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?
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.
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.
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?
When we lived in France, the easiest way to persuade a French friend that you did not have their interests at heart was to produce a spiced dish, especially one with chillies in.
‘Oh, we love spicy food’, declared Henri and Brigitte when we broached the subject of cooking them a curry. All the same, we were careful. We dished up a korma so mild that it barely qualified as spiced at all. ‘Ouf!’ exclaimed Henri, after the first tentative mouthful – ‘are you trying to kill us?’
With this in mind, it was a huge surprise to us when one Friday in Lavelanet market, we came upon a man with a stall full of chillies. Orange chillies, yellow chillies, green chillies, purple chillies, fresh chillies, dried chillies. He had no customers at all. So he had time to chat to us, and explained that he’d come to love chillies, and to be passionate about seeking out new varieties, growing and using them. He was one of two such growers in France. We bought from him. He had other English customers. The French? Not so much.
That was five years ago. After relying on northern Europeans to bail him out, slowly but surely he started to attract a few French customers too. He’s still in business. Perhaps, despite the danger represented by a Red Savina chilli rated 500,000 on the Scoville scale, he hasn’t managed to kill anybody off yet.
M. Chilli’s smallholding, devoted exclusively to chillies, chillies, and more chillies.
I can’t look at a picture of the Pyrenees without wishing I were there.
When we lived in France, these mountains were the constant backdrop to our lives. They were our playground, where we would enjoy flower-studded meadows in the spring, clear bright summer heat, autumn colours to rival those of New England, and glittering winter snowscapes. Winter and summer, we walked these mountains, climbing hundreds of feet to be rewarded over a leisurely lunch-time picnic by views of valleys, forests and dramatic rocks, before we had to descend to the foothills once more.
They were a natural boundary – often a barricade – between France and Spain, and the few roads linking these countries make wonderfully scenic journeys in their own right.
Travelling to our French town from England, we always knew we’d arrived ‘home’ when we caught sight of the Pyrenees once more – almost always as the sun was setting. The first glimpse of those jagged peaks, whose shapes and names we came to recognise so well always made me as emotional as if I’d just met once more a long-lost friend.
The Earth. It’s tempting, for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge, to choose lush woodland, productive farmland, dramatic peaks, crashing ocean breakers, or a charming cottage garden crammed with colourful flowers, and on Earth Day, show it at its striking best.
Instead, I want to take you to Colsterdale in Yorkshire. The soil is thin, acid, peaty. Bitter winds scythe across the hilltops, bending to their will those hardy trees that make it to maturity. Brackish ditches lurk below the juncus grass to catch out the unwary hiker. The hills, though beautiful, can look barren, apart from the heather which blushes an extravagant purple every August.
But Earth is clever. This unpromising countryside nurtures thousands of sheep and lambs. Curlews, plover and geese wheel through the sky. Songbirds spring from the heather. There is so much hidden wildlife that much of the area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Well, he’s a fine rooster, and just the kind of handsome fellow you want illustrating an Easter-tide post, doing his bit to father the next generation of fluffy chickens. Not surprising at all to find him here. All the same, these gaudy colours are quite eye-opening, quite a surprise. So this cockerel can do duty this week in the WordPress photo challenge: surprise.