Snapshot Saturday: Secret Ripon

Ripon has been a city for well over 1300 years.  Founded by a saint – Wilfred – it’s been under the control of the Vikings, the Normans, and more recently Harrogate Borough Council.  It’s been a religious centre, a market town, a textile town.  These days it’s no longer so important.  But those of us who live here tend to like this quiet unassuming place with a past to be proud of.

Come for a day trip, and you’ll head straight for the Cathedral, built and destroyed and rebuilt several times from the 7th to the 15th centuries.

Ripon Cathedral, now as in the past peeps from behind ancient narrow streets.

You may make for the Workhouse Museum, the Prison and Police Museum and Courthouse Museums, and learn about the lives of the deserving and undeserving poor of former centuries.

After that though, we could go and look for a Ripon not mentioned in the guidebooks.  It was by chance that I found a charming  oasis of calm, tucked away yards from the city centre and known to few.  It once housed a non conformist early 19th century ‘Temple’, of which all that remains is the Dissenters’ Graveyard.  A secret, quiet place, you’ll have it all to yourself.


Walk further up the road and you’ll find The Crescent, set back from the road behind a spacious gardens.  Now as then, back in the 19th century when the houses were built, it’s a fine address.  Lewis Carroll thought so,  He used to visit friends here, and compose songs and stories for their daughters.  There’s a blue plaque to prove it.

Day trippers tend to go home for supper.  Which is a pity.  Wednesday visitors could go and watch bellringing practice in the belltower of the Cathedral.  Hearing the bells tolling rhythmically and tunefully for practices, weddings, and on Sundays is one of the joys of Ripon life.


Day visitors miss out too on seeing the Ripon Hornblower setting the watch, as the postholder has done every single night since 886 and the time of Alfred the Great.  The Wakeman, employed by the city, blows his horn in all four corners of the market square to announce the watch is set and that citizens can sleep safe in their beds (these days the watch is provided by North Yorkshire Police I suppose). Then he goes off to tell the mayor, who may be watching tv, having a bath or an evening down at the pub, or at the cinema … no matter.  The mayor needs to know.

I could show you the Leper chapel, or the house where Wilfred Owen lived.  I could take you down ancient ginnels, or along the canal which was Ripon’s transport hub once upon a time.  Or you could make your own discoveries.  It’s a city you can enjoy exploring in your own time.

This week’s WordPress photo challenge is called Tour Guide.  Click on any image to see it full size.

This post is for you, Ros.  You’re a friend I would never have met except through blogging.  And you’re coming to visit us soon.  Where shall we explore first?

Snapshot Saturday: You can never have too many snowdrops

2018. Our earliest snowdrops.

On New Year’s Day, I excitedly posted a photo of the earliest snowdrops of the year, spotted that very morning.  If I’d known that this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge was to be ‘Growth’, I might just have held back.

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.

Click on any image to view full size.

Snapshot Saturday: a truly turbulent yet transient sunset

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.

Sunset seen from the church at Laroque d’Olmes.
The moment is almost over.

Now then.  Here’s our English sunset, from just a couple of weeks ago.   Which do you prefer?

A response to this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: Evanescent.

Snapshot Saturday: From World Heritage to heritage at home.

Fountain’s Abbey seen from a hillside walk last Autumn.

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.

Huby’s Tower at Fountain’s Abbey, built not many years before the Dissolution of the Monasteries

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.

The first floor was once the lay brothers’ dormitory. Now it’s our flat. I bet those monks didn’t look out over this lovely walled garden.

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?

The Old Grange is attached to the fine 18th century house next door. We seem to have access to their wisteria.

This post is in response to the WordPress weekly photo challenge: ‘Heritage’

To Eyre is Human

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.

Travels and Tomes: One Expat's Amblings and Ramblings

norton cony attic room Getty Images The secret attic room at Norton Conyers.

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.

Norton Conyers

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…

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Le Tour de Yorkshire. Allez! Allez! Allez! Oi! Oi! Oi!

Le Tour on the Big Screen.

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 .

Women riders zooming through North Stainley.

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 …..

The Big Screen explains all, in French.

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.

Spectators with their freebie shopping bags.

A hot air balloon was moored near the pub.  We didn’t find out why, as it never became airborne.

The securely tethered hot air ballon.

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!’

Cheerleader’s vehicle.

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.

Support vehicles came from all over France, from Belgium, from the Netherlands, from Italy …. and from the UK.

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.

In which William talks to the animals … and finds something from the Easter Bunny

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.

Newborn twin lambs with mum.


Confident lambs, confident William.

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.

A moorhen chick walks on water.
A mother mallard and her eight babies.  Except the eighth is off-camera.

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.

Gill, William and Sarah take Reggie walkabout.

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 personally-gathered eggs for a scrambled egg lunch.  Mmm….

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?

Hunting for the Easter Bunny’s eggs.