News Blog 2008

December 2008 Weather Summary.     Precipitation 75mm (2⅞ inch). Temperatures: Maximum 11°C (53°F), Minimum -4°C (24°F). Actual today 2°C (35°F). What a variable month! First snow, then thaw, then rain and floods, then (with the Met Office predicting that it would be one of the coldest Decembers for many a year) high pressure and fine sunny weather, followed by cooler and cloudier weather. How many seasons in one month is that?

31 Dec 08    SA and I laid another 6 yards of Bank Orchard hedge before I had to go. Returning later with BC, we all used the 2-wo/man saw to cut more of the West Cord and stack it in the woodshed, as well as some of the big Ash limbs and recently felled Elm. These are both ready to burn and will give a far hotter fire as the colder weather arrives in just over a week.

30 Dec 08    Overcast again today, but it still hasn’t rained for about 2 weeks so this will be as dry as the ground is likely to get for the next several months – so I strimmed the last bit of Bank Orchard (where the Wasp’s nest is). Just before completing the job the strimmer ran out of fuel (fossil) and so did I (non-fossil), but it’s almost done, apart from a few square yards and the bonfire site (which will ever so clear once it has burned away).

Must remember to tire Flag out tomorrow, ready for the National Night of the Terrified Pets. Again.

29 Dec 08    Life is almost back to normal, just in time to go haywire again over New Year. Never mind, it only happens twice a year. Natural highlights of the past week include: No rain; calm weather; 13 Long Tailed Tit on the feeding station all at the same time (previous record was 16), 2 Sparrowhawks having a mid air dog fight when one swooped on the feeding station and was promptly seen off (presumably, by the resident bird). Lower lights include dragging some of the cut Juniper from the bottom of the garden to the top of the woodyard, and sawing up bits of the cut Elm and adding them to the wood burning stove to keep the sharp frosts at bay (and very successfully, too).

23 Dec 08    Almost as nice today as yesterday. Christmas is fast approaching, but almost everything is now almost done, and almost in time, too.

So a very happy Christmas and (hopefully) a prosperous New Year to all my readers, especially the Groves Dyke Holiday Cottage regulars, with a special mention to the ABB family and also to K & B SAN (who liked Sleights so much on all their visits that they are moving here permanently in a few months)!

22 Dec 08    If yesterday was the shortest day of the year, then it was also a very pleasant, dry, sunny and mild one. Even my car said it was over 10 degrees C, in complete contrast to the snow, frost and floods earlier this month. What a very odd December when, even on the shortest day, the solar panels are providing free hot water and you can dry a whole load of laundry on the line in the orchard.

I took Flag for a lovely stroll through the woods at Grosmont, where we met another couple of dog walkers with their dogs, and all three (dogs)  exercised each other by rushing around and around, until Flag got so hot that he lay in the River Esk to cool down. Never mind, the days are getting longer now…

20 Dec 08    SA carried on with the tidy up from the felled Cherry tree in Groves Dyke garden (‘Isn’t it a lot lighter inside the house now!’ a visitor exclaimed) and after lunch BC & I join in for a very pleasant afternoon of sawing and stacking cordwood from the west cord into the woodshed.

www.VisitWhitby.com was successfully launched this afternoon. May God bless her and all who sail in her. And now I am having a few days off, during which all computing is banned!

18 Dec 08    The new website SB and I have been working on for months is due to  launched tomorrow sometime, replacing the original Whitby and District Tourism Association’s site at www.visitwhitby.com – but remember to click ‘Refresh’ on your browser to locate the new site.

17 Dec 08    SA spent the morning moving, sorting, carrying and stacking the lop and top from the Cherry tree felled in the front garden.

After lunch AD and I join in and we all planted a couple of young Apple trees in Groves Bank orchard. The Dogs Snout went in just west of the Burnt Apple Tree hollow, while the Cockpit Improved (both traditional Yorkshire varieties from Roger’s Nurseries in Pickering) is just east of the big Holly near the top of slope. It was a fine, sunny day and we celebrated afterwards in the conservatory with AD’s homemade mince pies.

15 Dec 08    A fine, dry, sunny day again – lovely. Isn’t it nice when the rain stops? SA and I carried the medium sized lumps of felled Cherry tree from Groves Dyke lawn and stacked them around the pole barn, for a rainy day. Then we used two steel wedges and a sledge hammer (wedge and sledge) to split the big lumps into halves or even quarters to make them small enough to carry. After that we spent ages searching for one wedge which had been dropped onto the leaf strewn ground, but so well camouflaged was it that SA had to fetch a metal rake and rake the entire area to find it. Moral: always put the implements down within a small and well defined area to save time.

While I went off to another meeting, SA walked the wood and cleared the blocked ditch we dug last winter to save the East Hazel Coppice from flooding.

13 Dec 08    Suddenly its milder, as a warm front crosses the country with heavy, heavy rain most of last night and all of today. A day of checking the beck, the drains and the gully traps. The half pipes we put in the ditch are all flowing at full capacity… can a half pipe flow at full capacity? A full pipe can certainly flow at half capacity, but then again…

By late afternoon the heavy rain eased a little and Flag and I were ready for a little stroll on the harbour side at Whitby Marina. As the snow on the moortops has now melted, the road to Ruswarp was just flooding and Ruswarp weir itself was almost indiscernible as the flooded river rushed straight across where the step used to be. Whitby harbour was looking very, very full and high tide is due about teatime today – with this month’s full moon closer in its orbit than it has been for 30 (?) years. Good thing the strong wind which brought this milder weather is offshore…

12 Dec 08    Another hard frost this morning, so we decided to drop a tree while the ground was so firm. This morning SA prepared the young, self-sown Cherry in the front garden of Groves Dyke, where it has reached the stage of shading the lawn (making it too damp and mossy), shading the hedge (making it thin and gappy) and restricting the distant views of Eskdaleside and Sleights Moor (making it hig time it was felled)! Joined by BC and me, he felled it neatly across the lawn and then trimmed it up and cut the big stick into manageable lumps for us to carry to the pole barn or stack near the gate. Not bad going to get it down, trimmed-up and sorted ready for carrying away, all within an hour and a half.

At 3 o’clocks ten Long Tailed Tit clustered on the feeding station just outside the conservatory, while we clustered within. Yesterday a Grey Wagtail danced across the opaque roof before trotting across the icy pond.

10 Dec 08    SA continued sawing and stacking from the West Cord. After lunch BC and I were also joined by RD, Ranger for the newest and most northerly Ash wood in the British Isles. His Ash wood is very recent, entirely self-sown from a scattering of specimen Ash trees in a large estate in furthest North West Scotland, and he puts its sudden appearance (for the first time in 10,000 years) down to climate change. Another area of the estate is threatened by 15 hectares (35 acres?) of rampaging Rhododendron ponticum (planted as shelter in Victorian times). Fear not, the estate is now getting a charcoal maker’s mobile kiln to make charcoal from the Rhody as it is cut back, to sell to visitors, to raise money, to save the rest of the woodland. Excellent!

Having brought his wellies on holiday with him, we all used the pole saw, a rope and (eventually) a Renault Clio to take down the other branch of the young Elm tree killed by Dutch Elm Disease – a disease imported by the Royal Navy in the 1970 / 80s when it brought Elm logs from Canada (complete with the Elm bark, the Elm Bark Beetle and the more virulent form of the endemic ‘Dutch’ Elm Disease) to re-line its dry docks at Portsmouth. Well done MoD!

By the time we had finished, another wintry shower drove us into the conservatory for well earned coffee and Chelsea Buns. On my way to an evening meeting, a Frog hopped rapidly across the Carrs road – in December!?

08 Dec 08    Yesterday most of the snow had gone, at least from the dales. Three Roe Deer scampered away from the top of the wood, so close that I was almost tempted to leap the barbed wire fence myself and try to grab one. Flag bounced about half-heartedly, but decided against leaving the wood in hot pursuit.

Today SA & BC continued to saw and stack firelogs from the West Cord. After lunch we all took down another well-seasoned branch from the dead young Elm tree at the bottom of Groves Dyke garden, sawed it into firelogs and stacked it in the pole barn.

06 Dec 08    SA moved the last of the 2-year seasoned wood from the lower woodshed to the upper, thus making room to start sawing and stacking the West Cord into firelogs. After lunch SA and I swithered about either continuing the hedge-laying or driving up to Aislaby to admire a small herd of chainsawn Deer. We settled for the hedge-laying, but it was so wet and slippery in the wintry showers that we only succeeded in sliding down the steep bank while hanging onto a partly-laid pleacher – and snapping it off completely. So we stopped, drove to Aislaby & admired the herd of deer, as well as all the extra loft insulation that was going in up there.

I also learned why the moor roads a re so frequently blocked by buses when it shows. It seems that the local bus firms with the contracts for the school runs have to try to get the kids to school / college, no matter how bad the weather is. If they don’t try, then they don’t get paid. So when they do try in almost impossible conditions, skid, slide across the road and half into a ditch and block the whole road for the next several hours to all traffic, then they can show that they tried, it really was impossible – but then they will get paid. Great! Well done to the Contracts Manager of the School Bus Section of the Education Department of North Yorkshire County Council. I’ve no doubt the same rules apply throughout the country, including your local education authority as well.

04 Dec 08    The forecast snow did arrive early this morning and it’s been snowing / sleeting all morning and much of this afternoon as well. Even so, the total snow cover around the house is still only about 1 inch, as it seems to be melting almost as fast as it falls. I wish the temperature would either go up, or down, by a couple of degrees as this continuous sleeting / thawing routine is neither use nor ornament. Flag isn’t impressed either and our outdoor excursions were mainly to check the drains and drag out clumps of soggy leaves swept downstream by the snow melt.

In my absence, BC and ID and (mainly) SA have been busy laying the hedge along the top of Bank Orchard. Half the length is already done, with very useful stacks of Ash, Hazel and Sycamore cordwood created (and now part of the East Cord). Another 50 yards to go, a couple of bonfires, and then we can move on to a bit of tree thinning…

I see www.whitbygazette.co.uk sez that a dozen local schools are closed today because of the snow.

03 Dec 08    Today (or was it yesterday?) T&C and I drove up the coast to Staithes and had a very nice lunch at the Cod and Lobster pub overlooking the harbour, before driving from Dalehouse to Scaling along Ridge Lane (admiring the impenetrable Oak and Hazel woodland on the steep slopes either side, as we went. Pity its impenetrable – it looks quite interesting). A pause at Scaling Dam (not much birdlife daft enough to be out on such a miserable day, only us), before taking a close look at the wonderful new metal sculpture of a working wood or gas fuelled beacon on the very top of Danby Beacon. Yes, it IS visible from a long way – and all the better for it, too, thank-you.

A grand tour of Little Fryup Dale was followed by another of Great Fryup Dale, then up through Street and onto the moortop to look for Short Eared Owls en route to Glaisdale. Total SEOs seen? Less than 10. In fact, a lot less than 10. Actually, 10 less than 10…

Nice birds which we did see over the last few days included a Great Spotted Woodpecker from the Groves Bank kitchen window, c250 Golden Plover loafing in the field between the Whitby Abbey Headland car park and the cliff, and T (EEJ) also saw a Stonechat perched at the top of Blue Bank.

November 2008 Weather Summary.     Precipitation 100mm (3⅝ inch). Temperatures: Maximum 14°C (56°F), Minimum -4°C (24°F). Actual today 2°C (34°F). Interesting to note that the actual temperature at 09.30 hours this month is a full 16°C less than last month! A cool grey start was replaced with some fine, dry & sunny autumn weather and the month then ended with a bit of snow.

30 Nov     T&C from Merseyside came to stay for a few days and today I introduced them to the joys of Falling Foss and its Tea Gardens, which were as good as ever (now open weekends only for the winter season). Then I took them to the Hermitage, having told them: You won’t need your wellies – and I was wrong. You won’t need your coats, I told them – and I was wrong again. Since I was last here a few weeks ago, almost all the leaves have fallen and the path to the Hermitage is now part path, part stream and part bog. But mostly bog. The other major change is that the lack of leaves means that the waterfall and the little beck is now far more visible from many other surprise points along the path. Then a nice drive around Littlebeck and back home for mull wine (or something like that).

28 Nov 08    I’m just back from a lovely week in (in?) the Lakes. It seems we had a bit of snow while I was away, according to the Whitby Gazette (www.whitbygazette.com) and I’ll catch up with what the Bank Vols have been doing when I walk Flag around tomorrow, not to mention when I see them next week.

19 Nov 08    SA has cleared all the Brambles from the landing area for the 2 Wild Cherry trees due to come down this winter (to prevent crowding-out the neighbouring Oak). He has also started on the Juniper which overhangs and now obstructs the garden path and BC helped him complete the path-clearing by removing some branches and propping up the remaining ones with the Sycamore and Ash props we saved from last winter’s coppicing.

18 Nov 08    Just back from a quick dash to South Wales for a family wedding. Fine dry sunny weather, but cold at night. Still, it is November!

12 Nov 08    High pressure returned overnight, the barometer is well up and the sun shone on a calm, dry day. SA completed his work on redundant deer and after lunch BC and I joined in with the burning of the giant bonfire in the woodyard, plus the two other heaps stacked nearby. After all that rain, the ground is wet and soggy, and the fire risk is very very low.

Having stopped the water flowing into my pond yesterday, the leak has stopped with the level just down about 4 inches. That narrows down the likely area to be searched for a tear in the liner, so now all I have to do is find it and patch it…

10 Nov 08    A wild and windy day. It said it was mostly Southerly, but it felt like it had been around a few Northern corners on its way. SA removed redundant deer guards (poor deer, never mind, they may find other work) from around the not so young trees and shrubs in Groves Dyke garden and later we concluded that my pond had a leak, judging by the damp patch on my otherwise dry patio.

08 Nov 08    The fine, dry & sunny weather continues, so Flag & I went off to Falling Foss for a lovely autumnal stroll through the autumn gold of the beech wood to the Hermitage. Suitably inspired by this cathedral of trees and the bright sunlight shining through the stained glass canopy of leaves, we created a very minor tribute to Andy Goldsworthy, before returning via the now most impressive waterfall to the tea garden. Once snug inside the yurt, it was bacon butty & hot chocolate for lunch (with complimentary mini dog biscuits for Flag – nice touch!) and the sad news that the cafe will open weekends only during the winter.

On the way home a flock of c20 Fieldfare, my first this winter, flew off from a roadside tree.

07 Nov 08    A later start at Danby began with a bit of drizzly hedge-laying but, as the good Met Office said it would, the rain stopped at 11am and by noon the sun was shining – for the first time in days. Wonderful! Now we are able to raise our eyes to the distant horizon, it was possible to see the new, all metal Danby Beacon (a working sculpture) standing at the top of Danby Beacon, just as it should be. Well done to all concerned!

SA & I were soon joined by N and by 2.30pm the last of the hedge was done and nearly dusted. There will still be some gaps to plant up with Hawthorn quicks in the spring, but otherwise, the job’s a good’un.

06 Nov 08    In Washington, armed security staff prevented a man from climbing over the White House railings early this morning, saying ‘We’re sorry Mr President, but you can’t leave just yet.’

05 Nov 08    Damp and drizzley, gray and grizzley, mild and mizzley, wet and miserable weather again today. SA carried some logs to the top of the steps and (very sensibly) left them there as it was too slippery to try carrying them down to the woodyard, then sorted out the donated tangle of charlie band (binder twine) and finished early.

I went to the AGM of the Captain Cook Association, now cast adrift by the local authorities which used to finance it, and admired its excellent new website www.captaincook.org.uk   

This evening is national Terrify the Pets Night, also known as Flag’s annual kitten night, when lots of little dears have lots of fun – and lots of little pets are absolutely terrified for hour after hour. Now that we have stopped burning people at the stake for having the wrong religion, why do we still give children explosives every year – and then get upset when some of them become terrorists?

03 Nov 08    SA and I sawed and stacked the Hazel onto the East Cord, until the heap of stems had gone, the woodyard reappeared and the extension to the East Cord was quarter full.

A local student has started an on-line petition to 10 Downing Street, asking the Prime Minister to reopen the Pickering to Malton railway line (thanks a bunch, Dr Beeching). This would restore a direct rail link from York (a major hub on the east coast main line and home of the National Railway Museum) to Whitby (the nation’s favourite seaside resort in the heart of the 3rd most visited National Park in the UK), replacing miles of traffic jams with an energy efficient rail transport system for visitors and residents alike and providing a goods train link from Dalby Forest to the wood fired national grid power station at Teesmouth (reducing timber lorries crawling up and over the moors every day – and back). Please sign this petition online, and pass this link on to as many friends, relations and others as possible:

http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/malton-pickering/#detail

02 Nov 08    Off to Howsham Mill (Yorkshire’s finalist in the BBC tv’s ‘Restoration’ programme) near Malton, with the Esk Valley Energy Group to see a small scale, local, community, working hydro-electric power station. See www.howshammill.org.uk for all the details. This 24 kilowatt, fish friendly Archimedes Screw is the type best suited to large volume / low head sites like we have on the River Esk. There are plans for another bigger model to be sited alongside, but the most interesting thing was that the new, metal waterwheel in Howsham Mill has also been restored and it looks better, sounds better, would be much more acceptable visually – and it generates 17 kilowatts…

October 2008 Weather Summary.     Precipitation 57mm (2¼ inch). Temperatures: Maximum 18°C (66°F), Minimum -4°C (24°F). Actual today 18°C (66°F). The long awaited ‘summer’ finally arrived in October, with a classic Indian Summer of high pressure, calm, dry sunny weather day after day and week after week.

31 Oct 08    A Works Outing for the Bank Vols today, to a farm on the moor edge above Danby where we laid about 10 yards of very brittle old Hawthorn. SA & N had already prepared the site, which included taking down the small Sycamores which shade the traditional kitchen garden just behind the old farmhouse. Here, with help from BC and me, SA created a short length of Quantock-style laid hedge (with the wedge removed from the uphill side and each stem then laid into it, to seal the resulting bird’s mouth), which must be the only example of Quantock-style hedge in the whole of North Yorkshire. Then a gap which we planted-up with young Hawthorn quicks (hence the alternative name of Quickthorn), and another few yards of traditional-style hedge laying.

Wintery showers came and went during the day, only one of them bad enough to warrant sheltering in the shearing shed nearby. As we admired the fleeces, N explained the difference between the ‘good’ fleeces (each worth about 75p) from about 40 Blue Leicester crosses, and the couple of hundred ‘average’ fleeces, each worth a bit less than 35p this year. Thus 180 average fleeces will fetch about £63 and the good ones will fetch about £30, a grand total of £93 gross for a year’s worth of daily work and two very hectic shearing days at 6 minutes per sheep, 10 sheep per hour, for 20 hours. So that is £93 for 20 hours’ work on just 2 days of the year, or £4.65p per hour – well under the National Minimum Wage. No wonder so many hill farmers were giving up sheep, but now that the world no longer has any food surpluses, sheep meat is fetching a slightly better price than last year and the remaining UK hill farmers continue to hang on in the hope of better times ahead. Since the moorland scenery of the North York Moors National Park depends on sheep farming, it could be quite important for both wildlife and tourism.

NB: Just to put that into perspective, Jonathon Ross, the disgraced celebrity presenter suspended yesterday from the BBC, gets £16,000 per day, which equals £18 million over his 3 year contract. Good, innit?

30 Oct 08    A fine, dry day for a full washing line, then off to Falling Foss with Flag for a lovely autumnal stroll through the woods to the Hermitage (carved out of one massive sandstone rock). After going inside (where there used to be a stone table within, until it had to be smashed years ago to get an inquisitive cow out!) and then clambering up on top to sit on the stone seat, we ended up at Midge Hall and Falling Foss Tea Garden – my new winter outdoor sticky bun cafe. Their Hallowe’en children’s quiz trail was proving popular with families, all helping to find the witch’s clothes which had been stolen by the midges and hidden in the trees. We know where her pointy hat is!

29 Oct 08    SA carried on working at the leggy Hawthorns just behind the woodyard bonfire site, while AD and I looked at Bank Orchard and worked out how best to prune and replant it. After lunch BC and I helped SA to dismantle the Hawthorns and separate them into bonfire material and hedge-laying stakes for our Danby hedging day later this week.

28 Oct 08    A clear night led to another frost, with the lawns still white by the time I was awake and aware. Then by lunchtime the fine, cool, dry, sunny morning suddenly gave way to squally showers from the North, including a good hail shower which rattled off the kitchen window, but soon melted away. I think winter has arrived.

27 Oct 08    The first frost of the winter last night, not that I knew until SA told me. While the local bird ringer and I were elsewhere doing something entirely different in a very cool Northerly wind, SA singled the final multi-stemmed Hazel in the East Cant. When BC arrived they both carried down every last bit of cut Hazel to the woodyard. By the time JMc and I returned, all the work had been done, all the evidence was in the woodyard ready for sawing and stacking, so we had to settle for a nice stroll around the wood instead, looking at possible nestbox sites for next year.

A 15-minute bird count from my conservatory produced: Coal Tit 3, Blackbird 2, Chaffinch 2, Great Tit 2, Longtailed Tit 2, Blue Tit 1, Marsh Tit 1, Nuthatch 1, Robin 1. (0920-0935 hours, 1/8 cloud, cool, dry and sunny, Force 3 Westerly).

26 Oct 08    Today could be the last of the clear, bright, mild, sunny weather – so I carried down, sawed and stacked several bits or recently cut Hazel.

25 Oct 08    Falling Foss Tea Garden re-opened 3 months ago and today Flag and I went to see for ourselves. From Ruswarp drive up to the moor edge at Red Gates and take the minor road beside (not through) the red gates, then down to the Forest Enterprise car park just above Falling Foss. We walked down the track through the woods, looking splendid in all their autumn colours, past the waterfall viewpoint, into the garden and said hello. We were made very welcome and I choose to sit outdoors because of the dog, so we enjoyed a very nice bacon butty and hot chocolate while cuddled up to the woodburner in the canvas yurt just above the waterfall. This must be the only yurt in a 50 mile radius and I’m very impressed by it all.

What a great discovery! Just 5 miles from Whitby with a warm welcome, child and dog friendly, in wonderful woodland scenery next to a spectacular waterfall and with endless walks in all directions – including to St Bee’s Head in Cumbria (185 miles away) and to Robin Hood’s Bay (5 miles), as it’s on the Coast to Coast National Trail! I once thought of living here at Midge Hall and opening a cafe, but the house was derelict then, with neither doors nor windows, and it was only a pipe dream. See the before and after photos (just click on the word Whitby once you’ve follow this link). Now that it has been fully restored as a family home and cafe, I wish the new hosts every success in their magical adventure. Their website is www.fallingfossteagarden.co.uk and they are open daily throughout the year. Customers can drive down the steep track, park and then just walk across the footbridge to the house and tea garden. There is even a bag of Pooh Sticks (with instructions, for those who are sadly too young to understand the original meaning of the word!) hanging by the footbridge. It just gets better and better!

24 Oct 08    SA carried on singling the East Coppice and after lunch BC and I joined in. By the time we had finished a very pleasant day, there is only one more Hazel tree to do and the East Hazel Coup will then be completely singled.

23 Oct 08    Yesterday SA singled more Hazels in the morning, was joined by BC for yet more after lunch, not to mention carrying, sawing and stacking the resulting cordwood. I, of course, was at yet another meeting. By the time that was over they had gone, so I took Flag for a nice walk and then settled down to prepare for my evening meeting, as Flag amused himself in the woodyard. He had vanished by the time I had to go, so I left the conservatory door propped open with the light & heater switched on, his supper and dog bed inside, and then just went to the meeting muttering ‘Bloody dog!’

 

He hadn’t reappeared by the time I got back, so I searched the wood and the surrounding fields and barbed wire fences by torchlight, then drove around all the local roads and villages, searching. Gave up eventually and I just sat up, hoping for a phone call and waiting with the back door open in case he came home unaided. It’s OK, it’s all part of our Canine Covenant: I won’t keep him tied up all day every day for the rest of his life ‘for his own good’, and in return he has a wonderful life as a happy-go-lucky care-free spirit able to follow every fascinating scent – until he finally comes to a sticky end. This arrangement suits us both. Most of the time.

 

Just before 1am there was a phone call from the neighbouring village of Aislaby to say a dog with my phone number on its collar was barking outside their holiday cottage. I drove the 2 miles up there but despite searching for half an hour I couldn’t locate the right cottage, so had to come back home again to 1471 the caller for better directions. By 2am I had found the unfortunate holidaymaker, exchanged Flag for a nice bottle of wine, and brought him back home to warm up again and settle down. Bed by 3am. The previous time he was found in that particular village, it was mid-winter, getting dark and just beginning to blizzard…

 

He is a bit stiff today and has had just a little walk and lots of sleep. Another lucky escape for this feline dog with 9 lives – Phew!

NB:

24 – 25 Oct at The Institute, Thornton le Dale from 10 to 4pm, our local wood-turner and wife will sell their beautiful craftwork to raise money for charity.

21 Oct 08    Some rain yesterday but dry overnight and today, so I let the grass dry off until lunchtime and then another 3 hours of strimming and Bank Orchard is now complete! Yippee! Apart from a narrow safety curtain of long grass alongside the main drive. And the far corner, but it tapers away to nothing, so it shouldn’t take too long… All hail to Mr Waller.

20 Oct 08    Mild, but cloudy, wet and very windy. After a prolonged 10 o’clocks, SA returned to singling the East Hazel Coppice / Coop / Cant, while I started trimming the creeper by Groves Dyke patio and then de-brambling the wildflower patch on the front lawn ready for strimming when the rain stops and everything dries out again. Discovered a very young Oak and a very young Ash, both self-sown in the long grass.

Joined by BC and after lunch we returned mob-handed to the East Cant and singled another 25 year old, but particularly complicated multi-stemmed Hazel. We identified which was the most vigorous, most vertical, least Grey Squirrel-damaged stem – and then set about removing all the other stems one by one, extracting the wrapped-around one first, to free an inner one which, once removed, would make another stem accessible, and so on. ALL except for the two, very straight, very vigorous, very young and very flexible rods which had sprung unbidden from the stool, as next spring these youngsters will be laid almost horizontally and pegged into the ground several paces away from the parent tree, to take root. Once rooted, their connection with the parent tree will be cut.

Thus as the old fade away, they are replaced by the young, which in turn will make the break and become independent individuals in their own right. Just as it was always meant to be.

19 Oct 08    Cooler, cloudier and windier, but still dry – so I spent the morning singling another Hazel stool while listening to a Jay, and the afternoon strimming more of Bank Orchard before any rain makes it far more difficult.

Since I only strim the orchards once a year, all the Brambles are a full year old and tough enough to cause the strimmer problems. The second cut, as recommended by the National Park ecologist, would have been in June – which is at the height of the hay fever season, so I ignore that. Perhaps a slightly later cut (July?) would still give time for the autumn seeding flowers to set seed, but then it would be high summer and possibly even hot. Not to mention any ground-nesting birds which might be disturbed or even destroyed.

17 Oct 08    Another fine day! SA continued singling the East Hazel Coppice. After lunch BC joined in and, later, so did I – until we all were driven out of the wood by the midges. The rest of the afternoon was spent sawing the newly felled Hazel into cordwood and stacking it on the East Cord.

15 Oct 08    More perfect strimming weather and the shaggy bit around the Stickery was strimmed for the first time since the flood (several years ago) and the resulting JCB work. There should be lots of grass and wildflower seeds on what was just bare clay a few years ago. Then I started the annual autumn strim of Bank Orchard, first another patch next to the Stickery, before clearing all the long grass around the Silt Pond and then starting on the path along the top of the orchard and down to the first Deerbolt. Four hours strimming per day is enough, thank-you – but then Grandma’s gardener, Mr Waller, used to cut the whole orchard, several times a year, with just an old fashioned traditional sythe. You’re a better man than I am, Gungadin!

During one afternoon refill, a Comma Butterfly flew past the patio, while a Frog croaked in my pond.

Question: What is the capital of Iceland?

Answer: About £3.27p…

14 Oct 08    The perfect strimming weather continues, so I did the path around the wood, all of the Woodyard and the rest of the lawns. Still, mild, dry, calm and sunny and the long grass falls easily.

13 Oct 08    Back to normal again, following a few day’s holiday in Scotland and a gathering of the Carson clan in Northern Ireland.

BC & SA have been busy, rolling the Captain’s Log to a better position, pollarding a pollarded Ash again after c 8 years, dropping the Hawthorn which was now too close to the relocated bonfire, sawing and stacking all the resulting branches onto the East Cord, which now looks very respectable, etc.

Today I cut most of the lawns, while SA continued work on the Hawthorn, removed the Elm stump from amongst the Heathers, etc. After lunch, and joined by BC, we all started to single the East Hazel Cant, reducing each stool to just one or two fairly vertical and vigorous stems, and also leaving as many long bendy rods as possible for layering in the spring to extend the total area of the cant. The lovely warm, dry, sunny weather continues, with more than a hint of autumn colour in the wood.

PS: Psst! Anybody want to buy a bank?

September 2008 Weather Summary.     Precipitation 90mm (3½ inch). Temperatures: Maximum 25°C (78°F), Minimum 8°C (46°F). Actual today 16°C (62°F).

29 Sep 08    Today is the last of the good weather, so SA and I freed-up the Captain’s Log and finished the new path within the SW Hazel Cant, as well as marking 4 more young Oaks discovered en route. All the Oaks in Groves Coppice now sport a red belt, making them very obvious and easy to avoid as we thin out some of their overbearing neighbours this winter.

27 Sep 08    Yesterday SA finished busting the jungle by removing a snagged Oak branch lodged in the Holly and sawing it into manageable lengths. That just leaves the Captain’s Log to deal with… I, meantime, was stuck in another probably pointless meeting where I reported back on the probably pointless meeting I had been stuck in yesterday, which I had confused with another probably pointless meeting of the same title which was promised in June, but nobody has actually got around to organising yet… Good thing it’s nothing urgent, like how best to spend our Council Tax, innit?

Today was yet another absolutely perfect Indian Summer day, with a lovely lunch at the River Gardens followed by a delightful afternoon of al fresco wine and good company.

25 Sep 08    A young Grey Wagtail lighted on the conservatory roof this morning, danced merrily over my head and then flew down to investigate the pond. Another couple of hours of grass cutting and everything is now back under control again.

Then off to sunny Scarborough to spend the afternoon in yet another ‘forum’ discussing Public Transport (or the lack of it). Of the hundreds of millions of extra cash recently announced by the government for ‘better public transport’, two thirds of it has already been allocated to London (where there is less than one third of the population). A goodly chunk of what was left was given to Scotland (where there are already state funded free bus passes) and much of the rest was given to the large municipal Passenger Transport Executives. Anything left over (about 5%?) must be for the 20% of the population of England who actually live in rural areas and have the least choice of transport options.

And just for the record, the Over 60s Free Bus Pass money has been distributed to the 291 District Councils in England, accordingly to the % of Over 60s in their population, and each District Council pays for any bus journey started on their patch. The only problem with this messy system being that not many Over 60s living in nice seaside resorts want to journey to not so nice inland areas, but lots and lots and lots of Over 60s from not so nice inland cities do want to visit the seaside! Thus all the coastal authorities are underfunded by (in our case) well over £1m, while the inland authorities are making a correspondingly large profit. Good innit?

On sunny days, the buses are full of happy pensioners heading for a free day by the sea (this is a good thing) but leaving no room on the bus for the rural population en route who want / need to commute to their nearest post office / job / shop / doctor / hospital. It just gets better and better, donnit? Each of the 291 District Councils has different rules about just who can travel where and when (not before 9am / not on school buses / not on trains if there is no bus service / not with baggage / not in groups / etc) and each of the 291 has a different system for the bus companies to claim the money back again. Some smaller rural bus companies have already gone bust just waiting and waiting to be repaid. Brilliant, Gordon! Who thought this payment system up so badly – and just what pay grade are they on, to reward them so magnificently for their costly incompetence?

And now for some good news on the transport front. The road works on Sleights Bridge (including the pointless bounce barriers to stop vehicles falling over the edge [it has never happened once since the bridge was built in the 1930s] and onto the high speed intercity [max speed of the 7 daily trains at this point is just 5mph] railway line below!) was finally, finally, finally completed today! Planned to take 6 weeks, it has now taken 12 weeks and has caused great and measurable tailbacks on the A169 (carrying 45% of all road traffic to Whitby) throughout the entire summer season, not to mention the even greater and totally immeasurable stress and annoyance to everyone living within a half mile radius caused by what feels like the nosiest job ever completed on a high level bridge over the echoing amplifier of a quiet stretch of river in a normally peaceful rural dale.

Now that the ‘improved’ road makes motorists ‘feel’ even safer than before, my money is on even faster average speeds (which were already too fast before the ‘improvements’) and thus an even greater chance of an accident – exactly the opposite of what we pay North Yorkshire County Council Highways Department to achieve. Come back Victor Meldrew, you were right all along.

PS: My very own Over 60 Free Bus Pass arrived in the post today, so if it’s nice and sunny tomorrow, I might just leave Whitby, the Heritage Coast and the North York Moors National Park and go for a day out by bus. Now where might I go… Middlesbrough? Newcastle? Gateshead?   Or Leeds? Bradford? Or maybe even Doncaster? Or Sheffield? Perhaps not.

24 Sep 08    This morning SA continued jungle bashing the Staff Track through one giant bramble clump, as far as the next. After lunch I joined in and together we reached the big Holly tree and then to the big rotten log which fell off the General Oak years ago. Could this be the Captain’s Log of Staff Track fame??

23 Sep 08    A cool and cloudy morning, enlivened by a very welcome young Tree Sparrow at the feeders, the first for many, many months. It pretended to be a female Blackcap (with a brown cap), but eventually showed its white wing flashes and the beginnings of its sideburns. A Jay ferried acorns back and forth and later a Green Woodpecker flew onto the leaning Ash.

Bright sun by this afternoon and I cut the grass around the wood (first time in weeks), as well as half of the lawns.

22 Sep 08    Still feeling autumnal – very appropriate for today is the Autumnal Equinox, when our day length equals our night length. Oh dear – winter draws on!

The Bank Vols had an outing to a garden on the West Cliff of Whitby, to remove a very windswept Silver Birch which was leaning across a flowerbed.

21 Sep 08    Much cooler today, with a real autumnal feel.

20 Sep 08    Another lovely day, with lunch sunbathing at the River Gardens. A Frog continues to croak from the stone work around my pond.

19 Sep 08    SA carried on sawing and stacking firelogs from the dead wood we carried out from the jungle last time, before setting off into the depths to bash a bit more. I went to see Computer Doctor North East’s (www.computerdoc.co.uk) web designer, to check the final proof of the new Groves Dyke Holiday Cottage business card, a reduced version of the Groves Dyke postcard. Since I’m not going to renew my very expensive membership of the Yorkshire Tourist Board, who now do less and less for their membership, but charge more and more, I will be going independent and will need a bit of alternative marketing.

After lunch, BC and I admired SA’s progress and then joined in with more dragging, snipping and occasionally sawing our way along the bottom of the wood. After impressive progress, and the discovery of some discarded telephone pole and insulators, the advance party was eventually reunited with the search party – ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume?’ – and we all retreated to the woodyard to saw and stack some more deadwood in the woodshed.

During 3 o’clocks JW the woodturner turned up and we chatted the rest of the afternoon away. His next sale of turned wood, and of his wife’s beautifully intricate beaded jewellery, will be at The Institute in Thornton Dale near Pickering on Fri 24 and Sat 25 October and also on Fri 21 and Sat 22 November 2008, from 10 to 4pm. Admission is free, a percentage of the proceeds goes to charity and some of the items will probably be of wood from Groves Coppice.

18 Sep 08    Today I refused entry to the nice man who came to read the electricity meter in Groves Bank. It’s one of those clever new meters which provide 4 different readings, one for Day, one for Night, one for Heat and one for Power. Clear as mud? Don’t worry, I rang Npower months ago to ask for an explanation of this confusing nomenclature and the gist of it is that one is normal Daytime use, one is Night-time storage heater & off peak hot water, one is Heat for the afternoon boost to the storage heaters (all switched off all summer) and the other one is something else. Is the mud clearer now?

‘Have you come to take all 4 readings this time?’ I asked, and he checked his palmtop computer.

‘No, only 2 of them today. I can only key in the readings it asks me for.’

‘But I told Npower last time that I was never going to pay any more ‘Estimated’ readings, when you have actually called at my house, climbed up to the meter and could have taken all 4 readings at the same time’ I replied.

‘I don’t know about that’ he said, ‘But I can only take 2 readings today.’

‘In that case’ I said, ‘I am refusing to let you in to take just 2 readings – unless you take all 4 of them.’

‘That’s ok’ he said. ‘I can’t take all 4, so I’ll just make a note on my palmtop of what you said, and then they’ll contact you. ‘Bye.’

OK, Npower, I’m waiting to hear from you. You are not coming into my house to do another partial job, followed by yet another over-estimated ‘estimated’ bill, but you’re very welcome to come any time to do a proper job by taking all 4 readings from this one meter, and then sending me an actual bill for my actual consumption, which I will be delighted to pay.

Why such a strong stance? Just scroll down for another look at my ‘Thinks:’ for 01 July 08!

17 Sep 08    Lovely lunch at The River Gardens in Sleights, sitting by the River Esk and hoping for a Kingfisher to fly past. It didn’t, but that won’t stop me trying again. In fact, not even a House Martin hawking over the river, so they may have already gathered up and gone.

The afternoon and evening was spent struggling with the software for the new www.VisitWhitby.com website, without much success, so only the original site is still visible on the interweb.

16 Sep 08    Hoovering with Tyson the Dyson all morning, mats airing in the sun, loads of washing on the line – what a lot of catching up to do, now that summer has finally arrived!

15 Sep 08    Still warm and dry, but not sunny today. I concentrated on catching up on 2 week’s worth of grass cutting (it was far too wet last week to do any), while SA removed more Brambles and winched a fallen sapling out of the next section of jungle bashing the new Staff Track:

“Captain’s ‘Log’, star date 13.5: A dedicated retrieving dog will endeavour to move heaven and earth to retrieve its favourite apple, even if its Timelord and Master has hidden it in exasperation behind a set of three gravel-filled earthenware pots on the top of a dry stone wall, and this golden life form will not care if the whole container falls off the wall and smashes on the concrete yard below.”

That was bad enough, but it also smashed the burnt-out low-energy light bulb I had stuck in the pot (somebody said I should plant bulbs in the pots, and you know I’m a low energy gardener), so all the broken glass had to be picked out of the scattered gravel by hand and safely disposed of. Just what I didn’t want to be doing in the middle of a marathon grass cutting session! Beam me up, ‘Scotty’.

After lunch I continued with another few hours of grass cutting, while SA and BC busted several more yards of jungle as far as the stone steps up into Bank orchard. The hedge I had laid some 10 years ago (I remember TJ saying way back then that it was so thin that it was ‘laid on a wing and a prayer’) has almost faded away at this point, so we will have to cut back much of the overhanging Hazel, Hawthorn, Ash, etc to give this coming winter’s hedge-laying a much better chance of survival.

14 Sep 08    It’s summer today! Hot, sunny, calm and dry – and not a moment too soon! I spent part of the morning gathering a big carton of finally ripe Blackberries up in the wood, with lots and lots of Speckled Woods spiralling upwards together in every sunny clearing (where the ripest Blackberries were). This prompted me to go and look at my now past its best and still disappointingly white flowered Buddleia, where there was a veritable backlog of butterflies fluttering by. A dozen drunken Peacocks were flat out sunning themselves on the flowers, on the monks’ trod, on the gravel and on the brick wall, while even more Red Admirals were still tippling on the flowers, with only a couple of Small Tortoiseshells in evidence. Poor things, they’ve a whole summer of breeding activity to pack into just one mid-September day, now that the summer weather has finally arrived. I do believe that I have seen more butterflies this one afternoon, than I have all so-called summer long.

The afternoon was devoted (but I’m not) to trimming the 2 hedges which have escaped all attention so far this year: the big Privet hedge between the dog lawn and the patio lawn, and the horseshoe-shaped Lanicera hedge around the stone seat at the top of the beck lawn. I forgot (it’s been so long) all about my golden rule of always trimming and raking up one hedge, before starting another – with the result that 2 hours of energetic hedge trimming had to be followed by another 2 hours of even more exhausted raking. Damn, I’m always doing that!

13 Sep 08    A warm and almost sunny afternoon, so Flag and I strolled across to the River Gardens for a late lunch on the tables by the riverbank. A very nice homemade quiche with home baked cake to follow, while the River Esk flowed past still high and brown. Not a single House Martin nor any other Hirundine flew over the river, so perhaps it’s time for a last of the summer whine?

12 Sep 08    SA bramble-snipped the path around the wood, with the main crop of Blackberries now about ready, then worked out how best to tackle the next section of jungle-busting for the new Staff Path. After lunch the mild cloudy day degenerated into mild drizzle, so we all three retreated to the pole barn and spent a very useful afternoon sawing the Ash and Sycamore lengths (removed last month from around and above the poor little Rowan trees) into firelogs and also rolling lots of cardboard into cardlogs. The firelogs were stacked to begin another wall section of the pole barn, while the cardlogs were stored under the roof.

The sawhorse wasn’t required as the pole barn is now equipped with a sawing brake – two pieces of heavy duty fence rail nailed across a gap between one pole leg and one diagonal strut. The lower piece is horizontal and on the inside, the other is angled upwards and on the outside. One end of any piece of roundwood can be placed between them, jammed into the narrowing V until it is held firmly by its own weight, and projecting into the nice dry pole barn where firelogs can be sawn off it from the other end. Unless, of course, one is left-handed. In which case, SA has to stand outside in the rain to use the saw! We worked out how to re-design it to accommodate all possible heights (it’s a bit too high for me) and handedness, which will involve removing the existing sawing brake, replacing it slightly lower down and with a longer horizontal to reach across two pole legs and support the diagonal. And then doing the same, slightly higher up, on the other side of the pole barn entrance, for left-handed operatives. NB: Only left-handed people are in their right minds!

11 Sep 08    If you want to know just how complicated our tax system is (and why it needs so many expensive bureaucrats) this example from the USA explains all:

Everyday, 10 men went out together for a drink and the bill for all 10 came to $100. (Don’t worry, the same principles still apply to the UK). If they paid that bill in the same way that we all pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first 4 men (the poorest) paid nothing

The 5th man paid $1

The 6th man paid $3

The 7th man paid $7

The 8th man paid $12

The 9th man paid $18

The 10th man (the richest) paid $59.

So that is what they decided to do. The same 10 men drank in the bar every day and were quite happy with this arrangement, until one day the bar owner said ‘Since you are all such good customers, I’m going to reduce the price of your daily beer by $20.’ Now the same drinks cost the 10 men a total of just $80 every day. The group still wanted to pay their bill the same way as we all pay our taxes, so the first 4 men were unaffected and still drank for free. But what about the other 6 men, the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get their ‘fair share’?

$20 divided by 6 is $3.33, but if they subtracted that from everyone’s share, then the 5th man and the 6th man would end up being paid to drink their beer! So the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce everyone’s bill by roughly the same percentage amount, which was:

The 5th man, like the first 4, now paid nothing, a 100% saving

The 6th man now paid $2 instead of $3, a 33% saving

The 7th man now paid $5 instead of $7, a 28% saving

The 8th man now paid $9 instead of $12, a 25% saving

The 9th man now paid $14 instead of $18, a 22% saving

The 10th man now paid $49 instead of $59, a 16% saving.

Each of the 6 was better off than before and the first 4 continued to drink for free. But then the 6 payers began to compare their savings:

The 6th man said ‘I only got $1 out of the $20, but he…’ pointing at the 10th man, ‘…he got $10!’

‘That’s right’ added the 5th man. ‘I only saved $1, too. It’s unfair that he got ten times more than me!’

The 7th man agreed ‘Why should he get $10 back, when I get only $2 back?’

‘Wait a minute!’ shouted the first 4 men. ‘We didn’t get anything back at all. This system exploits the poor!’

So the first 9 angry men surrounded the 10th man and beat him up.

Next day, the 10th man didn’t show up for drinks, so the 9 men sat down and had their beers without him. When it came time to pay the bill, they discovered that they didn’t have enough money between them! In fact, they had less than half of the $80 bill…

And that, ladies and gentlemen, journalists and professors, is how our tax system works. Those who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from any tax reduction. Tax them too much and they may leave the country for friendlier shores and friendlier tax systems.

David R Kamerschen, Ph. D., Professor of Economics, University of Georgia, USA.

For those who understand, no explanation is necessary.

For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible.

 

I couldn’t have put it better myself! Yes, I could:

Using the basic rule that the more complex any system is, the more loopholes there will be, why not just exclude from any tax whatsoever the first 33% of average earnings (ie £8,000 is 33% of today’s average earnings of £24,000 / year in the UK), and then tax everybody else a flat rate of 20% tax? That way, the poor (on less than 1/3 of average earnings) would avoid all tax, the rich could no longer justify the cost of high powered accountants and lawyers to avoid paying the existing upper tax rates, and they, the UK Exchequer (and us) would all be much better off. Then we could actually pay all our pensioners a decent pension and 20,000 (yes, the official figures are twenty thousand) elderly people in the UK wouldn’t die of cold every single winter.

Or is that just too simple? Unlike today’s Prime Ministerial announcement of a ‘sea change’ in home energy efficiency measures, which is such a messy and complex assortment of ifs, buts and maybes that no clear message has been given at all. Call that a sea change? It wasn’t even a half tide!

If the PM is short of simple ideas from his over-paid and disinterested bureaucrats, then here are just a few suggestions that would do a damn sight better job than his:

1.    Charge 0% VAT on all energy saving products (insulation, low energy light bulbs, solar panels, etc, etc), as suggested by B&Q’s  Chief Executive last year.

2.    No house can be sold until all possible insulation measures had been carried out (a new part of the HIP), as suggested by a friend of mine just last week as a quick way to upgrade the entire nation’s housing stock).

3.    From 2010, no new house could be sold unless it has been designed and built to create 10% of its own energy needs, 11% by 2011, 12% by 2012, etc, as suggested by me, months ago.

4.    A simple reversal of all the energy suppliers’ tariffs, so that the first 1,000 units of gas or electricity will be at the cheapest rate (for those who use the least), the next 1,000 are a bit more expensive, etc, etc (at present, the first tranche is the most expensive and then the more you use, the cheaper it gets – how ridiculous!), as suggested by me in the first year of my Environmental Science degree way back in 1976!

Go on, Gordon – I dare you!

10 Sep 08    A restful day for SA, BC and me, including a genteel bit of chopping long dead weaving poles (removed from the lower layers of the wickerwork fences) into 16 inch lengths, stacking them in the woodshed as kindling, sawing bigger pieces into firelogs and dealing with the bits which have rested too long on the woodyard tripod. Then topped-off with admiring the progress of the new path, followed by Chelsea buns and long cold drinks. And very pleasant, too, thank-you.

08 Sep 08    The boys from the black stuff (no, from Cambridgeshire actually) arrived unexpectedly at 8am and had the drive and car park tarred and gritted by lunchtime. It all looks much smarter now and they have added another couple of low rain water diverts to take the runoff away into the orchard.

ID arrived and together we, eventually, managed to extend the jungle bashing for a couple of yards along the back of the soon-to-be-laid Bank Orchard hedge, creating in the process: a slightly bigger bonfire, a slightly fuller East Cord and a slightly higher Woodyard fence. Not to mention a bit of personal blood-letting on the brambles.

06 Sep 08    It was wet yesterday, wasn’t it? Over 100 Flood Warnings and 6 Severe Flood Warnings throughout England today and my rain gauge agrees: 9am yesterday it showed only a trace since the beginning of the month, this morning it shows 2 inches! The beck had overflowed under the stone seat in my garden, but straight back into its normal channel again a couple of yards downstream. I cleared the mass of tiny twigs from the culvert entrance and all was well again. The clouds cleared by mid-morning and the rest of the day was warm and sunny enough to dry several loads of washing on the line.

The road from Sleights to Ruswarp was open this afternoon, but the muddy tarmac showed it had been awash very recently. The River Gardens just across the road in Briggswath had its lowest level tables awash this morning at 9am, but dried out by this afternoon. The Salmon Leap weir barely shows in the fast brown waters of the Esk, but a tree trunk spins endlessly in the stopper wave just below the step in the river where the weir still lurks below. Parts of Pickering, apparently, have been flooded again.

One interesting snippet of conversation from a gathering a few days ago: when 20% of the city of Hull was flooded last year and nobody noticed for several weeks, the belated publicity (News Editors’ families do not live in Hull – they all live in Tewkesbury) led to the government pumping (should that be pouring?) £millions into the mopping-up operation. The same applied to Sheffield, Doncaster and even Tewkesbury – but it is still an absolute fraction of the £millions more which the government got back again in the form of 17.5% VAT on all the repair work and materials! Good, innit?

05    Sep 08    Wet. SA worked in the pouring rain and removed the small (!) tree stump which kept tripping us up at the end of the Woodyard Bridge. Wet. BC had the sense to stay at home & I drove to near York to see some web designers about the new www.VisitWhitby.com website… to be unveiled soon, honest! Wet.

03 Sep 08    SA & I carried down a few more Sycamore logs for sawing later on today, when the rain arrives. It didn’t, so (joined by BC) we all  started jungle-busting a new path (sorry, staff only) from the Woodyard Bridge along the back of Bank Orchard hedge, which we will be laying this winter. This runs parallel to, and 20 yards down slope from, the existing path from the Bottom Bridge past the Major Oak and Kent, through Cherry gate to the General Oak and the SW Hazel Cant.

The long thin stems we removed were instantly used as weaving poles and added to the Woodyard wickerwork fence, while anything bigger was kept for firewood and anything smaller was added to the new, improved and slightly further up the hill bonfire site. By 3 o’clocks the belated rain had arrived and we retreated to the conservatory for refs.

01 Sep 08    I kept the grass under control (all except the beck lawn, half the woodyard and the bottom bit of Groves Dyke), while SA sawed up the Sycamore and added it to the new (Eastern) cord, as well as finding the way through to the recently discovered group of 4 Wild Cherry trees just down the slope from the viewpoint. BC helped to spray a few more Oaks with red tree spray, made the woodyard more even by removing half-buried logs and carried some more down from the wood. Finally, we all carried and sawed a bit more Sycamore and the new cord is beginning to take shape.

All in all, there are about 11 of the 20 original planted Oaks in Dykeside and about 12 of the 20 planted in Bankside, or 23 surviving out of the original 40 we planted in the early 1980s. Only 3 of these have complete crowns, all the others have had their leading shoot killed by Grey Squirrels (Tree Rats!) stripping off the bark, and have thus been turned into something shaped more like a Mexican cactus.

In addition to the 23 survivors of the original planting, a much larger number of Oaks have self-seeded from nearby mature Oak trees in the original hedgerows. About 2 dozen just west of the Major Oak beside the lower bridge, another 2 dozen near the SW corner where the General Oak is, and another dozen in the NE corner below the top line of big Oaks. Very many of all these, however, are very young (1 or 2 inches diameter stem) and growing far too close together for all to survive. Dig some up and transplant them elsewhere? No, I don’t think so. Any digging would also damage the roots of the neighbouring young Oaks and the transplanted ones would have a very low survival rate. I think we’ll just leave them to fight it out amongst themselves (Survival of the Fattest, don’t you know!), which will give us some useful Oak thinnings once we know which ones are going to fail.

Apart from all that, the massive Oaks will eventually fall in some future storm and absolutely flatten some of the youngsters nearby, and we have no way of knowing which ones will be spared, so we’ll keep them all until then…

August 2008 Weather Summary.     Precipitation 90mm (3½ inch). Temperatures: Maximum 25°C (78°F), Minimum 8°C (46°F). Actual today 16°C (62°F). The Met Office says this has been the UK’s dullest August for 80 years, with sunshine in very short supply, and I’m not inclined to disagree with that.

31 Aug 08    A bright chestnut Roebuck strolled majestically across my lawn, into the woodyard and then under the yat and up into the wood. He was very well turned out indeed, with extra marks for poise and grace.

29 Aug 08    A bit too warm for a morning’s scrambling about in the undergrowth with the new red tree marker aerosol, but we found and marked what seemed like dozens of very skinny (from 2 inches diameter) young Oaks, all self-sown within the past few years. Of the 40 young Oaks we were given to plant between 1982 and 1986, I estimate that less than half remain (Grey Squirrels / Tree Rats!) – so it’s just as well that so many have sprung up naturally, thanks mainly to the Jays which secrete acorns away every autumn.

In the afternoon BC and SA took the non-sexist 2-person saw up to remove the tricky bit of Sycamore stump that was growing right up against the nice young Ash. A bit more Oak marking and we were all ready for nice cool drinks.

28 Aug 08    Another lovely warm and sunny day to recover, so I took Flag for a nice cool walk by the River Esk at Glaisdale, before driving on to Lealholm to check out the nice new sticky bun shop there. Stepping Stones Bakery provided a very nice lunch which we ate on the shady riverside village green just across the road. A nice walk over the stepping stones to admire the carved flood heights on the chapel wall (Nov 2000′s flood was still a couple of feet lower than the big flood of 1930) and then into the Board Inn to sample one of their specialist ciders, Great Western Revival. Only 5 more to try…

27 Aug 08    SA searched for 3 of the longest Hazel rods in the Western Cant (coop) for tonight’s demonstration: 22 feet high isn’t a bad rate of growth in just 7 years and was very impressive when produced at the evening demonstration. After lunch we all took down a young but misshapen Ash that was overhanging and shading an even younger Rowan, again for the demo. Several other useful bits of wood were prepared, as well as the Ash fork which is going to double as both Barking Brake and Splitting Brake. Lots of different aspects of traditional British coppice crafts from the Stone Age Sweet Track of woven Hazel hurdles laid across the marshy Somerset Levels, to the discovery of charcoal which let us all move from the Bronze Age into the Iron Age, Thomas Hardy and thatching spars, Frank Meadow Sutcliffe and heather besom makers in Glaisdale, all required the woodland coppice skills that were so common, so widespread, so local, so mundane and so everyday that they were very rarely mentioned nor recorded. They reached their six millennium heyday as late as 1900 and yet were almost totally gone and forgotten by 1960, thanks to 2 World Wars, rapid social change and their replacement with oil-based plastics.

This unknown writer summed it up nicely:

I am the heat of your hearth on long winter nights,

The cool friendly shade in the summer sun

And my fruits are refreshing drinks.

 

I am the beam that holds your house, the board of your table,

The bed on which you lie and the timber that builds your boat.

 

I am the handle of your hoe and the door of your homestead,

I am the wood of your cradle and the shell of your coffin.

And if that’s not enough, trees are also a carbon-neutral and infinitely renewable fuel, our planetary air conditioning system and the source of most of the world’s oxygen. So I think they are worth managing properly. Don’t you? What a pity we’re in such a minority: http://www.eta.co.uk/criticism_for_biofuel_subsidies/node/11013

25 Aug 08    The grass is finally back under control again. Whatever I didn’t get cut last week, has now been cut this morning, including half the woodyard and all of the path around the wood. While I was doing that, SA and BC tidied-up the Sycamore near Kent (there are 7 Oaks in that area) and searched for some suitable growing forks to make a ‘barking brake’ for a forthcoming demonstration of ancient woodland crafts.

After lunch, we looked at all the possible growing forks and selected the Ash one at the top of Dykeside. The pole saw brought down a 4-inch diameter branch without splitting the nice, even fork just a couple of feet further along. Once the side branches had been lopped off, we carried the fork down to the pole barn where we evened up the legs a bit. Lent against a pole barn leg (instead of in the fork of a growing tree), we lashed a straight branch across the upper legs and Hey Presto – a barking brake! Any straight pole from 2 or 3 inches diameter upwards can now be slid over the cross-bar where it anchors itself firmly in the fork, leaving Mr Barker with both hands free to weald his two handled (very blunt) barking knife and strip the bark off. If it was Oak bark, then Mr Tanner would probably be ready to buy it up for tanning the cow hides he had bought from Mr Skinner. Or in this part of the world, one photo of Staithes by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe shows the old barking tank just above the staith where the Oak bark tannin was used to boil-up the old, natural fibre fishing nets to make them last a bit longer in the salty North Sea.

Then we played with the beetle and the froe, traditionally used to split down the centre of longer lengths of timber. Properly done, the split can be steered  from end to end without (hopefully) running out at one side. More practice required, or perhaps a proper Cleaving Brake would hold the work piece steady enough reach the far end successfully. For a real professional, see: http://www.cleftgate.co.uk/Gatemaking.html and also click on his sample pictures here:  http://www.cleftwood.com/samplepicsjune2007.html

Wow! Maybe one day…

But no. This is not traditional cleft Oak country. And besides, we already have the only Hazel wickerwork fence in creation!

24 Aug 08    Another lovely drive up to the head of Glaisdale so that BR could enjoy the flowering heather in all its glory. Back down to Egton Bridge and then home via Egton top. The poor old show field, a few days after the biggest agricultural show in the Moors, was a muddy mess as we drove past.

22 Aug 08    SA tidied up the woodyard bonfire site, ready for its eventual migration a couple of yards further up the hill, now that the East and West Cords have been extended. He also took down the invasive Sycamore that was threatening a young Ash at the bottom of Bankside.

After lunch the rain set in again, so BC & I joined SA in the pole barn for an afternoon of cardboard rolling, followed by nailing tannalised batons (swopped for a Mars Bar) under the rafters to hold the card logs until winter. Followed by sticky buns and coffee, of course.

After 3 weeks of August, my rain gauge is reading 3 inches of rain so far this month – which I make an average of 1 inch of rain per August week…

21 Aug 08    We all enjoyed an excellent evening meal at The Stables restaurant at Cross Butts, just outside Whitby. Traceability? Oh yes! Just look at the Menu or the Specials Board to see exactly where which local farm your meat came from. Delicious! See: http://www.cross-butts.co.uk/index.php

20 Aug 08    Its almost perrfect weather for our Purrple Picnic Day! First a walk along the old coach road on Lealholm Rigg, then down to the Stonehouse Bakery in Danby to buy the sticky buns for afters, off to Glaisdale for Ford’s unbeatable pork pies, up the dale to the bottom of Caper Hill (‘Francis Hartus to repair this yat and yat stead. 1746[?]‘ carved on the stone gatepost), then onto the moortop before parking (I never said we walked!) in a sea of purrple with a purrfect view down the Queen of the Dales. Lunch.

Along the purrple Hamer road to Rosedale, up Chimney Bank and a short walk past the old 19th Century calcinating kilns until a sudden squall drove us back to the safety of the car. On to Hutton-le-Hole for a bit of window shopping, before afternoon tea at the very well hidden (and rightly so) Lastingham Grange Hotel. The sun was out again, so we enjoyed our freshly baked scones (with cream & strawberry jam, or course) while sunning ourselves in their lovely garden. See: http://www.lastinghamgrange.com

Back home, still purring, along Blakey Rigg, past the Lion pub, past Young Ralph (logo of the North York Moors National Park), still purrple down to Castleton and home on the Guisborough Road. Purrfect!

19 Aug 08     This morning D, I & I plus Flag drove to Levisham Station for a walk in Newtondale before returning to the Birch Hall Inn at Beckhole for ham butties with optional conundrums. One of their best ones is signed: METANTATIPI. Any offers? See: http://www.pubsgalore.co.uk/pubs/53445/

18 Aug 08    SA and BC completed the sawing up of the Blackthorn and it is now neatly stacked to form 1/3rd of a pole barn side wall. After a late lunch I joined them burning the bonfire, an ideal job for such a grey day. Fire risk? What fire risk? After 2+ inches of rain so far this month (and half of that in the past 2 days) I don’t think so.

We contemplated the de-silting of the pond which we completed a few days ago and, with 2 one gallon plastic buckets and 1 plastic trug, each making at least 30 trips, that would be a guesstimated 100+ gallons (c400+ litres) of silt removed in one afternoon. Now I know why I was tired.

17 Aug 08    Too wet for our planned walk from Grosmont along the old toll road to Egton Bridge (Flag’s favourite walk), but D, I & I drove to the bottom Horseshoe for their fabulous lunch of bacon and brie baguettes. Not under the Giant Redwood tree in the pub garden, this time, but indoors.

16 Aug 08    Wet again. I stuck a big steel spike down through the entrance of the culvert under Woodlands Drive, to stop any more daft dogs trying to crawl in to rescue long lost tennis balls.

15 Aug 08    A warm, sunny summer’s day, at last! Just right for sorting out the pond in my garden. In the morning SA dragged out the Canadian Pondweed, blocked the inlet and started a siphon to lower the level. After lunch BC and I got involved as well, me in the pond (still more than 3 feet deep) in some borrowed chest-waders, scooping out bucketfuls of sloppy silt from the pond bottom. The others carried these to fill in the many Flag holes in the woodyard, then to improve the path to the woodyard, and finally to the grassy slope down into the beck.

After a couple of hours, I was still the driest and the cleanest (wonderful things, chest-waders!) while the other two were covered in wet mud from top to toe, but ¾ of the pond had been cleared, leaving the remaining ¼ undisturbed for the wildlife. During the operation we saw 1 large Frog, 3 small Tadpoles (no sign of any legs), 1 very small Newt and lots and lots of Pond Snails and Snail eggs. We also raised Flag’s GTB (Giant Tennis Ball) which he had rolled into the pond months ago and, to everyone’s surprise, it promptly sank. He was overjoyed to be reunited with it and it may even take his mind off the smaller one which vanished down the culvert under the drive a couple of weeks ago…

Once finished, the inlet was reopened and after 3 hours of full flow the pond was back to its original depth again for the first time in many years. We didn’t keep a tally of how many buckets of sloppy silt were removed, but there is now a lot more water (and a lot less mud) in the pond than there was before this afternoon!

14 Aug 08    Flag and I had a lovely sunny walk upstream from Whitby marina, then I ruined it all and went shopping.

The rain began again about lunchtime, enlivened only by Flag crawling down the plastic drain pipe under Woodlands Drive to search for his missing tennis ball from days ago. This time he had trouble reversing out again, but I managed to grab his tail and pull by way of assistance. He was suitable crestfallen with my threats of marmalisation and transmogrification if he ever tried it again, but soon recovered his composure (if not his tennis ball, which is probably well out to sea by now).

13 Aug 08    SA and I looked at one of the young self-sown Oaks we marked a few days ago and decided that the surrounding Sycamore branches could be cut back to let the Oak see the sun and grow a bit more this summer. After lunch it was wet again, so we all retreated to the pole barn where SA and BC used the saw horse and the new sawing brake to cut the Blackthorn cordwood into firelogs and stack them to make a third of the South wall of the barn. I, meanwhile, rolled lots of cardboard logs and stored them under the roof (on the tannalised wooden stacking batons we had bartered from BATA for a Mars bar).

That is getting dangerously close to ‘How much wood would a Woodchuck chuck, if a Woodchuck could chuck wood?’

12 Aug 08    Wet. Just over 1 inch of rain so far this month.

11 Aug 08    It seems that the very expensive Yorkshire Tourist Board and their so-called ‘online booking system’ is not all I thought it was, so this may call for a radical decision soon…

This morning I cut more than half the grass, to make up for the less than half I managed last week. The new air filter seems to have improved the machinery and solved last week’s problem. SA carried down almost all the 4 foot lengths of Blackthorn from the Major Oak to the pole barn. After lunch we marked-up the young Oak trees on the Bankside of the wood, until we ran out of tree marker aerosol. (More ‘it was almost empty’ than ‘too many Oak trees’)! While there are more this side, most of them are very skinny, very young, recently self-sewn ones, with only about 12 decent-sized specimens which we planted 25 years ago. Some mapping is clearly required, so that we can see at a glance which ones to encourage most to get a good distribution of Oak standards in another 250 years’ time.

10 Aug 08    A nice drive from Dalehouse up along the (very) narrow Ridge Lane (sorry mate, you are driving the great big, fat, 2 ton off-road vehicle, so you get off the road and up the grassy bank to let me and my little car get past you) to Scaling. The purple Ling is opening nicely and should be fully in bloom in another few days…

08 Aug 08    SA trimmed-up the leafy saplings we dumped in the woodyard a couple of days ago. In the afternoon we all finished the job and used the long weaving rods to add to the wickerwork fence alongside, and the thicker bits to add to the now growing East cord.

07 Aug 08    A lovely afternoon walk with Flag and friends through the woods at Grosmont to the river.

06 Aug 08    More Blackthorn was sawn and stacked in the pole barn by SA and after lunch BC and I joined in to remove the unwanted young Cherry and Sycamore saplings from the Groves Dyke hedge. Now that their dense shadow has gone, the good guys (Hawthorn, Ash, etc) will grow better and thicken up the hedge even faster.

Cutting down saplings on such a hot day was no trouble – until we realised we had to drag them all up the drive and into the woodyard. Phew! Now that really was just a bit too energetic for August!

05 Aug 08    Took the grass cutter to Malton for a quick checkup, then had lunch at the nice little cafe in Lockton on the way home.

04 Aug 08    Heavy rain early this morning soon cleared and the sun came out, but the ground and the trees were still dripping wet. I cut the grass while SA cut and nailed another leg to an unsupported diagonal on the pole barn. Let’s prop it up a bit before we load it with firelogs, crack and split the diagonal and possibly tip the whole, heavy wall of logs onto my car!

After lunch we examined the other half of the wood (Bankside) for more young Oaks and found rather more than in the first half. We also uprooted half a dozen Ragwort from the near the viewpoint, carried down a few more Blackthorn logs, added teeth to the jaws of the sawing brake and nailed a couple of batons onto the underside of the pole barn roof for storing more rolled-up cardboard logs.

By 3 o’clocks it was too damn hot (tdh) and ice cream was required under the raftings.

03 Aug 08    A lovely drive to Lockton (cafe open again), then Levisham (too early for lunch), down to Levisham Station (‘Refreshments Open’, so we stopped for a drink and a sandwich), then along what used to be the non-advertised Newtondale Forest Drive (not to be confused with the still open Dalby Forest Drive, 10 miles away). The former is now largely abandoned, with some tarmac and even more dirt track-  with very impressive potholes. Out onto the Stape / Egton Bridge road (eventually – just keep turning left at any unsigned T-junctions) where C & G H set off back to Liverpool, while Flag and I returned to the Esk Valley via the Roman Road water splash, the Wheeldale Plantation (now Bumble Wood) water splash and Egton Bridge.

Ah, Levisham. What memories… when Anthea and I, as RENTaRaANGER, led the Steam and Stroll guided walk every August Wednesday from the station, up to Skelton Tower, across the high moor to Levisham village for a pub lunch and then back down to the station for the steam train. Thursday afternoons was a Fossil Hunt and picnic at Sandsend. Friday was Steam and Stagger from Newtondale Halt up to the Saltersgate Inn (now being massively refurbished, if not rebuilt), around the Hole of Horcum to Levisham and down to the station. Saturday and Sundays (20 weekends per year) was Walking for Softies with coach operators Farthing Holidays. Mondays was a day off, apart from an evening slide show to HF Holidays. Tuesdays was Steam and Toddle from Goathland Station up onto the moor for a Purple Picnic… and Wednesdays was Steam and Stroll again. Ah yes – but I was younger and fitter then…

02 Aug 08    This evening was the Volunteers’ Works Outing to see Barry Cryer (even funnier than last year), with Colin Sells at the piano (yes, from BBC Radio 4′s truly unbeatable ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue) at Whitby Spa Theatre (The Pavilion).

Man: ‘I think I’m going deaf.’ Doctor: ‘What are the symptoms?’ Man: ‘They’re that funny yellow family on the telly.’

01 Aug 08    SA sawed and stacked more of the Blackthorn into the pole barn. After lunch BC and I joined in and we all cleared 2 or 3 more 25 year old Oaks in Dykeside, ready for marking with the orange aerosol. I’m sure we did other things as well… I wonder what they were?

July 2008 Weather Summary.     Precipitation 100mm (4 inch). Temperatures: Maximum 29°C (84°F), Minimum 7°C (46°F). Actual today 19°C (65°F). Hot, wet and busy, with 25% of the month’s rainfall on the last night alone.

30 Jul 08    More hot and sunny. SA, freshly returned from haymaking near Danby, and I tried to locate the best young Oak trees throughout the wood, so that those destined to become 500 year old Standards could be marked and safeguarded for the next several hundred years. (But perhaps not by us)! Some more Blackthorn was carried down and then SA split and stacked the Sycamore onto the West Cord.

After lunch, with BC, we took the tree marking aerosol can and sprayed a bright orange ring around every respectable young Oak in Dykeside. There were surprisingly few of them, in fact, with only about 8 well-spaced, half-decent, young Oaks as candidates for the future mixed Oak with Hazel understory woodland we had always planned. Far too many of them have had the leading shoot killed off by bark-stripping Grey Squirrels. (Tree Rats)!

29 Jul 08    Hot and sunny again today. After a morning meeting I collected Flag for an afternoon walk at Runswick Bay, only to discover that the car park was full. No problem, I just parked at the top car park (lots of room, and free) and walked Flag down the old road to the cafe at sea level. I’m pretty sure that I once drove down this old road, long before the nice, new, wide one was created and the original one became a narrow, steep footpath. Ah, yes – the good old days!

On the way home, my car said it was 28°C – but I suppose that could have been Flag and me heating it up from the inside, as well. We stopped on the moortop for a look at the National Park moorland regeneration scheme now replacing the plantation of exotic conifers recently felled at maturity near Scaling Dam. The tree stumps are rotting away nicely and heather has reappeared all around. Some Bell Heather was already in bloom (a bit too pink, really) but the first purple flowers of Ling have now appeared. And we all know what that means, don’t we? Not long now to our glorious 192 square miles of purrfect PURPLE..!

28 Jul 08    A deliciously cool, damp sea roke hung over the Esk Valley this morning, highlighting the dew laden cobweb in every other thistle. Oh, such a wonderful morning after all that relentless sun and excessive heat. All the Groves Dyke lawns were cut this morning, together with half my front lawns, the dog lawn and half the woodyard.

25 Jul 08    Still hot. Now that my dog is old and sensible and reliable, I took him down to the beach with RC and the children for a bit of fossil hunting. Flag was getting bored, so I let him off the lead and, seconds later, he was half a mile away, still galloping at full tilt towards some people throwing stones in the sea. No amount of calling or whistling had any effect (too far away to hear, too noisy in the breakers and far too much fun anyway) so I set off walking towards him. The stone throwers, meanwhile, were walking ever further away so this stern chase could have gone on for hours… Then young J and A started jogging and they soon caught up with the dear doggie and brought him back to me. Oh to be so young and fit! Or oh to be so old and daft!

A lovely evening for a barbecue and, with CH, a Reunion of the 1973 Joint Universities’ Seabird Expedition to the Kerry Islands off the South West tip of Ireland. Anthea, Richard and I were on Innishnabro for 2 and a bit weeks (thanks to rough weather), while CH had been on Puffin Island. We tried to remember who had been on Innishvickallain and decided it must have been S & E H, who were last heard of running a birdy art gallery near a famous bird reserve in Norfolk. So that’s one working for a FairTrade organisation, one a university lecturer in Ecology, 2 became countryside rangers and two still involved in birding and art. Not bad for a bunch of birders from the New University of Ulster in Coleraine, some 4 decades ago…

24 Jul 08    The Restaurant at the End of Betty Backside (with acknowledgements to EC).

Is this the only local gastro pub that explains on the menu why they never serve vinegar? ‘It spoils the beer’ and no further explanation is required. In fact, the delicious homemade food spoke for itself. The pate with orange segments, the watercress soup, the mushroom risotto kept us well amused until the mains arrived. My cooked-to-perfection lamb shank came with 11 different species of vegetables and herbs, while the linguine, the chicken, the steak, the roast artichoke and the Whitby wholetail scampi kept everyone else very quiet, too. Then the really tricky bit: puddings. There were eight to choose from on the menu, but only 5 of us ready, able and willing to order yet more food. We spread our net as widely as possible, to catch the dark chocolate roulade, the sticky toffee pudding, the pavlova, the cheesecake and one other unforgettable masterpiece I have just forgotten. Do we recommend it? Oh YES!

Betty Backside is the local name for the little trickle road from Aislaby to Egton top, where you will find The Wheatsheaf Inn.

23 Jul 08    Hot again. Very Hot. My car sez its 30°C and I have no reason to doubt it. SA carried down more Sycamore and when BC and I joined in after lunch, we moved the last of it down to the woodshed – before drinking gallons of squash.

22 Jul 08    www.Shelterbox.org brought their touring exhibition to Whitby bandstand and several members of Whitby Endeavour Rotary Club helped to person it and hand out leaflets. This is a brilliant scheme, each Shelterbox offering immediate shelter and vital equipment for 10 people following any emergency. The recent cyclone in Burma, when the governing Generals refused any international aid for days while their citizens struggled to survive in the open, is an excellent example: the very first aid the well-fed Generals allowed in, was several hundred tons of Shelterboxes funded by Rotary Clubs around the world.

21 Jul 08    I cut half the lawns while SA carried down lots of Sycamore firelogs for stacking in the woodshed. After lunch we discovered that one of the diagonal rails in the pole barn had cracked, tilting its load of firelogs outwards. We restacked them on another (supported) diagonal and then replaced the cracked one, with additional support to stop it happening again.

20 Jul 08    Sunny and threatening showers as Flag and I joined RC and family for a lovely stroll along the old Toll Road from Grosmont to Egton Bridge. We crossed the stepping stones safely, enjoyed a lovely lunch at the bottom Horseshoe and then crossed the river again (photo opportunity!) and strolled back to Grosmont. Four miles all told, and Flag enjoyed every minute of it with no ill effects. This is his longest walk for a year or two, since he damaged the joints of his front legs with years of obsessive digging.

18 Jul 08    SA and BC got on with some useful work in the wood, carrying down more Blackthorn for the cord, draining the path through Kent (it has 7 Oaks) and clearing the ditch alongside Groves Dyke drive. Some of us were not so lucky, having driven to County Hall in Northallerton, 45 miles away, to see a man about registering a Town Green. Then on to the County Records Office for the next 4 hours to track down the original transfer of a vital piece of urban green space in Whitby. Success – but my brain hurts!

16 Jul 08    SA cut a new rail for the yat stead to replace the one I snapped yesterday. In the afternoon, with BC, we tidied up the cuttings from around Yew4 and stacked them much more neatly in a fraction of the space. Just before three o’clocks we added another new feature to the pole barn, a couple of angled rails as jaws to hold tightly onto a piece of cordwood for sawing, or a roll of cardboard for binding. Based on a traditional cleaving brake (brake = vice) this could be a sawing brake or possibly a rolling brake.

15 Jul 08    Another morning of grass cutting, including the path around the wood, and it is all back under control again. Flag has his annual MOT at the vet and was passed as ‘in very good shape for a 13 year old’.

14 Jul 08    Yesterday was the arrival of Whitby’s Historic Lifeboat, the William Riley, after 4 day’s rowing from South Shields, via overnights at Sunderland, Hartlepool and Staithes. Eight oarsmen, 9 to 12 foot swells, 60 miles, 32,000 oar strokes per person, £50,000 raised for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and she arrived just in time for the annual Blessing of the Boats by the Bishop of Whitby. What a superb afternoon!

Today SA bramble snipped around the path and sawed logs while I cut half the lawns. After lunch we all (BC included) carried home a small fallen Beech from up the drive, sawed and stacked it on the cord, then took down a young Hawthorn and pruned a couple of Elders which were over-shading the little Yew plantation. These are the last remaining specimens from a dozen little Yews in pots, given to us as a Christmas present 2 decades ago, and the survivors have now been christened Yew4 – since they are twice as good as U2.

The hot, sunny weather continues and we relaxed under the raftings with cool drinks and Eton Mess.

12 Jul 08    Hello… it’s summer again! Warm, dry, calm and sunny weather with that spectacular Bullfinch back on the bonfire heap again, nibbling grass heads. The Green Woodpecker yaffled all morning, clearly very excited about something. A Tree Rat at the nest? The young have just fledged? A cat?

11 Jul 08    Wet. Mild, calm and mizzle. All day. SA constructed a patent cardboard bending device on one pole of the pole barn, which BC and I found very useful while we all rolled and restacked cardboard logs all afternoon. Still mizzling. On the dog walk up the drive we returned with a fallen young Ash, which is now resting on the sawhorse waiting for better weather. Still mizzling. A very showy male Bullfinch perched on a projecting bonfire twig and stripped the seeds from nearby grass heads. Still mizzling – yet the rain gauge still stands at 2½ inches so far this month.

09 Jul 08    Too many meetings this week! SA carried down and cut and stacked more wood, then joined by BC. Later joined by me too but the best discovery of the day was a carpet layer’s store of cardboard tubes, just perfect for sawing into length and then stuffing with rolled-up cardboard for my wood burning stove. Who needs masking tape any more? Brilliant!

After more sunshine and showers my rain gauge now stands at almost 2½ inches so far this month. There are currently 8 Common Spotted Orchids in the wood, just over the top bridge, but all a bit too tall and thin so perhaps we will open up the woodland canopy above them a little more in the winter. A Forestry Commission research paper on bark stripping by Grey Squirrels sez this occurs ‘in summer when the density of Grey Squirrels exceeds 6 individuals / hectare’ – which means there must be about 12 of the little dears in my wood. I think this is about 11 tree Rats too many…

07 Jul 08    Mild but dull and mizzly today, after a couple of days of sunny and showers, some of them very heavy showers with thunder and lightening. Flag didn’t enjoy that, nor the late night 4th of July fireworks which some misguided Sleights family with USA inclinations inflicted on us all just as he was recovering from the thunder. Over ¾ of an inch of rain has fallen so far this month, almost all in a couple of thunderplumps the day before yesterday.

I cut the grass this morning in the mizzle, while SA set up a handy rack of 2 forked sticks next to the yatstead. This is now, as far as I know, the only fully functioning traditional North York Moors-style yat (gate) and yatstead (gateway), with 4 removable poles which can be set into 4 cavities on the inside of one yatpost and the 4 other ends dropped into 4 angled slots on the inside of the other yatpost. Now, when the poles are lifted out and the yat is open, the poles can be rested into the new rack until it is time to slot them back into place to close the yat again. The only difference, of course, is that my yatposts are wooden ones, instead of the traditional carved sandstone ones.

If I wanted to complete the whole yatstead, I would need to add a couple of Sunday Posts on the field side, each with a large (6 inches), square hole carved right through. Then on Saturday nights when the horses were led back into the field after another hard day’s work, the Sunday Post would be pushed through the two holes. Come Sunday morning nobody would come to let the horses out to work on the Sabbath, but being only horses, they didn’t understand this and would push and push at the poles to get out. Only the more substantial Sunday Post would stop them getting through, giving the farmer (and the horses) a day of rest. Will I add a couple of traditional Yorkshire Sunday posts in wood? In Lithuanian pine? No, I don’t think I will.

In the afternoon BC joined us and we carried down lots of logs felled last winter, cut them into 4 foot lengths and stacked them in the West cord, which is now half full. Flag killed a Bank Vole, Grey Squirrels (Tree Rats!) continue to destroy many trees by stripping off great areas of bark to eat the sugary sap, and a brightly coloured pink, blue, black and white Jay flitted around the woodyard.

04 Jul 08    The Velvet Gentleman

BC noticed him lying by the side of the drive, his moleskin suit looking particularly smart and his paddle-shaped front paws showing clearly. He looked in fine form, apart from the fact that he was dead. He was given a suitable burial in the ditch. Pity all the Grey Squirrels aren’t dead! Those damned Tree Rats have started an orgy of bark stripping which we noticed first on a young Oak, then a young Willow, then an Ash, then a 10 foot section of the young Willow in the front garden of Groves Dyke. Further up the drive they have even started stripping bark from the bases of mature Beech trees, which won’t do them any good at all. Is the sap particularly sugary at this time of year? Have they run out of songbirds’ eggs and young to eat? Why my trees?

We trimmed-up the side of the hedge we laid a few months ago, removing Briars and side shoots of Sycamore. Then we did the obvious thing and added another half section to the other cord, the West Cord, so that we could carry down some of the last winter’s logs and put them somewhere useful. Obvious? Well, perhaps not – or we would have done it months ago.

02 Jul 08    The Year Has Turned

This morning SA hammered in the two new fence posts in exactly the right places, laying the two new strainer posts as ground runners within them, and the East Cord is now twice as long as before, with twice the capacity. Like all good cords and windrows, it runs North – South, so that all the 4 foot lengths of potential firewood are stacked lying East – West. This way, all the Eastern ends of each and every 4 foot length are warmed up and dried out by the morning sun every day, the whole stack gets the full benefit of the midday sun, and all the Western ends are warmed up and dried out by the afternoon sun. A year of that kind of efficient treatment and the moisture content of the firewood will have dropped by about half. Another year and the resulting firewood will burn even hotter and even more efficiently.

After lunch BC and I joined in and we all removed several branches from the storm damaged Crack Willow (it cracked) just over the top bridge. The three larger bits were just what we needed, so we each carried one down to the woodyard, cut them into 4 foot lengths and ceremoniously laid them into the completely empty East Cord as the very first offerings of the 2008 / 9 cutting season. Everything that is cut over the next 12 months will be added here if long enough (shorter bits in the woodshed or pole barn) and all of it ready to be burned in the winter of 2010/11.

01 July 08    Credit Crunch Fight Back

I paid my car tax this morning (£35 – good thing I bought a sensible car), my TV licence last week (£145 – I should just watch the car instead!) and adjusted the direct debit on my electricity bill (now down to £16 per month, as it has only averaged £10 per month since 14 Dec 07) and my last gas bill averaged £30 / month since 14 March 08 (£1 per day sounds ok to me for full gas central heating). Is proper insulation really worth it? Oh YES! Is relying on the utility companies’ Estimated Reading a good idea? On NO! Every time an estimated bill arrives, just go and take your own readings and phone that through on the Free Phone number provided on the bill. They will recalculate your bill and the savings to you will be a very welcome surprise…

Thinks: If every estimated meter reading is over-estimated by just £10, and they read 1 million meters every 3 months, that gives them £10m of our money gathering interest in their bank account, and they all do that four times a year = £40m for each of the big supply companies. Ah yes, de-nationalisation of the gas and electricity suppliers was such a good idea – for them!

June 2008 Weather Summary.     Precipitation 60mm (2⅜ inch). Temperatures: Maximum 28°C (82°F), Minimum 4°C (40°F). Actual today 15°C (60°F). Starting wet and mild, by mid-month the weather was warmer and dryer but with a most unseasonable gale in the ‘midsummer storm’ . Then back to warm dry weather with the hottest day of the year on the last day of the month.

30 Jun 08    Logs from Lithuania to Sleights

This morning SA and I drove to Ruswarp to buy some tannalised timber to extend the east cord in the woodyard. This will double my storage capacity of cordwood to be cut this winter, for burning in two winter’s time. I asked for two 8 foot long strainer posts, as I did when building the existing cord frames, only to be told that they would have to be 7 foots. Odd, I thought. How can I build a bog standard frame to hold 1 cord of firewood (8 foot by 4 foot by 4 foot = a nominal 128 cubic feet of timber), which has been the traditional unit of firewood since medieval times, if the ground runners are only 7 foot long?

Why are these strainer posts only 7 foot long, I asked? Because, it transpired, this tannalised timber is imported all the way from Lithuania. Why? Because the UK Forestry Commission can no longer supply it. Why? Because they don’t have any spare timber. Why? Because they are selling it all to Middlesbrough. Why? Because it is needed for burning in the nice new wood-fired electricity generating station there. But why are the Forestry Commission sending their best wood, suitable for making into fence posts, strainer posts, gate posts, telegraph poles and planks for construction, to be burnt in a power station? Because they don’t have enough poor quality wood to fill the contract with the power station. Why do they not have enough poor quality wood? Because Dalby Forest has been growing too well and so there isn’t much duff timber now. Why is Dalby Forest now growing better quality timber? No idea – but it might be the changing climate.

But why did we build a wood-fired electricity generating station in the first place? To reduce our burning of fossil oil and gas, of course, and so reduce the fossil CO2 emissions which are causing the weather to change. So why are we now transporting timber all the way from Lithuania by road, ship and road again and thus creating all that extra CO2? Simple. Because the UK and Europe just don’t have an integrated fuel policy, an integrated transport policy nor an integrated CO2 reduction policy.

So why do we think we are the most intelligent species in the world? I have absolutely no idea.

29 Jun 08    A big bright yellow Sea King air sea rescue helicopter circled over Sleights for half an hour this afternoon, so I went out to investigate. Not a traffic accident at the road works on Sleights bridge as I expected, but a motorist suddenly taken ill. Presumably, the air sea rescue chopper was closer than the air ambulance at the time.

28 Jun 08    A lovely calm, dry, sunny and warm day with lots happening at my feeding station between 09.45 and 10.00, including: Great Tit 3, Blackbird 1, Blue Tit 1, Chaffinch 1, Dunnock 1, Greenfinch 1, Jay 1 (picking up something underneath the seed feeder), Robin 1, Wood Pigeon 1, not to mention Bank Vole 1 and 1 baby Wood Mouse. All in all, a very nice post-breakfast cabaret!

27 Jun 08    SA and I trimmed back the sagging branches which almost obscured the path, coming from the Goat Willow split in the Midsummer Storm. SA then used the sled to bring down the very, very last of the Tilhill logs, and stacked them in the woodshed. After lunch we used the sled again to drag down 2 of the big Scots Pine drums for the local wood turner to convert into something much more beautiful than fire logs.

25 Jun 08    A fine morning for SA to carry down more Tilhill logs, saw & stack them. After lunch BC & I joined in with dodging the sun showers, inspecting the Goat Willow damage (1 split trunk and 2 other split branches) near the top bridge, and discovering 6 Common Spotted Orchids growing alongside the path. More logs carried down & stacked, then we trimmed the side of the hedge above the half-round drain pipes alongside the drive. Three o’clocks today was the first outdoor strawberries and cream of the year – and we never got wet once!

24 Jun 08    Back to proper warm, dry, calm, sunny weather – just ideal for cutting the last of the lawns and the path around the wood. While I was repairing the storm damaged conservatory door handle, a Roe Deer shot down the drive, closely followed by Flag. They were both gone about 10 minutes and then Flag reappeared, tired out but carrying a dead Rabbit. Explanation? He’s a Golden Retriever, silly! Meanwhile, in Washington today:

‘Twenty years later: tipping points near on global warming

James Hansen, director of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, marks the 20th anniversary of his groundbreaking statement to [the US] Congress by saying there’s no time left to delay in defusing the global warming time bomb.

Monday June 23, 2008

Tomorrow I will testify to Congress about global warming, 20 years after my 23 June 1988 testimony, which alerted the public that global warming was underway. There are striking similarities between then and now, but one big difference.

Again a wide gap has developed between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific communities and what is known by policymakers and the public. Now, as then, frank assessment of scientific data yields conclusions that are shocking to the body politic. Now, as then, I can assert that these conclusions have a certainty exceeding 99%.

The difference is that now we have used up all slack in the schedule for actions needed to defuse the global warming time bomb. The next president and Congress must define a course next year in which the United States exerts leadership commensurate with our responsibility for the present dangerous situation.

Otherwise it will become impractical to constrain atmospheric carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas produced in burning fossil fuels, to a level that prevents the climate system from passing tipping points that lead to disastrous climate changes that spiral dynamically out of humanity’s control.

Changes needed to preserve creation, the planet on which civilisation developed, are clear. But the changes have been blocked by special interests, focused on short-term profits, who hold sway in Washington and other capitals.

I argue that a path yielding energy independence and a healthier environment is, barely, still possible. It requires a transformative change of direction in Washington in the next year.’  James Hansen, director of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies

[Quick! The answer to all life's little problems: More chocolate..!]

23 Jun 08    Grass cutting this morning, followed by a stroll around the wood with BC to have a look at the damage. Apart from a carpet of leaves and twigs everywhere, just a couple of cracks in the Goat Willows on the far side of the top bridge. We used the telescopic pole saw to remove a couple of dead branches from the Elm which gave up the ghost last summer, just in case they are snapped off by the wind and fall onto the drive. Then a little hedge trimming for friends, followed by a bit of log sawing for ourselves.

22 Jun 08    What a strange 36 hours of weather! Yesterday morning was warm, dry and sunny so I took Flag for a lovely stroll along the Sustrans National Cycle Network from Stainsacre to Hawsker (the poor old fella’s legs just aren’t up to it – and Flag was tired, too)! Then an al fresco coffee and sticky bun on the riverbank at the River Gardens in Sleights, where the rain began and I headed indoors as it drizzled almost non-stop all afternoon & much of the evening. But then the wind got stronger and stronger, with a good going Westerly gale lasting all night, followed by bright, dry and sunny weather all next day – while the gale continued well into this evening. At Sandsend the sun shone strongly on the breaking waves, while the wind whipped the tops off every white horse. Very pretty! But cool enough that evening to light the woodburner – on the longest day of the year!

A nervous Nuthatch, clearly a Learner, investigated my feeding station but failed to find its way through the Grey Squirrel defences. Later a Collared Dove, the first I’ve seen for many a long week, fed happily below the feeders.

20 Jun 08    The longest day of the year today? Or tomorrow? Either way, today was lovely and warm, sunny and calm enough to dismantle the avalanche of cardboard sheets in the pole barn, sort them into either flat sheets suitable for roll-ups or bent / twisted / awkward blocks which will never stack properly, before removing all the copper staples (how much a ton these days?) and then remantle all the flat ones, on their edges, into a suitable rack. That should stop them from blowing about! The reject bits were taken to the woodyard for alternative uses.

BC and I also tidied-up the last of the hedge trimmings from yesterday, carried down some more Tilhill logs for sawing and stacking in the woodshed. Only then did I notice that yesterday I had forgotten to trim the horseshoe hedge around the stone seat. Damn!

19 Jun 08    A warm, dry, sunny and windy day for trimming all the garden hedges – and raking up most of the cuttings.

18 Jun 08    After lunch BC and I tested the recently levelled path, approved and levelled a bit more. Another circuit of the wood to bring down some more Tilhill logs and then we sawed and stacked them away in the almost full woodshed. A good sighting of a Green Woodpecker on the front lawn was followed by a poor hearing of a couple of Bullfinches in the wood. Overcast, mild and showery with the rain gauge now reading just over 1½ inches so far this month.

17 Jun 08    A lovely al fresco meeting with friends in Grosmont, admiring the unbeatable view and discussing Peak Oil, Transition Towns, Carbon Descent and our Local Resilience to another annual doubling of the price of a barrel of oil and how it will affect the Whitby Area. Hopefully, you are all doing the same for your area. No problem with our local produce, thank goodness, as Ford’s sausage rolls from Glaisdale and Stonehouse Bakery sticky buns from Danby gave us the energy to plan for a very uncertain future and one which will depend on alternative forms of energy.

But there are lots of intelligent people out there who still haven’t begun to put 2 and 2 together yet. Like a local farmer met in Whitby who was concerned about the rising cost of diesel, the rising cost of electricity, the rising cost of artificial fertiliser and the rising cost of supermarket food – and still didn’t cotton on that these are all inter-related via oil! There are more and more people raiding a shrinking global larder and nobody is restocking it…

After lunch I collected Flag for an Esk Valley tour of 7 of the 14 phone boxes due to be removed in the next few weeks. Some of the locations have good mobile phone signals on most networks, some locations have middling signals on half the networks, and some have zero signals on all networks – so be prepared if you plan to walk the Esk Valley Walk or the Coast to Coast Walk, and cycle the National Cycle Network, because all those rural phone boxes you may need when you come unstuck in the middle of nowhere just won’t be there any more – and your mobile phone may or (probably) may not find any signal.

A poignant hand written poster on the phone box in Danby village says ‘Save our Phone Box. They closed our Post Office. They closed our Village Shop. Now they are going to close our Phone Box.’

16 Jun 08    The almost-hail bounced off the conservatory roof as we tried to discuss our work programme. Once the shower had passed, SA and I walked around to check how the newly levelled path had fared in the wet. Better than when it was both wet and tilted! After lunch BC & SA continued to do useful things like levelling a bit more of the path across the slope and carrying down and sawing a few more Tilhill logs. I, on the other hand, spent first the afternoon and then the evening in boring indoor meetings. And is the world a better place as a result? Well, the path around the wood is…

15 Jun 08    A new species of Dragonfly patrolled my pond and the beck. New to Groves Bank and to me, this broad-bodied, bright blue beastie with black, see-through wings was quite unlike anything I had ever seen before and a bit of web research is required… Sorted:

A Broad-bodied Chaser Dragonfly, Libellula depressa, adult male – click here for photo, etc.

‘Widespread and common throughout southern England and Wales’ – eh?

13 Jun 08    SA and BC got on with something useful in the wood, like cutting out a level path through Kent (where the 7 Oaks are), while some of us Whitby ‘community volunteers’ drove to York for a 1-day course in ‘Community Development’. We thought it was going to be about ‘community empowerment’ ie how to make your district council listen to what the local people actually want – but it wasn’t. There was even a speaker there who came from another planet and spoke of a parallel universe where the government spends millions of money every year creating regional networks of quangos and departments and academics to write tons of big, fluffy, jargon-filled, non-recycled paper leaflets inviting other networks of quangos and departments and academics to respond, so that they can all produce a big, fluffy, jargon-filled, non-recycled paper Report, all about forming a national network of quangos and departments and academics. (I wonder if he got paid his intergalactic travel expenses? We only came 40 miles, but we didn’t).

The really useful stuff came from some of the other attendees during the coffee breaks, eg: A major city in the north of England which was flooded last year and was so unprepared that there was nobody (no, nobody) delegated to take / sort / accept the many hundreds of offers of help from the rest of the country, thus the whole city lost out on Canoe Clubs offering to search for householders still trapped in their homes, 4×4 Vehicle Clubs offering to drive through 2 feet of water to rescue them, etc, etc. Yet the same city was unable to use community halls if they didn’t have proper disabled access, and also refused help from anyone without a valid Criminal Record Bureau check to work with children and vulnerable adults! When lives were being lost in the middle of a major severe weather event!! Give me strength!!!

No, don’t laugh – just go and ask if your Council is any better prepared than that one – ‘cos chances are, they aren’t.

But we did hear about one local authority which actually sends its employees out into the local communities to ask what they actually want, and then bloody well sets out to provide it! Now there’s a novelty…

12 Jun 08    Rain overnight, but not much. Two Roe Deer stood nonchalantly in the long grass of the field above the wood, watching Flag and me on our morning circuit of the wood. By mid-morning I had the rest of the grass cut and the last of the Daffodil leaves strimmed away. By mid-afternoon I was in another meeting, as Scarborough Borough Council had the terms of its Draft Service Agreement with Town and Parish Councils largely re-written, thanks to the professionalism and expertise of the 9 Town and Parish Councillors who bothered to turn up for the ‘consultation’ session. What a useful afternoon this may yet turn out to be!

11 Jun 08    SA and ID moved the prefab bridge (a redundant outdoor tannalised wheelchair ramp) and sawed up and stacked the Ash poles which had been stacked against it. After lunch BC and NC joined in to carry it up to the woodyard and manoeuvre it into position. We hammered in the uprights for the handrail, lashed the freshly felled Ash handrail into place, pegged down the other bridge corners, named it the NIBS Bridge (one initial for each of us), added the now redundant ‘measuring’ rail to the pole barn as another stacking diagonal – and then collapsed on the patio with lots and lots of cool drinks. Or should that be SNIB? Or maybe even BINS? BINS Bridge has a certain ring to it – at least it would go well with Bruno’s Banisters.

This new bridge is in the private Woodyard and will give ‘the staff’ easy access to the steeply coppiced slope below the guests’ path between the Major Oak and Chimney Bank. Now we just need an old fashioned chimney to plant at the top of the 1 : 2½ gradient next to the First or SW Coppice…

09 Jun 08    Another lovely day, with a drive along Oakley Walls (not a single Wheatear en route, unlike 15 years ago when there was one every few hundred yards all the way along) to Danby village hall for a tedious meeting about ‘affordable’ housing for local needs. Just to illustrate the problem, the average price of a house in Scarborough Borough is now £160,861, in Whitby is £185,683 and in the North York Moors National Park is £345,000. Local young farming couple setting up their first family home? No chance! Try the slums of Middlesbrough for anything affordable…

08 Jun 08    Hot, dry, sunny and a lovely day for a drive to Littlebeck and a pause, car windows all down, on the water splash near Tom Whittaker’s cottage to savour the lovely cool, damp feel of the beck and the shade of the woods.

06 Jun 08    Dry and mild again today, but a bit less sunny. SA, BC and I spent the afternoon sawing the stack of ‘waste’ cardboard into suitable lengths for rolling into card logs for the wood burning stove next winter. Trees – paper – cardboard – card logs – stove – heat. Obviously. It makes far more sense that trucking it at high speed for miles across the UK, shredding and dissolving it in boiling water, compressing, rolling and drying it back into an even lower grade of card and then trucking it at high speed back again across the UK. Or shipping it to China for them to do who knows what with it? So which of these 3 options has the lowest carbon footprint? I think I prefer my use.

05 Jun 08    Today was the very last meeting of Whitby Beacon Town Forum, the organisation which has kept many of us busy over the past several years, including:

£50m Lottery bid to rebuild the Resolution in Whitby and sail her around the world to complete Capt Cook’s final voyage and to highlight Climate Change by sailing home via the newly ice-free North West Passage (our bid got through several rounds of the process, but then no further);

Whitby’s 3 -year participation in CREST (CREating Sustainable Tourism destinations) and hosting their penultimate international conference;

Completing the Whitby Traffic Survey using the N Yorkshire County Council figures and revealing that Whitby gets 2 million visitor days / year;

Completing the Whitby Visitor Survey, currently being analysed by one of our members;

Adopting the www.visitwhitby.com website, currently being redesigned for re-launch in a few weeks;

Preparing the way for a bigger, wider umbrella organisation for the Whitby area…

After the meeting we just sat in the sun, drank a lot of wine and put the world to rights. Again.

04 Jun 08    Warm, dry and sunny today, with just 1½ inch of rain in the first 3 days of this month – which is twice what there was in all 31 days of last month. Both Flag and I enjoyed a nice walk through the woods near Grosmont, where the river is pretty high (so there must have been much more rain on the higher ground).

03 Jun 08    Wet, wet, wet. Wet all night, wet all morning, wet all afternoon and damp all evening. Another 39 days and 39 nights of this and we are all in trouble!

02 Jun 08    A male Green Woodpecker perched on the telegraph pole by the woodyard this morning, prolonging our 10 o’clock coffee in the conservatory by several enjoyable minutes before flying down to the path to investigate yet another newly created molehill. I cut the grass while SA snipped a few more drooping branches from over the path, carried down and sawed up a few more logs.

After lunch we straightened up the Twigwam (or should that be diagonalised the Twigwam?) with a ball of string and a pair of secateurs. Either way, it looks much more like a Twigwam now. The first Yellow Flag Iris is out in the beck. Today’s weather has been overcast, dry and mild but with a good chance of very heavy and prolonged rain overnight and tomorrow, so all drains, gutters, gullys and the beck were checked, just in case…

01 Jun 08    A mild grey morning turned into steady and continuous rain just in time for the ‘unveiling’ of Whitby’s Historic Lifeboat (yes, another one – we got lots of important old lifeboats) at the Stables Restaurant, Cross Butts Farm, Whitby. The great and the good were gathered under the veranda and assorted umbrellas, while the very great and the very good were huddled under the thatched gazebo on the ‘island’ in the pond. The radio mike for the speeches worked intermittently, never having been designed to work in very wet conditions, unlike the ‘William Riley of Birmingham and Leamington’ herself, who was absolutely resplendent fine when the tarpaulin was pulled aside.

This is the rowing lifeboat built in 1909 to be launched by hand off a giant trolley dragged across the beach by dozens of fishermen. This is the lifeboat which was lowered 200 feet down the Abbey cliff face in an effort to rescue the 200+ souls on board the First World War hospital ship Rohilla when she was blown onto Whitby Scar by Northerly gales and attempt after attempt to rescue the survivors failed, day after day after day, while crowds on the clifftop could only watch helplessly. This was the lifeboat which lay abandoned and awash on the salt marsh of a Cornwall estuary for years. This was the rotting hull of a lifeboat which was auctioned on Ebay and snapped up by the farsighted enthusiasts of Whitby. She was transported by road to Cross Butts Farm and restored by local enthusiasts over 3 years and now, today, is being rededicated and launched back into Whitby Harbour. Now in great demand for RNLI fund-raising events, she will be seen here and there around the NE coast, will be rowed across the 60 miles of open North Sea from the Tyne to Whitby this summer and may yet become the national mascot of the Sea Cadets throughout the UK. Well done to William Riley, her dedicated restorers, all who sail in her and everyone who see her and donates to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution!

First Swift seen from Sleights bridge.

May 2008 Weather Summary.     Precipitation 15mm (⅝ inch). Temperatures: Maximum 25°C (76°F), Minimum -2°C (30°F). Actual today 14°C (58°F). Another very mixed month, with well over a week of heat wave, then reverting to cold Easterly winds for many days, giving way to better weather, then more rain before becoming Spring like again.

31 May 08    Hello – it’s summer weather again!  In my pond the first Monkey Flower is out.

30 May 08    Cooler and greyer again today as SA split a bit more wood near the top of Bank side. After a late lunch BC & I joined in and we carried the empty plastic bread tray sleigh up to the top of the hill, filled it with Tilhill logs, and slid it back down again, sawing and stacking the logs in the woodshed. Phew! It’s too hot again!

Two Roe Deer ran across the field above the wood this morning and the Green Woodpecker yaffled all day from somewhere in the wood.

29 May 08    Back to hot, dry summer weather again today, so I took the morning off to stroll around Whitby, browse around some interesting little shops, buy some local produce at Whitby Farmers’ Market and home again for a nice fresh local salad lunch in the shade of the raftings. Lovely! I should do this more often and just leave the rest of the world to decide what it can be bothered to do about its own future… if anything.

SB delivered some tadpoles rescued from a drying out pond on Sneaton Moor and we released them into my pond. None of my frosted frogspawn ever hatched, so it would have been a frog free year without these refugees.

28 May 08    Yesterday was the day that the Chief Executive of our government’s Nuclear Decommissioning Agency announced that the cost of making safe the UK’s current round of retiring nuclear power stations will be more than the £87 billion previously estimated. How much? Yes, £87 thousand million. That’s £87,000,000,000 of your taxes and mine to try to clean up and make safe all that ‘nice, cheap, clean electricity’ that we keep hearing about from the pro-nuclear lobby. In fact, since that amount is now realised to be insufficient, it’s actually going to be MORE than £87 billion! Good, innit?

Today, on the other hand, our Prime Minister announced that the UK was going to build many more nice new nuclear power stations ‘to make up the imminent shortfall in electricity generation’ – but since they each take about 10 years to build, and we already waste 40% of all the electricity we do make, why not just reduce all that waste by increasing our energy efficiency? Great. Just great. Now what was I just saying about joined-up thinking?

The weather is improving (but that appears to be all that is) and today SA spent the morning laying a perforated plastic drainpipe in the open ditch we dug to save the big Hazel coppice a few months ago. After lunch BC and I joined in and we all carried down the long fallen Hawthorn and sawed it into firelogs and stacked it in the woodshed. By mid-afternoon we were too hot again and needed long, cool drinks before setting off to view some Whittaker (Gnomeman) furniture being auctioned tomorrow.

27 May 08    Hey! Where did all that nice summer weather go? Today is cool and overcast with a little rain. I think I preferred yesterday.

So the cheaper road fuel lobby is sending convoys of HGVs to London and other UK cities today, demanding less tax on petrol and diesel within 7 days, or else… Ah, yes – I remember the petrol blockades of 2000, when all traffic was off the road because all petrol stations were starved of fuel by this same lobby group. ‘We will ensure that all doctors and nurses are supplied so that hospitals can keep going’ they claimed back then, but that wasn’t what actually happened in Leeds nor York. It was a simple case of the biggest bully grabbed as much fuel as possible, as quickly as possible and to hell with any hospital doctors, nurses, lab technicians, admin staff, clerks, cooks, cleaners, porters and anybody else. So please don’t fall for that ‘reassurance’ if they trot it out again…

Diesel in Whitby is now £1.29p / litre (I think that is near as dammit £6 / gallon), so I’m glad that I chose a small car which I drive at a reasonable speed in a smooth manner and it gives me 56 miles / gallon, despite the short runs and the steep hills. Quite simply, if road fuel was any cheaper, we would only use even more of it, which we know isn’t is good idea, because year by year there is less and less oil in the world, and every year more and more people want some of that diminishing reserve. Will the price continue to rise? Of course it will!

So how is our joined-up thinking going?

UK government - closes 1,250 rural Post Offices this spring, thus creating more than 2 million extra car miles / year as everyone now has to drive several miles further to the next nearest surviving Post Office, and back again.

UK businesses  – Tesco (for example) having just one single solitary distribution centre (near Cambridge) for the whole of the UK, thus every single solitary item on every single solitary shelf in every single solitary Tesco store in every single corner of the UK has to be driven (at top speed, of course) from where it was grown / processed / packed to near Cambridge, and then on to every single Tesco supermarket in the UK – including the one nearest to where it was grown / processed / packed in the first place. Anyone in Inverness fancy a nice bottle of Tesco Scottish Mountain Water? That is just one reason why 4 out of every 5 HGVs on our motorways are carrying food or drink. Backwards and forwards, apparently! Why? Because ‘with road fuel being so cheap’ it is just not economic to have more than 1 distribution centre!! Ah, yes – the beguiling logic of the commercial accountant…

UK individuals – many insist on hammering their gas-guzzling, super-sized armoured personnel carriers at ‘way, ‘way over the legal speed limit and then they complain that ‘the cost of motoring is too high’.

If road fuel was any cheaper, we would only use even more of it, which we know is not a good idea. Just ask anyone still living in a caravan while their flooded home is still being repaired in Boscastle Harbour / Carlisle / Doncaster / Sheffield / Hull / Tewksbury / Where Next..?

The cost of all energy will double in the next 10 years, so do start adapting your behaviour soon. To that end, try travelling less and staying longer when you do travel – and just to help, may I introduce a new offer:

10% Off when you book 2 consecutive weeks at Groves Dyke Holiday Cottage

20% Off when you book 3 consecutive weeks at Groves Dyke Holiday Cottage! Now it’s your turn to think of something…

 

 

‘Oh well, there is nothing I can do…’ Oh yes there is! See exactly what you can do – for yourself and for your children:

Environmental Transport Association     www.eta.co.uk     The ETA is a not-for-profit ethical organisation providing motorists with carbon-neutral breakdown cover and insurance products. As well as encouraging responsible driving to reduce carbon, the ETA also campaigns for sustainable transport.

Energy Saving Trust    www.energysavingtrust.org.uk    The EST is a non-profit organisation providing free, impartial advice tailored to help you save money and fight climate change by reducing your carbon dioxide emissions.

National Association of Farmers Markets    www.farmersmarkets.net    The only directory of inspected and genuine farmers’ markets in the UK! The National Farmers’ Retail & Markets Association (FARMA) independently inspects farmers’ markets to make sure they’re the ‘real deal.’

26 May 08    I cut the grass this morning while SA snipped a few more brambles and gathered the remains of the long-fallen Hawthorn. After lunch we split and stacked the last of the Tilhill logs at the top of the wood, but it was a bit too warm for such energetic work. Cool drinks under the raftings were much more the order of the day!

25 May 08    Another lovely warm, dry, sunny day. Flag chased a Roebuck through the wood this morning and later we went up to do a bit of restful brambling snipping. On Sleights moor this afternoon a Sky Lark was singing its heart out in the warm sunshine, while a cool wind (not present down in the dale) blew across the heather.

24 May 08    First House Martins on Groves Dyke today, with a pair landing back under the eves where they have nested for years.

23 May 08    SA carried, cut and stacked a bit more wood and after lunch we prepared the heavy wooden bearers for the new heavy wooden bridge. Flag added a bit of excitement by raiding the bird box (sorry Blue Tit family) in the woodshed, knocking it loose and necessitating some emergency repairs and emergency dog resistant fencing in mid-bridging. Notwithstanding my threats to marmalize and transmogrify him, he did it again after tea, necessitating yet more emergency repairs and emergency dog proof fencing in mid-blogging. Consider him fully marmalized and transmogrified (but only verbally).

I see that Caedmon School in Whitby is now offering Park and Stride (following the National Park’s refusal for North Yorkshire County Council’s Whitby’s Park and Ride application). Since the school already has tarmac enough to park well over 100 cars, and it is only a few hundred yards walk from the town centre, and it needs the money – why shouldn’t it (and every other school in a tourist area) do what Hawkshead School in the Lake District has been doing for years? They raise enough extra money every year to pay for half a teacher!

22 May 08    A lovely warm, dry and sunny day. What a shame to have spent it sitting in the study having a 5 hour training session on how we will soon edit the new version (but not yet…) of the existing www.visitwhitby.com website.

21 May 08        Warm and cloudy sun, with an occasional cool breeze. An easy day for SA and me, tidying-up the Hawthorn cuttings from around the skinny Whitebeam (one of only 2 in the whole wood), then weaving half a dozen Sycamore rods into the wickerwork fence up the side of the drive, and then sawing a few long Tilhill logs to the correct length for stacking. After an early 3 o’clocks we went to Ruswarp to look at tannalised timber supports for the new bridge. It will be delivered tomorrow, but we can’t really do any serious heavy lifting until BC & ID are here again..!

19 May 08    Back to warm, dry summer weather again, thank goodness. So far this month there has only been the slightest trace of rain, according to my rain gauge and the North York Moors National Park staff have now put up all the ‘Extreme Fire Risk’ signs on the moortop roads.

SA removed the young Ash tree which insists on growing up through the prostate Juniper at the edge of the front lawn and trying to ruin my view across the dale to Sleights moor. I went with several other Whitby Town Councillors to Scarborough town hall to listen (we are not allowed to speak) to Scarborough Borough Council’s plans for more new buildings on Whitby’s West Cliff, plans for local control of Whitby harbour (more delays) and the results of their internal enquiry into the late, ill-fated, sub-standard and over-estimate Whitby Beach Management Centre (‘lessons have been learned’). Great. And then central government wonders why nobody bothers to vote any more? It is because we have all realised that our votes have absolutely no effect whatsoever on the bloody outcomes, that’s why!

16 May 08    We thought it was cool but by the time we had sawn the very last of the East cord (SA did most of it this morning) and then rescued a tall, skinny Whitebeam from the clutches of a much bigger Hawthorn, all three of us were in need of some nice cool drinks to wash down the delicious Apple Pie Cake. Mmmm!

14 May 08    Warmer again, but still cool enough to stack some of the Sycamore we dropped last year and to layer a few more Hazel stools. One in particular now has 6 different branches pegged down to root in 6 different directions and it looks a bit like an Octopus (with a couple of tentacles missing).

Then we removed the giant wooden ‘mushroom’ from the Transformer Triangle and replaced it with ‘The Passage of Life’ by the local woodturner. This magnificent piece of installation art starts with a large wooden egg – the start of all Life. Through the egg a funnel represents the Passage of Life, which leads back to a number of generations rooted in the Tree of Life, sustained by Mother Earth. Eat yer heart out, Anthony Gormley!

If you would like to see (and buy!) some of his wonderful woodturning, including wood from Groves Coppice, (or his wife’s beautiful beadwork jewellery) you are invited to The Institute at Thornton Dale near Pickering on Sat 31st May and Sun 1st June (10am – 4pm). Admission is free and a percentage of proceeds will go to CAFOD.

This evening is devoted to setting up displays for tomorrow’s final CREST Conference at Sneaton Castle, Whitby. Now that we have completed the EU funded 2-year Project on CREating Sustainable Tourism, all we have to do is present the conclusions, introduce additional work by Kingston University – and then convince the rest of the population that we all need to decide where we all go from here. Unless we just settle for yet more talking and no actual action, of course, in good old EU tradition.

12 May 08    At least 10°C cooler today with a sea fret reaching inland all the way to Sleights. Presumably, another mile or two further inland and the sun would be splitting the flagstones again, but not here. Not today.

This morning SA and ID (SAID? Or IDSA?) layered whatever was available in the Third Hazel coppice (not much) and then returned to the Second coppice to extend it still further. I joined them after lunch and we layered the Hazel by the hedge in the SW corner, creating a new, lower extension to the First Hazel coppice. Then we were joined by a local couple who are also working on their wood nearby and gave them the Grand Tour.

09 May 08    SA cut more pegs and cleared more space where the Hazel branches will touch the ground when layered. It’s hot again (my car says it was 23°C this afternoon, which is about 76° in real Fahrenheit), so hot that all three of us spent the afternoon getting scratched by Brambles as we worked in short sleeves. This kind of work among the Brambles is usually winter work when we are all well wrapped up. By late afternoon we had doubled the area of the Second Coppice, assuming (of course) that all the layered stems take root…

08 May 08    Almost too hot to use the small rechargeable strimmer to tidy up the edge of the drive, but Flag lay in the shade and watched me slaving away in the midday sun, so what does that tell you about sensible dogs and mad Irishmen? The Major Oak is now in full green leaf, while the leaning Ash is only just beginning, so: ‘Oak before Ash, only a splash.’ In other words, expect a dry summer.

After my first lunch under the Raftings I took the poor hot dog to Beck Hole for a shady stroll alongside the cool Murk Esk, which we both enjoyed. I just stood and looked at it, he went and just stood in it. Then we walked to the wonderful Birch Hall Inn for a drink and a Beck Hole Butty (with slabs of home cooked ham, of course) and enjoyed the many conundrums pinned up around the front bar, including:

If B mt put:

If B. putting:

No. Sorry. You’ll just have to work it out for yourself or, better still, call in at the Birch Hall Inn, buy a drink and a snack and ask nicely! You can even make a donation to their favourite charity and they will set the model train running around the top shelf for you. See www.beckhole.info

In the early evening it was cool enough to take the big strimmer and cut the wood path for the first time this year. And then collapse.

07 May 08    The dawn chorus is glorious every morning, with one particular Song Thrush somewhere in the orchard singing the praises of ‘Baked beans, baked beans, baked beans!’ for over an hour before breakfast. (Thinks: Talking of baked beans and breakfast: when exactly did baked beans become part of a ‘traditional full English breakfast’)?

The Sparrowhawk came back for another helping this morning but flew off empty taloned.

Hot, calm and sunny again today as SA removed redundant bits of anti-deer defences from around various now-well-grown trees, ready to be used on the many tasty young Hazels we will be layering over the next few weeks, not to mention cutting some wooden pegs for the layering. BC and I joined in for our first salad lunch of the year, together with Botham’s wonderfully light quiche and paradoxically heavy port pie. Then we all set about de-brambling the places around the Hazel coppices where the longest Hazel stems will be pegged down to root themselves, before being severed from the parent stool. This is the traditional way to replace missing Hazels in a coppice or, as we are doing, to expand the coppice area without the cost of buying additional young trees. By 3 o’clocks we had managed to actually clear some spaces, cut some pegs and layer some Hazel branches into those spaces – effectively increasing the Second Coppice by at least a third. This called for a celebration so we drank lots of cool drinks on the patio and enjoyed the first Magnum ice creams of the summer.

As we relaxed, the first House Martins flew overhead. They were not circling the house in an excited celebration, so I suspect these ones were just hawking over the nearby River Esk and accidentally drifted into my airspace.

06 May 08    This morning all the live food I have been offering for years at the feeding station brought rewards when a magnificent female Sparrowhawk swooped down, chased one of them around the bush below and finally flew off with it firmly in her talons. Well Done, Sprawk! Pity about the Dunnock, though… Still and all, the wood is in good shape if the top predator is breeding there, as she clearly is. Thanks, Dunnock, your sacrifice is much appreciated.

NB: This is a politically correct bird feeding station, catering for all avian users regardless of their colour, creed, gender, musicality, race, species, sub-species or sexual orientation and in the name of universal love and forgiveness any hint of intolerance will be punished very severely in most unpleasant ways for all eternity!

05 May 08    Yesterday I encountered my first family of young birds in the wood, when a dozen (mainly juvenile and rather short tailed) Long Tailed Tit crossed the path by the Second Hazel Coppice. One of my favourite birds at any time of year, but a whole family of them on the move in my wood was extra specially good.

Today I cut the grass while SA sawed some more cut Blackthorn stems to 4 foot lengths and stacked them onto the loose cord with the others. BC arrived in time for lunch and we all agreed that it was rather too hot for our usual soup. Our first non-soup lunch of the year was followed by sawing and stacking the rest of the Blackthorn, then sawing some of the East cord into firelogs for the woodshed and then drinking very large volumes of very cold fruit squash while collapsing in chairs on the patio and sunbathing. It must be in the high 60s, the sky is clear, the sun is hot and there is no wind. Summertime? On a Bank Holiday Monday, too!

04 May 08    My first family of Long Tailed Tit ‘tseeped’ their way through the wood, with up to ten rather short-tailed Long Tailed youngsters calling loudly as they kept in tough with their partents.

03 May 08    I don’t usually wave at the many steam trains going past in the bottom of the dale, but today I made an exception for Sir Nigel Gresley on his (her?) trip to Whitby. An A4 Pacific Class locomotive and one of only 6 left in the world, Sir Nigel is from the same Class as Mallard, the fastest steam train in the world when it broke the record with 125mph in 1938. Just one more trip from Pickering to Whitby again tomorrow and then poor old Sir Nigel is off to the National Railway Museum in York for mothballing. Never mind, poor old Nige, there will be other steam trains keeping the tradition alive, with a total of over 500 return steam trips from Pickering via Grosmont to Whitby this year. Last year the North Yorkshire Moors Railway also had frequent steam trips on the same route, and carried well over 300,000 passengers from Pickering to Whitby and back. That’s equivalent to 100,000 cars with 3 passengers / car and is (but don’t tell anyone) an almost perfect Park and Ride system already! Now all we have to do is put back the 10 miles of track from Pickering to Malton that dear old Dr Beeching closed, and then we can run trains right through from York to Whitby…

Talking of Dr Beeching’s short term economic sense and long term major mistake that cost far, far more in the long run: rural Post Office closures. ‘What’s a rural Post Office, mummy?’

02 May 08    SA selected four perfect Hazel sticks from the First Hazel Coppice, ready for marking off as our new medieval standard measuring stick for all cordwood: 4 feet long. This was the ideal length for every piece of cordwood for centuries, easy to handle for loading and unloading carts, and divisible into either six 8 inch firelogs for small bedroom grates, or four 12 inch firelogs for living room grates, or three 16 inch firelogs for kitchen grates (and most modern woodburning stoves), or two 24 inch logs for grand ballroom grates, or even one 48 inch firelog for the vast  warming room fireplace of Fountain Abbey. In the past I have cheated and cut all my cordwood to 4 foot 6 inch lengths (ie three 18 inch firelogs) to suit my particular model of woodburner but, really, one ought to do these things in the time honoured way. Especially as later this year we will be doubling the length of the East cord from 8 feet to 16 feet and should make all the other necessary changes before starting this autumn to cut wood to fill it for burning in the winter of 2010/11.

For BC, SA and I it was warm work after lunch sawing the Blackthorn into the new medieval 4 foot lengths and building a temporary loose cord by the Second Hazel coppice. Orientated North / South, this loose cord will present both cut ends of every piece of cordwood to direct sunlight either morning or afternoon, thus drying it out faster and making it lighter to carry down to the woodyard in the autumn. As the medieval folk well knew, when you are doing all the work by hand (or foot), it makes sense to find the least energetic methods! We had our 3.30 o’clocks sitting out on the patio (first patio 3 o’clocks of the year) and letting our bones feel the heat of the full afternoon sun. We weren’t the only ones to appreciate the heat, with the first Grasshopper (Cricket?) rasping in the grass by the pond. Also the first Broomrape flowering. Summer at last? Wonderful!

April 2008 Weather Summary.     Precipitation 97mm (3¾ inch). Temperatures: Maximum 19°C (66°F), Minimum -4°C (26°F). Actual today 14°C (56°F). A very mixed month, with every indication of Spring having arrived and some lawns cut for the first time this year, then reverting to sharp overnight frosts, then milder and wetter, then cold Easterly winds for many days, giving way to better weather, then more rain before becoming Spring like again.

30 Apr 08    Heavy rain overnight (it didn’t waken me!) apparently, with another ¾ of an inch of rain since yesterday evening. Now clear and sunny, the ground is really soggy all around the wood and even the diverted path is now waterlogged again. There hasn’t really been a lot of rain this month, but perhaps the lower temperatures, cool East wind and cloudy skies have all reduced the normal evapo-transpiration rate of all the soil / grass / shrubs / trees so much that nothing really dried out after what rain there was? Very odd.

A single Siskin, the only one I have seen here in many months, finally got the hang of the Grey Squirrel resistant bird feeders and became an almost permanent occupant of the peanut feeder. SA and ID surveyed the soggy wood and after lunch BC and I joined them to check that the neighbour’s top ditch was still diverting the runoff past the wood. Then we moved the other stack of Blackthorn and potential walking sticks from the 2nd Hazel Coppice, restacking it just the other side of the path and hanging all the sticks from the Stick Tree (Crab Apple), while SA lowered all the remaining Blackthorn stems to a much safer height. The first Ladies Smock is in flower by the side of the beck in my garden.

29 Apr 08    The find summer weather continues so Flag and I strolled across the main road, past the gas main related road works, to the River Gardens. Our riverside afternoon tea was greatly enlivened when a rowing boat approached upstream from Ruswarp, complete with creaky noises and oars waving in the air. Flag had no idea what it was but clearly it was absolutely fascinating and just had to be investigated – but I wouldn’t let him, so much whining and consternation (from him) added still further to the excitement. Luckily the rowing boat turned around and glided off downstream again, watched intently every inch of the way by a very frustrated Golden Retriever. I saw Swallows and House Martins over Whitby yesterday, but still none that I have seen in Sleights…

28 Apr 08    I cut the grass (almost all of it) this morning, while SA released a hunched Holly from an overbearing Hawthorn in Dykeside. BC and I joined in after lunch and trimmed even more from the Hawthorn, leaving a happy Holly with a clear view of the sky above and to the South. We then trimmed back a bit more of the fallen Apple, which had been shading the lower bridge approach and keeping the path there very muddy.

25 Apr 08    This morning SA added a few more anti-deer defences to Flag’s Folly, including spinning CDs and a loose bisection of the fenced circle with a bit more wire fencing. After lunch I struggled (and failed) to debug the data entry sheet for the Whitby Visitor Survey, while BC and SA moved the tangled heap of Blackthorn and Sycamore poles which we cleared from the 2nd Hazel Coppice, and restacked them neatly outside the coppice to season. By the time they had done all the hard work, I had emailed the problem to a whizkid in the next village, so I was able to join them for cold drinks and sticky buns in the conservatory. Naturally!

There are now more than 14 spikes of Early Purple Orchid flowering in Bank Orchard.

24 Apr 08    A boring office morning, followed by the first SUMMER weather of the year! The cool, easterly wind has finally gone and is now warm, dry and South Westerly, while the cloud is high, light and fluffy and the temperature is well above 60° and the garden is warm and the conservatory is too warm to have the door closed. Yes, I think this is really what we have all been waiting for!

23 Apr 08    SA sawed yet more wood from next winter’s cord and stacked it in the woodshed (and if this spring wasn’t so cold and miserable, I wouldn’t keep burning it now). After lunch we all split a goodly stack of drums from last year’s Tilhill’s leccy line clearing up by the top bridge and ended up feeling much better about the recent introduced abolition of the 10p tax rate. Yes, Prime Minister – just put your neck on this chopping block, please…

In my recently delivered copy of the RSPB’s Birds magazine, Simon Barnes describes the satisfaction of watching a pair of Sparrowhawks displaying above a wood. The display of any top predator indicates that all must be well with the ecosystem: if the vegetation wasn’t right, then there wouldn’t be enough food for the prey species and if the prey species weren’t right, then there wouldn’t be enough food for any top predators. So last week’s display by a pair of Sparrowhawks above Groves Coppice is the ultimate seal of approval which confirms that ‘All is well with this wood.’

22 Apr 08    Most of the day was spent with the web designer at Easingwold (near… well actually, it’s not near anywhere, but it’s somewhere between York, Malton and Thirsk) finalising the templates for the new www.VisitWhitby.com  website, due to be launched in a few weeks.

Fancy a sudden holiday at Groves Dyke? There has just been a cancellation for the next 2 weeks, which means they are now half price…

21 Apr 08    It was a cool, grey few days but the Spirit of the 40s event went off smoothly. This morning SA and I went to replace our leaky wellies, but only my size was in stock so while I got a nice new pair of steel toe capped wellies, all SA got was a nice new tube of bicycle tyre repair glue…

I cut all the lawns that hadn’t been cut since last year while SA and ID fenced off Flag’s Folly, in an effort to keep the Roe Deer off the circle of young Willows long enough for all 12 Willows to grow tall enough to weave them into a giant ‘living basket’. At the moment, only 8 Willows are alive and the other 4 have all had their bark flayed off by Roebuck scratching the velvet off their little antlers. The fence is not a high one, just a very confined area which, it is said, Roe Deer don’t like to enter because they have so little run up room to jump out again. By late afternoon all the grass was cut and the Willows safely ring-fenced.

As we finished the fence the sun was actually shining and my first Curlew of the year gave its bubbling call from the fields above. Ahhh wonderful – that is the tingle-factor of the North York Moors!

18 Apr 08    After yesterday afternoon’s rain, my rain gauge now reads 2½ inches so far this month. SA spent the morning moving the cordwood we felled over the last week down from the orchard to the drive, where it was cut into cord lengths and driven around to the woodshed. On a walk up the drive just after lunch the first Early Purple Orchids (2 spikes) were in flower in Bank orchard. BC and I joined in after lunch, unloading the cordwood and stacking it against the pole barn for sawing into firelogs some wet day. Then we went back to the SW corner of the wood and felled the remaining few Hawthorn and Blackthorn, chucking it over the hedge and adding it to the bonfire heap. All this involved a fair bit of slipping and sliding about on the wet muddy slope, leading to SA to utter the immortal words: ‘I’ll be glad when I’ve had enough of this!’

Despite all this, it was SA who heard the sound of a vehicle near the top of the wood, so we finished by walking up to find out who was doing what and exactly where they were doing it. Someone, presumably the electricity board contractors who made such an awful hash of my fence when the left last year, had just been back again, hammered in a couple of extra fence posts (wrong type, being untreated instead of tannalised or something like creosoted), stapled the sheep net to them and tightened that section of fence so much that some of the square holes are now much elongated and a sheep could get its head stuck. The two big holes in the ground which they they left behind last time were also left this time. Still, mustn’t grumble, I suppose…

On the way back down again there was much scolding overhead as a Sparrowhawk was mobbed by just two tiny birds, but making enough noise for a sizeable flock.

17 Apr 08    A morning of office work, laundry and sawing logs, followed by a wet afternoon of more office work. A Sparrowhawk soared high over the wood, which suggests a nest nearby. The Whitby Beacon Town Forum’s visitor survey from last summer is now being keyed into a spreadsheet for analysis…

The first Cowslips are in flower in my wildflower bank beside the steps, with a total of 5 flowers.

16 Apr 08    Another  wonderful dawn chorus this morning. It’s dry and almost sunny today but with a chill easterly wind. A Long Tailed Tit keeps fluttering at my windows, presumably picking off bits of cobweb for its nest. The (only) first Rowan in the wood is just opening its leaves and the Hazel coppices are greening over nicely.

SA continued jungle busting the SW corner and after lunch BC and I joined in. SA cut down the Blackthorn and Hawthorn scrub, passing it to me to throw over the hedge into the orchard where BC stacked it onto an old bonfire site for burning at the end of the summer. Ah, such teamwork! BC also worked out an easier way we will be able to layer Hazel stems into the newly cleared area: rather than try to layer down the hill from the existing First Hazel Coppice, why not layer up the slope using the Hazels in the hedge at the bottom of the slope? Double doh!

By 2.45 we were ready for our 3 o’clocks, so we retreated to the conservatory for cold drinks and Chelsea Buns. Most of the hard work in the SW corner has now been done, with just a bit of light scrub and a couple of stacks still to clear.

14 Apr 08    White over with frost early this morning, but then brightened so much that SA and I were too hot as we started clearing the Blackthorn / Hawthorn / Sycamore scrub in the SW corner. After a good, warm morning’s work we came back for lunch and the weather was still almost spring like. Walking up the drive in the early afternoon I heard my very first Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming this year. Ten years ago they visited the bird feeding station on a daily basis and could be heard drumming at least every week. Five years ago they stopped coming to the feeders but could still be heard every month. And now? This is the one and only drumming I have heard in the whole of 2008, so far. Since the wood is getting more wood-like every year, why are there fewer Woodpeckers? The only regular now is the Green Woodpecker…

After lunch BC and SA changed tack and instead of diverting the runoff from the path, they diverted the path to dryer ground. Now why didn’t we think of the sooner? Doh!

Overnight frosts are forecast every night this week, which as far as I am concerned is an ideal excuse not to cut any more lawns until next week. Anyway, with the Whitby and District Tourism Association’s (see www.visitwhitby.com ) ‘Spirit of the 40s’ weekend in another 4 days, there just isn’t time to cut grass.

12 Apr 08    After yesterday afternoon’s heavy rain and all the snow / sleet we had last weekend, my rain gauge is now reading about 2 inches of rain (ok, ‘precipitation’) so far this month. Yet dry, warm and sunny enough again today to dry a big load of washing on the line and the first Gean (Wild Cherry) tree is in flower in the wood.

Sleights bridge over the River Esk has now sprouted traffic lights, as Transco (or whatever they’re called this week) digs up the end of the Briggswath road to locate a gas leak and replace the old (copper?) pipes with nice new plastic ones. No rush – gas has only been leaking there for 6 years!!! Good thing there’s lots more where that came from. There isn’t? Woops! So why should we all bother to save energy, when the national agency responsible lets it leak for 6 blooming years? Sounds a bit like Yorkshire Water in the 1990′s when we had the big drought, made all the worse because 33% of all their treated water was leaking out through their own rusty mains pipes: ‘too expensive to replace them, so we will just build a new reservoir in Farndale and flood half the daffodils, farms, etc – and in the meantime if it lasts much longer we plan to evacuate the whole population of Bradford city.’ They never did say where to…

11 Apr 08    Today saw the welcome return of ID for a bit more Bank Vol-ing. This morning ID and SA toured the wood and dug a second drain to keep the water off the 4th Hazel Coppice. BC and I admired the flow when we joined them after lunch and we all used the 2-person saw* to take a few drums off the fallen Apple tree which shades the muddy path near the bottom bridge. A Great Tit was also sawing wood, the Green Woodpecker yaffled from further up the hill and the Chiffchaffs did exactly what it said on the tin.

This done, we were just clearing up when the lovely, mild, dry, sunny spring day gave way to a very heavy and prolonged downpour. Good thing we got into the conservatory with afternoonsies just in time!

*Not being allowed to call it a 2-man saw anymore, reminds me of the lunchtime menu at the Milford Arms hotel in nearby Rosedale Abbey, which used to offer a ‘Non-sexist plough-person’s lunch’ on its menu. Good for them for such a brilliant send up of political correctness!

10 Apr 08    More meetings, followed by a lovely stroll along the beach at Sandsend with Flag and SH. This time the cream stayed on top of our hot chocolate as we sat outside and enjoyed the view and the mild, sunny weather.

09 Apr 08    Sunny and mild again this morning but overcast by afternoon. SA prepared the line of a new open drain to clear the runoff from above the Forth Hazel Coppice and after lunch BC and I joined in the digging. Flag, true to form, did his own thing elsewhere, but we had noticed that the major excavation at the foot of the Leaning Ash has now grown so big that he has started a second one nearby! SA suggests it may be a ventilation shaft, perhaps?

After a couple of hours of slutch and glar, we had removed the lower branches of an intrusive Hawthorn and dug about 15 yards (c14 m) of diagonal ditch across the muddy path and through the woodland to direct all the runoff away from the poor young trees. I think we have just saved the largest Hazel Coppice on the whole estate (all 20 or 30 of them).

The first Ramsons (Wild Garlic) are in flower just up the drive and my yellow Forsythia is also in flower. Now is this Spring or isn’t it?

08 Apr 08    Spring again! Lovely sunny morning so Flag and I trespassed on my top neighbour’s land again to try and sort out the ditch which is still spilling out and flowing into my side neighbour’s land. A bit more digging and banking moved the water along another 20 yards of ditch, but then it reached an even lower point and continued to spill over his field a bit further along. I stopped work at that point and followed the almost non-existent ditch to a dry stone wall where it should have gone under. There is still a 6 foot drop on the other side of the wall, to an open ditch running across the slope towards the main road. This suggests that the culvert under the wall has been blocked for a very long time, the upper ditch has silted itself up and now the water has to spill over the side instead of getting away cleanly. Methinks a little chat is needed…

My first Hawthorns are now in leaf and the Hazels are just beginning. The first Fritillary now has 2 big white flowers in Groves Dyke orchard.

07 Apr 08    White again this morning, but more a layer of hailstones than of snow. Less sun but the temperature is high enough to melt it all away by mid morning. A good day to catch up with the paperwork in the study, I think.

06 Apr 08    The dale is covered in snow this morning and all looking very pretty. But the sun is strong enough and the temperature high enough to melt it all away by midday, leaving everything wet and soggy. A 15-minute bird count of my feeding station gave: Blue Tit 4, Great Tit 4, Robin 2, Longtailed Tit 2, Blackbird 1, Chaffinch 1, Coal Tit 1, Dunnock 1 and first Blackcap 1 male (1115 to 1130am, ⅜ cloud cover, bright cloud, sun and snow showers, 1 inch of snow overnight, Force 2 Northerly, thawing).

04 Apr 08    SA and I checked my top neighbour’s drain again and only a little water is still leaking from the side into the wood. I have warned my alongside neighbours that I have only moved my top neighbour’s problem off my land and onto theirs. After checking the drain, we split all of the drums cut from the storm thrown Sycamore in the SW corner, and stacked the firelogs onsite to season. No point in carrying them while they are still full of sap, as they will be only half the weight in a year from now.

I went off to swim while SA sawed and stacked a bit more of the East Cord. After lunch we walked the dogs and cleared a bit more of the Apple and Holly trees which shade the muddy approach to the lower bridge. After such an energetic few days, we decided this was a bit too much like hard work and soon retreated for a cold drink and a sticky bun. Just goes to show how much work BC does, when not away at the Grand National!

03 Apr 08    SR turned up this morning with the refurbished ‘Groves Dyke’ sign which used to hang on the back of the gate (in case it was ever closed to keep passing farm animals out). Carved for us in Oak some 15 or 20 years ago by Chris Checksfield, assistant to Tom Whittaker the Gnome Man of Littlebeck, it had been badly weathered, damp and moss encrusted. SR has now brought it back to pristine condition and  attached it to the entrance railings of Groves Dyke. It’s sister sign is still on the sunny side of the small gate to Groves Bank and is surviving well. I remember watching Chris Checksfield carve these two signs from a long piece of sawn Oak, starting at one end and then sawing it off, before starting the other house name on the remainder. That way, there was no need to try to make the individually carved letters fit within a given length. Very clever! Dry, calm, mild and cloudy this morning, so I did the first grass-cutting of the year. Two hours later and half the lawns are almost under control again. By cutting every other lawn, I have started the rotational cutting regime which is so good for wildlife (and my back) – and it also means that if the snow and frost do return this weekend, I may only have killed half the grass…

By afternoon the clouds had gone and the sun was shining strongly, as the washing dried on the line and I recovered on the patio.

02 Apr 08    SA and BC sawed their way through about a third of the East Cord, stacking the results into the woodshed and filling a 6th of it with well seasoned firelogs for next winter.

01 Apr 08    An afternoon run to Staithes followed by a dog walk on the beach at Runswick Bay. This will be the first time I have taken the dog on a beach for about a year, ever since the vet said Flag had ‘destroyed’ the cartilage in his front legs with years of obsessive digging. But a year of relative rest and a daily dose of the latest super drug and he is much, much better. As clearly demonstrated by his recent disappearance to the village one mile up the hill, where he play with somebody else’s children in somebody else’s garden for several hours! If he can manage that, then he can jolly well have the occasional little gallop on the beach – which we will both enjoy.

At Runswick Bay the tide was almost high, so not too much beach to gallop on. Which was probably a good idea. We forgot our tennis ball (didn’t we?) so had to make do with throwing and fetching a small-ish round-ish stone, which required a lot of barking at because it didn’t perform properly. After a short run we sat outside the cafe and admired the magnificent view. The weather was dry, mild but windy enough to blow the cream off the top of my mug of hot chocolate – is that Force 5 or Force 6 on the Cadbury Wind Scale?

March 2008 Weather Summary.     Precipitation 83mm (3¼ inch). Temperatures: Maximum 15°C (58°F), Minimum -5°C (23°F). Actual today 9°C (48°F). A windy month with the equinoxial gales falling on a very early, cold, wet Easter bank holiday weekend. Dry mild and sunny otherwise, with clear, cold nights throughout much of the month, before becoming much wetter in the final week.

31 Mar 08    Clear skies last night and a touch of frost this morning, but that soon cleared as the warm sun rose higher in the clear blue sky. I hope the Frogspawn survived the frost ok… First Chiffchaff of the year were calling in the wood today. The problem of water running down through the wood was almost as bad this morning. SA and I went into the field above the wood to see what was wrong and found that a dry stone wall had collapsed and eventually blocked the drain which used to run under it (years ago, by the look of the grass covered marsh which had been created). The water in the drain which used to flow under the wall was now forced over the side of the drain and into the top of my wood.

We came back down for the right tools and admired the wet and silver-shining ground beneath the Forth Hazel Coppice, with most of the Hazels (and many other trees elsewhere) now standing in waterlogged soil. If left like this the trees would die, so we went back up with bow saw and secateurs to cut back the long neglected hedge overhanging the ditch, and spades and fork to clear the ditch and the culvert under the wall. Within a couple of hours the water was once again flowing along the ditch, under the tumbled down stone wall and away along the ditch and past the top corner of my wood. Relax, trees – you have just been saved! We estimated that probably well over 50 young trees could have been ruined or killed by the water had we done nothing.

After lunch we were joined by BC and we all set off to cut up and remove a large wind fallen Buddleia from a friend’s garden in Sleights.

30 Mar 08    First Frog spawn this morning, with about a bucketful in mid-pond but no sign of any Frogs. Stayed calm, dry and sunny all day with a Yaffle calling up in the wood as I sawed a few more firelogs from the dead Sycamore. The wet sections of the path I have now traced uphill to the field above the wood where the drain across my top boundary has begun to leak under the fence and into the wood. A little bit of spadework required tomorrow to get the water back on track and I’m sure my neighbour won’t mind.

29 Mar 08    Calm, dry and sunny this morning with 27 little Froggy snouts all purring away in my pond. By mid afternoon it was back to cold, wet and windy again. Another front passing?

28 Mar 08    Not, it has not sprung! Wild, wet and windy again this morning, easing to less wet and windy by afternoon and eventually dry, calm and almost slightly sunny by tea time. The morning was spent reading the Whitby Gazette, then swimming and then after lunch BC and I shampooed the downstairs carpets. Not a lot of woodland managed today but at least we managed to remove lots of woodland mud from indoors!

27 Mar 08    Solar Returns

It may have sprung! Clear sky, warm, sunny and calm again with c30 Frogs purring in the pond this morning. Another load of washing out on the line and then I took Flag for a proper walk. If he can run after a deer for 1 mile uphill to Aislaby and then spend the next couple of hours playing with children in a garden, it suggests that his poor leg joints must have recovered enough to be taken for a decent walk. I decided against the beach and dropped off the food standard plastics at a local farm for conversion into land drains before going on to Hawsker and the old railway line.

We walked a mile or two along the old disused railway / new National Cycle Network towards Robin Hood’s Bay and returned once the gradient began to drop. Got to think of those poor old knackered knees (mine, not his)! The sea is calm, the inshore lobster potting boats are working again, the fields are full of lambs, a few cyclists passed by and the clear blue sky was filled with the sound of a single solitary first Skylark. This is really quite pleasant. I may do it again one year…

Back home for lunch and the damn dog disappeared off up into the wood and had to be shouted and whistled back again! Then Solarec, the solar panel firm, turned up to repair the storm damaged plastic screen on the Groves Bank panels. This took a couple of hours, including a full check and service of both systems. The solar panel business, it seems, is just ‘steady’ and not the ‘fantastic growth’ I expected. Why? I asked, now that energy costs are rocketing as the gas and oil run out. ‘VAT’ is the simple answer. Yes, we are all being ‘encouraged’ to reduce our Carbon footprint by the Chancellor increasing (yes, increasing) the Value Added Tax on solar panels from the 6% we paid 20 years ago, to a full 17.5% now! How’s that for encouraging us all to do something about Climate Change, which (the government insists) is an even greater threat than terrorism? If the government (this one or any other one) really wanted to send out a clear and simple message to every single one of us to reduce our Carbon footprint, it only has to declare ‘Zero VAT on all green energy products from midnight tomorrow’.

But it doesn’t. So it doesn’t. So who cares? Let your grandchildren fry! Is the government bothered? Do they look bothered? Let the whole world fry…

PS: Just to put this in perspective, today is also the Grand Opening Day of Heathrow airport’s brand new Terminal 5, where the state of the art baggage handling system failed to handle the baggage, the passenger information system failed to inform the passengers, dozens of flights had to be cancelled and thousands of eager passengers remained angrily on terra firma. How much has the UK just invested in this new, super-efficient, ‘an end to queuing’ Terminal 5? Only £4.3 billion. That’s £4,300 million, or £4,300,000,000, all invested in helping us to create more carbon dioxide – pity we can’t knock a bit off VAT on green energy equipment instead, to encourage us to reduce our carbon dioxide. In fact, for the same amount of money, I suspect we could have fitted every single building in the British Bloody Isles with several free solar panels and some decent insulation. But no, let’s just go on investing more and more money to make the problem worse and worse for our poor part-cooked grandchildren. After all, we do have to get our priorities right, don’t we? More ‘cheap’ flights to top up our skin cancer and boost our liver damage or leave a slightly better world for our children’s children? Now that’s a tricky one, isn’t it? We may have to think about that one for a while…

26 Mar 08    Cloudy but still dry and calm, with rain forecast for tonight – so perfect for the final bonfire. SA prepared a small heap next to the big heap in Dyke orchard and after lunch BC and I joined in and lit the small heap. This one was a few yards further away from the Apple trees and could be kept at a reasonable size by slowly adding more material from the bigger heap.

Four Roe Deer were in the wood this morning and the Jays were calling loudly. The small traditional Daffodils are all fully out and looking a picture, while the modern, leggy Daffs are sadly windswept and hailbattered.

25 Mar 08    A clear and frosty night followed by a clear, calm and sunny day, which was surprisingly warm if you stayed in the sunshine. A pleasant bit of firelog sawing and woodshed labelling (with the Langdale roofing slates I bought from Skelwith Bridge on my Pudding Club trip to Cumbria a few weeks ago) and then a full load of washing out on the line. After lunch Flag and I walked along the Toll Road at Grosmont, before checking that the sticky buns at Hazelbush Cafe in Grosmont were still up to standard. Good news: they are.

24 Mar 08    Bright and sunny again, but cool enough if you happen to be in the shade. We logged up the fallen Apple tree (a tall, skinny one which blew down a week or two ago) and added it to the cord, then used the two-handed crosscut saw to turn the big fallen Ash limb into half a dozen firelogs. Too fat to use, they still need splitting.

Then off to Whitby to look at a small Sliver Birch tree with a serious lean. Since it is leaning over a big flowerbed full of Daffs, we decided to leave it until next winter when we can dismantle it bit by bit, as well as re-balance a couple of its neighbours. That’s what comes of growing trees in a very windy garden on top of the West Cliff!

After a special lunch we came back to splitting and stacking the drums of fallen Sycamore, as well as splitting a few long lengths of the very dead Sycamore alongside. Heavy hail showers drove us under various Holly trees for shelter, but not even the biggest, thickest Holly beside the General Oak was hail proof. It is waterproof, but just not hail proof. I wonder why?

23 Mar 08    Oh, ok – that snow! Nice and white outside this morning but not cold enough to let it accumulate all day. Less windy, dry and sunny. The Whitby Gazette has photos of what the West Pier was like yesterday – click on http://www.whitbygazette.co.uk/news/Heavy-seas-lash-town.3905974.jp

22 Mar 08    Snow? What Snow?

Wild and windy this morning, but also dry, sunny and not too cold despite the Force 6 North Easterly sending the clouds scuttling across the sky. I sawed and stacked a few logs in the woodyard and took Flag out for a little walk after lunch, not to mention a sticky bun at Victoria Farm Garden Centre. A quick look at the West Pier in Whitby around high tide, to see the big waves washing along the length of the extension’s lower deck.

Then I pottered about the house for an hour or two while Flag dug holes in the woodyard – or so I thought. When I called him in the late afternoon there was no sign, so I went searching up through the wood. Nothing. Back home to check the answering machine (nothing), the road junction verges (nothing), then back up the wood as it was getting dark and all around the fields above the wood. Bloody dog – and I thought he had finally got sensible in his old age! And the snow is expected this evening…

 

Then a message on the answering machine from someone in Aislaby saying that he was in their garden. I rang back to say I was on my way, by which time it was snowing heavens hard. We swopped him for a bottle of wine and I got him home looking just a bit subdued and very tired. After a sleep and supper he is fine again. I am almost recovered, too. But I do need some more chocolate!

21 Mar 08    Saint Hilda’s Fudge

Easter is particularly early this year, the earliest since about 1930, and the next time it will be this early will be in the year 2158. That is why Countryfile this Sunday will be about Whitby and the role that our Saint Hilda played in the 664 AD Synod of Whitby when the Celtic Church and the Roman Church met at Whitby Abbey to ‘agree’ how to calculate the date of Whitby. Even without the help of Scarborough Borough Council, they managed to fudge the decision and came up with an eternal British Compromise which satisfies no one. It is something to do with the 3rd full moon after the 2nd high tide after the 4th Friday before Christmas Eve – or something equally bizarre. That is why nobody ever knows when Easter is going to be next year, why school spring terms and school holidays are always chaotic, why the British tourist trade never knows when the summer season really begins, and why this year there are two Easters in one  financial year! In other words, it’s all Saint Hilda’s fault.

After a morning in the wood splitting and stacking the drums from the fallen Sycamore, us Bank Vols had an early lunch and set off for Danby (the Danish village, from the days of the Vikings) to look at a hedge we have been asked to lay at the end of this year. High on Danby Low Moor, in the teeth of a Northerly gale, between wintry showers of rain, sleet and hail, by an isolated farmhouse, we were shown a very gappy 25 yards of ancient and modern Hawthorn, young Sycamore and an Oak. It forms one side of a small vegetable patch, with dry stone walls on the other three sides. Yes, it does look do-able (with a bit of root-laying for the ancient Hawthorns, but I would hate to be working up here when the weather is really bad!

Then we dropped down to the shelter of a surprisingly busy Moors Centre, the National Park’s visitor centre, where we were delighted to meet the staff I used to work with many moons ago. We toured the recently refurbished exhibitions, admired the art exhibition and had a very welcome cup (yes, cup) of coffee in the staffroom. Very civilised!

Home by Oakley Walls, Stonegate Beck, Egton top and a visit to James Godbold’s forge and showrooms to admire his superb workmanship. Then back by Betty Backside lane to Aislaby and home for another coffee as the hailstones fell and the forecast of 4 inches of snow tonight and 20 foot high waves pounding the Whitby shore seems even more likely. It may be the Vernal Equinoxical gales but this year it just happens to be Easter Bank Holiday weekend as well. Thanks a bunch, Saint Hilda.

20 Mar 08    Click here for new online booking via the Yorkshire Tourist Board website (just type Groves Dyke into the Property Name box).

You will have gathered that it has been raining almost all day and I spent the morning in a meeting and the afternoon catching up with the website. The delay in signing up to the online booking system has finally been sorted and now it is up and running again.

19 Mar 08    Dry, overcast, calm and cooler so we prepared for an afternoon bonfire. The small traditional Daffodils in the orchards are all in full flower now, with a carpet of Primrose and Wood Anemone below. The Dog’s Mercury is well out and in insignificant flower.

Once we had all arrived the a match was struck and the accumulated heap in the woodyard began to burn nicely. A Green Woodpecker yaffled from up in the wood as we worked. Once the bonfire was reduced in size, we carried the lop and top down from last autumn’s coppicing just behind the woodyard and added that. By late afternoon it was all smouldering nicely and we topped it off with the very large but now rotting Elm chopping block to damp it down for the night. Rain was forecast overnight and by morning the Elm block should be a bit more manageable and the fire should be out.

17 Mar 08    SA and I took the megaloppers, the pole saw and the two-handled crosscut saw to carry on dismantling the stove-ready Sycamore. We removed lots of Ivy, cleared a bigger working space in the Blackthorn spiney, cut back the bushy Holly growth around the stump of the fallen tree to see just what (if anything) was still connecting it to the stump. By lunchtime we had sawn off the thin end of the big stick, roped-up the thick end just in case it tried to roll off the stump and down the slope, and were ready for BC to arrive and help do all the heavy work!

After lunch the three of us cut several more lengths off the main trunk with the crosscut, while the RAF taught nearby Aislaby village a severe lesson with several low level runs including one that was so very low and so incredibly noisy that poor terrified Flag would still be running, if only he had any idea of which way was ‘away’. I wonder what Aislaby has done to annoy the RAF so much? At least, we assumed it was the RAF…

The wind is now in the North, wintry showers arrived as we recovered in the conservatory and the Frogs have given up and headed for the depths of the pond again.

The Heritage Coast Project Officer tells me that BBC TV’s ‘Countryfile’ are in the Whitby area this week to record several items for the programme on Easter Sunday morning, including one on why Easter is so early this year and another on Runswick Bay. I hope he gets a chance to ask John Craven why ‘Countryfile’ appears to be the only BBC programme that is never repeated – especially when it is only ever shown on Sunday mornings, when all right thinking countryside enthusiasts are out of doors in the actual countryside actually doing whatever it is – and not watching the virtual one indoors.

16 Mar 08    Yesterday Flag started a major new archaeological dig under the leaning Ash tree. This is clearly a major undertaking and presumably is backed by the British Museum, with additional sponsorship by one of the larger multinational opencast mining corporations. Smaller roots up to an inch thick were chewed through, while bigger ones were dug around on both sides until a way past was possible. By late today whatever was down there had left and the dig was abandoned. I do hope it was something a bit larger than a Wood Mouse…

I cleared a way down to the smaller Sycamore trunk (below the recent windfall Sycamore now ready for splitting) which had landed into a newly developing Blackthorn spiney. This tree is long dead and already perfectly seasoned for firewood, so I sawed off as many branches as possible and heated the house and the hot water with them that evening. Some Frogs in my pond, but not up to much now that the weather is overcast and cooler.

14 Mar 08    Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day! No, it’s not Oklahoma. Just North Yorkshire in the Spring.

Flat calm (for the first time in weeks), a clear blue sky, warm sun and just a lovely day to be out in the wood. SA prepared for a busy afternoon of chain-sawing and after lunch BC and I helped as he neatly and very expertly sliced the Big Sycamore Stick into manageable 18 inch long ‘drums’, ready for splitting into next year’s firelogs. We roped the bigger drums to stop them rolling off down the steep hill and onto the drive below, before moving them to safe and level ground. This leaves the thickest part of the fallen trunk (still hinged to the shattered stump) as a very nice bench seat in this corner of the wood and I’m sure we can spare the odd upturned drum as a small coffee table or footrest.

About 20 Frogs were in my pond, but still not trying hard enough…

12 Mar 08    Still blustery but the predicted storm missed this area. SA started sawing the old cordwood into firelogs and stacking them neatly into the woodshed. By lunchtime the sun was out, the wind had eased a bit and the first pair of Frogs were mating in my pond – but still no spawn. This afternoon we de-brambled the wildflower area of Groves Dyke garden and were then joined by ID who needed a grand introductory tour of the wood, followed by a bit of cordwood sawing and stacking. Followed by drinks and sticky buns in the conservatory.

11 Mar 08    Foot and Mouth 2007: Who Dunnit? DEFRA Dunnit!

Yes, that is correct. Last year’s Foot and Mouth outbreak was caused by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) – the government’s own department responsible for avoiding Foot and Mouth Disease! You just couldn’t make it up, could you? See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7290078.stm for all the pathetic details. So who will resign for costing us all £ millions, not to mention all the farm animals slaughtered, the farming businesses destroyed and the rural tourism industry hit yet again? Don’t worry, though – the government has already spent even more £ millions of your tax money via the National and Regional Tourist Boards, the Regional Development Boards, etc, etc to try to undo the very expensive damage they have already done. I wonder why UK taxes keep going up every year..?

10 Mar 08    Wild, wet and windy this morning, just as forecast. SA retreated to the Stickery to sharpen the crosscut saw (‘doing the filing’) while I retreated to the Study to catch up with the heaps of paper. Not my idea of proper tree work!

After lunch and just under ¾ of an inch of rain, the wind dropped and the rain ceased so we took the newly sharpened saw up to the almost fallen Sycamore and, using its ‘hovering’ position to our advantage, started to saw off ‘drums’ of future firewood. Starting at the thin end, we shortened the big stick by a few drums before even the super sharp saw started to struggle with the thicker trunk (it wasn’t us, you understand). From here on, we agreed, it would have to be a chainsaw and that will have to wait for drier weather and much less slippery footing…

09 Mar 08    I tried to use the big two-handled crosscut saw on the not-quite-fallen Sycamore, but it proved almost impossible. Hardly surprising, as the clue is in the name! So the Sycamore continues to hover just above the ground… Mild, dry and sunny again (if a mite windy), but the big storm is due to hit the SW of England and Wales tonight.

Our newly laid hedge is now starting to leaf, as is the Hazel in the wood and the Elder by the leaning Ash.

07 Mar 08    By lunchtime SA had roped the not-quite-fallen Sycamore to good anchorages well uphill. After lunch BC and I helped to add the small winch to the ‘shark’s fin’ branch but even this didn’t quite do the trick. Between us we removed a couple more ‘leg’ branches and weakened the badly split hinge from the stump, all with long distance tools, but still  the 2 tons of trunk remains about a foot above ground level…

SA saw the first Dog Violet in flower just above the first Hazel coppice, on 05 Mar 08..

It may have been weakened enough to collapse over the weekend, but it sounds as if Monday is going to be a very wild and windy day, even up here, according to Met Office predictions for the South West. If you have any hatches, better batten them down before Sunday evening!

06 Mar 08    Up the Duff.

Already? No, of course not! But I was in the Lake District for a couple of days, including ‘Up the Duff – Pudding Night at Lucy’s Cafe’ in Ambleside. Wonderful! Not to mention the lovely bright, sunny day I drove across, the drive up over the still snowy (shady side only) Wrynose and Hardknot Passes, the breakdown wagon winching somebody’s over-eager 4×4 back onto the road while I did Traffic Duty (no problem – there wasn’t any up there), the Cake Walk to Chester’s, the stroll around the back of Loughrigg Tarn, the 3 Buzzards having a ‘domestic’ high overhead, the Lemon Meringue Pie, the Chocolate Brownie Mousse, the Banana Upsidedown Pudding, the Pineapple Eaton Mess, the Bread and Butter Pudding (made with croissants) and even the Chocolate and Orange Pudding with Cranberry Sauce. I think I’ll just go and lie down now. Again. See: http://www.lucysofambleside.co.uk/on_a_plate/uptheduff.html

Still no rain in my rain gauge and still no Frogspawn in my pond. SA has cleared most of the undergrowth from alongside the approach to the lower bridge, where an Elm had fallen years ago, flattening an Apple and cutting the path off from almost all wind and sun. This clearance should help to dry out the muddiest section of the path and make getting around the wood a lot easier.

03 Mar 08    SA and I used the two-handed crosscut saw to tidy up the stump of the Oak branch I had taken off a couple of days ago, then we sorted out and stacked the lop and top, the future walking sticks and the future firewood. Just before lunch a search for any more storm thrown timber revealed a big mature Sycamore lying across one side of the First Hazel coppice. So that was the crash we heard! This was the companion tree from the same root as the one which fell into the neighbour’s field a year or two back, which suggests that the root was a bit too rotten. We rescued what Hazel we could by removing Sycamore branches and continued this work (now properly equipped) after lunch.

The most useful item was the pruning blade (back on the telescopic polesaw again), which let us remove the bigger Sycamore branches while standing safely several yards uphill of the big trunk. As before, this trunk (20 inches diameter at the base) is suspended horizontally about 3 feet off the ground and liable to settle and/or roll as the vital branch (whichever one it is) is removed. By mid-afternoon we had stripped it down to just a couple of major ‘legs’ (branches) to stop it rolling down the hill, and a big ‘shark’s fin’ branch that we can use as a lever to winch the whole trunk off its snapped stump and safely down onto the ground. The dead branches are now stacked ready for firewood this winter (it’s not spring just yet!), the green branches are stacked for firewood next winter (or better still, the one after that) and only the Big Stick still to go. With any luck, it will do what its companion did last time, and just settle down onto the ground all by itself over the next few days…

The Nuthatch called loudly from the nearby Captain Oak for most of the day, the sun shone and the wind was still blustery and veering towards the North, with just a token flurry of snow. A half dozen Frogs just sat in the pond, in a half hearted sort of way.

02 Mar 08    A lovely sunny but windy day again. Flag and I worked at the top of Bankside, trimming off a large limb from a 25 year old Oak which had tilted under the uneven weight. Best without this one in a strong wind, I thought, as I sawed it off with the pole saw blade mounted on a short handle for the occasion.

Lesser Celandine flowers line the main drive, the first Dog’s Mercury flowers are out (not that you would notice) and the Hawthorn hedge we laid last month is just starting to bud – which is always a great relief. On the way into Whitby the new purple and white ‘Crocus River’ is beginning to show on the short grass verge for many hundreds of yards along the length of Mayfield Road. ‘Well done’ to Whitby in Bloom, runners up in last year’s national competition, for this superb original idea to brighten the journey into Whitby!

01 Mar 08    The gales blew themselves out last night and this morning a 8 inch diameter branch from high up the leaning Ash tree was lying on the path just below the first steps. Long dead, it will be a very useful bit of extra firewood before too long. No other apparent sign of storm damage, but that may take a day or two to materialise…

Delivered several boxes of the ‘Whitby Guidebook’ to Goathland, Steam Railway and Grosmont today. 50,000 copies arrived from the printers yesterday, 5,000 up on the print run of previous years, and all the work of the Whitby and District Tourism Association and its energetic volunteers. If you can’t get hold of the guidebook, do take a look at their website www.VisitWhitby.com

The mild, calm and sunny weather is back again and so are the Frogs, with 21 pointy little snouts purring away in my pond by early afternoon.

February 2008 Weather Summary.     The Met Office says it was the sunniest Feb on record. Precipitation 25mm (1 inch). Temperatures: Maximum 14°C (58°F), Minimum -8°C (18°F). Actual today 9°C (48°F). Mild, dry, sunny and windy early and late in the month, with 10 days of calm weather mid-month when a large anticyclone (high pressure) became established and gave warm sunny days and clear frosty nights.

29 Feb 08    Frogs skip Leap Day.

Yesterday and today have been much cloudier and cooler, with not a Frog in sight. Still blowing half a gale (Beaufort Force 4) if not three-quarters (Force 6). These very strong winds kept us out of the wood itself and we spent the afternoon sawing wood in the scant shelter of the big hedge next to the car park. There was a big crash from somewhere amongst the trees as something big and heavy gave in to the strong winds, but all will be revealed when it is safe to go exploring again…

27 Feb 08    How was it for you?

When the earth moved last night it was my first earthquake at Groves Dyke. Just before 1am there was the sound of a dog having a 10 second scratch while leaning up against the chest of drawers and making it rattle, except the dog was closed in the cloakroom downstairs, the chest of drawers can’t rattle because it doesn’t touch anything, so I decided it must just have been the wind rattling the window. Except there wasn’t any wind. Sleep again. This morning all was revealed on the News: it was 5.2 on the Richter Scale, the most powerful earthquake in the UK since 1984 and the  epicentre was well over 100 miles away in Lincolnshire. Either the rattle (rumble?) was the quake itself, or the sound of my stainless steel chimney liner vibrating within the chimney block and leaving a thin layer of grit on the furniture in the spare bedroom. And I was in Liverpool for the last big one, which was centred just 50 miles offshore in Liverpool Bay and made the whole house (and city) shake.

It didn’t do it for the Frogs, either. About a dozen in my pond again today, purring sweetly but still no frogspawn.

SA sorted some of the Tilhill Ash logs in the pole barn and after lunch BC and I joined him to dig up the last of the Blackthorn walking sticks from the second Hazel coppice.

26 Feb 08    More painting. Wild and windy again, but mild and dry. First Frogs: by lunchtime there were over a dozen little pointy noses sticking up out of my pond, all purring amorously to each other. Spawn tomorrow, I would suggest…

25 Feb 08    We celebrated SA’s return by digging up a few more Blackthorn walking sticks from the Second Coppice, but found it a bit too cool and windy to stop work for long. After lunch BC joined us and the full compliment of Groves Bank Volunteers (the ‘Bank Vols’) was gathered for the first time in a couple of weeks. In the afternoon we worked on the fallen Elder branches just beyond the newly laid hedge.

23 Feb 08    More painting. Wild and windy again outside, but still mild and dry. Yorkshire Water’s contractors arrived, located, dug down and stopped the leak from the water main further along the main drive, all within 24 hours of reporting. ‘Probably frost damage’ they said – not to mention a very old cast iron pipe. The first Lesser Celandine is in flower on the bank below Groves Dyke garden hedge.

22 Feb 08    After lunch BC and I completed the painting of the kitchen and dining room walls, while the mild blustery winds blew around outside at near gale force. By late afternoon it was trying to rain for the first time in well over 2 weeks.

21 Feb 08    The mild weather arrived overnight and by midday the ice gauge had reverted to being a rain gauge, the bucket-shaped canine lce lolly reverted to being a dog drink bucket and the pond was almost open water again. Yesterday it was -8°C and today it is +11°C, a very dramatic temperature rise of 19°C in just 24 hours. Late in the evening I saw my first Toad as it walked across the back yard.

20 Feb 08    Woops – red sky in the morning as well, so all shepherds should be warned.* A lazy morning recovering from yesterday, then a swim, a bit of shopping and home via Ruswarp, where the River Esk is frozen right across just above the weir. The Canadian canoes from nearby East Barnby Outdoor Centre had been in the water today and must have been doing a bit of real Canadian ice-breaking just upstream.

After lunch I sawed the final length of large diameter black plastic pipe lengthwise & rearranged all the pipes in the ditch, ready for the change in the weather as this lovely big high pressure area slides away to let the rain return. The ice covering my pond hasn’t thawed for several days now and this morning it was completely impossible to smash the ice on the plastic bucket for Flag to have a drink, presumably because it has frozen completely solid from top to bottom!

*The traditional saying is: Red sky at night, shepherds’ delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherds’ warning.’

The modern version is ‘Red sky at night, hayshed’s alight. Red sky in the morning, three minute warning.’

19 Feb 08    Minus 6°C according to my car, when I set off at 0730 to go to the Yorkshire Tourist Board annual conference in York. A lovely drive across the sunny moors until I met the thick fog near Pickering, which lasted all the way to York, lasted all day as well, and then all the way home again until I got back onto the moortop, when it cleared away to reveal another delightfully red sunset and a relatively balmy -2°C.

Conference Snippets: The UK is the 6th most popular tourism destination in the world. Tourism is Britain’s 5th biggest industry, directly employing 2.1 million people. ‘Yorkshire’ is second only to ‘London’ as a regional tourism brand. Tourism in Yorkshire generates £6 billion / year. VisitBritain (formerly called the British Tourism Authority) is funded by £50 million of government money, soon to be cut by 20% (how’s that for really backing the UK’s 5th biggest industry)? The VisitBritain.com website gets 20 million visits / year and has 12.2 million overseas enquiries.

18 Feb 08    An even harder frost last night, down to -7°C. I tried and failed to break the ice on the plastic bucket that Flag drinks from in the yard. Only after many blows with the pointy end of the yard brush did it finally shatter, revealing a layer almost 2 inches thick. That prompted me to try the ice on my pond, which proved to be only slightly thinner at 1.5 inches thick.

Redecorating day today, so the morning was spent in clearing out all the smaller items from Groves Dyke kitchen and dining room, washing down the ceilings and walls, and installing all the various dust sheets, steps, paints, brushes, rollers, trays, tubs, cloths, etc, etc. NOT my favourite job but BC arrived to help and by mid afternoon we had made so much progress on both the ceilings that we even did the bathroom one as well!

By late afternoon the sun was sinking and so was the temperature. Magnificent red sky, enough to delight whole flocks of shepherds, and a good night to settle in by a glowing woodburner.

17 Feb 08    A very hard frost overnight but the clear skies soon let the sun warm everything up. I dug out 6 Blackthorn walking sticks, then re-stacked one section of the woodshed. First lunch on the patio, quite unheard of so early in the year, but it was shirt sleeves, sandwich (cold) and a cold drink while enjoying the warmth of the sun.

Opened the Stickery this afternoon for the first time. My new chimney still hasn’t arrived, so I just managed with the smoky interior as well as possible.

15 Feb 08    Overcast yesterday and today, but still calm, dry and mild. Today BC and I pruned the horizontal Apple branch overhanging the main drive from Bank orchard and then we took down the last of the shattered Blackthorn (flattened by the storm thrown Sycamore 2 years ago), thus finally freeing up the whole of the 2nd Hazel coppice. Just a young dozen Blackthorn stems to dig out (so that the horizontal root becomes the handle) as traditional Blackthorn walking sticks.

Hope it was a happy landing for you SA in the USA!

13 Feb 08    Another hard frost overnight and then another bright, warm and sunny day. Dozens of Redwing still swarm amongst the cattle in the fields beside the disused Whitby to Scarborough railway line, now part of the National Cycle Way.

    Catch of the Day – A Tail of Fat Cats, Spoilt Brats and No Sprats            It is alleged that Whitby trawlers (and others) are now buying their EU quotas of North Sea fish from (amongst many others) a UK premier league football club. This really does illustrate the sheer stupidity of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, which has consistently achieved too little, too late. We have already had the madness of:

Shared Resource (any EU country can fish anywhere, so that no one country can try to conserve its own fish stocks),

Flagging Out (foreign trawlers buying the fishing rights of UK trawlers, and vice versa),

By-Catch (tons of the wrong species, already over quota, being caught ‘by accident’ and then put back dead and dying into the sea) and now

Catch of the Day (the ‘ownership’ of the very fish themselves can be bought and sold on the open market by football clubs and any other fat cat business which fancies a financial flutter on the breeding success or failure of the already over-fished North Sea. Good, innit? Who needs marine ecologists anyway?

12 Feb 08    This morning I moved the big, plastic, half drainage pipe out into the sun and added the necessary mastic to change it from an underground land drain into an overground ditch lining. The birds are singing, the flowers are up, the Pussy Willow is out and the sun was warm on my back – so it must be spring.

11 Feb 08    SA and I spent the whole day working in the wood, cutting down and removing almost all of the invading Blackthorn in the second Hazel coppice, while a Green Woodpecker yaffled occasionally nearby. It was pleasantly mild, dry and sunny and a good time was had by all. By mid afternoon only a couple of larger stems remain to be cut, there are lots of potential walking sticks and a goodly habitat pile of lop and top. Not a bad day’s play!

Beeching Strikes Again       

Of the 22 Post Offices being closed in the whole of North Yorkshire, 5 of them (Ruswarp, Sandsend, West Cliff, Helredale and Fylingthorps) are within 5 miles of Whitby – which seems quite a high proportion. Despite all the inaccuracies in the Post Office Limited report, both Ruswarp and Sandsend Post Offices will close next month – on the grounds that customers can get to the next nearest Post Office relatively easily. Anyone tried walking up Ruswarp Bank? Or Lythe Bank? Relatively easy, indeed! And they said that there was a bus service every 20 minutes from Sandsend to Lythe, then admitted that it was actually every hour, then argued that it was more frequent from Sandsend to the West Cliff Post Office – even though it’s all the same bus! Never mind, the Post Office Limited executive who is implementing the closures throughout the UK is only carrying out government policy. I heard them speak at the Ruralnet conference last year and the impression I came away with was ‘with ruthless efficiency’. Is this the same government who claimed a few years ago that all their decisions would be ‘rural proofed’ so that people in the countryside would not be disadvantaged compared to their urban counterparts? So the government removes the profitable transactions from all Post Offices (so fewer customers), gives those transactions to a bigger shop miles away (increasing the pull of the rival town), now closes down a village’s post office (the mainstay of the village shop), which results in the whole shop closing down, and the village loses it one and only shop. How’s that for Rural Proofing? Don’t worry, they will say, 95% of the population will still be within 3 miles of a Post Office – even if they are elderly, don’t have a car, may not have a bus service at all, no longer have any village shop, and now it’s only a 6 mile round trip walk with a long 1:5 hill in between. Come on Prime Minister, let’s see you do it! CPRE calculate that the closure of over 1,000 rural Post Offices this year will generate over 1 million extra car miles annually. How much extra CO2 will that be, PM?

10 Feb 08    Another lovely spring day, celebrated with a nice drive from Aislaby to Egton top, down to Grosmont, up Fair Head to Sleights Moor and back to Sleights. Later in the afternoon a warm, enjoyable walk on Aislaby Moor revealed a thin shroud of mist along the coast. Ah, it pays to be a mile or two inland when there is a sea roke!

09 Feb 08    A pair of Jays played tig through the treetops at the top of the wood, calling loudly as they went. Lots of Crocus are now in flower in Dyke orchard, as well as several clumps of Snowdrops and a few clumps of Daffodils. The Willow by the Twigwam is now starting to leaf and a Kestrel sunned itself at the top of the leaning Ash. No sound of any Frogs in my pond today, so I dragged most of the pondweed and blanket weed out before any spawn appears. It would be a shame to have to do it after any spawn has been laid. This lovely clear sky suggests a cold night tonight.

08 Feb 08    Mild and dry again, so we carried on clearing the Blackthorn from the second Hazel coppice. SA and I felled a few substantial stems, while BC (who has an eye for these things), worked single-handedly on the smaller potential walking sticks. By late afternoon we had freed half a dozen Hazels, created a goodly Blackthorn habitat pile and rescued several very nice Blackthorn walking sticks and staves, all full of kinks, which will be ripe in a year or so. We also prepared another section of half pipe to line the ditch. My new improved, non-flickering computer monitor arrived today and (hopefully) will not need to be slapped at frequent intervals to clear the grey tartan pattern off the screen to reveal the words within.

06 Feb 08    Yesterday was another nice day, spoilt only by too many meetings but improved by a very enjoyable lunch at the Coliseum cafe (Cherry Tomatoes on Brochette, followed by pancakes) with good company and a nice drive to Staithes.

Today SA continued clearing the invasive Blackthorn from the Second Hazel Coppice, later assisted by BC and me. We also blocked up the tiny holes on the big black drain pipe, before relaying it in the ditch alongside the drive. More warm sun, clear sky, no wind and lots of birdsong. In late afternoon I heard my first Frog croaking (purring!) in my pond.

04 Feb 08    Yesterday all the snow had gone, except for a little strip at every hedge back. The wind has dropped and the mild, dry weather has returned. I explored Hollywood again and then descended downstream to Tanglewood, which is even more impenetrable and well worth another visit.

Today was a lovely Spring Day, with lots of birdsong from Blackbird, Dunnock, Greenfinch, Great and Coal Tit. SA and I worked on removing invasive Blackthorn from the Second Hazel Coppice, selecting a few suitable bits as potential Blackthorn walking sticks. We continued after lunch, creating several ways through the unwanted Blackthorn spiney (hence ‘spinny’) and opening up the poor battered Hazels which had been flatted by the big Sycamore which came down in the big February gale about 3 years ago. An excellent day’s work, enjoyed by all concerned and especially Flag and Bruno as they were a safe distance from the main drive and free toad roam for the first time in weeks.

02 Feb 08    Don’t worry – England has been reconnected! The temperature crept up to just above freezing, the sun shone and there was only a slight wind, so I ignored the wood and pottered about indoors for a change. By early afternoon the snow on my drive had melted and the low level roads were completely clear, so I went into Whitby to buy some paint* and do some shopping. No sign of any power cuts around here, they seem to have been on the southern edge of the North York Moors at Kirbymoorside, Farndale and Rosedale. The moortops still look well covered in snow and I have heard stories of Goathland folk who struggled to get in or out of the village yesterday afternoon and evening.

On my walk around the wood this morning the tracks in the snow included Rabbit, Roe Deer, Pheasant, Heron and Golden Retriever.

*Now that proper Chiffon Haze is no longer available, the new gloss colour for all painted wood in Groves Dyke will be Dutch Gold 6 (Ref Dulux 10YY 78/146). Don’t worry, the colour is nothing like gold and it looks remarkable like good ole Chiffon Haze…

01 Feb 08    A dry, mild and less windy morning when SA sawed cordwood and added it to the already extended cord. Then rain, then sleet and then snow and still a bit windy, but not yet cold enough down here to stop most of it turning slushy. Only about 1 inch of snow in my garden, but I’m sure there is a bit more on higher ground, causing a few snow drifts once it blows off 192 square miles of moorland and piles itself up against the odd wall, stream or bridge!

By tea time England was cut off from Whitby, with all four roads closed and at least a few stranded motorists may be spending the night unexpectedly at the Flask Inn half way between Whitby and Scarborough. Proper winter weather, at last! This is exactly what it is supposed to be like in Jan and Feb – or used to be. The electricity is still on (as you can tell from this) and everyone is as snug as a bug in a rug. My wood burning stove is warmer than toast and the room thermometer swears it is 22°C (74°F), so it must be true.

Weather Summary for January 2008:    Maximum 13°C (56°F), Minimum -3°C (26°F), Rainfall 117mm (4½ inches). A remarkably windy month which started dry, became wet, then got mild, then even wetter and then colder and then dry again.

31 Jan 08    Wild, wet and windy last night and this morning, then a lovely dry, mild and windy afternoon followed by another wild, wet and windy evening and night. During the nice bit I had a lovely drive over the moors to the outside and back again.

30 Jan 08    Another nice day, if a bit too windy for really safe bonfires. SA sorted most of the unsorted lop and top into another very neat heap and later BC and I lit a small fire and we all fed it little by little until one heap had gone, then another, then another. Once that one was dying down, a second small fire was required nearby to deal with the un-strimmed brambles which had been under that stack. With that one also dying down, I lit the big Baked Apple Tree heap from last winter. Even in that relatively sheltered spot, the whole thing just went up in seconds with a strong wind fanning the 20 foot high flames and threatening to bake yet another neighbouring Apple tree. Hot enough to light the long grass, these grass fires sped up the bank towards the lowest edge of the wood, slowing down and eventually stopping only where the slope levelled out a little. Just as well really, as the heat was far too intense to get anywhere near enough to beat them out. Wow! That was just a bit too much like an out of control blaze, rather than a carefully managed bonfire!

Today the first Daffodil is flowering on Bank orchard and the first Hazel catkins are out on one of the hedgerow trees just above the orchard. Toasted Hazelnuts anyone? Do they go well with baked apples? But best of all, we have now completely finished the hedge laying for another winter. And just in time, with heavy rain forecast for tonight, followed by gales and possible blizzards over the next few days. Ah, Spring!

29 Jan 08    All this dry wind and weather has dried out the orchard enough to work safely on the steeper slopes, so I took the promise of rain later today as a good opportunity to burn 3 of the mini-bonfires from the hedging. Bonfire 1 was the lower of the double ones, and once it had almost burnt away I pushed the upper heap down the slope and onto the embers, before letting that one die down and then carrying the 3rd heap across the slope, armful by armful until it had gone as well. The wind was getting stronger by late morning, so I stopped adding to the embers and just let them burn out as I sorted out a bit more of the lop and top heap and added it to the next bonfire, which we might light tomorrow if the wind drops…

28 Jan 08    SA continued to tidy up the hedging lop and top while I carried cordwood for sawing and stacking in the woodyard. A nice lunch, a short walk, a visit by the local solar panel people to give a second estimate for the insurance company and suddenly the day was almost over. Never mind, it was a nice day.

27 Jan 08    And suddenly its a lovely spring day again! How very odd! Dry, bright, sunny and mild, with the first Snowdrops in both orchards today and the pair of Kestrels soaring and calling high over the wood again.

26 Jan 08    Yesterday SA carried yet more wood from the hedging site back to the house. After lunch BC and I helped to fell the final young Ash tree and lay the final 4 yards of hedge, including another Deer Bolt. This one is made from a skinny Ash sapling which we persuaded to ‘loop the loop’ with a few stout pegs. I’d like to say that the hedge laying is now complete for this winter – but there is still a goodly heap of lop and top to stack and burn. In fact, there are still half a dozen nice neat bonfire heaps, all still waiting for just the right combination of wet and calm weather…

Today I noticed the first Primroses of the season on Bank orchard, as the mild, dry gales continued to batter the tree tops. This gale is from the West, thank goodness, so we are all well sheltered down here at the bottom of the dale. Unlike the bird feeding station we set up at Victoria Farm Garden Centre, where only 2 Rooks braved the blustery conditions to appear for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. The 1 hour count from my conservatory for my own garden this morning was: Long Tail Tit 14, Robin 3, Blackbird 2, Blue Tit 2, Chaffinch 1, Coal Tit 1, Dunnock 1, Great Tit 1, Wood Pigeon 1. Not to mention Roe Deer 2 (walking through the coppice just beyond the woodyard), Rabbit 1 and Grey Squirrel (Tree Rat!) 1.

24 Jan 08    Dry, sunny and not very windy, which is a very welcome change. Two more loads of washing out on the line before lunchtime, while Flag basked in the sun, a Treecreeper dashed up a tree and 14 Long Tailed Tit swarmed all over the fat cake feeder.

The strimmer went to Malton for its annual service – and probably not a month too soon. The rate my Daffs are growing (3 buds forming nicely in Dyke orchard) it looks like the grass may need cutting before too long. And how long is too long? About 6 inches or 4 weeks, whichever is the soonest! En route, some big fields are still flooded and the River Rye is still several feet higher than the surrounding land, so fingers crossed that the flood banks do their job. In Old Malton village the car park near the Priory has been pumped back into the river and the massive pump and hoses are standing ready for the next time.

Leoni’s Coffee Shop in Malton provided a superbly decorated Latte, as ever. Simon the owner was UK National Champion Barista for 3 years running (and 8th in the International Championships) and I can see why he did so well. Back over the moors at dusk, which is now almost 5pm, with a setting sun, a rising full moon and swiddening smoke drifting over from somewhere near Fen Bog. I think I should get out more…

23 Jan 08    Two Kestrels called ‘Kee-kee-kee-kee’ while circling high over the wood this morning, but the path around the wood is still too wet and slippery to carry any logs down to the woodyard.

SA carried more wood along the drive from the hedging and after lunch we laid another several yards. That just leaves a 20-year old Ash to fell, another Deer Bolt to create and a couple of yards of Quicks to plant – not to mention half a dozen small bonfires to light. Let’s hope we get everything done and dusted before the Daffs are up.

22 Jan 08    Frost overnight locked up much of the water and today the river has dropped and the sun is shining again.

21 Jan 08    Wet, wet wet! Another inch of rain since yesterday, bringing my rain gauge up to 4 inches so far this month. SA moved most of the useful timber from the hedge laying site up to the pole barn for sorting, sawing and / or stacking as required. After a morning in Ruswarp (where the river is already brink-full) and a drive via Sandsend (runoff from the fields has flooded right across the road, leaving one lane un-usable) to Staithes (some minor flooding on the coast road), SA and I did a round of the beck and also the ditch on the Eastern boundary, checking and removing any blockages so that everything was flowing freely.

Then we used the rechargeable saw to cut the largest diameter pipe (14 inches?) lengthways, thus doubling the length available and making it easy to keep an eye on. Once split, we laid the two sections end to end in the lowest section of the boundary ditch to carry more water into the culvert under the road, rather than leaking out through the bed of the ditch. (Ditches are like leaky roofs – they always have to be repaired in the pouring rain, since they don’t leak during all the dry weather). The resulting flume was quite spectacular and we speculated about extending it up to the top of the wood so that we could float logs down it to the woodyard… or perhaps not.

There are now 121 Flood Warnings in the UK and it looks like Tewkesbury may be going under again. No one should underestimate the debt of gratitude which the North of the UK owes to Tewkesbury, as all the flooding in Carlisle / Doncaster / Sheffield and Hull was largely ignored by the national media (London based, of course) – until we all discovered that the national News Editors and their families all live in Gloucestershire. Suddenly, flooding was important and now it’s all over the front pages!

20 Jan 08    And today, surprise surprise, it’s back to mild, grey mizzle again. Cleared up all the bits of branches in the orchard from the high pruning last week and then removed a plastic bag which the wind had snagged high up in a tree. This extending pole saw with the interchangeable heads is just the thing!

After lunch I skated about on the slippery slope of Bank orchard, tidying up the lop and top from the recent hedging and also moving the useful bits of timber (either potential walking sticks, hedge laying posts or cordwood) down onto the drive for easier carrying.

19 Jan 08    It’s Spring! Not a cloud in the sky, full sun all day and only a mild breeze, so quick! Two loads of washing done and out on the line by mid-morning, not to mention the dog bed and bedding propped up out in the sun for a proper airing. What a wonderful change! Pity about all the dozens of Flood Warnings in Wales and central England, but up here we are all making the most of this lovely weather.

18 Jan 08    Mild, mizzley and breezy but SA completed the tidying-up of all the lop and top from all the hedging. After lunch BC and I joined in and we all laid another 7 yards of hedge, including the removal (by bow saw) of a fairly substantial Ash tree. By 4pm we had had enough of skating on the slippery, muddy slope for one day (afternoon?) and we retreated to the conservatory for 4 o’clocks (it was just too hot indoors, with the wood burning stove). Today’s temperature has been 13 or 14° C, which is almost 60° F, which is almost my definition of Spring – which it almost is: the Daffodil shoots here are at least 3 inches high, the Robins at the feeding station are beginning to squabble over territory, and it is still broad daylight after 4pm. In January?!?

Still, why not? As we enjoyed our coffee, an optimistic ice cream van drove through the village with its chimes playing ‘If you go down in the woods today…’

17 Jan 08    Wet again this morning and less wet this afternoon, but still mild.

Solarec, who fitted the solar panels up to 20 years ago, will be delighted to replace the broken glazing for a standard £245 per panel, which includes a full service for the whole system. Over the past 20 years of faultless and undamaged performance, I think that works out at an average of £12.25p per year – AND the solar system has halved my hot water bills throughout that 20 years! The phone number for Solarec UK, should you be convinced by now, is 01924 272233 and I am delighted to give them this unsolicited and unrewarded free plug.

16 Jan 08    A wet morning but IJ, DT and I had a great tour of the moors. The view from Ravenscar was as spectacular as ever, then a circular tour (it wasn’t meant to be!) of Harwood Dale en route to the Birdwatchers’ Car Park at Forge Valley National Nature Reserve between Scarborough and Pickering. What a great show of birds they have there! Chaffinches by the dozen, lots of everyday species and a very nice Nuthatch and an even nicer Great Spotted Woodpecker, all just a couple of feet from the car windows.

By the time we got to Hutton le Hole the rain had gone and we had the whole of Blakey Rigg to ourselves, with superb views down into Farndale. The Lion on Blakey must have assumed that we’d walked all the way and provided us with wonderful lunches to match. We did what we could with them after just a morning’s sitting in the car, and then drove home via Fat Betty Cross, the Trough House road over to Little Fryup (not more food!), past Danby Castle and down to Duck Bridge. The River Esk was too high to use the ford, so we crossed further upstream at Danby and then home via Poverty Hill, Oakley Walls and Stonegate Beck. Total number of cars seen between Hutton le Hole and the Guisborough Road? Less than 20 – and most of them were parked up having lunch at the Lion on Blakey!

15 Jan 08    Yesterday SA managed to complete the extended cord frame and also sawed and stacked all the logs, while I just lay about. Hopefully, the cord extension will also accommodate the few remaining young standards in the undone bit of hedge.

Today was very wet, with another inch of rain (now just over 2 inches so far this month). I had a restful morning in the conservatory watching the 10 Long Tailed Tit on the peanut cake, not to mention the pair of Bullfinches beyond the beck. A quick round of drains, gutters and ditches to check that all is well for any further downpours.

A passer-by asked ‘What has happened to your solar panels?’ and, sure enough, something has! It looks as if the recent Southerly gales (an unusual direction, to which these houses are very exposed) have broken the glass or plastic panels on the Groves Bank one. A flying branch, perhaps? You will be pleased to hear that the solar panels on Groves Dyke Holiday Cottages are completely unaffected! Come back Solarec, I need new glazing please – although this is the very first repair they have required in well over 15 years. Don’t worry, my household insurance company say the solar panels are included under ‘Storm Damage’.

13 Jan 08    Wild and windy this morning, but dry and with a mild wind from the South. ‘Blow the wind Southerly, Southerly…’ Perhaps not. Flag trotted back and forth as I carried the last of the super long  cordwood from the hedging site to the patio. Some of them are super fat, as well! I think I should really have split them before carrying them, but too late now.

12 Jan 08    Yesterday afternoon I visited Pocklington village for the first time. It’s bigger than I realised and well worth another visit next time I am half way between Thirsk and York (which may not be for a while). Also yesterday, the lengths of flexible, large diameter black plastic pipe were delivered for lining the ditch down alongside my drive, but the ditching will just have to wait until the hedging is complete.

Frosty overnight and this morning was bright and sunny, so I completed some high pruning of the Apple trees which curve so invitingly over my drive. So now the poor old [recycling] bin lorry can get up here more easily next week, without scratching its flashing lights on the top of the cab. Don’t worry, the Apple branches still curve invitingly over the drive – but now they are a bit less heavy and don’t hang quite so low.

I started to built a bit of an extension onto the cord frame, to take the extra logs from the hedging.

10 Jan 08    Wet and windy, so I tackled yet another drawer of the filing cabinets in an effort to get the office back under control again.

The UK government announced today that it was giving the go ahead to creating new nuclear power stations – conveniently ignoring the facts that: 1. We already need to spend £56 billion (yes, that is £56,000 million) just to decommission and clean up the existing UK nuclear industry and its waste; 2. We still don’t know how to make safe the existing 50 year’s worth of nuclear waste (other than by storing it for hundreds or thousands of years); 3. Most UK nuclear power stations are on low lying coastal sites and will be flooded by rising sea levels (and who is ever going to agree to lots of new sites in more populated areas?); 4. Every ton of concrete for any new building actually creates another ton of carbon in the process (and new mass generation stations of any sort all require hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete, thus cancelling out much of their ‘low carbon’ claims); 5. Nuclear will not power road nor air traffic, nor oil nor gas fired central heating systems, nor is it suitable for our baseload generation, so even doubling the UK nuclear industry will only reduce our national carbon output by a mere 8% (much better to put the investment into energy conservation and efficiency measures instead, which could give us a very quick  and easy 50% carbon savings); 6. Uranium is imported into the UK (thus our nuclear power is just as vulnerable as our oil and gas power – and there is only 30 year’s worth of uranium at present rates of world use), and finally: 6. George W Bush hasn’t even learned how to pronounce ‘nu-clear’ yet…

Never mind, a nice wet walk at Grosmont as the weather improved, followed by coffee and a very sticky bun at Victoria Farm Garden Centre, made everything better again.

09 Jan 08    Woops, it’s catching up time again! A Sparrowhawk flew high over the wood this morning, perhaps starting to claim its territory for the coming season.

This morning SA tidied up a large area of scattered reject stems and branches from the recent hedge laying, sorting out potential stakes, cordwood and bonfire material into neat heaps and interrupted only by a few showers. There were a just few slushy bits of road on my way back from Scarborough and after lunch we both worked on tidying-up a bit more. Two small bonfire heaps are now ready for the right burning weather, with two more areas of rejects still to sort out.

We used the nice new mega loppers which SA found to replace the old and disintegrated ratchet-ing mega-loppers. Excellent! Just ask for Wilkinson Sword’s Large Bypass Loppers with ‘Power Gear’, which cut through stems up to 45mm with remarkably little effort – anything smaller than 45mm is only bonfire fodder anyway, and anything they can’t cut through is thick enough to be future firewood. Good, innit?

The young Ash saplings which I left as occasional song posts 19 years ago, are now up to 8 inches diameter and we sawed them into lengths suitable for carrying to this year’s cord in the woodyard.

My rain gauge still stands at just over 1 inch so far this month.

07 Jan 08    Today SA and I completed another 4 yards of hedge laying, including a fancy bit of Blackthorn stems intertwingled [lovely word thank-you, Mrs D] into an arched Deer Bolt on the regular track of Roe Deer crossing the main drive. This means that our superb ‘stockproof’ hedge now has a large purpose built hole in it, to let the wildlife cross the hedge line as normal. Never mind, it’s a nice reminder of High Close and Grasmere in the Lake District!

8 Long Tailed Tit on the peanut cake today, all at one time – it looked like a very odd Hedgehog, with ‘spikey’ tails sticking out in all directions.

I should be redecorating another room in Groves Dyke, but this is far more fun!

06 Jan 08    An absolutely perfect day, not a cloud in the sky, full sun, no wind and just perfect for a bit of pottering up in the wood and then a bit of raking-up by the hedge laying.

04 Jan 08    A dry day, less cold but still windy. Having advanced only 1 yard last time, SA and I laid a whole 4 yards today. There is an awful lot of lop and top to burn, but that can wait until the steep slope is less wet and slippery. There is also a lot of substantial firewood and we had carried nearly 20 long lengths of cordwood up to the patio by mid afternoon.

A male Sparrowhawk flashed through the feeding station this morning and late this afternoon there were 8 Long Tailed Tit on the peanut cake.

03 Jan 08    Snow? What snow? Ok, so my lawns were slightly covered (but still light green) and Pickering and Guisborough (20 miles South and North of Whitby, respectively) make the regional TV News with their driving problems, but down here in the bottom of the dale the roads were all clear and I drove into Whitby (and back!) without any problems.

It snowed on and off for much of the day, so I returned to my least favourite job of sorting out one of the office workstations (now that it is  accessible again). Only 2 more to go – not to mention the shelves and the filing cabinets…

02 January 2008     Happy New Year everyone and apologies for the gap – when I did try to catch up on line, my new-ish flat screen monitor keeps being taken over by an all grey tartan pattern. No words, no pictures, just an all grey tartan. Which dastardly Scottish clan can this be, mounting these cyber-space raids into the North of England? Computer rustling, or what?

A special Hello and Thanks to B S & K S in Essex, who enjoy Whitby in general and like reading this page to keep in touch with events up here.

Yesterday was wet all day (just what Flag needed after a hard day’s hedge-laying) and so I got to grips with clearing out the office for the first time in a long time. By late afternoon everything on the floor had been moved / opened / examined / sorted and either recycled or binned. I can now confirm that the office carpet does indeed, as rumour had it, extend to the far corners of the room. Yes, both of them. But sufficient unto the day is the whotsit thereof, so I shall now wait patiently for another wet day before I attempt to deal with all the other heaps of paper on top of the worktops…

Today was dry and cooler, with an Easterly wind. SA and I spent the morning tidying up the lop, top, potential stakes and potential cordwood resulting from our rapid advance hedge-laying a couple of days ago (Look out, the tartan terror has just struck again! Keep pressing ‘Save’ every few minutes…). After lunch SA chain sawed away an Ash stump which was getting a bit too chunky and deeply rooted into the dry stone wall below. Aggh…!

Click here for late 2007 Wildlife Diary & News Blog…

Click here for early 2007 Wildlife Diary, January to June inclusive…