I’ve had a black cloud sitting over my head for weeks. Brexit; the parlous state of British politics; the recent visit of a certain Head of State; the current hostile environment for immigrants – you name it. I’m not sure that there has ever been a time when external events over which I have little control have so got me down.
So thank goodness for white clouds: the ones that accompany long sunny days, blue skies and outdoor pursuits. Stratus, cumulus, cirrus, cumulonimbus …. the very names are rhythmic and poetic, and watching them as they drift, mass, diminish and dissolve is the perfect way to calm a troubled, anxious mind. Hooray for actual, rather than metaphorical clouds.
Followers of this blog will be familiar with images of verdant meadows, of rolling green hillsides studded with sheep, of grasses swaying in the breeze – all illustrating our walks round Yorkshire.
Today though, I’m going to show you the same Yorkshire scenery, as it looks after a fortnight’s heatwave: the kind of consistently sunny weather that I can’t remember enjoying since I was pregnant with my son, back in 1976. We’re not used to this. Meals are taken in the garden. Our yoga class happens on the cricket pitch. Evenings are spent out of doors.
And the grumbling has started. ‘Eeh, it’s too ‘ot. It’s not natural, is it? I’ve ‘ad enough, me’ Not me. I’ll gladly lug watering cans about to water the flowerpots round the door. Though it might keep everyone happy if we could have nightly rainfall, strictly between the hours of 11.00 p.m. and 5.00 a.m.
A bridge over the diminished River Wharfe.
Luckily the trees are still coping without rain.
Not a recently harvested crop. Just dry grass.
They cut the hay a few weeks ago. No more grass has grown since then.
That cloud seemed to promise rain. None materialised.
We’d never heard of Coniston Pie before. Best head over that way then, and find out all about it.
Coniston’s a tiny village in North Yorkshire, wedged into the glorious limestone scenery between Kettlewell and Grassington. We couldn’t go there without exploring a bit and working up an appetite for that pie.
We began with a bit of a scramble, a bit of a climb before hitting a steadily climbing path leading us upwards between dry stone walls and statuesque and wind-shaped trees. Sheep were our constant companions as we continued to plod ever upwards, 1000 feet in all.
We rested at the top. We had a snack (just a biscuit, no pie for us), before taking the winding turfy track downwards towards the valley bottom, then turning sharp left to join the Dales Way back to Coniston.
And that’s when we saw it. Coniston Pie. It’s not hearty fare to be tucked into after a hard day’s lambing apparently, but this: the view the shepherd sees as he does his daily round.
Still, it does look exactly like a pie, filled with good things and topped off with a thick pastry crust, doesn’t it?
This week’s WordPress challenge asks us to post something unlikely.
We were walking on Thursday, near West Witton, Swinithwaite and Redmire. Because it was April in Yorkshire, it was bitterly windy and cold with occasional hail: that was after we’d confidently started off in deceptively warm sunshine with a light breeze.
The final slog was along a long ridge, with a just-as-long line of dry stone wall keeping us on the straight and narrow every step of the way. Here it is.
Earlier though, while the sun was still managing to shine, we passed a different sort of line. Solid stepping stones crossed the river in a gentle curve, inviting two of our number to take the challenge and leap from boulder to boulder to the other side, then back again.
I’m now on Day Nine of The Great British Coughing Virus, and as you may be unlucky enough to know, it ain’t fun. I’ve done nothing worth writing about, and my creativity quotient is at an all-time-low. Instead, I thought I’d share with you the piece I wrote for my U3A Writing Group the other week, following the prompt ‘red’.
Spring: Red, yellow, white or green?
Spring is not red. Spring is white, as the late snowdrops poke their heads above the frosty soil. It’s yellow with primroses, daffodils and aconites: and later, laburnum and dandelions. It’s fresh citrus green, with young tender grass and unfurling leaves.
Summer is red. Summer is scarlet strawberries, velvet raspberries and glossy cherries. It’s poppies among fields of wheat. It’s glowing noses and peeling shoulders on a crowded beach. It’s roses and nasturtiums and salvia and geranium vying for space in the summer flower bed.
Autumn is red. In autumn, leaves drop from the trees, turning from green to yellow and then to russet red as they reach the ground. Crab apples glow on trees, and foragers like me gather them, and tumble them into a pan to simmer with sugar and spices to make a translucent ruby jelly for spreading on toast through the bleak winter months.
Winter is red. Bright berries poke out from beneath the sleek green leaves of the holly. Vermilion rose hips stand starkly on black branches, cheerfully transforming barren twigs and colouring the winter landscape. There’s little Robin Redbreast, perching on a scarlet pillar box, and all those gaudy Christmas decorations.
Spring is not red. Or at least I didn’t think so, not until last week. Here’s what I found on a walk across a Daleside farmland: a ewe, with two only-just-born lambs. Her babies were stained bright red with her blood, as she licked them clean. Spring that day was a Red Letter Day, celebrating new life.
Nature has had the upper hand lately. Snow, and plenty of it, disrupted our daily rhythms a few times in recent weeks. Rain, and plenty of it, has swamped fields and tracks, making a walk in the country an utterly unreasonable pastime.
The other day though, cabin fever got the better of us, and we made a break for the countryside near West Witton, reasoning that some of the tracks there would be more or less passable. They were. More or less.
But Nature made its presence felt in full force. Here was almost our very first sight on our walk – a mother ewe with twin lambs so very newly born that she was still calmly licking them clean as they tottered beside her, looking for their very first feed of milk.
The weather was mild. Surely the snow would be long gone? Not up here. Bitter howling winds a week ago had snatched the snow into deep drifts at the edges of fields, or pounded it into hillside crevices.
Redmire Force lived up to its name. Look at the waters swirling, frothing and plunging over the boulders in the River Ure. Look at the tree torn from its cliff side, now hanging precariously over the river.
And as we came to the end of our walk – look! Is this a river, or is this a field, unusable by the sheep who normally graze here, but forming a stopping off point for the occasional passing water bird?
I don’t think the humans in my life whom I love would be happy for me to plaster their images all over the blogosphere. I have no pets, beloved or otherwise. So I’ll have to look a little further.
Here’s a little miscellany of images, beloved images:
The Yorkshire Dales, whose rolling hills, bisected by ancient drystone walls I missed so much during our years in France.
The Pyrenees, from their richly flowered springtime meadows through to winter, when their rocky slopes are covered in deep snow, and which I now miss every single day. I’ll miss the shared picnics on our walks together, when our French friends pooled resources, and we ate everybody’s offerings of home-cured sausage, local cheeses, bread, home-baked cakes together with wine and somebody’s grandfather’s very special eau de vie.
Springtime daffodils. Every year I go into deep mourning when they wither, die and finally become untidy heaps of dying leaves. I’m happier now as they thrust their sheathed stems through the hard soil, promising to flower soon- but not quite yet.
There are books: I need a pile beside my bed to get me through the night.
A single, perfect cup of coffee from Bean and Bud in Harrogate.
Skeins of geese flying overhead mark the seasons here, and I love their haunting, raucous cries.
And so on….
The Pyrenees seen from St. Julien de Gras Capou in summertime.
A shared picnic near Montaillou, in March.
The Nidderdale Way.
Near Pateley Bridge.
We’ve already seen our first daffodils in North Stainley this year.
Just a random pile of books. I don’t think I’ve read most of these.
Our beloved Bean and Bud,
Geese flying uncharacteristically untidily over Marfield Wetlands.
I’ll end though with this. I wasn’t beloved of this elephant in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu, who was only doing his job when I visited him ten years ago on my Indian Adventure. But I felt beloved and very special when he raised his trunk and brought it down upon my shoulder – his very distinctive way of blessing me.
Click on any image to see a slideshow of the photos, full-size.