….at Sutton Park, North Yorkshire
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.
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.
Goodness me. Christine and Max, our French friends from our days in Laroque arrived on Saturday, and it’s only Tuesday today. Look what we’ve crammed in….
An orientation session in Nidderdale, taking in a few views….
A peaceful morning at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal……
A visit to another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Salts Mill in Saltaire……
…. where we enjoyed David Hockney’s Arrival of Spring exhibition, featuring the Yorkshire Wolds…
The Five Rise locks at Bingley: a narrowboat was making its slow upward progress through the five locks as we arrived…
A mooch round Haworth, home to the Brontë sisters….
And views, views, always vast, always bounded by drystone walls, always different.
We’re having a rest tomorrow.
We’ve been back in the UK from France six months now, so this seems a good moment to take stock.
Did we do the right thing in coming back to England to live? Absolutely no question: we’re so happy to be here, and nearer to most of the family. There are things we miss about our lives in France though: of course there are. It was tough to leave friends behind, and we continue to miss them. Still, three have visited already, and there are more scheduled to come and see us here. And it’s sad no longer having the Pyrenees as the backdrop to our lives. Though North Yorkshire’s scenery brings its own pleasures.
Still, it’s wonderful not to have to tussle with language on a day-to-day basis. Our French was pretty good, but it was generally a bit of a challenge to talk in any kind of nuanced way about the more serious things in life. Now I feel I’ve freed up enough head-space to revise my very rusty Italian, and to learn enough Spanish to get by when we visit Emily in Spain.
Many of our regrets or rediscovered delights centre on food. This summer, we’ve gorged ourselves on the soft fruits that the British Isles grow so well: particularly raspberries, gooseberries and blackberries. Oh, they exist in southern France, but they’re wretched, puny little things, with no lively acidic tang like those of their British cousins. In a straight choice between raspberries and peaches, raspberries win every time (though of course, it’s even better not to have to choose).
I miss, though, the choice we used to have in France of four or five different kinds of fresh, dewy whole lettuce available on market stalls every single week of the year. It’s flat, cos or little gem here, or those depressing bags of washed mixed leaves, and I find myself longing for the choices I used to have of crunchy, curly, bitter, blanched or soft leaves in various shades of green or even red. On the other hand, we do have tangy watercress here. And crisp crunchy apples, and Bramley cooking apples…..
And whereas in France there were always French cheeses on offer, and jolly good too, that was all there was, apart from the odd bit of shrink-wrapped Cheddar or waxy Edam. Here we can have English AND French (and Dutch and so on): decent French cheese too, unpasteurised, from small suppliers.
And what about eating out? Surely that’s better in France? Those copious home-cooked midday ‘formules’ – often a starter, main course, pudding AND wine, preferably eaten in the open air shaded by some nearby plane trees bring back such happy memories. But, but…. the menus were entirely predictable, and were dishes that had stood the test of time over the decades. After a few years, we wouldn’t have objected to a few surprises. Whereas back in Britain, most places seem to have upped their game considerably over the last few years. Local restaurants, pubs and cafés offer interesting menus, often based on what’s available that day, at fair prices. We’ve had some great meals since our return, and we’ve hardly started to get to know the area’s food map yet. And for Malcolm, there’s the constant possibility of slipping into a tea room to assess the quality of their coffee and walnut cake. This may be the main reason why he’s come back.
All the same, we can’t eat outside quite so often, particularly in the evening. And our fellow walkers have yet to be convinced of the pleasures of the shared picnic with home-made cakes and a bottle of wine: we’re working on them. Nor have we yet had a community meal, with long tables set out in the square as old friends and new share fun together over a leisurely meal.
Like most people who return from France, we find the crowded motorways unpleasant. But it is nice not to be followed at a distance of only a few inches by the cars behind us.
We’re struggling to shake off French bureaucracy too. Tax offices and banks over there continue to ignore our letters pointing out we no longer live there, continue to demand paperwork they’ve already seen, continue to ignore requests. And as we can no longer pop into the local office to sort things out, the problems just go on and on.
Something we’re enjoying here too is the possibility of being involved in volunteering. It’s something that exists in France of course: Secours Populaire and similar organisations couldn’t function without local help. But the French in general believe the state should provide, and the enriching possibilities for everyone concerned that volunteering in England can offer simply don’t exist. We already help at a community bakery, but I’m currently mulling over whether I should find out more about the local sheltered gardening scheme for people with learning disabilities, or about working with groups of children at Ripon Museums, or simply go into the local Council for Voluntary Service and find out what other opportunities exist.
Six months in, we’ve spent more time with our families, re-established old friendships, begun to make new ones. We’re happy in our new village home, and the slightly different centre-of-gravity we now have. Poor Malcolm’s waiting longer than he would have had to in France for a minor but necessary operation, but despite that, life’s good. We’re back in England to stay.
We’ve just had good friends from Laroque staying for the week. We’ve been obliged to polish up our French, which turned out not to be as hard as we’d feared. And we’ve been doing our best to show-case Yorkshire. We didn’t expect that to be hard, and it wasn’t. But we had fun exploring links between our two home areas, something I’ve talked about before here. Easy enough when you’re walking in the hilly limestone scenery of the Dales, or discussing breeds of sheep, or our former textile and mining industries, or bumbling along single-track roads in the country, with no villages in sight.
But it would be stretching a point to find a meeting point between the land-locked Ariège, and the East Yorkshire coast, surely? Well, as it happens, no. We had a day exploring the coast near Whitby: and I remembered that during the 1800s, Whitby and parts of the Ariège, Laroque d’Olmes included, had a thriving industry in common. Jet.
Back in the mid 19th century, the fashionable French and English alike couldn’t get enough of the gleaming, richly black fossilised wood that came out of local cliffs (Whitby) and river beds (Ariège) to be transformed by local workers into brooches, earrings and lockets. In its hey-day, the industry employed thousands of people engaged in finding and extracting the mineral, carving and polishing it. Queen Victoria ensured its continued popularity in England by wearing jet as mourning jewellery when her beloved Prince Albert died.
Its decline as a fashion item matched the decline of readily available sources of the material. Somehow, by 1900, jet had lost its allure, and both areas lost an important source of employment. Jet in the Ariège is consigned to history books and museums. In Whitby, however, there’s something of a revival, and there are once more a few shops selling costume jewellery and other items made of jet.
We never found a single piece, but not for want of trying. Instead, we had a more traditional day at the sea. We ate large plates of fish and chips. We seagull-watched. We paddled on the beach and investigated rock pools. And we ended the day at the higgledy-piggledy and charming settlement of Runswick Bay, clambering up and down the cobbled streets and admiring the quaint cottages with their views across the bay.
We’ve had quite a weekend. Our vaguely organised daily lives, with plenty of chances to stand and stare, or at least sit down with a cup of coffee and the paper have been shot to pieces by the arrival, for two days only, of our twin nine-year old grandsons, Alex and Ben.
We had a busy Saturday, full of pancakes, playgrounds, and Ripon’s Prison and Police Museum (recommended). But the highlight of the day was Brimham Rocks.
It’s an extraordinary place. There, slap-bang in the middle of the rolling and verdant Yorkshire Dales, is a 30 acre fantastical landscape. Dry-stone walled fields and charming villages are suddenly replaced by an odd collection of weird and wonderful shaped rocks. Brimham Rocks. These are formed from millstone grit: glaciation, wind and rain have eroded them into extraordinary formations, pierced by holes, balancing apparently precariously, or stacked into tottering towers. Geologists study them, rock climbers scramble up them, but above all, families come to let their children become impromptu explorers, mountaineers and adventurers of every kind.
We’ve only chosen quiet times to visit here in the past, but with Alex and Ben, we had no choice, We wanted to take them there, so a brisk and breezy Saturday slap-bang in the middle of the school holidays it was. The car park was overflowing . Oh dear.
But it was fine. The space is big enough to provide room for all. And it was fun to be amongst children from the smallest toddler to the tallest and lankiest of teenagers, all having an equally good time: all exploring, all testing themselves physically, weaving their own adventures.
And besides, we didn’t come home empty-handed. August is bilberry season. Alex and Ben, particularly Ben, rose to the challenge of stripping the small and rather hidden fruits, becoming ever more purple as time passed. Teeth turned blue, hands indelibly stained, fingernails beyond help from any nailbrush: it was so good to see my grandchildren discovering the pleasures of food-for-free. Bilberry pancakes for Sunday breakfast then…..
Take a walk through much of rural Nidderdale in North Yorkshire, and almost the only sign of human endeavour that you’ll see is connected with agriculture. Go out into this lightly-populated area, with its apparently nearly barren hillsides, and you’re only likely to meet sheep, with the occasional field of cattle.
Yesterday, we went to Greenhow. It’s a charming, pretty village more noted these days for being the highest village in Yorkshire: a whole 400 metres or so above sea level. It used to be an industrial power-house. It was here and in the surrounding area that villagers used to mine for lead. And the signs of this ancient industry are still here. We set off on a walk across moorland and valley to investigate.
It’s thought that the Romans were the first to mine lead in the area, and by 1225, the abbots of Fountains and Byland Abbeys were apparently squabbling(!) over rights to mine at nearby ‘Caldestones’. This valuable commodity was transported over, for the time, immense distances. In 1365 for instance, a consignment was sent to the south of England, to Windsor: ‘Two wagons each with ten oxen carrying 24 fothers* of the said lead from Caldstanes in Nidderdale in the county of York by high and rocky mountains and by muddy roads to Boroughbridge’. At which point, the journey perhaps continued on water. Indeed, lead was exported as far afield as Antwerp, Bordeaux and Danzig.
Well, we were on those ‘high and muddy mountains‘, but they didn’t cause us too much trouble. Comfortable walking boots and a bright sunny day probably helped us on our way. What we did see were warrens of carefully constructed and stone-lined tunnels leading to the ancient and now fully-exploited lead seams. We saw, in the small streams now coursing along some of them, how water became a real problem to the miners of those seams. Horse tramways hauled lead , which was smelted on site, off to what passed for major roads at the time. It was obvious to us how very difficult transport must be in this up-hill-and-down-dale area, which even than was not highly populated, with poor transport infra-structure, and unsophisticated wooden carts to carry the goods. Ancient spoil-heaps from now-exhausted seams litter the area.
And at the end of our journey, we strode up to Coldstones Cut. This is a fine art work, a vantage point from which to see a vast panorama of the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and beyond, as well as the last working quarry in the area. These days, it’s all about aggregates and asphalt, but the quarry has a long history of providing lead, then limestone as well as other materials. Andrew Sabin‘s viewing area is part streetscape, part brutal stone-block construction. It’s a magnificent intermediary between an immense and busy industrial landscape, and the gentler and even vaster rural one in which it’s situated.
* An old English measurement equalling about 19.5 hundredweight.
As you travel round North Yorkshire, you quickly become aware of its Christian heritage, and realise how many abbeys and monasteries there were, from a variety of religious foundations, for Henry VIII to get his teeth into once he’d laid his plans for the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s.
Fountains Abbey, as I mentioned in a recent post, is just down the road, and Jervaulx and Rievaulx aren’t far away: there are at least a dozen more. And each of them is ruined, left waste after Henry VIII pensioned off or martyred the abbots, priors, monks and lay brothers, and all the equivalent females too.
Today we visited Mount Grace Priory near Osmotherly. We’re accustomed to making a tour, when we visit these religious sites, of chapels, refectories, kitchens, cloisters – places where monks or nuns and lay brothers or sisters gathered together in spiritual or physical work for the benefit of their own and perhaps the wider community.
Not so at Mount Grace. This community was a Carthusian foundation. The Carthusians developed their order as a reaction to the lax conditions tolerated by many other religious orders at the time – the late 11th century. Initially centred on Chartreuse near Grenoble, the order founded religious houses throughout Europe, reaching Mount Grace in the later 14th century.
Seven years is the time it took to become a full Carthusian monk. Seven years in which to decide whether the full religious life of solitary prayer, contemplation and work was for you. Seven years in which you would only ever see your fellow monks on a Sunday, at Chapter meeting. For the rest of the time you lived completely alone in your own little house which gave onto the large Great Cloister. Here you had a room in which to sleep and pray at the proper appointed times, a small living area with a large hearth, and upstairs, a room where you would work. Perhaps you would weave, or write out or illustrate manuscripts. Sometimes you would grow vegetables or fruit and herbs in your little patch of garden. You might walk or meditate in your very own mini-cloister. Even mealtimes were solitary. Your (vegetarian) food for your twice-daily meals would be pushed through a space in the wall by a lay brother whom you never saw. Bedtime was 6.00 p.m. and there were two extended times of prayer through the night. What you also had, though, extraordinary for medieval times, was a privy regularly flushed from springs in the area, and cold piped running water.
The monastery site includes a prison to confine brothers who became disobedient. At a time when mental illness was little understood, surely some must have reacted badly to this life of extreme solitude, and become ‘problems’? Any yet there were always far more men wanting one of the 25 places at this austerely- run yet comfortable priory than could be accommodated.
The lay brothers who did much of the ‘housekeeping’ led similarly solitary lives, as far as their working day permitted. They farmed, made domestic pottery ware, looked after working animals, and the fish ponds: fish were apparently sometimes served as part of a vegetarian diet.
Naturally women were never permitted on site. Both male and female pilgrims would stay in what is now the Manor House from time to time, as monasteries have always had an obligation to offer shelter to travellers.
Since the Dissolution, the priory and its surroundings have been abandoned and fallen into ruin. The surrounding farmland was sold off, and the Manor House was converted and adapted for family life at various times in both the 17th and 19th centuries. The refitting of the house in the popular Arts and Crafts style at the turn of the 20th century deserves a post of its own.
Mount Grace is a lovely site. Malcolm and I were happy to visit it together, to have the chance to talk to informative and enthusiastic staff, and to wander around at our leisure. Living there for an entire adult life, under strict Carthusian rule? Not a chance.
After seven years of living in France, we reckoned we were old hands at le Tour de France. It had gone past our house twice – once west-east, once east-west, and jolly exciting too, for roughly 30 seconds, which is all it takes for the competitors to go whizzing past… though there’s the no-small-matter of the caravan, and all its extraordinary vehicles full of excitable young women (only gorgeous young females and the occasional hunk need apply) flinging forth key rings, baseball caps, sweets and so on to the crowds scrabbling around for these souvenirs of the day.
And this year, for the third time in our lives, the Tour is going past our house again: because in 2014, for one year only, the Tour de France begins in Yorkshire, aka God’s Own Country. It’s quite a coup for Yorkshire tourism, as it’s an opportunity to showcase this wonderfully scenic area as a tourist destination to a world glued to its TV sets for the duration of the Tour.
Yorkshire has been going Tour mad for weeks – no, months. One of the earliest signs was last November, when the Harrogate Advertiser asked readers to knit little TdF jerseys to be strung as bunting in local streets. 3,000 jerseys should cover it, they reckoned. We now known that there are well over 10, 000 of them – yellow, green, white-with-red-spots, in Harrogate District alone, and who knows how many in the county as a whole, or down south when the riders complete the Cambridge to London stage? You can see them strung in shop windows, along house railings, swagged along churches, between public buildings or threaded through the branches of trees.
Then there are the yellow bikes. There are town trails to discover the dozens of yellow-painted bikes deposited round towns, in gardens, along country roads, in shop windows…. I’m sure many will be around months after the event, but many more will have been cleaned up and shipped off to various projects in Africa.
Our own community, North Stainley, has had Rural Arts working with the children at the Primary School to produce their own interpretations of impressionist paintings, and these are now on display round the village. The pond has got its own Monet style bridge with LED waterlilies for the duration. There are two new sculptures inspired by the Tour, and there’s a whole programme of social events. Every village and town along the route is involved in providing fun for residents and visitors alike on the weekend of the Tour. The description of choice seems to be ‘Le Grand Départy’. Please groan if you want to….
Roads along the route have been repaired and revamped, presumably to the detriment of the road maintenance programme of all highways not on the TdF course. Traffic islands in towns have been replaced by moveable versions, so they can be shifted from the road for The Big Day. Anyone with open land and the means to provide sanitary and other arrangements, from farmers to schools with big playgrounds, is offering camping or parking facilities for the duration. The French may well look askance at this degree of organisation, because over there it’s fine to turn up and park your camper van on any spare bit of mountainside that you can find. Here however thousands and thousands of would-be spectators all have to cram themselves along some 400 km. of route, as opposed to the 3,500 km available in France. Our village alone has been told to expect up to 7,000 spectators, the next village along, 10,000. The logistics are a nightmare, and forward planning essential.
And there are three weeks to go…..