparently not. It’s something far more important than any of these minor distractions: it’s lots and lots of poor mugs paying to watch 22 spoilt brats kicking a wee ball up and down a field while the multinational fat cats who organise the game, own the media and own the breweries get even richer than before on the proceeds.

OK. So it’s only me. Complaining about ‘bread or circuses’.

Really, it’s a good thing there is nothing to worry about, ‘cos we’ve got lots and lots and lots of very spectacular circuses. And anyway, it’s TDH.June 2006 Weather Summary:

Total Rainfall: 10mm (⅜ inch).

Temperatures: Max: 31ºC (88ºF); Min: 6ºC (42ºF);

Actual temperature at 0930 on 1 July 2006:21ºC (70ºF), hot and dry with a warm Southerly breeze and just a few wisps of high cloud. In complete contrast to last month, this has been warm or even hot and very, very dry. The lawns are dry and cracked and the grass has almost stopped growing.

29 June 2006    Oh no – it’s TDH again! My car says it was 21ºC on the way back from Whitby after lunch, and that’s over 70ºF in old money. And it’s only June.

28 June 2006    It’s getting hot again so I just cut the dog lawn before I took pity on all the other lawns and decided to give them a week off. Then into the nice cool wood to strim the path and (finally) tidy up the edge of the very hot drive in the full midday sun. Followed by a light trim to the big hedge, this time still wearing the full face visor from the strimming AND a dust mask. Result? No hay fever and no sneezing fit! Wonderful – I must remember that little trick!

After lunch the strimmer and I retreated to the back of Groves Dyke orchard (nice and cool again) and cut the long grass / Bracken / Rosebay Willowherb growing in the ditch, ready for the mythical dinky digger which has been due anytime since about Christmas…

27 June 2006    A dozy day of birding from the conservatory and listening to lots of BBC Radio 4. Very relaxing. Whole families of Blue Tit, Great Tit, Chaffinch and Greenfinch are visiting the feeding station most enthusiastically. ‘Mummy, Mummy, can we go to MacDonalds again today?’ I hear the youngsters say. Mums and Dads are quite pleased to have everything provided, but the nasty man only puts out enough food to last less than half a day, so the all have to go off and try to learn how to feed and survive in the real wild world.

A Kestrel landed by the bonfire this morning to grab some small mammal. In mid-afternoon a young Rabbit scampered about on the back lawn and in the early evening a female Sparrowhawk landed on the cross bar of the feeding station, only to find it devoid of any tasty young birds. Sorry, young Sprawks, it’s off to bed without any supper for you, this evening.

25 June 2006    Hot, so I settled for a genteel bit of low pruning on the path around the wood. It’s all those leaves, you know. They weigh the branches down so far that they catch on my aluminium framed rucksack and try to knock me off balance every time I carry another load of firelogs down to the woodshed. Only a few more loads to go…

24 June 2006    The warm, dry weather continues…

22 June 2006    Today, on the other hand, is Culture Day with a visit to Castle Howard near Malton, film location of ‘Brideshead Revisited’. Off to a good start with an excellent meal in their Courtyard Cafe: Castle Howard Estate Home Farm Aberdeen Angus Beef Casserole and Dumpling, followed by the most wonderful, old fashioned, as big as a good sized wedge of Wensleydale cheese, cheesecake – with strawberries and proper cream, of course! Followed by a long walk around the Arboretum (with links to Kew Gardens) and the Walled Garden, while the rest of the family visited the big house.

Stocked up with Real Food at the estate’s Farm Shop before setting off for home and a very restful evening.

21 June 2006    It said it was going to rain all day today, so the young anglers spent the compleat day on the river. But it only showered a little, so the fishing was poor, but the other half of the grass cutting was fine. And less grass to cut, as well, now that the anglers needed to dig up a bit more lawn every day in their search for worms! My new South Patio will be ready all the sooner…

This light shower has been the only rain this month, apart from the 10-minute thunder plump of 10 days ago. The rain gauge now stands at less than ½ inch so far this month and the lawns are patchy brown with gaping cracks.

Restocking with charcoal for the barbecue proved surprisingly difficult as all the Whitby shops and filling stations only sell ‘imported’ charcoal of doubtful origin. There was no locally produced charcoal to be found (it can usually be bought by driving to Dalby Forest, Pickering) in Whitby and the only shop that sold ‘FSC’ (Forest Stewardship Council) approved charcoal was Whitby Co-op supermarket. Good for them! Everything else tends to be made from mangrove swamps (natural storm and tsunami defences) or tropical rain forest (local wildlife reservoir, global carbon sink and international oxygen generator) – and probably exported illegally, too.

No coincidence, then, that this evening’s TV News showed pictures of devastating mudslides in Indonesia, with whole villages (and villagers) destroyed ‘…probably due to illegal logging on the hillsides above the villages.’ For barbeque charcoal in the Western World, no doubt.

20 June 2006    What a perfect summer’s evening to barbecue the two big Trout caught this morning in the River Esk nearby. One was almost 1½ pounds weight and the other just under 1 pound. Delicious. Good food, fine wine and a happy family reunion.

I was wrong about the 1000 scooterists in Whitby last weekend. According to today’s Whitby Gazette there were actually between 3000 and 4000 of them, all having a pleasant and relaxing couple of days in Whitby! Oh good.

19 June 2006    Half of my grass cut this morning, as well as a bit of light trimming to a couple of hedges.

Lunch at Beacon Farm Ice Cream Parlour at Sneaton, near Whitby. We didn’t attempt ‘The Belly Buster’ (8 scoops of your choice) but we all enjoyed the slightly smaller variations. I recommend the Cinder Toffee ice cream and the Shepherd’s Sunsets and Rocky Roads were also appreciated – but we re-stocked the Groves Dyke freezer with 2 cartons of the ever popular Dairy Ice Cream, just to be fair to everyone.

18 June 2006    A lovely morning for breakfast on the patio, spoilt only by the incessant roar of 1000 scooterists (yes, that is what they call themselves, but I can think of a much better name) rallying in Whitby this weekend and driving up through Sleights this morning to Goathland. Soon put right by Sunday lunch on the lawn at the Horseshoe pub, Egton Bridge, enjoying their massive Brie and Bacon Baguettes beneath their even more massive Giant Redwood tree. Then off to Beggar’s Bridge in Glaisdale before driving up Glaisdale Dale (yes, I know, but that is what the road sign in the village says), over the moortop to Hamer, Rosedale and Pickering.

Twenty Smooth Newts (also called Common Newts, but that sound impolite for such delightful creatures) in my pond this evening.

17 June 2006    Barbecue weather this evening, with Radford’s beef burgers, Botham’s bread buns and a whole cabaret of newts. Wonderful!

16 June 2006    Where better to enjoy a massive gammon steak and fried egg than sitting outside the pub at Runswick Bay, watching over the bay as the waves lap on the beach just below and the night creeps in?

14 June 2006    Cut all of Groves Dyke grass and half the woodyard this morning, rolled two big Poplar forks down to the entrance gateway as bollards (I am never going to be able to split them and ‘Bollards!’ was what I thought when I tried!) and then split and / or stacked the rest of the newly delivered Poplar. Except for 2 big drums which I am saving as a treat for my nephew on his next visit. I’ll make a lumberjack of him yet!

Spent a very pleasant afternoon pottering on my patio, improving the sun screen of Hazel poles laid across the raftings and generally tidying up. Pleasantly warm, dry and enjoyable and now my daily sundowner will be even more enjoyable.

A post sunset (and sundowner!) Newt hunt in my pond produced 15 of the little darlings, the highest count for the last 10 days. I’m glad it was an odd number, if only to prove that I wasn’t seeing double!

13 June 2006    This evening a Sparrowhawk called in at the feeding station for a Chaffinch Supper, but left without. Then from the kitchen window I watched a lovely pair of Bullfinches as they fed their way through the trees from woodyard to pole barn.

12 June 2006    Some cloud cover today and back to only TDH again, so I strimmed half of my half of the lawns, as well as the path around the wood.

After lunch I waited for the local tree surgeon to deliver a lorry load of local Poplar tree, as the thunder rumbled around and around the dale, sending poor Flag into a shivering shadow of his useful extrovert self. After a couple of hours the thunderstorm broke and the heavens just opened. Rain pounded down and the guttering down pipes gushed full bore for a full 10 minutes. Then the rain stopped, the thunder rumbled off into the distance and the air was cool and fresh and pleasant for the first time in many days. See – I told you those Extreme Fire Risk signs on the moortop would do the trick!

Two tons of newly felled and very wet Poplar arrived in late afternoon, so I spent the rest of the evening splitting and stacking the bits of the right length, or just moving the longer pieces aside to be sawn at a later date. After a couple of hours, I decided that 1 ton was enough for 1 day…

11 June 2006    TDH bordering on TBH. This morning I settled for a little bit of high pruning to let the 2 young Rowan Trees see through the encroaching Sycamores, followed by a visit to Hollywood, where it was almost pleasantly cool. The dense shade of the mature Holly trees and the coolth of the beck flowing beneath made it bearable.

By sunset this evening the maximum thermometer had been up to 88ºF (almost 30ºC), which was quite uncalled for. If you agree that this is inappropriate weather for the North York Moors, do visit www.stopclimatechaos.org and if you want to reduce your own contribution to the problem, then try the government funded www.est.org.uk for the Energy Saving Trust.

10 June 2006.    TDH again, so I have added (with a lot of help) 14 new photos of Groves Dyke, showing interior room views (the walls are really just plain magnolia!) and the new approach to the front door, not to mention the conservatory, the decking, the new patio furniture, etc, etc. To see them click on Descriptions (above) then on Photographs and then on ‘No. 11 More photos, added in 2006.’ Better still, just click here…

I have now had the current rash of St George’s flags on vehicles explained to me: it appears to be a new Department of Transport road safety campaign, to warn other road users about those drivers with the lowest IQ and hence the most chance of being involved in an accident. The lower the IQ of a driver, the more white flags with a red cross they must fly from their vehicle. What a good idea!

9 June 2006    TDH again. The North York Moors National Park staff have put up ‘Extreme Fire Risk’ signs on all the moor roads but it is only a matter of time before some thoughtless idiot chucks a fag end or drops their BBQ and destroys another square mile of heather moorland. Or putting up the sighs could have the same effect as last year, when it provoked a downpour within a week! What we really need is a Minister for Drought, just like we had in 1976. That not only provoked a downpour way back then, but so heavy and prolonged was the rain that the poor man had to convert himself into the Minister for Floods within a few days.

St George seems to be very popular at the moment, with his flag flying from lots of houses, shops, cars and lorries. It’s not St George’s Day, is it? Or has everyone just noticed his medieval murals inside the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Pickering? (No, I have no idea what he was doing there, in amongst the bible stories). Or is it something to do with football? If it is something to do with football, then at the termination of the diurnal period I will be above the lunar orb when the whole silly hype is over.

This evening I see that my Max & Min thermometer (which is on the North facing wall of Groves Dyke and never gets direct sunlight) has now been up to 82ºF since the beginning of the month – which is more than TDH. Twelve Newts by torchlight in my pond this evening.

8 June 2006    I know it sounds very ungrateful and I know England has just had the coldest and wettest May for hundreds of years, but the fact remains: today is just too damned hot! Sorry.

Pausing at the top of Blue Bank and looking across to Littlebeck it is wonderful to see the field boundaries all etched in white again, not with snow at the hedgebacks, but this time with all the Hawthorn hedges cloaked in absolute masses of white blossom. Magnificent! But it’s still TDH (too damned hot).

7 June 2007    Despite the heat, any lawn that didn’t get cut on Monday did get cut this morning. This rotational mowing seems to be working well, with only half the lawns being cut in any one week (except Groves Dyke lawns, which get cut every week). This way the flowers get to flower for 2 weeks instead of 1, the wildlife benefits – and so do I.

A real songster of a Blackbird has taken up near permanent residence on top of the telephone pole near the woodyard and sings almost non-stop. Why isn’t he off feeding his young, or something? The sooner this brood of youngsters are all fledged and gone, the sooner I can start trimming the hedges…

6 June 2006    First a bit of firewood sawing, but it was too hot for much of that. Then a bit of front lawn digging up and wheel barrowing to the back, but far too hot for that, so I just spent much of the morning on genteely weeding the patio by Weed Wand, followed by painting the Groves Bank raftings in Cuprinol’s finest Topiary Green. As I did so, a red bodied Damselfly dashed over the pond and landed briefly on the wall.

The first Yellow Flag Iris flower opened today on the margin of the Groves bank pond.

Driving back over the moor top at 5.30 pm my car told me that was 21ºC, which is just over 70º in real money – I thought it was hot! A pair of Curlew glided across the heather and gave their hauntingly beautiful bubbling call.

5 June 2006    Two hours of strimming this morning was more than enough, but it did get most of my lawns cut, a section of the beck, half the woodyard and all the path around the wood. Phew!

4 June 2006    Too hot to do much in the wood except cut back the Sycamore from the two young Rowan trees, as these seem to be the only Mountain Ash in the wood. Not to mention their traditional role of warding off all evil from the property.

This evening a torchlight Newt hunt in my pond at 10 pm revealed c20 Newts, one still tail-curling and tail-quivering at a potential mate.

3 June 2006    Warm, dry and very, very sunny. A Green Woodpecker yaffled from the field above the wood this morning, but no sign of any deer. I was surprised and delighted to note that the maximum thermometer, reset just 2 day ago, has already reached 80ºF (26ºC) and the high pressure system over the UK is forecast to stay put for several days… I think this must mean that finally SUMMER IS HERE AT LAST!!

What a lovely afternoon to stroll across the road to Perry’s River Gardens and enjoy a cold drink and a homemade sticky bun whilst seated by the coolth of the River Esk. Isn’t summertime wonderful?

2 June 2006    By 11 am the kitchen shop in Whitby which supplied the new kitchen had delivered a brand new replacement glass from a brand new identical oven and it was fitted straight away. This is an infinitely better way of dealing with the situation than the traditional ‘You’ll have to phone our call centre to report the fault, then post them the Guarantee Registration form and the original receipt and then somebody will contact you in a few days about sending a courier with the replacement part…’ …which is no use to me and even less use to all the guests in my holiday cottage over the next few weeks and months! Anyway, everything was back to normal well before lunch.

1 June 2006    So this is the first day of Flaming June, is it? At least this morning’s drizzle is nice and warm, for a change!

By lunchtime the rain had stopped, the sky had cleared, the sun was shining and the Whitby car parks were full. Maybe it really IS summertime?

This evening and for no good reason, the brand new glass panel in the door of the brand new oven in the brand new kitchen cracked. The outer glass panel remained intact, so everyone was ok, if a bit startled. I wonder how the shop which supplied it will react, when I tell them tomorrow morning?

May 2006 Weather Summary:

Total Rainfall: 100mm (4 inches).

Temperatures: Max: 24ºC (75ºF); Min: 1ºC (34ºF);

Actual temperature at 0930 on 1 June 2006:11ºC (52ºF), calm & mild with drizzle.

First warm and dry, then cooler, then very wet, then warm and dry, then cool Northerly winds and finally warm and dry again. This has been the wettest and coldest May in England since before 1800 – and it felt like it, too!

 

31 May 2006    Today its warmer, dryer and sunnier! Summer? Or is that just deja vu again?

The two Roe Deer are still in the field above the wood, but this morning they just lay in the long grass and watched, vaguely interested, as I walked past with Flag. Strimmed almost all the lawns this morning and then took some photos for the new Groves Dyke postcard, this time showing the new picture windows (have I ever told you about just how well Everest ‘Fitted the Best in this particular case? If not, do click here…), the new conservatory, the new decking, the new garden fence and the much bigger trees than appeared in the last postcard of some 12 years ago. Many thanks to the HOR family for interrupting their holiday to pose for the new postcard.

Then I wasted the lovely afternoon in preparing the Groves Dyke paperwork for the accountant. Shame. Still, even the owner of one small holiday cottage has to pay a nice accountant (he is) to prove to the nice taxman (not so sure about him) that one really is not involved in international money laundering or any other major organised crime… I suspect it is all a bit like the old and long defunct Dog Licence, which every UK dog had to have: each licence only cost the dog owner 7 shilling and 6 pence (= 37½ new pence) from any Post Office –  but the admin cost involved was well over £10 / licence issued! In other words, just not worth the candle, but you just try to convince the civil service of that…

This evening there was great excitement amongst the Groves Dyke House Martins, with one bird sitting on a nest and another 2 spending several hours flying around and around the house, as if in some kind of aerial dogfight. Very odd. [Next morning a broken eggshell was found below the nest, so perhaps all the excitement was caused by this joyous and imminent hatching?]

30 May 2006    A bird count from my conservatory this morning produced: Greenfinch 2 (both males), Blackbird 1, Blue Tit 1, Chaffinch 1, Coal Tit 1, Dunnock 1, Great Tit 1, Magpie 1, Marsh Tit 1, Robin 1, Wood Pigeon 1, not to mention Bank Vole 1. (0930 – 0945, 3/8 cloud cover, Force 2 Northerly, cool, overnight showers clearing to bright cloud).

This evening, about 10 pm, there were 32 torch lit Newts in my pond, not to mention lots of pretty big Tadpoles and a couple of surprisingly large Dragonfly Nymphs.

29 May 2006    A Roe Deer stood and watched from the field above the wood as I walked around this morning, then another stood up from the long grass and together we all watched each other for a few minutes, until they strolled off across the field. Later, over breakfast, a Green Woodpecker flew silently across the woodyard.

To the sound of steam trains working back and forth from Grosmont to Whitby, I sawed the last of the hedgelaying poles into 4 foot 6 inch lengths and added them to the new cord, which still needs a few more to bring it up to its full height of 4 feet. Perhaps I can split some of the thicker logs and add them, just to cap it off properly? Now that the Esk Valley Railway (Whitby to Middlesbrough) is being run as a mini franchise by our own local Community Railway Trust, it is much more open to letting the steam trains from the Pickering to Grosmont preservation line run all the way into Whitby. Another possibility may be to transport by rail the thousands of tons of pine logs being produced by Dalby Forest near Pickering to the new wood fired electricity power station next to the ill fated Enron gas powered power station at Teesside. Much better than having an endless convoy of big timber wagons crawling up and over the North York Moors for all eternity!

An evening Newt hunt produced a mere 15 Newts, perhaps because it has got a bit cooler with this Northerly breeze.

28 May 2006    A few more poles from the hedge laying were sawn into cordwood and added to the new cord. Not many more required to complete it – but not many more left to do it…

This evening, about 10pm, I took a torch and went Newt hunting in my pond. Thirty of the little darlings still hanging around! Far more than I expected so late in the month.

27 May 2006    A very pleasant afternoon to carry down a few more logs from the big Sycamore which fell in the Jan 2005 storm. Once these had been added to the woodshed I relaxed in the conservatory and just enjoyed the torrential downpour which arrived out of nowhere and drummed loudly on the roof. An hour later and it was gone again, but my rain gauge now reads 4 inches so far this month, which makes it about twice as wet as any ‘normal’ month in this part of the world. Never mind, Greenland is melting, George Bush is still in denial, New Orleans thinks it is almost ready for the next hurricane season and Tony Blair is planning to build more nuclear power stations a couple of feet above where sea level used to be…

 

26 May 2006    This morning as I walked around the wood I looked down at the house to see 8 Swifts screaming back and forth. I think they were over the house, perhaps even thinking of starting a new nesting colony – or perhaps they were catching a hatch of flies above the Salmon Leap pool, just beyond?

 

25 May 2006    Mild with bright cloudy and occasionally sunny this morning. Having filled in yesterday’s excavations, I took a leaf from Flag’s book and started digging up one end of my front lawn, while he started to re-excavate the old grass cutting dump.

As I wheel-barrowed each load of sods around to the back lawn (to fill in all the holes Flag has dug over the past 5 years, before I break a leg in one of them while grass cutting) I did think that, Yes, a dinky digger would do it in a tenth of the time – but since I have already waited a hundred times longer than intended for the damn thing to arrive, I might as well just get on with it myself. And if it does ever arrive, then it will have less work to do and so will be a bit cheaper. Either way, I will eventually have a new patio outside my rarely used ‘front’ door AND less grass to cut every week AND fewer holes to fall into. The new patio will, of course, include a gravel surface and a permeable and weed suppressing membrane, to reduce runoff and flooding.

After an hour I went to check up on Flag and his dig, only to see no sign of any dog. I called and, seconds later, a big yellow tail (still wagging furiously) reversed out of a completely new tunnel nearby! Oh good. Another hole to fill in again…

24 May 2006    Showery overnight but this morning a drying wind and increasing sunny spells make the Groves Bank lawns strim-able by mid-morning. Until then Flag had been working on a major new excavation on some late 20th Century (circa 1960 to 1988) grass cuttings, at the near end of Bank orchard. While I strimmed he was confined to the back yard for a rest and for his own safety – and while I rested he was let loose on the dig again. This arrangement seems to suit both parties admirably.

The embarrassed Goldfinch pair have returned to to the sunflower hearts feeder, pausing only to perch on the Niger seed feeder as a staging post. Silly birds, Niger seed feeders were designed specifically for Goldfinches! A couple of Greenfinches were equally perverse, perching on the Sunflower heart feeder before feeding from the Niger seed feeder. Just how their big wedge-shaped beaks were able to reach into the tiny ports to grab and manipulate the miniscule Niger seeds, I have no idea. No more idea than how the tiny tweezer beaks of the Goldfinches could cope with the large Sunflower seeds. Have none of these birds read the text books?

By the middle of the afternoon I had finished strimming everything in sight (all the remaining lawns, ⅓ of the wild flower bank, ½ the top pond, ½  the woodyard (yes, I know it’s the wrong half, but I was getting tired by then) and the path around the wood. Flag, on the other hand, went back to work while I recovered. When I woke up and went to investigate, he had completely disappeared down the newly created tunnel system in the nice soft very well composted soil, but reversed out proudly and with his tail wagging furiously when I called.

Now I know what my first job is for tomorrow morning: take spade to very ancient, very large compost heap and collapse the roof of his tunnel from above – before he does it from within and suffocates himself!

A pair of Siskins, the first I have seen for many a month, frequented the Niger seed feeder.

23 May 2006    It rained most of yesterday AND the night and day before! The rain gauge now says 3¾ inches so far this month and the Esk is almost brink full. I am told that the ford at Grosmont was so far underwater yesterday that only the word ‘Feet’ at the very top of the depth sign was still visible and all the numbers down the post from 6 to 0 were completely underwater!

Having said that, it was dry last night and a very warm and sunny morning soon dried the Groves Dyke lawns enough to catch up on 10 days’ grass cutting. Flag was safely tied to a tree in Dyke orchard, but I had forgotten about the Blue Tit nesting in the box nearby. The calls of the hungry young within were just too much for the poor dog and he has scratched a fair bit of bark off the tree as he tried to climb it to investigate!

21 May 2006    Returned yesterday evening from a few days’ holiday in Edinburgh, to find that the rain gauge now reads just over 2 inches – and the grass is even longer!

Random thoughts from my holiday include: Alnwick Gardens are just getting better and better (and the new Pavilion is now open, too); Aberlady Bay National Nature Reserve (NNR) has lots of nice birds (even when there aren’t thousands of wintering geese), including Bar Tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Red Breasted Merganzer, etc); The Stand Comedy Club is very good; the Garden Level cafe under the National Gallery is excellent; the Scottish Storytelling Centre (next to John Knox House on the Royal Mile) has excellent free storytelling sessions at 2pm every day; the cafe on Marine Drive has been re-opened by Mark and he is single-handedly rebuilding the loos and (eventually) the gallery and seafood restaurant (keep up the good work!); the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club has just opened the new George Waterson Birdwatching Centre which is built entirely of Scottish wood, contains an ornithological library / loos / info / hot drinks and has a superb view across Aberlady Bay; Cramond has an excellent harbour-side Bistro where I was lucky enough to be the guinea pig for their new line in traditional gingerbread (highly recommended!), as well as lovely walks along the shores of the Firth of Forth, inland to the weir on the River Almond and offshore to Cramond Island (mind the incoming tide!); The Seabird Centre at North Berwick is wonderful; the smooth white top of Bass Rock is really 50,000+ Gannets (but the boat trips are weekends only, so I missed the chance of a circumnavigation); Tantallon Castle is magnificent and its stone windows frame the nearby Bass Rock perfectly; John Muir Country Park at Dunbar commemorates the birthplace of the founder of the  modern environmental conservation movement (he took US President Teddy Roosevelt hiking in Yosemite and convinced him to declare it the world’s first National Park – he also canoed into Glacier Bay, Alaska and was the first non-native-American to describe its spectacular beauty); Mama Mia is very good (but a bit loud); Holy Isle is well worth the detour, with hundreds of Ringed Plover and summer plumaged Dunlin; the mainland shores of Lindisfarne Bay NNR can be reached from various very minor roads off the A1 and there are even a couple of very well hidden hides; try having lunch up a tree at Alnwick Gardens (I recommend the Northumberland Sausages with Mustard Mash and Red Onion Gravy in the Treehouse Restaurant, with Eton Mess to follow); stay a bit longer at Alnwick Gardens and avoid the 5pm rush hour / linear car park that is the A1 for a couple of miles either side of the Metro Centre in Newcastle; etc; etc.

But it is nice to be home again…

 

10 May 2006    Mad dog and Englishman of Irish descent were not only out in the midday sun today, but also spent 3 hours grass cutting as it got hotter and hotter this morning. I did get it all done, but that is not such a good idea in this hot, sunny weather. I must try splitting the work over two days, instead…

 

8 May 2006    Full sun again today, but with just enough cool breeze to let me carry the last of the long hedging poles from Bank Orchard to the Woodyard. Now it looks like more than enough timber to complete the new cord (already well over half built) and fill the odd bay of the pole barn, too.

This evening, about 10 o’clock, I went Newt watching by torchlight and found an amazing 41 in my pond! I have never seen 41 Newts in one pond before – but then, I’m not sure that I have ever looked at the right time before…

7 May 2006    Rain overnight (¼ inch so far this month) but now dry, cloudy and calm. A 15 minute bird count produced: Dunnock 4, Chaffinch 3, Blue Tit 2, Coal Tit 1, Greenfinch 1, Great Tit 1, Robin 1 (1015 to 1030, 7/8 cloud cover). Later a Blackbird and a Marsh Tit arrived, but no Goldfinch today at the recently re-erected Niger Seed feeder – although I have seen a Greenfinch teasing out the tiny little seeds from the suitably tiny feeding ports.

The paths are slippery again, so I had a restful morning snipping the occasional brambles from the paths. The first Early Purple Orchids, all 8 of them, are now flowering in Bank Orchard, where all the Daffodils are gone over. A couple of Bluebells are in flower there, as well as the first Lesser Celandine and first Lesser Stitchwort.

6 May 2006    The Oak has beaten the Ash this year! In fact, almost every tree and shrub is now in leaf except for the big Ash tree. The first Marsh Marigolds are now flowering in my pond and a pair of Jays shuttled back and forth across the orchard.

So nice a day that I took Flag to Runswick Bay for a walk and picnic on the beach. Sadly, he enjoyed it all so much that he forgot all the common sense acquired over the last couple of years and just ran up and down, chased every ball and stone, played with every child and had a great time. I abandoned the picnic, caught him up (eventually), put him on a lead and marched him back to the car. Never mind, it was still enjoyable.

In early afternoon I glanced into my pond to see how the Newts were doing – only to discover that they were 26 of them, all in twos (and threes!) and all courting or just hanging around in mid-water.

4 May 2006    First House Martins flying excitedly around the house this morning – and what a fine, HOT summer’s day it has been! My car says it was 21ºC (70ºF) this afternoon and I can well believe it! So pleasant, in fact, that after lunch on the patio I managed to nod off for half an hour. Oh dear! An afternoon nap – it must be old age…

 

3 May 2006    First breakfast on the patio this year, followed by lunch on the patio and tea in the conservatory. Perfect weather for a massive grass cutting day, with all the lawns plus half the Woodyard done in 2½ hours and then the path around the wood cut after lunch. Phew!

I disturbed a 15 inch Slow Worm on my lower terrace and then a Roe Deer ran off up in the wood after lunch. After a long and luxurious bath, a stroll on the beach at Sandsend produced half a dozen Terns fishing just off shore (sorry, I couldn’t see which) plus a small gaggle of small kids throwing small stones into the sea – which Flag enjoyed much more than the Terns.

2 May 2006    The half decent spring weather continues dry – and so does the carrying of logs and poles to the new cord in the Woodyard. This time I shifted c20 long bits of cut hedge from the far end of Bank Orchard where, I am delighted and relieved to say, the newly laid hedge is just beginning to show signs of life again. The new cord is more than half built, looks very respectable and will be ripe for burning in the winter of 2007/8, ie: when it has seasoned for at least 2 summers.

Note to self: It really is so much easier to carry a 15 foot length of young tree over each shoulder than it is to carry the same timber pre-sawn into 20 firelogs, each 18 inches long! Please remind me never to pre-cut any fallen timber on site (eg the big Sycamore storm-thrown in Jan 2006 on the far side of the wood) and then spend the next 18 months carrying all the thousands of ‘little’ 18 inch firelogs back home…

A Swallow (my first near home this year) flew past Hard Struggle Cottages on Eskdaleside this afternoon, with an abundance of midges swarming in tall mating spirals in the sun.

1 May 2006    This morning I continued to carry logs and poles to the woodyard, this time all the Ash and Sycamore saplings cut back from under the wires by the electricity company. Bless their little cotton socks for providing me with so much free and non-electric fuel for my wood burning stove, radiators and domestic hot water!

April 2006 Weather Summary:

Total Rainfall: 50mm (2 inches).

Temperatures: Max: 18ºC (66ºF); Min: -3ºC (27ºF);

Actual temperature at 0930 on 1 May 2006:11ºC (52ºF).

Spring seemed to arrive – and then changed its mind. It was almost mid-month before trees began to leaf and things really got underway, but its still not early summer yet…

30 April 2006    The paths in the wood have dried out enough to safely carry big lumps of timber on my shoulder, so I moved the 2 Silver Birch trees down from the Bottom Bridge to the Woodyard. They were already sawn into cord lengths (4 feet 6 inches for me, 4 feet exactly for everyone else) and rough stacked, so I just had to move them and then add them to the new cord, which now looks quite respectable.

A Peacock butterfly struggled against the Stickery window, having over-wintered within, until I moved it to a sunny place in the doorway.

29 April 2006    Bright with occasional light showers and a cooler wind, but still a very pleasant Spring day. Almost all the trees are in leaf now, except the Oak and the Ash, but at least they are both in flower.

In my pond the Tadpoles are no longer clumped together, possibly because there are 11 or more Common Newts all hanging around together on the pond weed and on the edge shelf. Those 2 Goldfinches are back again and they are still up to something… but I have no idea what. A Collared Dove, the first I have seen here for several months, flew up from the front lawn.

Tried to take Flag on the beach at Sandsend, but that ‘cooler wind’ at the bottom of Sleights turns out to be a very fresh onshore breeze at the coast, driving big breakers onto where the sand was at low tide, with occasional big waves crashing across the road in a cloud of spray in the village centre. So we walked around the woodland car park at Grosmont instead, where I was surprised to see that only a very few trees were in leaf. It just goes to show that where I live it is a lovely warm, sunny and sheltered little spot, compared to the more exposed surroundings.

27 April 2006    Today the wooden railings around the new landing stage were extended slightly (to screen the rubbish and recycling bins) and the top skim (frost damaged in early March) was replaced and the cement mixer has finally, finally gone. Wonderful!

A pair of blushing Goldfinches came to the feeding station and gorged themselves on the Sunflower hearts. A rare treat, but what on earth have they been up to?! And where were they a couple of years ago when I invested in a big bag of Niger seed and a special feeder, without attracting a single Goldie for months on end?

26 April 2006    Another lovely warm, sunny day. I strimmed all (yes all) the lawns today – which took me about 3½ hours. This is almost twice as long as Geoff and Selina used to take in previous years, which is a bit worrying, but then they had years of practice!

A male Sparrowhawk lay dead just outside my lounge window, presumably risking his neck to catch a reflection by mistake.

Jays are noisy and a Roe Deer ran across the field at the top of the wood. The Blackthorn spiney near the NE corner of the wood is now in full flower, looking like a frothy foam when seen from across the valley in Ugglebarnby.

24 April 2006    The wildflower bank by the Stickery now has 5 Cowslips in flower.

23 April 2006    I wheel-barrowed almost a ton of gravel and a ¼ ton of sand from the dumpy bags in the car park at the back (all left over from creating the landing stage by the front door / utility room), around to the front of my house (ready for my lawn reduction / patio extension). That only leaves the cement mixer to be removed, but already the whole area looks much tidier.

The lovely weather continues and today was the first time this year when I didn’t need (or want!) the wood burner lit while I was working in the Stickery.

22 April 2006    All this lovely spring weather has brought the Gean (Wild Cherry) in the wood into flower, also the Blackthorn. The young Beech hedge by the car park is just opening its leaves and the big Sycamore further up the drive is the very first mature tree in (almost) full leaf.

 

Today the long awaited new double doors were fitted in the Groves Dyke sitting room and now, for the first time in over 80 years, the occupants of the two armchairs on opposite sides of the room can actually see each other when the door is open! Sorry it took so long, everyone.

I added some planks to the raftings above the deck (and immediately under the House Martin nests), ready for the rush screening to go up in a few days. There are a few fresh droppings up there but I still haven’t seen the Housies flying around here this year…

21 April 2006    All the previously uncut lawns were mown yesterday morning, except for the big Groves Dyke lawn which is rather too full of magnificent Daffodils just now.

 

19 April 2006    Our  £50m ‘A New Resolution for Whitby and the World’ bid to the National Lottery has just failed to get through to the next stage, which is a great shame. In their infinite wisdom they may have scuppered our plans to rebuild Captain Cook’s ship, but we will still try to get at least some of the spin-off benefits that it would have brought to Whitby and district: better transport infrastructure, improved riverside paths and recreational green space, reduced flood risk and a move away from the low wage and very seasonal economy – only now we have to do it the hard way and without any Wow-Factor… Thanks a bunch.

Talking of which, there are now Wood Anemones everywhere, in between the still flowering Daffodils, Dogs Mercury, Primroses and Dog Violets. The Tadpoles are massing near the disintegrating spawn, a Newt showed them some interest and a pair of Sparrowhawks displayed over the woodyard. So that’s alright, then.

18 April 2006    Just back from a wonderful short break in Northern Ireland. The sun shone, the weather was mild and dry, the people were great, the crack was super and the scenery was as magnificent as ever. One day touring the unique Antrim coast road, the Nine Glens of Antrim and across to the Bann estuary National Trust reserve (400 Golden Plover on the mudflats, just as I remembered them), where I worked in the early 1970s. Another day in County Tyrone ‘among-the-bushes’ and County Armagh, visiting the super new (to me at least) Peatlands Country Park, followed by a third day exploring just a fraction of Strangford Lough and the Quoile reserve, complete with a few summering Brent Geese, a pair of Great Crested Grebes and even a Barrow’s Goldeneye. On the flight back the fascinated toddler in the window seat gave everyone a running commentary on her view as we approached Newcastle: ‘Baby houses. Baby houses. Baby cars. Baby cars. Baby people. Baby people. Grown up houses. Grown up cars. Grown up people. Oh, we’ve landed!’

Back home again and everything has dried out. The drive is dry, the lawns are dry and even the path around the wood is dry. What a vast improvement!

12 April 2006    A lovely dry, warm, sunny morning for walking Flag along the beach at Runswick Bay, followed by a drink in the sun by the cafe overlooking the harbour (a mug of coffee and a lovely big piece of cake for me, a bowl of water and a tiny corner of cake for him). Half a dozen Oystercatchers piped from the sea washed rocks, while a similar number of Fulmars sat paired on the cliffs. No sign of any House Martins…

By late afternoon my lawns had dried out enough for the first grass cutting of the year. I could have cut them all (honest!) but decided that half was enough for my first attempt.

11 April 2006    Deer slots leading up through the Willow arch and into the wood. Given half a chance, everything would have dried out by now, but then more rain arrives and its all too wet and muddy to do anything useful out of doors. So far this month my rain gauge is reading 1¼ inches.

Is it true that the SE of England STILL has a water shortage? And is it true that in East Anglia HUGE pumps work night and day to remove all that nasty freshwater from the field drains and throw it over the sea wall into the sea?? Has anyone even considered the possibility of pumping it towards London, instead… …or would that be a different government department, and thus utterly  impossible???

9 April 2006    Sawed in the woodyard between heavy showers this morning. Dry by lunchtime. Sunning myself all afternoon. Weird.

 

8 April 2006    It’s hailing again! And rain and sleet and snow. And sun. And thunder. Up on the moortop some snow is lying but down here it’s just wet and muddy again. Weird weather but, if it is any consolation, it looks like the Grand National at Aintree in Liverpool is having something very similar.

 

7 April 2006    The bubbling call of a Curlew drifted into Goathland village as I walked the dog and enjoyed the better weather.

6 April 2006    One Woodcock flushed by Flag at the top of the wood this morning.

5 April 2006    What an odd few days: Sunday it poured, Monday it snowed (it didn’t lie), Tuesday was dry but cold and Wednesday I was out sawing and building a new cord with the sun on my back, enjoying the warmth and having lunch on the patio for the first time this year! The new cord is already quite respectable, having consumed all the carried down Ash from the leccy ride, with more Ash and also Silver Birch to come down when the path is less wet and treacherous, not to mention all the Hazel, Hawthorn and Blackthorn from the recent hedge laying across in Bank orchard. The whippy Ash tops were added to the deadwood hedges.

While I was working in the woodyard the Great Spotted Woodpecker ‘tchick’-ed from the big leaning Ash, the Green Woodpecker yaffled from the wood, Blackbirds, Dunnocks and Chaffinches sang all around, a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly flew past and Dog Violets and Lesser Celandines flowered, while Flag rolled on his back and just enjoyed the sun.

3 April 2006    It’s bright, sunny and dry again this morning, but the ground is awash  after ¾ of an inch of rain yesterday, most of it in the afternoon.

 

2 April 2006    Pottering in the wood this morning, feeling the warmth of the sun and enjoying the whole sensation. A Roe Deer ran off from the top of the wood, the Chiffchaff is still singing, the Hawthorn, Hazel and Willows are just beginning to produce leaves… and then the heavens opened after lunch and everything was back to being cold and wet again.

 

1 Apr 2006    90% of the little traditional Daffodils in Groves Bank orchard were in full flower today, as well as over 50% of the big modern ones in Groves Dyke garden, as required and confirmed by today’s Inspector from the new government Office of Daffodil Timing (OFFDAFT).

 

March Weather Summary:

Total Rainfall: 84mm (3¼ inches).

Temperatures: Max: 16ºC (61ºF); Min: -8ºC (18ºF);

Actual temperature at 0930 on 1 April 2006:11ºC (52ºF).

Snow early in the month, with (once again) many cool, sunless days so the ground remained wet for weeks. The temperature has risen, but not by much until near the end of the month.

31 March 2006    More rain overnight. A single frog called in the pond, but the party is over, chum. Near St Oswalds Pastoral Retreat a Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard drumming and 3 pairs of Lapwing were giving their distinctive display flight alongside the road to Goathland. By midday it had brightened up and the smoke of a last swiddening fire on the moortop drifted across the dale.

29 March 2006    A fine sunny and dry spring day, with the 1st Woodcock (2 of them) flushed at the top of the wood. The Chiffchaff continues to call up there and a Green Woodpecker was also heard.

Lots of Frogsong last night and again this morning, with enough spawn now to fill two 2 gallon buckets (anybody want a bit?). The triangle of ‘tame’ Daffodils in Groves Dyke garden is now in full flower, with a few others on the lawn just opening up. Groves Bank orchard is full of the little traditional ‘wild’ Daffodils all flowering beautifully, with the 1st Wood Anemones in flower, too.  Lovely drying weather, so this afternoon I gave  Groves Dyke’s new utility room door and door frame a proper coat of paint, as well as the front door and the laundry and larder window frames.

On Sleights Moor a Lapwing gave its first aerobatic display flight, which means:

The spring is sprung, the grass is ris,

I wonder where the lawn mower is?

27 March 2006    Its wet again but at least the rain is warmer! More Froggy activity in the pond, with 2 large blobs of spawn, each composed of 5 or 6 smaller dollops. Enough, all told, to fill a 2 gallon bucket (if I wanted to, which I don’t).

1st Chiffchaff of the year calling at the top of the wood this morning.

Dry by afternoon and my first House Martins were seen over the beach at Raithwaite Beck, near Sandsend, but these don’t really qualify for the Groves Dyke First Arrivals list.

26 March 2006    Felled 2 young Ash trees trying to grow under the leccy wires, which had almost escaped detection. The potential cordwood was carried to the woodshed. Then I started carrying the other young Ash down from the top of the steps, only to be interrupted by more noisy Frog antics in the pond. The 1st Frogspawn has now appeared in the pond, but the number of participants has dropped to a mere dozen.

25 March 2006    Spring! Yes, its SPRING!! It’s bright, it’s dry, it’s warm and it’s actually SUNNY today, and a whole 10 ºC warmer than yesterday (my car says it is 13ºC this afternoon, compared with just 3ºC yesterday).

This morning dog and I carried all the sawn branches from the fallen Apple tree from the orchard to the pole barn and, as I passed by the pond with each branch, I sometimes wondered if I had just heard a possible Frog… Lunch was taken in the conservatory, but with the door wide open for the first time this year. Then coffee was enjoyed on the patio by the pond, basking in the sun and watching the odd high cloud heading east  (for a change) and yes, that WAS a Frog calling! And another. And another and another. And another, as the sun shone and the water warmed up. Yet more little triangular snouts sticking out of the pond, the occasional ‘plop’ as a newcomer threw itself in to join the orgy, more purring from more and more little snouts until almost 30 Frogs splashed happily around the pond.

24 March 2006    There was ice on the pond yesterday morning. It is raining today and there were 3 Curlew in the middle of a Goathland field this afternoon.

22 March 2006    This morning dawned bright, dry and sunny (but don’t anyone mention it – you know what happened last time) so dog and I trimmed-up the young self-sown Ash trees which the Leccy Board felled several months ago for daring to grow underneath their wires. Quite a useful volume of cord wood all in all, once I had carried it all out of the brambles. It is now propped up off the ground and I can carry a bit down the steps and into the woodyard over the next few weeks.

A single Goldcrest worked its way along Groves Dyke’s front hedge, flying out to grab a flying insect before landing back in the hedge. This is the Spotted Flycatchers’ technique and it looked rather odd to watch a Goldcrest doing it – but at least there are flying insects to catch, so perhaps Springs IS due to arrive next week, after all…

21 March 2006    A couple of light hail showers saw me off on my way to York. There is just a light rim of snow left around the edge of the Hole of Horcum and then not a sign of winter anywhere en route. Lunch at Betty’s Cafe was excellent as ever, but I wished I had brought sandwiches, as the waiting can be a bit excessive at busy times (ie meal times – but then it is a cafe, so shouldn’t they expect to be busy at mealtimes)? It was only while I was queuing on the stairs (this was at Little Betty’s, in Stonegate) that I noticed for the very first time that each and every wooden wall light bracket in the whole cafe boasts a mouse – the trademark of Mousey Thompson, the famous woodcarver of Kilburn, near Helmsley. (Follow the link from my Mr Whittaker the Gnome Man page).

19 March 2006    Damn! I spoke too soon and Spring has gone back into hiding. Grizzly Bear returns to den…

A little bit of out-of-rotation coppicing at the First Coup produced enough long thin Hazel rods for ‘heathering’ (no, I don’t think it has anything to do with heather and I have no idea why it is called that) the far end of the newly laid hedge. By twisting three of four rods at a time into a ‘rope’ to link the tops of the hedging stakes, the laid branches are prevented from springing upwards and the whole length of laid hedge is given a nice ‘finished’ look. Then a couple of heftier bits of Hazel were used as pegs to rope the young fruit trees into rather more vertical positions.

18 March 2006    Could this really be a proper Spring day? Shushhh! It’s dry, mild (ish), calm and occasionally almost sunny. The Blackbird, Dunnock and Great Tit all sang in the wood and three Robins got a bit stroppy with each other at the feeding station. This week the laundry stayed on the line and actually got drier instead of wetter. AND it didn’t freeze.

With such success in mind I even began to tidy up a bit, cleared out the dog end, sorted the accumulated tools in the conservatory and gave put the odd lick of paint on the utility room doorframe. This must be how the poor old Grizzly Bear feels when it finally gets out of its den for the first time after a long, long winter.

Flag surprised all three of us by catching a young Rabbit, which proceeded to squeal the place down until I rescued and released it unscathed. In fact, the noise was so chilling that I think Flag and I were more scathed than it was.

Then off to sort out the laid hedge in front of Groves Dyke, de-brambling and de-Cherry suckering back and front, until there were two tarpaulins full of endless brambles and dozens of mini Cherry trees, all to be dragged to the back of the orchard for yet another bonfire, once it has dried out a bit.

16 March 2006    ‘Occasional flurries of snow’ it said, but they were few and far between. All the snow has gone, except for the odd patch on the moortop. Moved all the potential firewood from the hedge laying to the main stack in the orchard, well away from the wasps’ nest (once multi-stung, twice super-shy). Then lit the bonfire in Dyke orchard, which kept me warm and dry until a late lunch.

The BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol got in touch to say that the rushes* were ‘really superb’ and were just what they wanted, which was very good of them. If the clips* of the birds on my feeding station in the snow survive the editing suite* (and it now sounds as if they might) it will be aired* in October 2007, as part of Alan Titchmarsh’s ‘The Natural History of Britain’.

*Us media types always say that.

15 March 2006    Dry and calm today, after yesterday’s afternoon rain (not snow). The rain gauge now reads 1¾ inches so far this month, half of that in the last 48 hours. A nice stroll on the beach this morning, with a flock of 63 Oystercatchers by the water’s edge.

14 March 2006    More snow overnight, but just a light dusting in Sleights and none in Whitby. The woodland car park at Grosmont was, according to my car, ‘-0ºC’ and an inch deep with slushy snow, but the dog enjoyed a good soggy scamper in the woods. The ford showed 1 foot deep and a Grey Wagtail wagged its tail on the gravel bed just upstream of the road bridge. More snow forecast for North Yorkshire later today, so time to head for home and put another log on the wood burning stove…

13 March 2006    A dry, sunny morning and blowing half a gale (ie Force 4) from the west, so I loaded up the washing machine and refilled the wood pile by the door. By the time the laundry was out on the washing line it was blowing a whole gale (ie Force 8), with various items of clothing snatched from the line and tumbled across the yard. Replaced on the line with more clothes pegs, the same thing happened again. And then again, before I finally gave up and put it all back in for another wash. By the time it was re-laundered the wind had dropped to a fresh breeze and the whole wash then  dried nicely on the line by late afternoon. The other job was to replace a roof tile which had slipped in last week’s snow and then replace all the overturned patio chairs.

12 March 2006    Overcast, cooler and with a constant but sparse fall of tiny snowflakes which just melted away on contact with the ground. So light were these flakes that they wafted from side to side as they fell, thus even the car underneath the pole barn had its bonnet and roof an inch deep in snow, while the lawns were still green and the tarmac was still black. Very odd.

The leccy board have only cut the trees under the high power leccy wires, so this morning I dropped a few young coppiced sycamores from the top of the slope immediately above the woodyard – and immediately below (only just) the low power leccy wires.

11 March 2006    Today was probably the last chance to burn all the lop and top from the Groves Bank hedge laying before all of the wild flowers are up. Remember that bonfire which just refused to burn a few weeks ago? Well, it got its come-uppance today, with the help of 3 weeks’ worth of cardboard and a couple of very ancient wooden fence rails! It tried to snow a bit this morning, but failed almost completely.

The bonfire went well for several hours and eventually devoured all the branches from the far corner of the orchard. All that remains now is a laid hedge, a tidy orchard, a burnt patch of grass, a good stack of cordwood to carry home – and a very, very, very muddy path from the far corner, through the poor trampled Dogs Mercury flowers, to the burnt patch. Almost as muddy as the dog!

At lunchtime a 15-minute bird count from my conservatory revealed: Blue Tit 5, Chaffinch 5, Long Tailed Tit 5, Robin 3 (and no squabbling), Blackbird 2, Dunnock 2, Wood Pigeon 2, Coal Tit 1, Great Tit 1, Marsh Tit 1 – and Bank Vole 1. (1400-1415, 3/8 cloud cover, bright, dry and sunny). Shortly afterwards a Greenfinch visited the feeders, the first I have seen for a few weeks.

9 March 2006    The snow has all gone, apart from the odd rapidly melting drift in some shady hedge back. One of those which I passed today was still a good 2 feet deep.

6 March 2006    1. The thaw has begun!

2. The Big Lottery announced today that it has accepted our application for £50 million to rebuild Captain Cook’s Resolution in Whitby – whoopee!

Now all we have to do is put the whole thing together in even more detail (public consultations, floating eco-centre for visitors and educational visits, improve Whitby’s  transport infrastructure, etc, etc), get all the relevant organisations on board, pass muster at a Lottery inspection in mid-April, chart a safe passage through to Phase 2 of our bid, then win the national TV phone-in vote in the summer (a la Restoration or Pop Idol), and then actually build it (that will probably be the easy bit)! Stand by your telephones, please…

We all went to the North Tees Marshes today, rediscovered Saltholme Pools, Greetham Marshes and Seal Sands National Nature Reserve. The former is going to have a wonderful new RSPB visitor centre in 2008, and the latter was every bit as good as I remember. T and C and I enjoyed the close views of a couple of Slavonian Grebes, not to mention the dozens of gift-wrapped Shelduck, the 25 Common Seals hauled out on the sands in the middle of the bay, and the very distant Red Throated Diver by that nice nuclear power station built at sea level – when sea level was where it used to be!

We came back the quick way, via the world famous River Tees Transporter Bridge, one of only two still working in the world. (Anybody know where the other one is? I don’t). The platform slung below the bridge holds just 9 cars per journey and carried us smoothly and quickly to the other side for a mere £1. Far, far better than driving all that long way around by the A19 bridge!

5 March 2006    The compacted snow on the steps made getting down onto Sandsend beach a bit tricky this morning, and the concrete slope below the road was still snow covered, but a bright sun and good coats made for a good walk for us and a good gallop for Flag.

The snow has melted away from some places (eg south facing roofs and black tarmac roads and drives in the sun) but not from others (eg north facing roofs and shady parts of roads and drives). Groves Dyke drive is easily drivable (with a little bit of snow shovelling) but the shady backyard still has a good 4 inches of loose snow).

4 March 2006    Snowing hard last night and again this morning – but only along the coastal strip, with no snow at all just a few miles inland. T & C arrived safely last night, but we began to fear that we might not be able to get to our reserved table at the Endeavour Restaurant in Staithes this evening. Oh no! When the snow eased and the sun shone after lunch we drove to Runswick Bay (1 winter plumage Red Throated Diver in the bay, as well as a summer plumage Cormorant) where we admired the snowy cliffs of Kettleness.

The roads had been cleared so we had no trouble reconnoitre-ing Staithes, including a nice bracing (yes, good word: very bracing!) walk across the beck to the end of Cowbar Nab and along the west breakwater. Here the views of the snow-covered cliff faces were even better, with every individual strata picked out in an absolute geologists’ delight.

No more snow, thank goodness, and we had a truly excellent meal at the Endeavour that evening.

2 March 2006    Sunny with occasional snow showers was just what the cameraman wanted, and that was exactly what he got. The squirrel-proof feeders were swapped for new ones which didn’t obscure the birds so much, and lots of little birdies did come to feed.  Sadly the Sparrowhawk, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch all stayed away, but do look out for the Long Tailed Tit, the Marsh Tit – and the odd Golden Retriever. (Very odd). Still, it must be a nice change for the poor man from all those Golden Eagles…

Filming was all over by late afternoon and he set off for North Wales and his next assignment.

1 Mar 2006    The cameraman from the BBC Natural History Unit arrived this afternoon to set up his hide on my back lawn, overlooking the feeding station outside my conservatory. It seems Alan Titchmarsh’s next natural history series (to be aired next summer) requires shots of a busy garden bird feeding station in the snow – and snow is hard to come by thanks to climate change, so when there is any anywhere, they dispatch a cameraman asap! It seems the BBC researcher for the programme had found the references to snow and bird feeding in this Wildlife Diary and just picked up the phone. Isn’t the interweb wonderful!

Last time it was the Neville Shute fan club in Australia finding my reference to Stoop Brow and wondering where exactly it was. I wonder who is going to be next…

More snow this afternoon and filming begins tomorrow…

February Weather Summary:

Total Rainfall: 65mm (2½ inches).

Temperatures: Max: 7ºC (45ºF); Min: -4ºC (25ºF);

Actual temperature at 0930 on 1 Mar 2006: 0ºC (32ºF).

Snow early and late in the month, with many cool, sunless days so the ground remained wet. Over 2 inches of snow fell at the end of the month and even Scarborough was cut off for several hours (but nobody noticed!). On the 1st day of the new month the rain gauge had to be brought indoors before its 2 inch thick snowcap would melt.

 

28 Feb 2006    They were right! This morning the world is covered in a 2 inch blanket of snow, with more falling than melting and a blustery north wind to blow it all around.

 

A 15-minute count from my conservatory produced: Long-tailed Tit 6, Blue Tit 4, Robin 3, Blackbird 2, Chaffinch 2, Great Tit 2, Coal Tit 1, Dunnock 1, Greenfinch 1 – and a single Bank Vole. (0925 – 0940. 6/8 ths cloud cover, 2″ snow, N wind gusting to force 4, snow showers).

 

It’s not a day to be outside, so I’ll have to tidy the study. Damn!

Saved by an unexpected phone call from Bristol, so I went outside with a bottle of vinegar and a scrunched-up newspaper, to clean the conservatory windows .

Doesn’t everyone? Especially when it’s snowing? All will be revealed…

27 Feb 2006      Who was it who said:

“The North wind doth blow

And we shall have snow”…?

26 Feb 2006    The new platform linking the conservatory and the new utility room was unveiled today – ie, we took the tarpaulin off, now that the rain has stopped and the concrete has set. It looks good and now means that there are just 2 steps up from the drive to the conservatory or the utility room – a no longer any need to go down 2 steps and then up 2 other steps to reach the utility room. Everything is neatly fenced with wooden railings, which also help to screen off the original dust bins and recycling corner.

Took the poor bored dog to Sandsend for a walk on the beach – but nobody told this sheltered corner of Sleights about the strong Northerly winds and the heavy seas! It’s at least two coats colder on the coast and there was more surf than sand. Even the surfers were sitting in their camper vans waiting for better conditions. We just had a quick gallop on the last bit of beach remaining, before driving into Whitby. The tide was high and the waves were even higher, rolling along the lower levels of the pier extensions. In the upper harbour a flock of c60 Redshank roosted on the pontoons of  Whitehall Landing (or Alcatraz, as it is known to everyone hereabouts, thanks to its 5 barrack-like floors and its 40 foot high brick walls, which ensure that none of the houses behind it can ever see the River Esk again).

My pond is almost full of pondweed, since it seems to have kept growing almost all winter. This is possibly the last chance to clear out the weed before the Frogs and Toads arrive to spawn, so I did.

At the top of the wood a fine big Mistle Thrush sang his heart out in the teeth of a  strong and nithering Northerly. “Storm Cock” is the traditional name for this big, grey thrush, as no other bird is daft enough to sing in such conditions!

25 Feb 2006    A better morning, so we completed the concreting just before the rain began again.

The Nuthatch called from the wood all morning and a Woodmouse bounced back and forth to and from the feeding station all afternoon. It must be spring.

23 Feb 2006    Cold and wet and miserable weather. If only it was a few degrees colder, it would be a bit less damp. Not a good day for mixing concrete, but BL still managed to put up the wooden rails around the new platform.

22 Feb 2006    Mixed concrete for BL to cap the new platform linking the front door of Groves Dyke with the new utility room. Got about ⅔ completed before abandoning him to get to a meeting in Whitby.

In Bank orchard there is a small drift of Snowdrops, over a dozen Primroses in flower and 2, yes 2, little ‘wild’ Daffs with unopened yellow flowers. The leaves of the Twigwam Willows are now out, but still I can’t prune it back into shape until the dinky digger has been to clean out the ditch where the cut Willow rods are going to be planted…

19 Feb 2006    A bracing (very bracing) walk on top of Danby Moor, along the old stage coach road. Four Lapwings were seen flying past, but not displaying. A single Red Grouse flew off silently, but a Skylark was singing manfully in a brisk northerly wind.

This afternoon, once the ice had melted, a Frog walked slowly and unsteadily across the lawn towards the pond.

18 Feb 2006    Took a nice walk alongside the river between Whitby and Ruswarp, past the old gasworks and, eventually, along the old monks’ trod. Very peaceful and  pleasant

14 Feb 2006    The builder’s wagon just managed to get under the Apple trees (while I pushed up the down curved branches with a brush) and up the drive, to drop three 1 tonne dumpy bags of sharp sand, gravel and hardcore, as well as a pallet full of brick, blocks, cement and blunt sand. Most of this is required for the new steps and platform to link Groves Dyke conservatory to the new utility room.

Dry today, but everything is still too wet (1 inch of rain so far this month) to attempt the bonfire again. I took Flag on the beach at Sandsend, where quite a lot of other people had much the same idea. Flag enjoyed the company and also decided it was time to lie down in the North Sea – not once, not twice but three times! Well, it is mid-February, after all, it’s probably starting to warm up again…

13 Feb 2006    The rain has stopped and the fire risk must be minimal by now, so I tried to light the bonfire – and failed. I tried the easy way (lots of cardboard), I tried the hard way (micro wigwam of tiny twigs) and I even tried cheating (gas fired weed wand) – but it just plain refused to take light. I struggled for a couple of hours and still it refused to go. I went on struggling until time ran out and still it just smoked feebly and then gave up. So did I.

11 Feb 2006    Dry today, but muddy and slippery underfoot. SA kindly joined me for a final day’s hedge-laying and together we slithered out way to the end of Bank Orchard. By afternoon it was actually sunny and we completed the hedge before the rain returned in late afternoon. Now there is just one last, major bonfire needed to clear the site and all will be back to normal again in good time for the annual show of ‘wild’ Daffodils below the fruit trees.

BL has also been busy over the last few days. Working in all weathers, he has managed to remove the door and doorframe from the new Utility Room, rotate and replace the doorframe and re-hang the door so that it now opens outwards. Wonderful! It makes the room so much bigger and also makes loading the washing machine or tumble dryer so much easier than before. So much progress!!

10 Feb 2006    More snow! Heavy snow! So heavy that the office rang to say “Don’t even try driving to Goathland just yet…” After an hour it had eased and I got there ok, but the snow continued for much of the day, falling just a little bit faster than it melted away. By late afternoon there was over an inch of snow to scrape off the car windscreen and on returning to Sleights I found there was no snow at all but it had been sleeting all day, with over ½ an inch of water in the rain gauge.

Changing the dressing on the back of my wounded finger this evening I discovered something more solid than a scab. Exploring it gingerly (and very reluctantly) with tweezers I suddenly found myself removing a massive thorn just over ½ an inch long (yes, that’s a whole 12 mm). So proud and impressed was I that (when I had recovered from the queasy shock) I mounted the offending specimen on a card with full details of time, place, species, size, etc. Well, it makes a change from hanging stuffed fish or the heads of shot quarry on the wall! All I need now is a very, very small display case…

9 Feb 2006    It’s snowing! Nobody mentioned snow in last night’s weather forecast, but at least it melted away almost as fast as it landed.

8 Feb 2006    A little bit of overnight rain damped everything down and I decided to risk a one-and-a-half-handed bonfire of the lop and top from the hedging. It was a fine dry day, the fingers had begun to bend, the fire went well and and another few yards of hedge was prepared for laying. Very satisfying.

6 Feb 2006    Isn’t it amazing how little you can do when all the fingers of one hand refuse to bend anymore? Everything from squeezing out toothpaste to tying shoelaces – and several things in between (no, don’t ask). I decided it was rather too minor an injury to bother the Minor Injury Unit at Whitby Hospital with – and besides, they would only want to start digging to see if there was anything still in there. The compromise was to ask the pharmacist at Boots the Chemist for advice: put magnesium sulphate ointment on it and keep it covered. A much better course of action than digging!

5 Feb 2006    An easy morning of one-handed tidying up: stakes were trimmed to an even height and a heathering (‘rope’) of twisted Hazel rods now links the stake tops  together and holds the pleachers (‘partly cut stems laid at an angle’) in place.

All this dry weather has finally made the the muddy path around the wood inviting again, but has also increased the fire risk, so I won’t light the new bonfire by the hedging site until it rains. More Snowdrops are now out in both orchards, the Daffodil stems are now c6 inches tall (but still in bud) and the Great Tit song is almost incessant.

4 Feb 2006    Another full day of digging holes / hedge-laying, with excellent progress until one of us put a thorn into the back of his finger. No, it was only a Hawthorn (thank goodness) and Yes, I had been wearing my leather gauntlets (but stupidly took them off to do something else a few minutes earlier). Luckily, the hole digging continued uninterrupted…

1 Feb 2006    Overcast and cold, but I continued preparing the next section of hedge – includes the big dead Elm tree which fell across the hedge and onto the orchard some 10 years ago. Most was removed at the time but the main trunk still lies across the hedge line and I think it will be easier to incorporate it into the laying process, than try to remove it.

Eight Long-tailed Tit discovered the homemade peanut fat cake (grate peanuts with a rotary cheese grater, add to melted lard, mix & pour into plastic soup carton to set in fridge. Warm carton under hot tap to remove your very own peanut fat cake and hang in a net). This is almost as acceptable to the birds and a mite cheaper than buying them at almost £5 a time – especially when the rotten little beasts eat them at the rate of 1 per week!

January Weather Summary:

Total Rainfall: 30mm (1⅜ inches).

Temperatures: Max: 11ºC (52ºF); Min: -4ºC (25ºF);

Actual temperature at 0930 on 1 Feb 2006: -1ºC (30ºF).

The snow was almost all melted by the start of the month, but the melted snow left the ground very wet and muddy. This was made worse by over a week of cold, grey, sunless days with occasional showers. By mid-month a high pressure system was in control with several sunny days and frosty nights, deteriorating again into grey, cloudy, sunless weather.

30 Jan 2006    After 2 days of strenuous hedging (me) and 2 days of even more strenuous digging (Flag), I thought we both deserved a day off, so once the gas man had been-eth to fit the new meter (start reading: 99998.95) we went for a cold but sunny stroll on the beach at Sandsend.  Followed by a swim (me, indoors, of course) and a sleep (Flag). All in all, a very enjoyable 3 days.

NB: Did you know that ‘British Gas’ (as was) is now 75% owned by China and that we now get most of our gas from Russia – good thing we won the Cold War, then, eh? At least our strategic energy supplies are in safe hands…

29 Jan 2006    I did the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this morning from my conservatory. In the hour I saw: Blackbird 4, Blue Tit 3, Chaffinch 3, Coal Tit 2, Dunnock 1, Great Tit 3, Long-tailed Tit 2, Marsh Tit 1, Robin 2, Sparrow Hawk 1, Woodpigeon 2… not to mention 1 Grey Squirrel (Tree Rat!) and 2 Bank Voles.

The rest of the morning (and part of the afternoon) was spent sorting out yesterday’s produce: a bonfire for the lop and top while sorting out the better stuff for firewood.

28 Jan 2006    With invaluable help from NW, who wanted some hedging tuition, some real progress was made on laying lots more of the gappy hedge in Bank Orchard. This involved removing much of a biggish Hawthorn, so that the one remaining layable Hawthorn stem could be lowered gently into position – which itself involved the removal of much of a coppiced Hazel. At the end of a very successful day’s work there was another 20 yards of laid hedge and a big pile of lop and top, with a fair amount of potential firewood to deal with later…

26 Jan 2006    Continued hedge-laying the very gappy hedge above bank orchard which, if the truth be told, is really more gap than hedge…

25 Jan 2006    With invaluable help from next door, a gutter was added to the roof of the pole barn, which will now keep the firewood even drier than before. Also today I received my nice ‘new’ aluminium framed rucksack (bought on eBay for £10), which will make carrying firelogs down from the wood much easier than before – especially on my aching elbows! A good investment, I think.

23 Jan 2006    No sun today, just grey skies and a cold wind. Collected the 2 Walnut trees and the Pear tree (no, no Partridge – sorry) from Rogers Nursery in Pickering and by lunchtime the Walnuts were planted at Aislaby. My car told me that the temperature was 0ºC up there, so it was only just suitable planting weather for bare-rooted young trees.

The Conference Pear was added to the collection of traditional fruit trees in Bank Orchard after lunch, where the temperature was a whole degree or two higher and the first Snowdrop and the first Primrose are now in flower.

22 Jan 2006    Still bright, dry and sunny, but a bit cooler today. The Kestrel and the Sparrowhawk argued over who should sun themselves at the top of the leaning Ash and, after a bit of an aerial dogfight, the Kestrel won. A 15-minute count from my conservatory produced: Blackbird 2, Blue Tit 5, Carrion Crow 1, Chaffinch 3, Coal Tit 1, Dunnock 1, Great Tit 1, Kestrel 1, Long Tailed Tit 2, Robin 1, Sparrowhawk 1, Wood Pigeon 1. (2/8 cloud cover, wind Force 2 Easterly).

A less energetic day of snipping brambles alongside the path in the wood, as well as trimming back the Rose Hip (now that the actual hips have been eaten) by the viewpoint at the top of the wood. No point in letting the ‘viewpoint’ deteriorate into a mere ‘point’! Then a scramble down the Brambled-over ride under the electricity wires, only to discover that the electricity company’s forestry team have been and gone (without warning) and felled the self-sown Ash trees which had appeared amongst the Brambles. That is no problem, but if I had known they had been, then I would have rescued the fallen trees for firewood before they lay on the damp ground for weeks on end. Never mind, all I have to do now is trim them up, drag them out, sawn them into cord lengths and stack them – for a bit longer to dry out than otherwise.

21 Jan 2006    Today, for the first time in a long time, it is bright, calm, dry, warm and sunny – and a perfectly wonderful day to spend out of doors. Just perfect for lighting the bonfire of lop and top from the fallen Apple tree in Bank Orchard, which burnt relatively easily and was all gone by lunchtime.

Lunch was taken out of doors as well, sitting on the patio, basking in the sun and enjoying a bowl of hot soup in vest and shirt (plus trousers and socks, of course!). Me, that is. Not the soup.

After lunch I lit the other bonfire of branches and brambles, removed from the ditch behind the pole barn. It burnt easily as well and was dying down nicely by 4.30pm, when it began to get dark and 8 Bullfinches flew into the Hawthorn scrub to roost. Then I went back indoors at the end of a very satisfactory day – unless, of course, you are a very ill young Northern Bottle Nosed Whale lost in the River Thames. The drama in the Thames continued to unfold before the TV eyes of millions, until the inevitable happened and it died of natural causes in mid-rescue.

Still, perhaps that huge level of public interest in the welfare of one small and misplaced whale in London will provoke our Thames-side parliament into putting even more pressure on Norway (which continues to kill Minke whales for so called ‘scientific’ purposes) and Japan (which is increasing its annual whale catch and flouts the International Whale Sanctuary around Antarctica on a daily basis). Perhaps…

Visit the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society for more details: www.wdcs.org.uk

19 Jan 2006    That bloody annoying person who keeps appearing on TV to tell us all that ‘Tax doesn’t have to be taxing’ has been much in evidence recently, as the annual tax deadline approaches. I certainly found it very difficult this morning to get all the relevant Groves Dyke Holiday Cottage dockets together for my accountant. Even my accountant says that he finds it taxing, so why does the government insist on wasting even more of our taxes on ads which try to convince us that it isn’t really taxing at all? Perhaps, if you are the sort of genius who appears on Mastermind (as Alan Hart-Davies does), it isn’t taxing – but for lesser mortals like me, it is one of the very worst jobs of the year.

17 Jan 2006    A sunny morning for a stroll on the beach at Sandsend, where Flag managed not to disturb a high tide roost of 39 Oystercatchers which flew past and then piped themselves ashore at East Row Beck.

16 Jan 2006    Grey and grisly weather again this morning and the whole path around the wood is slutch and glar (ie very, very muddy underfoot), so off to Roger’s Plant Nursery at Pickering to order one of their very own young Conference Pear trees for the gap in Bank Orchard. Not to mention a couple of their young Walnut trees for friends at Aislaby, as replacements for the big one blown down in the January storm last year.

A damp stroll around Thornton-le-Dale village on the way back produced not a single Dipper in the beck alongside the main road. But there were a few Mallard and a pair of Canada Geese on the pond by the car park.

15 Jan 2006    With the nice new bow saw blades I bought yesterday I dropped another Silver Birch – ah, so much easier than the last one! Both are now sawn into cord lengths and stacked onsite to dry. I wasn’t the only one sawing in the wood today, as a Great Tit kept me company with its sawyer ‘song’.

14 Jan 2006    The dry weather continues, with only ½ an inch of rain so far this month, so I strimmed Wasp Nest Corner at the far end of Bank Orchard. This was the site of the great Wasp Nest Strimming Incident of several years ago, so now I tend to strim it only in mid-winter! Mind you, I was half expecting the odd wasp, as there was a small swarm of midges dancing over the beck this morning and the first green Daffodil shoots are just appearing in Dyke Orchard.

10 Jan 2005    Sun! It was there all the time, apparently, but this is the first sighting I can remember since just before New Year. The low cloud cover has gone, the sky is blue, the ground is already drying and the temperature has risen by 10º F since yesterday and is now in the mid 40s instead of the mid 30s. The Kestrel sunned itself on the very top of the leaning Ash and a noisy Nuthatch called from further up the wood.

Altogether a much nicer world, so I spent the morning in the wood and dropped one of the self-sown Silver Birch next to the Major Oak. It was one of the biggest, but with a butt diameter of about 8 inches, still only cordwood. There is one other of a similar size in the group, which I also plan to fell. This will leave the triple stemmed original to continue to provide seed, as well as another 20 smaller trees of assorted sizes. These will be dropped one by one for firewood as they reach a suitable size over the next few years and meanwhile the stumps will send up young shoots to single and coppice for years to come…

8 Jan 2006    Stickery doors stuck! All this damp, miserable weather has made the double doors swell so much that I just couldn’t open them today!

7 Jan 2006    Good – the new page has arrived at last. That’s because the ground is still sodden, the temperature is a couple of degrees above freezing, the sky is grey, the air is damp, everything is muddy and the rain gauge has already had almost ½ an inch of rain – ugh. So it’s an ideal day to catch up with all those indoor jobs, like this one.

Stories of the recent snow are now being passed around the dale. It got down to -15ºC at Egton Bridge (a well known frost hollow). Goathland, Danby and other ‘high altitude’ parts of the moor had a foot of level snow and many minor roads were neither snowploughed nor gritted for several days. The RAF Air Sea Rescue helicopter was required on at least two occasions, to airlift patients from places inaccessible to the normal ambulances and in weather conditions too severe for the Air Ambulance to fly. Who says we don’t need a full Casualty Department in Whitby Hospital nor proper ‘out of hours’ GP cover? Answer: Scarborough Primary Care Trust, of course!

Closer to Sleights, the story is still being told of the young man who tried to turn his car around when it couldn’t climb an un-cleared road, but got it stuck broadside when he backed too far into a snowdrift. Well prepared (he thought), he took out his shovel and dug the snow away from his back wheels, got in, revved the engine, front wheels spinning (just polishing the snow into ice) and still going nowhere. So he got out again, shovelled more snow away from his back wheels, got back in again, gave it full revs again, front wheels spinning again, but still going nowhere. It was only when my friend pointed out to him that he appeared to be driving a front wheel drive car, so perhaps he should clear the snow away from his front wheels, instead…!

Ah yes, sad but true. There just hasn’t been a proper winter for so long (isn’t Climate Change wonderful?) that young folk today just don’t know what to do with a bit of cold weather.

5 Jan 2006    Yes, you’re right! It’s now 2006 and I should have started a new page – but I’ve been too busy dismantling that big apple tree. It is now in 3 parts: a large heap of small branches for a bonfire, a medium heap of medium sized branches for seasoning into firelogs, and the big stick waiting for somebody with a chainsaw…

4 Jan 2006    An unexpected trip to Danby church to say goodbye to Jean D. The old church is set in the centre of this magnificent dale, some distance from the village. So now her situation is reversed and the dale, with its hedge backs still veined in snow, is taking care of her. What a peaceful place to lie.

3 Jan 2006    Well, Bing – it wasn’t a white Christmas, but it was a fairly white New Year. Now the snow has just about disappeared, leaving the ground wet, muddy and very slippery.