DURHAM Wildlife Trust’s Low Barns nature reserve at Witton-le-Wear may offer rare and curious delights, none stranger than that on a summer Sunday no one from the trust seemed to be about.

The visitor centre was closed, the coffee shop closed, not even anyone to collect the £2 50 parking fee, the only charge.

It was as if the Wildlife Trust itself were an endangered species, though we’re assured it’s not the case.

Witton-le-Wear’s a few miles west of Bishop Auckland, just off the A68. Road signs also direct travellers to the Not Guilty Rally which – it transpires – is an annual gathering of rock music loving motor cyclists at Fir Tree, a couple of miles north.

Innocents abroad, we have wholly been unable to discover how admirably they acquitted themselves, or of what.

The nature reserve’s delightful, accessed by a level 1.2 mile path, with several hides and lots of information boards. Where else might be learned that a merganser duck might lay her eggs and then wander off, leaving grandparents with up to 75 young uns to entertain. Just when human grandparents thought that they were a bit put upon….

Butterflies abound, not least cabbage whites, which may explain why, amid so much verdant growth, there appear not be any cabbages. They also claim the dingy skipper, a rare and discerning species which is especially said to colonise the railway trackside at Shildon.

The alder tree plantation is a designated site of special scientific interest, the wetlands information boards promise everything from grass snake to field mouse, from smooth newt to great crested grebe. That there are no great crested newts is unsurprising, since everyone knows that they’re only found where houses are to be built or coal opencasted.

A child again, the lady stopped to watch the tiddlers, remembered that recently she’d confused swifts and with swallows and hesitated. “Well, tiddly things, anyway,” she said. She also asked a chap with a long lens camera if he’d had a good day. “It’s quite quiet,” he said and hit upon the greatest attraction of all.

Probably unlike the Not Guilty Rally, a few miles up river, the tranquillity is quite wonderful.

THOUGH there’s nary a sound from the natives, Butterfly World at Preston Park, Eaglescliffe, is nothing like as peaceful. Nor was it a particularly good idea to visit what effectively is a tropical hot house on one of the steamiest days of the year.

Perhaps more willingly than a pair of elderly merganser ducks, we took the granddaughters – both a mite apprehensive. “If a butterfly lands on you, you’re lucky,” say the signs. Don’t they reckon much the same of bird muck?

Elsewhere are reptiles and meerkats, that must-have mammal. Outside are ice creams: the kids flew to those at once.

BRIEFLY, the column a couple of weeks back enthused about the Swaledale Museum at Reeth, where artefacts include records of Victorian attempts to bring the railway to the dale. The proposal to tunnel beneath Muker Common and Shunner Fell appeared especially optimistic.

Particularly, however, we’re taken by an 1887 report from the Pall Mall Gazette of the appearance before the county magistrates at Richmond of the Rev Valentine Blake Evanson, vicar of Melbecks – Low Row way – on a charge of attempting to murder a parishioner while suffering from the DTs.

He was bound over to keep the peace. Clearly the wretched clergyman had friends in high places.

THE Lady was back at the museum a few nights later for a talk by Dr Jane Grenville, charged with producing the revised North Yorkshire edition of Niklaus Pevsner’s Guide to England. Among landmarks she was keen to include were the memorial stones in the old Muker schoolroom to the brothers Richard and Cherry Kearton, celebrated wildlife photographers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and said to have been the forerunners of David Attenborough.

Sorry, said her editors, they didn’t include memorial stones.

Dr Grenville persisted. The Keartons, she said, would spend hours in a makeshift hide for a single image of birds in a nest, or conceal themselves within the eviscerated innards of an ox. There was also an automatic camera inside a stuffed sheep, the only problem that the dales dogs took a fancy to it.

The eds remained obdurate. “If only I had someone like David Attenborough to put a word in for me,” she remarked to a friend.

“I know no one better,” said her friend.

“They’ve always been my inspiration,” said Attenborough.

Muker’s memorials will be in the revised Pevsner.

WHILE the lady talked, the column walked, chiefly around Grinton where the energetic village conservation group actively seeks to preserve flora and fauna – not least the churchyard bats, common and soprano pipistrelle and a few of the long eared sort. That very evening a “special bat event” was advertised, 20.50 for (inexplicably) 21.08. Irritatingly, winged denizens of an altogether smaller and more pesky sort also abound. Scratching, we scratched.

THEN there were the Masham swifts, about which we wrote three weeks ago and which now will be packing their bags for Africa.

Everyone else from the Sunday Telegraph to the Spectator (“these are not birds, they are angels”) seems also to be on a flight of fancy with the declining swifts – Latin name apus apus, which means no feet, no feet.

Brian Dixon in Darlington wrote that he and his wife regard the swift season – “early May to early August” – as the true summer. Martin Birtle said that he’d seen swifts above Billingham for the first time since he moved there in 1975.

The Sunday Times had also had a nature column which told how the hobby hawk flies so fast that it can take out swifts on the wing.

The Latin name for the hobby is Subbuteo, as in table football, which not many may have known. They do now.

IN the August edition of the Upper Wensleydale Newsletter, meanwhile, the doubtless pseudonymous Rose Rambler writes of the pleasure of discovering young woodpeckers scoffing her peanuts. “I was quite thrilled until a neighbour told me that the adults had stolen the babies from her resident house martins. It’s never simple.”

…and finally, great good wishes to the admirable Canon David Kennedy, retiring vice-dean of Durham Cathedral and former rector of Haughton, Darlington.

Canon Kenn3edy is perhaps best remembered hereabouts for the 2008 At Your Service column on a harvest festival in a barn at Ingleton, between Darlington and Barnard Castle, interrupted within seconds of the start by the arrival of a herd of cows.

Headed “Bovine intervention”, the column recalled Mr W C Fields’s great aphorism about never working with animals and children – something which today’s offering has wholly ignored.

Back again next week? Naturally.