Returning to my roots

My life has come full circle.  Many of my earliest memories come from Sandhutton, current population 260, where my mother was head teacher of a two-teacher school which educated all the village children between five and fifteen years old.  These days I visit the village weekly – it’s less than ten miles away.  The school no longer exists, but my Spanish teacher lives there.

There we are. Sandhutton School, c.1951, just before I started there.

When I was five, my life changed a bit.  We went to live in London (current population 8.13 million).

A trip down the Thames: nearly at Westminster now.

I was a student in Manchester (538,000).  Then I went on to live in Portsmouth, in Wakefield, in Sheffield, in Leeds: all cities numbering their citizens in the tens,or even hundreds of thousands.  I loved city life.  I relished the opportunities only a city could usually offer, and the diverse populations living in them.

One of my favourite places in Manchester: The John Rylands Library. Who wouldn’t feel a real scholar in these surroundings?

When we moved to Harrogate, some twenty years ago, I announced we were moving to a small town.  A mere 75,000 people lived there.

Harrogate: one of its many open spaces: the Valley Gardens.

But that was before we went to France.  Laroque d’Olmes has a population of some 2,000 people, and its county town, Foix, has only 10,000. We came to appreciate small town life: its neighbourliness and our sense of belonging – the space to appreciate the countryside and mountains beyond.

The street near the church in Laroque, with the Pyrenees in the distance.

When we came back to England, that small town of Harrogate suddenly seemed horribly large, traffic-infested and in every way untenable, despite its green spaces and lively community life.  So here we are in North Stainley, population 730.

In fact we’re not even in the village, but in a little enclave just outside, with that walled garden I showed you last week.  Population 8.  It’s perfect.

One of North Stainley’s three village ponds.

 

Lens Artists Photo Challenge #64: Countryside or small towns.

A meadow: a celebration of summer days

The early 1950s were in many ways the fag-end of the war.  I lived in Sandhutton, a little village outside Thirsk, where my mother was head of a two-teacher school.  I was with the under eights, while she taught the nine to fifteen year olds. Few pupils aimed to pass for Grammar when life as a farm labourer awaited.  The school photo confirms my memory. Everything was beige and grey.

Sandhutton School, c.1952, just before I started there as a pupil. My mother is the teacher on the left, and my teacher, Miss Burnett, is on the right.

Sweets were almost unknown, and we were happy to supplement our adequate-but-dull diets by marauding the hedgerows for blackberries and rosehips, or by getting up at four in the morning to go mushrooming on the now-abandoned airfield.

Perhaps that dinginess is why my memory of that meadow is so vivid.  Not far from our house, it was where we’d go sometimes when, during the long school summer break, my mother put together a picnic .  I enjoyed running wild in the fields, while she managed a rare daytime doze in the sunshine. What I remember is flinging myself down in the grasses which then rasped and tickled my bare legs.  I was searching, among the vetch, the buttercups and the poppies for daisies or other small flowers that I could make into a daisy chain. I wasn’t very good at it. The stems would split and mash, and my chain would tumble apart before it had even reached bracelet proportions.

I remember the fuzzing and the droning of the bees and flying things that murmured and hummed about my head; the brief sting of one of the single-minded ants out to seize any of our stray crumbs.  I think back to the vivid colours of the meadow flowers – yellow buttercups and vetch, blue cornflowers, white meadowsweet blushing faintly pink or yellow, and the delicate papery petals of scarlet poppies.  It smelt – well,  green – and wafting from the next field was the sappy smell of recently cut hay. In the early afternoon there were no birds singing. Instead, the whirring of insect wings, the rumble of a distant tractor.

Directly above, as I lay in the grass, were no threatening clouds at all – of course there weren’t – just puffs of white cumulus, or ethereal streaks of cirrus in the perfectly blue sky.  

Distance lends enchantment to the view.  But it really was like that.

This miscellany of photos doesn’t come from Sandhutton at all, but from bits of North Yorkshire, from Shopshire, from Franconia …. anywhere that has a meadow.  Click on any image to see it full size.