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  (geograph.org.uk)

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 (Leodis.net)
Briggate Leeds in the early 1900s (Leodis.net)

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.

The White Horse at Kilburn

Here in England, we’ve got a bit of a thing about images of a white horse cut into the hillside.  There are well over 20 of them, from the South Downs to Wiltshire, via Leicestershire and even as far north as Tyneside.  We like to think many of them are pretty ancient, like this one, the Uffington White Horse, first carved into the hillside chalk of Oxfordshire: probably in the Iron Age, possibly as long ago as 800 BC.  But they’re not.  Most of them date from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Uffington White Horse (Wikimedia Commons)
Uffington White Horse (Wikimedia Commons)

We’ve got our own white horse here in North Yorkshire, near Kilburn.  It’s really rather modern.  Back in 1857, a Kilburn-born man, Thomas Taylor, who’d become a provision merchant down in London thought that his home village should have its very own version of the Uffington White Horse.  He got John Hodgson, who was the local schoolmaster, together with the schoolchildren and a band of volunteers to cut a horse shape from the turf to reveal the sandstone beneath.  Six tons of lime were used to whiten the image, which can be seen from many vantage points in North Yorkshire, and on a clear day, from as far away as Leeds, 45 miles away, and even North Lincolnshire.

Kilburn White Horse (Wikimedia Commons)
Kilburn White Horse (Wikimedia Commons)

And that’s where we went yesterday for an energetic nine mile walk.  Our path took us along scenic Beacon Banks.  Once it had a beacon at its summit to alert the country when danger threatened.  It warned of the approach of the Spanish Armada in 1588.  It was a watching point for the Home Guard during World War II.  Now it’s simply a lovely place from which to survey the countryside. Our route took us past three of the prettiest villages in this part of the world – Coxwold, Husthwaite and Kilburn – through woodland, through farmland with views across to the Vale of York, the Hambleton Hills and North York Moors, passing ancient Norman churches we couldn’t call into because it was Sunday.   And the White Horse – often there as a backdrop to the scenery. Here are some picture postcards of our day.

Jarrow Ramblings: part 2

Old Grange Road, Jarrow, c. 19502(?) (geordstoree.com)
Old Grange Road, Jarrow, c. 19502(?) (geordstoree.com)

What image comes into your head when you think of Jarrow?  If, like me, you’ve only really heard of it  in the context of the Jarrow March, it may be a depressing one.  Grimy desolate streets, a down-trodden and abandoned population, with little hope of change for the better maybe.

Well, Robert Colls, who walked with us on our Jarrow March Mark 2 for ‘Ramblings’ won’t entertain such images  He’s irritated by those commentators, often from the south, who see nothing but the negative.  He could do without the likes of George Orwell painting such depressing, hopeless images about the Industrial North.  He was raised in nearby South Shields.  His memories of the town are of a place that was gritty, maybe dingy, but where there was a rich cultural life, and a warm and supportive community where it was good to grow up.

Jarrow, in the North East of England, had been dependant on shipbuilding since the 1850s, but demand for ships fell throughout the 1920s and became worse during the 1930s.  The main shipyard, Palmers, once the source of Jarrow’s prosperity, closed in 1934 after years of steady decline .  By 1936, there was 70% unemployment in the town.

HMS Duchess, the last ship to be launched from Palmer's shipyard, July 1932 (Imperial War Museum)
HMS Duchess, the last ship to be launched from Palmer’s shipyard, July 1932 (Imperial War Museum)

Town councillors planned a march to London to present a petition to Parliament highlighting the desperate conditions in Jarrow and towns like it.  They secured cross-party support.  They involved local churches and the business community.  They fund-raised.  Socialist medical students volunteered to work as medical attendants along the route.  Nobody in town wanted yet another communist-inspired ‘hunger march’.  No, Jarrow people planned a respectable event, one that would win widespread support.

It rained on and off the day we walked last week.  I suggested to Robert that those marchers, with shabby, worn-out clothes would have had a thin time of it.  I was wrong.  The organisers insisted the men who were chosen to march – and yes, they were chosen – should wear their ‘Sunday best’,  look smart and conduct themselves well.  They had medicals, and only the 200 fittest men were chosen to march, accompanied by a second-hand bus carrying cooking equipment and ground sheets.  A successful fund-raising campaign ensured the march was well-prepared and equipped, and that the men had a little pocket-money.

They started marching at 8.30 each morning of their 25-day journey (with Sundays as rest days). Many marched army style – 50 minutes to the hour with 10 minutes’ rest. A mouth organ band was a great success, ‘keeping the men swinging along all the time’, according to a report in the Shields Gazette, and there was singing – led sometimes by Ellen Wilkinson.  Local papers apart, the only national paper to give the Jarrow Crusade  wide coverage was The Manchester Guardian.  Copy was supplied by the journalist Peter Richie-Calder, who walked much of the way with them.

Photograph of J McCauley, a Jarrow marcher, singing to his co-marchers on their walk to London, taken in October 1936 by Edward G Malindine for the Daily Herald. The caption read ''Croonin' J McCauley, who helps to keep his co-marchers' spirits high, has been out of work for 5 years' (National Media Museum)
Photograph of J McCauley, a Jarrow marcher, singing to his co-marchers on their walk to London, taken in October 1936 by Edward G Malindine for the Daily Herald. The caption read ”Croonin’ J McCauley, who helps to keep his co-marchers’ spirits high, has been out of work for 5 years’
(National Media Museum)
by Elliott & Fry, half-plate negative, 4 June 1940
Ellen Wilkinson, by Elliott & Fry, 4 June 1940 (Wikimedia Commons)

Ellen Wilkinson was one of only four women MPs at the time, and she represented Jarrow. Though from a poor background, she was well-educated – she won a scholarship to Manchester University – and built up an impressive career both in the unions and in parliament.  By the age of 24 she was already National Women’s Organiser for the Cooperative Employees union, and only nine years later, an MP – one of only four women in parliament.  She was a terrific orator, she was passionate, and she believed in the Jarrow marchers and their cause.  She walked with them whenever she could, distinctive with her fiery red hair. Towards the end of the march, Ellen broke away in order to address the Labour party conference and, with tears streaming down her face, exhorted delegates to ‘…tell the government our people shall not starve!’ She failed, however, to win special attention for her cause.

Ellen Wilkinson addresses the Jarrow Marchers (History Today)
Ellen Wilkinson addresses the Jarrow Marchers (History Today)

The lack of political affiliation helped those marchers.  They were fed and watered and given places to sleep all along their route.  Harrogate, for instance, just south of Ripley, then as now is a true blue and prosperous sort of place.  But the civic authorities greeted them warmly, the Rotary Club fed them, and they were given sleeping quarters by the Territorial Army.

Jarrow March (BBC)
Jarrow March (BBC)

I depend on good boots when I’m walking and wondered about how the marchers were shod.  They had decent shoes, Robert said.  And what’s more, when they arrived in Leicester, the Cooperative Society’s bootmakers stayed up all night to repair all their by now thin-soled shoes, and did so without pay.  The story of the Jarrow march is peppered with such examples of support and kindness.

Ellen Wilkinson marches with the men (Fox Photos)
Ellen Wilkinson marches with the men (Fox Photos)

They arrived in London.  They presented their petition in Parliament, the petition that had 11,00 signatures.  It prompted only the briefest and most complacent of discussions.  And that was that.  The disillusioned marchers returned to Jarrow by train, their fares paid by benefactors.

Astonishingly, many men finished the march healthier than when they had started.  Boosted by regular exercise – and the decent food and accommodation they had received along the route – many put on weight.  This was just as well.  For the duration of the march, their unemployment benefit had been suspended as they were ‘unavailable for work’.

A few modest attempts to bring work to the town resulted in jobs for a few hundred people, but only with the start of World War II did work once more surge back into the shipyards and factories of Jarrow.  For the duration only.

Ellen Wilkinson continue to be a thorn in the side of the Labour party, though she worked tirelessly at home and abroad against fascism.  Perhaps her greatest achievement was in 1945, when as Minister for Education in the Labour Government, she was instrumental in having the school-leaving age raised to 15.  No wonder Helen is an enthusiast for this most dynamic, charismatic and troublesome woman.

So there we are.  One – no two – history lessons, all parcelled up in an agreeable package of a long country walk, following, if not exactly by the same route, in the footsteps of those Jarrow Marchers.

Clare Balding, Lucy Lunt, Helen Antrobus and Robert Coll in the steps of the jarrow Marchers.
Clare Balding, Lucy Lunt, Helen Antrobus and Robert Colls in the steps of the Jarrow Marchers.