RSPB's Old Moor lantern trail illuminates Dearne Valley despite stormy weather
It probably helped that the day’s downpours — which were enough to see Rotherham United’s match a few miles up the road called off — were confined to a 15-minute window, but RSPB Old Moor’s celebration of nature is bigger and better every time.
An enchanting showcase of giant, interior-lit animal puppets, dinky papier maché train carrages and weaved willow sculptures, the open-air exhibition feels even more of a people’s event on each occasion.
Last weekend’s was the second, with a third planned for October, and the creative collection — all lit with LEDs for that crucial glow effect — is expanding.
Marshalled by artists from natural materials experts Handmade Parade, families, nature reserve visitors and community groups played a huge part in bringing the magical spectacle to life.
Workshops were held in weaving the skeleton for large models of soaring swifts before covering them in slick, glue-coated paper.
Having helped produce one of the flock myself, I can vouch that the process is time-consuming and more than a little sticky but ultimately worthwhile.
There’s an added frisson of excitement to tracking a route through the twilit reserve — past 6ft-long, apparently-hovering dragonflies and wandering, puppeteer-hoisted kingfisher and newt puppets — when you’re on the lookout for your own creation.
We found ours securely staked near the bank of one of Old Moor’s many ponds — a favourite summer haunt for fans of pond dipping — and alongside a gazebo where young nature fans were engaged in badge-making and light-up flower activities.
A wander around the lantern trail doesn’t take long, even with the healthy, meandering crowds filling up the footpaths, but it’s an engaging trip — and clearly a popular one.
Old Moor’s staff have hit upon a winning formula to bring in more visitors at a time they may otherwise be closed and the models and puppets make for a memorable sight.
The trail was even more enlightening this time around, with impressive circular silhouette scenes tracing the site’s history back through the coal mining era and all the way back to prehistoric times.
The workshops — for which the entry price comes with reduced admission to the lantern trail — and their resulting nature creations also put a big tick in the “community engagement box”.
In case you’re wondering, no we don’t have to find room in our garden for an oversized swift sculpture — the RSPB are keen to extend their reach further, with hopes of exhibiting the nature puppets, models and history trail panels at public events.
The Old Moor reserve is running a Scrambled Eggs Trail, which runs from next Thursday through to May 8, while the next heritage event is Birds, Brass and Barnsley Tales on Sunday, April 2.
Celebrating the reserve’s 20th anniversary, this will see wandering actors telling local tales, based upon people’s memories of pits, pickets and ponies, guided walks with poet and amateur naturalist Winston Plowes and, of course, pond dipping for all ages to get stuck into.
Visit www.rspb.org.uk for timings, admission prices and more information.