Holy Moor, Derbyshire: Winter has its compensations, and these birds are among the most welcome
A sick, or syke, is a common term in the north of England, meaning a small stream. Hipper Sick drains the east of Beeley Moor – now a bronze dome of dying bracken – plunging almost immediately into a deep-set valley between Holy Moor and Harewood Moor, a ribbon of woodland that curves round to the former mill village of Holymoorside.
This corner of northeast Derbyshire is a marginal place. From 1,000 feet or so I can look east across low-lying ground into Nottinghamshire, pockets of mist clinging to cold, still air beneath me. At my back are the eastern fringes of the Peak District, altogether wilder country. Here in the Hipper valley the two converge, enclosed pasture with ragged stonewalls holding back the heather and birch.
These fringes are often alive with birds, and crossing Harewood I hear the raucous chack-ing of a flock of fieldfares pushing downstream, prospecting for berries. By the time I’ve dropped down to the river, they’re gone. But I find them again on top of Holy Moor, distributed among a group of birches, displaying that curious fieldfare habit of all facing in the same direction. They’re easily alarmed, so I move round in a wide arc, pausing every so often to examine them from a fresh angle, from their grey crowns and napes, to their chestnut wings and the dazzling puff of creamy white that lies beneath its speckled thrush breast. Winter has its compensations, and fieldfares are among the most welcome.
All the while they are chattering to each other, a low clacking of anxiety that intensifies when I move too close and the birches empty in a white flourish as the birds take wing.
I veer off across the heather, and almost at once step on a snipe, which bursts from under my feet, zig-zagging furiously before lifting high into the air. It’s 100 yards away before the shock fades and I start laughing.