Queues Ahead

WHEN WE saw the flashing warnings for a queues ahead we thought that it was just the normal morning rush but unfortunately there had been an accident involving seven cars on the approach to junction 35 (the Rotherham junction of the M1, heading south). As we waited, drivers were strolling about chatting to each other while police cars, fire engines and ambulances hurtled along the hard shoulder to reach the scene.

My way of dealing with an unspecified period of waiting would normally be to draw anything from the natural world, a way of escaping from the situation, but although there is a belt of woodland along this stretch of the motorway I felt the need to keep looking ahead, just in case the traffic started moving again, which it did after an hour and half, giving me plenty of time to draw what I find a difficult subject, the cars ahead.

Verge of Spring

WE’RE HEADING down the M1 with an urgent consignment of Rhubarb and Liquorice; another batch of my Walks books for the distributor. The spring countryside is looking so inviting for walking so it’s ironic that we have to spend so much time delivering walks books when we’d really like to be getting out to walk ourselves!

Barbara is driving, giving me chance to scribble in a notebook. Scribbling is all that I can do to start with, as the little roads around home are bendy and bumpy, but I make a start with the sky, attempting to sketch and to write ’100% cloud’, a contrast to the 100% blue sky that we had a week ago today.

When you’re getting into the mood for sketching or taking notes, you sometimes have to start with the abundantly obvious, just to break the ice and get you moving.

Dandelion and Gorse are in bloom and in the fields Oilseed Rape is starting to come into full flower so yellow is the dominant colour but in gardens there’s the dusky crimson of flowering currant alongside Magnolia and flowering cherries. Red Deadnettle brings a touch of crimson to disturbed ground by the roadside verge.

Collared Dove, Blackbird, Wood Pigeon and Carrion Crow are the birds that I jot down before we reach the motorway and, as we slow down because of a minor accident at Tinsley, I sketch Crows building their nest and a larger, domed Magpie’s nest (or possibly a Grey Squirrels drey?).

At Orgreave a large Red Fox lies by the road near the extensive open area of the old colliery site.

The Barn Owls of Low Laithes

This Barn Owl was found lying by the side of the M1 near junction 40 earlier this week. A member of the Wakefield Naturalist’s spotted it and brought it to the meeting on Tuesday. Sadly, this if a first; at the meetings of the Wakefield Naturalists’ Society that I’ve attended over the last 40 years, I don’t ever remember anyone bringing in a dead bird but this was apparently a regular feature of the society’s meeting in the Victorian period in the bad old days when one of the axioms of keeping biological records was ‘what’s hit is history, what’s missed is mystery’. Even some of the founding fathers of conservation like Audubon used the gun to collect huge numbers of birds, and not just strictly for reference purposes when illustrating his Birds of America, he apparently enjoyed the sporting aspect of shooting wild birds.

There’s a record of an Otter which was shot on the Calder at Stanley on 3 February, 1869. Rather worryingly there’s a note in the Wakefield Naturalists’ Society Annual Report for 1883 (illustrated here with an engraving by Thomas Bewick, or one of his followers):

 Otter – Lutra vulgaris. Several have been obtained.

The Wakefield Naturalists’ Society was founded in 1851, ten years before the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union, which celebrates its 150th anniversary with a conference on The Ever-changing Flora and Fauna of Yorkshire at Garforth on 19 March this year. Obviously there had to be a network of naturalists’ societies before a county-wide Union could be formed.

Coming back to the unfortunate Barn Owl; it’s hunting habits, flying low over open, scrubby grassland, in the half-light of evening are sooner or later going to put it on a collision course with motorway traffic. Low Laithes golf course provided a hunting territory for Barn Owls as their numbers began to recover locally in the 1980s. They’re continuing to spread around Anglers Country Park today.

Appropriately the place name Laithes comes from the Viking word for barn. My Walks around Ossett follow circular routes around the town from Mitchell Laithes in the south-east to Low Laithes in the north-west.

When I was checking out the Low Laithes walk for the booklet, I came across a familiar-looking image of a Barn Owl. Flags and signs at Low Laithes golf course are emblazoned with the owl logo I drew for them back in the late 80s or early 90s. It’s even been carved in bas-relief in sandstone by the entrance gates; the first time I remember anything of mine being carved in stone.

End of terrace on the junction of New Street and Prospect Road, Ossett, drawn during a coffee break at Cafe Vie.