We had quite an arresting sunset the other night. As with all sunsets, it was evanescent: here at one moment and gone the next. I’ll show it to you at the end of the post, together with the rainbow that briefly accompanied it in a rainless sky.
That sunset though reminded me of another sunset, even more dramatic, which we experienced in France in February 2014. Evanescent it might have been. But it’s etched in my memory forever.
Now then. Here’s our English sunset, from just a couple of weeks ago. Which do you prefer?
I’ve been in Bolton this week. It’s week eleven of Ellie’s chemo treatment. Five more to go. This type of chemotherapy works in three week cycles, and week one each time is usually particularly tough. So I went over to do a few in loco parentis duties.
Extracting the boys from their beds in the morning, and re-inserting them there at a reasonable time each night count as challenging tasks. Ben doesn’t do mornings. All the other household stuff I can take in my stride.
There’s just one task that was never part of my life before this year. Walking Brian, who’s no longer a puppy, but not exactly a mature and restrained adult dog either. I don’t think I’ll ever be a real dog fan, but I did enjoy being exercised by this particularly amiable and boisterous dalmatian. Where to go? Through the woods and round the reservoir? Yes please! Or across the extensive parkland just over the way there? Yes please! And can we go, NOW? Can’t wait!
Two hours might mean four or five miles to me, but ten or more to him as he dashes ahead, back and forth. There are grasses and herbs to nibble; a river to ford; interesting smells to investigate. There are regular doggie chums to greet, and others whom he’s never met. Will they want to play? Brian hopes so. He surges up the steep paths beside the river bank. He leaps into muddy pools. He fords the river – once, twice. He looks for branches to lug about for a while. And he sprints, zooms, bolts and bounds ahead, back, east and west. His joie de vivre is infectious.
Once home, he flops gratefully down, pleased to be left alone to doze for a while. It’s a dog’s life.
In 1132, thirteen Benedictine monks from York fetched up in a wild and isolated place we now know as the manicured and lovely parkland setting of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. The Archbishop of York had offered them the land so they could establish a pious community based on silence, prayer and simplicity.
Over the years – over the next four centuries – they built a community with all the trappings of a large village: sleeping, living and working quarters, an infirmary, guest accommodation, a mill, a tannery, quarrying, as well as the daily focus of their lives, the Abbey church itself, where they worshipped eight times a day.
Their principal source of income was from sheep, whose wool came to be valued at home and abroad. Merchants from all over Europe to buy and trade.
The Abbey site could not sustain enough sheep for this thriving business. Lay brothers (the manual workers of the monastic world) were sent further and further afield to establish small working sheep farms – granges. During the 15th century they came here, and built the house in which we now live.
It’s changed a bit of course. Who knows how much of the house is truly original, though the stone-built walls are a traditional, sturdy and strong build? We no longer live in an upstairs dormitory, as the lay brothers did.
The Victorians divided the place into rooms for the servants of the country house which was built and attached to the grange in the 18th century. The animals and working quarters are no longer downstairs, though the old, spacious and business like kitchen hearth still exists.
As I make the eight mile journey from here to Fountains Abbey I like to think of the heritage our home shares with this wonderful UNESCO World Heritage site. Aren’t we lucky?
I’ve been enjoying a brilliant book, ‘The Moth Snowstorm’, by Michael McCarthy. Thanks Penny, for suggesting it.
It’s part nature writing, part memoire, part polemic, and a powerful and affecting read about McCarthy and his relationship with the natural world. A constant theme though, is ‘joy’.
The book first got under my skin when defining ‘joy’, which is perhaps summed up as a moment of true happiness, with a spiritual, selfless, outward looking dimension. McCarthy’s first experience of joy was as a boy, learning to love the landscape and wildlife of the Dee Estuary. Later, it was bluebell woods, chalkland streams … and so on. Most of his joyful moments happen when he’s alone and surrounded by the natural world: though he acknowledges that our children, our grandchildren also bring us moments of undiluted joy.
What in the natural world brings me joy? Nothing original.
The first snowdrops edging through the earth while winter is still bitter, dark and long.
Bluebells, with their sweet cool scent, apparently hovering in an unending hazy carpet across a woodland floor.
Lying in bed early, very early on a springtime morning, and hearing the very first bird as it calls out to orchestrate the morning concert which is the Dawn Chorus.
A rare sight in England now, but fields scarlet with swaying poppies.
Waves crashing on a beach, as a chilly wind whips sand across my face and into my eyes.
What brings joy to your soul?
Afterword: Some of you have asked to be reminded when BBC Radio 4’s ‘Ramblings’ series about the Nidderdale Way is being broadcast. The first of six programmes will be on air this Thursday, 18th May at 3.00. ‘Our’ episode will be the sixth and final one, on June 22nd. Podcast available.
Walking the Nidderdale Way is pretty damn’ joyous, actually.
I don’t like to do things by halves. If you’re going to have cancer, you may as well do it properly, so I’ve been in hospital these last few days with neutropenic sepsis. Much to the disappointment of our children, who were out playing a football match, they missed a very dramatic ride in an ambulance as I was rushed off to A&E (but not before I’d left a present and card on the kitchen table for one of them to take to a birthday party that afternoon, because, you know, motherhood.) Like most women, I’ve always been fearful of having my jeans whipped off by a handsome paramedic on a hairy-leg day, but the chemo has sorted out that problem for me. My blood count had dropped so low that the common cold I caught last week could very well have killed me, but hey – at least my…
Just round the corner from us, on a back road into Ripon, is a fine old manor house, Norton Conyers. It was in such ruinous condition that it was closed for several years while its owners, Sir James and Lady Graham, oversaw its restoration.
Last year, one one of its few open days, we paid a visit, and I failed to blog about our wonderful afternoon out. But now I don’t have to.
Ann Stephenson, in her wonderfully varied blog ‘Travels and Tomes’ not only recounts something of the house and its history, but lets us all into a secret. Norton Conyers, with its secret attic and resident madwoman may have provided the inspiration for Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’. How exciting is that?
You can read all about it here. Thanks Ann, for letting me share this story.
While we are on the topic of the Bronte sisters (or, at least, we were two weeks ago), there’s one more thing I should mention– an especially juicy tidbit. Are you listening? Jane Eyre may be inspired by a true story.
This isn’t news in North Yorkshire and the cozy city of Ripon that I once called home. Just around the corner from Ripon, roughly two or three miles from the roundabout at the edge of town, lies a beautiful old manor house by the name Norton Conyers. It is a handsome medieval squire’s home, dating back to the 1600’s, which has remained in the possession of one family (the Grahams) for nearly 400 years. That’s an achievement!
However, the house had fallen into disrepair of colossal proportions: rain poured in, wood-boring beetles swarmed, and very little of the grand house was heated. Thankfully, Sir James and…