Archives for posts with tag: A Park of Many Parts

The next stage of my journey around the perimeter of Cliffe Castle Park is an exercise in not getting lost.

Sketch of where the path divides

A fork in the path calls for a decision. As you enter Moorside Wood from the Beechcliffe end you soon come to a place where the path divides.

It’s obvious that if you go to the left, you’ll follow the edge of the field and climb uphill keeping the open ground of the park visible through the trees. This path is still visibly paved with old tarmac which in places is as smooth as the trunk of a beech tree (there are plenty here for comparison which is why I thought of it) and it can be slippery – whereas the path that goes off to the right is unpaved but well trodden, and anyone coming into the wood to explore would be likely to choose this direction. This path leads off in a promising way and seems to be well used…..

Sketch of tree on the lower path that leads nowhere

…… and it carries on looking as if it’s going somewhere for several hundred yards, until it loses confidence and fades away, leaving you wondering what on earth has happened. (A large yellow arrow painted on the trunk of a beech tree adds to the confusion as it points, for no reason, away from the path.) When I explored it again a couple of months ago determined to find a reason for this the same thing occurred and I ended up in the undergrowth in the no-man’s land between the wood and the school with nothing much to show for my determination, so I retraced my steps a bit and discovered an ancient drystone wall along this boundary, most of it now almost completely fallen down. It’s covered in moss, but clearly visible, and a compelling thing to draw so I took cover from the light rain that had started to fall and lurked there sketching for half an hour.

Green moss growing on a tumble down section of drystone wall

The discovery of this wall did nothing to explain the disappearance of the path, but walking back this far made me realise how to remember the way through the woods from here. The ground slopes steeply uphill through a stand of magnificent beech trees and if you walk straight up this bank and bear to the right, before long you find yourself joining the path that leads to High Utley.

The path towards High Utley

Although it’s less obvious now, this is not one wood, but in fact two. Moorside Wood is the older part and has tall, old, mature trees – beech, oak, ash, holly – and there’s even a walnut tree at the very edge of the field. The beech trees are some of the tallest I’ve ever seen, and standing beneath them is always for me the best part of every walk here. I never get tired of the way the sight of them takes me by surprise – this is a very small wood, but there’s something about these trees that could make you think you were in a forest.

Beech trees in Moorside Wood - photo, in spring

But the part of the wood that extends towards High Utley is a long narrow strip, planted much more recently and consequently it has a different character. It has a different name, too; Steepfield Wood. I’ve only recently discovered this, from an old Cliffe Castle Discovery Trail published (I think) in the 1970’s – and this younger bit of woodland is mostly sycamore, lime and oak, and a lot of ornamental cherry trees that were planted along the path here many of which are now falling down (not being a very long-lived species). I’m going to explore this part of the park in the next post, as there’s a lot more to discover.

Briefly though, and backtracking a bit to where I started at the fork in the path – to the winding route that climbs up at the edge of the field just inside the wood. It’s a lovely walk, with beautiful views, and recently it’s been cleared so that the old tarmac is clearly visible and all the more interesting for being in a dilapidated state. You can see the layers of hardcore and tar, the thickness of it and how it was laid. Add to that a sprinkling of glowing autumn leaves and there’s such a richness of colour and texture that I could spend a whole day here just in this tiny bit of wood, drawing and taking photos, and still not get enough of it.

Old tarmac on the path at the edge of the woods

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This bit of the perimeter of Cliffe Castle Park is the part I pass through most often, as it’s the entrance closest to my home, the corner nearest to Utley and the UAK school. The path from the gateway goes straight ahead, with the Beechcliffe Enclosure to the left and the school boundary on the

right until it reaches a junction between two beech trees. Turn sharp left and follow the tarmac path, and you’re heading up the hill towards the middle of the park. Go straight on, and you’re entering Moorside Wood.

Extremely fast sketch of the start of the path into Moorside Wood. (That rectangular thing is the iron cover that seals a spring that comes to the surface here)

I quite often linger at this point because it’s a good place to pause. There are often rabbits at the fringe of the hedgerow over near the school, sometimes happy to go on nibbling grass or sit quietly watching me as I watch them. Sometimes all I see is an upturned tail and two hind legs as a rabbit-bottom disappears into the undergrowth.

There’s a horse chestnut tree here too which had plenty of conkers this year, and some glorious toadstools that sprouted up under the beech, and stayed just long enough for me to find them and sketch them.

But the most remarkable tree is the copper-beech that stands at the corner where the path turns, and until this summer one huge branch spread right out across the path creating a magical archway of foliage that was extraordinarily beautiful. It was long and thick and more or less horizontal, and it was a constant wonder to me that the tree was able to bear its weight. Perhaps it was the drought of this long hot summer that finally brought it down, but it collapsed, in August, and although the tree is still magnificent I’m glad I have photographs to remind me of the way it was.

Before….

…… and after

The path into the wood is not paved with tarmac – or not clean, modern tarmac, anyway – so it can be muddy and it’s often dark. I think sometimes when the rhododendrons are at their bushiest, some people may miss the path altogether, which to me makes it all the more interesting. But walk just a few steps and there’s a clearing on the left, where a large tree fell a couple of years ago. The trunk is lying there, cut off from the stump which is still partially in the ground with its tangled roots exposed and this summer new shoots appeared sprouting from the stump, with huge and interesting leaves. My best guess is that it’s an American Oak, but I still have to make a proper identification.

Recently the leaves turned astonishing colours…….

The path continues on into the woods, and so will my exploration – next time, (amongst other things) how not to get lost by taking a path that looks like it leads somewhere and doesn’t, what Victorian tarmac looks like, and how a very small wood can feel like a forest……..

Watercolor sketch of Trees in the Beechcliffe Enclosure

Trees on the lower terrace in the Beechcliffe Enclosure, seen from the lower part of the field.*

In my exploration of the perimeter of Cliffe Castle Park I’ve arrived at the Beechcliffe Enclosure. In part 3 I wandered about the Garden of Life on the terrace where Beechcliffe House once stood, and now I’ve been meandering through the lower part of this area, working my way north towards Utley and the corner of the park near the UAK school (the University Academy Keighley).

I thought I knew this area quite well as it’s the part of the park that’s closest to my home, but it’s turning out to be packed full of things I didn’t know about, and I discover more and more every time I go there . (In fact I’m coming to realise that this would be true of any small part of a given location that I chose to concentrate on, and that fact in itself was worth discovering).

So to start where I was at the end of the last post – if you walk through the circle of standing stones in the Garden of Life there’s a faint path continuing through the trees where the ground slopes down to a lower terrace which is now a small wood. This area was obviously planned and planted with trees of different varieties, perhaps shortly after the buildings that stood here were taken down – this must have been where the coach house and stables for Beechcliffe House once stood. At the edge amongst other trees is a very large ash, and going further in there’s a double line of ornamental cherries mixed with sycamore, maple, oak, and here and there some elder and young self-seeded horse chestnut saplings. Then as you come closer to the steep bank that forms the edge of the terrace there’s a beautiful tall blue conifer (I want to say blue spruce, but I haven’t definitively identified it) and at the bottom of the bank, standing clear of all the other trees, out in the field, a large silver birch. I stood at the bottom of the field looking up towards these trees to do the sketch at the top of this post* (and that odd looking square object in the distance is a tree stump, by the way).

Leaves from trees in the Beechcliffe Enclosure

At the back of this wood and running the whole length of the Enclosure (explaining the name) is an old drystone wall, the continuation of the wall retaining the raised bank that runs the full length of Dark Lane, which starts over by the bandstand near the Holly Lodge entrance. All along the top of this bank is a line of beautiful tall mature trees – mostly beech and lime – some of which have affected the structure of the wall over time. In some places the roots have pushed out stones and in one place the wall has toppled completely so that it’s possible to scramble up and stand on top of the bank looking down, which I did – and from this vantage point you can learn a lot about how a drystone wall is made, which is fascinating.

Drystone wall half collapsed, seen from above

Drystone walls are impressive structures and when skillfully built they’re immensely strong and durable. I didn’t appreciate until I started reading up about them quite how amazingly strong they can be (this – http://www.merchantandmakers.com/history-of-dry-stone-walls – is a really good read if you’re interested) – but the roots of trees can be their undoing. What’s exciting about this bit of tumbled down wall is that you can clearly see one of the through-stones, the large pieces that are inserted periodically to pin the structure together – as well as the infill of small bits and pieces, and the wedge shape of the coping stones at the top. It’s like a text-book illustration of a cross section of drystone wall, except for the fact that it’s overgrown with moss and a bit obscured by mud and fallen leaves.

If I wrote about everything I’ve discovered in this section of the park it would turn into a whole project in itself, so for a shorter version – if you cut across the field from here (which is a lovely stretch of grass often frequented by rabbits) and head towards the perimeter wall, there’s more to explore along the edge of the park.

Closed gate in the perimeter wall in the Beechcliffe Enclosure

About half way along the wall next to the Skipton Road is a green wooden gate, now nailed permanently shut. I wonder if this would have been a secondary or trade entrance to the property, leading to the stables and the coach house and cottage – it doesn’t seem quite grand enough for the main access to Beechcliffe House and the entrance further up near the boundary with the Sports Field seems more fitting as a proper gateway. There are two rustic benches here, one on each side of the gate, rather beautifully made from rough hewn timber. They blend in with their surroundings in an unassuming and natural way that I really like; I don’t know when they were put here but it was before I arrived in Keighley 12 years ago, and they look like they’ll be here for many years to come.

Path along the perimeter wall in the Beechcliffe Enclosure, near UAK

Turn left and walk along the path beside the wall and you’re once again passing through a small wooded area. The path here is well used by students from the school, but most of them seem to pass through it quite quickly without lingering. As I stood doing the drawing above I was facing away from the school looking back in the direction of Keighley at about 3.30 in the afternoon, and while I was sketching a stream of noise and clamour made its way up behind me as dozens of school pupils swarmed out of school and into the park. Most of them passed without stopping and only made a few loud and unanswerable comments (unanswerable because often I couldn’t catch what they said) but after a while I became aware that someone was quietly looking over my shoulder. When I glanced up a shy boy with red hair said solemnly ‘it’s a good drawing’. And that was answerable only with a smile.