Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Taking the Path

It's odd that such simple things should not be easier to find. There can't be many surfaces we walk on that are as good as this.

Where you find paths like this you may be off the 'beaten track', by which we might mean a track that has been beaten into shape rather than respectfully used. There are a few on Blacka but they are those with less direct value, more digressive and therefore not favoured by those who walk to a time constraint and even recreational walkers often have their timetables. The routes genuinely ramble but strangely perhaps don't tend to attract 'ramblers'.  Here the wild animals invariably start the process. With them it isn't necessarily random; their use of contours shows a wildlife intelligence that beats anything institutionally designed by a qualified rights-of-way officer.  Some of Blacka's official paths take such straight routes they could only have been decided using a ruler on a map. Most are on slopes so invite erosion from moving water and the steeper ones become an uphill trudge.

It suits the purpose of deer and fox to take their own time. When you do find these wildlife originated paths on Blacka you will usually be in the kind of mixed woodland that looks inviting in winter when sunlight easily penetrates to the ground. There will be standing dead trees, small oak and beech still holding brown leaves and along with bronzed bracken other ferns still vivid green.

Absence of signs of human activity adds more appeal.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Objets Naturels?

More than likely I've got the grammar wrong on this but what can you expect from merely a French O level? More worrying is my understanding of the concept.

Each year Chatsworth in association with Southeby's  produces an outdoor sculpture display in the gardens of the great Derbyshire palace (only 20 minutes or so from Blacka). It makes for an enjoyable  day out and looks good in a highly managed garden placed carefully in a highly managed landscape. These objets d'art are professionally chosen to provoke discussion and dispute, which is doubtless the aim.

Few exhibits however show that timelessness that we find in unmanaged woodland where natural beauty and natural singularity bring such satisfactions.

The Hoof Fungus, Fomes famentarius, the tree lichens and the Witches Broom show a natural artistry not easily matched by manufactured installations.


Ice and freezing fog may have kept the nearby roads quieter than usual even for a Sunday morning. It made for a special peaceful atmosphere in the higher woodland.

Here it was nearly silent, only a solitary mistle thrush trying out its 2017 tunes. While lower parts remained shrouded, the few who had made the effort enjoyed bright sun up here; and  where it penetrated to the woodland floor showing up the frosted bracken there were pleasures to be had all round.

Not many winter days are better than this.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Migrant Alert

By their inactions we shall know them. Messrs Davis, Fox and Johnson, seem to be doing nothing about the influx of migrants from Europe. Even Gove has said nothing in his Times column. While regular sightings have been reported of Waxwings, Fieldfares and Redwings the lead Brexiteers seem to be just sitting on their hands. Many of these incomers have easily sailed over customs and the Border Agency and are now scoffing free benefits from British bird tables. Where's the Daily Mail when you need it??

This has caused distress to our local homegrown Robin whose work is cut out at the Old Wall Caff dealing with up to five intruders. His message for those across the pond is that walls don't work either. They just fly over unchecked.


Thursday, 26 January 2017

Wednesday, 25 January 2017


A battle: to the south cold and frost. To the north mild. And the north  prevails, even as we walk out in the morning.

Time for some poetry:

        This tiny son of life; this spright,
        By momentary Human sought,
        Plume will his wing in the dappling light,
        Clash timbrel shrill and gay —
        And into time's enormous nought,
        Sweet-fed, will flit away. 

                                                 Walter De La Mare  The Titmouse

Walter De La Mare loved nature.   He was also a highly original writer capable of some extraordinary insights into the human condition. His imagination was most at home in the borderland between fantasy and reality uniquely gifted in describing those transitional areas in human character and the wider natural world; always you feel there's another stranger world close by. He would surely have been fascinated by Schrodinger's cat.

Many of my generation grew up with De La Mare's magical, intriguing and often amusing children's poetry sometimes enchanted sometimes haunted. But he wrote more for adults and what he wrote shows a depth of understanding and compassion rarely seen today. And you feel there's a parallel world not far away. I've recently been discovering one of his novels ** and it's astonishing.


Why do so many of us prefer Spring and Autumn before pure blue skies or inflexible wintry conditions? Perhaps it's because these  halfway places are less easily definable and their mystery keeps teasing us. And even in this digital age we still love mystery.

This morning two weather systems were in dispute. The light of early morning reflected this. Nothing clear-cut. So woods and clearings refused to be pigeonholed. They were in-between.

And all the better for that.
** At one point the diminutive heroine enthuses about an untended garden where the plants are going wild. “They are just racing along to live as wildly as they possibly can. It's the tameness that would be shocking to me”

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Odd Meeting

Another one after the Stag and Fawn in previous post.

The large stag on the left is a normal colour, but that on the right is strangely pale antlers included. Could this animal be part albino or out of condition  in some way perhaps due to stress or some other cause? Just guessing.


  Are you one of us?

Every so often you see something that cheers you up for the rest of the day. It may be fanciful to see confusion on the face of the larger animal but it's entertaining.

We may sometimes see a stag with a calf but not often strolling out with a fawn.


If anyone's reading this who knows little about deer: stags, hinds and calves are terms for red deer; bucks, does and fawns are normally used for roe deer. Both roe and red are native animals;  and, to my way of thinking, have far more right to be here than the sheep and cattle so beloved by SWT. And they're a hell of a lot cleaner too!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Keep it Boring

No trees here. Such a valued landscape, dictated from above by Natural (should that be Unnatural?) England's artificial criteria of human exploited land from where most interesting natural features have been rigorously controlled or destroyed in order to accomodate more exploitation (grouse and sheep rearing). There are those who like the boredom - they've been told often enough by well remunerated apologists for the vested interests that it's really special: must be good.

Keep it boring, South Yorkshire can't take too much excitement and natural beauty.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017


Typical unmemorable coffee shop

Unique and exclusive emporium for select customers  ..

... some being extremely loyal.

Monday, 16 January 2017


The Alder tree is one of the distinctive trees of Blacka. Its fruits and flowers, male and female, are on the same tree. It thrives in damp surroundings.

Those damp conditions are also excellent places to find lichens.

But we have a problem here with people constantly looking for opportunities to use chain-saws. Tree felling is very popular with the local managers. We need to be anticipating their next targets.

Alder is nitrogen-fixing and leaves the soil richer for its presence. The prevailing approach of those who manage this land is to keep it in an exploited and depleted condition. Impoverished soil is what they like.

A recent tweet may be relevant.

Friday, 13 January 2017


Snowing this morning (contrary to the weather forecast). Road conditions suggest walking up from Dore or Totley is the best plan for now. To get an idea of Blacka in winter follow the link here.

Thursday, 12 January 2017


I don't know how many of us have been saying this for many years. I know I have, so others, surely,  must have been: Children need to experience wilder places where regular contact with nature brings many benefits to the developing mind and where they may learn that untrammeled nature offers endless fascination. They also need to be free to enjoy such places largely undirected and be allowed to be free to use their own imaginations.

I've just seen a commercial for CenterParks. I've never been to one of these so someone may tell me what I saw was misleading. Also the spelling itself tells us that it's an American business and that may explain something. I can imagine some people thinking this is just what I've been wishing for. It isn't.

Anyone living within a few miles of Blacka can see the kind of natural spaces where children can be inspired without the artificial invocation of monsters and robots (for god's sake).  Here it's neither over-fantasised nor sanitized.

And here they may be lucky enough to see wildness reminiscent of far gone days with the appearance of our largest wild animals.

Sadly all those organisations - including the wildlife charities - who are striving to show they are attracting children, are utterly hooked on top-down managing both the environment and the experience of the visitor. Why do adults insist on imposing their own often impoversished visions on the young?

Yes, it is here, just,  though even here the sanitization is never far away with fencing, grazing and chain sawing hard to avoid.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Eyes Down

Walking with heads always down can mean you miss a lot. But in places it can save you from injury or at best embarrassment. I recently scored a good enough try, arms outstretched, to get me a place in the 6 Nations, courtesy of an obstinate trailing bramble shoot.

But it's worth looking down for other reasons:

On unmanaged land there are attractive sights when these can be in short supply in winter.

The answer is slow walking. Regular stops to look around mean you're less likely to miss something.

Month of the Jackdaw

There was once a film/book about a character nicknamed 'The Jackal'. I probably saw it a long time ago. All I can remember is an assassin putting together a rifle at a high window.

I think of January as The Month of the Jackdaw. It's when it's hard to ignore this resourceful bird. It's usually early in the new year that one appears in my garden at the bird feeders meant for tits; unlike some others he's clever enough to get what he wants. His brain compensates for natural awkwardness.

The jackdaws that roost in the woods to the east of Blacka are now set in their morning routine, flying off in large parties to the west, returning in mid to late afternoon. On calm mornings they may appear as small specks high in the sky but are canny enough to swoop low to the ground when the west wind blows calling out their 'chuck-chuck' or jack jack'.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Any Value?

The Scots Pines on Blacka may be loved by those who visit. Their deeply fissured trunks fascinate.

Their surface roots are a challenge on paths but would we really want to be without them? Such designs have an immeasurable beauty.

But by the principles of natural capital whereby everything has to be subject to an economic assessment where do these trees stand?

Do they stand at all if the chain-saw mafia are allowed in?

Saturday, 7 January 2017


It's been some time since I've seen the Roe Deer. They are always a delight. And often in threes.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Progress: Blacka Moor 2017?

For now I've no appetite to say much about this. It speaks for itself anyway.  And what more can you say to those who think this kind of destruction ................................................

............................... is justified in order to create more of this ?


The nearby bridleway should be a place to look out for a goddess riding bareback. Her saddle is here, left behind on this dead tree.

The Dryad's Saddle is the fruiting body of the fungus sometimes found at this time of year.

A dryad of course is a nymph, a tree goddess. One likes to assume as fruity as her saddle.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Outer Protection

Sycamore and Pine occupy large parts of the northern woodland of Blacka. They were introduced many years ago and without them the woodland would be very different. As the Sycamores line the boundary it's quite likely that they were intended to form a windbreak. Along with the Rhododendron that circles the north western woodland these trees make a very effective weather barrier that determines character within. Birch and Alder have benefited along with more Pine, the Alder in particular thriving and creating wildly sculptural forms. Most garden designers of past ages included a walled garden in their plans. Here instead of brick the introduced tree and shrub layers have held off the wind and during years of being allowed to go its own way a unique blend of the wild and the artifical has developed.

Tree bark is each tree's special protective layer. That of Scots Pine has deep fissures and is reputed to be fire resistant.

Sycamore has architectural features of its own: smooth in younger trees but older ones developing cracks and scales sometimes looking like flaps or doors.

They can host many visitors from lichens to fungi and insects.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

'Controlling Our Borders'

The Wall Caff's resident Brexiteer  looks out for (from his point of view) the invaders from the EU encouraged by the 'bloated Brussels bureaucracy'. Lots of migrant robins arrive (unchecked) each winter.

Sometimes there are as many as three of these pesky migrants and feathers have flown. He is now known as Kipper and takes cheese from the hand - having first checked it's genuine grated British Cheddar. He's for a hard cheese: no soft Camembert Brexit for him.

Well, someone's got to put the grate back into Great Britain. Ouch!

Meanwhile the less ideologically driven residents are grabbing what they can while it's still there.

This one's name is Arthur?

Monday, 2 January 2017

Welcome with Caution

Anyone wanting to get some symbolic satisfaction by welcoming the sunrise on the first day of 2017 was thwarted by continuous rain all morning.

A good second day's appearance over Blacka had to do.

There was a sting in the tail though. Looking backwards and to the north some treacherous black ice on the Hathersage Road had helped to send a car over the wall and into the woods. This must have happened just minutes before our arrival. Emergency vehicles got there soon after.

Cue for some more of my regular road safety beefs? Why does this hazardous stretch of highway not have a lower speed limit when much of the Peak District's roads do? Why is road safety not more of priority in South Yorkshire?  etc. etc.