This is the scenery near Leyburn in Wensleydale. This is Bolton Castle.
Imagine sitting in the grounds of this 14th century castle as evening draws in, a picnic beside you, to watch The Handlebards’ version of Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’. You know this will be no ordinary performance. The Handlebards are four female actors who cycle the length and breadth of the kingdom, with all they need for the tour crammed into two bicycle carriers. At each performance, they take every part in Shakespeare’s comedy of bizarre mistaken identity, family breakdown, love and lust.
So far so good. But this is England in July. We’d had two days of almost incessant rain. In a downpour, the Handlebards cycled the 26 (mainly uphill) miles from Ripon, where they’d performed at the Workhouse Museum.
The Castle has a Great Hall. Performing here rather than on a soggy greensward seemed a better idea in the circumstances. And it was. During the evening it rained. And then rained again. The audience never noticed a thing. We were too busy admiring the way four women became twenty or more people.
To become a man, all they had to do was don a codpiece adorned with a tennis or cricket ball. A selection of hats served to distinguish one character from another. Bicycle handlebars identified the wearers as sheep. Your character needs to disappear stage right to enter stage left as someone else? Easy. Leave the person whom you were addressing in charge of your hat, and s/he will continue to talk to it. With the flourish of a stick, a youth became faithful, ancient Adam. Orlando and his family were all twoubled by an inability to pwonounce the letter ‘r’. And so it went on, as one inventive twist or piece of slapstick followed another. Shakespeare would have loved it.
I’m now a Handlebards groupie. And the fun doesn’t end here. In other venues, having travelled there on other bicycles, a troupe of male actors is giving similarly irreverent treatment to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. We’re on the mailing list.
It was the summer solstice this week. It was also, for three days only in the north of England, summer.
So let me whisk you back eighteen months, to a crisp and clear January day when I took myself off to walk for a couple of hours or so, looking upwards rather than at my surroundings. Skyscape succeeded skyscape. These changing skies perfectly illustrate this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: transient.
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?
It wasn’t our best walk. Chris and I set off to ‘do’ part of the Nidderdale Way on Thursday. Thursday was fine. Wednesday hadn’t been. Nor had Tuesday. There’s been an awful lot of rain lately.
Even as we started out, we realised that mud was to be our constant companion. And water, trickling along slippery, sticky oozy paths. We forded streams which according to the map simply didn’t exist. If we wanted to go onwards, we had to wade through running water, or totter across from unsteady stepping stone to unsteadier fallen branch.
It was tiring. Finding not-too-soggy resting places was challenging too. We had our sandwiches in a wood alongside what should have been a babbling brook, but was in fact a raging torrent.
And that’s when I noticed these stones – and trees. I’d expect boulders and branches like these to have a few tendrils of dry ash-grey lichen clinging to their surface. Instead they were thickly carpeted in vivid green. These specimens (and I don’t know what they are, despite a spot of Googling) were healthy, fecund and spreading very nicely thank you. It’s easy being green in such a damp, shaded and sheltered environment.
Surely it’s only in England that you would find an annual festival dedicated to marmalade in all its forms? And it’s no surprise to find it hosted in a delightful country house, Dalemain, the family home of the Hasell-McCosh family.
Eleven years ago, Jane Hasell-McCosh devised this very British festival, and now in March every year, some 2,000 marmalade makers submit their entries to be judged .
The day kicked off in a rare rain-free moment with local schoolchildren belting out a jolly song about the delights of marmalade. In this ballad, they rejected any treat they were offered, preferring instead a slice of toast, well slathered with this bitter orange preserve. As if.
Marmalade celebrated in song.
Dan Lepard and Jane Hassel-McCosh start the day off.
The judges of 2000 pots of marmalade get their reward.
MC was one of my baking heroes, Dan Lepard. He introduced everyone, and announced the winners. And then we went into the house, to visit room after room stuffed with pots of marmalade. Each jar is awarded a series of marks, and is given an individual critical commentary. I was quite cross that I hadn’t in the end made the effort to enter any of my own efforts.
The entrants though are not only true Brits, eccentric or otherwise. In our B&B we had met Chris Brown, a baker from Vancouver, who had come for this one weekend only to enter his marmalade. He’d already won gold medals in previous years. So many Japanese have done well that the Japanese Ambassador himself came to the opening ceremony and made a gracious and witty speech. There were Australians there, and Kiwis, South Africans, Americans, someone from the Czech Republic ….
The competition has categories for Seville orange marmalade of course, for marmalade with a twist, for any citrus marmalade, for dark and chunky marmalade ….. all this could be predicted. But a category for marmalade makers who are also campanologists? Octogenarians? ‘The Establishment’: those redoubtable and upstanding members of society, such as bishops, MPs and judges who used to be the only people who could verify your likeness for a passport application?
This is entirely in keeping with the professional-but-with-a strong-hint-of-the-amateur feel of the festival.
Dan Lepard and Jane Hassel-McCosh open the proceedings.
I paid extra to go to Question Time. Baker Dan Lepard, food historian Ivan Day, marmalade guru Pam ‘the jam’ Corbin, and Martin Grant, MD of Mackay’s Marmalade made the hour whizz past. One conversation stood in my mind. ‘If we sent each of you home with a basket of raspberries, or blackcurrants and asked you to make jam, you’d all come back with much the same product. If we sent you home with a bag of oranges, you’d each come back with something quite different.’ And it’s true. They’d range from dense, dark and treacly with big chunky chewy peel to bright jewelled orange jellies with a delicate filigree of fine strands of zest suspended within. And all stops in between. This immense variety to be had from a product made simply with oranges, a bag of sugar, a lemon, and perhaps a little secret something is what gives marmalade its continuing appeal.
After lunch, we popped into Penrith. The town had gone orange for the weekend. The face of the town clock was orange: the shop windows were dressed in orange, and there was an orange-themed market in the town square. Marmalade anyone? It was all good fun, despite the unremitting rain.
The town clock turns orange for the weekend
Stall on the market square
Next morning, we headed home. The rain was so intense that newly established rivers and waterfalls cascaded from the hills. Older-established rivers burst their banks and flooded across roads. Fields developed impromptu lakes. It reminded us of a remark that Malcolm had overheard at the festival: ‘I come every year. But it always rains’
Back in France, in the Ariège, the very best way of getting out into virgin snow and becoming at one with a pure, glittering white winter landscape was take yourself off to the nearest mountain, strap on your snowshoes and walk through the fresh crisp air as if you were the only person in that particular bit of world. It was hard work though, and after the first hour, I’d had enough.
Three years on, and the memory of the pain, sweat and general exhaustion of the entire procedure has faded. I remember instead the vivid sunlit skies and startlingly white and unspoilt snow. And sometimes there were shadows: clear silhouettes mirroring, yet enhancing the world above the glistering mantle.
This week’s WordPress Photo challenge is ‘shadow’. The challenge is now issued on a Wednesday rather than a Friday. I think I’ll now usually respond on Saturday, not Sunday.
Google spiders’ webs and you’ll find any number of scientific articles celebrating the resilience of the silken strands that spiders produce Not only is the silk stronger than steel, it’s springy and elastic. The design of the web ensures that even when a strand is broken, the overall formation remains sound.
I found a spider’s web on a recent cold and frosty morning. By rights such a delicate structure should have collapsed under the weight of its coating of thick icy rime. It hadn’t. It’s the perfect candidate for this week’s WordPress photo challenge: resilient.
And here are a few more shots from a cold and frosty morning in North Yorkshire: