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March 2012



Perfect Sunday walk around Dale Dike and Strines Reservoirs (Part 1): ancient oaks & Boot’s Folly

Impressive ash on the way to Dale Dike Dam.

On Sunday I went walking with a couple of buddies in perfect weather through some beautiful countryside. Even though we’re not yet halfway through March it was a very good impression of summer: hot and cloudless and lovely. We set out from Lower Bradfield in the morning and walked along the south-eastern shore of Dale Dike Reservoir, looped around Strines reservoir via Boot’s Folly and the Strines Inn, then followed the north-western shore of Dale Dike back to Lower Bradfield, before climbing the hill to Upper Bradfield where we enjoyed a pint and some pub grub in the afternoon sun. It was a great way to spend a Sunday.

I’m 99% sure that this is Daldinia concentrica, a fungus going by the common names of King Alfred’s cakes, carbon balls, and cramp balls. There were a few of them growing on a dead tree by the dam wall at Dale Dike Reservoir.

This is a seriously ancient oak. It grows between the two reservoirs and when I first spotted it I was amazed – amazed because this is the first veteran oak of this class I have found in my local area. Then I was excited. It looks smaller it really is in this photograph – my photos never seem to do big trees justice – but you can see it is a tree of great antiquity; an old pollard, from the look of it. 400 years old? 500? I look forward to putting it to the tape measure!

A nice little hawthorn.

A pause on the climb up to the folly for a look back over Dale Dike Reservoir.

Boot’s Folly! This 45 foot high tower was built in 1927 by Charles Boot of nearby Sugworth Hall (son of Henry Boot, founder of the eponymous LSE-listed company) to keep his workmen occupied during the Great Depression. There are stairs inside the tower but only at the very top – the story goes that they were mostly removed in the 1970s after a cow got itself stuck up there. The folly is a well-known local landmark that can be seen from much of the surrounding country, to which it adds character. It’s my opinion that it looks most impressive when viewed from up close, with the countryside as a backdrop.

This big ash grows just south of Strines Reservoir. The two branches on the left sure reach a good distance from the stem.

Another ancient oak pollard! This one is more squat and not so tall as the oak already passed, but it’s still a reverential veteran that has witnessed the passing of more than a couple of centuries. It’s part of a line of old trees that follow the stone wall on the left.

Continued in Part 2 & Part 3.


Posted in Gone for a walk + Notable trees





Perfect Sunday walk around Dale Dike and Strines Reservoirs (Part 2)

This post continues from Part 1.

Razor strop (Piptoporus betulinus) on a dead birch.

Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) on the wing over Strines Reservoir.

Male catkins on a common alder (Alnus glutinosa).

Male catkins with immature female catkins, the purplish ‘match heads’ attached to the twig above the male catkins which will mature into woody cones that remain on the tree the year round.

Common toad (Bufo bufo) doing the breast stroke in a wee streamlet (in Pears House Clough* I think) that flows into Strines Reservoir from the south. [* Apparently Boot’s Folly was built from stone taken from the disused Bents Farm and Pear House Farm when they were demolished.]

Looking north-east from tussocky Broad Carr.

The view across Strines Reservoir to Boot’s Folly (post ice-&-a-slice-enhanced refreshment at the ancient Strines Inn). Sugworth Hall, the home of Charles Boot, is hidden by the eminence on which his folly stands.

A long-dead tree that improbably remains standing, propped up by a birch.

Continued in Part 3.


Posted in Gone for a walk





Perfect Sunday walk around Dale Dike and Strines Reservoirs (Part 3)

This post continues from Part 1 & Part 2.

The woodland floor is coming back to life (nearly a fortnight ago now). Perhaps these are bluebells?

Another toad has found a good hiding place in amongst the leaf litter.

A nice holly (Ilex aquifolium) that actually has a decent ‘tree’ shape – which is fairly unusual for holly.

Reflections on Dale Dike Reservoir. The current dam was completed in 1875, but there was an earlier dam on the site which was completed in 1864. Tragically the original dam collapsed on the night of March 11th 1864 causing the catastrophic Great Sheffield Flood in which 244 people were killed and terrible destruction was wrought all down the Loxley valley and into the centre of Sheffield. The story of the disaster is one I remember well from my childhood.

Briefly: On the night of a storm, a crack was discovered in the earth embankment and the chief engineer, Mr Gunson, was sent for from Sheffield. When Stephenson Fountain, the son of one of the contractors at the dam, was dispatched to fetch Mr Gunson, the crack ran for fifty yards along the embankment. When he arrived at Dale Dyke, Mr Gunson was met by the contactors Mr Fountain and Mr Swinden. The crack was inspected and was wide enough to admit the engineer’s hand; it was in the centre of the embankment. Mr Fountain ordered gunpowder to be brought to blow a hole in the masonry of a weir (this must be the overflow) in order to lower the water level in the not-yet-filled reservoir; the valves were already fully open. The gunpowder was lit, but it failed to go off.

[The following paragraphs are an excerpt from The Dramatic Story of the Sheffield Flood by Peter Machan (1999).]

He [Gunson] and Swinden returned to examine the crack once more, Gunson still unsure about its cause. He wondered if the cracking extended into the puddle clay core, so the two men set about measuring the distance to the top of the wall to establish if the water in the dam was at the same level. Intent on making careful measurements Mr Gunson was stooping over his lantern at one end of the crack. On glancing up again he couldn’t quite believe his eyes. A foaming white sheet of water was flowing over the embankment. It rushed towards him and plunged down into the widening gap. Thinking quickly he shouted to George Swinden. “I’m going to the valve house to see how much water we’re losing.” He made his way, more cautiously now, down the embankment and into the small building. The others were following down the slope but realised they were no longer safe. Swinden shouted a warning to Mr Gunson to come out and, as the engineer emerged he looked up, his whole life of fifty five years seeming to have led up to this moment. As if in slow motion a central segment of the top of the wall, about thirty feet wide, was collapsing and with a great rumble a white torrent taking its place. Gunson stood transfixed. Swinden was fortunately close enough to grab his arm and pull him out of the path of the surging water and, as they fled across the base of the embankment, the ground shuddered and the whole central portion was swept away.

As they ran another loud explosion above them revealed that the gunpowder had ignited, blowing a now pointless hole in the waste weir. The volume of water crashing through the breach in the dam was awesome. It was as if the great basin of high Pennine moorland was tilting, tipping its contents down into that narrow wooded channel. … John Gunson, as he stood now gazing on the widening breach in impotent horror, was only too aware of the menace that now roared down the valley. He felt the blood draining from his face and released a gasp, experiencing a sickening churning in the pit of his stomach. “It’s all up! The embankment is going,” was all that his dry lips could utter. …it was exactly midnight.

Tangled birch roots.

A couple of oaks lean dangerously over the reservoir, mesmerised by their own reflections.

A fine oak growing on the other side of the path…

…and another oak, dipping its branches in the water.

After the walk, a pleasant meal at the Old Horns in Upper Bradfield to nicely top off a perfect Sunday.


Posted in Gone for a walk





Set A update: grey alders & Scots pines (March 2012)

Grey alder No. 1 on Saturday.

Five years ago today, on the 28th of March 2007, I planted three kinds of seeds: grey alder (Alnus incana), Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), and cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii) as treeblog’s Set A. Today, all of the cider gums are dead, but on the fifth anniversary of their planting, three grey alders and two Scots pines are alive and well. On Saturday (March 24th – Day 1823) I paid the surviving grey alders a visit.

Grey alder No. 1 looks rather spindly and the sheep damage at the base of the stem is still nasty. Ne’ertheless, it still lives and what’s more…

…there are catkins! Only one clump, but No. 1 actually has catkins and it’s only five years old! The yellowish part is the top of a male catkin (not sure where the rest is); the fuzzy, reddish (out-of-focus) parts are the female flowers, which will develop into woody seed-bearing ‘cones’. I do not know if grey alders are able to self-pollinate; if not then it is extremely unlikely to produce fertile seed.

Grey alder No. 2: the best of the bunch, despite being the worst performer for a long time. No. 2 and No. 3 grow close together, while No. 1 (and the dead No. 4) are at a different location.

No. 2 and the late afternoon sun.

Grey alder No. 3. While not quite as strong as No. 2, it is far sturdier than No. 1.

The stem could hardly be called spindly, and good progress is being made in sealing the old sheep grazing wounds.

No. 3 was the most advanced of the three in terms of bud-burst or flushing. Lots of the buds were already showing green, with tiny leaves just starting to unfurl from some.

No. 3 from a different angle.

My last visit to the alders was in September. While they have now been in the wild since April 2010, the Scots pines remain in our garden for the time being. I took their picture yesterday (Day 1826):

Scots pine Alpha. It can’t be long now before its buds begin stretching out into candles.

Scots pine Gamma.

And finally, even though I didn’t plant it (it’s a self-set), here’s honorary Set A member PSAUS - some kind of willow, perhaps a goat willow (Salix caprea).


Posted in The treeblog trees












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