Saturday, 31 January 2009

On Richmond's Hill

To Richmond this morning to collect a book I had ordered from the bookshop - "Nigh-no-place" by Jen Hadfield, the recent winner of the TS Eliot poetry prize; more of that in a later post.
I went armed with camera to take photographs for today's post. Richmond is a lovely little Georgian town and very photogenic - so first to the Market Square. Saturday is market day and the flower stall was very colourful - but four buildings were swathed in scaffolding and the accompanying orange safety netting; one section of the square was being re-cobbled and was surrounded with plastic fencing, orange tape and traffic cones; and every available space was taken up with cars. So I have resorted to two views of Richmond slightly out-of-town. One is of looking down from the top of the hill towards the Culloden Tower (which is a holiday let) and the other is of Georgian houses in Bargate. You will have to imagine how the town looked in Georgian times - most of the houses would have been there but thankfully, no cars (what would we do without them?)
But Richmond is an attractive town and is the Richmond featured in the song:
On Richmond hill there lived a lass
more bright than May-day morn.
Her charms all other maids surpass,
a rose without a thorn.
Her looks so neat,
her smile so sweet
would win my right good will.
I'd crowns resign to call her mine -
sweet lass of Richmond hill.
The "lass" of the song was one, Frances I'Anson, who lived in Frenchgate. She was being courted by an Irish barrister called Leonard McNally - a bit of a lad by all accounts. But how could she resist his charms when he wrote this poem to her? It was quickly set to music by James Hook and in 1789 it became the most popular song of its day when it was sung for the first time in the Vauxhall Gardens in London by the most famous tenor of the day - Charles Incledon.
Frances married her barrister, but there was to be no happy ending. Frances died a short time afterwards - in childbirth.
But her name lives on in the song and the house where she lived still stands in Frenchgate, which is a perfect Georgian street. If I ever catch it without cars and scaffolding I'll take a photo of it.

Friday, 30 January 2009

The favourite topic of the English?

Wednesday: Today is a glorious day - an April in January day as Ronald Blythe would say. There is no wind, the air is still and the sun is shining. The sky is a clear, wintry blue. Walking down the lane on our mid-day walk we see that tiny nettle spears are up on the verges - their sharp, bright green standing out amongst the dead foliage of last year. On the hedge top two dunnocks - a male and a female - flirt and dart; as I pass they slip down silently into the hedge and out of sight. Two cock blackbirds are arguing verbosely, neither giving away an inch of territory. Two hens, further down the field, scratch and dig for leather jackets. It is such a lovely day that we walk as far as Forty-Acre wood and stand in the gateway looking down the ride. Tess finds exciting smells to occupy her and I stand and watch and listen. Long tailed tits are working through a hedge somewhere nearby; several cock pheasant strut across the ride and disappear into the trees. Overhead I notice the buzzard - still here I am pleased to say as I haven't seen him for a while On our return, the ploughed field steams in the sun and three brown hares romp up and down the furrows with March in January in their heads. There is a smell of Spring in the air and it lifts our spirits. On our return I see that the winter aconites have begun to push up through the pine needles - their tiny yellow bobble heads slightly opening to the sun, and under the pine trees every snowdrop is showing white.
Thursday: A thick, damp chilly fog covers everything. There is a sharp, wet wind blowing but it doesn't shift the fog at all. The trees just one field away pretend they are in Impressionist Paintings and emerge from the shadows. There is no bird at the table, nothing moves as we go on our mid-day walk. As we pass under a tree, cold wet drips rain down on us, although it isn't raining. The farmer, muck-leading down the lane with his tractor and muck-spreader, sees two white stripes jogging up and down across the field and realises that they are the rear ends of two deer through the fog. At four o'clock I put a match to the log fire and glance out of the window. The fog has gone and there is a gentle sunset.
. Friday: Heavy snow is forecast as our weather system changes. What has been a westerly flow has sent mild air in from the Atlantic. Now all is set to change as the mass of cold air over Europe heads our way, helped along by a raw East wind. It is set to be exceedingly cold and to last throughout the month. A quick foray to the bird table ten minutes ago tells me that at present the wind is still in the South although it is a raw wind; but it is set to veer round to the East during the day. And as we say in Yorkshire, "When the wind is in the east, 'tis neither good for man nor beast." Light the fire, stack up the wood pile, cook some warming soup and a cottage pie for lunch. You never know where you are with our weather. Keep warm, wherever you are.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Rembrandt or Stradivarius?

The late, great Tommy Cooper, that most English of comedians, told a joke that he had a picture and a violin, one was a Stradivarius and one was a Rembrandt but they were both worthless because Rembrandt made the violin and Stradivarius painted the picture.
I was reminded of this joke today when the Prado has finally come out and said that in all probability "The Colossus" attributed to Goya is in fact the work of his understudy, Asensio Julia.
Does it matter? Visitors to the Prado have marvelled at the gigantic work. Goya (1746 - 1828), who was the court painter to Charles 1v, regularly painted scenes depicting horror and nightmares of war (especially after the invasion by the French). These huge, frightening paintings made a great impression on the nation at the time they were painted. He became such a famous character in his lifetime, even meritting investigation by The Inquisition!
Ben McIntyre, in today's Times, argues that it matters hugely who painted it. He cites as an example the work of Hans van Meegeren, who successfully forged Vermeers by the score, speaking of him as "a crook and a liar, undermining the most sacred pact in art." But I think forgery is a very different thing.
Asensio Julia would have spent the whole of his working life in close association with Goya. He would know all Goya's work intimately and Goya would for years have watched over Julia's every brush stroke. He would have learned what was seen as a craft in those days thoroughly from the master.
I am as guilty as the next of going into a gallery to look at a name rather than a painting. When Raphael's "Madonna of the pinks" came on loan to The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, near here I went to see it and was absolutely bowled over by its beauty and intricacy. Would I have gone to see it if it had not been by Raphael? I doubt it - the name Raphael just conjures up such magic.
Ben McIntyre tells of Sir Joshue Reynolds owning what he was certain was the original Mona Lisa. Only fairly recently it was established that the wood upon which it was painted was Baltic Oak and was felled at least eighty years after Leonardo's death. I suppose it matters if you are intending to spend a few million on a painting (although I can imagine that Reynold's Mona Lisa will itself be worth a lot of money by its association).
But after giving the whole matter a lot of thought I really can't come up with a good argument as to why it matters all that much. If it is a good painting and was done under Goya's tutelage, is it really to be downgraded? I shall be interested to see what you think
The picture is of a statue of Goya in Zaragoza.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

We Set Sail!

So we're off! The sky is blue, the sun is shining, there is more than a hint of Spring in the air here today. Our boat is loaded to the gunwales and the world is our oyster (if only). We have Elizabeth as an extra passenger - she read our book list and added Bartlett's Familiar Quotations to it and couldn't resist the temptation of coming along. What are we taking?
As we have a Cameloepardalian(Raph's ramblings) going with us (must remember he needs lots of headroom in the cabin) we need not bother about ladders - he can pick the coconuts and the bananas. We shall have two radios - a wind-up one for the main area of the cave and one of those big old Russian radios that get every station in the world so that our radio operator (Poet in Residence) can listen out for ships and planes. (shall we want to be rescued, I ask). We shall have enough miracle joint salve to ease all our joints for years to come; an unlimited supply of coffee; a laptop and masses of batteries to last a lifetime (but will the laptop?) We shall need solar cells to power the radio; Pen is bringing her nautical duffle bag, which contains everything we should ever need (maybe it will be bottomless and continue to supply us for years); we shall have water colours and brushes and if we can't barter paper from Denise then we shall have to make do with painting on palm leaves, rocks and dried seaweed. There will be yarns of wool, silk, cotton - in various colours - a wonderful array with lots of different needles and hooks so that we can all have a go at knitting. I can see the men all ending up wearing multi coloured jumpers (yes - you will have to wear them even if it is tropical, we women like to have our craft work appreciated - it has always been thus) - we shall have to draw lots to see who knits the long-necked version for Raph. There will also be unlimited chocolate. What shall I bring as my luxury. Well I have two really - yes I know that is cheating but it is my blog and I shall cheat if I want to, so there. First I shall bring six Black Rock hens and a cockerel - for the eggs, the meat and for generations of chicks to come and I shall bring six hardy moorland sheep and two rams (that way I can split the flock into two, with different dads for the lambs, which should keep us going a bit longer). We can shear them (there will be a tool in Pen's nautical duffle bag) and spin and dye (boil the leaves for a muddy green) so that eventually the men end up all wearing muddy green jumpers once the brightly coloured wool runs out. But my real reason for bringing the sheep is that there are two foods I cannot possibly live without. One is bananas and there will be plenty on the island; the other is cheese and with that little flock we might be able to create a cheese to rival roquefort - yum, yum.
Thanks so much to you all for taking part in this bit of fun. I hope you have all enjoyed it as much as I have. Part of me (only a very tiny part) wishes we really were setting off tonight for that mysterious tropical paradise - the weather forecast is not bad and the sea should be calm. As we set sail Raph looks through his telescope and sees a runner approaching. At the last minute two books are flung on deck - the complete poems of Edward Thomas and the complete John Buchan. Any more and we shall sink - so
Bon Voyage to you all.

We're Off! (to our Desert Island.)

O.K. We are ready to sail to our Desert Island. There will be fourteen of us - 7 British, 1 Canadian, 4 American, and 2 New Zealanders. Not a bad mix. Average age? Well given the advanced age of one or two of us - let's just say that we would most probably die out on that island! (But you never know.)
There will be a lovely cave where we can make our home, with plenty of little offshoots where we can get some privacy. One little offshoot can house our library. I was going to suggest taking a good, strong bookcase with us but reading through the list of Castaways I think we should have enough ingenuity to construct our own.
So, as I promised, here is a list of the books we should have in our library:-
A Webster's Complete Dictionary.
One other good dictionary.
A massive tome of Great Art of the World.
Two Bibles - a St James's Version and a Gideon.
Some complete works: Shakespeare/ Ellis Peter's Cadfael, Elizabeth Jane Howard's Cazalet Chronicles, All of Agatha Christie and Daphne Du Maurier, All the works of Tom Robbins and John Irving,
We will be alright for poetry - Palgrave's Golden Treasury' Edwin Morgan's Complete Works, Complete Works of Walter del la Mare.' Poem for the Day ed. Albery.
For short stories we have 100 Stories by O Henry.
Steinbeck's Travels with Charley.
All Creatures Great and Small.
Joanne Harris's Chocolat.
Lord of the Rings.
KS Robinson Mars Trilogy.
Jack Whyte's Skystone Series.
For children (should any arrive!) The Wind in the Willows.
Miffy,The Secret Garden, Moomintroll books,
Brideshead Revisited.
Nga Uruora's Geoff Park, Michael King's Being Pakeha Now, Maurice Gee The Plumb Trilogy, Silent Spring and Thom Hartman's The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight.
Gone with the Wind
The Diary of Ann Frank.
Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island.
The Littlest One, His Book.
And finally The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (as Jinksy so aptly puts it - "in case we forget that the answer to everything is 42!)
So there you are Denise (non blogger who wants to come along), Crafty Green Poet, Rachel Fox, Fiction is Stranger than Fact, Blueberries Art and Life, Raph's Ramblings, Snipettes, Napple Notes, Ragged Old Blogger, Poet in Residence, Woman in a Window, Thousand Flower Farm, Abe Lincoln and me.
Now - we can each take one luxury. Denise (who has gone off to Luxor today - lucky thing) has already chosen hers - a pile of notebooks and pencils (she draws, so should be able to capture our life there). So, the rest of you: What are you going to choose for your luxury? I'll wait to choose mine until the rest are in and then I will add them all to the bottom of this blog. Should any other blogger want to suggest luxuries they will be most gratefully accepted by us - after all we are going to need any help we can get. Bon voyage!!

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

My Home town.

Abraham Lincoln left a comment on my textile art blog yesterday, to the effect that some of his ancestors came from the Lincoln area. So = abe - this blog is really for you, to tell you a little about Lincoln. I am sure they have a web site in Lincoln that you can go to if you would like to know more.

All of us have a "Home Town" (or village) and wherever we go in the world, there is always a place in our hearts for the place where we were born.

Lincoln is my home city. I was born there and lived the first twenty five years of my life within three miles of it. In those (far off!) days Lincoln was a major engineering city and most of the men in the city worked for one or the other of the engineering works - Ruston and Hornsby, Ruston Bucyrus, Robeys and Clayton Dewandre. I grew up with the sound of the steam hammer at Clayton Dewandre's Foundry going day and night throughout the year, apart from the holidays. At 5pm, the sirens went in the town and all the workmen came out on their bicycles for the journey home. There were thousands of them. My mother would hear the siren and know it was time to put my father's tea on - he would be home within the half hour.

Now most of the engineering works have closed or located elsewhere, the huge railway sidings lie empty and unused and Lincoln has become, once again, "just" a cathedral city.

Lincolnshire is a county of flat fenland, much of it reclaimed from the North Sea with the help of the Dutch. But Lincoln itself is neatly divided into two parts - Uphill and Downhill. Uphill is dominated by the magnificent Norman Cathedral (started in 1072) and the nearby Castle (started in 1068), both of which stand on the limestone plateau. Downhill has the slow-moving River Witham which makes a dramatic turn to the East in the centre of Lincoln, thus creating Brayford Pool. This was linked by the Romans to Torksey and the River Trent, thus creating a waterway through to the North Sea. The FossDyke is still a waterway today, although mainly for pleasure craft.

The Romans also built two major roads, The Ermine Street and the Fosse Way - both still in existence and are still two major roads in and out of the City.

Lindum Colonia, as Lincoln was to the Romans, was in the fourth century the capital of one of the four provinces of Britain, so you will see that it has been a thriving city for a very long time.

I went to school within the confines of the Cathedral, making my way to class up the Greestone Stairs every schoolday for seven years.

When we moved to The Midlands we would come home to see my parents. As we came through the little market town of Newark and out onto the Fosseway, we would play, "Last one to see the cathedral is a monkey's uncle!" And as we rounded the corner, there it would be - perched on the top of a hill towering up out of fenland and the Trent valley. We all knew exactly where to look and would call out in unison "Seen it!"

When it was first built the cathedral had spires on top of the towers - these were brought down many centuries ago in a thunderstorm. Wouldn't it have looked magnificent then?

Monday, 26 January 2009

The Sea! The Sea!

I spent my childhood living only thirty miles from the sea. No distance these days - you could nip over the Skegness for an hour on a Sunday afternoon. But in those far-off days the sea might as well have been a hundred miles away, for we went only once a year - in what was called Trip Week. We had no transport of our own.

Trip week was the last full week in July and was followed by August Bank Holiday Monday, so that your week ended with a long week-end. All the factories in Lincoln, our nearest town, closed down that week and everyone, but everyone, holidayed then. We usually went to our nearest seaside, which was Skegness. And we went by train from the station at the bottom of our garden. It used to be so exciting, packing our cases and walking the two hundred yards or so to wait on the platform for the one train a day which went through to Skegness (on every other day of the year I would watch it trundle past with envy!)

It didn't matter that the sea itself never got anywhere near the seafront at Skegness - at low tide the sea was a mile out. And what did that mean? It meant a mile of golden sands. We would buy a new tin bucket, a spade, a packet of those little paper flags, put on our cossies and we were well away. If it ever rained I have forgotten. In my memory the sun always shone.

According to Nicholas Crane on the BBC2 programme, Coast, no-one in the British Isles lives more than 72 miles from the sea. On the map we seem to be right in the centre of the country and it is a fact that we are almost equidistant between the Irish Sea to the West and the North Sea to the East. I do like to see one or the other at least once a year.

Just as exciting is flying over the ocean - in 2008 it was the Atlantic on our way to Houston.

One year we had a hold up for landing in Gibraltar because of fog and the pilot treated us to a fly up the Mediterranean sea - now that was really exciting. And once, flying into Sharjah, en route for China, we came in over the waters of the Gulf in the dark, and the water looked like oil.

I suppose if you are born, or brought up by the sea, you develop an affinity with it. I always think it would be lovely to live by the sea and see it in all its moods. As it is, I am never likely to live at the seaside now, so I have to make do with getting my fill of the sea views whenever and wherever I can. All I can say is that I never tire of it - I don't know what makes it so exciting but it is.

The photograph above is a textile I did some years ago after holidaying abroad and looking down on the beautiful crystal clear blue sea of the Mediterranean on a sunny day. It doesn't come anywhere near the real thing, but it helps.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Another day, another post.

I couldn't think of anything to put on my blog today. Then I read a beautiful piece of writing on Riverdaze (see my blog list) about Sunday morning and I thought - why should there be anything spectacular to write about - what about an ordinary day. So thank-you Incorrigible Scribe for making me appreciate today!
It is Big Garden Birdwatch day here in the UK. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds asks us to watch our garden bird table for just one hour and in that time record the greatest number of each species that we see.
So at ten this morning I sat down with two biscuits, a cup of coffee and a note pad.
Outside the sun is shining and there is a faint breeze from the South. Under the Scot's Pine trees (see my header) the snowdrops are just beginning to show their white flowers and here and there a tiny ball of bright yellow tells me that the aconites are also coming through. Winter jasmine flowers along the hedge, its pale yellow flowers lighting up the dark green of the holly, as it has done since early November.
We are never short of garden birds here. We put out a lot of food and there is good cover. Although we have a resident sparrow hawk who patrols the table regularly, there is good cover in the shape of a large rhododendron bush which backs on to the bird table, so the small birds can always rush for cover.
As I watch our two cats - Blackie and Creamy cross the paddock and make for the far hedge, where there are usuallly young rabbits to be had. At least they are well away for my bird count.
The first bird to come is the Greater Spotted Woodpecker. He always makes the same approach. First he lands on the side of a pine tree trunk and strips off bits of bark - then he swoops sideways on to the seed hopper and has a few seeds before darting to his main meal - at the peanut dispenser.
As I watch him I catch sight of a small movement on the pine tree trunk and see the wonderfully camouflaged form of the tiny tree creeper making its way quickly up the trunk - such an agile little bird.
Then the birds come in thick and fast. There is nothing unusual but a great number of chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch and tree sparrow. Suddenly in comes a squadron of Long-tailed tits, their tiny pink bodies darting about and scattering the other birds. As quickly as they come they are gone and all the birds resume their breakfast.
At one point there are three robins, all sticking out their red breasts and looking threatening, so that finally two give way to the dominant third one, and fly off.
Not so the blackbirds. We have six cock blackbirds and they seem to quarter the lawns and give each other space. It is only when a hen blackbird appears that they start to fall out.
Under the hedge a little wren scratches and flips over the leaves. He does not visit the table, but prefers to skulk under the hedge and find his rich pickings there.
An hour passes quickly - an hour of pure pleasure. The birdwatch is done again for another year and I go to the computer to log-in my results. There will be thousands of others doing exactly the same throughout the country. What a nice, warm feeling to start a Sunday morning.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Solvitur Ambulando.##

I wonder, now that we no longer have to walk everywhere, whether we have lost the art of what I would like to call "purposeful walking." The age-old footpaths that criss-cross our countryside, the lanes, the old drove roads, are now only used by leisure walkers, Most of these paths/roads stretch back well into antiquity and were, in their time, important thoroughfares.

Our local Mill Lane begins at the water mill on the beck-side in our village and follows the course of the beck, roughly, between hedges and stone walls, across fields to Friar Ings Farm. And in the name of the farm lies the clue to the lane's origins, for it was the main thoroughfare for the monks from nearby Jervaulx Abbey who, in The Middle Ages, trecked along its length with their flocks of sheep, their corn to be milled, their other livestock.

All over the British Isles there are footpaths and lanes which would once have been seen as the main roads of the day. These often still have names like Gypsy Lane, Smuggler's Lane, Beggar's Lane; we have one in our village called Hobthrush (I think that is some kind of witch) Lane. Along the side of it are the foundations of a Medieval House.

Up to the last century most people walked everywhere. On April 7th 1870 Francis Kilvert, the curate of Clyro (Kilvert's Diary) wrote:

"I had the satisfaction of managing to walk from Hay to Clyro without meeting a single person - I have such a liking for a deserted road." In those days Kilvert had three choices if he wanted to get from Hay to Clyro - he could ride his pony, take a stage coach or walk.

My father, who was born in 1896, took his first job in a chemist's shop in Lincoln at the age of 14. Lincoln was eleven miles away from where he lived, or eight miles by footpath, so there was no contest - he walked the footpath each morning and back at night until he saved up enough money to buy himself a bicycle. Then he rode the same footpath to work each day.

In my own childhood in the forties we always walked everywhere. There were only two cars in our Lincolnshire village - one belonged to the doctor and the other to the vicar. The vicar drove so slowly that one morning my brother overtook the vicar's car on his bicycle!

Ronald Blythe in "Field Work" (pub. Black Dog Books) says that until quite recently people's existence was controlled by footpaths. He calls John Clare, the country poet, "the genius of the footpath."

In fact until the last century tramping for miles was commonplace. He speaks of Mrs Hazlitt who hiked from Edinburgh to Glasgow daily during the course of her controversial divorce. And what did people do whilst they were walking? Well I think they looked at the countryside around them. Most country people in those days were amateur naturalists, noting the birds, the wild flowers, the butterflies - although most of them had not the wherewithal to write down their findings.

Wordsworth wrote much of his poetry while treading country footpaths. Gustav Holst would walk from St Paul's Girls' School home to Cheltenham so that he could compose in his mind along the way. Langland wrote much of Piers Plowman walking regularly from London to Malvern.

Now we walk these paths when out for a stroll and often meet noone (particularly once we get a hundred yards from a Car Park!), but years ago there would be people laying hedges. ditching, working the fields; there would be children playing, courting couples, families out walking - because that is what they did. These ancient green ways were once busy thoroughfares. Now we rush from A to B by car, by the shortest possible route. In days gone by people had no option but to walk and that made the pace of life so much slower (and better for it??)

## "we can work it out while walking"

The photograph shows a marker post on the footpath across Coverdale (necessary when there was a heavy snowfall).

Friday, 23 January 2009

On such small incidents is history made.

Thinking back to two posts earlier this week - that of the centenary of Shackleton's voyage to Antarctica and the shepherds' way of counting sheep - I found a link to another great historical figure - Charles Darwin. Only a tenuous link in each case, but on such links rests history.
Darwin's bi-centenary falls this year. He was born on February 12th 1809. After attending Shrewsbury school as a boarder (he lived half a mile down the road and developed his running skills by nipping home each evening after "prep" and getting back in time for lights out!), he was destined for life as a doctor, like his father. But attendance at two operations - one on a child - before the introduction of chloroform- put him off medicine for life. Then his father persuaded him to become a clergyman and this he would have done except for a small incident, which changed the course of history. He was offered a place as Naturalist on HMS Beagle, which was to sail on an Admiralty survey around the world. And that changed the course of his life for ever.
Sitting aboard HMS Beagle in Good Success Bay in Tierra del Fuego, he thought, "I could not enjoy my life better than in adding a little to Natural Science!"
He attributed the success of "The Origin of Species" to its moderate size. He said that he originally intended it to be five times as large, in which case he thought few would have had the patience to read it.
And the link to shepherds' counting method? As a young man, Darwin was a keen shooter. When he went shooting he would fasten a piece of string to his buttonhole and every time he shot a bird he would tie a knot in the string, thus keeping an accurate tally of his prowess.
Of such tiny incidents is history made.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Five books for a desert island.

The Writers' Group to which I belong has suggested that we all bring a list of the five books we would take to a desert island for the next meeting. I have thought about it, and have made my list.
I always think with Desert Island Discs you never know whether the eight records chosen are really the ones they want or whether there is an element of choosing what will make you look good in the eyes of listeners. I suppose the same applies to my list, so I assure you that these are my most favoured books.

John Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley." I never tire of reading it. I am a dog-lover, as was Steinbeck and I just love every moment of the book, made all the more poignant because he wrote it not so very long before he died.
Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited." I am now on my fourth copy of this book, having lent the previous three to various friends who have never returned them! I have lost count of how many times I have read it, but each time I feel like I am reading it for the first time. I find more in it. I love all of his books, but this one smacks of a lost era and I feel that Waugh had got it wrong to some extent, because the war did not see the end of these aristocratic families - they opened their homes up to the public, opened theme parks, safari parks etc., and carried on as they had always done!
The Collected Poems of Edwin Morgan. It is worth taking this for just two of the poems in it - Heron and Kierkegaard's Song - two of the best wildlife poems ever written, I think. And his "Epilogue. Seven Decades" strikes such a chord with me - I would probably keep it open on my mossy bedside on the desert island, for constant reference.
John Lister-Kaye's "Nature's Child" would be my fourth choice. It can be read as separate chapters, so I could pick it up and put it down at will. Each chapter is an episode in the life of Lister-Kaye and his daughter as they search for and observe wildlife. It is enchanting - maybe the best chapter is the one on the stormy petrels.
Finally I would take my father's dog-eared, tattered copy of Palgrave's Golden Treasury. It is well-thumbed and full of the kind of poetry we have heard from our childhood. If I forgot any of the words of "On a favourite cat drowned in a tub of goldfishes" (which I learned by heart when I was about ten years old) I could look them up and re-learn them. Who can forget learning "Oh what can ail thee knight at arms, alone and palely loitering!" when they were at school?
So - there are my five. I would love my blogging friends to tell me their five choices - perhaps I would end up with a reading list for the rest of the year. We all seem kindred spirits - so presumably we should like each other's reading choices. So - what would you choose?

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

How to count sheep!

Long ago - not sure how long ago - shepherds who cared for large flocks of sheep on the upper moorland of Wensleydale and Swaledale had their own special method of checking them. If you read Dreadnought's blog you will know that he counts the sheep under his care every day. It is a wise move because if a sheep CAN find a way out it WILL!
Sheep on the upper moorlands would be collected in maybe twice a year - once for "tupping" in the late Autumn, to produce lambs in late Spring, and maybe once for a check on feet, worms etc, and to be shorn. These flocks were often hundreds so shepherds devised their own method to count them.
Here is how he counted the first twenty:
Yan, Tan, Tethera, Methera, Pimp, Sethera, Lethera, Hovera, Dovera, Dik(10)
Yan Dik, Tan Dik, Tethera Dik, Methera Dik, Bumfit (15), Yan Bumfit, Tan Bumfit, Tethera Bumfit, Methera Bumfit, Jigget (20).
When the shepherd got to twenty he would raise his index finger and start again. When he had all five fingers up it would mean he had got to 5x20, or one hundred. Then he would put a stone in his pocket and start again.
Although it sounds complicated, when you think about counting up to large numbers it was probably the easiest way (although why they didn't use the words one to twenty I don't know - probably something to do with local dialect).
I think the method died out during the early twentieth century. There are still a few shepherd's bothies around, where the shepherd would live, high on the moorland, during lambing time. Often now the sheep are brought in to lamb - or if they are left out the farmer can easily nip round them on his quad bike. Like all other aspects of farming, the really hard graft has been taken out of it. All that they really need now is a way of stopping cows doing great heaps of poo which needs cleaning up daily when they are indoors. (Sorry - I didn't intend to mention poo again on my blog. The trouble is that in Winter, with lots of stock indoors, it does become a fairly major preoccupation.)

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Live donkeys and dead lions again!

,A couple of days ago I put on a post about the failed attempt one hundred years ago by Sir Ernest Shackleton to reach the Geographical South Pole. At the time his return was treated as a Great Occasion and he was hailed as a hero although he had failed to meet his objective. He made headline news in almost every newspaper and was honoured by organisations like The Royal Geographical Society.
Today, in a side column, on Page 4 of The Times, there is a tiny little piece.
Three descendants of the Shackleton expedition have reached the South Pole using Shackleton's own compass! Henry Worsley (47), Will Gow (35) and Henry Adams (34) have arrived at the South Pole after trecking 900 miles on foot. They speak of their arrival, using the old compass, as a very humbling experience.
I suppose in an era when going to the moon is "old hat" such a trek is relatively unimportant, but I say three cheers for their achievement. What a pity they didn't get more publicity.

To all my U S blogger friends may I say - we shall be watching the inauguration ceremony this afternoon. Here is wishing you all the very best for the future - let us hope a new era has begun.

Monday, 19 January 2009


Your imprint
on the window,
pale, spectral dust.

Your cowering
in the corner,
eyes wild,
full of fear.

Rough hands
felt your bones,
found the fine breaks,
saw your wildness,
saw a future in captivity.

I held your still-warm body
in my hands.
Your square head.
Your banded tail.
Your soft blue plumage.
Your dull eyes; all wildness gone.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

"Better a live donkey than a dead lion!"

One hundred years ago this week Ernest Shackleton wrote in his diary:
"Tongue and pen fail in attempting to describe the magic of such a scene." He was in the crow's nest of the Nimrod on his way to try to find true Geographical South Pole. The magical scene was one of huge icebergs sitting in a totally still sea. As the Nimrod moved slowly through the water the motion of the ship's propellers caused ice and snow to crash down behind them, breaking what was otherwise absolute silence. He saw "ominous dark cloud" coming in from the North and became frozen with fear that the ship would get stuck in the ice.
Then, at 3pm on the afternoon of January 16th 1908 he saw open water ahead. His spirits lifted; he had reached the Ross Sea.
Although the Nimrod expedition failed to find the Geographical South Pole (they failed by only 112 miles, when shortage of food and terrible conditions made them turn back), Shackleton wrote the words in the title of this post.
He made three expeditions to the Antarctic - on the first (under the leadership of Scott) he had to be sent home ill; the Nimrod was the second and of course his most famous one, in the Endurance, was crushed in the ice before he could really start. But he was a brave man and the men he led knew of his greatness.
Roald Amundsen finally reached the South Pole in 1911.
What a lot has happened in those one hundred years!

Saturday, 17 January 2009

English Bone China.

My sister was born in 1910 and married in 1933. She had a Shelley Bone China tea service as a wedding present and when she died, in the early 2000's, I was given what remained - one plate, three saucers and two cups. What memories they hold.

I remember them being used for afternoon tea in the 1940's. The style is Art Deco (R2110E) and the solid, triangular handles made it difficult to take hold of the cup when you were a child with small hands. But they represent English Bone China at its best.

I didn't realise until I did a bit of reading up on the subject, that bone china actually contains ground bone and that the reason my cups and saucers are so translucent is that Shelley used the largest percentage of bone of any of the Staffordshire potteries.

The production of this china began in 1860 when Wilemans built a pottery. James Shelley, who was a rep for Dresden, left Dresden and went to work for the Wilemans. In 1870 James Shelley and one of the Wileman sons went into partnership and in 1881 James's son, Percy, joined them and was to run the pottery for the next fifty years. Shelley finally sold out to Allied Potteries in 1966 and the era of Shelley Fine Bone China was over.

I also have an orange "trickle" bowl. Fifty years ago my toddler son accidentally knocked it off the coffee table (if you are reading this, Dominic, I forgive you!) - in the photograph you can clearly see the break, clean across the middle. But I love it still. The orange trickles down into the green and the bowl glows, as it always has done. I think it was bought about 1930.

Sad, in a way, that the age of delicate tea drinking has almost gone - we seem to always drink out of mugs now.

R I P John Mortimer 1923-2009. No new Rumpole of the Bailey to read. A sad passing.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Rambo goes home.

I am able to report that all thirty-nine "ladies" ended up with pink bottoms! Rambo has finished the task he was set - all the ewes appear to be "in lamb" and he has gone home, ignominiously trundled off in the back of a trailer, without a chance to say goodbye. I shall miss him; he was an amiable chap. Expect the girls will miss him too, although when I last looked they were busy eating grass and didn't appear to care.

"Sheep" and "feet" are two words which appear in the same sentence regularly. Make a point of looking next time you pass a field of sheep. Some will be limping and some will be kneeling on their front 'knees' to eat. When they do that their feet are really bad. Today was a sheep and feet day.

The farmer gathered them in with his dog - the one you can see in the header (Tip) and then went in to sort them out. There were three with blue marks which were not ours anyway, so they had to be separated, their owner (our neighbour) had to be contacted and he arrived to bundle them in the back of his Landrover to take them home.

Then every sheep had its feet checked, hooves pared down, antibiotic spray put on and then each one was channelled into the crush to get an injection of worming liquid with added vitamins.

As they went out the other end most of them gave a huge leap into the air then galloped off back into their field. I suppose they felt like I feel when I have been to the chiropodist - walking on air.

Then Rambo, feet freshly manicured, harness removed, made the journey back to Hawes, where he lives, to live The Life of Riley until the Autumn when he gets a chance for his moment of glory again.

The farmer was left to clean up. The pile of sheep poo reminded me that when I was a child my father kept a hessian bag of sheep poo suspended in the outside water butt for watering his tomatoes. Now why doesn't the farmer think of doing that, we might get a really bumper crop.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

All the setts.

The saetr was a shieling, or a place where the Norseman summered his animals. In Wensleydale there are four villages with the "sett" ending - all in the area near to Semerwater (see my earlier blog). The nearest, which sits almost on the edge of the lake, is Marsett; Countersett is just back from the lake side, up a hill; Burtersett and Appersett are a little further afield. All are evidence that the Norsemen settled all over this area. I wonder how many of the really local people have Viking blood.
Appersett is a mile to the West of the market town of Hawes (home to Wensleydale cheese). The village has only a dozen or so houses and it sits on the bend of a tributary of the River Ure, just before the two combine. Interestingly, it has a big, communal village green where people leave their cars, dry their washing, kennel their dogs - I can't help but wonder if that was originally the shieling.
Burtersett is a couple of miles east of Hawes and sits on the side of a hill overlooking the valley of the River Ure in a part where there is a classic meander. This would have been an excellent place to look out for trouble brewing in the valley.
Marsett has only about a dozen houses and is by far the most remote. There is a road into the village and the same road out. From Marsett to go on into Raydale and a few isolated farms, you need to take a dirt track or a footpath. In the years when snow fell in huge quantities up here Marsett would be cut off from the world for weeks at a time. There are stories of postmen with bicycles trecking through the snow on Christmas morning to deliver a few cards and staying on to eat Christmas dinner with the families.
The photographs today are of Countersett, which, although a very small village, seems always to have been a thriving community. This was in large part due to The Quakers, who had a big following in this area. The Friends' Meeting House in Countersett was built in 1710 and in 1772 they also built a school in the village - a very forward-thinking thing for that time, I would have thought. It is a pretty village, built high on the side of a hill overlooking the lake but then down in a dip so that it is sheltered. It really nestles into the side of the hill very neatly. The photographs are taken from the road , looking down on the village.
I took the photographs two weeks ago. There is a timeless quality about Countersett. It even has a VR postbox let into the wall - there aren't many of those left!

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Three Barks for the voice of reason!!!

Hi there bloggy - and doggy - friends. I have taken over this site today to jump for joy - well I would jump but I was spayed on Friday and parts of my anatomy are not up to jumping at present - so it is three barks instead for the voice of reason stepping in at Cruft's Dog Show.

My poor, old friend, Reg - a British Bulldog - has puffed and panted his way through life; on hot days he needs to lie down. Now they say they are going to change the rules so that Reg's breed will in future change completely. Bulldogs in the future won't have a jowl, or a turned-up nose and their legs will be straighter and longer. I wag my undocked tail to that, although as many judges are also breeders I don't think the changes are going to happen any time soon.

I also hear that labradors are going to be excluded from Dog Shows if they are overweight. There are one or two labradors I could mention who in my opinion eat far too much, so that could be good news too.

I'm a Border Terrier but you won't find me in any Dog Show with my undocked tail which resembles a Christmas tree - you are much more likely to find me half way down a rabbit hole. Speaking of rabbits, I must dash or I might miss one; there are plenty of the little blighters about on the farm now and they have got Spring in their tails.

So - 3 hearty barks for sensible breeding rules, even if they are only on paper at present.

Remember mighty oaks from little acorns grow!

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Goodbye for another year!

The decorations are back in their boxes, the tree has been recycled, the Christmas cards are all down and put into a bag, and now is the time to send them off to that great card repository in the sky - or wherever - in my case the recycling box at Tesco. To think that only a month ago we were all busy writing our cards and posting them, yet here they are discarded, like confetti after a wedding, just a nuisance and to be got rid of.

I put them in a bag this morning. Well, I started to put them in and then I started looking at them and reading the messages again and thinking about old friendships and old friends I haven't seen for many years and only ever hear from at Christmas. It took up an hour or two, but boy, did I go down memory lane.

Time was when all Christmas cards were rectangular, most had either a robin or a stage coach on the front, with a bit of snow and all were of the very poorest quality card, so that by Christmas morning they were leaning and wobbling like drunken toy soldiers. Every time anyone opened the front room door they would all topple over and my mother would sigh and stand them all up again propping them up against vases and the mantelpiece clock. The only ones which were sturdy and made of good quality card were the private ones which said things like "Mr and Mrs John Smith wish you the Compliments of the Season and hope you have a Happy and Prosperous New Year." We only ever had two or three of these and they always sat on the piano. "This is a bit of good card," father would say standing them four square and knowing that they wouldn't falter.

Cards only cost one penny to post in those days; that was if you just tucked the flap in rather than stick it down. If you stuck it down then it cost threepence but we always tucked the end in - we didn't care who read our cards and who would be interested anyway.

Over the years there has been a change - I was going to say a subtle change, but there is nothing subtle about it. First of all the card all got much better quality and the price rose accordingly. Then charity cards crept in. Suddenly "anything goes" became the norm - funny cards, rude cards, cards that played a carol when you opened them, good taste, bad taste, no taste at all - they were all there.

So, this morning I sorted them out and this is the result. Out of 100 cards:-

23 had glitter on them (lots!)

56 of them were charity cards.

5 were home-made.

10 had robins on them.

12 had snow (how long is it since we had a white Christmas? We still hope.)

14 were religious.

7 were Old Masters.

4 had holly on them.

2 had snowdrops.

And 1 (ta-da) still had a Stage Coach galloping through the snow. It was from our 90 year old aunt - a real piece of nostalgia.

I love Christmas cards. The e mail card and message will never take the place of a real card for me. I have moved around a bit and I get messages from all over the country, and a few from abroad and I love receiving every single one.

I think we will draw a veil over The Round Robins (no connection whatsoever with that perky, red-breasted bird synonymous with Christmas).

Goodbye cards as you plop into the recycling box. I have enjoyed your company for the past three weeks - see you all again another year in your recycled form.

The card we sent this year was one of the farmer's photographs - it sits at the top of this post - it has escaped recycling!

Monday, 12 January 2009

What's the weather like with you today?

Rain before seven, fine before eleven.
Red sky at night - shepherd's delight.
Red sky at morning - shepherd's warning.
If the ash before the oak - in the Summer we'll get a soak.
If the oak before the ash - in the Summer we'll get a splash.
What is the weather like where you are today? Here it is a breezy, warm, sunny day - you can almost see the snowdrops growing.
Country weather lore abounds up here. I'm not sure how much of it can be relied upon but there is no doubt an element of truth in it all.
My Grandfather used to say "It's black over by Fulletby" - which lay to the North East of where he lived in Lincolnshire. People used to say that in the Lincolnshire fens we got the weather direct from Siberia and The Urals, as there was nothing of any height in between to stop it! And that would lie to the North East.
My Father-in Law used to see "It's black over Zebra" and Zebra hill was due North West from our kitchen window. Where does our wet weather come from? Mainly the North West.
Between us and the West lies the Pennine Chain (dare not call them mountains as they are mere molehills compared with those in the US, where most of my readers live! ) But that chain of hills is responsible for a lot of our weather. When the wet weather comes in from Ireland (sorry BT)
it drops on The Lake District and then hits the Pennines. They break it up nicely so that we get much less here.
This was evident this morning, when I went to the vets. He lives on a hill overlooking the River Ure valley. The Ure is in full flood - all the fields are under water on both sides. Yet we have only had eight mm of rain in the last week. All that water has come from higher up the Dale.
At the watershed of the Ure and the Eden, at the top of the Pennines - the Eden flows to the West coast and the Irish sea; the Ure flows through Wensleydale and eventually out into the North Sea.
So here we are, within two miles of flooding and yet we are dry as a bone! How much more so is this true of poor old York. The rivers Swale, Ure, Cover, Bain and Nidd -plus countless other becks - all flow into the River Ouse before it reaches York and then they suffer for our water.
Here on the farm we rarely miss a weather forecast: as with most farms, the weather dictates the work for the coming week.
It would be nice to collect your weather sayings, so if you have any, please post them with your comments. Hope the weather is nice with you today!!

Sunday, 11 January 2009

What do we leave behind?

The man I am going to write about was born in the last decade of the nineteenth century. He never had children, so I suppose his name will only occasionally crop up in somebody's family tree. He had an ordinary sort of life (don't most of us?) and yet I don't know of anyone of my acquaintance who enjoyed his life more, or got so much out of it.

The youngest of eight children, born in the fens of Lincolnshire, he was always his mother's favourite, content to stay at home with her rather than go out with his friends. As he grew towards manhood he became passionately interested in two things - gardening and embroidery. From then on he spent his summers doing the one and his winters doing the other.

As I said, he was an ordinary sort of man, not at all an intellectual, only poorly educated. When he left school at twelve he took a job on the railways and became a Plate Layer. It was a job he was to do all his life. And like everything else he did, I am sure he put maximum effort into it. But he lived for his two consuming hobbies.

When his mother died and his siblings all left home, he stayed with his father, bought the house they lived in from their landlord and set about transforming the garden. He loved growing things from seed and soon the garden was a riot of colour, visited by everyone in the village.

In the winters he would sit by the fire and embroider his tablecloths. He would catalogue the hours they took. The one in the photograph took 296 hours - it was written on a piece of paper and pinned to the corner of the cloth.

At the age of forty three, whilst working on the line near to a country house, he became friendly with the spinster who lived there with her brother. The friendship blossomed, forged with the odd glass of port wine and slice of cake that she passed over the fence on to the line when he was working in that area. After a long, old-fashioned courtship they married and she moved in and took over the running of the house.

The relationship as I remember it, was idyllic. She looked after the old man, fed him well, and - if she didn't approve of his nipping to the pub each lunch time (she was a Wesleyan methodist), she turned a blind eye to it. He sucked mint imperials before he came back home and the easy relationship continued until his death.

She and the Plate Layer lived in the same house until their deaths. The garden continued to be magnificent - nemesia were his favourite flowers and I have memories of beds stretching the length of the garden. She kept an immaculate well-run house. There was always a lovely fire in the grate, she was an excellent cook, and they loved nothing better than entertaining friends and relations to tea on Saturdays.

I remember those teas - pork pie, sausage meat patties, salad, queen cakes, fruit cake, home made bread, beautiful china, silver tea pot white damask napkins. But it was after tea that the ritual began.

First of all he would bring out his current tablecloth. We would admire it and after much entreaty he would bring out all the others he had done, all carefully wrapped in tissue-paper in the chest of drawers.

Next we would have to enjoy (or in my father's case - endure) a game of Tiddley-winks - for this was her passion. Years of practise had made her a champion at the game. If I close my eyes I can see her now, tongue held between teeth as she concentrated on a particularly awkward shot!

Then we would gather round the piano for their shared passion. They were both Wesleyan methodists and because there had been no organist in their chapel, he had taught himself to play the hymns on the piano. He never got very proficient and always played the left hand slightly before the right hand - but every week he practised the next Sunday's hymns for hours, so that by Sunday morning he could play them. I suppose our Saturday night's singing round the piano was his dress rehearsal.

By today's standards this might sound a boring life, but I don't think I have ever known two happier people. His gardening got more adventurous, people came from all over to see his chrysanthemums and he sold cuttings at the gate for chapel funds. She continued with her baking and always had a Red Cross stall at any village fair - her cakes would sell like - well - hot cakes!

When I think of him now (they both died in the 1970's) I see a stout, staid man, with big fat workman's hands; a slow and methodical man, not much given to talking, always to be found pottering in his greenhouse or sitting in the bay window with his cloths.

Over the years I know he made at least sixty. I recall one or two - one completely covered with orange calendula marigolds, another with purple and pink pansies - and of course the one in the photograph, which I have had since my teenage days. Although now it is threadbare in places, I treasure it greatly. What happened to the rest of the cloths? I have no idea. But this one stands as a memorial to a man who filled every hour of his life with something interesting to do and who lived a full and happy life. And any one of us should be proud to do that.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Castles in Wensleydale (2)

Bolton Castle.

Bolton castle lies at the Western end of the single main street in the village of Castle Bolton in the heart of Wensleydale.

Wharfedale and Bishopdale run South to North and across the top of Bishopdale, running West to East, lies Wensleydale. This means that the traveller coming North through Wharfedale comes through the village of Buckden, up the Kidstones Pass and on reaching the top looks down Bishopdale. And there, at the end of Bishopdale, on the fellside in Wensleydale stands the four-square Bolton Castle. That has been the sight the traveller would see since around 1380. Now in Winter it is floodlit and as you come over the top at Kidstones it is there in the far distance like a beacon. It is a very impressive sight and there is no doubt it was built as a symbol of might.

It was built around 1379 by the first Lord Scrope (pronounced scroop), who was knighted for his part in the Battle of Crecy. All the stone used in its building was quarried from the nearby Apedale and there is still a stone quarry there today. (Apedale means the valley of the norseman Appi - that really puts the history of the area into perspective).

I suppose its most famous claim to fame is that Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned there from

July 1568 until January 1569 before being taken for execution.

In the Civil War in the 1640's parliament ordered the castle to be destroyed so that it couldn't be used in war, so in 1647 it was partially destroyed.

It is now part of the Bolton Estates and is owned by Lord Bolton. Considering its age parts of it are extremely robust as you can see quite clearly in the close-up photograph. The room where Mary was kept under house arrest is in the left hand tower and is still in very good condition (you can now get married in that room if you want to!) As you can see the right hand tower is just a ruin - as is most of the rear of the building. But I think you will agree that it is in a fine state consiering it is getting on for seven hundred years old. In recent years Lord Bolton has restored some of the garden in front of the castle, making it as authentic to its heyday as is possible.

It is a magnificent structure and still dominates much of the dale. The long distance photograph is taken from a Western approach, through Wensleydale.

Friday, 9 January 2009

To mole or not to mole?

"Bother!" "O blow!"

"I hate spring-cleaning!"

"Mole found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow."

"This is fine," he said to himself. "This is better than whitewashing!"

Kenneth Grahame "The Wind in the Willows."

How can anyone fail to love a creature with such sentiments? And, should you ever catch sight of a mole, what a beautiful coat of darkbrown /grey velvet, what an exquisite little snout, what fascinating paws so cleverly designed for serious burrowing.

But, seriously though, as with that other farm "pest", the rabbit, there has to be a limit to the farmer's tolerance.

There was a time, up here in The Dales - certainly within the last twenty years, when gamekeepers set up macabre strings of dead creatures on barbed wire - moles, crows, stoats, weasels, mice, rats; anything they considered a pest would be killed and strung on barbed wire, I suppose to advertise their skill in catching such things.

Thankfully that time seems to be in the past. I certainly haven't seen any such sights for a long time, and there seems to be a more enlightened view these days. Any animal has as much right to life as any other - in theory - but anyone who works the land has to make sure that mice and rats are kept down and away from animal feed and that rabbits (pretty as they undoubtedly are) do not overrun a field. It is said that ten rabbits can eat as much grass in a field as one cow.

Vermin has to be controlled because it will never be eradicated. But somehow I find the plight of the mole much more thought-provoking.

He is a particularly beautiful little mammal and there is something rather nice about the fact that he can be burrowing away under our feet and we know nothing of it. He is definitely not the dear, shy little creature portrayed by Kenneth Grahame - he is a real fighter when it comes to one of his own kind.

But can I put the case for the farmer? As my photograph (taken yesterday on a walk) shows, molehills do destroy a considerable part of a pasture. This field has a flock of Swaledale sheep in it and the whole of the corner in the photograph is a no-go area at a time when grass is not growing and is in short supply.

Once the grass begins to grow in the spring then the molehills inhibit the growth.

When it comes to haymaking/silaging time, when the grass is longer and the molehills are hidden from view, then often the soil hills get baled up with the hay. This means two things:-

Often the machinery is badly damaged by the soil and stones.

When the bale of silage/hay is opened up in winter for animal feed there is soil in it and this poses a serious threat of disease.

So there is the dilemma. On the one hand you could say that every animal has a right to life - after all, the mole does not differentiate between a patch of waste ground and a well-managed meadow - it is all god's earth to him. On the other hand, doesn't the farmer have a duty to keep his land and his animals in tip-top condition?

The seconds are out. Who's side are you on?

Thursday, 8 January 2009

All Creatures Great and Small.

In 1978 the TV series hit our screens in the UK and was an instant success. The first three series ended and later, in 1988 I think, another four series were made.

Alf Wight, the vet who wrote the original book, became James Herriott; Askrigg in The Yorkshire Dales became the fictional Darrowby and Skeldale House, originally in Thirsk, was re-created in Askrigg.

Askrigg is just down the road from us - maybe five or six miles away. It was certainly put on the map by the series and has been visited by fans from all over the world. Situated in the very heart of Wensleydale it was really an unknown gem before television brought it to our screens. Then the whole of the dale became known as "Herriott country".

What is perhaps less well known is how the series came to be made in the first place.

Some years ago I went to a lecture given by the original producer of the series and he told us this story:-

He had to make a journey from London to Manchester by train. He was running late and as he reached the station he realised that he had forgotten his book for reading on the train, so he dashed to the platform bookshop, grabbed a copy of "All Creatures Great and Small" and caught his train.

By the time that train reached Manchester he had mapped out in his note book a series of programmes, so taken was he with the stories he had read.

I suppose most events hang by so tenuous a thread. What if he had remembered to bring his book - would we never have enjoyed the programmes, would they in fact never have been made?

But then, so many things hang on that same tenuous thread don't they? If I hadn't moved to this area then I wouldn't now be a farmer's wife writing this blog. If you had been called to the phone before you clicked on my link you wouldn't be reading this now. Of such small incidents is life made up!

The photograph, taken last week-end is of the house that was used as Skeldale House in Askrigg.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

A Wednesday Haiku.

This morning it was Writers' Group all morning, then there was lunch, then dog-walking. Now there is the fire to be lit and the tea to cook, so writing on the blog is limited today. I have been thinking a lot lately about how birds and water creatures are so well-adapted to their habitat and how, by comparison, man is not so agile. Without mechanical aids such as cars, skates, aeroplanes. bikes (anything on wheels basically) we do see rather clumsy by comparison. We seem to have "feet of clay". Would readers of my blog agree? Or can somebody come up with a strong argument against this view? I would like to write a poem about the idea but somehow it is slow to come, so in the meantime here is a haiku:-

Fieldfare and redwing
swooping from hawthorn to ash.
Dolphins of the sky!

Keep warm. Thanks for accepting my invitation to crumpets - as none of you turned up "in the flesh" I was forced to eat them all myself! I found it very difficult but I did think about you all as I stuffed myself with hot buttery crumpet!

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The Coldest Night of the Year.

The owl,
from his lofty perch
looks down on
glittering, moonlit yard.
He sees
the cattle steaming in the byre,
the farm cats, well-fed, in the hay,
the blazing fire upon the hearth,
the logs, where once
he might have perched,
piled high .
The crumpets waiting in the dish
for toasting when the fire is right.
And then the night begins to close
around the scene.
The moon retires behind the cloud,
the curtains draw,
the dark comes down.
The fieldmouse moves
across the yard,
to find the corn,
to feed her brood.
He swoops - a deadly dart -
his talons kill; without a sound
he's gone upon
his silent wing.
The cold comes down and
icy fingers coat the hedge with frost.
Inside the crumpets,
toasted at the hearth,
are eaten, whilst the owl
devours his prey,
swallowed whole, untasted,
but sufficient for the hour.
It is very cold here, so join me - in spirit - for a glass of blackberry whisky and a toasted crumpet before the kitchen fire.

Monday, 5 January 2009


Why do we wear jewellery? I was going to write "women" but realised that men wea r it too these days, and always did in tribal societies. There is a view that words like necklace, ring, chain, earring and bracelet, have associations with slavery and can therefore be seen as a man's way of "buying" a woman (no - I don't subscribe to that view - buy me a gold chain any day you like!) Although you may think this is a farcical idea one only has to look at the way rich men bedeck their women with gold and diamonds to see where the idea arose - although I suppose it is a good way of showing off your wealth on arm candy.I suspect the reasons these days are many and complicated. In Indian society gold is seen as a potent symbol of wealth. I have been to Punjabi weddings in the Midlands, where I taught and the amount of gold worn and given to the bride has been quite staggering. Friends who have worked in The Emirates speak of a similar situation there.But most of us like jewellery and wear bits of it now and again - either expensive stuff or "bling",or even things we have made ourselves, so there must be something innate in us that makes us want to decorate ourselves, be it face paint, tattoos or earrings.

Now The Journal of Archaelogical Science has gone a stage further. For some time there has been evidence that jewellery (often natural objects which have been adapted) was worn in Africa one hundred thousand years ago. They are now saying that they have found evidence that in Europe it was worn as long ago as two hundred thousand years.

What have they found? In the Somme valley and also in Bedfordshire they have found small fossil sponges that look as though they have been modified. Collections of these have been found together suggesting they had been strung as necklaces.

In The Times today (source of this information) it says - keep an open mind as it is not proven. But I can't help being rather pleased that there is a possibility we were beginning to care what we looked like all that long ago. The journal puts it in much more prosaic terms, saying that the use of ornament would indicate "a set of thought processes that might be recognised as human".

I tried to think of anything non-Human that used decoration and could only think of birds like jays, magpies etc., who take shiny objects to their nests - and various birds who really decorate their nests to attract a mate (which could be the reason humans chose to wear jewellery).

While on the subject of birds - when we helped my god-daughter take down her six foot Christmas tree at the week-end we found a beautiful nest crafted from pine needles and grass, sitting in the middle of the tree. I would like to think it was the nest of a crossbill or a redpoll - but by the time we found it the tree was being sawn up and it had been dislodged. Has anybody any ideas?

My bird books do not give pine needles as a nesting material but do speak of small twiglets in the nests of siskins, redpolls etc and I don't suppose a bird would see much difference between a pine needle and a twiglet.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Semerwater and The Carlow Stone.

Stocks on the village green at Bainbridge.

We have just been out for a jaunt on a cold, hazy, frosty Sunday afternoon. The farmer deserves a medal for ferrying me round various places gathering enough photographs for an entire week of blogs!

I thought readers of my blog might like to see our local lake. There are very few natural lakes of any size in The Yorkshire Dales. Semerwater is three miles round and about forty five feet deep in the middle. It was formed by glacial erosion. The last glacier to recede left behind The Carlow Stone, which is in the forefront of my picture. Legend has it that the devil lobbed it there and that the Druids used it as an altar for human sacrifice!!

It is a hidden lake and anyone driving on the main road through the dale would completely miss it. It lies three miles to the South of the village of Bainbridge, down a quiet, narrow lane. As you go over the hill the lake comes into view in the bottom of the valley - Raydale. You could be forgiven for thinking you are miles from anywhere. There are a few farms dotted about but other than that the hilly landscape is empty.

Roughly along its edge, but standing well back and hidden from view, there are three villages - Marsett, Burtersett and Countersett. I shall write about them another day.

It seems that the lake was most probably the site of an Iron Age lake village built on piles out from the shore. The destruction of this village has given rise to a lot of folklore surrounding Semerwater. One story is that an angel came down to earth and decided to test the charity of men and went to the village asking for sustenance. Everyone refused him and slammed the door in his face until he got to the cottage which housed the poorest, most destitute family in the village. They invited him in to share what little they had. As a result this verse arose
Semerwater rise, Semerwater sink
And swallow all save this lile house
That gave me meat and drink. (lile=little, this is a word still used round here.)
On Summer evenings the more susceptible swear that they hear church bells ringing from the church under the water!
The overflow from Semerwater becomes the River Bain, at two and a half miles long one of the shortest rivers in England. It flows through the village of Bainbridge, where there are still medieval stocks on the village green (my other photograph), where local miscreants were pelted with vegetables and worse in the Middle Ages. There it flows into the River Ure.
Today we had the lake almost to ourselves as it lay serene and half-frozen in the winter sun.
In Summer time it is a different story.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Thoughts for the day.

Today we are going off to Sedbergh for the day (only thirty miles away and through the magnificent scenery of Wensleydale, so no long and boring journey) so, before we go, I thought I would just leave you with some thoughts for the day, lifted from this morning's Times. As it is going up by 10p on Monday I have to get my money's worth from it! As I read it over breakfast these few things struck me as being cheering:-

John Muir (who described himself as a poetico-trampo-geologist-botanist-ornithologist-naturalist) said "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." (Kate Muir - The Times).
Simon Barnes (Chief Sports Writer for The Times but, in my view, one of the best wild life writers around) said,"Listen out (for bird song etc.) - Spring and Winter are going head-to-head and in this race there can only be one winner."
As a "housewife" I was delighted to read that I am no longer a housewife, but a "Domestic Engineer."
A Good Way to Foster Optimism in these hard times:- Stop listening to The News every time it is on TV - once a day is enough. Don't get caught up in negative thinking!"

Friday, 2 January 2009

Books for Christmas.

One of my pleasures is to make a Christmas Book List and then to find a large part of it in my stocking on Christmas morning. Then, after all the hustle and bustle of Christmas I can sit and contemplate a pile of unread books and choose which one to read first. Joy!
Here is a list of the books I received this year:-
Two poetry books to dib into: Carol Ann Duff'y "The World's Wife"
Jackie Kay's "The Adoption Papers."
Sheila Hancock's "Just me" about her journey from being the wife of John Thaw, the actor, through widowhood and into making an independent life for herself. An easy, enjoyable read which actually left me feeling quite uplifted.
Stephen Fry in America. Still to read but I enjoyed the television programme so much that I know I shall enjoy reading the book.
Ewas McGregor and Charley Boorman's "Long Way Down." about their motor-cycle trip from John O'Groats to Capetown. I had already read "Long Way Round" and enjoyed their rather jokey diary style, so I enjoyed this tremendously and was heartened by the reception they received in even the poorest African countries.
Robert Macfarlane "The Wild Places" This book can really be summed up by the John Muir quote at the beginning - "I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in." Lovely book.
And, for me, the piece de resistance - Roger Deakin's "Notes from Walnut Tree Farm". This book really forms a trilogy with "Wildwood" (see an earlier blog entry) and "Waterlog."
Deakin, who died in 2006, was a writer, broadcaster, film-maker and, above all, a real, true eccentric in the best sense of the word. His particular interest were nature and the environment. He lived in a house in Suffolk which he bought in a semi-derelict state. He repaired it himself but left it so that the wildlife and plant life which had inhabited it could also remain in so far as they didn't interfere with his living there. The book - just a series of diary entries - is a joy to read through and an even greater joy to then dib into, as almost every entry is the kind of quote you want to remember. I give you a few here:-
"It is nice to think that my house was an acorn once." (his house was largely made of oak!
"The ants are out on my desk again tonight, my Lilliputians. To them my pencil is a mighty tree and I have to be careful not to sweep them away accidentally."
"Longhand. The advantages of writing in longhand. Like longbow, long term, longboat - all good things - and longing too. The short cut or the long way round. The long view. Long leg."
"Outside my study window there are tits - a family of five, all diligently pecking off the aphids on a rose. The perfect gardeners, so much better than a spray."
"Dentists are kindred spirits with anyone with an interest in conservation."
I hope this has whetted your appetite for more. Do read the book, it is marvellous.

Pub: Hamish Hamilton. ISBN 978-0-241-14420-

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Nature creeps up on us.

Yesterday morning, New Year's eve, I needed to go into our little market town to replenish supplies before my dinner party. It was a cold, grey, misty morning - a kind of nondescript morning when there was nothing particular of interest, so I hurried round the few shops and set off back the mile to home.

I had been away all of half an hour, but what had happened in that thirty minutes? As I turned down our lane it had been transformed. Every bush, every tree, every blade of grass, every tall stalk of dead cow parsley - all were coated with thick white rime. The lane had become a wonderland.

Freezing fog hung in the air and I am sure that driving conditions on a day when lots of people are busy making their way back to Scotland for Hogmonay, were awful. But here, on a simple, quiet, country lane nature had turned it into a Spectacular.

I turned into our farm drive. The Scots pines hung heavy with frost and the remnants of a clematis round a hawthorn tree trunk stuck out their spiky seed heads,white and glittering. Pure magic - it lifted the soul.

The frost lingered all day and is still there today. The temperature is minus 6 but it is worth being chilly outside, even if you are well wrapped up, for the sheer privilege of seeing Nature's handiwork.

I have put two photographs on this blog - I could have put a dozen. One is of our farm plantain in all its glory. The other is of Tip, our farm collie, making his way home up the track after his morning walk.

Keep warm everyone - and enjoy the New Year. Weren't the fireworks from the London Eye lovely?