My life has come full circle. Many of my earliest memories come from Sandhutton, current population 260, where my mother was head teacher of a two-teacher school which educated all the village children between five and fifteen years old. These days I visit the village weekly – it’s less than ten miles away. The school no longer exists, but my Spanish teacher lives there.
When I was five, my life changed a bit. We went to live in London (current population 8.13 million).
I was a student in Manchester (538,000). Then I went on to live in Portsmouth, in Wakefield, in Sheffield, in Leeds: all cities numbering their citizens in the tens,or even hundreds of thousands. I loved city life. I relished the opportunities only a city could usually offer, and the diverse populations living in them.
Thornton’s Arcade in Leeds.
No, just …don’t. A shoe shop in Leeds.
When we moved to Harrogate, some twenty years ago, I announced we were moving to a small town. A mere 75,000 people lived there.
But that was before we went to France. Laroque d’Olmes has a population of some 2,000 people, and its county town, Foix, has only 10,000. We came to appreciate small town life: its neighbourliness and our sense of belonging – the space to appreciate the countryside and mountains beyond.
When we came back to England, that small town of Harrogate suddenly seemed horribly large, traffic-infested and in every way untenable, despite its green spaces and lively community life. So here we are in North Stainley, population 730.
In fact we’re not even in the village, but in a little enclave just outside, with that walled garden I showed you last week. Population 8. It’s perfect.
Summer used to be a time for postcards. Sending them. Receiving them. Receiving was better. What to say to your friends and relations with only such a small space to play with? ‘Wish you were here’ maybe?
The views were standard, wherever they came from. The castle. The cathedral. The fisherman’s cove. The crowded beach.
Today I’m reviving the tradition, but with a different angle on the standard shots.
We’ve just come back from a long weekend in Gloucestershire. The highlight was to spend time with William, Zoë and their parents at the home of Sarah (daughter-in-law)’s parents, who had invited us all: the highlight of this particular highlight was watching Zoë discover strawberries…
So much to see: water birds of every kind. But I’ve come away with memories of three in particular: three species of wading bird who spend much of their lives fossicking in the shallows for the small creatures on which they depend for their diet.
All three of the birds that so engaged me shared similar characteristics. Impossibly long, fragile-looking legs, giving them a delicate and graceful appearance: impossibly long, unmissable beaks.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you various varieties of flamingo….. Who can fail to be entranced by their pink plumage, sometimes almost embarrassingly vivid, at other times delicately pale?
Several of you commented on my coastal pictures from Northumberland, remarking on how relaxing the whole thing must have been. Well …. it recharged the batteries alright … but not by lying down on the beach with a good book. Certainly not.
We were at Nether Grange, an HF hotel, with our walking group. And we were there with other walkers – some in groups, others not. At Nether Grange, walking is what you come for. That and good food eaten in good company. We’d opted for guided walks. Three levels of difficulty are offered each day so there’s no excuse not to get involved. I chose one of each, so finished the week with 15.3 km, 12 km and 17 km. walks under my belt.
This is hill country. The Pennines, the backbone range that bisects northern England becomes the Cheviots as it marches towards Scotland. In the car you’ll swoop thrillingly up and audaciously down those hillsides. They provide a backdrop to the area which is at once dramatic and bucolic.
On foot, you’ll get to know about those slopes….. actually, we weren’t often faced with gradients that had us gasping, panting and begging for mercy. But we rarely had a long level stretch either. And our leaders were there to encourage, chivvy along, provide good humour and background notes on all kinds of topics … as well as read the maps, so we didn’t have to.
We walked moorland tracks, bouncy with springy turf nibbled short by sheep. We crossed hillsides bright with golden gorse. We tracked through woodland carpeted with bluebells.
We passed Ford Moss, an extremely ancient raised peat bog where we excited the residents: Exmoor ponies charged with grazing the vegetation and keeping it in trim.
We passed farms with shire horses and hissy geese.
Shirehorse and foal.
And on the last day, we walked the local coastal path: St. Oswald’s Way. The section between Alnmouth and Craster-where-the-kippers-come-from is characterised by craggy cliffs, and are home, like the nearby Farne Islands, to many thousands of seabirds such as kittiwakes and fulmars. Here’s what the zoom lens on my new camera can do.
Our group, the 17 km one (10 1/2 miles to the non-metric) finished just beyond Dunstanburgh Castle. It was built in the 14th Century by the Earl of Lancaster, who was openly hostile to King Edward II – never a good idea, because the king had him executed in 1322. This fortification was built to make a bellicose statement, in an area crowded with castles. Now it’s a ruin, and an impressive one. We slogged to the top of the keep for the views, marvelling at the extra-thick walls as we climbed.
We finished the day, and our three days of walks, with a paddle. Gotta have a paddle. Or ‘plodge’ as the locals call it.
With thanks to our walk leaders Chris, Helen, Paul, Richard: to Reuben and Team Nether Grange, and to our own Mike and Angela for organising the holiday.
I could take a walk on the beach every morning of my life.
We’ve just come back from four days in Northumberland, staying in the coastal town of Alnmouth. Each morning before breakfast, I’d walk down to the sands to be both stimulated and calmed by the dragging, pulsing action of the sea.
There was the patterning of the sands to enjoy. Those banks of undulations extending as far as I could see. The designs etched in different coloured sands upon the newly-flattened beach. Shadows and reflections in shallow pools. The changing colours of the sea and sky towards the horizon.
Other beach lovers walked in contemplative silence too. Their dogs preferred to celebrate the long, wide space, and simply ran and ran.