Not far from where I live there is a beautiful little dale. The upper part begins shyly and incongruously just off an industrial estate, and consequentially suffers from some litter pollution. But that does not matter. On a July morning with the sun shining and a slight breeze to help keep Lilly the Collie cool, there is almost no better place to be.
Today did not disappoint and as an added advantage the young beef cattle that had been grazing the upper part, were absent. They are fine cattle but they are curious and like to follow us. Lilly finds this disconcerting; and if you believe the press reports they are potentially dangerous.
The dale is only about a mile long and no more than 400 yards wide at its widest. (Perhaps I should check these figures at some point but it is small.) Despite this diminutive size, it is full of variety and this is reflected in the number of wild flowers, birds and butterflies.
The first part, where the cattle were before, is wide and grassy. It is bounded by steep limestone cliffs that are laced through with small trees and shrubs. Today there were goldfinches a plenty, taking advantage of the variety of food available, they seemed particularly keen on the seeds of the Giant Hog weed. The grasses were humming with flies, beetles and bees, and purple and pink orchids gathered on the lower slopes of the dale sides.
Through the gate the dale immediately narrows, the vegetation seems denser, the trees taller and more numerous and there is a slightly damper feel despite the warmth of the sun. Butterflies were everywhere, and I managed to get a photo of a large skipper that kindly and very obligingly stayed still on the leaf long enough for me to snap it. A Dark Green Fritillary pogo’d by and Meadow Browns danced around each other in an early morning courtship. Linnets sang from the rough scrub and Lilly overwhelmed by scents nudged me to get me to move on.
A female kestrel glided down the hillside and took up station to hover silently, patiently until a slight movement in the grasses promised food and she swept down only to pull out feet from the ground and climb back up to resume her search for food. The narrow part of the dale has given way to the open grassland of the lower valley.
Here the works and spoil heaps from Ashwood Dale Quarry change the nature of the landscape a little. The soil seems sparser and the flowers less thick on the ground, and there are the remains of old machinery, skeletal and rusted. The slopes of the valley are threaded with narrow paths, runs for foxes and perhaps badgers? One day I will put up a wildlife trap camera to see which of the larger mammals use the dale and perhaps make it their home.
The Dale narrows again and the spoil heaps take over, and trees nestle among the ruined buildings and broken equipment. I stop and lean on a fence post. Lilly is higher up the valley side, looking at me wistfully, so turn and head back up, in the warmth, surrounded by the buzzing and the soft gentle brush of the grasses.