I’m used to brick houses. And stone houses. And even houses whose facades have been rendered and painted, as our home in Laroque was. But house paints generally come in a very limited palette. White, of course, and a range of neutral or earthy tones such as ochre. That’s what I thought until I went to Wales, anyway. Now I know differently. Come on a very quick tour with me to see what colour you could paint your home. Click on an image to see it full size: I’m only sorry not to have included an example of my own particular favourite: crushed raspberry.
We had such a good time wildlife watching in Wales. At first it was all simple wonder and enjoyment : ‘Look – there’s a…….’. But soon it all got quite competitive. Sarah bought an ‘I-Spy’ book – remember those? It was birds she decided to hunt for, and we all got involved in deciding whether it was guillemots, Manx shearwaters, or simple herring gulls that we’d just seen. And look! There’s a cormorant on that rock over there! And three choughs sitting on a wall! And over in those bushes – surely that’s a willow warbler?
The day that we were in no doubt at all about the quantity of our wildlife sightings was the Sunday when we took a boat trip round Ramsay Island. There were indeed birds (but no puffins: it’s off-season for them): but what we relished seeing in huge numbers were seals, swimming in the coves, basking on the shore, or in the case of the white new-born pups, beached high up on some sheltered spot away from in-coming tides.
Ramsay Island’s a splendid place. These days it’s an RSPB bird reserve, and there were seabirds of course: not so many at the moment as the breeding season is over. Easy to see though where they nested – very precariously – on the rock faces which are heavily stained with guano. Sucked along by powerful tides, we plunged into sea caves, rode close to the shore squeezed between deep rock gorges as the cliffs soared high above us. We’re fairly sure we saw porpoises clipping along at speed just as we were turning for the mainland once more.
Every time we went walking we came to expect to engage in bird and seal spotting. But on Saturday, as we strode the cliffs of the coastal path, we came across this vole, and his (her?) two companions. The image you can see on your screen is almost certainly larger than the real thing. We were so lucky to have seen such a tiny creature, and so clearly.
A few minutes later, I was the only one to spot a lizard: my first sighting since leaving France.
And then there was the evening when we went for a walk, and found ourselves accompanied by a whole troupe of friendly steers, who wanted nothing more than to follow us home, and to help us along with our map-reading….
We’ve just come back from a glorious long weekend in Pembrokeshire in South Wales, with son, daughter-in-law and her parents. We were near St. David’s, Britain’s smallest city. Its population is the same as that of Laroque d’Olmes, and in other ways too the area seems to qualify as Ariège-on-Sea. Craggy mountains; fields of sheep and cattle; tiny one-track roads where the only likely traffic is a tractor, or even more likely, a herd of cattle coming home for milking; and long vistas, from the hill tops, of apparently endless countryside. And of course, the sea.
Our objective was to cover a goodish distance along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. It’s some 299 km long: we managed about 40 km. so we have some distance to go. But what a journey. This scenery must be among the most stunning in the UK. Steep limestone cliffs and bays, volcanic headlands, beaches, inlets and flooded glacial valleys are the home to innumerable seabirds, and at this time of year, seals seeking sheltered nurseries to give birth to and rear their pups.
For me, this was the toughest walking since we’d left the Pyrenees. You know where you are there. On the whole, you’re walking up a mountain. Then you come down. Whereas along the coastal path, you’ll be scrambling upwards to reach the top of a high cliff, before descending again, perhaps almost to beach level. Then up again. After that you might swoop down to a cove before marching upwards to the next headland… and so on. Bright sunshine, warm breezes, and bracing sea air cheered us along and kept our energy levels high…. until the evening, when we found ourselves drooping and heading for bed as early as 10 o’clock.
We love a good country show. Farm animals on their best behaviour, sheepdogs out to impress with their skills in rounding up sheep, horses in the ring neatly jumping a clear round, country crafts, tough-guy tractors, food to sample, all in some pretty slice of countryside with the sun (maybe) beating down.
Since we got back to England, we’ve failed to go to the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate – too crowded, and the Ripley Show - way too wet. Would it be third time lucky at the Wensleydale Agricultural Show? Well, yes, we did make it there. And just after we arrived (this was the 23rd August, remember) we found ourselves scurrying for cover to avoid a heavy hail storm, with sharp icy crystals slashing at our faces and battering at the marquees.
It didn’t matter. The sun soon came out again, but in any case, we spent much of the day inside. We were there to work. Bedale Community Bakery, where we continue to enjoy volunteering every Wednesday, had a stall, and there was bread to sell. Some of the team had worked through the night to get loaf after loaf mixed, kneaded, proved, baked and loaded up for the journey from Bedale to Leyburn and the show. By the time Malcolm and I arrived, some of the team had been there several hours already. And here’s what the stall looked like….
We sliced and buttered loaves to provide samples for an eager public who wanted to talk to us and to try before they bought: sourdough; spicy chilli sourdough (soooooo good); cheese and onion bread; another cheesy loaf marbled with Marmite; harvester loaves; wholemeal loaves; bloomers; rosemary and pepper loaves; ‘seedtastic’ spelt; a loaf made using a locally brewed beer; a Mediterranean bread, all made the traditional way, proved long and slowly over several hours. There were spicy vegetable pasties; tomato and onion focaccia; roasted vegetable focaccia; four different types of scone (Jamie and I had made quite a lot of those on Friday, and they were baked off in the small hours of Saturday morning).
It all paid off. We were in the food marquee, surrounded by other small food businesses offering bread, pies, jams and curds, cakes and biscuits, chocolate, cured meats: all good stuff. But we got first prize in the ‘Food from Farming’ category, for the quality of our products and (buzz word alert) our community engagement.
There was almost no time to get away and enjoy the show, but it hardly mattered. Serving on the stall to an appreciative public was all good fun. But here are a few shots from the times I did escape. Here are shire horses, beautifully decorated in the manner traditional for the area. Yorkshire horses, apparently, sport flowers, whereas Lancashire ones wear woollen decorations (very odd, as we had a woollen industry in Yorkshire, whilst Lancashire did cotton).
Here are sheep.
And here are children working sheep. There seemed to be opportunities in every category for smartly-overalled and seriously skilled children to show off their prowess as animal managers: it’s clearly important to encourage the next generation of farmers.
There are quite a few more shows left before the summer’s over. We’ll get one into the diary.
Wednesday, August 20th. The morning air was chilly, just a little damp and drippy. Flowers in the borders hung their heads, their petals shabby and tired. Autumn has arrived. It does seem a little previous.
All the more reason to get out and about, before the days really close in. Ripon Ramblers chose to go to Harewood.
You’ll perhaps have seen Harewood House on TV recently, as that’s where the Tour de France really started from this year, after the Départ fictif from Leeds.* Half way between Leeds and Harrogate, it’s a playground for both towns, with its fine Adam-designed stately home, and extensive grounds designed by Capability Brown. At the time, the 1750s, investment in the slave trade brought immense wealth to the Lascelles family. Their descendents, the Earl and Countess of Harewood live in these fine surroundings built two and a half centuries ago. This stately home is regarded as being among the finest in Britain and is for the most part open to the public.
Our walk took us on a circular path that began outside the grounds, over farmland and with views across the Wharfe Valley. The route across the cow pastures was a bit of a puzzle. Weren’t those mango stones beneath our feet? And melon seeds? And even squashed tomatoes? The smell of rotting fruit wasn’t what we looked for on a country walk. Finally a young woman from a nearby stables helped us out. A local supermarket regularly dumps its surplus fruit at this farm for the cattle to enjoy. Four tons of fruit seemed to us to be remarkably poor stock control on the shop’s part, and we couldn’t help wondering what the cows’ insides made of this exotic diet.
Far more enjoyable were the autumn fruits that lined our route for much of the day. We gathered blackberries every time we felt hungry or thirsty. We enjoyed the sight of haws turning red, elderberries turning black, and prickly chestnuts swelling and fattening on the trees.
We completed our upward yomp, and walked along the ridge which offered a fine panorama across to the Crimple Valley and Harrogate beyond, to Almscliffe Crag, and even Ilkley Moor. Clouds in a dramatically cloudy sky were unloosing light rain into the nearby plain, and the breeze soon pushed the showers our way…..
….and then pushed them on again, so that we could enjoy a rain-free lunchtime picnic with all that view before us.
After lunch, we were in the grounds of Harewood. Not the formal grounds near the house itself, but areas of woodland, pasture, lakes, deer park and farmland. And in the distance we spotted a fake Dales village, only built in 1998. This is Emmerdale, used in filming the long-running soap of the same name. No filming that day, so we were soon on our way, hurrying now before the rain, promised for mid-afternoon, settled in to spoil our walk. We made it – just.
* The ‘départ réel’ of the Tour de France from Harewood signified the true beginning of the race. City centre Leeds was no place for cyclists to jockey for position, so riders just tootled out to Harewood on the ‘départ fictif’. Then the action started.
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…..
…. the birds, that is. I’m sitting looking out of the study window. There, almost centre front, is the mulberry tree. I can see why it’s secured itself a place in the history of children’s singing rhymes, even though it’s quite certainly a tree and not a bush. Its densely leaved branches curve down to the ground, leaving a perfect den for small people to spend an hour or two hiding away, playing games away from interfering adults.
And just now, mid-summer, is the time it fruits. I’ve never lived with a mulberry tree on tap before, so I made the usual deal with the birds: ‘You take the high-up berries, I’ll take the low ones. There are plenty to go round.’ They weren’t listening. I’m watching them now, those pesky blackbirds, swooping in to select a not-quite-ripe fruit and flying away to enjoy in private.
Mulberries are in fact quite a curious fruit, the size and shape of a raspberry or blackberry, but with quite a pithy core. It’s quite a challenge to find these relatively small berries growing on a fully-sized tree, hidden among large almost heart-shaped leaves. The majority of the berries fall to the ground (where the birds ignore them, it seems), and this is a crop that can only be picked when black, juicy, and very fully ripe. So fingers and clothes alike get quickly and indelibly stained. Purple is the best colour to wear.
All my recipe books tell me to use them in any recipe calling for blackberries or raspberries. I’ve discovered I prefer both those more familiar fruits, but it won’t stop me having a go at using the unexpected haul of free berries. I made a coulis for ice-cream yesterday. What next, I wonder?
Here we go round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush, the mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush,
On a cold and frosty morning.