It wasn’t our best walk. Chris and I set off to ‘do’ part of the Nidderdale Way on Thursday. Thursday was fine. Wednesday hadn’t been. Nor had Tuesday. There’s been an awful lot of rain lately.
Even as we started out, we realised that mud was to be our constant companion. And water, trickling along slippery, sticky oozy paths. We forded streams which according to the map simply didn’t exist. If we wanted to go onwards, we had to wade through running water, or totter across from unsteady stepping stone to unsteadier fallen branch.
It was tiring. Finding not-too-soggy resting places was challenging too. We had our sandwiches in a wood alongside what should have been a babbling brook, but was in fact a raging torrent.
And that’s when I noticed these stones – and trees. I’d expect boulders and branches like these to have a few tendrils of dry ash-grey lichen clinging to their surface. Instead they were thickly carpeted in vivid green. These specimens (and I don’t know what they are, despite a spot of Googling) were healthy, fecund and spreading very nicely thank you. It’s easy being green in such a damp, shaded and sheltered environment.
You’ll know that we waved ‘Goodbye’ to Emily this week. She’s arrived in South Korea, jet-lagged and exhausted, but not so much that she can’t send snippets of up-beat information about her new life as Emily-in-Busan.
While she was with us, Emily-in-Barcelona briefly became Emily-in-London, Emily-in-Bolton, and Emily-in-Yorkshire. And while she was with us, Boyfriend-from-Barcelona came to visit. What should we show someone from a vibrantly busy city, one of whose attractions is several kilometres of golden, sunny, sandy beaches? Well, on a frosty, gusty February day, with more than a threat of snow in the air, what could be better than a day beside the seaside?
Whitby seemed to fit the bill. Picturesque fishermen’s cottages huddled round the quay. A clutter of narrow cobbled shopping lanes – a tourist mecca to rival Las Ramblas. A sandy beach with donkey-rides, and the chance to find fossil remains etched into the cliffs or a morsel of jet washing about on the sands. A ruined Benedictine Abbey high above the town, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, and the focus of a twice-yearly Goth music festival. And fish and chips. Always fish and chips at an English seaside destination. Emily and Miquel explored the lot.
Whitby seen from St. Mary’s Church, next to the Abbey.
The old town.
The abbey and church seen from a ginnel.
The beach – again.
A close view of those cliffs.
One of the hundreds of gulls, thousands of gulls, reasy to steal your fish and chips with no warning.
And just before we left … a little bit of rainbow.
And Miquel, windblown and chilled to his fingertips, declared that it had been a fine day out, with the added bonus of being firmly inside the car when we journeyed home across the North York Moors as the snow began to fall.
It was Saint Swithin’s Day last Wednesday (15th July). I thought everyone knew that. But when I mentioned it to a group of younger people I was chatting with that morning, they looked at me with blank incomprehension.
St Swithin’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithin’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ’twill rain nae mare
Yes, apparently the weather we get on Saint Swithin’s day is the weather we can expect for the next forty days. Nobody really knows why this blameless 9th century Bishop of Winchester is responsible for his apparent hold over the climate in high summer. He seems to have been a nice chap. He held banquets to which he invited the poor, not the rich. He miraculously restored a basket of eggs that workmen has maliciously broken. He asked that on his death, he should be buried outside the cathedral, rather than inside, so that passers-by would tread on his grave, and so that it should be regularly watered from the skies. But in 971, he was moved to a new indoor shrine. And lo! The heavens opened. Perhaps this is where the legend originated.
But it has a measure of truth. Round about mid July, the jet stream settles into a pattern that holds good until round about the end of August.
Not this year. Saint Swithin’s day was pretty good: warm, fresh and sunny. Since then though, we’ve had cold days, hot days, or like this morning, woken up to driving rain. As this picture sort of shows.
Here are some pictures of a walk I took yesterday, a day on which Saint Swithin kept his promise made on Wednesday. It was a day of high summer, with the crops ripening fatly in the fields, the verges crammed with tall plants that often obscured the view, and a warm refreshing breeze in the air. That’s what Saint Swithin is supposed to deliver. He’s got some 36 days left to remember to keep his promise – every day.
The days are short The sun a spark Hung thin between The dark and dark. John Updike, “January,”A Child’s Calendar
A bright winter’s afternoon. Just time, before the evening cold sets in, to get out for a couple of hours of brisk walking: 5 miles or so along familiar paths. So familiar that this time, I focus on the sky: changeable, unpredictable.
Sometimes it’s moody, sometimes cheerful, sometimes simply rather grey and colourless, at other times dramatic, particularly towards sunset. Come and walk with me to watch the clouds.
The view from the kitchen window in May: the copper beech behind the lilac.
The pond in front of the copper beech in May.
I took these photos of the garden last spring and summer. Centre-stage is the magnificent copper beech, which has dominated the spot for years and years, providing homes and recreation for generations of garden birds and squirrels. It’s the very first thing we see as we glance out of the kitchen window, a statuesque barometer to the changing seasons: from bare winter branches, though to tightly furled budding springtime leaves, to the vibrant coppery russet leaves of high summer, and the burnished and tawny tones of those same leaves as they dry and fall in the Autumn .
I took this photo yesterday morning.
Our copper beech has gone.
On Friday night, the house became surrounded by an eerie moaning, and then a rushing sound that became ever louder as the wind, gathering speed, surged helter-skelter alongside the house. Thin wiry branches of wisteria and ivy scrabbled urgently at the window panes. The wind clattered down the chimney, coughing clods of oily soot from a long-extinguished fire into the hearth. It was a noisy night. So noisy that despite all the disturbance, none of us heard the moment when the mighty copper beech lost a battle and fell to the ground.
In the morning, the kitchen was unaccountably light for such a gloomy day. We could see the sky where once our copper beech had stood. I rushed down into the garden. The tree could have lunged towards the house, at best breaking several windows. It could have tumbled into the walled garden, taking with it the lovely brick wall up which clematis and old-fashioned roses scramble throughout the summer. It could have crashed into the pond, shattering the ornamental statue in its centre, and unsettling rather a lot of fish and toads. It did none of those. Instead, it fell gracefully to the back of the lawn, avoiding other trees, and several flower beds. It stacked itself up neatly, just waiting for the next stage in its long career. Once it’s seasoned, our landlords, and their son and family will have enough fuel to keep their wood-burning stoves burning brightly for several winters to come. Is that a fitting end to its long life? I don’t know. But it certainly means that it will go on being appreciated for many years.
‘Whether the weather be cold, or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.’
Indeed. Not cold. Not hot. Just wet, very wet indeed. Just look at those floods in England, Brittany and even the Var. We really shouldn’t complain when the worst we’ve had here is a soaking and muddy boots. Especially when, as on Tuesday, the downpours suddenly stop, the sun comes out and dries up all the rain, and we can get out and enjoy the views.
Christine took us out on a walk she enjoys, just up the road from her house. It’s great for these soggy times, because it involves walking on roads so narrow they can barely be dignified as ‘single-track’ – but they are tarmacadam, and therefore mud free – and on farmyard tracks used so often that they too are in decent enough condition. The sky was very blue: spring was in the air.
We passed Troye d’Ariège and the sheep farm we’d once visited, and then our path rose to allow us views of the Pyrenees before returning us once more to the valley floor, to la Bastide de Bousignac, and then back to her village, Saint Quentin.
Shadows lengthen as we near home.
The pollarded avenue on the road into la Bastide de Bousignac.
Reception committee from the birds as we arrive back in time for tea.
She’d made a cake. I’d made a cake. We put each to the test. Hers was yoghurt and bilberry. Mine was a pear, almond and chocolate loaf, recently posted by the deliciously greedy Teen Baker. Which was the better one? Malcolm and Max diplomatically cast a vote for each, and they weren’t wrong. We all tucked in, feeling we deserved a reward after an hour or two eating up the kilometres in the warming gentle sun.