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.

A job worth doing ….

Walk round the grounds of Studley Royal, and this will be your first sighting of Fountains Abbey.
Walk round the grounds of Studley Royal, and this will be your first sighting of Fountains Abbey.

A few months ago, I got a job.  Not for the pin-money, because I’m not paid a penny.  But I’m richly rewarded.  I signed up to be a volunteer for the National Trust, at the property nearest our home, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal.  Cistercian Abbey, Georgian water garden and mediaeval deer park…. no wonder it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Since we moved to Ripon, we’d loved spending time there, so I got to wondering….what would it be like to volunteer there?  What could I do?  What might be involved?

The answer turned out to be…almost anything you want  There are dozens of different roles, from gardening to guiding.  You could drive the mini-bus or form part of the archaeological monitoring team.  You could work in the shop, or in the admissions areas. Badged up, you could wander the grounds, being alert to the needs of visitors who’d like a potted history lesson  or to find their way to the toilets.  You could work in the wildlife team, helping look after and monitor all those ancient trees, or the herds of deer.  You could turn to when there’s a special event, and put out chairs.  And you’re quite entitled, over the years, to change your mind and try something else.

I for instance, started out as a visitor assistant at the Victorian High Gothic Church of Saint Mary’s in Studley Royal Park.  It’s a real masterpiece of Victorian architect William Burges, but it turned out not to be ‘me’.  I admire the building hugely, but it doesn’t involve me at an emotional level as the ruined abbey does.  So I quit.  No hard feelings

Looking across at St.Mary's from the Deer Park.
Looking across at St.Mary’s from the Deer Park.

But I shan’t be quitting the Learning Team.  Our bread-and-butter is sharing a Day In the Life of a Monk with schoolchildren.  The children dress up in monk-style habits, and tour the site getting in touch with the brothers’ silent and family-free routines, led by one of the team.  We examine the roofless, windowless Abbey and try to picture the church back in its prime. We imagine the vast space, illuminated only by candles, as the monks worshipped there eight times a day, from 2.00 a.m. onwards.  We visit the refectory where the monks dined, in silence, once a day. Did those monks eat meat?  What about potatoes?  No?  Why not?  We visit the Warming Room and imagine having just four baths a year, shaving our tonsures with oyster shells.  We discuss bloodletting.  We talk about all the daily routines.  Maybe the children remember only a few of the facts later, But we hope they are moved by these atmospheric ruins, and return later with their families.

Fountains Abbey.
Fountains Abbey.

They might come though, to experience the natural environment of the grounds: they might go pond dipping, or on a walk where they try to use all their senses by listening, touching , seeing, smelling and so on.  Or make mosaics based on what they’ve observed.  Or go den-building in the woods.  They’re as sure of a grand day out as are the volunteers in the team.

I’ve ended up doing all sorts of stuff I’d never have thought of attempting.  Car park attendant on Bank Holidays?  I didn’t think so.  But it turns out to be fun togging up in a hi-viz jacket, barking out radio messages on the walkie-talkie system, getting in touch with your inner traffic cop, and generally being a welcome face to visitors as you help them manouevre themselves into the busy car park.

And some things are quite simply, a privilege.  I wish you could have joined me on Sunday evening.  After dark, the site was opened to less mobile visitors.  For one night only, cars were welcome on site, to be driven s-l-o-w-l-y past the floodlit Abbey buildings.  The evening was cold, misty, moody, atmospheric.  Night birds swirled above the trees, dampness dripped from the trees, and monks could clearly be heard from within the abbey, chanting their plainsong (a recording, actually, but none the worse for that).  I talked to some of the visitors, often very elderly, as their cars and drivers made their stately way through the grounds.  Their appreciation of the staff and volunteers who were there helping the evening to go smoothly, though nice to hear, was quite unnecessary.  I wouldn’t have missed this experience for anything.  A special evening indeed.

And there are other perks.  A couple of times a year there’s a ‘works outing’, when volunteers can take a trip to properties in other parts of the country. Here’s one.  There are winter lectures for those who want them, to widen and deepen their knowledge of the history of the place  There are times to socialise – a barbecue, a quiz night, meals.  We’re very well supported, properly trained, and appreciated by the regular paid staff.  I look forward to every single thing I do as a volunteer at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal.  I feel very lucky.

If it’s Tuesday, it must be…. Yorkshire.

Goodness me.  Christine and Max, our French friends from our days in Laroque arrived on Saturday, and it’s only Tuesday today.  Look what we’ve crammed in….

An orientation session in Nidderdale, taking in a few views….

The view from Middlesmoor, Nidderdale.
The view from Middlesmoor, Nidderdale.

A peaceful morning at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal……

Fountains Abbey.
Fountains Abbey.

A visit to another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Salts Mill in Saltaire……

Salts Mill, Saltaire (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Salts Mill, Saltaire (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

…. where we enjoyed David Hockney’s Arrival of Spring exhibition, featuring the Yorkshire Wolds…

David Hockney at Salts Mill.
David Hockney at Salts Mill.

The Five Rise locks at Bingley: a narrowboat was making its slow upward progress through the five locks as we arrived…

All five of the Five Rise locks at Bingley.
All five of the Five Rise locks at Bingley.

A mooch round Haworth, home to the Brontë sisters….

Peeking through a doorway in Haworth.
Peeking through a doorway in Haworth.

And views, views, always vast, always bounded by drystone walls, always different.

Countryside near Keighley.
Countryside near Keighley.

We’re having a rest tomorrow.

Another day, another view

I’m not so blinkered as to believe that Yorkshire has all the best bits of scenery.  I’ve had days to recharge the soul in every English county from south to north, from west to east, enjoying stirring uplands, gentle verdant hillsides, sky-filled flatlands, slowly-flowing rivers and tranquilly tinkling streams, and the constantly-changing views from the beach at the seaside.

All the same, what we saw whilst out walking today gave every picture postcard of anywhere outside the Yorkshire Dales a run for its money.

John's view of Yorkshire, as described on his T shirt, is the correct one.
John’s view of Yorkshire, as described on his T-shirt, is the correct one.

From Pateley Bridge, set in the heart of Nidderdale (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), we energetically panted and clambered through Guisecliff Wood, whilst looking down at the village of Glasshouses below.  We emerged, puffing for breath at the top, One way, we could look across the Daleside landscape of ancient field systems and stone-built settlements, to the vale of York beyond.

Looking across towards the Dales.
Looking across towards the Dales.

The other way were the moors, no longer bleak, because this is heather time.  We breathed in the intoxicating smell that I like to buy potted up as rich, almost peaty flavoured heather honey. We stared, almost mesmerised at those carpets of blooms stretching away from us, mile after mile: not lilac, not lavender, not violet nor damson – simply that special low-key subtle purple that only heather can deliver.

Marching through the heather.
Marching through the heather.

Past Yorke’s Folly: it’s said it was built in 1810, commissioned by the local landowner, John Yorke of Bewerley Hall, who was casting about for some means to keep his labourers in employment in a time of economic depression.  These men received a shilling and a loaf of bread a day for their efforts.

Yorke's Folly: a resting place for weary walkers to enjoy the view.
Yorke’s Folly: a resting place for weary walkers to enjoy the view.

Then it was back to woodland again – very English woodland, with a full green canopy, not yet ready to turn to autumnal colours.  Skrikes Wood, Nought Bank, Fishpond Wood.

Skrikes Wood.
Skrikes Wood.

Then back along a few final paths before returning to Pateley, and a very welcome pub lunch.

The final furlong.
The final furlong.

Struggling down and up Sutton Bank

Looking down from Sutton Bank.
Looking down from Sutton Bank.

My goodness.  I haven’t been on a walk like that since we left the Ariège.  Over there, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, you knew you’d very likely have to struggle up and down through at least 600m in the course of a day’s march.  Over here in Yorkshire, the hills and dales are generally much more forgiving, and I’ve got unused to climbing…. and descending.

All that changed yesterday.  We went to Sutton Bank.  You know what you’re going to be up against even before you arrive.  The main road leading to the top has a gradient of 1 in 4, caravans are banned, and HGVs regularly get caught out on the way up.  Yet the summit is a mere 298m. above sea level.

But it really is all about the gradient, this walk .  And the wind.  Not for nothing does the Yorkshire Gliding Club site itself at the top of the escarpment, all the better to enjoy the wind, the thermals and the views over North York Moors National Park.  It made for an entertaining beginning to the walk, watching gliders being towed to a height of 600m. before being detatched to begin their slow and graceful descent to earth.

A glider is towed upwards on a windy day.
A glider is towed upwards on a windy day.

P1210070But this walk was all arse about face to someone accustomed to those Ariègeois walks.  There, you started at the bottom, panted doggedly till you got to the top, where you had lunch, and then you skittered down again.  Yesterday, we started at the top, and having waved the gliders goodbye, set off down the escarpment, through English woodland, with tantalising views across to the plain beneath.  It wasn’t as mad as it seemed though.  The path was steep enough to be slippery and uncertain, and it felt good to do this while we were still fresh.  Climbing, later in the day, though tough, was the lesser challenge.

A level walk across the fields.
A level walk across the fields.

Soon after our lunch break, we were striding across fields set about with recently harvested bales of straw and hay, enjoying the views .  This was to break us in gently for a thoroughly vertical-seeming climb, with steps among the tree roots to help us upwards.  About half way up, we had a reprieve, because  extraordinarily, there is a lake.  Lake Gormire was formed in the last ice age, when  a gigantic ice sheet scoured out a deep hollow in the crags.  The southern end got trapped by landslips, and water from springs at the base of the escarpment allowed water to collect.  It’s a lovely, secret place, and a haven for wildlife.

Lake Gormire.
Lake Gormire.

A final effort, and we were there, at the top of the escarpment once more.  A short walk along the top brought us to journey’s end, but not before we had stopped to admire the view which locals modestly call the finest view in England.  Well, it’s certainly very fine.

Almost at the top of Sutton Bank and journey's end.
Almost at the top of Sutton Bank and journey’s end.

We were glad to have had this challenging walk.  Our muscles and air-waves reported they’d had a fine work out.  We should do this more often.