From Jervaulx to Jervaulx – in the mud


Jervaulx9thFeb2016 072

I first walked from Jervaulx to Jervaulx last April, and wrote about it here.  However, I failed to lead my fellow ramblers along the same route later that month as I’d said I would, because it rained…. and rained.  I’d promised them the walk though, and today was the day: bright, sunny, blustery – a perfect winter hike.  Except for one thing.  Those floods that have dominated British news this winter are still making their presence felt.

The ruins of Jervaulx.
The ruins of Jervaulx.

Our route today didn’t take us through pastureland.  Sheep aren’t very good at being knee-deep in mud. It took us through soggy fields, and past lake after lake after lake: waters that simply were not there last time I took this route.  It was all very pretty.  Less pretty was the scene at stiles.  Look at us skidding and sliding, trying to pick the shallower puddles as we waited out turn to get from one field to another.

We’re British though, always plucky in adversity.  We soldiered on, sometimes a little weary of heaving mud-crusted boots along sticky, sludgy paths.  But nobody fell over, nobody lost their sandwiches in the mud.  Everybody enjoyed those vistas over the Dales, the starkly beautiful skeletal outlines of winter trees, the blue skies, dappled with characterful cloud.  Were we glad to have made the effort?  Well, I was, and I think my steadfast and dependable companions were too.

Let Nature take its course

Step out into the garden, and the countryside beyond at the moment, and you’ll find snowdrops doing what they do best in January – piercing the barren earth, colonising grassy patches, nestling under trees and marching across gladed hillsides.  Untroubled by unseasonal weather, their inner clocks direct them to grow, multiply, and cheer us all up in an otherwise gloomy, un-festive sort of month.  That’s Nature for you: ordered, seasonal and predictable.

A farmer's field? Or Sleningford-by-the-sea?
A farmer’s field? Or Sleningford-by-the-sea?

But Nature has another face.  Come with me beyond the garden, past the fields slickly shimmering with surface water, to the banks of the River Ure.  Just two minutes walk from here, it makes a wide sweeping curve away from its route from West Tanfield, and (normally) meanders gently into Ripon. That was before this winter, this rain, this unending water.

Once the rains came, and once it reached town, the River Ure rather wanted to swamp people’s gardens and make a bid to enter their houses.  Recently-built flood defences put paid to that idea.  The River Ure took its revenge on us, or more specifically, on the farmer whose fields adjoin us.  Up in the hills, waters from streams and rivulets in the Dales cascaded into the Ure, which gushed and surged along its course, rising higher and higher, tearing at the banks, ingesting great clods of earth and forcing them downstream.  The water levels are falling now.  The damage remains.

The River Ure seizes the land.
The River Ure seizes the land.

Look.  Here’s a chain link fence which marks  a pathway running along the edge of the farmer’s field.  It should be on terra firma, with a nice grassy margin between the fence itself and the river bank.  Now it has nothing to hold onto.  The bank has been snatched away, and the fence is hanging crazily and directly over the swelling waters below.  The earth has slipped, and continues to slip.  The farmer is losing his field, and the river is changing course.  There’s not much anybody can do about it.

We’ll watch the water awhile, and frighten ourselves witless at the prospect of falling in and being swept mercilessly away. Then we’ll wander back though the woods, and enjoy the snowdrops and aconites once more.  Nature takes its course.

The steps through the woods.
The steps through the woods.

A post for a fellow-blogger.

I’m at university this week. The University of Blogging. This seat of learning, which has no rector, no library and confers no degrees, runs a programme regularly hosted by WordPress,and aims to bring together people who from all over the world, keen to hone their writing and presentation skills, and to help each other to Write a Better Blog.

Today’s assignment:  
Publish a post you’d like your ideal audience member to read.
I’ve chosen to write for one of you.  We haven’t met. We don’t live on the same continent.  But we’re ‘blogging friends’ who enjoy one another’s posts and often say so. You say you like the posts I write about walking in the Yorkshire Dales.  I like the posts in which you too describe your walks, often more extensive than mine, taking place over several days. You stride beside me – virtually of course – as I tramp along the leaf mould paths of a dappled English woodland.   I stop to gaze across the green and undulating hills  at the lattice work of ancient fields, divided by drystone walls, and share the view with you courtesy of my camera.
Except… I haven’t.  Not lately.  Those floods I wrote about a couple of weeks ago are an ever-present danger to some.  And even for those who haven’t had flooded homes  to contend with, the weekly rhythm has changed.  Walking is quite simply not on.  The other day, fed up with the lack of exercise, I took myself off to walk along country roads instead.  I’d not been going ten minutes when I met a deep trough as wide as the road, as deep as my ankles, and as long as… well, I don’t know.  It went beyond the next bend, anyhow, and I went home.  The fields are home to seagulls who bob about on the choppy waters.  The paths are streams.  The streams are rivers.  And the rivers are seas.
i) Quiz question: which is the path, and which the brook?
ii) This, I’m afraid, is a path.
iii) Brian-from-Bolton simply can’t stand getting his paws muddy.  He’s urging me home – NOW.
But I’m keen to get out and about again as soon as I can.  And I hope you’ll come with me, in a virtual sort of way, when I report back.
Bolton&BrianJan2015 048
A typical field. And not half as bad as some.


December in the north of England has been the month of the flood. Until Boxing Day, it was Cumbria that saw all the action, with some communities flooded out not once, not twice, but three times.  They were told to stand by for more on Boxing Day.  They readied themselves…. and nothing happened, because the torrential rains prophesied swept south and east of them, firstly into Lancashire, and then Yorkshire

We were staying with my daughter’s family in that part of Greater Manchester that used to be in Lancashire.  They live near a Nature Reserve through which Bradshaw Brook passes.  I’d say ‘flows’, but such a phrase is normally far too active a description for this narrow little watercourse.

This was Bradshaw Brook yesterday.

ChristmasBolton2015 029
Bradshaw Brook, Boxing Day 2015

We were due to travel home from their house to ours, in Yorkshire.  Highways England, the BBC, and motoring organisations all had conflicting information on their websites.  But they all agreed that our usual route, a scenic drive over the Pennines, was largely impassable.

It would have to be the motorway.  Longer, duller, but surer.  We’d not long been travelling when we noticed that traffic on the other carriageway was at a complete standstill, for miles…and miles.  It was only when we got home that we found out that a 20′ sinkhole had opened up near Rochdale.  So much for safer-by-motorway…..

Where to leave the motorway though, for the final few miles home?  There were floods in Leeds, floods near Harrogate – there were sure to be floods in Boroughbridge too.  What about Knaresborough?  It turned out there were floods near there too, as we discovered when warning notices turned us back on the road we’d come on, and sent us back by several miles to look for another route.  Familiar fields had turned into lakes, deep and almost unfordable road-side puddles were unavoidable.

ChristmasBolton2015 045
This doesn’t look too bad. Trust me. It’s deep.

We’re lucky.  We were flood-tourists on our journey home, gawping at rivers-become-seas, and roads-become-rivers.  Our home wasn’t flooded, nor will it be.  Others aren’t so fortunate.  They’re either contemplating the devastation of their own home or business – or both, or anxiously shoring up the front door with as many sandbags as they can lay their hands on, in anticipation of the days ahead, when the forecast continues to be grim.  We could all do with a bit of an old-fashioned winter cold snap, with a touch of frost, but positively no rain.

FASR&Ripon27Dec2015 025
You see that bridge, centre left? That’s a bridge over the River Ure, in Ripon. This lake in the foreground is not a lake, but open ground at the edge of the city, favoured by dog-walkers and children.

‘Deck the halls…’ at Castle Howard

CastleHowardChristmas2015 078
Castle Howard at Christmas time.

You all know Castle Howard, that magnificent 18th century stately home, and one of Yorkshire’s treasures.  I’ve even blogged about it. It provides the backdrops in endless films and TV dramas.

This time, though, as it’s Christmas, I just want to show you how its been decorated for the season.  A few weeks ago they shut the doors for a whole fortnight, and everyone from groundsmen and gardeners to guides and caretaking staff turned to and spent their time dragging trees into place, painting,  placing baubles, candles and foliage, gilding, and generally making the place festive.  Then they re-opened.  We came away from our afternoon there, admiring everyone’s hard work and enthusiasm, feeling Christmassy for the first time this year.  Happy Christmas everyone!


An afternoon of no peace… but a lot of good will: a carol service at Fountains Abbey

If the National Trust property where you volunteer has an abbey on site, albeit a ruined one, that’s where a good few of the Christmas celebrations need to take place.  It’s fair to say that there are many people locally who regard a chance to hear singing from a local choir at one of the ‘Music and Lights’ events, or at the carol service here, as one of the focal points of their pre-Christmas celebrations.

The Abbey hasn’t had a roof since Henry VIII’s men came and removed it. Only the cellarium, which the monks used for storage, specifically for vast quantities of valuable woollen fleeces, is still under cover.  It’s a little draughty too, as the windows remain unglazed, but the acoustics are amazing. The monks who used to call the abbey home might be rather surprised to find that their storage facility is nowadays, from time to time, a concert hall.

Picture the scene before the service began.  Here’s the cellarium at 1.30 p.m.

FASRMusic&LightsDec15 048
The cellarium, empty at 1.30 p.m.

For two hours after that, though, there was a batallion of volunteers, with a couple of members of staff cheerfully mucking in to transform the place.  Some of us hauled ranks and ranks of folding chairs out from storage and arranged them neatly.  Some protected scores of candles with little cardboard collars so nobody would be burnt by molten wax when the time came to light them during the service. Others uncoiled lengthy snakes of cable for the sound and lighting systems.  And the largest team of all arranged the refreshments: coffee, tea, hot chocolate, mulled wine.

By 3 o’clock. members of the public were already choosing their seats, and the refreshment stand was very much in business.   ‘One coffee, two teas and four mulled wines please!’ ‘Two hot chocolates, a mulled wine and a coffee’.  On and on we worked.  Suddenly, someone said she thought she could hear ‘Oh come all ye faithful’ in the distance.  The service had long since begun, and we’d been too busy to notice.

FASRMusic&LightsDec15 057

The carol service continued, service of refreshments continued.  By half past 4, things finally started to quieten down as the event drew to a close.  Time for the team to snatch a refreshment break, and do a little accounting.  We’d sold far more than £1000 worth of hot drinks, including 66 bottles-worth of mulled wine.   Not bad for a couple of hours’ hard graft.  And as the congregation proved willing to do a whole lot of chair shifting, clearing up didn’t take too long.

Even if we didn’t hear many carols, we felt we’d had a good start to the Christmas season.  It hadn’t been very peaceful, but there had been plenty of cheerful good will from staff, volunteers and visitors alike.

And meanwhile, up at the entrance to Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal, two other volunteers had been busy.  Here’s Sharon, Volunteer Elf, welcoming visitors to meet Father Christmas – a volunteer, of course.FASRMusic&LightsDec15 003

And here’s to you, George Frederick Robinson

St. Mary's Church, Studley Royal (Wikimedia Commons)
St. Mary’s Church, Studley Royal (Wikimedia Commons)

When I started out as a National Trust volunteer, when I began as an Information Assistant at St.Mary’s Church, Studley Royal, I didn’t expect to sort out a little mystery that’s continued to exercise my brain from time to time, ever since my first and only visit to India, 8 years ago.

Let’s begin there, back in 2007.  It was my first day, all by myself, after a night flight into Bangalore.  I was far too excited to sleep, and already over-stimulated by a city, busy since well before 6.00 a.m., alive with cows, horses, donkeys, sheep, chipmunks, dogs by the thousand, monkeys, parakeets, eagles …. and auto-rickshaws, always auto-rickshaws, and the unending sound of motorhorns constantly in use on every car and  lorry.  I’d already allowed an amiable rickshaw driver, who could doubtless see ‘arrived this morning’ tattooed across my forehead, to take me on a conducted tour of the city.  We served each other’s purpose.  I got a decent sit down and a running commentary in broken English on the city sights.  He was probably paid over the odds by a very appreciative customer who knew a decent bargain when she saw one.  When I left him, after a thoroughly entertaining morning,  I found myself wandering towards London Road.  And then Robinson Street.  Robinson Street?  Who could Mr. Robinson be?  I finally found out ….. the other week.  If only I’d wandered just a little further on that first day in Bangalore, I’d have been offered a clue.  I’d have found ‘Ripon Street’.

Fast forward to an early session at St. Mary’s Church, Studley Royal just a few months ago.  My fellow-volunteer Frances was taking some visitors round.  I tagged along, because Frances has an apparently bottomless fund of knowledge, and a way of engaging her willing listeners’ attention.  She’d already told them that the church was the design of a noted exponent of Gothic Revival architecture, William Burges.  She’d pointed out several examples of its inventive design, of its richly coloured decorative detail, of its religious symbolism.

Now she was telling us that it was commissioned in 1870 by the deeply religious Marchioness of Ripon, and her husband, the Marquess.  His full name and title was George Frederick Samuel Robinson, 1st Marquess of Ripon, 2nd Earl of Ripon.  She thought we might like to know his story.  She was right.

The Marquess of Ripon had an impeccable pedigree.  He was born in No. 10 Downing Street, and as an adult, served as an MP in various northern constituencies. Shortly after succeeding to the title of Earl of Ripon in 1859, he became first Undersecretary to India, and later Secretary of State for India.  From 1868 he was highly valuable in a variety of roles in William Gladstone’s government.

Then, in 1874, he converted to Roman Catholicism. His strong sense of duty prevented him from continuing to serve in government.  The Church of England (the Established Church) and state are linked in the United Kingdom.  He withdrew from public life.

However, in 1880, Gladstone persuaded him to take the post of Viceroy of India.  The Indians grew to honour him: the British rather less so.  Here’s why.

He expanded the powers of locally elected Indian governments, and liberalised internal administration.  He lowered the salt tax.  He gave local language newspapers the same freedoms as English ones, and enacted some improvements in labour conditions.  He allowed Indian judges the same rights as European ones when handling European defendants.  And he achieved all this in only four years.  No wonder Indians felt the least they could do was name a few roads after him.

George Frederick Samuel Robinson, 1st Marquess of Ripon (Wikimedia Commons)
George Frederick Samuel Robinson, 1st Marquess of Ripon (Wikimedia Commons)

He went on to serve in other capacities before becoming leader of the Liberals in the House of Lords, and died in Ripon in 1909.

So – thank you St. Mary’s, Studley Royal.  And thank you Frances, National Trust volunteer.  An eight year old mystery is solved.