As it is, I now realise just how special those early hardy little shoots are. That little patch of snowdrops I showed you was alone, quite alone on a sea of bare earth, creeping ivy and a few shriveled Autumn leaves.
Let’s fast forward maybe four weeks. This is what the garden and surrounding woodlands will look like after all the hundreds and thousands of local snowdrops have grown, pushing themselves forth through the chilly frozen earth. Our annual miracle.
February 2017. All the local snowdrops have arrived.
We had quite an arresting sunset the other night. As with all sunsets, it was evanescent: here at one moment and gone the next. I’ll show it to you at the end of the post, together with the rainbow that briefly accompanied it in a rainless sky.
That sunset though reminded me of another sunset, even more dramatic, which we experienced in France in February 2014. Evanescent it might have been. But it’s etched in my memory forever.
Now then. Here’s our English sunset, from just a couple of weeks ago. Which do you prefer?
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?
Just round the corner from us, on a back road into Ripon, is a fine old manor house, Norton Conyers. It was in such ruinous condition that it was closed for several years while its owners, Sir James and Lady Graham, oversaw its restoration.
Last year, one one of its few open days, we paid a visit, and I failed to blog about our wonderful afternoon out. But now I don’t have to.
Ann Stephenson, in her wonderfully varied blog ‘Travels and Tomes’ not only recounts something of the house and its history, but lets us all into a secret. Norton Conyers, with its secret attic and resident madwoman may have provided the inspiration for Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’. How exciting is that?
You can read all about it here. Thanks Ann, for letting me share this story.
While we are on the topic of the Bronte sisters (or, at least, we were two weeks ago), there’s one more thing I should mention– an especially juicy tidbit. Are you listening? Jane Eyre may be inspired by a true story.
This isn’t news in North Yorkshire and the cozy city of Ripon that I once called home. Just around the corner from Ripon, roughly two or three miles from the roundabout at the edge of town, lies a beautiful old manor house by the name Norton Conyers. It is a handsome medieval squire’s home, dating back to the 1600’s, which has remained in the possession of one family (the Grahams) for nearly 400 years. That’s an achievement!
However, the house had fallen into disrepair of colossal proportions: rain poured in, wood-boring beetles swarmed, and very little of the grand house was heated. Thankfully, Sir James and…
Three years ago, Yorkshire hosted the start of the Tour de France, which I wrote about here, here, and here.
Three years ago, plans were hatched for an annual Tour de Yorkshire.
This year, le Tour once again passed the end of our drive.
We watched the Women’s Race from the end of our road, and had a happy low key morning chatting to neighbours we knew, and neighbours we hadn’t previously met. Police motorbikes sped past, support vehicles, a helicopter above, then the riders themselves, followed by more support vehicles, more police, and finally, a couple of women riders who were never going to make it into the winning cohort, but were giving it their best shot anyway .
Our neighbours decorated their garden.
Police prepare the way.
The helicopter’s filming the action.
During the afternoon though, I sauntered into West Tanfield to watch the Men’s Race. I arrived to find a party atmosphere. There, amongst all the stalls on the village field, was the Big Screen showing the progress of the Tour in real time. Just look though. Just as in ze Tour de Fraunce, everysing eez in Frainch. ‘Tour de Yorkshire’, ‘Le Côte de Lofthouse’, ’29 avril 2017′. It’s a sweet little homage to the Tour de France, without which …..
I’d missed the caravan giving out freebies. A friend told me that in Health and Safety conscious England, these aren’t chucked randomly out of publicity vehicles. Instead the vehicles stop, and small teams amble among the crowds, giving out flags, batons, shopping bags. She said it was rather nice and added to the party atmosphere.
A hot air balloon was moored near the pub. We didn’t find out why, as it never became airborne.
As the Big Screen informed us the riders had reached Masham, we started to line the streets. Volunteer Tour Makers shooed us onto the pavements, and we waited …. First of all, police motor bikes. Then this vehicle, complete with Man with Microphone. ‘Allez, allez allez’, he yelled. ‘Oi! Oi! Oi!’, we yelled back. ‘Allez, allez, allez!’‘Oi! Oi! Oi!’. ‘Allez!’‘Oi!’, ‘Allez!’‘Oi!’ ‘Allez, allez, allez!’‘Oi! Oi! Oi!’
Then this, the moment we’d been building up to.
They were gone. More support vehicles, and a final one telling us it was over.
We all wandered off, perhaps to check out the big screen showing the riders going through Ripon. As I left the village, the dustbin men were already clearing the streets. The party was over.
William’s a London child. His commute to nursery passes railway tracks and city streets, as well as a walk through a rather nice park. The animals my grandson sees on his daily round are dogs-on-leads, cats and urban foxes.
We wanted Yorkshire to offer him something different. On his very first afternoon, we visited two-day-old lambs in the field at the end of the road, wobbly on their legs and clinging to their mothers. Later we’d visit older lambs, confidently running and jumping across a public footpath as William wandered among them.
Then it was off to the duck pond. Two Mrs. Moorhens had a chick each, so light that even pond weed could bear their weight: were they walking on water? Mrs. Mallard had eight balls of fluff scuttling from land to pond to rushes – constantly on the move.
The next morning, good friends Gill and David invited us over. There were puppies to pet, dogs and a cat to stroke. And then there was Reggie, their grandson’s very own Thelwell pony. Reggie turned out to be far too scary to ride, but perfectly good to take for a walk.
Then William was put to work, collecting eggs. He didn’t break very many as he dropped them none too gently into his collecting basket. Afterwards he fed the hens. And we went home for scrambled eggs on toast. Thank you William. Thank you Gill, David and the hens.
William’s collecting eggs….
…. and feeding the hens.
Late one afternoon, William and I went for a walk in the woods and saw rabbits, a dozen or more, grazing the grass on the other side of the fence.
I wonder if it was one of them who left the chocolate eggs that William found in the garden when he went hunting for them on Easter Sunday?