Thursday 31 July 2008


I always think that the best gardeners are the methodical ones who do a little bit in the garden every day. That way the weeds never get a hold and the garden is always neat and tidy and open for visitors.
My father was what I like to call an 'Armchair Gardener'. Every Winter he would sit with all his gardening books round him and sketch on to numerous bits of paper possible new designs for our garden. Come the Summer it took him all his time to keep the lawns mowed and the weeds down. He spent a lot of his spare time on the bowling green at Heighington near Lincoln (I wonder if that bowling green is still there) and his garden plans were always put on hold until the next year. I have written this poem in his memory
The Armchair Gardener:

Swathes of poppies;
banks of delphiniums;
frondy ferns, and a
cascade of pools.

He planned it all from the
comfort of his armchair.
the golden dandelions
and a rash of purple thistles
painted their own canvas

Monday 28 July 2008


Dogs and farms seem to go together. Every farm around here has a Border Collie (sheepdog) even if they don't have any sheep! But these dogs are usually kept out of doors and seen as "working dogs" - these range from the absolute master at rounding up sheep (which often changes hands for thousands of pounds) down to your average "mutt" who adores his farmer master and likes nothing better than providing companionship by riding round on the tractor all day.
But almost without exception Border Collies are good farm guard dogs - always alert for visitors and not particularly welcoming until the visitor has been "passed" by the farmer. There are exceptions and I met one one day:-

Dog (photo courtesy Karen Rivron's Photostream)

One day in May,
walking in the Welsh hills,
a dog joined me.

He watched me approaching
his farm;
only his tail
my approach.

as I passed,
he rose
and followed.

I think
he appreciated
my slowness up
the hills.

He shared my sandwich;
drank warm tea from
a hollow in a rock;
declined the cake.

He was an ordinary dog.
A sort of Dog dog,
long black hair, brown eyes,
big feet.

I went back
the way I came,
mindful of his
getting home.

At his farm
he had a long drink
from his water-bowl.
Never said

Sunday 27 July 2008

Words for paths and streams.

Thanks for the comments so far.
Already I have to add to the list - for streams: race
for pathways: wynd and snickelway. (Thanks to The Solitary Walker and Dominic Rivron)
A new one to add - provided by Glennis - rhyne (pronounced reen) a Somerset word for a stream. This word can also be spelt rean, reen and rhine.

Saturday 26 July 2008

Paths and Streams

My poem "Message on a Wire" prompted a comment from Loren saying that he had never heard the word "beck" before. This then prompted a comment from The Solitary Walker listing some of the words for a stream and saying it would be interesting to know all the words used.
So I sat down with a Dictionary and Thesaurus to see how many I could find. This set me thinking about passageways too - again there are so many variations throughout the country. So what have streams and passageways in common? Well until fairly recent times both would be used as the quickest way to get from A to B (streams go through the lowest points and are therefore likely to be the easiest walking if there is no footpath). When I think of the boring conversations I have had over the years about how people got from A to B (pre sat nav days) I think it is safe to assume that people have always talked about their journeys. Does this have a bearing on the large number of words in each case? Anyway - here is my list - can you add to it?If so please post a comment and let's see how many we can come up with.

Streams: beck, bourn, burn,brook, brooklet, dyke, freshet, gill, ghyll, rill, rivulet, runnell, runlet,
spring, stream, streamlet...........
Passageways: alley, bridleway, ginnel, march, path, passage,passageway, pathway, footpath, short cut, track,snicket,rabbit run, lane........
Here in Yorkshire we use beck unless the water is coming off the hill, in which case it might be gill.

Friday 25 July 2008

My Week (2)

At last! The weather is right for making hay. At least, according to the BBC Weather Map it is, but while a mile away as the crow flies it is burning sun down here in the dip there is a sullen sky. But it is warm and it is fine so we proceed and soon a wonderful smell of hay fills the kitchen as the cut grass begins to dry. That smell never goes and in mid-Winter when the cats bed down in the hay barn on a cold wet day they bed down in the smell of Summer.
At present the cats are not at all happy as their favourite sleeping place - the hay barn - gradually fills up again with bales.
The tree sparrows are still honing their flying skills - taking off in a row from the privet hedge with mother directing operations, they skim over the grass, gradually losing height like overladen little bombers. The pup doesn't like going under their flight path as they almost part her hair.
The swallows in the garage are fledged and learning to fly. We have taken to leaving the car outside - it's either that or give the car a wash every morning.
The wild cranesbill - one of our most common wildflowers up here - is quickly going to seed. It is only when it has gone to seed that you see how aptly named it is.

Thursday 24 July 2008

Message on a Wire

There is a stillness in your field.
Not a silence,
(for the mistle-thrush sings
on the topmost bough of the hawthorn)
and the beck finds its voice
as it slips over the stones
into the south meadow.)
But a stillness
from long ago
when the stone walls were built,
when the grass was sown
and peppered with wild flowers
in their season.

One day in July
the stillness would be broken.
The grass would be mown,
tossed, dried in the sun, smelt
and carted away to the stack.
Then the stillness would return.

Men who care for fields
feel that stillness,
soak it into their bones,
become that stillness,
protected, cocooned,
within the confines of their walls.

I walked across your field today.
I could leave a message
on your answer-phone.

Or I could leave
two buttercups,
a herb-robert,
and a cuckoo-flower
tied with a strand of grass,
hung on the electric fence.

Either way, you will know.....

Tuesday 22 July 2008


Cistercian abbeys owned most of the land in this part of rural North Yorkshire in the twelfth century. They kept vast numbers of animals - one abbey alone had fifteen thousand sheep. Now these Abbeys lie in ruins, to be visited by tourists in the Summer months. They are well-kept and are havens of peace and quiet. I have tried writing a poem which captures this. Have I succeeded?


They spread the blue and white cloth
on the stone slab.
Ox-eye daisies mass in the corner
in bendy ranks.
Beneath the slab
bones of a thirteenth century monk
whiten in their dust.

They sink a bottle of wine
into the pool.
Yellow water irises stand tall
along its edge.
In this place
travellers to the Abbey
washed their blistered feet.

They stand their upturned glasses
in the stone trough.
Purple-blue harebells tremble in cracks
in ancient stone.
This the coffin
wherein, centuries ago, lay
the Abbey Prior.

Tiny ferns grow in the
ruined walls.
Mown lawns lie sheltered from the wind
and all is still.
Here for years
the monks would tread their daily measured
walk towards God.

They eat their chicken and ham
and drink their wine.
They suck slices of grinning melon
and blood-red fruit.
They laugh and sing;
the ancient walls echo back
in the evening light.

Saturday 19 July 2008

Weavers of Grass

In that bright light
when the sky glows
with the promise of a rising sun;
when the air is cool
and moist,
and the dew lies heavy on the ground -
Then come the weavers,
threading their strands thro' the grass,
so that in the evening
when the sun is low
it shines through silken threads
that shimmer in the fading light
a field of gossamer.

Friday 18 July 2008

My week

Frustrating week on the farm as we are waiting for the right weather to make hay. This problem must have preoccupied farmers at this time of year for centuries. Now - although most grass goes to silage - it is nice to make a bit of sweet smelling hay as well. The grass grows long and goes to seed, the wild flowers die down and seed and the fields become a sea of reddish brown instead of the usual green.
Earlier this week we saw an unusual creature in the long grass. At first we thought it was a stoat but when it streaked across in front of us we saw that it was far too big. We narrowed it down to escaped male ferret, polecat or mink. Then a friend did a bit of research and told us that polecats are not in this area - so either big ferret or mink then. Either way we don't really want it roaming here when we have baby curlew, pheasant, partridge, lapwing for sure and probably snipe, oyster catcher as well. All ground-nesting and chicks at a very vulnerable stage. We borrowed a humane Larsen trap from the local gamekeeper and baited it with a very dead (road casualty) pheasant - but no luck. Later in the week I passed a very dead black creature flattened on the road - but too mutilated to tell whether it was someone's beloved cat or the poor creature we had seen.
Next week is the last full week to walk our tetrad checking on birds for the BTO Bird Atlas. On our last check we saw yellow hammers, curlews, lapwings, oyster catchers, little owls, merlin, buzzard - and all the others we expected to see. What an enjoyable pastime! We have a family of greater spotted woodpeckers in the garden - young still trying to perfect the technique of landing gracefully on the peanut feeder.

Wednesday 16 July 2008

Names on the Map

Cow House Field.
An acre square
where buttercups and grass
vie to catch the eye
and the brown hare hides in the long grass.
Only a strip of wall remains
hidden in a hawthorn hedge;
the rest carted away
to fill gaps and mend walls.

Parson's Barn.
Nothing there
but a cross-roads
described by the grey stone walls
and a ribbon of cow parsley
and a thrush singing in the sycamore.
The stone long gone
to cottage and to wall;
the timbers to crackle on
the Autumn bonfire.

Chapel Corner.
A bus stop
where the road bends
towards the town,
where children stand each morning
swinging their satchels.
The tin chapel
where the congregation's hymns were
drowned out by
the rattle of rain on the roof,
now rusted and fallen
into the tall nettles.

Peacock's Field.
The grass cut yellow.
The cock pheasant
stalks in his finery,
the curlew's nest lies
brutally exposed.
Images of exotic birds
fill the mind. But
the truth is
George Peacock was the farmer
his name left on the map. The Weaver of Grass

The Weaver of Grass

The Farm: Although the farm house was built only eighty years ago, the land upon which it stands is ancient land. It lies on the Eastern edge of The Yorkshire Dales. A beck runs through the pastures, a water course which has been a thoroughfare for hundreds of years before the roads were built. The monks of nearby Jervaulx Abbey would walk the path by the beckside in The Middle Ages to see to their sheep, for most of this land belonged to the Cistercian Abbeys. Evidence of this is still reflected in the farm names. The meadow land is ploughed every few years and re-sewn to keep up a high standard of grass for silage. But the pasture land, with its stone walls and barns, has not been ploughed up within living memory. Violets and primroses hide in the hedge bottom in Spring. Buttercups and Ladies Smocks dot the fields in early Summer and where there is a bit of hedgerow amongst the stone walls, hazel catkins shine like lanterns in the very early Spring. This is ancient and much-worked land. Lynchets and rig and furrow farming methods show up when the sun is low in the sky and whenever a field is ploughed it gives up more of its ancient secrets. A neolithic stone axe, sharpened flints, small silver objects from the nineteenth century, lead spinning whorls, Victoria horse bells, crotal bells, broken clay pipes, early coins - all have been turned up in the last twenty years.
In Spring the blackthorn blooms across the landscape, often accompanied by a spell of "Blackthorn Winter" weather. Then in late May, long after it finishes blooming in the South of England, the samne fields are thick with May blossom. The seasons come and go. The farming year follows its routine. We are only keepers of the land and when we have gone others will follow and we shall have left behind clues to our existence, to remind them that give or take a few fancy bits of machinery, nothing much changes.