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Walking in a Winter Wonderland

21 Feb

 

As the winter draws towards its end I thought I would write about my local walks in this and past winters. This one has been the coldest one for a decade and the first proper winter since then. We’ve had the odd cold snap since but this winter has had more sustained sub-zero days and nights.


This cold spell has been enjoyable for me as I like walking or running in snow. Even when there isn’t any snow I prefer frozen ground to the mud that has prevailed for most recent winters. This winter began in similar fashion with plenty of rain making the ground pretty sodden, although the autumn wasn’t as wet as 2019. The colder weather started just after Christmas but as the year turned we entered a more sustained chilly spell.

We had a few separate snowfalls, although none brought huge quantities. The heaviest snow was on the 14th January when we had two or three inches. It snowed most of the day but stopped in the afternoon. This gave me a window for a run before it got too dark, although the snow make things a bit lighter in the gathering gloom. I set out at 4.30 when the snow in Farnsfield was already a bit slushy. However, once out of the village the fresh snow was still intact and lovely to run on. I had decided to go to Bilsthorpe, just over two miles away, and had deliberately chosen a route across Bilsthorpe Moor (see Walk 7) to recreate a run in the snow from many years earlier when I had got lost, although this time I wanted to avoid that outcome.
The previous time had been when I wasn’t very familiar with the way across the Moor. I had gone out in the early evening when the snow was still falling lightly. I had crossed the A617 to reach the large field on the Bilsthorpe side which rises sharply. Ahead of me it was pure white and I didn’t know where the field ended and the sky began. I totally lost my bearings and started running in a circle. As it was getting dark I decided to return home.


This time I knew the way across the Moor better and made it to Bilsthorpe safely. After a loop round the village where I saw the children returning with their sledges l headed towards the old railway track to return home. By now it was getting dark and in the field I fell over when tripping on a furrow. The path up to the railway track goes under a bridge but in the half light I could see a large puddle so had to claw my way up the steep bank to reach the track. A thaw was already beginning and pools of water forming under the trees. I tried to stay in the snow which guided my way in what was now almost darkness. It is a very straight track so I couldn’t go far wrong if I kept my eyes on the white strip stretching ahead of me and got home in total gloom.

Some of my favourite walks and runs have been in the early evening when it has stopped snowing. In 2018 the Beast From The East arrived.  It snowed until the middle of the afternoon but when it stopped I went out in the fresh snow.  I went along Greaves Lane and did a loop round Combs Wood.  As I was going back down towards Greaves Lane in the twilight I saw a barn owl flying across the fields.  This was the first and still the only time I have seen a barn owl in the wild.

My most memorable winter excursion came many years ago on yet another day when the snow stopped in the early evening after depositing a few inches.  I ran from Farnsfield all the way along Greaves Lane up to the top near Oxton and to Robin Hood Hill.  There was a full moon illuminating a beautiful snowscape on what is always one of my favourite viewpoints in the county.  A truly magical experience. 

This year in the time between snowfalls there was plenty of rain and this combined with the snow melt made things really wet underfoot.  I went to Kirklington where it was as wet as I can ever remember it.  On the way home I stopped at the large pond and as I stood on the bridge I could feel it vibrating with the force of the water leaving the pond.  The last field before the railway track on the way home has been very muddy all winter and people have been walking round the edge in preference.  The farmer has put up a rope to stop this.  I can understand why but on the two occasions I went round the edge the grass was in good condition.  People weren’t walking on any crops and appeared to me to be doing less damage than they would by going straight across the field.

When the cold weather returned we had some nice crisp, sunny days and I walked from Rainworth to Farnsfield using the first part of my Walk 24 .  I haven’t been that way since I did that walk and I was reminded what a nice one it is.  The first part where you come off the Rainworth by-pass and immediately reach a nice bit of heathland before a nice track through a wood is a lovely surprise and well worth a look.

On another sunny day I went via Hexgreave and over the top to Eakring.  The day was so clear that Lincoln Cathedral was easily visible on the skyline to the east from the top of the hill.  I went to the pond at Eakring Flash (see Walk 37) which was still mostly frozen but had swans, mallards, coots and a heron.  The ground was hard rather than muddy in most places which made things easier.  Hopefully the worst of the wet weather is now behind us and the fields which I have been mostly avoiding due to the mud will be nice to walk on again.

April is the cruellest month, supposedly. It is also the dryest.

8 May

The most remarkable thing about the past month apart from the extraordinary lockdown situation has been the glorious weather. The paths have changed from quagmires and paddy fields to hard, arid prairies.  Tracks that I have avoided since last autumn because I would be sliding around or getting soaked feet have become accessible again.

The official statistics for the month are now in and show that it was the sunniest April ever recorded and one of the dryest.  We have been keeping rainfall records since 2007 at home in Farnsfield and can give a more local perspective.  It was the fifth dryest of any month since we started recording figures, with 13.75mm of rain.  Until the rain came in the last three days it was actually on course to be easily the dryest month ever as only 1.5mm had fallen compared to the record of 9mm.  That record was from April 2013 and what is noticeable from the stats is how often April is dry.  Six of the top ten dryest months since 2007 have been in April.  (Incidentally the wettest month of all was April 2012, the exception that proves the rule).   

Apparently the explanation for this is that the south-westerly winds from the Atlantic which tend to produce a wetter climate are at their weakest at this time of year.  As the spring and summer progress the winds strengthen and the months gradually get wetter.

My own theories about our weather based purely on my intuition with a bit of science that I recall seeing is that we are getting longer spells of unchanging weather.  It seems to me that the incredibly settled April we just had, where the weather hardly changed for weeks, followed a pattern.  The winter just gone was one of the wettest ever seen where it seemed to rain consistently on many days.  There weren’t many huge totals on any one day but the accumulation over months were overwhelming.  The end of the winter saw a pattern of storms or near-storms coming in from the south-west every weekend for five weeks.  I had first noticed this trend a couple of years ago.  In June and July we had almost a month with no rain at all where every day seemed the same. In other recent years we have had periods with a “blocking pattern” of weather which doesn’t shift.  One idea about this is that the jet stream, which has a large role to play in our weather is getting, caught in blocking patterns because global warming is melting Arctic ice and changing the flow of the jet stream above it.

The April weather has opened up some paths again, as I said earlier.  In fact they are as dry now as they would normally be in high summer .  Two paths I often use to measure how wet things are underfoot are the ones through Combs Wood from Combs Lane to the south of Farnsfield.  The first path into Combs Wood if walking from Farnsfield is one going straight uphill by a hedge.  As the path enters the wood it gets narrow and for most of the winter is so muddy that you have to straddle the path and step carefully with one foot on either side of the mud.  After a normal winter it is dry enough to walk up comfortably by the middle of March but this year it wasn’t until early April.  Now it’s fine, as is the top of the hill on this path which has been quite badly churned up all winter.

The second path into the wood goes diagonally across a large field before entering the wood.  The path through the wood is one of the wettest in the area and is usually too wet to walk until summer.  Even then you often have to follow extra paths made alongside the main one that avoid the worst mud.  I have recently been through and it was as dry as I can remember it in April.  If you want to check out this attractive woodland path now is a good time.  It is on the Robin Hood Way route, incidentally, and I wrote a description of the Robin Hood Way from Farnsfield to Southwell which follows this path.

 

A Wandering Mind – Love (Walking) In The Time Of Corona

20 Apr


Going for a walk is a popular activity at the moment. For anyone cooped up inside, especially when the weather is good for the first time this year, it’s great to be able to get out. I went for a ten mile walk on a lovely sunny day this week from Farnsfield to Kirklington and Roe Wood. I would perhaps expect to encounter half a dozen people on this walk but this time I must have met twenty . Everyone was keeping their distance, even on the narrower paths.

The most recent walk I did was from home in Farnsfield in late March.  I went along Brickyard Lane and across the Southwell Trail before bearing right across the next field.  It’s amazing how the field has changed in just a week of dry weather.  I had avoided the field for months as there were so many puddles and so much mud but now after one small patch the field’s surface was almost rock hard and the clods of earth just off the path were awkward to walk on if keeping your distance.  I looked in on the lake near Kirklington where a few tufted ducks swam in the centre.  I reached Kirklington and went on to the second, smaller pond but not many birds were around as wood was being burnt on a bonfire nearby.

Large Pond near Moor Farm, Kirkington

 

Smaller Pond near Kirlkington

My route took me to Roe Wood, about a mile north-east of Kirklington, on my Walk 16.  I hadn’t been this way for a long time and the path wasn’t as clear as it had been then.  The walk goes along a tunnel of trees which I love walking along.  In Walk 16 I say how beautiful this is and when the leaves are on the trees it is even better so I recommend doing this walk a little later in the year.  I used to go along this path regularly when I was training as a competitive athlete but since then have only been here a few times.  Revisiting it is like seeing a friend you used to know but haven’t seen for ages.  The path down to Roe Wood was another that had obviously dried recently.  Hoofprints went to a depth of at least three inches and had to be avoided to preserve my ankles.

The last time I was here as I reached Roe Wood the path was blocked by a mound of rubble and I had to detour through the adjacent farmyard.  Things were much better now as the path ran alongside the wood with no obstructions.  The paddocks of horses next to the path had been very cut up especially in the corners, another reminder of the wet winter we’ve had.  Just past the paddocks the path crosses a narrow wooden footbridge where one of the planks is a bit rickety.  A little after this I joined the track which goes off to Winkburn village to the right.  I turned left towards Roe Wood again.  Just to the right of the track at the top of the rise was an industrial bird scarer, one which makes a really loud bang like a cannon.  I was relieved it hadn’t gone off before I knew it was there as it would have given me quite a shock and wondered if there were any regulations about them being next to paths.  I was about 100 yards along the track when the cannon went off.  Even that far along it was enough to startle me.

The route follows the track by the wood then goes left into a field beside the wood.  At the top of the hill I turned right away from the wood along a narrow path where I saw chiffchaffs, always the first of the summer migrants to arrive and a week earlier than I have seen them before, and a jay.  This path twists and turns between the trees but is basically straight along the narrow strip between large arable fields on the left and grass on the right.  I don’t often see people along this path but this time I met two pairs of walkers which meant stepping just off the path so everyone could keep their distance.  The path continues along to Dukes Wood but I left it to turn out onto the fields just by a surprisingly large puddle, a few feet across, the biggest I saw on the walk.

I crossed what I call “the plateau”, a very large expanse of fields, on a wide track, before descending a nice path past trees into a field overlooking the lakes and the old Rodney school.  I returned to the small pond and crossed a field with ewes and lambs.  As I approached the gate in the corner I was expecting two lambs there to run off.  They only moved a little and after going through the gate int o another of sheep I found why.  Each ewe had a number sprayed onto it and her lambs had the same number.  The first field had sheep with blue numbers and the second field orange numbers.  A “blue” lamb was in the “orange” field and was trying to get through a too narrow gap back into the other field to join its mother and siblings, the ones in the corner.  One of the “orange” ewes was also butting the blue lamb, although not too aggressively, every time it got close.  I thought about trying to reunite the blue family myself but then noticed the farmer was in the farmyard nearby.  I told him what had happened.  He thanked me and said “I’ll make a shepherd of you” before opening a gate to let the lamb through to its mother.  

I went past the old Kirklington station and across the fields to Edingley.  The last time I went this way was before Christmas when the path had several inches of standing water in places and my feet were soaked when I got home.  This time the path was fine.  However, the path from near Edingley church across the fields to Allesford Lane, which I had also been avoiding wasn’t.  There are often puddles by the gates after wet weather here and I had hoped that after a dry week it would be clear.  The middle field is always the worst one and there was still a few inches of water.  I decided to go to the left hand edge of the field where ther . e is another gate.  Usually you have to climb over it but this time it was slightly open and I ducked under thorns that were nearby to go through.   I think that after more dry weeks this path waill now be fine, though be aware that there are several gates on this part of the route which you should consider in the current Covid-19 climate.

The rest of the way to Farnsfield via Cotton Mill Farm was clear although a young cow was blocking the path temporarily in the field going to the Acres.  It stepped away as I approached and gave me room to get past with no alarms before it returned to bellow at the cows in the next field.  This path can be a bit narrow between the hedge on one side and barbed wire fence on the other which sometimes leans in towards the path.  At the end of the field the gate next to the stile has fallen over leaving a gap.  You reach the Acres and can cut through by the allotments to reach the Parfitt Drive fields.  From there you can take the direct route to the main road through Farnsfield across the main field area or follow the narrower paths to Quaker Lane, Sunnyside and Tippings Lane.  If taking these and you meet someone coming the other way you should try to keep your distance.  Since the social distancing etiquette rules came in it takes me longer to plan routes now as I have tried to avoid routes with narrow paths and gates, something I hadn’t even considered.

A Wandering Mind – walking from Kelham to Farnsfield – où sont les neiges d’antan?

25 Mar

With things currently largely in lockdown it’s great for your state of mind if you can get out for a walk.  It may be tricky to go too far from home and so rather than come up with new, more distant walks I thought I would write about some of my recent walks which have some updates on my earlier routes.  These aren’t officially numbered walks for the blog but instead feature things I noticed on my walks.  These posts will be collated under the heading, A Wandering Mind, as I often find my thoughts drifting as I walk.

The words où sont les neiges d’antan? in the title of this post translated literally mean “where are yesteryear’s snows”? though more generally it can be taken as “where has the past gone?”.  Both meanings seem apt as the years go by but it’s the literal meaning that I found myself contemplating as I did the walk below.  With the exception of the “Beast From the East” in 2018 we seem to have very little snow these days.  Even in 2018 the cold snap was only for a matter of days.  Most winters now are mild and wet with the most recent one the worst most people can remember.  Many paths have been best avoided because of mud or large patches of standing water.  I love walking in fresh snow and it would be nice to have a few days each winter where I can indulge myself.

In February I walked from Kelham to Farnsfield on one of the rare sunny days but the ground was pretty waterlogged. As I walked past the wood about a mile west of Kelham I startled three Fallow deer which ran off uphill. I last walked this way five years ago when the field next to the wood had an electric fence obstructing the path and things hadn’t changed five years later. The fence was only one wire which could be ducked under but it shouldn’t be allowed on a public footpath.

View towards Trent Valley from the top of the hill

The view from the top of the field over the Trent valley was good. As I walked round the next field I heard a gruff croaking in the sky behind me. I have heard that noise before, in the Lake District, and recognised it as a raven. I wasn’t sure if I was hearing correctly as I have never seen one before in Nottinghamshire, though I have heard that there have been sightings. I looked up and thought it seemed larger than crows but on its own the scale was hard to judge. I went through the hedge over a water filled ditch into the next field where immediately you meet the gallops for racehorses trained nearby. Carefully crossing these took me into the open part of the field where I could look back to the tree where the raven had settled. After a minute it took off along with three other corvids which went off in a different direction but appeared smaller confirming my identification.


As I continued across the field I heard the wonderful sound of skylarks singing and tried to spot them. As always seeing them is much harder than hearing them but after a short while I saw one, my first of the year. My spirits were lifted by this harbinger of spring as I went through the stables at the bottom of the hill.

After some wet walking round field edges I crossed the A617 to the bottom of Micklebarrow Hill where a sign warned me to Beware of the Bull. The farmer here didn’t appear to encourage walkers as there were also strands of possibly electric fences here as well. I couldn’t see any signs of a bull so I proceeded up the hill stepping over the strands as I did so. The top of the hill has a house with tennis courts but once you are past that the views across the Trent Valley are excellent. Staythorpe power station’s chimneys feature prominently a few miles away. It’s quite a steep descent off the hill and after a few fields you reach the road into Upton. The first 300m are without a pavement but on reaching the village cross over to the other side of the road where there is one.

View from Micklebarrow Hill towards the Trent Valley

The Pingley Dyke


I decided to turn down a track before going far into Upton. The track was fine as I descended but once at the bottom I turned right near one of the dykes and the track became much muddier. The mud and puddles caused me to veer from one side to the other in an attempt to avoid the worst of it and after half a mile reached the surfaced drive to Farm. I turned left and crossed the dyke but before reaching the farm went through a gate into a field. As I did so I heard the sound of a woodpecker drumming his bill against a tree trunk. On this beautiful sunny day it really did seem like the start of Spring.


The path soon reached the bank of the River Greet and followed the river for the next mile. The river wiggles about like a snake in tiny meanders here as you walk along the field edges. Finding the right spot to leave the river is slightly tricky but when you can see the tree line and embankment going up to the road to Southwell racecourse it’s time to head off along the field edge. Turning right along the road after going up the bank takes you straight for a kilometre before you reach the houses of Southwell.

Mill Building


I crossed the main road near the Southwell Workhouse and followed the river Greet along a nice quiet path past the community orchard where many varieties of apple tree are grown and a board nearby tells you which is which. The path also passes a picnic table where I have eaten lunch before. The river still meanders here, though not as crazily as earlier, as it passes under trees. By the river is a very tall building, once a mill, at the next road. Here you can turn left to head to the Burgage and the centre of Southwell or like me carry on westwards where there is a choice of paths. The more interesting one runs alongside the river but on this occasion I thought it would be too muddy and opted for the somewhat monotonous but relatively dry path along the old railway track, the Southwell Trail.

Norwood Park

Norwood Hall

After an easy mile on the straight, flat track I reached the road to Maythorne but instead of continuing on the track I turned left along the road to go through the Norwood Park estate. The path takes you past a golf course and through the middle of the fruit trees on a nice path. This brings you onto the road from Southwell to Halam which has a pavement for some of the way but the best route is to go along Saversick Lane and then turn off onto the driveway of a house before following the path through what was an orchard but is now rows of other fruits. I exchanged greetings with the eastern European girls who were having their lunch break from pruning before heading downhill into Halam via a rather muddy track.

Looking West to Halam and beyond.

 


After crossing the car park of the Wagon pub and following a path across the next field I left Halam along the back road towards Kirklington (Holme Lane). About 400m along is a gap into a field. Until last year this has for some time been a permissive path. It no longer has the signs to say it is but clearly people are still using it as such and there is still a bench at the top of the hill. There is still a well-defined field margin and path here so I have decided to still use it, very occasionally. If this is no longer a right-of-way I am happy to avoid it in future and will correct that impression in my other walking routes. The path was quite wet in places with some very soft ground for part of the way but it’s a nice way of getting to Edingley with good views from the top of the hill.
The path reaches the road again at the top of Edingley Hill. It’s always a bit of a dilemma here which way to go into Edingley. If I have time I will usually go straight across the main road and onto Greaves Lane but if I want to save a few minutes and there is no traffic I will run straight down the hill. You are always taking a chance doing that as there is no verge and a steep sided cutting. It takes me about twenty seconds to get to the track on the left halfway down the hill so I can usually make it without encountering anything. Going this way then takes you down across a field before scrunching across the stones of someone’s drive for a few strides. You emerge at the main road again.
There are two paths from Edingley to Farnsfield. I took the path a little past the Reindeer pub that goes off to the right near some allotments. The path is good at first but gets muddy after wet weather as you cross the fields to reach the wide track that becomes Brickyard Lane. You are near the railway track again here. Turning left brings you into Farnsfield a kilometre along the way.