It was the summer solstice this week. It was also, for three days only in the north of England, summer.
So let me whisk you back eighteen months, to a crisp and clear January day when I took myself off to walk for a couple of hours or so, looking upwards rather than at my surroundings. Skyscape succeeded skyscape. These changing skies perfectly illustrate this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: transient.
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 .
Our neighbours decorated their garden.
Police prepare the way.
The helicopter’s filming the action.
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 …..
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.
A hot air balloon was moored near the pub. We didn’t find out why, as it never became airborne.
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!’
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.
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.
I love allotments. I love those productive shanty towns that you often see at the side of housing estates, edging railway lines, or just beyond the local sewage works. I relish the make-do-and-mend of gardeners’ huts fashioned from lengths-of-wood-and-bits-and-bobs, set alongside neat little cabins bought from B&Q. I enjoy contrasting planting styles. Here – neat meticulous rows of cabbages, beets, carrots and potatoes: there – less organised plots with discarded tyres serving as planters for courgettes and beans set among a hotchpotch of gooseberry and redcurrant bushes. I love the camaraderie of the allotment community – the willingness to share hard-earned knowledge, tips, seeds, cuttings, and even muscle-power. So much more fun that a solitary afternoon battling with weeds.
In Harrogate, I had an allotment. I was the disorganised type, always running from behind, because work and family life got in the way. In France, our vegetable garden was too far away to get the attention it deserved. Here in North Stainley, there are no allotments …..
….. until now.
A few years ago, some villagers decided to initiate an allotment project. They worked hard, but progress was slow. Surrounded by countryside, even identifying a suitable site proved difficult.
I heard about the plans and asked to become involved just as the group reached a turning point. The local landowner has offered to rent out a plot large enough for ten full-sized allotments. An allotment is ten poles (or rods or perches) large. That’s the size of a doubles tennis court. We reckon most people will be happy with a half plot. Twenty allotments then.
So last Saturday we went to look at the land. It’s a large chunk at the end of a productive field, and it’s currently rather wet, like just about every other field in England. Promising though.
Then we went along to neighbouring Boroughbridge, where they’ve had an Allotments Society for the last 6 years or so. They were friendly and generous with their time. So much to think about though. Paying for water to be piped to the site. Thinking about car-parking and access to individual plots. Keeping pesky rabbits at bay. What to do with allotment tenants who grow only weeds. Establishing a fair rent and knowing what that rent has to pay for. We’ll be lucky to be up and running for next winter. There’ll certainly be no planting before 2017…
Here I am, still slaving away at Blogging 101, the University of Blogging. I’m beginning to get a bit on edge when I fire up the laptop in the morning, because I know Senior Lecturer and Course Director Michelle W will have sent out yet another assignment requiring us to tweak and tinker with our blogs, and generally bring them up to scratch. I even played hooky the day before yesterday, and the day before that. Doesn’t she know I have a LIFE to lead?
However, here I am again, back in the University Libary (aka our study). Today we have to write a post. And it’s to be inspired by a blog we found yesterday, a blog new to us, which we felt moved to comment on.
I discovered Katherine Price. She can write in a way that takes me to her world, her street, her little stretch of the Thames and help me to savour with her the local trees and the daily rhythms of the birds, whether a clamour of rooks, or a solitary kingfisher streaking past. The first post I read was a bit of a hymn to staying put and not moving on, a hymn to her home in suburbia.
And it got me thinking about where I live now, and where I used to live… and the time before that… and the time before that. It reminded me of a post I wrote almost 5 years ago, and I thought it was maybe time to revisit it and re-work it.
I spent my childhood in London: population 8.5 million.
Then I went to University in Manchester: population 2.5 million.
A few years later I was living in Leeds: population 751,000.
And then we moved to Harrogate: population 76,000.
Then we went to France and I started a blog. We lived in Laroque d’Olmes with about 2,500 other people.
And now we’ve come back to England, and we live in North Stainley. This is a village whose population is about 730.
Can you see a pattern here?
Everwhere I’ve lived has seemed special at the time. I used to relish all that a big city could offer, whether the museums, cinemas, or the huge choice of shops. As I moved onwards and downwards, I remembered instead and with some horror the crowds, the dirt, the general busy-ness of the place before. Good heavens, even Laroque, not big enough to support a range of shops, much less a cinema or a swimming pool seems rather exotic compared with the facilities in North Stainley (a village hall, a church, and a pub, to be re-opened in early spring). We’ve traded cinemas for a film on Saturdays once every 6 weeks in the village hall, and shops for the chance to buy eggs from the farm not far from here. And this blog is where I often report on what we discover as we explore our local countryside .
I’ll leave you with a quiz: can you identify each of the places I’ve lived in from these images?
I haven’t been on a ‘proper’ walk yet this year. First it was the ‘flu, and its aftermath. Then it was rain or snow on the days when I might have been free to get out for a blow in the breezy cold. And finally it’s the mud. Mud’s the one that gets me every time, despite having been given a wonderfully efficient pair of walking gaiters among my Christmas presents. I find it frustrating, pulling my boots from an oozing, slippery, sticky slick of mud only as a preparation for sliding into the next soupy puddle . It makes for slow walking on days when briskly striding out is what’s needed to combat the cold.
So today, keen to get out for at least an hour or so, and equally keen to avoid That Mud, I ended up on a star-shaped walk. I turned back down every path I started, and ended up doing a zig-zag circuit beyond the edges of the village.
I started off by looking for the young kestrel I’ve come across on a couple of days this week. I had first spotted him in a field near our house, dismembering and eating some small creature just 6 feet away from where I stood staring at him. He flapped off crossly to a nearby wall when he considered I’d got too close, and it was on this wall I saw him the next day too. Today he wasn’t there. I think there were too many dogs out walking their owners.
Then I went down into Beatswell Woods. I hoped for buds on the trees, or a few early flowers, but it was wet and wintry still. Then I walked to the fields, thinking I’d choose one of the paths there to take me in a big sweep round the edge of the village. No go. All the paths were muddy, and the horse I stopped to chat to had pretty filthy socks too. Though there was this rowan, with golden honey coloured berries instead of the more usual red.
At the village ponds, the drakes and ducks ran fussily up to greet me, hoping for crusts. When they saw I had nothing, the drakes returned, like a bunch of fourth formers, to teasing and irritating the only couple of females in the group.
But it was near the ponds that I had my second sighting of daffodils this year, so very early. Surely they should wait until the crocuses have put themselves about? But the crocuses are only just poking the tips of their leaves above the soil, and don’t plan on coming out yet.
Returning to the woods, I saw the snowdrops. Isolated patches a couple of weeks ago, now they’re in magnificent great white drifts climbing the hillsides, nestling under trees, even risking everything by straggling across the (muddy) paths.
A bit of a curate’s egg of a walk then. A few frustrations, quite a few pleasures, but a healthy glow on my cheeks, and, just before I came into the house, another treat. All these aconites, pushing up their bright yellow faces through the soil, bringing with them hopes of Spring.