Whenever I can I take a woodland walk to exercise my body and my soul. Often this means a car drive to a nearby park, the hasty shuffling on of walking shoes and a trip to the parking meter to pay for my pleasure.
The recent favourite has been a park some eight miles away, a flat wide path around a lake. The circular walk takes me about an hour and a half to cover the two and a half miles at a leisurely pace.
This morning, however, the air was cold and the ground was crisp with frost. I decided to revisit an old haunt, Worsbrough Mill and Country Park in Barnsley – to the south of Yorkshire in England. It’s a good bit nearer, less than three miles away, and has one distinct advantage over its more distant competitor – wilderness. The wilderness, carefully created and maintained by the local council, provides a magnificent wetland which attracts a profusion of wildlife, especially birds.
A Worsbrough Mill was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 and the first Curator, confirmed that a “tenuous but continuous documentary record can be traced from then to 1625 which is the likely date for the building of the existing Old Mill. This mill is a water powered corn mill with steam-driven assistance. It produces a range of flours from local farms and I find the flour admirable for the home-made bread I occasionally bake.
The mill is powered from a mill-race which is fed by a large reservoir beloved of local fishermen. The 60-acre Worsbrough Reservoir was built for the opening of the Dearne and Dove Canal in 1804.
Today, as I got out of the car in the little known free car park the ice was crunching underfoot but I had decided to wear rubber boots rather than walking shoes. The track in winter can be quite treacherous underfoot with lots of mud and puddles if the weather has been wet. Today it promised to be hard with frost but I can never be too sure.
I set off along the Dove Valley Trail heading towards the north of the reservoir. The ground was firm underfoot but I could already sense that the temperature was rising above freezing point. I always carry a bag of birdseed on these walks so that we can reward the birds for their sweet songs. The seeds are also a favourite of local squirrels but there were none to be seen today. What there were, in abundance, were robins. fat ones, small ones, scaredy ones and bold ones. As I dropped a handful of seeds onto each fencepost they would come bouncing forward to sample my offering, chirping and cautiously eyeing me from a safe distance. They were joined at intervals by finches, tits and wrens, all eager for the nutritious seeds on offer.
A lone thrush warbled a sweet song from a high branch. I left another offering of seeds below him in the hope that he might join the feast as a reward for his sweet song. We walked on, rounding the furthest edge of the wilderness and heading back to the reservoir. I stopped in my tracks. There before me, unexpectedly perched on a rotting fence was the beautiful grey and black form of a heron. Now I had often seen these perched on branches far out in the reservoir but never seen one on the path, near enough to see the individual feathers of its tail. I edged cautiously forward, cursing the decision not to bring my camera and limited to the facilities of my smartphone. One leap and it was airborne, circling us above the trees, the wide spread of its wings obscuring the milky sun for a brief moment. And then he was gone.
As the temperature rose slowly there was a distinct feeling of dampness in the air. Everything was coated in a thick moss and the path became sticky with softening mud. I hurried on towards the fishing pegs lining the southern part of the reservoir.
Looking beyond the fences I could see a field of newly planted crop but the sound of birdsong was dimming to be replaced or at least supplanted by the noise of traffic on the busy motorway a mile away. I suppose the sound of the traffic is omnipresent but for brief intervals the song of the birds is supreme and I can forget about the hustle and bustle so close to this haven of tranquillity. The planted rows stretched in neat precision towards the distant trees and all was well with the world.
The walk along the southern edge of the reservoir is probably no more than five hundred yards but, in the summer, those yards can be full of interest and variety. Across the icy water today, however, all that could be seen was a small flock of ducks, a larger flock of gulls and the solitary house across the water standing as a silent sentinel overlooking everything.
In the cold cloudy air my objective suddenly became very clear. A steaming fragrant black coffee at the Mill’s cafe. I hurried on past the mill-race, down some steps and ducking under a low archway into the courtyard where the cafe sits amongst a small group of artisan shops shuttered and dark today. The cafe had as many canine guests as humans. Leads became twisted, entangled around the legs of people waiting to be served. It is something of a rarely for dogs to be allowed in eating establishments in England but Barnsley seems to have taken a pragmatic approach and the well-behaved dogs in the cafe today were a pleasure to see.
Fully restored, I bounded eagerly towards the last leg of the walk, past the slipway which regulates the water levels of the reservoir and incidentally provides an adventure playground for the ducks and geese which regularly use it as a water slide. Then up the hill towards Wigfield Farm and the car. Boots safely stowed in a large carrier bag I headed home to a well-deserved lunch.
The official website of the mill is here
The walk is detailed here
Love this, especially the part about the robins.
Thank you. The Robin has a special place in our hearts, it’s associated with my mother-in-law who died a few years ago.
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