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.
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.
We were in Newcastle last weekend, and we spent much of our time admiring the fine buildings of the city centre, and mooching about the Quayside. That Millennium Bridge! What a perfect match for its surroundings. It links the proud Victorian architecture of Newcastle with contemporary work housed in the Baltic Centre just on the Gateshead bank of the River Tyne. Its clean soaring parabola provides a perfect complement to the more long established city bridges.
‘The bridges over the Tyne between Newcastle and Gateshead are justifiably famous. They are not merely bridges, but icons for the North East. Over the years the single (Georgian) bridge existing in the early Victorian period has been joined by six others. First the High Level Bridge, giving the river its first railway crossing, then the Swing Bridge (replacing the Georgian bridge), and the first Redheugh Bridge, replaced twice, to be followed by the King Edward Bridge and the most famous of them all, the new Tyne Bridge. After many decades came the Queen Elizabeth Metro Bridge and finally, in 2001, the Gateshead Millennium Bridge opened to provide a stunning pedestrian and cycle link between the redeveloped quaysides on either side of the river. In the space of less than a mile seven bridges link Newcastle with Gateshead.’
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.
1592 was a terrible year for Korea. The Japanese invaded. They raged through the land destroying all they saw. They burnt ancient temples and state-of-the-art palaces as well as ordinary homes. Little was left.
Imagine an England in which every cultural icon was destroyed in WWII – Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, York Minster, Salisbury Cathedral, Chatsworth….. that’s the kind of morale-destroying disaster Korea faced in 1592.
Rather than accept these losses, Koreans rolled up their sleeves and built everything again, on the same site, and to the same design. Not just once, but in some cases several times, as a consequence of later invasions and revolts. Unlike our own historic buildings, these structures are made not from stone or brick, but from the wood from monumental long-lived trees with statuesque trunks and mighty branches. These palaces and places of worship are carved to traditional patterns and painted in an accepted range of colours with time-honoured designs and images. To our eyes, these palaces and temples look fairly similar. But once we overheard a group talking – ‘Look, anyone can see that’s twelfth century: not a bit like the 15th century style we were looking at earlier’.
Here’s Seoul’s Changdeokgung Palace. It was first built in 1408 for the Joseon royal dynasty and designed with an extensive natural garden in harmony with the topography of its surroundings. The Japanese burnt it down in 1592. It was rebuilt in 1608, burnt down during a political revolt in 1628, and again by the Chinese Manchu-Qing. Each time it was faithfully restored to its original design. The long Japanese occupation of Korea from 1911 to 1945 saw it heavily damaged yet again: once again it’s been restored, though only about 30% of the original buildings remain.
Against the odds, this palace and its grounds together form a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognised as a fine example of Far Eastern palace architecture and garden design in harmony with their natural setting. This is a fine and tranquil place.