Ancient chestnut trees: some portraits

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, National Trust, North Yorkshire

A walk high above Seven Bridges in Studley Royal. A walk I’ve never done before – a hidden one and not easy to spot. But see what treasures there are here.

Now that’s a characterful face!

For Monday Portraits …

… and Jo’s Monday Walk

… and Becky’s Walking Squares

Six Degrees of Separation: The Foodie Special

Books and reading

On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.

Kate: Six Degrees of Separation

This month, our chain starts off with a recipe book: Jamie Oliver‘s The Naked Chef. I’ve used this and other books by Jamie Oliver as jumping-off points when thinking what to cook. But what I really like is a recipe book that’s a good enough read to enjoy even when not planning meals.

So that’s why I’m starting my chain with Rachel Roddy. I used to follow her when she was a food blogger, a young Englishwoman living in Rome. Then she wrote a book. Then the Guardian newspaper took her up. These days she blogs no longer. But I still use and enjoy that first book, My Kitchen in Rome, in which she talks about Testaccio, the working area of Rome where she lives, far from the tourist hot-spots. She writes about the daily market, her discovery of Roman foods and recipes, and getting to know those who help her on her culinary journey. It’s a right good read. With added recipes.

Nigel Slater is another food writer featured in the Guardian and Observer. I own just about every book he’s written: but today, even if it’s definitely not OK to start doing the Christmas shopping and enter shops where Christmas musak is already being belted out, it is OK already to have baked the family Christmas cake, I’m featuring his The Christmas Chronicles. It intersperses vignettes from his life with observations from his garden, his travels, his kitchen, his Christmas preparations with recipes for Christmas and the winter season generally. Like Rachel’s book, it’s a jolly good read.

The book which probably started many of us out on our cooking explorations is Elizabeth David‘s A Book of Mediterranean Food, first published in 1959. It doesn’t have the same story book quality of Roddy and Slater’s books, but it’s more than a list of ingredients followed by the instructions. She sets the scene, either with her own words or those of other writers, to explain the joy of say a family lunch, a Greek feast, the snail. She explains which ingredients are best, how you might make do, and when you must not make do. I no longer use David’s books as much as I did, but she’s the foundation on which so many later cooks and their books were built.

We’ll stay in the Mediterranean. I’ve written before about my entirely unrequited love affair with Commissario Guido Brunetti in Donna Leon‘s books set in Venice. In any one of them you’ll find evocatively described meals, family meals prepared by his talented wife Paola, or those taken in one of the neighbourhood restaurants he’s come to know and be known at over the years. Let’s pick on Trace Elements. A dying woman has an important message to relay to Commissario Brunetti about her recently deceased husband. Inevitably, she dies before she’s able to convey clearly what she needed to say. Can Brunetti and his friend and colleague Claudia Griffoni pick the bones out of all this? Inevitably, they can. Inevitably too, there are twists and turns on the way, and an intriguing ending. A classically satisfying tale, with meal time interludes. 

Still in Italy – Sicily this time. Andrea Camilleri‘s Inspector Montalbano is reliably greedy. His housekeeper leaves him tempting suppers to enjoy when he returns from labouring over yet another murder. Local restaurateurs know him well, and keep their choicest dishes for him. All Camilleri’s books about him celebrate his love of food. It’s a long time since I’ve read one, so no review for this one: The Terracotta Dog.

We’ll finish with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on the Prairie books, which my younger daughter read incessantly for a period when she was about 10. It describes the life and adventures of a pioneer family in 19th century America, and the simple business of living occupied much of their days. In Little House in the Big Woods, for example, we’ll be with mother and daughters as they bake bread, churn butter, grow vegetables, dry fruits, make pickles. Father may turn up with a fowl for the pot. It was a simple, tough and hardworking life lived by an energetic and loving family with a deep uncomplicated faith. As my daughter prepared for her teenage years in a rather different society, these books were her frequent companions.

I don’t think I’ve ever written a book post about food before, and I doubt if I shall again. But it’s been fun. Back to the world of fiction next month, for Eowyn Ivey‘s The Snow Child. Join in on the first Saturday in December with a chain of your own?

Younger trees, old tree

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, National Trust, North Yorkshire

Today I’m taking you (again) to Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. We’ll walk up the High Ride, through glades of trees, in relatively young maturity …

… before descending to saunter through the parkland of Studley Royal. I’ve got a lot of ancient trees to show you next week, but today I’ll show you just one. A cherry tree, or what’s left of it. It’s about 400 years old, which is unfathomably old for a fruit tree. I must say it looks its age. But isn’t it remarkable?

A newer branch has somehow grown from that ancient trunk.

For Becky’s Walking Squares, and Bren’s Midweek Monochrome.

A Daily Walk’s an Adventure in Serendipity

North Yorkshire, Walking, Wildlife

Lockdown in 2020 taught us to value the tiny slivers of the unexpected in our necessarily limited ‘Daily Exercise’. Here’s yesterday’s unexpected: a cluster of tiny mushrooms in autumn-leaf red, cheerfully growing in the middle of the village cricket pitch. I don’t know what they are. Do you?

They’re multi-tasking mushrooms, because they’re here for Becky’s Walking Squares, as well as for Brian’s Last on the Card for October. Brian insists that we don’t edit our photos, but if I need a square photo, I’ll just have to make a subtle clip, top and bottom. I might get away with it.

It’s a worm’s life

Poetry, Wildlife

Recently, I’ve started to follow a few poetry blogs, and last week, David of The Skeptic’s Kaddish, accepted a challenge: to write a Quatern.

A what? This …

Not just any old quatern however. This one has to contain the word ‘quiet’. I thought I’d have a go too. It happens that this fits quite nicely into my self-imposed challenge, set as I looked yet again at my geological map of Great Britain. What’s it like for worms? Some of them contend with sandy soil, others heavy clay. Some soil is chalky, some loamy, and what must soil up in the old coalfields be like? Or that thin acid soil of the moorlands?

I’ve written a gaggle of poems about worms, each one living in a different kind of soil: I obviously don’t get out enough. Each poem uses a different verse form. So why not sum the whole worm thing up in a quatern?

Quiet - can you hear a sound? 
The barley rustles in the breeze.
A buzzard mewls, the crows confer,
The rabbits waken. Dusk descends.

Below the ground it’s different though -
Quiet - can you hear a sound?
There are no noises from the worms
who turn the earth, eat leaves and chaff.

Their world of darkness is not ours.
They churn the soil by night and day.
Quiet - can you hear a sound
as worms keep soil in rude good health?

There’s life above, there’s life below -
each dependent on the other.
Do not dismiss the lowly worm:
quiet - can you hear a sound?

We’re going on a Deer Walk …

England, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, National Trust, North Yorkshire, Wildlife

I went on a bit of a safari yesterday. Only down the road to Studley Royal’s deer park. Here are some snippets from the afternoon.

Autumn is the time of the rut, when stags compete to get the biggest and best harem of does, to secure their own blood like survives to the next generation. They wallow in the mud to leave their sexy scent behind, score trees and trash vegetation- they may even aim to toss leaves and grasses to their antlers to make them look even more imposing. We saw none of these behaviours. But we did hear them roaring and making that strange loud roaring belching noise that can be heard from quite a distance, and which warns other males that They Mean Business.

It doesn’t pay to get too near to deer at this – or indeed at any other – time of year, so all of my photos use zoom at its highest setting, which doesn’t make for the crispest of images. But you’ll know you’re in the deer park when you see trees looking like this. That horizontal finish you can see is the browse line – the highest that a red deer on its hind legs can reach to get a mouthful of leaves.

We saw these fellahs next. They’re young stags. They know they haven’t got a hope this year of attracting the females, so they just sit it out. Maybe a bit of play-fighting to get a bit of practice in, but really … it’s just not their party. That first one posed for Monday Portrait.

On we walked. Over the old bridge where females often give birth and shelter their young, to the crest of a hill where we have far-reaching views over to Ripon and the North York Moors beyond, And below, deer: fallow deer and sika deer, browsing and grazing together, with their stags keeping a proprietorial eye on them. We kept our distance and just enjoyed watching them.

Younger, older, does and stags …

Then onward, past the sweet chestnut trees they love so much at this time of year, for their tasty chestnuts, past a popular wallowing place (oops, forgot to take a photo).

So let’s finish our walk with a few shots of those views I mentioned.

In the shot above, that’s Ripon down below. The eagle-eyed will just be able to spot the cathedral in the centre of the shot, in the distance.

For Monday Portrait and Jo’s Monday Walk.

Postcards from Kiplin Hall

Heritage, North Yorkshire, Walking

Kiplin Hall. That was our destination on Sunday. We first went there a few years ago for joyful Shakespeare productions, such as Romeo and Juliet, by the irrepressible Handlebards. These days, we go if we need a quiet few hours at a country house whose grounds are extensive enough to offer a walk, a view and coffee and cake after. Here are my picture postcards – monochrome, as picture postcards always used to be – for Mid-Week Monochrome #110 – and to send to Jo, of Jo’s Monday Walk fame.

Kiplin Hall was built as a hunting lodge in the 1620s by one George Calvert, who was Secretary of State to King James VI. American readers may like to know that he was made Baron Baltimore, and was granted a charter to found a colony in America. This colony became – the State of Maryland.

Here’s our first sight of the hall:

Goodness, it was breezy that day. But walk we would, all the way round the lake -into the wind at first – one of the images give an idea of the scudding waves. We set off to get various views of the lake and hall. Here’s a clutch of postcards.

There are woodlands to explore: but the wind was picking up. Better to find shelter and explore the huge walled garden perhaps, where they grow all the fruit and vegetables used in their tearooms, and to make the jams, jellies and chutneys on sale. But wait! Suddenly it’s quite forbidding … Hallowe’en is on the way…

We’ll take our courage in both hands and enter anyway … there, that’s not so bad …

Although …. who’s that sitting on the bench over there?

We decided the tea room was a better option. Coffee, date and pecan cake anyone? No photo available. We ate every crumb before we gave the camera a thought.