I woke up this morning to realise it’s already May: though without the accompanying balmy weather. And I hadn’t yet done Jude’s April Photo Challenge. I wonder if she’ll notice if I squeeze it in today?
She wants us to explore curved lines. I’ve found this the most difficult of her challenges, so let’s see what I’ve come up with.
I’ve begun on one of my daily walks near the house: An oak tree providing a natural arching frame over a field of rape, horizontal as the horizon.
Let’s go on a virtual journey to the Yorkshire Dales where in normal times, we love to walk: streams, rolling hills, drystone walls, snaking ahead of us on our path.
Angram Reservoir, leading the eye to the viaduct at the back of the picture
A drystone wall near Grassington picks out our route.
More scenery on the moors above Grassington.
And at our nearby nature reserve, Nosterfield, brambles frame the local landscape in the autumn.
The river which moseys along and chatters beyond the back garden is our frequent companion. Whether we’re walking locally, out and about in Ripon, or having a morning in Masham further north, it’ll be keeping us company.
The River Ure is not a mighty river, wide as the sea, becoming ever slower and more stately as it forges its way to the coast. It’s not a super-highway for commercial barges, carrying manufacturing products to and from industrial heartlands. It’s not even a tourist destination, filled with pleasure craft and kayaks. Not far from us, it turns itself into the River Ouse, and even that doesn’t get to the sea, but instead flows into the River Trent, and then the Humber Estuary. So it has no delusions of grandeur.
But it’s our River Ure, home to water birds, otters, herons. We watch it through the seasons, as it surges to dangerously high levels in winter, then diminishes to an idle trickle in summer, exposing boulders and polished stones as venues for family picnics.
I’ve walked different stretches of it this week. Even under lock-down we’re encouraged to take exercise – alone – within reach of home. Put your (virtual) boots on and (virtually) come with me to visit those parts easily reached on foot within an hour or two. We shan’t meet a soul apart from the odd dog-walker, and we’ll shuffle away from each other, afraid these days to get too close.
Our river has refreshed, invigorated and calmed me. It’s been a real friend this week.
Walking towards West Tanfield, the river’s shallower, stonier.
Near Mickley, walking through the woods to West Tanfield, the footpath is high above the river, which has to be glimpsed through a screen of flowering sloes.
We’re in West Tanfield now, looking at the village from the ancient bridge.
There’s a campsite not far from our house. This is the sight that greets holiday makers when they arrive.
We’re very near our house here. See how the river eats away, year by year, at the land on the right. In the six years since we’ve been here, it’s moved about 10 feet.
Walking away from West Tanfield on the opposite bank ….
You didn’t need a crystal ball to know that my walk yesterday, reached by car rather than directly from home, might be my last for a while. The thought of impending Lock Down made my hours alone near Masham, walking by the River Ure and through the nature reserve of Marfield Wetlands, special, memorable and something to be savoured, even if it’s not actually a Great Yorkshire Walk.
After a couple of miles there’s some pasture land. Some trees there are dead or dying. Ancient trunks have actually fallen. They were demanding to be centre stage for Jude’s Photo Challenge this week, mixing textures with other colours and patterns.
See? Lichens have cunningly introduced themselves into the regular fissures of a fallen log. Lush young nettles complement the bleached dry bark of a different trunk. Peep though knotted holes to spot the greenery beyond. Wisps of white wool wander across the surface of moss encrusted ancient branches.
Then I met stones, originally smoothed and polished by the River Ure as it hurried and bustled noisily along. Now they’re covered again: not by water, but by springy mosses and young creeping plants, and pert little celandine squeezing between them.
Then though it was time for sheep. Not just sheep, but their lambs, endearingly new-born, in their two-sizes too big overcoats. Who could resist?
Keen not to abandon Jude’s assignment, I found two last shots. A row of fat cattle, chewing away in their barn, contrasted with the diagonal and vertical lines of their shelter. And then a rusted old bit of farming machinery provided a perfect picture frame for a view. A fine use for a bit of tackle that’ll probably be on the scrap heap any day now.
The Wetlands were surprisingly quiet (lunchtime…). But I had a bit of fun with a teasel, getting up close to get a shot of its spiny plump body.
A good walk. Lots of memories to store up for a long, odd summer ahead.
Mud. I can’t be doing with it. Viscous, squelchy, squishy, sticky, over-the-top-of-your-boots kind of mud. We’ve had ground slick with treacly mud here for weeks and weeks. But then there’s also Cabin Fever, and the need to plan a walk for our walking group in a fortnight’s time, when spring might have sprung. Walking won out over yet another day indoors.
My friend Chris and I set forth for the Yorkshire Dales, parked up in Lofthouse, and set off. Really, it could have been worse. It was a full twenty minutes before we came upon our first serious mudbath: prior to that we’d only had water-on-the-path to deal with.
But climbing now, we saw what the fields were like: yes, those are fields you’re looking at. Gouthwaite Reservoir’s not here: it’s over there in the distance.
We had our rewards though. The views: the remnants of a snowscape: sheep – and oh look! Our very first lambs of the season – a little huddle of black ones, and just one snowy specimen with its mum.
The last remnants of the snow.
Nidderdale, between Lofthouse and Ramsgill.
White mums, black lambs.
A single lamb resting near its mother.
Middlesmoor in the distance.
Surveying the scene.
This sheep inspected us as we sat on a log for a snack.
And then, a pleasant surprise. The café at How Stean Gorge was open – on a weekday in February! Coffee and home-made cake while enjoying the view of the stream jostling and hurrying through its narrow ravine. I forgot to take a photo for Jo, but the website shows the Yorkshire Slice Chris and I shared.
We were on the home straights now. All we had to do was struggle up a steepish hill to the now barely-populated village of Middlesmoor. Just outside its church, on the path that plunges down to our starting point are thoughtfully-provided seats. This is one of the best views in England, and despite the wind, we wanted to appreciate it.
And then, half way down the hill- a traffic jam. This herd of cattle blocked our path. The farmer asked us if we’d mind waiting five minutes. He turned out to have a countryman’s clock, but no matter: we weren’t going to argue with all those cows.
More mud …
… and more mud …
Finally, the cows moved on, and so did we. We got back to the car just as the rain, and then the sleet, started once more.
You don’t have to go very far in Yorkshire to feel remote. You don’t even have to get beyond the reach of the man-made. Those adjacent reservoirs in Nidderdale for instance, Angram and Scar House, both built to supply the City of Bradford with fresh water: Angram in the 1890s, Scar House in the 1920s. They’re off the beaten track, isolated. You’d never guess that when they were being built construction workers had their families with them on site: a shop, a place of worship, a school, all built for their use.
Now the construction workers are long gone, and their community too. Only the odd foundation stone remains. The area feels remote, reached only after a long drive down a narrow B road and one belonging to Yorkshire Water. It’s home to a rich variety of wild life. Walkers love to tramp its walking routes, relishing the emptiness, the silence, the bleak beauty of this spot.
A chance to look round an organic farm, just a few miles away? Oooh, yes please!
Five hundred acres. That used to count as a big farm, but in these days of agri-business, many are easily double that acreage. Here are sheep, cattle, oats and grassland – grassland that includes flower-rich meadows too.
We saw sheep, fed exclusively on the rich grassland which farmer Mark works hard to keep in good heart. Without good rich friable soil, no farm can function well. They’ve just finished lambing, and mothers and lambs foraged contentedly in the fields.
Oat fields are divided by traditional dry-stone walls, and by hedging, deliberately little-pruned, and with wide margins before the crop is planted to give abundant wildlife corridors.
There’s a small lake, home to oyster catchers which nest there.
Curlews and lapwings enjoy the site too, and Mark’s meadows are not cut for their sweet flower-rich hay until after July 15th each year, when ground-nesting birds have finished rearing their young.
We enjoyed a sheep-dog show. Eleven year old Jess was pleased to demonstrate her skill, as she dashed round in a wide circle, quickly bringing the sheep together into a compact group. It was good to see her eagerness, her enthusiasm for a job she does so well.
Finally, cattle. Mark brought us down quickly to the bottom of their field. The cows have recently calved, and are extremely protective. Best let them approach us. And they were curious, but ran (yes, ran) down the hill to get into the next-door field, as their calves, in some cases only a day old easily kept up with them.
And that was it. Apart from greeting the last-born lamb, only a day old. Her inexperienced mum had only had the one baby. Next year, she’ll probably have the more usual twins.
I think I like this kind of wintry day best of all. We’ve had a carpet of snow on the ground, blanking out grass, pavements and drifts of snowdrops. But today, it’s just a little warmer, and the snow is softly melting into the ground. But still here. We go out for a walk, before the cold descends once more. Winter footprints are visible now, because the impacted snow has dissolved away, leaving a silhouette of – what? Is that a crow print? A pheasant? Oh look, those are rabbits – look at how they land, four square and neatly as they run. And here’s a dog of course.
The landscape assembles itself into broad strata of austere colours: raw umber earth; no-longer pristine snow, almost dappled in places; perhaps some olive-shaded grass, and behind all these, a line of winter trees, their skeletons highlighted against the grey sombre skyline.
We see this robin on a fence post.
But apart from him, sheep are the only living creatures we spot on our walk today. Against the snow, they aren’t white at all, but a slightly dirty cream. They scratch an unsatisfactory meal from the less snowy parts of the fields. They come to look at us. We look at them.
Then we look for snowdrops instead, and for wood. It’s forbidden to go out at this time of year without coming back with an armful of kindling for the log burner.
And how glad we are to get back to our log burner! We enjoyed seeing our familiar landscape clothed in its skimpy veil of whiteness. But we appreciated getting back to warmth, a fireside, and a nice cup of tea even more.
Here’s a contribution to Jo’s Monday Walk (Jo’s own walks tend to be in Portugal these days. That’s where she lives. Feeling chilly Jo, reading this?)