I was dashing out to a meeting yesterday evening when this sight greeted me at the end of the road.
Pure serendipity. I suddenly realised how early I was. There were five minutes to spare when I could stand and stare at the black outlines of the newly-skeletal trees. The sky was transforming from a sappy fresh green and yellow through to a pale teal blue, before bleeding into grey-edged tones of salmon pink cloud. Why hurry? I stayed and enjoyed the moment.
A fortnight ago, I showed you something of the sheepdog trials at Wensleydale Show. It reminded me of Masham Sheep Fair, three years ago. Sheepdogs were demonstrating their skills there too – of course they were. But not with sheep. The creatures they were herding were – geese….
And here is the post I wrote four years ago about Masham’s annual sheep show:
A sheep is a sheep is a sheep…..
… or not.
On Saturday we called in, far too briefly, at the annual Masham Sheep Fair. This is the place to go if you believe a sheep looks just like this.
Saturday was the day a whole lot of sheep judging was going on in the market square. Here are a few of the not-at-all identical candidates. And yet they are only a few of the many breeds in England, and in the world. There are 32 distinct breeds commonly seen in different parts of the UK, and many more half-breeds. I was going to identify the ones I’m showing you, but have decided that with one or two exceptions (I know a Swaledale, a Blue-faced Leicester or a Jacobs when I see one), I’d get them wrong. So this is simply a Beauty Pageant for Masham and District sheep.
And if you thought wool was just wool, these pictures may be even more surprising. Who knew that sheep are not simply…. just sheep?
Summer in the countryside is show time. Here in Yorkshire, Harrogate kicks it off in July with The Great Yorkshire Show. Then week after week until the end of September, villages, towns and whole Dales follow on with theirs.
This is when farmers, breeders, stock men, makers of agricultural machinery and equipment and The Great British Public all get together to celebrate all things rural, and in the case of farmers, normally so isolated in their day-to-day working lives, simply to meet and have a chin-wag.
Emily wanted to take City Boy Miquel to a proper country fair. So the Wensleydale Show in Leyburn it was. He saw more sheep and cattle in a single day than he’s probably seen in a lifetime.
We began with the sheep dog trials. One expert dog, guided by the whistles and calls of its master, has to encourage a small group of sheep down the hill, through a gate, up the hill again and through another gate, round and back again to finish up closeted in a small wooden pen. Those dogs and their shepherds were pretty good. But from the sheep’s point of view, why go through a gate which has no fence on either side of it? Why not just go round? And certainly, why go into a small pen when there’s all that hillside to enjoy? Fun was had by all but the frustrated shepherds, none of whom completed the course with a full scorecard. But that didn’t stop them being pretty damn’ good.
One big field, and one small pen …..
Gotcha! Sheep contained.
Off to inspect the sheep themselves. Some had dense clouds of thick warm wool, others rangy dreadlocks. Some had squat round faces, others magisterial aquiline profiles. Miquel was astonished to find that sheep weren’t simply, well, sheep.
…. wool ….
…. and more wool.
Poultry. Large hens and ducks, small hens and ducks, sleek hens and ducks, messily-feathered hens and ducks, long scaly legs, short feather-trousered legs. White eggs, brown eggs, blue eggs, speckled eggs …..
Cattle with beautiful hides, and bulls looking unusually complacent in this showground setting.
Best in show.
Best of all, a heavy working horse, a Suffolk Punch, just the one, a reminder of what crop farming and ploughing used to involve. This splendid beast was traditionally tricked up in her party clothes, reminding me of Whit Mondays when I was a child, when the shire horses employed for delivering beer and ale to pubs were dressed in all their finery for this one special day of the year.
And in among, we watched displays in the show ring, sampled local cheeses and pies, bought decadent and wholly nontraditional treats like gooey chocolate brownies, and generally enjoyed All the Fun of the Fair.
Regular readers know I’m a member of a walking group. Regular readers don’t know that one of the features of our summer programme is a series of evening pub walks: walks of only three or four miles, finishing up at a pub for a convivial meal or drink together. Usually about eight to twelve people come along. This time, it was my turn to lead the walk, which had been publicised round the area in a low-key kind of way.
I’d already been messaged by a Chinese woman who asked if, though they weren’t members of ‘rumbles’, a group of nine of them could come along. Three other new-to-us people got in touch, and on the night, two other ‘newbies’ were there. Then there were Emily and Miquel, over from Spain.
The group of nine proved after all to be eleven, and included two small children. They were an extended family, living in various places all over the north of England, who’d snatched a few precious days staying together at a local campsite.
The usual regulars turned up. I did a quick head count. Twenty nine people….
Have you ever tried getting twenty nine people over several stiles, down narrow paths, along the lakeside, through the woods, across the fields, down the road and back through the Nature Reserve without losing anyone en route? Actually, because of the small children, the Chinese team left us at half time, but we had fun making new friends and promising to try out the restaurant that one branch of the family runs, many miles north from here.
The pub coped admirably. In fact only twelve of us chose to eat there, though most of the others stayed for a drink. Here’s free publicity for The Freemason’s Arms, Nosterfield. Great home-cooked food (try the fish and chips if you dare. Massive), provided by a friendly, unflappable team.
We don’t live near the sea: 61 miles, to be exact. But sometimes, on a hot day, only a wide expanse of water will fit the bill. And that’s what Nosterfield, fewer than four miles away can provide. It was – and still is – a gravel quarry. On any day of the week, you’ll see great yellow trucks lumbering down the road, laden with gravel. Back before the 1980s, this area was a lunar landscape: sand and gravel pits, gargantuan earthmovers,spoilheaps. Some of it still is.
But in the 1990s, a professional landscape architect, Simon Warwick, spotted its potential. He’d noticed how even as an industrial site, the area attracted thousands of migrating ducks and geese each autumn. Parts of the site were no longer economically viable and no longer being worked. Not without considerable difficulty, he established the Lower Ure Conservation Trust, and focused on creating an area of wet grassland, with water attached – sometimes extensive lakes, and at other times drying out into muddy scrapes. Native flora were allowed to regenerate naturally.
Wildfowl are delighted. Wading birds are enchanted. 200 species of bird make use of this service station for birds, halfway between the important migratory staging posts of the Dee Estuary and Teesmouth. Birdspotters and nature lovers generally love this place, and the well-appointed hides that are a feature of the site are rarely out of use.
I wonder who’s on that scrape over there?
If, like us, you’re strictly amateur in your knowledge of birds, you might love it too. It’s a tranquil place, except when the birds are having spirited and raucous exchanges, and a perfect place to spend an hour or two at any time of year. But especially on a hot day in summer, with a cooling breeze drifting from the waterside. With wild cherries, apples, plums and blackberries on offer, you’ll even have a snack provided.
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?
Followers of this blog will be familiar with images of verdant meadows, of rolling green hillsides studded with sheep, of grasses swaying in the breeze – all illustrating our walks round Yorkshire.
Today though, I’m going to show you the same Yorkshire scenery, as it looks after a fortnight’s heatwave: the kind of consistently sunny weather that I can’t remember enjoying since I was pregnant with my son, back in 1976. We’re not used to this. Meals are taken in the garden. Our yoga class happens on the cricket pitch. Evenings are spent out of doors.
And the grumbling has started. ‘Eeh, it’s too ‘ot. It’s not natural, is it? I’ve ‘ad enough, me’ Not me. I’ll gladly lug watering cans about to water the flowerpots round the door. Though it might keep everyone happy if we could have nightly rainfall, strictly between the hours of 11.00 p.m. and 5.00 a.m.
A bridge over the diminished River Wharfe.
Luckily the trees are still coping without rain.
Not a recently harvested crop. Just dry grass.
They cut the hay a few weeks ago. No more grass has grown since then.
That cloud seemed to promise rain. None materialised.