As you walk the fells, moors and dales of northern England, this is what you’ll see.
Miles and miles of drystone wall. In the Yorkshire Dales alone, there are some 8000 km. of wall, compared with only 990 km. of hedgerow, and 250 km. of fencing. These walls keep flocks of sheep contained upon a single fell. They provide a boundary between moorland heather and bracken, and more productive farmland. They divide one farmer’s plot into more manageable fields.
Off they march down the fellside, turning a corner and skirting the valley bottom, before cornering again to march back up. Or they’ll make snug little criss-cross squares in an ancient family farm. Well maintained or slightly ramshackle, they make Yorkshire and the Pennine counties instantly recognisable. Here’s a selection:
This time 54 years ago – more or less – I was sitting my O Level in Geography. Among other things, we studied the economic geography of England, interpreting Ordnance Survey maps, and a little elementary geology.
Our walk the other day would have made an excellent field trip. We were over in West Yorkshire, and our route from Gargrave took in sections of the Pennine Way, and quite a stretch of the Leeds and Liverpool canal.
Map-reading wasn’t our problem, because John and Pat were competently leading us onwards. The hills weren’t a problem, because the slopes were relatively gentle. They were the drumlins which are a feature of the area.
O Level question: What are drumlins? Drumlins are elongated hills of glacial deposits. They can be 1 km long and 500 metres wide, often occurring in groups. They would have been part of the debris that was carried along and then accumulated under an ancient glacier. The long axis of the drumlin indicates the direction in which the glacier was moving. The drumlin would have been deposited when the glacier became overloaded with sediment.
We walked through fields of cows, fields of sheep, and through woodland, emerging at lunchtime on the banks of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
O Level question: What is the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, and why was it built? The Leeds and Liverpool Canal is a canal in Northern England, linking the cities of Leeds and Liverpool. Over a distance of 127 miles, it crosses the Pennines, and includes 91 locks on the main line. It was built from 1770, and allowed textiles to be sent from the woollen towns of Yorkshire for export from Liverpool. Liverpool also required coal to fuel its manufacturing and shipping industries.
What an industrial thoroughfare it was then. Busy, dirty barges and narrow boats piled with goods moved between Yorkshire and Lancashire, where now there are only bucolic scenes and holidaymakers enjoying tranquil holidays slowly wending their way along the canal.
We watched as boats rose or descended through one, two, three, four, five, six locks to reach a different level of the canal. We marvelled at a section of our route along the canal towpath. We, and the canal itself, were travelling along a viaduct, and far below us were fields and a river. I couldn’t organise photographic proof. Soon after, we were back in Gargrave.
A view of some of the locks.
A lock gate slowly letting out water to lower a narrow boat to the stretch below.
So there we have it. If only I’d done that walk when I was 16. I would hardly have had to do any geography revision at all.
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 stones. Cheeks 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.’
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?
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 .
Our neighbours decorated their garden.
Police prepare the way.
The helicopter’s filming the action.
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 …..
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.
A hot air balloon was moored near the pub. We didn’t find out why, as it never became airborne.
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!’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
David from the Rotary Club gets a bit of practice in.
The Ripon Hornblower keeps a friendly eye on the proceedings.
Children from Holy Trinity School tussle it out.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spot the armadillo
A desk full,of curiosities.
The cabinet includes some of the collections of Ralph Thoresby. We know about Ralph Thoresby if we’ve lived in Leeds
A 19th century Chinese room, inspired by the Brighton Pavilion. Here be dragons.
Pure silk wall covering.
Elegant displays of Chinese porcelain.
There’s simpler, more rustic Chinese ware on display too.
The Long Gallery with its specially designed bookcases.
Just the place for a stroll – the Long Gallery.
The house joiner made these made-to-measure bookcases during the Jacobean period
And oddly, in the Great Barn, the skeleton of a whale washed up in nearby Holderness, which inspired Herman Melville to write ‘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.
Rules below stairs.
The back stairs don’t need to be elegant.
A working kitchen.
We’ll be back in the summer, to join one of the tours to explore the hidden secrets of this place.