Cuckoo waltzes in with spring weather

Darlington and Stockton Times: THE CUCKOO: Its arrival and call are the subject of many sayings and superstitions

2:45pm Friday 11th April 2014

IT is around this time that we listen for the cuckoo’s familiar cries. Down the centuries this has always been a sure sign that spring has arrived, but now this iconic bird is in serious decline.

Do you have a cuddy in your garden?

Darlington and Stockton Times: ALSO KNOWN AS: The house sparrow - or spuggie

3:53pm Friday 4th April 2014

FOLLOWING my recent notes about the North Riding dialect names, especially for the hedgehog, a reader asks about dialect names for some of our wild birds He adds that his bird feeders are regularly visited by stoggies. I’m sure the same reader would have told us that spuggies were also regular callers, then with a bit of luck he might have noticed a French linney or a cuddy.

Do you measure up in the size stakes?

Darlington and Stockton Times: ABOUT THE SIZE OF IT: A male mallard in the spring sunshine among crocuses in Ripon

3:14pm Friday 28th March 2014

IT can be difficult conveying to another person’s imagination the approximate size of something.

Dialect links hedgehog and sea urchin

Darlington and Stockton Times: SPRING! One of the busiest maternity wards in the country is up and running with hundreds of new borns being brought into the world over the next few weeks at Doe Farm in Teesdale

4:31pm Friday 21st March 2014

SOME time ago I spotted a reader’s letter in a local newspaper which drew attention to the plight of hedgehogs on our roads.

Speculation over unusual village name

Darlington and Stockton Times: POINTS OF INTEREST: In spring, snowdrops are a feature of the grounds of Mount Grace Priory

4:30pm Friday 14th March 2014

A VISIT to Osmotherley and the nearby Cod Beck Reservoir can always produce something of interest. And so it was the day before compiling these notes just over a fortnight ago. My wife and I decided to visit the reservoir in an attempt to research the species of birds it attracted, and to learn a little more about the history of the village.

Village greens so vital to community life

Darlington and Stockton Times: FEATURE: A sturdy pant is a feature of the broad village green in West Auckland

11:33am Friday 7th March 2014

A RECENT news item in a national paper recorded that builders had won an appeal which allowed them to build large numbers of houses on two village greens. This was despite opposition from the respective local councils and the villagers themselves.

Yellow visitors a reminder of tragedy

Darlington and Stockton Times: STEAM POWER: No 46115 Scots Guardsman hauls the Cumbrian Mountain Express along the famous Settle to Carlisle railway line on a recent excursion from London Euston

4:08pm Friday 28th February 2014

OUR bird feeders are well patronised, especially by blue tits, but in the last few days, a pair of yellowhammers have visited us. This is by no means common, although we have welcomed yellowhammers in the past. I found this quite unusual because I have always associated yellowhammers with open moorland or wide areas of quiet countryside.

Evidence tree sparrows are taking over

Darlington and Stockton Times: BLEAK BEAUTY: Horses being exercised in the hills near Middleham during the recent snowfall

4:38pm Friday 21st February 2014

LOOKING back over my youthful birdwatching years, I have no recollection of seeing tree sparrows either in our garden or around the surrounding countryside, although we were visited by dozens of house sparrows. In simple terms, those two species are so very much alike that it is far from easy to make a positive identification so in those youthful years I might not have noticed the difference!

The undisputed capital ofWensleydale

Darlington and Stockton Times: BUSY BUT DIGNIFIED: Leyburn Town Hall, built by Lord Bolton in 1856, and now shops

3:53pm Friday 14th February 2014

LEYBURN is the undisputed capital of Wensleydale which is the broadest and arguably the most beautiful of the Yorkshire Dales, and yet it is the only one of the major dales that is named after a village rather than a river. In spite of Leyburn’s dominance, the dale gets its name from nearby village of Wensley and one of my regular queries is why this should be so.

At last, an urban craze that Dalesfolk can fully embrace

2:23pm Friday 7th February 2014

THERE was a time when trends and crazes took a while to reach the Dales, or failed to arrive completely.

Peregrine’s aerobatic antics are a treat

Darlington and Stockton Times: FLYING HIGH: A peregrine falcon on a ledge at Malham Cove

2:23pm Friday 7th February 2014

ONE of the walks regularly enjoyed by my wife and I takes us along the escarpment at Sutton Bank Top near Thirsk.

Searching for clues of Saint Alkelda

Darlington and Stockton Times: QUESTIONS: St Mary and Alkelda’s Church, Middleham. The church is only one of two dedicated to St Alkelda in England

3:56pm Friday 31st January 2014

THE remarkably mild weeks of December and early January have apparently created some disorientation among our wildlife. I’ve received reports of daffodils blooming weeks earlier than usual while in several places snowdrops have appeared both in the wild and in our gardens.

Weather rhymes had reasons behind them

Darlington and Stockton Times: LORE-MAKERS: Clouds gather on the horizon over Fountains Abbey, near Ripon

4:29pm Friday 24th January 2014

COUNTRY folk have long been revered as highly capable forecasters of our weather. I can recall some villagers from the North York Moors hanging seaweed under the eaves of their garden shed where it was used to forecast rain – if the seaweed was damp and slimy, it heralded rain, but if it was hard and dry, then fine weather could be expected.

The sky’s no limit for majestic buzzard

Darlington and Stockton Times: THE BUZZARD: A majestic sight in flight, the species is increasing in range and can be seen in our area

3:54pm Friday 17th January 2014

MANY years ago, when I was a lad, the Lake District was probably the only locality in this region where I could be sure of seeing a real live buzzard.

A date that will always stay with me

Darlington and Stockton Times: NO FUN FOR SHEEP: like this one near Lanehead in County Durham last winter

4:43pm Friday 10th January 2014

I HAVE good reason to remember this date in both 1959 and again in 1976.

Flocking together for safety in numbers

Darlington and Stockton Times: FLIGHT TIME: A murmuration of starlings at Gretna in the Scottish borders

4:15pm Friday 3rd January 2014

ONE of the curious features of January is that so many birds join flocks mainly comprising their own species, but sometimes mingling with others. It may be that they recognise that there is safety in numbers, and another theory is that, when feeding, most of the flock members can satisfy their hunger whilst one or two of them keep guard.

Candle from the past still burns bright

Darlington and Stockton Times: WINTER VIEW: the ancient St Cuthbert's Church, Darlington, in December 2009

12:37pm Monday 6th January 2014

MANY years ago there was a house in my home village where an old gentleman lived alone. His wife had died some years before I was born and there were no children of that union.

Christmas times have changed their tune

Darlington and Stockton Times: BIG ON TWITTER: A RSPCA picture of a house sparrow (Passer domesticus) perched on a twig

11:50am Friday 20th December 2013

IN the December days preceding Christmas there have always been celebrations of a very mixed kind. They range from the customs practised on Old Christmas Day (Dec 6), by way of the Halcyon Days that bring a patch of milder weather to the celebrations of St Lucy’s Day (Dec 13), the feast of St Thomas which is today (Dec 20), and then tomorrow we remember that it is the shortest day of the year which is also known as Candle Auction Day, Gooding Day and more formally as the Feast of St Thomas the Apostle, who is often known as Doubting Thomas.

Why the New Forest is really rather old

Darlington and Stockton Times: WINTER GUESTS: Light-bellied Brent geese flying over Lindisfarne in Northumberland

1:11pm Friday 13th December 2013

THIS weeks’ Diary comes from Dorset, where I undertook a short visit to spend time with my family as I researched the locality for future novels and articles, as well as being a guest author at the Venus Business Women’s Awards in the New Forest.

County words take on new meanings

Darlington and Stockton Times: SERENE: Reflections on the last autumn colours at Fountains Abbey, near Ripon

3:13pm Friday 6th December 2013

THE annual Christmas Crack of the Yorkshire Dialect Society takes place tomorrow, at 2pm in the Skell Building of St John’s College, York. Everyone is welcome.

Evergreens are a festive favourite

Darlington and Stockton Times: WONDERLAND: A walker passing a signpost in snow near Goathland, on the North York Moors, last week

2:40pm Friday 29th November 2013

AT this time of the year, many of us will be thinking about the Christmas decorations that will shortly festoon our homes and offices. During this ancient Christian festival, I would imagine that natural green plants will feature prominently, either in the form of a Christmas tree or in the shape of other leafy decorations.

Winter weather can be hard to swallow

Darlington and Stockton Times: POWER POINT: the village of Keld, high in Swaledale, which is celebrating 60 years of mains electrcitity

3:47pm Friday 22nd November 2013

AT THIS time of year we can be misled into believing that all aspects of the countryside go to sleep. Certainly some do – flowers and trees take a rest and either cast their leaves or cease to flower; some of our wild creatures will seek places to hibernate or alternatively set off to travel immense distances to be certain of finding food and shelter in warmer places. This can lead us into thinking that our countryside is temporarily deserted.

Yorkshire is Europe’s finest destination

Darlington and Stockton Times: ATTRACTION: Thorp Perrow Arboretum, near Bedale, where this year’s warm weather delayed autumn tints by between four and six weeks

12:16pm Friday 15th November 2013

A COUPLE of weeks ago as I was seeking ideas for this column, the news broke that Yorkshire had been hailed as one of the world’s finest tourist destinations to visit during 2014.

Gather round for some ghostly tales

Darlington and Stockton Times: GHOSTLY RUINS: Gisborough Priory is said to be haunted

1:27pm Friday 8th November 2013

IN days of old when knights were bold, ordinary people entertained themselves by telling stories in the darkness of their homes, lit by candles and firelight.

Weather we like it or not, November’s here

Darlington and Stockton Times: HOMETIME: A red squirrel darts along a stone wall in Kielder Forest, Northumberland after collecting food

12:15pm Friday 1st November 2013

THE arrival of November is often overshadowed by events associated with Hallow’een on October 31. Even into modern times, the festivities of Hallow’een (Hallow Evening) have been linked to festivals that commemorated the dead.

Crayke has a double link to Durham

Darlington and Stockton Times: COW BLIMEY: The Durham Ox pub in Crayke.

4:02pm Friday 25th October 2013

FROM time to time, I am asked why an inn at Crayke, near Easingwold, just north of York, should be named the Durham Ox when it is a considerable distance from Durham. The reason is the long association between this village and Durham, along with Crayke’s link with St Cuthbert, plus an ancient Scandinavian legend set in Crayke castle. There is no space in this diary for that legend but it will surely follow.

Dressed as peasants, they took the castle

Darlington and Stockton Times: GOLDEN: As autumn arrives, Scarborough Castle sits surrounded by mist as part of a flock of Canada geese fly north

4:09pm Friday 18th October 2013

THIS region seems to have more than its fair share of castles, some in ruins and others occupied. They range from the tiny Danby castle in Eskdale which is a ruin in a farmyard to the mighty fortresses of Richmond and Scarborough. There are those which are occupied such as Durham Castle, Gilling Castle, Castle Howard and Mulgrave Castle and some that have disappeared such as Kilvington Castle near Thirsk and two at Kirkbymoorside.

Endangered toads need help to survive

Darlington and Stockton Times: UNDER THREAT: The common toad of Britain is one of the amphibian species which is said to be in danger

4:34pm Friday 11th October 2013

WHEN my wife was tidying the garden, she moved a pile of plant pots that were tucked away in a quiet corner to find a pair of golden eyes staring at her from the darkness into daylight. She called me because she was uncertain what the creature might be – it was those beautiful golden eyes that provided the answer. It was a toad, more formally known as the common toad.

Having a wild time with the neighbours

Darlington and Stockton Times: STURDY: St John’s Church at Hipswell, near Catterick

4:18pm Friday 4th October 2013

THIS week’s column comes from the Snowdonia area of North Wales where my wife and I spent a few days researching the countryside and coastal areas.

A lot to learn from our winged friends

Darlington and Stockton Times: LIGHT SHOW: Sunrise over Whitby, seen from Sandsend

3:10pm Friday 27th September 2013

AS I write these notes, our local swallows are preparing for departure to Africa with their new families. It seems barely possible that this season’s young birds will soon be flying thousands of miles at such a tender age, although some of them may be several months old. Swallows may have two or three broods while here, the first being as early as April or May, particularly in the South of England when they return from Africa.

Seems God had got it right all along

Darlington and Stockton Times: BIG COUNTRY: billowing heather and Roseberry Topping, by Joe Cornish

12:40pm Friday 20th September 2013

NEWS that Yorkshire has been named as one of Europe’s finest tourist destinations will come as no surprise to Yorkshire folk. Instinctively we know we’ve got the finest countryside and folk who live here consider their home patch to be more of a nation than a mere county. Not for nothing is it known as God’s Own Country.

‘Tis the day to beat the devil to the nuts

Darlington and Stockton Times: HERITAGE: The mighty waterwheel dominates the scene at Killhope Lead Mining Museum in the North Pennines

3:13pm Friday 13th September 2013

TOMORROW, September 14, was formerly known as Nutting Day and it used to be a school holiday to allow children to gather hazel nuts. This was important because there was an old belief that the Devil went around collecting nuts on this day and the objective was to get there before he did his worst.

Chapels that bridged the gap for pilgrims

Darlington and Stockton Times: PURPLE DAYS: A steam locomotive passes flowering heather as it arrives into Goathland station

2:53pm Friday 6th September 2013

AT various locations around Britain there have survived a number of bridge chapels. Some are in Yorkshire.

Taking a walk alongside living history

Darlington and Stockton Times: ROMAN REMAINS: Caw Gap on Hadrian’s Wall

3:29pm Friday 30th August 2013

AS I compile this week’s budget a couple of weeks ahead of publication, two of my teenage grandsons are undertaking a long-distance walk from Carlisle to Wallsend along the Hadrian’s Wall path.

Makeno bones about famous discovery

Darlington and Stockton Times: SKY AT NIGHT: A meteor shoots across the night sky above Olivers Ducket, an 18th century folly near Richmond. The meteor came during the peak of the Perseid shower last week

2:45pm Friday 23rd August 2013

THERE used to be at least three Kirkdales in the North York Moors and now there are only two by that name.

Feathered friends enjoy a cherry feast

Darlington and Stockton Times: COLOURFUL CROP: A field of linseed at Manfield, near Darlington

3:18pm Friday 16th August 2013

OUR neighbours have a cherry tree which, in some years, is laden with juicy red fruit. Because it is near our conservatory, we can freely observe the activities of various birds as they take advantage of the tempting offerings. There is no doubt they consume far more cherries than the owners of the tree.

The relics of valley’s industrial past

Darlington and Stockton Times: SUMMER HOLIDAYS: Colourful beach huts at Whitby

2:39pm Friday 9th August 2013

ROSEDALE, deep in the North York Moors, is famous for three things that are no longer there. One is the priory, second is the iron ore mining industry and third is the chimney that gave name to the steep hill at the southwest of the village.

Take a leaf out ofmyfriend’s books...

Darlington and Stockton Times: LEAP: Reader David Gibbon took this shot of a fox pouncing on prey at the RSPB’s Saltholme nature reserve

3:34pm Friday 2nd August 2013

THE past few weeks provided a wealth of wildlife for everyone to see and enjoy, sometimes in glorious sunshine.

Trials and tribulations of life outside the law

Darlington and Stockton Times: OUTLAW: Dick Turpin astride his horse Black Bess

3:38pm Friday 26th July 2013

RECENTLY I was asked why so many criminals and rogues have become heroes. It is not an easy question to answer but I have heard it said that such villains often make superb soldiers because they are not afraid of other people, however violent, and in addition they have no concept of dying. In other words they are fearless, and that is often the prerequisite of a hero or heroine.

Fly-by-night creature that’s a small miracle

Darlington and Stockton Times: WINGING IT: A Yorkshire Pipistrelle bat

3:41pm Friday 26th July 2013

BATS are peculiar animals that do not appeal to everyone, particularly those who are afraid of them. Despite rumours of bats being blood-suckers or getting tangled in women’s hair, they are quite harmless to humans. They feed on insects and so they can appear to be scarce during the winter when they are hibernating. Some will migrate to warmer countries and they have been known to turn up on ships and oil-rigs as they make their tough journeys overseas.

A remote dale that just oozes history

Darlington and Stockton Times: SCENE SETTER: A photograph of Westerdale by Chris Ceaser which is to go on show at Sutton Bank visitor centre

4:35pm Friday 19th July 2013

DURING a research trip into Yorkshire’s Eskdale (where I was examining a newly-discovered cross post at Glaisdale, one of several located around the North York Moors, which I believe to be wrongly called witchposts), my wife and I decided to pay a return visit to Westerdale.

Distinguishing a stoat froma weasel

Darlington and Stockton Times: SUMMER SCENE: Cattle graze behind a field of flowering oil seed rape at Castle Howard Mausoleum, in North Yorkshire

2:52pm Friday 12th July 2013

IF there is one similarity between a grey squirrel and a weasel, it is that neither of them has any road sense. Quite heedless of oncoming traffic, they will dart on to the road from the security of the verge and very sadly many get killed. I have no statistics to confirm numbers of these deaths; I am merely relying upon my own observations. If there is any benefit from this carnage, it is that the sad little road-kill carcases provide food for a wide range of other wild creatures.

Castle tales illuminate Catholic history

Darlington and Stockton Times: IMPRISONED: Bolton Castle, in Wensleydale, where Mary Queen of Scots was held

3:05pm Friday 5th July 2013

IT is some time since I last visited Redmire in its beautiful setting on the slopes of Wensleydale high above the River Ure and almost within the shadow of the remarkable and historic Bolton Castle. Recently, I read somewhere that although the castle can be seen from a huge area of Wensleydale, the castle itself has no views of the river. I must go for a look around to check out that story – a task for the future.

Where have all the black rabbits gone?

Darlington and Stockton Times: LANDMARK: Darlington’s Covered Market and Clock Tower, which have just celebrated their 150th anniversary

4:49pm Friday 21st June 2013

FROM time to time I receive information from people who have noticed black rabbits in the wild. The inevitable question is whether these are rabbits whose ancestors were wild or are they domestic ones that escaped from captivity?

Continued Thirsk for Finkle knowledge

Darlington and Stockton Times: HISTORY: Finchale ruins, which stand near a bendy stretch of the River Wear. Locals pronounce it Finkle Priory

3:57pm Friday 14th June 2013

MY wife and I were in Thirsk recently when an acquaintance asked whether I knew the origin of Finkle as a street name.

Has the dawn chorus been silenced?

Darlington and Stockton Times: SURVEY: Puffins in the Farne Islands, Northumberland. The 2013 National Trust puffin census has begun to discover whether numbers have plummeted after a year of extreme weather in which 3,500 birds were washed up dead

5:33pm Friday 31st May 2013

SEVERAL people have mentioned this year’s absence of the dawn chorus.

Seaside community’s merman mystery

Darlington and Stockton Times: RUNSWICK BAY: Down the coast from Skinningrove and a more popular place to visit

3:11pm Friday 24th May 2013

A FEW days before settling down to compile these notes, a stranger hailed me at Helmsley Market and asked if I could tell him about the Skinningrove merman. My response was that I could indeed provide information about this mysterious creature and promised to do so in this paper.

Rare bird is often heard but not seen

Darlington and Stockton Times: SIGHTINGS: Oyster catchers taking flight at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve, Carnforth, Lancashire

3:32pm Monday 20th May 2013

ALTHOUGH I have no wish to get involved in a dispute about a proposed housing development in Ampleforth, I feel I have to set the record straight about an aspect of wildlife that could be affected.

Names are a funny game for our crows

Darlington and Stockton Times: SET FOR SUMMER: Colourful beach huts at Whitby

4:19pm Monday 13th May 2013

THE collective nouns for birds usually produce a few curiosities and questions. Some examples concern members of the crow family. For example: a murder of crows, a mischief of magpies, an unkindness of ravens, a conceit of jackdaws, a clamour of rooks, a chattering of choughs and a band of jays.

Celebrating month of floral splendour

Darlington and Stockton Times: MAY DELIGHT: blossom from St Oswald’s Churchyard in Sowerby, near Thirsk, covers the pavement in 2008

4:23pm Tuesday 7th May 2013

THE month of May has always been a cause for celebration, with May Day supporting hundreds of different events and ceremonies throughout the country.

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