Monday, 30 March 2009


Today the Fairthorn retrospective planning application was heard. The application for this appalling blot on the landscape was passed 4 years ago but the developers built it a metre or so too high. It's as intrusive and poorly designed as you could get in a highly sensitive area while at the same time proclaiming itself with a resounding "Here I am". The developer is making his money out of selling the apartments to better off elderly people as sheltered accommodation and wanted to squeeze in as many people as he could so included an extra layer of appartments under the roof. This made the roof a key part of the design - a very shallow pitch that reflects the light from above making it appear prominent from a distance almost like an aluminium roof. As well as this the footprint used for the building is the whole of the previous building plus the outbuildings making it frankly monolithic.

Everyone with the slightest sense of what's appropriate has been moved to comment. The planning meeting was notable for the predictable way that the developer had mobilised the old people already resident to attend the hearing, all lined up along the front row. Obviously nobody would want to throw out these vulnerable old folk. Although some of us would have preferred to be able to insist that the developer, the Council's planning department and Cllr Harry Harpham personally demolish the structure stone by stone and UPVC window frame by UPVC window frame.

It's hard to feel objective about this because the building is so large and so utterly without any merit that its presence shouts at you every time you walk on Blacka.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Barrriers and Roads

Once more the Hathersage Road at Piper House is restricted to one way and temporary traffic lights. The same thing happened in October and November and they've now returned to continue the same job - rebuilding the stone wall that borders Blacka. The operation must be costing a fortune as it entails erecting platforms. My view is that the wall will doubtless be an improvement but I would sooner some of the money were spent on improving parking and access for Blacka rather than the place looking nice for motorists going through usually at speed.
Still there's a spin off for visitors to Blacka. The works mean a calming of the traffic on the road meaning it's quieter. A good time to explore the old road which runs parallel and just below the present one.
It's delightful on a sunny spring morning and sets the mind thinking about travel in a previous less hyperactive age.

Further down past the Devil's Elbow track is the route recently invaded by mountain bikes. SWT's hurdles, long awaited, are finally in position.
They look better than the efforts on Blacka Hill though I don't see why the posts stand so far above the horizontals. The notice certainly makes things clear, but these laminated A4 things should only remain for a few weeks and be replaced with a more permanent notice. That's assuming they're not pulled down anyway.

Who needs intrusive sculptures and poems on benches when natural sculpture like this reinforces the spirit of the place?

Friday, 27 March 2009

Staring in the Face

FoBM (Friends of Blacka Moor) met with SWT on Blacka this week to raise some points about footpaths and access. We were concerned that problems are developing and for the most part little seems to happen. We began by thanking the SWT manager for the newly installed stones on a very wet path near the bog where the raising of the bog level had made navigation a problem. These stones are informally arranged and a simple solution.

It's good to have something positive to say (even though some of the stones may be under water in wet weather).

The Public Right of Way across the bog is another matter. It is now wetter than ever before even after a lengthy dry spell. All is down to the dams installed by SWT several years ago to extend the bog. SWT claims that run off from the road nearby is responsible after recent Highways work. FoBM are sceptical and believe the dams or some of them should now be removed. SWT will meet with the Council's PRoW officer to discuss.

Most depressing is the state of the same footpath across the top of Blacka Hill. Until the cattle were introduced two years ago this was a narrow 18 inch wide path on soft damp peaty earth. Inevitably the cattle in just a short space of time have widened it to become a serious erosion problem. It's impossible to see how this can be improved if SWT insist against all sense in grazing with cattle. As they work to the edges where fresh grass grows heather stems break and allow more grass to come up making it attractive for the cows. People then give up on the centre of the path and walk to the side or even make entirely new routes parallel with the PRoW. SWT asked us for our suggestion. None of those offered would be acceptable to SWT. A cowherd? Give up on the cattle grazing idea ?

The obvious solution was staring us in the face but SWT could not see it: all the time we were walking and talking a herd of deer had been browsing and sunning themselves nearby, a grazing presence 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Six of them were on Blacka Hill again this morning.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


Is this the left antler of the stag in the picture below or is it the right one that was still in place yesterday? The finder this morning, now qualifying for Blacka Blogger's mystery prize, is an eighteen month old female black labrador called Treacle. She was understandably proud and reluctant to part with it.

A herd of nine or ten were sunning themselves conspicuously between the showers this morning occupying a fairly sheltered spot near the composters.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Three Down.... to go. Some who saw the current picture behind the blog title have been deceived into thinking it shows a stag and a hind. In fact the antler-less beast is also male and probably the more dominant of the two. Shedding his antlers earlier should indicate that he's older and with potentially a more imposing headpiece - although I don't think there will be much in it between the two of them. Today's picture is interesting because I've rarely seen this close to before: a stag with one antler remaining.

How easy is it to keep your balance when three pounds or so is bearing down on one side of your head? He seemed remarkably composed and poised.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Coming Soon

Only a few weeks to go before birdsong signals the arrival of summer migrants. Blacka's philomel, the star singer, is the blackcap, a small bird occasionally seen but more often heard because it loves to sing from inside the leafy greenery of birch and rowan. Those who sing on Blacka have come from spending winter in the far south.

Meanwhile throughout the winter my own garden has enjoyed the presence of two blackcaps, male and female. Birders tell us that this is becoming more common and that these are visitors from Europe who've spent their summer on the continent but have cannily worked out that flying to Africa is a mug's game when the mild climate and well stocked bird tables in England can be had for less effort. We assume this fellow will be off back to Europe soon. I somehow doubt it will be staying here and the sight of a blue tit with nesting material yesterday may prompt a move.

Leaving Your Mark

An important part of the psychology of vandalism is the need the vandal has for notoriety, a desire to be recognised. This goes some way to explain the motivation of the graffittist. The 'artist' with the power saw who destroyed this once proud tree felt the need to leave an initial sawn into the stump. Whether his name is Adam or Anthony or Aloysius we don't know. But this morning the stump and the grooves were bubbling with rising sap. Why does this make me think of the fate of Charles I ?

A regal sight could be seen not far away.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Cast Off Early

It's normally the older stags that shed their antlers early. They need the extra time to allow their new larger set to form. This must be the same group of four seen on March 8th. It seemed then to be unusually early for a stag to be seen bareheaded. The other three are still sporting their headgear today.

They were on Blacka Hill. The brisk west wind kept them from noticing us for several minutes before they moved off towards Cowsick.

Birch Beauty

Persecuted by the blind fundamentalist conservation lobby with such an intensity and with such fervour that the Court of Species Rights, had it existed, would have been kept busy for years, the birch remains Queen of Blacka. We all surely know the splendour of a lone specimen clothed in delicate gold jewellery in autumn.

But the woods too have their qualities. The bashers and the power saw brigade speak of them in the same tone of voice as they would a plague of rats. This time of year they hold out the promise of spring with their soft purplish tops moving in the air. This is the part of Blacka that SWT refers to as impenetrable, where birch has spread and is closely packed, the sort of woodland that imported grazing animals are here to prevent.
Well Blacka's wild deer play their part here and need no burly back up force to help them. Throughout there are deer tracks in a complex network; following them is likely to get you lost as in a maze. But it's certainly not impenetrable and there are many charms.
Blacka Blogger just wants there to be some places where things have not been top-down managed, by humans or their proxies. At the very top is Natural England. Where they see sheep or a pile of cow dung in a once pleasant path NE officers coo "Ahh a management plan".

Wednesday, 18 March 2009


Early morning was frosty, foggy and a contrast with lower down where the day dawned bright.

By midday all was put right. Possibly the best day of the year for those seeking warmth and sun. A good day to look at beech trees.
Blacka has many of these and once again the best ones are those whose character has not been stunted by obtrusive management.

Uniformity is the enemy of character and that's often what tree surgery goes for. So get into the more hidden parts of the site where paths are less defined and the qualified power tool operative has never trodden.

The beech casts heavy shade and its leaf fall stifles much of the plant life below. But that in itself creates spaces unlike those under any other tree. And what monstrous shapes it makes with boughs going everywhere including so close to the ground you may have to climb just to walk past it.

Monday, 16 March 2009

In Praise of..........Barbed Wire

This post is dedicated to Sheffield Wildlife Trust and in particular its Chief Executive Nigel Doar whose commitment to the cause of barbed wire in the countryside is much appreciated by Tinsley Wire and other manufacturers.

The glint of spring sunshine on galvanised wire spurs is one of those visual treats that one yearns to rediscover when walking on moorland sadly lacking in fencing. The beauty of the long straight lines is so welcome in a a natural landscape dominated by such an annoying dependance on curves. As is the refreshing reminder that however hard it tries rural England cannot resist the determined push of urban industrialised priorities.
And just in case wild mammals don't get the message we wonder again at the efficient way the barbed wire leaves its mark.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Sprung hath the Spring

A competition: who knows the author of the above immortal line of poesy?

The most reliable sign of Spring being on its way is the first appearance of Coltsfoot. On Blacka this is always at the Stony Ridge car park. It should ideally be seen early on a still and sweet Sunday morning with the native songbirds competing and the local motorists still in bed. Which is exactly what we lucky people had.

No better time for a circuit walk much of it in woodland with the sun getting well into the trees in a way that's not possible later in the season.

The walk up from Shorts Lane along the stream can't easily be bettered locally though Gillfield Wood has its advocates. Water is an essential component of any good walk.

Wonderful though it is to get a clear view of deer out in the open, there's something more magical and secret about a half glimpse of them deep in the wilder parts of the woods.

Saturday, 14 March 2009


The fight against changing the Graves Covenant in 2005/6 was partly targetted on the conservation industry's obsession with farming used as a management tool. The biggest part of Blacka was a pleasure to walk on up to that point because it was a rare place free from farmification. That fight was lost and Blacka is already the poorer for it.
Now we have enclosures, barbed wire, a grazing regime, muddy gateways, paths made into swamps and all sorts of farm clutter no better than litter. What a tragedy that we are blessed with obstinate, tasteless and unimaginative management who can't recognise something special when they're presented with it and are impelled to trash it.

Some of the residents have concluded that their world has become so unbearable they might as well turn their backs on it and go live in a hole in the ground.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Big Idea

Blacka Blogger worries about our National Park. Well all of them actually. He thinks there's something desperately wrong about the vision for our great countryside areas. There's a defeatism, a lack of vision and too much compromise about them and too many people who find they're making a comfortable enough living in and around them to make enough of a stir about the things that really matter. Yes even in the 'professionals', especially among the professionals those who work at PDNPA and NE and all the other semi detached organisations and bureaucracies.

National Parks should be special places yet they aren't special enough. There's been an erosion over time of the best aspects of them and an inability to force through the right decisions. They will continue to decline however much money is spent unless someone grasps the whole idea and says that they are nothing to do with the economy and business but are places where we can be free from such squalid matters as making money. Return to the ideas of peace and beauty. Oh dear how unfashionable they will say.

Let's make a start and let's wait for all the vested interested squealers to speak out. Roads: no road should have a speed limit over 40 mph. You're in a national park for goodness sake why speed through it? Look where you are and enjoy it. Speed is the enemy of peace and beauty. Next minor roads should be reduced to 20 mph. Why? so people can actually walk and cycle on them as used to be the case.

There's too much nonsense talked about welcoming all to these places whcih seems to involve tolerating any new gimmick infested and intrusive new activity that comes along.

Here endeth.......

Outright Rebellion

Bert is not the most fastidious of dogs but this morning he dug his heels in and refused to go through the walkers' gate. The sliminess of the mud was more than even he could take. Being on the lead at the time, he was always going to win the tug o' war.

Admitting defeat Blacka Blogger released the lead and he gained access by his preferred way - under the fence to the side.

The issue of this gate may not be the most crucial of those currently being raised but it's symptomatic of the way that dealing with SWT is a less attractive pursuit than a course of headbanging.

Short resume - covers more than the whole winter:

1) Until they brought in their cattle there was no need for a gate. It was all open.

2) When the kissing gate became muddy we asked for the farm gate to be left unlocked. Answer no because motor bikes might come in even though the only ones that did (2 over two years)had lost their way.

3) We asked for material such as wood chippings (plentiful) to be put down. Answer no because it would 'input nutrients into an area of low nutrient soil'!

4) Latest situation: they may get round to doing something when they have some workers up there. Don't hold your breath.

Moral: If they can't manage one small gateway who were the clowns who presented these cowboys with over 400 acres?

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Deer Tracks

Dead bracken is useful for picking out the deer tracks. Quite a network in this part of Blacka and confirmed by droppings, but no sightings today.

Coming down from Bole Hill is a good vantage to see Lenny Hill without having the intrusive Fairthorn in view. At this time of year new growth on birch makes a purplish fluffiness at best from above.

The old field workings on the hillside of the pasture can be seen well when the sun is lower in the sky.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Lord of the Woods

There must be many Tolkien readers who have looked at this splendid scots pine and recalled the Ents, ancient tree spirits who appear in one of the books.

This one actually has a face and much more character than any animation or illustration I've seen.

Dyke Walk

One of the quietest places is on the slopes above Blacka Dyke. Not the easiest walking but deer tracks help. The beech trees spread themselves indulgently like a man watching rugby on the telly when the wife's gone out.

Through the dead bracken it's easy to follow where deer have trodden.

There's also one of those patches where a lot of deer activity has had an impact on the ground effectively clearing the bracken at that point.

Everyone knows they can jump the barbed wire easily (though the smallest calves may be another matter) but the tracks show they are strangely reluctant to do so, continuing to go parallel to the fence for several hundred yards. Humans and dogs are also affected by the barbed wire. So much for the promise of SWT to provide stiles at regular intervals - in half a mile or so there was none.
Not the brightest and lightest part of Blacka but plenty of character and mystery as we overlook the small pools and falls of the stream.
A decision has to be made about where to cross the stream and make for the path higher up by clambering up the slope.