Heron, River Leven

I’d planned a trot over to Brian’s Pond on Carlton Moor having thought raindrops on the water might make a good photo. I wish. Foiled by raindrops on the lens. But driving through Great Ayton the neighbourhood heron came to the rescue, patrolling the River Leven below Suggitt’s Bridge. This was the last photo I managed to get before it took flight and glided twenty metres up the river where it was promptly mobbed by a paddling of ducks. I suppose a small duckling would make a fine morsel for it.

River Leven below Suggitt's Bridge map

Low Green, Great Ayton

The prospect of a day indoors route planning with my Duke of Edinburgh students but managed to get up Roseberry before dawn. Otherwise incessant rain all day. Even the ducks were avoiding a swollen River Leven.

First snowdrops of the year

According to a reprint of an Edwardian book I have Snowdrops signify hope. Hope I guess that Spring is just around the corner. This small bunch is taking advantage of the warmth below the canopy of trees beside the River Leven. Across on the other bank the grass is white with the hard overnight frost. Snowdrops are not native to Britain, but to southern Europe and the Middle East. They have however become a recognised symbol of the British countryside.

The name “Snowdrop” it said to be derived from Schneetropfen, tear drop pearl earrings popular in the 16th and 17th century Germany. An extract of Snowdrops is Galantamine which is used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.


Old Meggison

There were floods in the village last night. The remains of Storm Angus. Drains were backing up, sandbags were out and the River Leven was close to bursting. So gave Old Meggison a visit on the River Leven in Kildale Woods. Back in the village the river level had dropped about a metre and the rains continued.

Waterfall Bridge, Great Ayton

This footbridge over the River Leven into Waterfall Park is a war memorial. It was presented in 1919 by the Under-Manager of the Ayton Ironstone Mines, Mr. George Whitbread, and erected by the miners themselves, in memory of their five fellow workers who lost their lives in World War One:

  • Private Lawrence Johnson
  • Private Ernest Pearson
  • Robert Theobald
  • Private Arthur Wilks
  • Private Charles Wildman

River Leven and the Conservative Club

Driving back through the village the sun was shining on the Conservative Club below brooding skies.

The club, founded in 1910, is not actually under the control of the Conservative party although a portrait of Winston Churchill hangs on a wall. It still has the archaic rule of being a men only club however a concession is made on New Year’s Eve when wives/partners are allowed. Of course women are allowed to work as barmaids.

In 1912 a piano was purchased and a fruit machine in 1929 when electric lighting and mains water was installed but it was not until the Second World War was over that there were urinals. The top of the yard must have had quite an aroma.

I had intended to recreate a Francis Frith 1955 photo from this spot but didn’t have a copy with me so didn’t quite get the position and angle right. But here is the link if you want to compare.

Heselton’s Mill Weir

Great Ayton had three mills. Two, Ayton Mill and Low Mill, were mediaeval corn mills and used the same weir and race to provide a head of water. A third mill, Heselton’s, was built with its own weir upstream in the late 18c originally as a linen mill for spinning. At first all was well but when Heselton’s Mill converted to milling linseed for oil in 1803 a dispute occurred. It seems that oil milling required a greater flow of water than spinning so water was dammed up at the weir released at intervals to provide the power. Of course the mills downstream suffered from this intermittent flow.

Oxbow pond, River Leven

An oxbow pond created from an old meander of the River Leven at Little Ayton. The pond is normally dry but has, a few years ago, been engineered to fill when the river level is high. The ends have wattle dams through which the water is then released slowly once the river level drops. A low cost solution to flood prevention. Floods are natural events that have been exacerbated by man’s activities over the generations. Rivers have been widened, straightened and channeled, water meadows and fields drained, woodland cleared and soils compacted by livestock and heavy tractor, so that water is pushed downstream as quickly as possible. The amount of water this pond contains may be small, perhaps half a swimming pool or so, but it does make a contribution to holding back the flood water.

Old Meggison

Downstream from Kildale the River Leven flows down a narrow wooded ghyll where it tumbles over a waterfall mapped as Old Meggison.

Himalayan Balsam by the River Leven

I’ve never noticed these flowers before; the footpath by the river being normally a winter exit from the village for me. They go by a variety of names: Policeman’s Helmet, Gnome’s Hatstand and Kiss-me-on-the-mountain to name three. But the most common name, a name which causes dread among environmental and wildlife groups is Himalayan Balsam.

It originates, as the name suggests, from the Himalayas, and was introduced into this country by Victorian plant collectors but quickly escaped from gardens and is now considered such an invasive species that much effort is put into controlling its spread. The problems are that Himalayan Balsam’s thick ground cover shades out other native plants, in winter it dies back leaving river banks exposed to erosion and its flowers produce far more nectar than native flowers. This means that bumblebees and other insects pollinators prefer the Himalayan Balsam at the expense of other wild flowers. To cap it all Himalayan Balsam has a very aggressive method of seed dispersal. A single seed can produce a plant 2.5m high in a single season with each plant producing 800 seeds and each seed being capable of being projected 7m away.

Link to map.