Sunday, 30 September 2007

What Sunday Mornings Should Be Like

Before settling down to the newspaper and a cup of coffee, the morning walk should have all the ingredients: crisp, bright sun, leaves carpeting the paths, peace and quiet (absence of road noise) and autumn colours.

I could have asked for distant church bells and colourful fungi but neither would oblige.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Seasonal Hunt for the Liberty Cap

End of September and into October is the time to see various hunched figures looking closely at the ground, usually in pasture land. They are not looking for examples of interesting forms of sheep droppings. Much more likely they are after examples of nature's hallicinogenic fix, the Liberty Cap fungus also known as the Magic Mushroom. As many as ten of these dedicated foragers have been seen at one time in places like Longshaw. This one was the first seen this year on Blacka.

Could this be what they are looking for?

Wildlife Trusts - A Good Thing?

Blacka Blogger thinks it's quite likely that most wildlife trusts do a splendid job. Probably many of them are run by staff who speak the truth.

It may be that the wildlife trusts some time ago were not quite what they are today. There's an impression that they were smaller and less highly structured. Now there's something managerial and industrial about them. Perhaps this is thought to be 'modernising'. If it means that it mirrors national conservation organisations like Natural England with a centralised approach and regional offices then one can see what they are up to. The other area of reservation is the reliance on national grant funding which relegates close local accountability to a secondary need.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Golden Morning

Not much to say this morning. Content just to look.

Frantic Flights

The coldest morning this month and the air filled with birds on a mission. Jackdaws with their 'chyucks' and many smaller birds, frantically flying westwards into the cold northwest wind.

Not easy to work out which are on the way out and which are on the way in. It's likely that many seen today were thrushes from the continent looking for milder weather.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007


Now there's been some rain more signs of fungi in the grassland. The one above is a Meadow Waxcap. It's quite an untidy looking thing translating itself into all sorts of weird shapes, with widely spaced gills easily visible even from above. The experts say it is edible and I've tried it and survived. It holds a lot of water so needs little or no oil in cooking. I have to say I found the taste a bit unexciting which is a pity as it's easily the commonest of the waxcaps on Thistle Hill.

The mushroom below, an Agaric, is much more like the kind of thing people will go for if they are looking for a breakfast delight .

Beautiful Headland

The best autumn mornings are like this, with a mix of sun and showers, shifting lighting effects, rainbows and constantly changing views.

This view would have been recognisable to those living at Strawberry Lea Grange in the middle ages when Beauchief Abbey was thriving. The Grange, owned by the Premonstatensian canons was, I believe, just here. The beautiful headland called by the Normans "beau chief" is clearly visible in the centre of the view.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

After the Rain

Now the long dry spell is over more typical signs of autumn should be visible. Mushrooms have been around but since yesterday's rain we can expect to see more of them. The grasslands at the top are home to a number of waxcaps. Some of these are easy to identify but a lot give rise to problems. For instance this one has a bright yellow cap but its stem is white. It may look very different in a few days although the colours should stay the same.There's nothing like it in Roger Phillips' "Mushrooms and Other Fungi of Great Britain and Europe" claiming to be "the most comprehensively illustrated book on the subject".

He does say there are 63 waxcaps in Britain - in the book there are photos of 23 of them.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Beech with a Mission

What fate awaits this young beech tree amid the bracken?

All around are dead, poisoned birch, punished with the ultimate deterrent because they dared to live where previously grouse moor vegetation had ruled.

Beech is one of the most effective trees at shading out bracken. In fact very little can grow beneath its canopy apart from an interesting variety of fungi.


They've been making the journey each day for several weeks but once autumn becomes established the thing becomes more intense. They are mostly jackdaws with a few rooks, off to the west for the day. The great fascination is that each convoy is different, the number of birds, the way they group and their peculiar ways of approaching the journey. Some lazily drift others determinedly race close to the ground. Much more fun than waiting for some rare bird to appear.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

More Purple Fruit

Elderberry qualify as another very desirable fruit for those keen to exploit its health-giving properties. Apparently all those fruits which are predominantly purple are high in anti-oxidants and vitamins.

That's never concerned me before now. I just love the taste.

This year's crop has been OK but not as splendid as bilberry. There are only a few elder trees on Blacka and those don't seem to have fruited in abundance. My usual source is an overgrown hedgerow (not on Blacka). It's been patchy this year but one tree yielded a pound and a half in 15 minutes.

More Magic on Blacka

Being looked at by a unicorn is a new experience. This is the kind of idyllic scene that makes the early morning walk worth more than a thousand trips to the supermarket.

It was obviously watching us for some time before I spotted it deep in the bracken, presumably lying (sitting?). Its single antler on one side reminds me I've seen it before but didn't quite trust what my eyes seemed to be telling me. I wonder how many people have walked past just such scenes never looking to either side.

It's reminiscent of those medieval French tapestries of the Virgin and the Unicorn with detailed luxuriant garden scenes.

There is an interesting black mark on each of the photos taken near its right eye. I wonder what it is.

Friday, 14 September 2007

An Ambitious Project

More searchlights

This blog would like to put forward a suggestion for an ambitious project which would enhance the reputation of the city, the PDNPA and anyone else who has the vision and organisational drive to achieve it.

Blacka Moor, Big Moor Burbage and Houndkirk and all other adjoining areas should be united in one large area, all fences removed all farm live stock and the whole allowed to rewild in whatever way nature takes it. Deer and other wild herbivores should be encouraged. Some will see only snags and problems. What about the roads, for instance with wild animals moving freely? An excellent reason for introducing and rigidly enforcing a 40 mph speed limit- good for road safety and good for carbon emissions. And what an example to the rest of the world!

Big Moor Deer

On a walk on nearby Big Moor (surely someone could find a more original name than that) a place of more open and remote aspect than Blacka. Away from White Edge there is more of a chance of seeing deer than Blacka but less of getting close up to them. I get the impression that many are fallow deer does but I don't believe in walking about with heavy binoculars - mine are very small.

However in the distance I did see one huge red stag with many pointed antlers. As I saw him in focus he was clearly raising his head and roaring in typical body language reminding me of the time of year. I suspect he is one of the key reasons why the five stags often to be seen on Blacka have sought other pastures.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Early Autumn

Some of the best mornings come in the time when late summer merges with early autumn. A starry night and a heavy dew leaves the air fresh and the trees losing their greenness.

The beautiful headland (beau chief) in the haze in the middle of the scene.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Beauchief Abbey

The abbey had a farm at Strawberry Lea. The "beautiful headland" which translates from Beauchief is visible from Blacka and the historical association is ever present when looking in that direction.

The abbey's main route to Strawberry Lea was via the bridleway up from Totley. It is sad that so little remains of the original buildings both at the abbey and at Strawberry Lea. It seems to me that the visual link with the past here is invested in the view towards Beauchief more than anything on the ground. This means that everything should be done to maintain the attractiveness of that vista against any intrusive development.

The premonstratensian order of white canons were an educational order begun in Premontre in Northern France. Periodically they were 'inspected' by representatives from headquarters. There are copious records written in medieval Latin now being translated at Sheffield University. At one inspection severe comments were made about the style of tonsures. At another the canons were castigated for falling asleep in the evenings having imbibed too much of the local brew! There is no information about how the golfing habits of the brethren were viewed!

Friday, 7 September 2007

More Biodiversity?

More questions than answers on this one,seen on this morning's ramble. Certainly pretty but one's opinion may be influenced by where it is growing!

My guess would be that it's a kind of Fairies Bonnet or Coprinus. But why should it be only in the dung? Does it mean that the whole fungus has passed through the animal? Will I ever know?

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Painful Formication*

Blacka Blogger walked into a swarm of ants this afternoon and then made a quick exit, smarting from the formic acid. It brought back memories of uncomfortable times as a boy in short trousers.

"There's too much nature around here!"

*Please note the "m" here. It is not an "n"!! The real definition relates anyway to the flesh creeping feeling we get as if ants are walking all over us.

Looking East

Another interesting view with twin searchlights in operation.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Lincoln Closer Up

From Lincoln Castle Lucy Tower

Dutifully reporting on all relating to Blacka Moor I found my way once more to Lincoln Cathedral. After all even on the clearest day there's a limit to what can be seen from 40+ miles away (click here).

A whole day can be spent just on the inside of the building. The finest part, the Angel Choir behind the high altar benefits from the visitor taking a pair of binoculars, the beautiful angel carvings are so high. I would estimate though that only one person looks at the angels for every 100 who look at the "Lincoln Imp"; which says something about people's preferences for the cute factor before artistic beauty.

In the 14th and 15th centuries spires were in place above each tower. One collapsed and the other two were removed for safety reasons in the 19th century.

The west front

Architecturally the cathedral is even finer than the Blacka Moor composting facility, which I strained to be able to make out on the horizon from the nearby castle observation tower (on the right in the top picture).

Looking west from Lincoln

Will SWT have the courage to approach the Arts Council for a grant to erect spires on the compost heap enabling Blacka to be visible from Lincoln?

Blacka's own architectural gem.

Favoured Spot

This morning the cloud rolled over pretty quickly. But then one part of southern Sheffield was slected by heaven for favoured attention. I'm sure it was deserved.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Looking Up and Looking Down

Before 7 am the view to the east is dominated by the distant activity around the power stations along the line of the A1.

Looking down there's lots to enjoy on a different scale.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Commuter Traffic

At 7.00am most of the road traffic is eastwards towards the city along the A625 Hathersage Road. Up above it's a different story. The aerial route is all westwards, most travellers being jackdaws, hundreds of them. They travel in convoys of various sizes, from 2 or 3 to 50 or more. They are sometimes joined by other members of the crow family and also wood pigeons.

This is one of the great wildlife sights, all the more enjoyable because of its easy accessibility. Much of the pleasure comes from the personality of the jackdaw, always likely to surprise the onlooker with a sudden swoop and twist apparently just for the fun of it.

To see this at its most excitingly dramatic you need to be here in January at dawn with a strong westerly wind blowing. The jackdaws look on the wind as a challenge and dive down close to the ground flying low sometimes on a level with the cars. Then the confrontation between road and air traffic at Stony Ridge produces scenes that would rival a gladiatorial contest. I'm sure many of the passengers on the 272 bus are unaware of what's happening outside.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Devil's Elbow Round Walk

This walk takes about an hour and a half. There are numerous round walks on Blacka Moor. This is one of the best. It starts at Devil's Elbow where cars can be parked on the far side of Hathersage Road. The bend here used to be much more severe before Highways Department changed things, but the name Devil's Elbow has stuck.

The walk goes straight down the hill following the sign to Shorts Lane through the birch wood. This is delightful on a sunny day with the dappled light coming through the trees.

Towards the bottom the route (a bridleway) gets very wet and muddy in winter, but stands up pretty well in summer.

This spot can become a quagmire. The best way of treating it is not some expensive surface treatment. This would not work. An on-site worker should come around when it gets wet and throw down some bracken litter of which there is plenty around, to soak up the wetness.
Over the stepping stones and on up the path eventually getting to the new cattle gate and barbed wire (ugh!). The next section is unpleasant underfoot because of several failed attempts to resurface the bridleway leaving areas of brick rubble. Emerging from the trees take the path on the left to the nearby summit of Lenny Hill and admire the view.
From Lenny Hill the route goes to the left (north east) and from here follows the perimeter of Blacka Moor, keeping close to the fence. There is a good variety of young trees around here including plenty of oak and even apple.

Looking over the fence the new building can be seen taking shape. Perhaps a flat roof is not intended here, but it will need to be a magnificent piece of architecture to justify the huge scale and visual impact - something like Chatsworth perhaps?

Looking back the way we have just walked towards Lenny Hill

The path slopes down to the river quite steeply close to Shorts Lane. This is crossed and then the route climbs yet again through the trees - many of them elder. There follows a stretch through gorse alongside some old and one or two newer badger sets. This is where shorts wearers begin to regret they did not wear long trousers.
Eventually the path opens out at the Stone Seat offering good protection from east and north winds. Here unpack your refreshments and admire the birds flying above the woodland below your vantage point. In spring and early summer this is a fine place to listen to blackbirds singing. Any sunny day gives fine views of the green belt beyond Totley.

Deer can sometimes be seen in the fields around here and the very lucky may even catch a site of stags running through the woods on returning to the lay by.
Did anyone enjoy that?