A meadow: a celebration of summer days

The early 1950s were in many ways the fag-end of the war.  I lived in Sandhutton, a little village outside Thirsk, where my mother was head of a two-teacher school.  I was with the under eights, while she taught the nine to fifteen year olds. Few pupils aimed to pass for Grammar when life as a farm labourer awaited.  The school photo confirms my memory. Everything was beige and grey.

Sandhutton School, c.1952, just before I started there as a pupil. My mother is the teacher on the left, and my teacher, Miss Burnett, is on the right.

Sweets were almost unknown, and we were happy to supplement our adequate-but-dull diets by marauding the hedgerows for blackberries and rosehips, or by getting up at four in the morning to go mushrooming on the now-abandoned airfield.

Perhaps that dinginess is why my memory of that meadow is so vivid.  Not far from our house, it was where we’d go sometimes when, during the long school summer break, my mother put together a picnic .  I enjoyed running wild in the fields, while she managed a rare daytime doze in the sunshine. What I remember is flinging myself down in the grasses which then rasped and tickled my bare legs.  I was searching, among the vetch, the buttercups and the poppies for daisies or other small flowers that I could make into a daisy chain. I wasn’t very good at it. The stems would split and mash, and my chain would tumble apart before it had even reached bracelet proportions.

I remember the fuzzing and the droning of the bees and flying things that murmured and hummed about my head; the brief sting of one of the single-minded ants out to seize any of our stray crumbs.  I think back to the vivid colours of the meadow flowers – yellow buttercups and vetch, blue cornflowers, white meadowsweet blushing faintly pink or yellow, and the delicate papery petals of scarlet poppies.  It smelt – well,  green – and wafting from the next field was the sappy smell of recently cut hay. In the early afternoon there were no birds singing. Instead, the whirring of insect wings, the rumble of a distant tractor.

Directly above, as I lay in the grass, were no threatening clouds at all – of course there weren’t – just puffs of white cumulus, or ethereal streaks of cirrus in the perfectly blue sky.  

Distance lends enchantment to the view.  But it really was like that.

This miscellany of photos doesn’t come from Sandhutton at all, but from bits of North Yorkshire, from Shopshire, from Franconia …. anywhere that has a meadow.  Click on any image to see it full size.

Wuthering Heights

Walking from Haworth to Top Withens.

Haworth: a charming village on the top of a high and steep hill, in an area of high, bleak and steep hills; home to the Brontë sisters and the surrounding moorland countryside of Wuthering Heights.

Cottages near Haworth. Cosy now: possibly less picturesque back in the Brontë’s time.

Everyone knows that you can expect ‘weather’ when you come here,  whatever time of year you arrive.  As you stumble along the church path to leave the village, slashing rain tumbling from sullen hostile skies needles your skin, slicks your hair to your face and saturates your clothes.  As you set your face against the wild wind, your boots sink into the sodden peaty turf as you trudge onto the moor.  If you dare to glance up, you see unending moorland before you: bleak, barren and bare, with sheep huddled against the dry stone walls which march across the landscape.  This is Nature-in-the-Raw, and we expect no different.

I went there earlier this week.  None of the above applied.

We are in Week Five of a heatwave.  I doubt if either the Brontës or even Heathcliff himself had ever seen the like.   Brittle coir matting now carpets the brooding moorland fells: and several weeks early, the heather is almost in flower, rich and purple.  Yellowing grasses replace the dense green turf the sheep prefer, whispering and rustling in the light breeze.

Beyond Haworth, coir matting stands in for moorland turf.

There’s a little brook in the valley here.  Angry peaty water jostling officiously along its path has been replaced by still, clear shallow pools.

The brook by Brontë bridge.

The Brontë sisters would cheerfully have paused here to rest, reflect and write a little.  Then, like me, they would have slogged on, up the peat-and-stone pathway that leads upwards, ever upwards, towards Top Withens.

There’s Top Withens, up there. Beside that solitary tree.

Top Withens may have been the isolated upland farmhouse that Emily Brontë pictured Cathy Earnshaw and family living in when she wrote Wuthering Heights.  It’s a ruin now, the roof torn off in a violent thunderstorm in the 1890s.  Just as you’d expect.

It was the perfect picnic spot for me.  The moorland stretched before me, its hillsides rhythmically rising and falling.  The world was silent: not that silence in which there is no sound, but that of the living countryside: the low susuration of the swaying grasses; the humming of the wind in my ears; the occasional complaint of a bird sweeping overhead.  Beyond the moorland, greener fields lay, chopped centuries ago into rough rectangles by drystone walls.  Some held sheep, some cattle, others recently cut hay. The sun warmed my rocky seat, and I was perfectly content.

Except for the sky.  The day was sultry, sweaty, but freshened by a soft breeze.  I knew the sun might be chased away by gusty rain.  Ash-grey clouds swelled and receded, revealing granite tones behind: and beyond that, cornflower blue once more. It was a signal.  Haworth takes weather seriously.  Never be tempted to climb these uplands without a very capable waterproof in your kit.

The moorland I saw this week was not the Brontë’s moorland.  It’s been a little sanitised.  There are helpful finger posts pointing the way at every junction, in English and … Japanese.

Top Withens or Top Withins? Take your pick. I don’t know which the Japanese choose.

The pathways the sisters trod are no longer springy peat tracks, or sticky muddy gullies.  Instead, heavy slabs line the way, to prevent footfall damage to this fragile area from the hundreds of people who tramp these paths looking for the Real Brontë Experience.

My day was far too comfortable for that.  I was not returning to a draughty parsonage with self-destructive brother Branwell to worry about.  If you want to see the Brontë’s life through his eyes, read Robert Edric’s ‘Sanctuary’. You’ll be glad to get back to bustling tourist-destination Haworth for a nice cup of tea.

This post fits nicely into one of the Ragtag Daily Challenges this week: Travel.  There’s no need to cross the ocean or even take your passport to discover sights worth experiencing. 

Click on any image to view full size.

Landfill – zero

A day trip to Leeds might involve mooching round the ornate Victorian shopping arcades, a visit to Leeds City Art Gallery, or to one of the theatres. It might involve some serious retail therapy.

What it wouldn’t normally involve is Cross Green, an unlovely sprawling industrial estate to the south east of the city centre.  Acres of modern rectangular industrial buildings surround large wholesale markets, and any housing squeezes up into the north of the patch.

But Cross Green is home to one of Leeds’ most exciting new buildings.  Here, on its southern face is a striking living wall, one of the largest in Europe, providing biodiversity in an otherwise wholly man-made environment.

Leeds RERF’s Living Wall.

The building itself relies heavily on glass and elegant timber framing.  It’s something of an anachronism in a zone of modern concrete boxes.

This is Leeds Recycling and Energy Recovery Facility.  

A scale model of Leeds RERF.

These days we’re all encouraged to recycle – glass, paper, tins, plastic, garden waste  – even, in some local authorities, food waste.  By rights, little should need to find its way into those black bags steadily filling every landfill site in the country.  But it does.

The advanced technology in this building aims to prevent that: and thanks to our friends Graham and Trish, we spent an afternoon finding out how.

We started out in one of the meeting rooms, looking through glass to watch a monstrous grab working with up to 6 tonnes per grab of shredded miscellaneous waste.  This was waste at the end of its journey, but still useful.

 

Come with us.  Put on the work boots they give you, the hi-viz jacket, the safety helmet and the goggles.  Come with us and we walk from point to point in this immense building.

Malcolm’s all togged up for the visit.

Here are the monitors which – er- monitor every part of the plant.  Look carefully and you’ll see flames on one of the screens.

Monitors at work.

This is an incinerator which burns the unrecoverable waste we had been looking at earlier, to produce heat.  The heat turns water into steam.  The steam powers a turbine.  The turbine generates about  13 MW of electricity – enough to supply the needs of 22,000 homes.  Emissions are carefully controlled, cleaned and captured, and the ash generated by this unimaginably hot bonfire is used as aggregate in road building.

Before that though, materials which could have been recycled earlier are extracted.  Paper and card are blown from the refuse.  Metals are fished out by magnets.  We couldn’t take pictures as we walked round the plant, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

There’s not really a market for the degraded paper which finds its way here.  But next time you take an egg from an egg box, or find yourself staring at a sick-bowl in hospital, or need to buy some paper-based animal bedding, you might be using something that started out in the RERF in Leeds.

I could blind you with facts and figures, but I think it’s enough to know that Leeds is helping to meet its ambitious zero-waste plans with projects such as this.  We, wherever we live, have an obligation to develop our own personal zero-waste strategies. Maybe you have a group you could join, like our own Plastic Free Ripon?  More of that in another post.

The entrance to Leeds RERF.

Click on any image to see it full size.

Supplementary Snapshot Saturday: First snow

The weekly photo challenge posed by WordPress is taking a week off.  I don’t have to.  I thought I’d add to the piles of photos clogging up the internet showing snow.  Snow in the garden, out by the lake, up a mountain, shutting down the motorways, whitening city streets ….

We woke up this morning to bitter cold.  Minus One Celsius.  This will make my American and Canadian readers laugh.  Look at this post from my blogging friend Kerry.  Where she wakes up it’s  -32, and steam is rising from the frozen lake.  She’d better not read this.  Where she is, nobody ventures out, not even – especially not even – the cats.

This is snowy weather British style.  Just a couple of inches.  Just enough to snarl up the transport system and fill the airwaves with ‘Is your journey really necessary?’ type warnings.  It’ll probably be gone tomorrow.

 

 

Click on any image to view full size.

PS.  Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Snapshot Saturday: a field, a drystone wall, a corner

As you walk the fells, moors and dales of northern England, this is what you’ll see.

Masham Moor from Slipstone Crags.

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:

 

Coverdale.

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is ‘corner’

O Level Geography for walkers

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.

The Pennine Way near Gargrave.

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.

A section of an OS map showing the area round Gargrave (from the BBC website).

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.

We’re walking over drumlins. The Pennines are over there in the distance.

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.

Here are drumlins. Drumlins as farmland.

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.

Our first view of the Leeds and Liverpool canal at East Marton.

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.

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.

The canal towpath. No longer a scene of industry and commerce.