Walking on the radio

Looking across Nidderdale from the Nidderdale Way.

I’ve been out for the day with Clare Balding again, for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Ramblings’ programme.  Last time, her producer Lucy was looking for a local rambler to lead the Ripon to Ripley section of the Jarrow March, and she ended up with me.  Last time, as the walk finished we fell to talking about local long distance walks, such as The Nidderdale Way.

And lo!  Now they have a six-programme series in the bag, waiting to be transmitted in May and June, on …… the Nidderdale Way, all 53 miles of it.  She invited me to be part of the last leg, together with Chris and John.

Let me tell you how it works.  We walk.  We chat.  Lucy walks beside us with her muff-on-a-stick, recording little and often.  Clare stops from time to time and paints evocative word pictures of the scenery, the sights, smells and sounds, the passers by.  She chats to us about everything from geology, to history, to walking, to long-lost industries, to living near Nidderdale.

Lucy records Clare describing the countryside.

We see our local landscape through fresh eyes.  Instead of its being the backdrop to our daily lives, it becomes vivid again, and we remember the wonder and the intense pleasure we experienced when it was new to us too.

Lucy pursues John for a soundbite at Brimham Rocks.

Clare loves people.  At Brimham Rocks, where we insisted she take a detour, she chatted to children with their families and took part in their photos.  Later, she hung over a drystone walls and talked to a farmer.  She patted dogs and enjoyed a few moments with their owners.

Clare even interviewed this pig. Well, she grunted for her, anyway.

Just as well she’s good at this sort of thing.  When we arrived at Pateley Bridge, she became a sort of stand-in for the Queen.  She was whisked from shop to shop, always leaving with a little local speciality -a pork pie, some home-made fudge.  With Lucy, she was given a newly-minted badge for completing the entire Nidderdale Way.  They got flowers, a book by a local historian, hugs and handshakes galore, and repaid all this attention with genuine interest and friendship.  Pateley Bridge by the way is in the thick of preparing for the Tour de Yorkshire 2017, which goes through the town – and past our front door – on Saturday 29th April.

Flowers, badges, and a round of applause for Lucy and Clare.

Please listen to this series when it comes out: it’s available as a podcast even if you don’t live in the UK.  The first programme will be on BBC Radio 4 on  18th May, and the programme featuring our team will be transmitted on Thursday 22nd June.  You’ll make immediate plans for a holiday in Nidderdale after you’ve listened.

The shadow of a drystone wall on a stretch of road near Blazefield.

Snapshot Saturday: Earth Day in Colsterdale

The Earth.  It’s tempting, for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge, to choose lush woodland, productive farmland, dramatic peaks, crashing ocean breakers, or a charming cottage garden crammed with colourful flowers, and on Earth Day, show it at its striking best.

The welcome committee greets us on the path to Ellingstring.

Instead, I want to take you to Colsterdale in Yorkshire.  The soil is thin, acid, peaty. Bitter winds scythe across the hilltops, bending to their will those hardy trees that make it to maturity.  Brackish ditches lurk below the juncus grass to catch out the unwary hiker. The hills, though beautiful, can look barren, apart from the heather which blushes an extravagant purple every August.

But Earth is clever.  This unpromising countryside nurtures thousands of sheep and lambs.  Curlews, plover and geese wheel through the sky.  Songbirds spring from the heather.  There is so much hidden wildlife that much of the area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Today is Earth Day 2017.  I’ve chosen to celebrate the hidden dale so close to where we live.  Follow the WordPress Photo Challenge link to see what others have chosen.

In which William talks to the animals … and finds something from the Easter Bunny

William’s a London child.  His commute to nursery passes railway tracks and city streets, as well as a walk through a rather nice park. The animals my grandson sees on his daily round are dogs-on-leads, cats and urban foxes.

We wanted Yorkshire to offer him something different.  On his very first afternoon, we visited two-day-old lambs in the field at the end of the road, wobbly on their legs and clinging to their mothers.  Later we’d visit older lambs, confidently running and jumping across a public footpath as William wandered among them.

Newborn twin lambs with mum.

 

Confident lambs, confident William.

Then it was off to the duck pond.  Two Mrs. Moorhens had a chick each, so light that even pond weed could bear their weight: were they walking on water?  Mrs. Mallard had eight balls of fluff scuttling from land to pond to rushes – constantly on the move.

A moorhen chick walks on water.
A mother mallard and her eight babies.  Except the eighth is off-camera.

The next morning, good friends Gill and David invited us over.  There were puppies to pet, dogs and a cat to stroke.  And then there was Reggie, their grandson’s very own Thelwell pony.  Reggie turned out to be far too scary to ride, but perfectly good to take for a walk.

Gill, William and Sarah take Reggie walkabout.

Then William was put to work, collecting eggs.  He didn’t break very many as he dropped them none too gently into his collecting basket.  Afterwards he fed the hens.  And we went home for scrambled eggs on toast.  Thank you William.  Thank you Gill, David and the hens.

William’s personally-gathered eggs for a scrambled egg lunch.  Mmm….

Late one afternoon, William and I went for a walk in the woods and saw rabbits, a dozen or more, grazing the grass on the other side of the fence.

I wonder if it was one of them who left the chocolate eggs that William found in the garden when he went hunting for them on Easter Sunday?

Hunting for the Easter Bunny’s eggs.

Snapshot Saturday: No surprise here – a rooster for Easter

Well, he’s a fine rooster, and just the kind of handsome fellow you want illustrating an Easter-tide post, doing his bit to father the next generation of fluffy chickens.  Not surprising at all to find him here.  All the same, these gaudy colours are quite eye-opening, quite a surprise.  So this cockerel can do duty this week in the WordPress photo challenge: surprise.

Scrolling Back.

I knew I couldn’t let this day pass, unrecognised. This is the day when, exactly a year ago, my son-in-law Phil died. I want to remember that. But I also want to remember how proud he would be of the way his family has made a go of their unwanted new lives together, despite the grief, the empty place at every family gathering. Ellie’s successfully relaunched their business: the new website went live late yesterday. The boys started at high school, and are doing well – they’re sporty and busy. Ellie’s out to prove that she’ll see her own cancer kicked conclusively out before the end of 2017, and she’s got the bald head to prove it. Brian the dog declines to grow up,and recently ate his bed – again. Luckily, he’s lovable with it.

Phil would be proud of all they’ve achieved. I am too. They’re doing well. But there’s still a Phil-shaped hole at the centre of their family, and I guess there always will be.

Fanny the Champion of the World

Death in a digital age is a funny old business. On Facebook Memories, a photograph has just flashed up to tell me that three years ago today, we were on a family day out to Liverpool, which we all enjoyed, save for the gnawing feeling in my stomach that my husband’s difficulty swallowing was not good news. Two years ago this week, or so it tells me, our little family was on a wonderful holiday, which we’d booked to celebrate our wild assumption that the whole shitty cancer thing was behind us. One year ago this week, my husband was lying in a hospice bed in our sitting room, dying.

Messages, wall posts and photographs have popped back up on my phone from this day last year. We’d told our wider circle of friends, through Facebook, a few days after my husband had been given a couple of weeks left…

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Wild garlic, Mrs. Portly style.

Wild garlic is the ingredient du jour these days.  Good Lord, you can even buy it in the shops.  Just as you can buy dandelion leaves in France.  It even turned up in my veg. box last week: which was faintly annoying, as I can have as large a haul as I want of the stuff, simply by stepping out of the door and taking a two-minute walk to the woods.

It was fine though, as it made sure I tried this recipe from one of my favourite food bloggers, Linda Duffin, aka Mrs. Portly.  A recipe for gnocchi? Good.  With wild garlic?  Excellent.  But fried in butter and oil before serving?  Wasn’t that a little odd?  No, it wasn’t.  It changed those gnocchi from comforting nursery fodder into something altogether more satisfactory to accompany a fine plate of local sausages and some barely cooked purple sprouting broccoli.  Don’t tell Linda, by the way, but I steamed my potatoes rather than baking them.  It was absolutely fine.

Linda’s asked me to cut and paste her post rather than reblogging it.  I hope this won’t dissuade you from exploring her site. You’ll find some recipes you’ll want to try out within moments.

Mrs Portly’s Kitchen

A Suffolk Aga Saga

Image of wild garlic

Pan-Fried Wild Garlic Gnocchi

Image of wild garlic in woodsWild garlic abounds at this time of year … everywhere except in my neighbourhood. I am planting some for next year but in the meantime I have to forage far afield to find it. There are alternatives though if it’s equally elusive where you live.

You can replace it with three-cornered leek, which often grows wild where garlic doesn’t, or steal a few leaves from any domestic garlic bulbs you may have growing in the garden. I haven’t tried it with the green part of spring onions but it’s worth experimenting.

You don’t have to pan-fry the gnocchi (in which case try brown butter, a few fried sage leaves and grated parmesan) but it’s a lovely way to eat them, either as a side dish, or on their own with a good tomato sauce.

We ate them with seared venison fillet and purple sprouting broccoli, steamed and tossed with a mixture of butter, lemon juice and zest and anchovy.

Any leftover gnocchi can be frozen, uncooked, in a single layer. Transfer to a sealable bag and when you want to eat them, cook from frozen, straight into boiling water.

Image of wild garlic

A note on foraging: it’s not illegal to pick flowers, fruit, fungi and foliage in the UK provided it’s for personal rather than commercial use. There are exceptions to this: local by-laws may forbid foraging and for obvious reasons you can’t do it at Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

It is illegal to uproot a plant and it’s sensible to pick a leaf or two from lots of plants rather than to denude one. And bear in mind that while foraging isn’t classed as theft, you may still be committing the civil offence of trespass. If in doubt, ask the landowner.

PAN-FRIED WILD GARLIC GNOCCHI

  • Servings: makes around 40

Image of gnocchi frying

Ingredients:

700g floury potatoes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

120g wild garlic leaves, thoroughly rinsed, or 80g domestic garlic leaves

2 egg yolks

150g plain flour

Rice flour, for dusting

Olive oil and butter, for frying

Method:

image of potatoes being riced

Bake the potatoes until soft. As soon as they’re cool enough to handle, scoop out the middles and push through a ricer into a bowl. Allow to cool.

Blanch the garlic leaves in boiling water for a minute, drain very thoroughly and chop finely. Add to the potato along with the eggs yolks and stir with a fork to mix.

Image of ingredients in bowl

Season well and add three-quarters of the flour, stirring with the fork again. Form into a dough and add more flour as necessary until you have a soft, pliable but not overly sticky dough. You may not need all the flour. Try not to over-work it or your gnocchi will be tough.

Dust your work surface lightly with rice flour. Divide the dough into four and roll into sausages, about 2cm in diameter. With a sharp knife, cut into 2.5cm sections.

Image of gnocchi being formed

You can either use these as they are, as little cushions, or roll them over a floured fork to make indentations. These ridges are supposed to help sauce adhere but honestly, I don’t think it makes much difference and unless you are deft and experienced, there’s a danger of over-working the dough.

Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and drop in the gnocchi in batches. Don’t overcrowd the pan. They’re about done when they bob to the surface, around three minutes. Give them another 20 seconds then taste one: it should be cooked through and not floury. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well.

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil with a good knob of butter in a heavy-based pan and fry the gnocchi on each side until golden brown. Eat straight away.

Image of gnocchi served

Snapshot Saturday: Brimham Rocks – securely unchanging in inconstant times

Once, three hundred and twenty million years ago, a Norwegian river tumbled its way across the landmass then connecting it to Scotland and turned towards Yorkshire, pushing sand and grit before it.  Over the millennia, those sands aggregated to become millstone grit.

More millennia passed. Temperatures in Northern Europe tumbled: an Ice Age.  Glaciers ground and eroded the relatively soft stone which had been dumped so many centuries before. Seeping water froze, thawed, froze again, splitting the rocks.  Cold strong winds buffeted away at rough edges. Those rocks assumed strange shapes, balancing improbably in the landscape.

Time moved on.  Man arrived, farming too, and industry.  But this little patch of Yorkshire, known as Brimham Rocks remains itself, untamable, unchanging, offering a feeling of security that some things remain constant for those of us lucky enough to live nearby this weird and fantastical playground.

This is my contribution to this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: Security