Showers over Spires

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Monday 28th February 2000

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hail shower cloud A GIGANTIC CLOUD towers over the Calder Valley. It is so large that I can't take it all into my field of view, despite being several miles away from it. I have to crane my neck to see the top of it. Three spires; Ossett, Horbury and Wakefield are no more than pencil points against its bulk.

lapwing A Willow in the hedgerow rocks in the wind. I hear a noise that sounds like branches squeaking as they rub together. But it's not the willow, its the 'pew-it!' alarm calls of Lapwings taking off in the grassy field on the other side of the high hedgerow.

Ferrybridge cooling towers An hour later, a similar cloud looms out of the west, pelting us with hailstones as it passes. Seen through the 'frosted glass' of the shower, the cooling towers of Ferrybridge Power Station fourteen miles away look like a line of steaming coffee mugs lined up on the ridge (or is that just my wishful thinking?). Further away the towers of Eggborough (17 miles) and Drax (26 miles) still catch the sun, like a distant view of a promised land.

Twenty minutes later the cloud is well past us, taking its ragged fringe of showers across the Vale of York, and leaving us with fresh blue skies.

Sheep Spaces

stumps Up here, on the high ground between the valleys of the Calder and the Dearne, there's an exhilarating wrap-around view from the Pennines in the west to the Magnesian Limestone Ridge in the east. But in this wind it's an exposed place to be. Sheep make the most of the shelter on offer. In one field the stump of a multi-stemmed tree has been grubbed out and an attempt has been made to burn it.thorn The resulting 'wood henge' is a favourite with the sheep, who have worn the ground around it and left strands of wool, blowing in the wind like Tibetan prayer flags, snagged on its charred bark. In another field an old tumbled Hawthorn serves the same purpose.

David Nash is the artist who is fascinated by 'sheep spaces'.

sheep border collie I warn a dog walker who is with us that we're coming into a field with sheep in. One sheep trots towards the border collie with an alert, urgent, even threatening look. The dog puts her tail down and makes her way along the edges of the field, keeping as much distance as she can from the sheep.

'She's afraid of cows and sheep.' explains her owner.

The Brambling Association

bramblingsthere's a slight notch in the tail I don't think I've ever seen one before, but this afternoon we come across a flock of 100 - 150 Bramblings in the lee of Bullcliffe Woods. They're a bit bigger than Siskins but marginally smaller than the Chaffinch. They sit in the bare branches of two small trees like grey leaves left over from the autumn. Luckily I've brought my binoculars and I can take in the yellowish and brownish markings. They're like a duller version of the chaffinch, but they have a charm of their own.

flock of 100 or more Normally in situations like this I pass around my binoculars to the walkers in my group, but, as this is a first-in-a-lifetime experience for me, I'm just transfixed by the new species and I watch for some minutes, trying to take in every detail of the plumage.

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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