A walk by myself

Ever since our friend Micheline had a nasty fall on a walk, three and a half years ago, and had to be air-lifted to hospital, I’ve been slightly wary of walking alone in the countryside.

But sometimes, only solitary will do.  Never more than 4 miles from a village, always with a farm somewhere not too far away, I set off for a solo walk this morning, even before all the Grammar School pupils had got on their bus to whisk them off to school in Ripon.

From your point of view, as you look at these photos, you may feel it was all just a repeat of my Sunday morning stroll.  But it wasn’t at all, not for me.  My path drew me in a big eight mile circle to the west of our village.  It took me past a working quarry: always good to watch men at work.  It took me past ancient trees: our home patch is particularly good at oak trees which are very old indeed.  As I was passing through a wood, an anxious Wensleydale sheep cantered up to greet me.  I saw why she was worried.  There wasn’t another sheep like her in sight anywhere – she was lost.  But I never found anyone I could report her to.  I hope she’s alright.  There were fungi.  There were delicate and skeletal winter seed heads.  I saw a pint of milk delivered to someone’s gate, and took a picture of it.  Home milk delivery’s getting scarcer here now than it was in my childhood, but I’ve never seen milkmen in other countries I’ve visited.  I saw Autumn leaves still clinging to the trees, and plenty more in vibrantly coloured heaps at the base of trees.

Best of all – and I have no photo to prove it – shortly before the end of my walk, as I was climbing steeply through woods with the River Ure below me, three white-rumped deer leapt out of a clearing, and with three rapid yet elegant and beautifully choreographed bounds, disappeared from view, only to re-appear and disappear for good, moments later.

All in all, a pretty good use of a Friday morning, I thought.



Today was indeed a misty morning.  Ripon has no fewer than three rivers in town, and a canal too, and one of those three rivers, the Ure, passes our back door.  So it’s no surprise that we do ‘misty-moisty’ mornings, evenings and nights on a regular basis.

But mistiness is no excuse not to walk the mile and a half along the Ure to visit the village shop at West Tanfield to buy a Sunday paper.  Here’s my journey:

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This is how the old nursery rhyme goes:

One misty, moisty morning,

When cloudy was the weather,

I chanced to meet an old man clothed all in leather.

He began to compliment, and I began to grin,

How do you do, and how do you do?

And how do you do again?

Though I didn’t meet any old men clothed all in leather, I did meet quite a few dog-walkers.  And quite pleasant chats were had with nearly all of them


Today is the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Remembrance Day. This year has been the one in which we’ve all been encouraged to focus on the horrible loss of life in the First World War: a war in which there were 16 million military deaths worldwide and 20 million casualties.

‘Casualties’ sounds such a, well, casual word. In fact many of these ‘casualties’ were unable any longer to work, to form sustained relationships, or in any way able to re-join normal life. And the communities from which the dead and injured came were also maimed, losing many or in some cases all of their young men. The way of life in such communities changed forever.

The most telling way of appreciating the scale of this loss, for me, has been the sea of poppies at the Tower of London. I’ve been unable to witness it in person, but this blog, which I came by thanks to fellow blogger KerryCan, brings the whole project to life in a most moving way. Thank you,  Silver Voice from Ireland.  Here is your post:

Originally posted on A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND:

I have just returned from a short trip to London, England,where we  lived for almost two decades before returning to Ireland. London is a city that I love and I look forward to each return visit. This year marks the centenary of the start of the First World War which has been commemorated in the most astonishing way at the historic Tower of London.


The ‘Weeping Window’ the source of the wave of poppies that will fill the moat

Some decades ago, when I worked  in the banking area in the City of London, summer lunchtime would be spent sitting on the grass looking down at the Tower and enjoying the sunshine. We happily munched on our ham and mustard  or cheese and pickle sandwiches while enjoying the historic view and discussing the gruesome executions that took place just yards from where we dined! The Tower itself dates back to…

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The Path: the real post

Ha!  It had to happen.  Somehow, a few minutes ago, I pressed ‘Publish’ instead of the button I intended to press.  The post wasn’t finished.  Now it is, and here it is.  Sorry.

Midday.  Aview from the path.

Midday. A view from the path.

What a difference a week makes.  This time last week, Amelia and I were ‘recce-ing’ the walk I was due to lead this Tuesday, stumbling around near Swinton trying to make sense of a map and  a warren of pathways.  Both reasonably competent map-readers, we found ourselves confronted by too many cross-paths, and too many waymarks that didn’t QUITE make things clear enough.  We got there in the end, of course, having met in the course of our journey several equally puzzled hikers turning their maps every which-way as they tried to choose the correct route.

This week, I competently led seven Ripon Ramblers on the walk and wondered why we’d found it all quite so difficult.  But it got me thinking about all those paths.  Paths are created by those who use them.  Roads were too, once upon a time, as all those single track and often ill-repaired ‘C’ roads meandering from village to village testify.  But these days, roads are planned.  It’s town planners, the Highways Agency, and whole bevies of committees who decide where roads will go, and how they will get there.  If they deem it necessary, they will flatten hillsides or even communities that stand in the way.  Usually.  There’s that famous farm in Calderdale which parts the two carriageways of the M62, the motorway which links Yorkshire with Lancashire.  Legend has it that at the planning stage, the farmer refused the blandishments of every official from the Department of Transport, every civil servant who tried to persuade him that The Road Must Go Through, till finally Officialdom gave in and built the road around his farm.  Sadly, it’s not true, and you can read about it here  Still, whatever the truth of the story, it nicely illustrates the fact that these days, road are normally built  where planners decide.

Stott Hall Farm in the middle of the M62.  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Stott Hall Farm in the middle of the M62. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

With paths, it’s a different story.  Those routes that we use every time we go out walking in the country were chosen by those who did the walking, often many centuries ago.  Well-trodden paths that have linked communities over the years are public rights of way that have to be kept useable and maintained by local councils in just the same way as roads must be.  Local authorities have a duty to ensure that they are useable by installing gates and stiles to enable users to, for example, cross from field to field. Landowners who wish to vary the route of a path must have good reason, and must provide for and maintain a viable alternative.

On Tuesday, we went along a whole variety of paths, as we always do when out walking.  Some were fine tracks covered in chippings and  linking farms.  One path was straight and wide with fine stone foundations: once it was a railway line built to haul goods to a reservoir under construction in the early 20th century.  But much of the time, we could pick out our routes across farmland only by observing a sinuous line of flattened grass where others had walked before us.  I enjoy knowing that most of these paths, whatever kind they are,  have often been used for decades and even centuries before.

Needs can change though.  That day when we first tried the walk Amelia and I had a dreadful time looking for a certain path.  We even ended up at a farm asking for directions.  ‘You’ll never find it’ we were told. ‘Nobody’s used it for ages, and it’s hopelessly overgrown.  You’d much best use the road’.  Well, it didn’t really suit us, but we could see why it had happened.  The road was more direct than the old path so people ‘voted with their feet’ and stopped using it.

We’re pretty lucky to have a great network of paths.  And besides that, in large areas of the country, we have ‘the right to roam’, meaning we’re free to explore the open countryside away from paths, following the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, introduced in 2000 after a 60 year campaign. I’m enjoying those paths, whether mooching, walking purposefully, exploring, or simply ‘following my nose.’

The Ramblers association does much to promote the interests of walkers and protect the walking environment.

I’ve just found the blog post I wrote at our very first Hallowe’en season in France, back in 2007.  This particular celebration seems to have become more and more Americanised here in the UK, and now in France too. In fact, I understand that the Fête de la Citrouille in Belesta is no more.  Exhibiting pumpkins has been exchanged for ‘trick or treating’: 0r as the French so snappily put it ‘Donnez-nous des bonbons ou nous vous jetons un mauvais sort’.

I thought I’d like to reminisce.  Here’s that blog post from a day in our very first autumn in France.

Pumpkin stall: most of these were grown by just one man

Pumpkin stall: most of these were grown by just one man

‘In Harrogate, Hallowe’en seems to mean spending the evening of 31st October greeting a steady stream of cheerful young witches, wizards, ghosts and ghouls to the door threatening tricks if they don’t get their treats. Here in nearby Belesta, it’s something rather different, since the period round Hallowe’en is for them  La Fête de la Citrouille - the Feast of the Pumpkin.

Well, just look at those pictures. If you could grow pumpkins like that, wouldn’t you want to celebrate? Yesterday, we had real fun looking round on the first day, which was also their Vide-Grenier day (Empty Your Attics). Pretty much like an English car boot sale really, except the stalls spread through the streets of the town. French attics and barns can turn out some splendidly puzzling tools and equipment, and as for the light fittings…… We enjoyed rooting around, and got ourselves quite a hoard of books at knock-down prices.

Of course the highlight of the day was yet another walk, a long ramble from Lesparrou, where we had dumped the car, along the wooded banks of l’Hers and through fairly isolated hamlets with picturesquely dilapidated (but still functional) barns, and productive potagers. Every day, the snow on the Pyrenees creeps just a little lower down the slopes, and we enjoy watching its progress. We ourselves celebrate the fact that the steeply wooded slopes which form part of nearly every walk become less strenuous as our fitness increases.’

It seems all such a distant memory now.  Back in England, we don’t enjoy the huge variety of pumpkins, squash and gourds which are part of every autumn and winter market in France.  Back in England, All Saints’ Day on November 1st goes unremarked.  Our cemetries are not suddenly overwhelmed with pots – hundreds and hundreds of pots – of chrysanthemums, as the entire population make this annual pilgrimage to the graves of their relatives during the period of ‘la Toussaint’.  Even though it’s half-term here too, our roads are not suddenly nose-to-tail with holiday makers as French families take this last opportunity to get away together before Christmas.  In England, as shopkeepers clear away the pumpkins and Hallowee’en paraphernalia, they’ll fill their shelves with Christmas goods.  That won’t happen in France, not until early December.  Hallowe’en and Toussaint have a particular feel in France which is quite absent from the same period in England.  I miss the pumpkins.  But not the chrysanthemums.

Chrysanthemums for Toussaint.  Wikimedia Commons

Chrysanthemums for Toussaint. Wikimedia Commons

Murder at Nosterfield

A comfortable hide at Nosterfield: sheepskin covered seats, and lots of birdbooks to refer to come as standard

A comfortable hide at Nosterfield: sheepskin covered seats, and lots of birdbooks to refer to come as standard

We spent yesterday at Nosterfield Nature Reserve , a mere couple of miles from here.  There’s no point in having a bird reserve almost in your back garden if you don’t know a wigeon from a pochard, or if you confuse a rail with a dunlin.  It’s even worse if you’ve heard of none of the above.  We signed up to ‘Start Birding’, and birding’s what we did, for the whole of a bright and sunny Friday.

Wigeon feeding

Wigeon feeding

Linda, our teacher, was infectiously enthusiastic.  She lent out decent pairs of binoculars, and made sure we knew how to use them.  She helped us observe birds for their silhouettes, colouring, flight patterns, so we could begin to identify the hundreds of birds who regard Nosterfield as home, a holiday resort, or a stop-over on a long voyage from the Arctic to – who knows? Southern Europe or even Africa.

And we hadn’t been there long before she saw drama begin to unfold.  We saw no drama.  Oh yes, we could see that birds who had been feeding in scrubland, and waterfowl who’d been serenely gliding in the shallows all flew skywards, all started wheeling and turning, circling the area they’d come from time and time again, in some agitation.  But, well, birds do that, don’t they?

Bird panic

Bird panic

Linda knew better.  She knew they’d all spotted something we couldn’t see.  We all used our binoculars and her super-powerful telescope to scan the sky.  It was more than 5 minutes before she saw, high above, a peregrine falcon.  He rose high on the thermals, looking down on all his possible prey, all flying close together for their mutual protection.

And suddenly, talons extended, he dropped.  Only Linda and Dianne spotted the moment when he scooped up a lapwing, and plummeted swiftly  to earth to despatch the bird and inspect his catch.  He didn’t get much chance.  A small gang of carrion crows moved in.  They wanted the falcon to open his prey up, then they planned to steal it.

Peregrine falcon feeding

Peregrine falcon feeding

The peregrine wasn’t having that.  He grabbed his lapwing, flew off, and came down again, this time where Linda was able to train her telescope so we could get grandstand views of what happened next.  The crows reappeared too, but knew there was no food for them while the lapwing’s corpse remained intact: their beaks are not designed to pierce outer skin.  By determined, measured stabbing, the falcon started to open his prey up.  White downy chest feathers flew, as he discarded these in search of the flesh beneath.  The crows pranced round.  They snapped at the falcon’s tail, they tried to provoke and hustle him into abandoning his catch.  They even ventured to pluck at the lapwing feathers themselves.  But though irritated, the falcon carried on, ripping away at the flesh with his super-strong beak.  As the crows took occasional chances to dart close and grab a mouthful, they were rebuffed by the falcon’s impressive skills as a sentry: and no doubt from the fear of that beak too.

Little by little, the falcon ingested his meal.  That may be his diet sorted for the next day or two.  He even left the carrion crows the bones to pick clean.  They too wouldn’t have gone away entirely hungry.

Those are lapwings in the foreground.  Behind are golden plovers.

Those are lapwings in the foreground. Behind are golden plovers.

And after that, we had a day of lapwings and golden plovers, and cormorants, and rails and wigeons and pochards and shovellers and Barnacle geese and Canada geese, a kestrel or two, and goldfinch and twites and great tits, and many many more.  We can confidently identify many of them, and now have the tools to gain in confidence and knowledge every time we go out with our eyes wide open and our senses tuned in.  Even without the blockbuster tale of savage death at the lakeside, Friday would have been a fantastic day.

If you live in Yorkshire, within reach of Leeds, and would like to know more about birds, do follow the link to the ‘Start Birding’ site and see what’s on offer.  This is an unsolicited testimonial to Linda Jenkinson, Top Twitcher!

Linda focussing one just one of those birds.

Linda focussing one just one of those birds.

I was too busy on Friday to take many photos, so the ‘bird portraits’ are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 

‘I’ll bet’, ventured a friend the other week, ‘that the last few of those yellow bicycles don’t disappear from sight until round about Christmas’.  I didn’t take her on.  My own bet is that just a few of those yellow bikes, which so many people put outside their homes to celebrate the Tour de France in early July, will still be around many years from now .  Most have gone of course.

Little by little, in the weeks after the Tour, the bunting came down, then those miles and miles of hand-knitted jerseys, then the yellow bikes.  Now that Autumn winds are kicking in, all the bright yellow floral displays, often cascading from the panniers of those yellow bikes, are finally being grubbed up too.

A few of the photos of the pre-Tour preparations

A few of the photos of the pre-Tour preparations

As far as Harrogate was concerned, the Tour de France Swan Song took place last week, in the form of an exhibition mounted by the Harrogate Photographic Society, ‘Le Tour in Harrogate’.  It took over the town.  The ‘hub’ – a term borrowed from the Tour itself to indicate where the main action was to be found – was in the exhibition space of town centre Saint Peter’s Church.  But there were satellite exhibits in a local café, an optician’s shop, and in the windows of a recently closed department store.

When we visited last Sunday, we found ourselves in company with dozens of others, poring over the images, sharing memories, exclaiming over forgotten moments of the preparations for the race in the days and weeks before, and its aftermath, as well as the days of the Race itself.  There were pictures of old gnarled hands knitting away industriously to produce those yellow-jersey banners, of hi-viz-clothed teams of men road-mending late into the night beneath the glare of floodlights.  Here were the gardeners making sure Harrogate’s famous floral displays were at their best, or French members of the huge Tour de France preparation team taking time out to link arms, laugh and pose for pictures.  My favourite shot, taken on race-day itself was of two young men perched high on a chimney-stack looking down on the race far below them.  And then there were the scenes of riders disappearing from view, only seconds after they’d first come into sight.

I’ve taken my own photos of the photos.  Perhaps that’s a bit like the video which was said to have been offered for sale a few years ago by a dodgy salesman operating from a battered old suitcase at the corner of the market place.  It was ‘Jurassic Park’, filmed in a darkened cinema on a hand-held camcorder.  But these pictures shown here are just souvenirs.  If you want to see these wonderful images in all their glory, you’ll have to contact the Photographic Society, who have produced a fully illustrated souvenir catalogue.  We’ve ordered a copy.

A shot of the crowds enjoyng the party atmosphere before the riders arrived.   Just as visible  is Harrogate's skyline, reflected in the shop-window where this picture was exhibited

A shot of the crowds enjoying the party atmosphere before the riders arrived. Just as visible is a Harrogate streetscape, reflected in the shop-window where this picture was exhibited

I haven’t been able to credit individual images shown here as the photographers weren’t identified in this particular display.  These aren’t however so much reproductions of their work as impressions.  The photos themselves are well worth seeing in their original form. 


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