Ramblings from Margaret's Cottage: May Blossom, Mayflies and "Yowz"

One Saturday evening in May, the weather calm and mild, I sat in the beer garden of the Royal Oak enjoying a pint of beer. As is the way in small communities people came and went nodding to each other, chatting and congregating in small groups of friends. I became part of one of these groups and was introduced to Phil The Sheep Farmer.

It seems that Phil owns the land bordering the Derwent from the A64 bridge towards the confluence with the River Rye, a walk I've been meaning to try. Phil assured me that whilst there's no formal path and the route is not marked I'm welcome to try it. Phil and I then spent a while before he had to go and do his evening livestock checks talking about the business of lowland sheep farming, something I may write about later.


The next morning Jarvis and I had a walk up the Derwent  to see Phil's sheep and to scout the route to the Rye. Jarvis is relatively well behaved around livestock but he still always goes on his slip lead if there's any chance he can get to them.

The Hawthorn flowers were out and the breeze sent an occasional scent of that, slightly funky, May Blossom smell, always the first true sign of spring for me. The walk was as lovely as always the rumble of traffic on the A64 was not a distraction to the sounds of the birds. We could here the usual Wood Pigeons, scrawking Crows but every so often we caught the song of the Chaffinch and Hedge Sparrow. 


As we rounded the corner of the river near the middle Oak I caught the unmistakable azure flash of a Kingfisher, it was a brief sighting but, oh my word that blue is spectacular.


If you're careful, quiet and observant there's a lot going on along the banks. We have seen Cormorants standing guard on the far bank, spreading their wings after a dive, looking so much like a shaman invoking the Gods. Curlews meander to the fields towards Norton, mostly singly but sometimes in pairs issuing their, to me, mournful cries. Herons abound but they are always one, leap, one flight in front of us. There is other wild life too; we've watched Pike in the cut, dragonflies and damsel flies amongst the reeds on the river and butterflies in the meadow.

Phil the Sheep Farmer has built a small bench on a quiet bend in the river, the campers from his caravan site are encouraged to walk along the river into Malton and he provides them with a peaceful stop at about halfway. Just here I stood on the bank of the Derwent looking down (the river is now at its normal level) and I stood and watched Beautiful Demoiselles, Azure Damselflies and Emperor Dragonflies swoop and skim, males chasing females, females fleeing and the males chasing off their rivals.

There were Mayfly emerging in the quiet dark bends of the river, hovering to get their bearings then away in the mad scrap to find mates and lay eggs before they die in their one day of life out of the river.

As we walked under the A64 and over the stile into Phil's land I slipped the dog's lead onto him and emerged into sunlight and the short grassland that sometimes has sheep on it. Today there were and whilst Jarvis was interested in them he walked calmly with me along the raised banks. We were heading towards more of Phil's benches placed above a shallow bank of the Derwent and a place I fancy I may swim later in the year. The sheep were trotting out of our way as we walked and I could hear some mothers calling them from further away.

As we walked I listened to the bleating of the sheep to see whether I could identify individuals as they apparently can. I couldn't. But I did notice that there was still a lamb calling from over my shoulder, I turned to look for it but couldn't see anything. I took a few paces and heard it again, I looked, no sign of the animal. I decide to walk back, concerned that the lamb might be hidden and injured. After much to-ing and fro-ing along the high banks there, 6 feet down toward the water line and tangled in a coppice of Goat Willow was a lamb, not a small gamboling baby but a nearly full grown, ready for market adolescent sheep.

What to do? I tried scramble down the bank but it was too steep, I tried to shout at the lamb (I know now) and I even tried to get Jarvis to bark at it, guess what Jarvis wouldn't bark he just wanted to lick the sheep. It wouldn't move, there was only one thing I could do, get Phil.

The ride back from Phil's farmyard was a series of stops and starts as Phil had to negotiate the gates between the fields, I rode in the front of the pickup (a typical farm vehicle inches deep in dust and grass) and Jarvis rode in the back feeling like a proper country dog no doubt.


We found the lamb still stuck, still bleating and still 6 feet down the bank in the Goat Willow. After trying the same tactics as me to scare the sheep out Phil sighed and turned back to his  pickup. He came back with hist crook and with some scrambling, twisting, sweating and swearing he hauled the lamb out, the crook below its chin and around the back of its head. It was a very stocky young sheep, it had been destined for market but Phil now wondered whether he might hang on to her as a breeding ewe.

Without even a further bleat the lamb ran off to join the rest of the flock and Phil sat on the floor and thanked me for saving one of his best "yowz".

Phil the Sheep Farmer owes me a pint.