The play’s the thing

Best not go and see the Handlebards.  Not if you’re hungry, anyway.  Here is a theatre troupe who will drink your beer and steal your strawberries all in the name of art.

But our date with the Handlebards has been in the diary since February.  Ever since I saw this witty and inventive  lot at Bolton Castle last year I’ve been on their mailing list.  Last year I saw the female troupe.  This year we went to see the men at work. William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.  Sixteen characters.  Four actors.  No problem.  Men can multi-task too.

The four Handlebards just before it all began.

And multi-task they did.  The Queen’s English, broad Scots, Northern accents all had their places. Hats, jackets and gilets all stood in for the characters who wore them, but who were temporarily detained in another role.  Balloons barely concealed behind an voluminous white pinny lent girth and a (sort of) female form to Maria, while sporting a little number in prettily sprigged voile enabled us to understand that the (bearded) Olivia was now on stage.

Occasionally audience members were pressed into service.  The cast took any opportunity to help themselves to crisps, wine and cake, legitimising the thefts by working them into the action on stage.  Nobody thus deprived of their picnic minded at all.  Picnic?  Yes, it was a lovely summer’s evening.  We’d all spread ourselves over the lawn of the Ripon Workhouse Museum, armed with blankets, garden chairs and baskets of treats.  Gruel was not on the menu.

See what I mean? Who stole the crisps?

It was all a bit exhausting, even for the delighted audience.  How the troupe summon up the energy  to cycle off to a new venue day after day is beyond me.  But that’s what they do, up and down the length of the kingdom throughout the summer season.  ‘Have bike, will perform’ must be their motto.  Here’s what they say:

Since 2013, the HandleBards have clocked-up over 7000 miles by cycling around the world to perform Shakespeare. Described by none other than Sir Ian McKellen as ‘uproariously funny’, we set the world on wheels with our unique brand of extremely energetic, charmingly chaotic, environmentally friendly cycle-powered theatre.

We love an adventure.

You really should go and see them after all.  And take a picnic.  A picnic big enough to share.

Tuesday’s Ragtag Challenge is ‘Play’.  I went to the play.  Here’s what I saw.

Happy Yorkshire Day!

I’ve got lots of readers with Yorkshire connections.  With addresses in Australia, southern France, London, Northumbria, Spain and East Sussex, among other places, I bet not one of them has celebrated Yorkshire Day.

Apparently it all began on August 1st 1975, in Beverley, as a protest movement against the local government re-organisation of 1974′

Who knew?  Not me.  Not anyone I know.  We all bumbled through life in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and though the early years of the twenty first century, blissfully unaware until about five years ago that we were supposed to be partying for Yorkshire.

Two Ripon shops take Yorkshire Day seriously.

Now Yorkshire cities take it in turn to host Yorkshire Day, and this year it is Ripon’s turn.  This meant a fairground in the Market Square, a procession with a band and civic dignitaries, a service in the cathedral, picnicking in the Park, and all manner of stalls in the town centre, mainly celebrating Yorkshire charities and institutions.

Such as The National Trust’s stall celebrating Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal.  I was there.  I was one of a small team encouraging mainly families to have fun.  A few punters dressed up as monks from the Abbey, or as fine Georgian ladies who might have enjoyed the Studley Royal Water Gardens.  Most children – boys and girls – got enthusiastic about using the kind of wool which was produced in abundance at Fountains Abbey to get stuck into simple weaving.  They chose their colours with care, threaded their shuttles, and wove, wove, wove.  They ended up with nothing more elaborate than a bookmark, but goodness, they treasured them, and handed them carefully to mums, grandads – anyone who would put them safely away till they arrived home.

And we all ate Wilfra Cakes.  That’s a sort of apple pie cooked with Wensleydale cheese, and a long-forgotten Ripon delicacy, produced thanks to the Workhouse Museum.

If we go back this evening, there are bands playing, and a big firework display.  Well, any excuse for a party in God’s Own Country.  Why not?

The Market Square at midday.

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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