Walking past Ripon Cathedral this morning, I was stopped dead in my tracks by this host of coral-coloured cyclamen. Can Spring be far behind?
One of the bells of Ripon Cathedral sounded this morning: sonorous, measured and slow. The pancake bell. It’s rung out every Shrove Tuesday for centuries now, just like other bells in other churches, countrywide. It reminds good Christian folk to come to church and confess their sins, before Ash Wednesday. Some also believe it was to remind thrifty housewives to use up their eggs, butter and milk before fasting during Lent.
Nowadays it’s a signal to gather outside the cathedral and have a bit of fun. Somebody has already cooked a pile of pancakes. No point in making lacy delicate crepes. These pancakes are in for a tough time as props in the annual pancake race. Contestants have to run from the Cathedral, down Kirkgate, pan in hand, tossing as they go …. onto the pavement, as often as not.
I watched teams from the Rotary Club, from local primary schools, from the Italian restaurant down the road.
Sadly though I missed seeing the clergy do their bit: things to do, places to go. It all seemed amiably uncompetitive. Just a chance to chat to the Hornblower (who keeps us safe through the night here in Ripon), to friends, and to take a few snapshots of this happy little Shrove Tuesday tradition.
Later, much later, Malcolm and I had pancakes too, delicate lacey ones, served with lots of sugar and lemon juice. We tossed them of course. But we didn’t run down the street with them.
Photo challenge: ‘It’s not this time of year without…..’. It’s holidays and celebrations that WordPress seems to have in mind in setting this challenge, but this is November, and we don’t do Thanksgiving in England. We do dark nights that begin at four o’clock. We do gusting rain that snatches the remaining leaves from the trees. We do fog that rises from the river. Nothing much to celebrate at all. Except …. except that it can turn out differently.
I was in a bad mood when I got up. My shoulder hurt – a lot. The sky was steel-grey, the temperature steel-cold, and I was supposed to be leading a walk. This was going to be No Fun At All, because although no rain was forecast, we’d had two days of full-on deluge. I just knew that virtually the entire circuit would be a mud-bath.
I trudged off to our rendez-vous with ill grace. Once there though, I started to cheer up. The prospect of good company for the day is always a positive start. We set off. The ground was unexpectedly firm, the clouds started to lift and the sun to shine. Soon we were making a coffee-stop outside 14th century Markenfield Hall.
Then it was through woods and across open fields (still no mud) to find a lunch spot overlooking Fountains Abbey, still framed with russet Autumn leaves.
After lunch, a muddy farm, where we attracted the interest of the locals.
And an uplifting final couple of miles, with grazing red deer, light-reflecting ponds and surrounded by a final burst of Autumn colour.
Am I glad I went? You bet.
Everyone loves the 36 bus. It’s the one that takes us from out in the sticks of Ripon, via Harrogate to Leeds. It’s the one with plush leather seats, 4G wi-fi, USB points at every seat. It’s the one with a book-swap shelf where I always hope to find a new title to enjoy, while bringing in one of my own to swap. And best of all, we old fogeys travel for free on the 66 mile round trip.
Best get to the terminus early though. Everyone’s jockeying for the best seats, the ones at the front of the top deck, where you can watch as the bus drives through the gentle countryside separating Ripon from Harrogate, via Ripley, a village which the 19th century Ingleby family remodelled in the style of an Alsatian village, complete with hôtel de ville. After the elegance of Harrogate and its Stray, there’s Harewood House – shall we spot any deer today? Then shortly after, the suburbs of The Big City, which gradually give way to the mixture of Victorian and super-modern which characterises 21st century Leeds.
We had lots to do in Leeds today (more of that later, much later) and had a very good time being busy there. But much of our fun for the day came from sitting high up in that 36 bus, watching the world go by. For free.
Easter holidays. Time to have those ten-years-old grandsons over. Time to keep them so busy they don’t have a chance to realise that ours is not a home stuffed with devices. Not a smart phone in sight.
Let’s get them back to the past straight away, even before we get them back to our house. Are they too old for an Easter Bunny hunt at Fountains Abbey? Apparently not. Not when there’s a chocolate bunny to eat at the end. Are they too cool for egg and spoon races and egg-rolling down the hill? Apparently not.
Would they like to visit ‘Forbidden Corner’? They agreed they would, even though we failed to provide a description of what to expect. We couldn’t. It’s been described as ‘The Strangest Place in the World’. Perhaps it is. It’s a folly. It’s a fantastical collection of follies. It’s woodlands, walled gardens, mazes, tunnels, grottoes, built in the manner of a topsy-turvy collection of fairy tale castles in enchanted grounds. Every stone putto is liable to pee on you as you walk past. Every passage is too narrow, too low, too dark, and may lead nowhere. You just want to try to get along it anyway, because at the end there may be another secret door, with halls of mirrors, or ever-changing fountains, or grotesque stone gremlins, or stepping-stones …. And beyond, in every direction, the glorious countryside of North Yorkshire.
Next day, off to Brimham Rocks. No child can resist the opportunity to climb and jump among these extraordinary tottering towers of balanced rock formations. A visit there is a regular fixture for Alex and Ben.
And finally – yet more rocks. Underground this time. Stump Cross Caverns: limestone caves set about with stalactites and stalagmites, tinted in all kinds of shades from the iron and lead seams that also penetrate the area. Gloomy, dark and mysterious, and guaranteed to fire the imagination. Photographs courtesy of Ben.
In the evenings we sat round the kitchen table and played board games. The London Game brought out everybody’s inner mean streak as we blocked other players in, or despatched them to the end of the line at Wembley Central. Stone Soup gave us the opportunity to lie and lie again in an effort to get rid of all our cards. All very satisfactory. A good time was had by all.
But Granny and Grandad would quite like a rest now. Please.
Step out into the garden, and the countryside beyond at the moment, and you’ll find snowdrops doing what they do best in January – piercing the barren earth, colonising grassy patches, nestling under trees and marching across gladed hillsides. Untroubled by unseasonal weather, their inner clocks direct them to grow, multiply, and cheer us all up in an otherwise gloomy, un-festive sort of month. That’s Nature for you: ordered, seasonal and predictable.
But Nature has another face. Come with me beyond the garden, past the fields slickly shimmering with surface water, to the banks of the River Ure. Just two minutes walk from here, it makes a wide sweeping curve away from its route from West Tanfield, and (normally) meanders gently into Ripon. That was before this winter, this rain, this unending water.
Once the rains came, and once it reached town, the River Ure rather wanted to swamp people’s gardens and make a bid to enter their houses. Recently-built flood defences put paid to that idea. The River Ure took its revenge on us, or more specifically, on the farmer whose fields adjoin us. Up in the hills, waters from streams and rivulets in the Dales cascaded into the Ure, which gushed and surged along its course, rising higher and higher, tearing at the banks, ingesting great clods of earth and forcing them downstream. The water levels are falling now. The damage remains.
Look. Here’s a chain link fence which marks a pathway running along the edge of the farmer’s field. It should be on terra firma, with a nice grassy margin between the fence itself and the river bank. Now it has nothing to hold onto. The bank has been snatched away, and the fence is hanging crazily and directly over the swelling waters below. The earth has slipped, and continues to slip. The farmer is losing his field, and the river is changing course. There’s not much anybody can do about it.
We’ll watch the water awhile, and frighten ourselves witless at the prospect of falling in and being swept mercilessly away. Then we’ll wander back though the woods, and enjoy the snowdrops and aconites once more. Nature takes its course.
December in the north of England has been the month of the flood. Until Boxing Day, it was Cumbria that saw all the action, with some communities flooded out not once, not twice, but three times. They were told to stand by for more on Boxing Day. They readied themselves…. and nothing happened, because the torrential rains prophesied swept south and east of them, firstly into Lancashire, and then Yorkshire
We were staying with my daughter’s family in that part of Greater Manchester that used to be in Lancashire. They live near a Nature Reserve through which Bradshaw Brook passes. I’d say ‘flows’, but such a phrase is normally far too active a description for this narrow little watercourse.
This was Bradshaw Brook yesterday.
We were due to travel home from their house to ours, in Yorkshire. Highways England, the BBC, and motoring organisations all had conflicting information on their websites. But they all agreed that our usual route, a scenic drive over the Pennines, was largely impassable.
It would have to be the motorway. Longer, duller, but surer. We’d not long been travelling when we noticed that traffic on the other carriageway was at a complete standstill, for miles…and miles. It was only when we got home that we found out that a 20′ sinkhole had opened up near Rochdale. So much for safer-by-motorway…..
Where to leave the motorway though, for the final few miles home? There were floods in Leeds, floods near Harrogate – there were sure to be floods in Boroughbridge too. What about Knaresborough? It turned out there were floods near there too, as we discovered when warning notices turned us back on the road we’d come on, and sent us back by several miles to look for another route. Familiar fields had turned into lakes, deep and almost unfordable road-side puddles were unavoidable.
We’re lucky. We were flood-tourists on our journey home, gawping at rivers-become-seas, and roads-become-rivers. Our home wasn’t flooded, nor will it be. Others aren’t so fortunate. They’re either contemplating the devastation of their own home or business – or both, or anxiously shoring up the front door with as many sandbags as they can lay their hands on, in anticipation of the days ahead, when the forecast continues to be grim. We could all do with a bit of an old-fashioned winter cold snap, with a touch of frost, but positively no rain.