It was -3 degrees in the night. It was still -3 degrees, at nearly nine o’clock in the morning. But I started my walk anyway. Right here in the garden, next to this hellebore.
Here were the pleasures of scrunching through crisp, frosty grass. Through small puddles, frozen solid. Watching long shadows extend the trunks of trees across the width of a field. Sheep doing their best to scratch a breakfast from the hoary grass. Bracken with delicately rimed edges. A car on the roadside, blinded by Jack Frost’s artwork.
The sun rose and despite the cold, quickly burnt off the chilly white from the fields. The newborn lambs, which I’d hoped to spot in West Tanfield had been kept indoors – I could hear their plaintive bleating in barn. Instead – winter blossom, catkins, and a sky-blue sky.
It was my turn to lead our walking group on a hike on Saturday. When I was planning what to put in the programme a few months ago, I had an idea of taking the group on a pleasant wintry walk along frost-rimed canal paths with delicate fine sheets of ice coating any puddles we met. A weak sun would glimpse through downy dove-grey cloud, and we’d walk briskly in the cold clear air.
Well, that didn’t work. Last week, we’d had four days of largely non-stop rain. And Saturday was no different. Anybody with any sense would have rolled over in bed that morning and gone back to sleep. I got up, and took myself off to our rendezvous, completely confident that nobody would be there waiting for me. I’d come home and toast my toes by the fire.
Five would-be walkers greeted me. Yes, they did want to walk. No, they didn’t think it was too wet. We’re here now. Let’s get on with it.
So we did. We’re an amiable bunch who like one another so the conversation flowed. We got in our several-thousand-steps for the day. But we also couldn’t see much as our glasses got wetter and wetter. Our rain gear kept the rain out and the sweat in. Our over trousers dripped and sulked. Our boots got damper and damper. The canal tow path, normally a fine surface for a winter’s walk, slipped and oozed. The trees dumped giant water drops on our heads to add to the rain’s constant spillage
We got to our half-way point in record time. We got back to base in an even more record time.
‘Now honestly,’ I said to my fellow-martyrs as the end drew nigh.’If you had your time over again, knowing what you know now, would you have come?”Of course!’ they all said. And they meant it. Not me. I scuttled off home to my fireside, and stayed there for the rest of the day.
Projected every evening during Remembrancetide onto the West End of Ripon Cathedral, this twenty-minute light show remembers those, male and female, whose lives were taken from them during WWI. It’s dreadful to watch the long, long, long list of names of the fallen, scrolling inexorably upwards. How could so many young men from this small city have died in those four years of war? We are shown photos from the war years, and the faces of some of those who have died. John McCrae’s celebrated poem ‘We are the dead‘, illustrated with ranks of graves, and scenes from the ravaged countryside of Flanders completes the spectacle. A tumbling tower of images of blood-red poppies begins and ends this thought-provoking and humbling show.
We’ve all been visiting the Fields of Mud in the Cathedral itself. Back in early October, that’s all we could see. A large brown rectangle of damp mud, surrounded by sandbags. This mud is from Passchendaele, and from a Great War military camp in Ripon. As, over the weeks, the wet earth dried and cracked, five ghostly, battle weary figures slowly emerged on the surface.
There are millions of ungerminated poppy seeds lying dormant in that mud. When the piece is decommissioned later this month, it will be broken up and segments will be made available to the public to create their own memorials. This work’s legacy can continue indefinitely.
About a fortnight ago, the figures are beginning to take shape.
Notoriously hard to photograph….
This astonishingly moving and evocative piece is the inspiration of Dan Metcalfe: his farming background has given him an understanding of mud. It’s disagreeable, destructive and even dangerous, as every WWI tommy well knew. But it also harbours seeds, waiting to flourish and grow when conditions are right .
Now the figures are fully visible, as the mud which surrounds them has dried out. And so we can see that these are the same figures that have appeared round town, near North Bridge and the Cathedral itself, at Hell Wath and Rotary Way: and in nearby Sharow, where the British Legion home for former service personnel used to be. These soldiers, and a nurse appear as silhouettes, made from rusted metal, and they are trudging home, their backs to the conflict and facing the future.
This tommy is facing the burial ground of the former soldiers who ended their days at peace in the British Legion home at Sharow, Ripon.
Walking home from North Bridge, Ripon.
Walking across fields at Hell Wath, Ripon.
Ripon city has recently made us keenly aware of the sacrifices made in the Great War. But the poppies, the Fields of Mud are not the whole story. Tomorrow, on Remembrance Day, I’ll show you Ripon’s Remembrance Light Show.
I was walking back from my friend Claire’s through Beatswell Wood the other day when I noticed it. A fallen branch. A nicely rotting fallen branch. Then smaller branches, conveniently broken into wood-burning-stove like lengths. My inner French peasant knocked urgently at my brain. ‘You can’t leave those!’ she said, in perfect English. ‘Fuel for free! Whaddya mean you’ve got no bag? What are arms for? Get on with it!’
And it’s true. No self-respecting French country person – man or woman – would think of leaving for a walk without a just-in-case (‘au cas où’) bag. Here’s an account of what we used to do in France, especially in autumn.
Scouting in the woods.
It’s definitely autumn …..
…. as you can see…..
Yesterday we were better prepared. We both set forth, equipped with large strong bags, just big enough to collect stove-length pieces of wood, or ones dried out enough to break in two. A stout thick branch each – to be sawn up later – completed our haul. Kindling sorted. A day or two’s heat sorted. Well, you know what they say about wood, and about how it heats you several times? We aren’t woodcutters. But we do gather it, then stack it, then burn it. That’s three times. That’s good value.
Malcolm, bearing a branch.
Not free wood. But it burns brighter, and for longer.
A window display in Calvert’s Carpets, naming some of the fallen.
The bandstand in the park.
Walking down Kirkgate.
Soon, it will be the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. One hundred years since Armistice Day 1918, and the end of World War I. Since the 1920s, here in Britain and the Commonwealth, the poppies which were so ubiquitous in the Flanders fields of battle have been used as a symbol to commemorate those who died in conflict.
Hand knitted poppies have appeared all over town, specifically a great avenue of them on the route between the Cathedral, past the Market Square and Town Hall and down towards the park – Spa Gardens. Shopkeepers have dressed their windows in commemoration. All this year, the citizens of Ripon and beyond have been knitting and crocheting dozens of poppies, scores of poppies, hundreds and thousands of poppies. Sadly, not me. I can’t knit. Now these poppies are being displayed. Everywhere.
It’s been an extraordinary project, involving the young, the old, the housebound, all of whom have been united in wanting to have Ripon remember the fallen in a striking yet appropriate way.
And there’s more. I’ll be posting about ‘Fields of Mud, Seeds of Hope’, and events at the Cathedral later. For now, just have a short walk round Ripon with me and enjoy the poppies, as you remember the terrible story of the Great War.
I’ve always loved looking at the contributions to Thursday doors, where bloggers from around the world share images of their favourite doors. Somehow, I’ve never got round to joining in. But looking through my photos for something or other yesterday, I realised that I had the makings of a post about windows. Here it is.
Here’s an image from the last March for Europe in London in June. I’ll be there again, probably as you read this, marching for a People’s Vote on the Final Deal. I’m not sure how much I believe in another referendum, but what other hope have we got to turn the tide against the national disaster that is Brexit?
Happier times, happier pictures. I started off by including images from Europe too. But I’ll do England today, and maybe travel further afield another time.