Common people take flight

Wadsley and Loxley Commoners Kite Day: Alan Bailey and Robin Garside prepare a Chinese kite
Wadsley and Loxley Commoners Kite Day: Alan Bailey and Robin Garside prepare a Chinese kite

“IT’S a challenge,” says Steve Garside as his brother disappears into the undergrowth to locate the large Chinese kite that’s just disconnected itself from Steve’s high-tech kite string. (So high tech that if you’re not careful it cuts itself, he explains.)

Steve and brother Robin are excitedly attempting to launch an array of kites into the air above Wadsley Common, but, since Steve describes himself as just an amateur beach flyer, the challenging conditions mean the kites in question are either prone or stuck in a tree.

The Wadsley and Loxley Commoners kite-flying day is now firmly established on the WALC calendar, where it usually coincides with gale-force wind and rain or becalmed stillness. This year, Steve was hopeful as he’d calculated winds at the optimum 15-20 mph, and the looming grey clouds had only released the odd shower. But the trees surrounding the field are making things too gusty.

Trees are always an issue at Wadsley Common. As the search continues in the canopy, WALC member Alan Bailey chats to the gathered middle-aged kite flyers about the latest common news.

“We’ve been working with the council, Sheffield conservation volunteers and others to remove silver birch, which not everyone agrees with, but serious conservationists do support it,” he says.

“The common is a patchwork of fields and lowland heath, predominantly heather, bilberry and gorse, which is a rare habitat. But 50% of the common is woodland and that’s a balance we want to keep – if it wasn’t managed it would all become woodland. We have a lot of woods in Sheffield and we feel that here we’ve got something a bit special, and reverting to woodland would have an effect on the wildlife and make it a poorer place.”

The common now has a steering group including the council, Forestry Commission, Natural England and the Commoners, and although WALC has almost 250 keen members, the group could do with a few more active volunteers to help with the regular work days, which include wildflower planting, reseeding heather, tree pruning, scrub removal and litter picks. The next volunteer session is 7pm on June 14 at Long Lane car park, says Alan. Contact 0114 2348425 for details.

A few more kite flyers of mature years arrive, to bring the day’s total, says Alan, to half a dozen people and three whippets. It’s too much faffing about for children to try and launch kites on Wadsley, concludes Steve Garside as his brother finally emerges from a bush.

The middle-aged kite amblers seem to be having fun, however.

Colourful Wadsley regular John Robinson reveals his ‘vintage’ kite depicting a fighter aircraft, which to Steve’s consternation is soon swooping aerobatically above the tree line for several seconds at a time.

Alan continues with his news update: the common has seen two new discoveries recently, which could add to the area’s already rich history.

“We may have found a stone circle on the top of Loxley Edge. People had just walked past up until now and it only dawned on us while we were doing some clearing work. There’s a standing stone with a similar shape to those at Avebury and the circle looks as if it’s 20 metres wide, with a smaller circle about four metres in diameter.

“If it is a stone circle, it will be Bronze Age or earlier and it will be the only remaining site of its kind in the city.” Previous prehistoric sites were dug up and removed in less archaeologically enlightened times, it seems.

Local archaeologists believe the site could well be genuine but Alan warns that a previous landowner was a known antiquarian and may have liked the idea of an ancient folly on his estate.

A Heritage Lottery grant has been applied for to fully investigate and WALC are currently awaiting a decision on the next steps from the city council, the current landowners.

John and Alan are also keen to get advice about another artefact, found by some local children recently.

“It’s a sword etched on a stone near the quarry,” says John. “You don’t notice it at first but it’s there underneath the moss and it looks like it’s been there for some time.

“We’d love to know the history of that if anybody knows anything about it.”

After retrieving the Chinese kite, Robin Garside take a break to admire the view.

“This is just a great place to be,” he says. “Every day you come it’s different, every season is different.

“It’s a landscape unlike any other, an open, partiallly-wooded site on the top of an escarpment on the edge of Sheffield, with an incredible view.” He points out Sheffield’s new city centre skyscraper, which, when viewed from Wadsley Common, appears to be surrounded by trees.

John Robinson says the new possibly prehistoric finds add another dimension to the common. “We’ve got everything up here and now we’ve got a bit of archaeology too.

“Any area is special to the local people and the more you delve into its history and ecology, the more interesting it gets. I’m very excited about Wadsley and Loxley Common – it’s still surprising us.”

For information, go to www.wadsley-loxley.org or call 0114 2348425.