Snapshot Saturday: Keeping the sheep in order

Near Appletreewick (pronounced ‘Aptrick’ locally)

Yorkshire has over 8000 km. of drystone walls.

Constructing these walls is an ancient art which seems in no danger of dying out: younger generations continue to learn the skills needed. Large stones are carefully jigsawed together into 5′ to 7′ high walls.  Here are some instructions:

‘Gather and sort the stone by size in a type that complements and harmonises with the landscape such as limestone, grit stone or sandstone. Make foundations level and about a yard wide. Large stones go at the bottom butting against each other. All other stones must make contact with others and have the weight back into the wall and the face facing.  With each layer of stone fill in void spaces with smaller stones to ‘bind’ the wall. The wall should taper like a flat topped ‘ A’,  this slope is called the batter. ‘Throughs’ are the large heavy stones laid across the wall at intervals for extra strength. Topping stones as the name suggests are the icing on the cake also called coping, cap or comb stonesCheeks or Heads are the end stones. A Cripple hole is a rectangular opening at the base of a wall built to permit the passage of sheep. Also known as a hogg hole, lonky or lunky hole, sheep run, sheep smoose, smout hole, thawl or thirl hole. Smoot hole is to allow Rabbits and Hare to move through or even small streams.’

(From Yorkshire: God’s Own County)


I love these ancient technical terms.  I love the order these walls impose upon the landscape, as they perform their traditional task of dividing fields, and keeping sheep in their place.

Drystone walls marching across the landscape near Grassington.

This week’s WordPress photo challenge is ‘Order’.

Snapshot Saturday: a truly turbulent yet transient sunset

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.

Sunset seen from the church at Laroque d’Olmes.
The moment is almost over.

Now then.  Here’s our English sunset, from just a couple of weeks ago.   Which do you prefer?

A response to this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: Evanescent.

Le Tour de Yorkshire. Allez! Allez! Allez! Oi! Oi! Oi!

Le Tour on the Big Screen.

Three years ago, Yorkshire hosted the start of the Tour de France, which I wrote about here, here, and here.

Three years ago, plans were hatched for an annual Tour de Yorkshire.

This year, le Tour once again passed the end of our drive.

We watched the Women’s Race from the end of our road, and had a happy low key morning chatting to neighbours we knew, and neighbours we hadn’t previously met.  Police motorbikes sped past, support vehicles, a helicopter above, then the riders themselves, followed by more support vehicles, more police, and finally, a couple of women riders who were never going to make it into the winning cohort, but were giving it their best shot anyway .

Women riders zooming through North Stainley.

During the afternoon though, I sauntered into West Tanfield to watch the Men’s Race.  I arrived to find a party atmosphere.  There, amongst all the stalls on the village field, was the Big Screen showing the progress of the Tour in real time.  Just look though.  Just as in ze Tour de Fraunce, everysing eez in Frainch.  ‘Tour de Yorkshire’,  ‘Le Côte de Lofthouse’, ’29 avril 2017′.  It’s a sweet little homage to the Tour de France, without which …..

The Big Screen explains all, in French.

I’d missed the caravan giving out freebies.  A friend told me that in Health and Safety conscious England, these aren’t chucked randomly out of publicity vehicles.  Instead the vehicles stop, and small teams amble among the crowds, giving out flags, batons, shopping bags.  She said it was rather nice and added to the party atmosphere.

Spectators with their freebie shopping bags.

A hot air balloon was moored near the pub.  We didn’t find out why, as it never became airborne.

The securely tethered hot air ballon.

As the Big Screen informed us the riders had reached Masham, we started to line the streets.  Volunteer Tour Makers shooed us onto the pavements, and we waited ….  First of all, police motor bikes.  Then this vehicle, complete with Man with Microphone.  ‘Allez, allez allez’, he yelled. ‘Oi!  Oi! Oi!’, we yelled back.  ‘Allez,  allez,  allez!’ ‘Oi! Oi!  Oi!’. ‘Allez!’ ‘Oi!’, ‘Allez!’ ‘Oi!’ ‘Allez, allez, allez!’ ‘Oi! Oi! Oi!’

Cheerleader’s vehicle.

Then this, the moment we’d been building up to.

They were gone.  More support vehicles, and a final one telling us it was over.

Support vehicles came from all over France, from Belgium, from the Netherlands, from Italy …. and from the UK.

We all wandered off, perhaps to check out the big screen showing the riders going through Ripon.  As I left the village, the dustbin men were already clearing the streets.  The party was over.

Pancakes at the Cathedral

Ripon Cathedral – viewed from High St Agnesgate  (

One of the bells of Ripon Cathedral sounded this morning: sonorous, measured and slow.  The pancake bell.  It’s rung out every Shrove Tuesday for centuries now, just like other bells in other churches, countrywide.  It reminds good Christian folk to come to church and confess their sins, before Ash Wednesday.  Some also believe it was to remind thrifty housewives to use up their eggs, butter and milk before fasting during Lent.

Gentlemen of the press outside the cathedral to record the action.

Nowadays it’s a signal to gather outside the cathedral and have a bit of fun.  Somebody has already cooked a pile of pancakes.  No point in making lacy delicate crepes.  These pancakes are in for a tough time as props in the annual pancake race. Contestants have to run from the Cathedral, down Kirkgate, pan in hand, tossing as they go …. onto the pavement, as often as not.

I watched teams from the Rotary Club, from local primary schools, from the Italian restaurant down the road.

The lads from Valentino's Italian Restaurant arrive to do their bit.
The lads from Valentino’s Italian Restaurant arrive to run in style.

 Sadly though I missed seeing the clergy do their bit: things to do, places to go.  It all seemed amiably uncompetitive.  Just a chance to chat to the Hornblower (who keeps us safe through the night here in Ripon), to friends, and to take a few snapshots of this happy little Shrove Tuesday tradition.

Later, much later, Malcolm and I had pancakes too, delicate lacey ones, served with lots of sugar and lemon juice.  We tossed them of course.  But we didn’t run down the street with them.

Burton Constable? Or Constable Burton?

Now let’s see.  Did we go to Burton Constable or Constable Burton the other day?

Oh, do keep up.  Burton Constable is a stately home in Yorkshire, whereas Constable Burton is  … a stately home in Yorkshire.  And they have nothing whatever to do with one another.

Let’s start again.  Constable Burton Hall is a fine country house not far from us in North Yorkshire.  It’s not open to the public, though its wonderful gardens are.

This is Burton Constable
This is Burton Constable

Burton Constable Hall is a fine country house hidden away not far from the city of Hull in East Yorkshire.  This is a town whose dismal reputation may be salvaged next year when it becomes the UK City of Culture.

‘From Hull Hell and Halifax may the good Lord deliver us’.  In mediaeval times, this was the Yorkshire thieves’ litany.  Nobody wanted hell; nor Halifax with its unique gibbet, a savage early guillotine; nor Hull, with its notorious gaol.  People unfairly use the prayer to this day, even if they don’t expect to suffer or die there, though neither city deserves it.  We’re bound to make a trip or two to Hull next year, so I’ll tell you all about it, then.

And this is its facade.
And this is its facade.

Meanwhile.  Burton Constable.  It has a long and complicated history dating far further back than the Elizabethan exterior which you first see suggests.  The oldest part of the house dates back to the 12th century, when a pele tower was built to protect the inhabitants of the village of Constable Burton during the lawless reign of King Stephen.  Remodelled in Elizabethan times, it had several further makeovers, and its interior has a lovely 16th and 17th century Long Gallery – for strolling through. Then in the 18th century the interior was largely brought up to date with the latest designs and plasterwork from the likes of top-flight names such as Robert Adam and Giuseppe Cortese.  Capability Brown – who else? – landscaped the grounds.

It’s fallen on hard times though.  Imagine the expense of keeping such a property in good order.  The whole estate and grounds are now managed by a charitable trust while the family lives in an apartment in one of the wings.  Repairs and restoration are slow and on-going.

Behind the scenes. Imitation woodwork in need of restoration.
Behind the scenes. Imitation woodwork in need of restoration.

I’ll just give you a taste of some of the charms of the place:

A Cabinet of Curiosities, with imperfectly stuffed creatures such armadillos; scientific instruments; fossils and other curios.

A 19th century Chinese room, inspired by the Brighton Pavilion.  Here be dragons.

The Long Gallery with its specially designed bookcases.

And oddly, in the Great Barn, the  skeleton of a whale washed up in nearby Holderness, which inspired Herman Melville to write ‘Moby Dick’.

The back end of Moby Dick.
The back end of Moby Dick.

With a succession of fine rooms – from the Blue Drawing Room to the Gold bedroom, and tantalising glimpses of life below stairs, this is a place to spend the entire day.  The staff love an interested visitor, and repay your interest with history and gossip from the glory-days of the house.

The Gold Bedroom.
The Gold Bedroom.

We’ll be back in the summer, to join one of the tours to explore the hidden secrets of this place.

The Leeds Pals: lived in Yorkshire, died in France

colsterdaleaIt seemed such a good idea at the time.

At the outbreak of the First World War, a top-level decision was made to recruit men to the Army by encouraging friends, neighbours and colleagues to volunteer together as locals, to fight shoulder to shoulder for the honour of Britain and the credit of their home town.

The men of Leeds answered the call.  Carpenters, foundrymen, businessmen, men from the crowded streets of back-to-backs, men from the suburbs all joined up, bringing with them their brothers, their cousins, their neighbours and the men who worked alongside them .

They became the 15th Batallion of the West Yorkshire Regiment, commonly known as the Leeds Pals.

And they were sent up here to Colsterdale to train.  There was a whole village waiting for them:  a village that had been hastily built at the turn of the century to house the workers who’d been hired to construct the Colsterdale and Leighton Reservoirs, together with their families.  At Breary Banks there were huts, shops, chapels – everything they needed for day-to-day life. Although the Colsterdale Reservoir had been abandoned in 1911, workers were still employed at Leighton and at first labourers and soldiers lived side-by-side.

Briggate Leeds in the early 1900s (
Briggate Leeds in the early 1900s (

Leeds was a vast industrial conurbation.  It was noisy, dirty, grimy, smoggy.  Trams and those new-fangled trolley buses clanked and clattered their way round the streets.  Arriving by train in Masham, the new recruits had no alternative but to march the six miles to Breary Banks, passing nothing but clean quiet villages, stock-filled fields with woodland, then heathery moorside beyond.

Sheep in Colsterdale

For many of these recruits, the time that they spent at Breary Banks was the best time of their lives.  They had a regular routine, good food, good company and decent accommodation.  They dug trenches and learned the weaponry skills it was thought they’d need when finally deployed in France.


In fact they first saw active service in 1915 and 1916 in Egypt and Gallipolli.  Few of them were involved in direct action, and by early 1916, most of them embarked on troopships to the real focus of the war, France.

After further training behind the lines they were sent to the front, in readiness for the battle that was intended to change Allied fortunes, the Battle of the Somme.

And that is when parents, children, neighbours and work mates left behind in Leeds discovered what a truly terrible idea it had been to send whole communities into the same battle at the same moment.

‘It was the most ambitious attack of the war and they were among hundreds of thousands of Allied troops massed for the battle.

Their coats were mud-sodden, their legs were protected only by the inadequate cloth wrappings of the soldier’s uniform. In their hands they clutched rifles they would never use, for in moments a storm of bullets had cut through their soft clothes and weary bodies, and they were dead.

Going over the top, Battle of the Somme (Ivor Castle, Imperial War Museum, via Wikimedia Commons)

Our young Leeds men were not so much beaten as wiped out. At 7.20 am with fearful, pounding hearts, they began to run blindly at their enemy. By 7.30 am a city of mothers had lost their sons, wives were widows and children fatherless.

It was one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. As the men surged over the top into no-man’s land they faced a murderous storm of artillery and machine gun fire directed against them with pitiless accuracy by German guns. It cut through them, they fell into the mud in waves.

Yet those in charge had expected it to be easy. In the days before the battle of the Somme, more than a million rounds had rained down on the German positions all the way along the front.

By the time it was over, the Allies believed that no-one could have survived such a bombardment. The men from Leeds, and all the places beyond, were meant to stroll across no-man’s land.

Not only did that not happen but the casualties are so great as to not really make sense. The first day’s slaughter claimed around 20,000 English and French lives, and almost 40,00 were wounded.

Yet the carnage was repeated the next day, and the next, and for every day after that until four mad months had passed.

The cost in lives has never been fully accounted, but of the more than 900 men recruited from Leeds, it is believed 750 died that day.’

Jayne Dawson, Yorkshire Evening Post, 11th November 2013

This is Private Pearson of the Leeds Pals’ own epitaph for his friends and colleagues:

‘We were two years in the making and ten minutes in the destroying.’

Poppies, always poppies at the foot of the memorial to Leeds Pals at Breary Banks, Colsterdale.

You can follow in the footsteps of the Leeds Pals by going on the Nidderdale AONB First World War Heritage Trail.  My Colsterdale photos come from this walk.

AONB Trail waymark

Not Vital

This is your introduction to YSP. ‘Pelvis’

No, it’s Not Vital to visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park on a perfect Autumn day, when the trees are at their burnished best, flaunting their chromatic colours just before the November squalls tug down their rusty leaves.  It’s Not Vital at all.  But it’s a brilliant way to spend a Sunday.

Once, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park was a stately home – the 18th century Bretton Hall – belonging to the Wentworth family. Just after the war it became a teacher training college specialising in the arts, until it was taken over by the University of Leeds.  During those final years, The Yorkshire Sculpture Park was founded in the college parkland by Bretton Hall lecturer Peter Murray.  When the college closed, Yorkshire Sculpture Park took over the estate grounds and lakes.

Bretton Hall and its surrounding parkland.

Some exhibits – particularly by those two sculptors who grew up so near to Bretton Hall, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, are semi permanent.  But most artists shown there exhibit for a season or so, and you’ll find their works placed all over the extensive parkland: on the lawns, overlooking the lakes, waiting to be discovered on a woodland walk. Art appreciation combines with views across the distant Pennines, and a good healthy work-out across shady woods, formal lawns, lakes, pastureland and country bridle paths.

Henry Moore’s ‘Draped Seated Woman’ looks down over the distant wooded lake.

And I’ve been teasing you.  Not Vital is the name of one of those sculptors exhibiting at the moment. It’s his work ‘Pelvis’ that greeted us as we came into the park.

He was raised in a remote part of the Swiss Alps, and developed a strong affinity with nature.  Much of his life has been nomadic, and he engages with the artisans he meets on his travels to create works from local materials, pushing known technologies to the limits.

Here’s The Moon, a highly polished stainless steel sphere which reflects the environment it’s placed in.  Those craters are based on photos of the moon, and individually produced by Beijing craftsmen.

Not Vital: ‘The Moon’.

And here’s Hanging and Weighting, an unsettling plaster and steel construction that surely, surely is about to slide to the floor?

Not Vital: ‘Hanging and Weighting’.

I wish I’d taken more photos of his arresting and thought-provoking works – such as his self-portrait as a North Korean peasant, which is blank and faceless.

A taster of more on offer yesterday.  Here’s KAWS Small Lie, a dramatic and monumental wooden sculpture of Pinocchio.

KAWS’ ‘Small Lie’.

Here’s Richard Long’s Red Slate Line, marching us inexorably forward – into the lake….

Richard Long's 'Red Slate Line'.
Richard Long’s ‘Red Slate Line’.

….. that’s if we haven’t tripped over Hemali Bhuta’s Speed Breakers – bronze tree roots conceived to be stumbled upon as we explore the woods.

Hemali Bhuta's 'Speed Breakers'.
Hemali Bhuta’s ‘Speed Breakers’.

Come and have a virtual tour of the park.  And if you get the chance, visit the real thing.

Parkland at YSP with distant sculpture.