Father Christmas came early. Three months without a camera was enough, he reckoned. He lacked a beard and red clothing, and looked remarkably like Malcolm, but he helped me choose, provided the credit card and carried the new camera home for me.
If you live near Studley Royal and its deer park, as we do, you’ll be used to deer. They’re very shy though, and unless you’re there very early, or when poor weather is keeping visitors away, you’ll only get distant views of them.
Yesterday though, we were having a walk, a long walk, just outside the park grounds. Our path had led us upwards, through woodland, and alongside the long stone wall which bounds the estate. And that’s when we noticed them. A stag with his harem of does – some twenty or thirty of them. We stuck our noses over the wall, and watched. The deer watched us, and concluded that since these faces apparently had no bodies attached, they posed no threat.
The stag – and there was only one – was striding around in an assertive manner, aiming to garner respect. The deer weren’t bothered either way, and there were no other males to impress. He realised he was wasting his time, and fell to grazing instead.
I’m still stuck without a camera, so these slightly fuzzy efforts will have to do as a record of a few magic moments shared with a parcel of deer we came across .
Did you know that ‘parcel‘ is a collective noun for deer? Me neither. Try these too.
I’ve got lots of readers with Yorkshire connections. With addresses in Australia, southern France, London, Northumbria, Spain and East Sussex, among other places, I bet not one of them has celebrated Yorkshire Day.
Who knew? Not me. Not anyone I know. We all bumbled through life in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and though the early years of the twenty first century, blissfully unaware until about five years ago that we were supposed to be partying for Yorkshire.
Two Ripon shops take Yorkshire Day seriously.
Now Yorkshire cities take it in turn to host Yorkshire Day, and this year it is Ripon’s turn. This meant a fairground in the Market Square, a procession with a band and civic dignitaries, a service in the cathedral, picnicking in the Park, and all manner of stalls in the town centre, mainly celebrating Yorkshire charities and institutions.
It’s early yet. It’s still quiet round the Town Hall.
If you can’t see the procession, catch it om your phone ….
A fine marching band.
Good old Punch and Judy: ‘That’s the way to do it!’
This bank of flowere was a great place for photo opportunities.
Such as The National Trust’s stall celebrating Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal. I was there. I was one of a small team encouraging mainly families to have fun. A few punters dressed up as monks from the Abbey, or as fine Georgian ladies who might have enjoyed the Studley Royal Water Gardens. Most children – boys and girls – got enthusiastic about using the kind of wool which was produced in abundance at Fountains Abbey to get stuck into simple weaving. They chose their colours with care, threaded their shuttles, and wove, wove, wove. They ended up with nothing more elaborate than a bookmark, but goodness, they treasured them, and handed them carefully to mums, grandads – anyone who would put them safely away till they arrived home.
All that hand-dyed wool! Best get stuck into weaving.
And we all ate Wilfra Cakes. That’s a sort of apple pie cooked with Wensleydale cheese, and a long-forgotten Ripon delicacy, produced thanks to the Workhouse Museum.
If we go back this evening, there are bands playing, and a big firework display. Well, any excuse for a party in God’s Own Country. Why not?
It was cold the other night. Very cold. And for three hours, I stood outside in the dark. I was happy.
I was volunteering at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal as part of an event that spanned two continents: in Poland; in Denmark; in Germany; in Russia; in France and in China. Do follow the links: you’ll immediately have a clutch of places to add to your ‘must visit’ list.
In all these places, for one dark chilly night in February, there was a Garden of Light. Normally, we can only enjoy the Water Gardens of Studley Royal by daylight. But thanks to this international festival, there was a new opportunity.
As night fell, lighting designed to spotlight the special features of the gardens pierced the darkness, revealing a garden in harmony with the philosophy of the time in which it was conceived: where Nature and Art work hand in hand. 18th century music played in the background.
Visitors were able to stroll round, lanterns or torches in hand, focusing on the Temple of Piety and the classical statuary of the Moon Ponds; or glancing upwards at the Octagon Tower and Temple of Fame, all bathed in golden light. The Moon Ponds themselves were lit by glowing orbs – sometimes silver white, sometimes red or blue, fading in intensity as the evening wore on.
The Abbey too was lit up, though I barely saw this as it wasn’t my role to be available there.
The moon was perfect – exactly half way between waxing and waning, it lit the visitors’ paths and illuminated the night sky. Whenever I looked up there was Orion’s Belt – and so many other stars usually invisible to town-dwellers.
Those of us there relished the chance to enjoy this peaceful yet joyous occasion. And as the event drew to a close, owls reclaimed the night, and their plaintive hooting accompanied us as we walked away, chilly but content.
I was at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. And it was raining. I stood beneath the shelter of the Temple of Piety, and enjoyed the gracious structured elegance of the Water Gardens. Centre stage was Neptune, Roman god of the waters, and of the Moon Ponds over which he presides.
And then I noticed that amid this ordered beauty, a coot family had built a ramshackle and highly unstructured nest. I think the gardens’ creators, John and William Aislabie would have enjoyed the water birds’ cheeky appropriation of this most peaceful of scenes.
Here’s our journey, courtesy of Billy Shiel’s boat. We pass one of the most densely populated housing estates in Europe – but despite having to jostle for a tiny space to call home, this community is not socially well-integrated . Kittiwakes don’t live with puffins. Cormorants won’t talk to guillemots. Grey seals loll indolently beneath the cliffs, doing as little as possible till hunger forces them into the sea to hunt. The stench is intolerable.
We land on Inner Farne, taking our hats as per instructions. This is why. Arctic terns nest all over the island and they have young to protect. We are the enemy, as they make clear, as they hurtle towards us, piercing our hats and hands with their dagger-like beaks. I nurse a war-wound on my finger.
We decide puffins are less bellicose. They waddle about among the undergrowth, occasionally pottering down into their burrows.
Puffin at rest.
Watching from a burrow
Then it’s time to explore further. The cliffs are cordoned off, but there, immediately beyond the fencing are birds in their hundreds, caring for their young. They’re close enough to touch. We don’t though. Being so close we can see every detail of their (usually ramshackle) nests, their plumage, the young unfledged birds, and this is privilege enough.
A cormorant and young.
An adult cormorant spreads its glossy wings
You can’t spot the kittiwake young in this shot, but they’re tucked underneath, honest.
A razorbill protects her young.
A cormorant nest – with lots of other nests nearby.
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?