Snapshot Saturday: It’s easy being green … when it’s this wet

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.

A normally quiet woodland stream.

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.

This is my response to this week’s WordPress photo challenge: It IS easy being green!

The green pastures of Nidderdale.

What a difference six months make…..

Look.  Here was the scene in the field near our house, in January this year.  Fields and roads flooded, impassable pathways, rocks and earth tumbling into the River Ure.

Near Old Sleningford, January 2016.
Near Old Sleningford, January 2016.

This was the same field yesterday.  Barley, barley everywhere, all fattening up nicely for the harvest.  Nearby, fields of poppies.  Really hopeful, cheery sights on a sunny and blustery day.

The same field, July 2016
The same field, July 2016

Will all our present political crises end so well?  I wish I could feel more optimistic.

PoppyFieldsJuly2016 013

A day beside the seaside

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: the view anyone who's been there would recognise.
Whitby: the view anyone who’s been there would recognise.

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.

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.

Best to be back in the car when the weather's like this.
Best to be back in the car when the weather’s like this.

In which Saint Swithin fails to keep his promise.

Swithun, Benedictional of St. Æthelwold, Winchester, 10th century, British Library (Wikimedia Commons)
Swithin, Benedictional of St. Æthelwold, Winchester, 10th century, British Library (Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Looking out of the window at breakfast time today.
Looking out of the window at breakfast time today.

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.

Only sky

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 death of a copper beech

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.

The ruined copper beech with our house just behind.
The ruined copper beech with our house just behind.

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.

An afternoon without rain

As in England, so in France……

‘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.

As we started climbing, the mountains came into view
As we started climbing, the mountains came into view

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.

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.

Journey's end.
Journey’s end.

Marmalade factory

View from our bedroom window, today and every day this week
View from our bedroom window, today and every day this week

This is getting beyond a joke.  For a week now, with the exception of last Tuesday, it’s rained.  Sometimes it’s just drizzled.  Sometimes it’s rained good and proper.  Sometimes it’s poured.  Walks are cancelled, and the market’s a dismal affair with few stallholders and even fewer customers.

But I had to go yesterday, whatever the weather.  I’d been promised Seville oranges.  ‘Will you have any more next week?’ I asked anxiously.  ‘Oh yes, I’m bound to.’  ‘For we English types, I guess?’  ‘No.  Not at all.  I adore Sevilles.  I make tons of marmalade.  So do my neighbours.’

Well, that did surprise me.  Listen to this recipe from a French neighbour, a lovely woman whom I know to be a keen cook. (Sorry, Sharon, you’ve heard this tale.  Bear with me).

‘Take ordinary oranges.  Squeeze the juice, and then take the peel and boil it in plenty of water.  Throw away the water.  Repeat three times until you’ve got rid of the bitterness.  Chop the peel finely…..’  By then she’d lost me.  I didn’t really listen to the end of the recipe.  I felt that on the subject of good gutsy marmalade, this woman and I had nothing to say to one another.

Seville oranges waiting for the chop.
Seville oranges waiting for the chop.

Anyway, tired of downsizing for the time being, we’ve applied ourselves to the business of our marmalade factory.  We have our own needs to satisfy, and those of all our French friends, who profess themselves rather keen on our bright and bitter conserve.  This year, I’ve chosen Dan Leppard’s recipe.  I’ve got a variation on the go, as well as one version where I follow him to the letter.  Instead of using the whole peel in the finished product, I’m using only the thinly peeled zesty part, though of course all the pith will be boiled up with the pips before being discarded.

Chopped Seville oranges waiting for the pot.
Chopped Seville oranges waiting for the pot.

We’ve been scrubbing, squeezing and chopping half the morning, and now the two varieties are sitting waiting for tomorrow , when we can boil each of them to setting point, get out a crusty loaf, butter, and apply ourselves to the serious business of a taste-test.

The Windy Hills

About a year ago, someone suggested ‘Les Collines du Vent’ – the Windy Hills – for one of the Sunday walks with our Laroque walking group.  The appointed day came, and it rained – a lot. We re-scheduled.  The day came again, and it rained – a lot.  We re-scheduled.  The day came yet again, and it was foggy, a real pea-souper: the kind of fog that almost any Frenchman confidently assures us blankets London every day of the year (any Frenchman who’s read Charles Dickens that is).

And so it went on for five or six attempts.  Today though, it didn’t rain.  Nor was it foggy.  In fact it was sunny until we left the Ariège and approached our destination in the hilly countryside in the Aude outside Castelnaudary.  Then it became rather grey, though not menacing enough to stop us in our tracks.  What DID nearly stop us in our tracks was the wind.  The countryside here is rolling and open.  The idea of any walk in the area is to get up there and stride from hilltop to hilltop.  But that wind!  It gusted and blew.  It snatched us off-balance.  It whistled through our trousers and tried to grab our hats.  And it was only doing what it apparently does almost every day of the year.  No wonder our path led us past a windmill during the afternoon.

The weather brightened, and we had wonderful all-round panoramas.  Sadly we couldn’t quite see the Pyrenees: distant mists saw them off.  And in the early afternoon, we had evidence that we really were the tough guys we thought we were, battling through that wind.  We were overtaken by a battalion of the French Foreign Legion in training.  Though admittedly they were all additionally burdened by enormous rucksacks that must have weighed 40 kilos.  And guns.  If you’ve read  ‘Beau Geste’ you will remember that this band of soldiers is recruited from foreign nationals who wish to serve in the French army (don’t ask….).  Coming from different countries, different cultures, the men are put through very challenging training designed to build their esprit de corps.  We noted that Marcel, our leader for the day was putting us through a similar programme.  Though at the end, he offered us a large slice of the Galette des Rois which he himself had made.  We’d already had our usual lunch time bonanza of wine-and-cake-sharing.  But nobody refused this last additional treat.  We felt we’d earned it.

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‘Rain, rain, go to Spain….’

Bridge over the River Touyre
Bridge over the River Touyre

I think we’ve had enough.  When I last posted  – three days ago – we’d already had a week of rain.  It’s barely stopped since.  During the night, we can hear dull thudding as the roof tiles take another sodden pounding.  We get up in the morning, raise the shutters, and immediately the rain batters the windows.  Going for the breakfast loaf, usually a good way to begin the day, seems unattractive.  We make a comforting pan of porridge instead.  And so the day wears on.  We go out when we have to, but there’s no pleasure to be had in scurrying down the street, heads down, coats spattered by any passing car.  And I don’t know when we’ll ever have a country walk again.  The fields are waterlogged, the paths sticky and slippery with thick deep mud.

This was the River Touyre this morning at 9 o’clock.  In summer it’s a mere stream, idly meandering over the pebbles and stones which line its route.  In spring and autumn it’s hardly any deeper, but we’ll spend languid moments watching the trout as they glide serenely in the clear water , constantly on the look out for their next snack.

Today the water was brown, angry, tearing rapidly over the stones which we could hear clattering beneath.  It had risen about three feet, covering the grassy banks and invading the garden of the hens who live opposite.  They cowered  indignantly beside their huts, unwilling to get their feet wet or risk being swept away.

Snow is forecast tomorrow….