WHEN I was a child, my playground was a splendid stretch of deciduous woodland known as Arncliffe Wood at Glaisdale in the Esk Valley.

The Yorkshire Esk, a noted salmon and trout river, flows into the North Sea at Whitby and the woodland boasts a wishing stone and also Robin Hood’s Cave.

That was where the outlaw and his merry men were believed to have hidden from the Sheriff of Nottingham.

In fact, there were two parts to that wood, East Arncliffe and West Arncliffe with the River Esk flowing down to the North Sea at Whitby as it ran alongside part of East Arncliffe. West Arncliffe Wood stretched away from the Esk into Glaisdale Dale alongside the route of Glaisdale Beck and the two watercourses merged very close to the famous and romantic Beggar’s Bridge near the railway station.

The name “Arncliffe” is thought to derive from “Erne Cliff” that suggests a hilly or mountainous haunt of eagles, the Golden Eagle in particular. Certainly there are rocky cliffs in Arncliffe Wood but they are small compared with those of the Yorkshire coast, along with others in the Lake District and Scotland where eagles and other birds of prey may be seen.

There is also an area near Middlesbrough and Stockton called Eaglescliffe but it shows little evidence of eagles or cliffs as does nearby Egglescliffe that sounds like a corrected spelling mistake.

However, not far away is the village of Ingleby Arncliffe, the first part of the name probably dating to the Danish invasion when it was known as Englebi to record the fact it was in this country. In addition, the English Place Names Society book “The Place Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire” confirms that Arncliffe, from as long ago as 1086 referred to a haunt of eagles around a densely wooded cliff.

However, my very detailed road atlas lists only one location that bears the single name of Arncliffe and that is high in the mountainous regions of the Yorkshire Dales. It is the remote village of that name which lies in Littondale, a small valley in upper Wharfedale. This area is sometimes regarded as the heart of the Yorkshire Dales and it lies some three miles from the noteworthy Kilnsey Crag.

The name of Arncliffe sometimes features among Yorkshire business names but this Dales village nurses a quiet secret. It was once known as Amerdale, a name used by the poet Wordsworth in his famous work titled The White Doe of Rylstone. The relevant lines were: The White Doe followed up the Vale In the deep fork of Amerdale.

However, that is not the secret it now nurses.

In the past, Arncliffe served as the fictitious village of Beckindale in the TV series Emmerdale Farm, later renamed Emmerdale. I think most would agree that Emmerdale and Amerdale sound very similar, but when I wrote some books associated with Emmerdale, I understood that Emmer was a local name for a field crop. Whatever the truth, I am sure viewers of Emmerdale in times past, from 1972 to 1975, may have recognised the village and landscape around Arncliffe and probably more parts of Littondale.

Perhaps I should add that my local Arncliffe Wood in Glaisdale also featured in a TV drama series. That was Heartbeat that was based on the Constable series of books that I wrote some years ago. That woodland sometimes formed a background to various scenes, one of which I recall was shot near Beggar’s Bridge at Glaisdale.

Hidden finches

THE bird life in our garden seems to be gathering pace as the days grow longer and the evenings become lighter. We have put out another bird-feeder which, we hope, will encourage more species to visit our patch of England. We know that goldfinches are in the vicinity – their group twittering from high branches is always a recognizable sign – but the flock remains stubbornly out of sight. We have previously enjoyed flocks of goldfinches in and around our garden and fortunately have a beech hedge that will provide shelter if they decide to join us.

Some delightful visitors arrived this morning. As I was preparing our morning coffee, I noticed half a dozen long-tailed tits in the bird feeder just outside our kitchen window. The feeder is a type of cage that prevents greedy and unruly visitors from raiding the food supply – I refer to carrion crows, of which we have a pair in the garden, not forgetting their handsome cousins, the magpies or the great spotted woodpeckers who sometimes try their luck. The cage-like barrier does a good job!

However, when the long-tailed tits arrived in force this morning, I was quite amazed to find all could crowd into the feeder whilst coping with their long tails. They fed as a team, not falling out with one another as some birds are prone to do, and they seemed to quite happy sharing the peanuts.

It meant, of course, that the feeder was temporarily out of reach of the usual blue tits, coal tits, great tits and marsh tits. Robins, dunnocks and blackbirds have all realised it is sensible to stay on the ground below the feeder, there to gather titbits that fall. Woodpigeons never try to feed from the feeder although some time ago, I had trouble with a visiting cock pheasant who seemed to think he was king of the garden. He never tried to obtain food from the bird feeders, but did expect us to find something for him and place it on the lawn. He was aggressive even to me, pecking at me if I did not produce something tasty for him, and at times, he even attacked the car in the drive.

He was so tame that I thought he must have been reared in a hatchery and fed daily as a chick.

However, we had a casualty a week or two ago. My wife noticed the still corpse of a tiny bird on our terrace and when I went out to investigate, I realised it was a goldcrest.

Along with the firecrest, these are the tiniest of European birds but are surprisingly tame. The best place to see them is a coniferous forest where they flit among the trees seeking food. In all probability, you will only become aware of them by their light and musical twittering in the higher branches. Surprisingly for such a small bird, they remain in this country during the winter. However, they do venture out of the forests on occasions as we discovered from the sad fatality in our garden.

I gave the tiny casualty a decent funeral but have never seen one in the garden since that time. It’s tininess does give it a claim to fame – it is even smaller than a wren and we do have a resident wren who seems to spend his time walking along the top of our stone wall, seeking titbits. I am sure he will be seeking a suitable nesting site. To please his lady, he will built several nests before she selects the one she likes! No wonder he is a busy little chap!