Snapshot Saturday: from Pyrenees to Pennines via books, a cup of coffee,a skein of geese …. and an elephant

Ariège, Aude, Gardens, North Yorkshire, Pyrénées, Walking, WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge, Yorkshire Dales

The WordPress photo challenge this week is ‘Beloved’.

I don’t think the humans in my life whom I love would be happy for me to plaster their images all over the blogosphere.  I have no pets, beloved or otherwise.  So I’ll have to look a little further.

Here’s a little miscellany of images, beloved images:

  • The Yorkshire Dales, whose rolling hills, bisected by ancient drystone  walls I missed so much during our years in France.
  • The Pyrenees, from their richly flowered springtime meadows through to winter, when their rocky slopes are covered in deep snow, and which I now miss every single day.  I’ll miss the shared picnics on our walks together, when our French friends pooled resources, and we ate everybody’s offerings of home-cured sausage, local cheeses, bread, home-baked cakes together with wine and somebody’s grandfather’s very special eau de vie.
  • Springtime daffodils.  Every year I go into deep mourning when they wither, die and finally become untidy heaps of dying leaves.  I’m happier now as they thrust their sheathed stems through the hard soil, promising to flower soon- but not quite yet.
  • There are books: I need a pile beside my bed to get me through the night.
  • A single, perfect cup of coffee from Bean and Bud in Harrogate.
  • Skeins of geese flying overhead mark the seasons here, and I love their haunting, raucous cries.
  • And so on….

I’ll end though with this.  I wasn’t beloved of this elephant in Kumbakonam,  Tamil Nadu, who was only doing his job when I visited him ten years ago on my Indian Adventure.  But I felt beloved and very special when he raised his trunk and brought it down upon my shoulder – his very distinctive way of blessing me.

Elephant in the temple of Adi Kumbeswarar, Kumbakonam, ready to give me his blessing.

Click on any image to see a slideshow of the photos, full-size.

Spring is springing

Gardens, North Yorkshire

ns4I was out for a convalescent constitutional this afternoon: William had passed A Bug onto me last week, and I’ve been a little delicate.  I hadn’t taken my camera with me, only my phone, so these images aren’t the finest.  But I don’t care.  They’re evidence that spring is on the way.  I wish you could hear, as I could, the birds singing as they do only when they too know that short winter days have passed. Yes, spring is springing.

‘…. a host of golden daffodils’*

England, Ripon, Yorkshire

When I realised that we were likely to move from France to England in the Spring, I immediately became anxious – no – panic-stricken, at the thought that this year we might be too late to enjoy one of the glories of English life: daffodils.  Of course, there are daffodils in France, and spectacularly so in hidden woodlands such as the one we visited last April.

But whilst the French have daffodils, they don’t do daffodils as we do here.  All over England, they’re in pots in urban courtyards, crowded into suburban gardens, rambling over country gardens.  They form part of the roadside verges on tiny D roads, march along urban by-passes and ring roads, line dual carriageways, and romp across traffic roundabouts.  Householders buy them two and three bunches at a time and place jugs and vases full of them all over their homes.

I shouldn’t have worried.  Since the moment we arrived, they’ve been at their spectacular best.  It’s impossible to feel anything but joyful when passing by whole armies of those bright yellow flowers nodding cheerfully in the breeze.

And goodness knows, we’ve needed distracting from the tasks in hand.  Since we arrived ten days ago, we’ve found a home to rent,  started the daunting process of re-registering our car in the UK (you can’t buy a tax-disc without having an English MOT, you can’t get an English MOT without an English number plate, you can’t get an English number plate until….. you get the picture), organised moving our goods, registered ourselves hither and yon, started the process of catching up with British friends, tried to maintain contact with French friends…..

…and finally, of course, I’ve changed the title of the blog.  The header, showing our transition from the Pyrenees to the Pennines, was master-minded by our friend, the talented amateur photographer Richard Bown.  He already has a family history blog, but I really hope he’ll begin a photography blog soon and share some of his fantastic images with you.  If he does, I’ll let you know.  Because you will want to subscribe.

*William Wordsworth: ‘The Daffodils’

June is the new May: a springtime nosegay

Ariège, Aude

We’ve all had it.  Months and months of horrible weather.  Especially rain.  Even now, when things are slowly picking up here, we expect to have all kinds of weather within a single day.  Beautifully hot skin-warming sun may be followed by lashing winds, summer showers, or deluging  heavy downpours.  Glance up at the sky, and it will be in turn a cloudless azure, or bright blue patched with blowsy puffs of white cumulus.  Or it may be grey, or even black.  If the clouds aren’t coursing lazily across the heavens, they may be tearing across the sky so swiftly that they’ll have disappeared from view if you glance away only for a few moments.  The rivers are still full to overflowing.

June sky from Roquefixade

June sky from Roquefixade

Farmers are in a mess.  They’ve only just begun to cut their hay, when normally they’d be onto their second harvest.  Seeds have failed to germinate in the cold and wet.  Often they haven’t been planted at all in the sodden and waterlogged fields.  Preparations to take cattle and sheep up into the highland summer pastures have had to be postponed, with snow still on the ground at higher levels.

At last though, we walkers are once more getting out and about.  We choose our routes with care, because thick sticky mud has made some of our favourite walks unuseable.  Where we can walk though, spring has at last sprung. Familiar paths have become narrow passages edged by massed armies of knee-high grasses, shocking in their vibrant greenness.   And our favourite spring flowers that by now should be sun-shrivelled and long past their best romp across meadows and pastureland, and spread across their favourite sun-warmed stones.  Here are a few that we’ve enjoyed finding  in the last days and weeks.

UPDATE:  After she’d read this post, a kind friend, AnnA, wrote to a botanist friend of hers enlisting help in identifying the flowers I’ve shown.  Here’s some of what she said. Reading from the top, left to right:

2. Globulaire rampante – Globularia repens (Creeping Globularia)

3. Hélianthème – Helianthemum Alpestre (Alpine rock rose)

5.  Perhaps from the Linacée family.  She needs a photo of the leaves.  Watch this space

6.  Céphalanthère à longues feuilles – Cephalanthera longifolia (Sword-leaved Helleborine)

8. Oeillet – Dianthus – (Dianthus).  She needs more info. to help her be more precise.

She’s asked to see more of the leaves, and to be told as well where the flowers were found and at what altitude.  There’s such a lot to it.  I had no idea and am so grateful for all this help.

Les demoiselles de Caraybat, daffodils and gentians

Ariège, Walking

Once upon a time long ago in Caraybat, when times were hard, the men of this small village had to look far afield for work.  And they went to Spain, for the hay-making season.  Hawkers came to the village, and peddlers.  They found a village with no men.  They took advantage.  So did the women.

When the hay-making season was over, the men returned, and the women spied them returning over the distant mountains.  Suddenly ashamed and frightened, they fled to the hills.  God, in vengeful and Old Testament mood, was displeased.  As the women reached the summit, he turned each one of them to stone.  And there they are to this day, les demoiselles de Caraybat, a petrified reminder of a summer of sin.

A few of those demoiselles hide themselves behind the woodland trees

A few of those demoiselles hide themselves behind the woodland trees

We remembered this legend yesterday when I took our Laroquais walking friends to Caraybat and the dolomies to discover those daffodils I’d been shown on Thursday.  I was quite chuffed that not a single one of them had previously known this special spot, and we had a pleasant hour up on the rocks, picnicking and enjoying the last days of the daffodil season.

We followed the walk I’d learnt about on Thursday, and then we finished our day by going to the plateau above Roquefixade to see the gentians there.

Gentians above Roquefixade

Gentians above Roquefixade

Sadly, it was by then rather cold and windy, and most of the gentians had sensibly folded their indigo skirts about their faces and tucked themselves away to wait for a sunny day.  We’ll wait too.  And when the sun comes out properly, we’ll be back.

Daffodil time

England, Gardening

On the road from Ripon to Harrogate

I had a very pressing reason for wanting to come back to England for a few weeks.  I couldn’t wait for April, much less May.  The March heat wave made me worry that already I might be too late: I needed to see daffodils.

Of course the French have daffodils in their gardens too. Well, some people do.  You can even find them, delicate and lemon-hued up in the woods.  But nothing to compare with our English exuberance.

Here, regiments of daffodils march down the edges of inner-city dual carriageways.  Swathes of them along the verges announce the entrance to almost every town.  Shopping centres have great tubs full.  Gardens, whether tiny gravelled spaces in front of town terraces, cottage style plots, or more extensive lawned affairs, all boast generous clumps of brilliant yellow trumpets swaying in the breeze.

From the top of the bus passing through Ripley

Nothing else makes me so aware that winter’s on the way out.  Not the blossom slowly unfurling on the trees, nor the spears of green thrusting through the soil and moss on every country walk, and in every garden.  Of course I love these too.  But for me, nothing but those bright assertive confident flowers can state quite so definitely – even defiantly – ‘Spring is here!’

The Old College, Ripon

The Broccoli Blog

Food & Cooking

There are two things I especially love about early spring.  Daffodils.  Purple sprouting broccoli.  The French don’t really do either.

Well, that’s not fair.  In the woods near here, in a few weeks, there’ll be swathes of delicate, rather pale and lovely daffodils blooming.  At weekends, people will go and pick enormous basketsful of them.  They’ll take them home and stick the flowers in vases, where they’ll last only a day or two before wilting in the indoor heat.  But the civic displays which for me are one of the glories of the UK simply hardly exist here.  No dual carriageways are planted with unreasonable quantities of brilliant yellow daffs announcing to every passing motorist ‘Spring is here!’  There are no newspaper headlines ‘Daffodils on the Stray’, featuring a couple of four year olds gambolling among the flowers.  No florists or supermarkets here have buckets of blooms ‘3 bunches for £1’.  I probably won’t buy any here if I can find them, as they’ll already be open and the joy of watching them unfurl won’t be an option.

Purple sprouting broccoli’s even more unknown.  I haven’t even found an exact translation.  Like other English here, if I want to eat it, I have to grow it myself, with seed brought over from England. For 9 months of the year, the large ungainly plants occupy more than their fair share of the vegetable plot, and really, half the time I wonder whether it’s worth it.  Well,  it is.  Today, I picked the very first handful of tightly closed purple heads, enclosed in a collar of dark frilly leaves.  And now I know that there’ll be enough and to spare for several weeks to come.

Such a special vegetable deserves to be more than a bit part, one of two veg. playing second fiddle to a plate of meat. This is the meal we cooked this evening, thanks to Nigel Slater and his newest book ‘Tender’ (Read it, even if you don’t cook much.  It’s as good as a bedtime story, though it WILL make you greedily hungry)

Pasta with Sprouting Broccoli & Cream

250g. sprouting broccoli

250 g. orechiette or fusilli

30g. butter

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

4 chopped anchovy fillets

250 g. crème fraîche

170 g. crumbled gorgonzola (well, we used Roquefort – you would round here)

Put 2 pans of boiling salted water on the stove.  Drop the pasta into one, and the trimmed broccoli into the other.  As soon as the broccoli’s tender – 3 or 4 minutes- drain it, wipe the pan, and return it to the heat with the butter, garlic and anchovies.  Let them cook slowly for a minute or two before adding the crème fraîche and cheese.  Bring to the boil and turn down the heat.  Add the broccoli, season with black pepper, and then add the drained pasta.

Cheap, quick, delicious, and a real celebration of early spring