Walking on the radio

Looking across Nidderdale from the Nidderdale Way.

I’ve been out for the day with Clare Balding again, for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Ramblings’ programme.  Last time, her producer Lucy was looking for a local rambler to lead the Ripon to Ripley section of the Jarrow March, and she ended up with me.  Last time, as the walk finished we fell to talking about local long distance walks, such as The Nidderdale Way.

And lo!  Now they have a six-programme series in the bag, waiting to be transmitted in May and June, on …… the Nidderdale Way, all 53 miles of it.  She invited me to be part of the last leg, together with Chris and John.

Let me tell you how it works.  We walk.  We chat.  Lucy walks beside us with her muff-on-a-stick, recording little and often.  Clare stops from time to time and paints evocative word pictures of the scenery, the sights, smells and sounds, the passers by.  She chats to us about everything from geology, to history, to walking, to long-lost industries, to living near Nidderdale.

Lucy records Clare describing the countryside.

We see our local landscape through fresh eyes.  Instead of its being the backdrop to our daily lives, it becomes vivid again, and we remember the wonder and the intense pleasure we experienced when it was new to us too.

Lucy pursues John for a soundbite at Brimham Rocks.

Clare loves people.  At Brimham Rocks, where we insisted she take a detour, she chatted to children with their families and took part in their photos.  Later, she hung over a drystone walls and talked to a farmer.  She patted dogs and enjoyed a few moments with their owners.

Clare even interviewed this pig. Well, she grunted for her, anyway.

Just as well she’s good at this sort of thing.  When we arrived at Pateley Bridge, she became a sort of stand-in for the Queen.  She was whisked from shop to shop, always leaving with a little local speciality -a pork pie, some home-made fudge.  With Lucy, she was given a newly-minted badge for completing the entire Nidderdale Way.  They got flowers, a book by a local historian, hugs and handshakes galore, and repaid all this attention with genuine interest and friendship.  Pateley Bridge by the way is in the thick of preparing for the Tour de Yorkshire 2017, which goes through the town – and past our front door – on Saturday 29th April.

Flowers, badges, and a round of applause for Lucy and Clare.

Please listen to this series when it comes out: it’s available as a podcast even if you don’t live in the UK.  The first programme will be on BBC Radio 4 on  18th May, and the programme featuring our team will be transmitted on Thursday 22nd June.  You’ll make immediate plans for a holiday in Nidderdale after you’ve listened.

The shadow of a drystone wall on a stretch of road near Blazefield.

Jarrow Ramblings, part 1

Clare, Lucy, Helen and Robert pose for a group photo. None of us asked for selfies-with-Clare
Clare, Lucy, Helen and Robert pose for a group photo. None of us asked for selfies-with-Clare

I came in the other day to find a message on the answer phone.  The BBC.  Clare Balding wanted to talk to me.  Well, not Clare actually.  She’s one of Britain’s favourite broadcasters and a bit busy I dare say.  Her research assistant Lucy finally got hold of me, and asked me if I’d be able to lead Clare and team on a walk from Ripon to Ripley for ‘Ramblings’, a popular programme on BBC R4 about walking.

Why me?  Because I’m Hon. Sec. of Ripon Ramblers, our local walking group, and our details are out there, if you care to look.  Yes, but why ME?  Lucy thought, after our chat, that I’d be OK on the radio.

OK then, why Ripon?  Because, it turns out that in October 1936 the Jarrow Marchers walked from Jarrow, through Ripon to Ripley and beyond, all 280 miles to London.  In October, ‘Ramblings’ plans to broadcast a programme to celebrate its 60th anniversary.

Perhaps you don’t know much about the Jarrow March.  Neither did I.  Not till I met Clare and Lucy, cultural historian Robert Colls, and Helen Antrobus, who’s a real Ellen Wilkinson enthusiast from the People’s Museum in Manchester.  The five us walked and talked our way along our eight mile route from Ripon to Ripley, and we barely noticed the rain which threatened constantly, but only delivered occasional short sharp showers.

This is a blog in two parts.  The first is our country walk, the second about the Jarrow March. But Friday wasn’t in two parts.  Every step we took, we remembered those marchers.  Robert and Helen told us the story.  Together, we drew comparisons between their march and our own hike.

I’d already dutifully planned and  walked a route.  The marchers went entirely on main roads, but if you’ve ever driven on the A61, you’ll know this is no longer a good idea.  Country paths were the way to go.

'Do we go this way?' Lucy records Clare getting directions.
‘Do we go this way?’ Lucy records Clare getting directions.

As  we set out together from Ripon, we got our instructions.  Lucy had her furry-muff-on-a-stick.  You’ll have seen those, as reporters rove round town centres talking to likely passers-by about some event that’s happened locally.    When recording, Clare’s always on the right of the person she’s talking to, and Lucy’s  there on the left with her recording gear.  It was slightly odd to walk alongside Clare as she formally introduced to the programme, telling listeners where she was, why she was there, and who we all were.  But soon we forgot about that muff.  We all chatted together easily, about that March, about walking, about each other.  Sometimes we had to repeat what we’d said, in a spontaneous ‘I’ve just thought of this’ kind of way, because some passing noise – RAF jets overhead for instance – had ruined the recording.

This was the scenery of the early part of the walk.
This was the scenery of the early part of the walk.

In many ways our walk was a scam.  The A61 passes through rolling hillsides, productive farmland, cows in the pasture, and pretty villages.  It’s all bucolic England at its best.  Our route presented a more hidden countryside.  Isolated farmhouses with dilapidated barn roofs,  ancient pastures, secret dark, damp woodlands, and tiny rather remote hamlets.

If it survives the cut, you'll hear Clare painting a word-portarit of this farmhouse during the programmme.
If it survives the cut, you’ll hear Clare painting a word-portrait of this farmhouse during the programmme.

At first though, we were on a road.  Badly maintained, rather narrow and with tall hedges it’s a bridle path these days, but it is still tarmacced, and perhaps the kind of highway those marchers would have recognised.  Later, on grass-trodden pathways, we passed Markenfield Hall, a 14th century moated country house.

We saw Markenfield Hall nearby as we walked. The Jarrow marchers didn't.
We saw Markenfield Hall nearby as we walked. The Jarrow marchers didn’t.

Those marchers didn’t.  We went through the village of Markington. Apparently the marchers were welcomed here too, though we couldn’t imagine why.  It’s more than a mile or so from the main road and history doesn’t record why exactly they made a detour.  We strode along the edges of barley fields, on woodland paths and across gorsey heath, all without meeting a soul.  Not what the marchers experienced.

This is farming country.
This is farming country.

And we talked.  That’s what I’ll remember most.  The sheer pleasure of walking and talking with a group of people thrust together for the day who quickly found themselves to be friends – just for a day.  Thanks you Clare, Lucy, Robert and Helen for a very special occasion.  It was a real privilege.

Clare strides away into the woods.
Clare strides away into the woods.

And the Jarrow March?  More about that in my next post.