I’m having a busy week. I’ve got far too much to do to take a day out walking with friends.
Except that on Tuesday when I woke up, the sun was already bright and the sky was clear. We haven’t had days like that in a while. And John, who always knows a good walk, had planned to take us near Thruscros Reservoir. The jobs could wait.
Here’s the reservoir, offering a home to wildlife, and panoramic views to us, while supplying clean water to the population of Leeds.
We walked through woodland and through Daleside pasture with moorland views beyond.
And at lunchtime, we found a sunny drystone wall to rest our backs against as we picnicked. The local sheep were interested. Picnics mean tasty snacks, perhaps. They organised a mass silent and peaceful demonstration for food. We resolutely ignored them, and finally they mooched off to nibble at their pastureland once more.
The morning had been all uphill, which meant the afternoon was all downhill (well done, John!). Soon we were at the reservoir again. A fine day’s walking was had by all. And my jobs remain uncompleted.
Since writing my last post, I’ve discovered that my friend Janet Willoner has written a wonderful piece describing a murmuration of starlings, in Melissa Harrison’s equally wonderful anthology ‘Winter’. Here’s the link.
The bush telegraph was busy. It’s that time of year, and starlings are murmurating. Spotted south of Ripon, they’d also been seen at Nosterfield, only a couple of miles from us.
Down at the nature reserve, just at sunset, cars gathered. Their occupants waited, enjoying the spectacle of the nightly sunset. Then most of the cars just – went. What did they know that we didn’t? Then Malcolm spotted what we’d come to see, over there in the north.
Thousands upon thousands of starlings in a dense cloud that spread, re-gathered, swooped, dived and soared like one of those unending computer-graphic screen savers that used to be all the rage.
We left too, We needed to be nearer. And sure enough, there in a lay-by near Nosterfield village we re-grouped, our binoculars to the ready. The starlings formed an immense cloud, sometimes dispersing to blend in with the grey cloud behind, sometimes wheeling together in sinuous black streaks of snake-like movement. For half an hour we watched.
Then this impressive partnership of birds pulsed lower, then lower, then dropped out of sight. They’d finished their performance for the night.
I love Colsterdale. It may be my favourite Yorkshire dale. It’s an isolated area, tucked away, north-west of Masham. Not a single main road goes through it. There are no traffic jams here, just local cars (4x4s are useful), vans and tractors.
There are routes though. Ancient routes forged as long ago as the 14th century, when there was a long-gone coal mine here, or more recently by stockmen driving their flocks over the harsh moorland landscape. These days, it’s hikers and ramblers who are more likely to use these tracks. Perhaps they’re completing the Six Dales Trail, or finding out the history of the Leeds Pals. Perhaps, like us, they’re enjoying a walk from Leighton Reservoir, and enjoying long distance views of Scar House Reservoir.
If you come for your holidays to Nidderdale in the Yorkshire Dales – and my goodness, I do recommend it – you’ll want to have an afternoon pottering around Pateley Bridge. It’s just won Britain’s Best Village High Street 2016 award.
And if you come to Pateley Bridge, you jolly well ought to visit Nidderdale Museum. Tucked behind the High Street near the Primary School and the Parish Church on the site of the former Workhouse, it’s a little treasure trove.
This little museum is entirely staffed by volunteers who cherish each donation and display as many as they possibly can in an engaging and informative way. You’ll punctuate your visit with delighted cries of ‘I remember that! My granny had one!’ Or ‘Oooh, I never knew the railway went there. I wonder where the station was?’. You’ll have an animated discussion with a fellow-visitor about being an ink-monitor at school, or about the mangle that was hauled out on washdays when you were a small child.
You’ll also see things that were not part of your own heritage, but which were an important part of Nidderdale’s past. You’ll discover that this pleasant rural area was once an industrial power-house, with textile workers by the score and lead mines dotted over the landscape. You’ll be reminded how very tough day-to-day life was on a Daleside small holding or farm.
Here’s a very quick tour:
We had a Ewbank carpet sweeper at home … and this splendid bed-warmer, simply heated by a light bulb … and a cream-maker.
A Ewbank carpet sweeper.
A 1960s Belling bed warmer. Known in our family as ‘the bomb’.
A 1960s cream maker (milk and butter required) with contemporary beakers.
We had inkwells like this at school, and I spent many painful hours in the company of copy books like these.
But look at this parlour:
And this wholly intact cobbler’s shop, transferred to the Museum in its entirety.
And here’s a glimpse of life on the farm, before labour-saving machinery came along.
We’ll be going again and again. So much to see, to reminisce over, to learn from. This engaging museum is a treasure in its own right.
My visit was one of the perks of being a National Trust volunteer. Brimham Rocks is Fountains Abbey’s nearest neighbour, and staff there organised this trip – thank you! The museum is open at weekends until mid-March, then daily during summer months.
On Christmas day I posted a scene from our days living in the Ariège. I felt very nostalgic for the Pyrenees, for snowy peaks silhouetted against clear blue skies, for cold clear air.
Today gave me the chance to remember that our countryside, though so very different, has its own charms and pleasures. We walked from nearby Masham and past the gravel pits of Marfield, now home to water birds of every kind: though only Canada geese and a few proud swans got a look in this morning.
We passed stands of ancient oaks, saw stark lines of skeletal trees marching along the horizon, watched the sky turn from Pyreneen blue to moody grey and purple then back to cheerful blue again. Sheep in late pregnancy cropped the short grass. We stopped to chat with fellow walkers walking off a calorie-laden Christmas. The River Ure was never far away. A pretty good morning’s work, actually.
Have you ever had a flutter on who might win the Grand National or The Derby? If you have, there’s a very good chance that the horse you fancied might have trained at Middleham.
Middleham’s a small town in Wensleydale of 800 or so inhabitants. You’ll notice its fine castle (Richard III stayed here) even before you get there.
And when you arrive, you’re as likely to see – no, you’re likelier to see – horses rather than pedestrians. The principal industry of this little place, since about 1730, is training horses. There are some 15 training establishments in town, and each of them may have up to 150 horses or more, aiming to be among the next generation of racehorses.
Every day clusters of riders take their charges up onto The Gallops to exercise and train them. We citizens who come to the area to walk and take in the views have to play second fiddle, at least during morning exercises.
Who cares? On Thursday, we were happy to share the views and skyscapes with such magnificent beasts as we strode across the moorland.
Later on, we walked through Coverdale, past Tupgill, upwards through the tiny hamlet of Caldbergh along wild and little-frequented tracks. Then it was sheep who were obliged to share their pastureland with us. They were sure we’d have mangel-wurzels to offer them and hurried towards us. We hadn’t. They were unimpressed.
We left them to it. We had a walk to finish, preferably before lunchtime. And we rather hoped for something more appetising to eat than mangel-wurzels.