We’ve crossed the Pyrenees again.  To visit our daughter in Barcelona.

A view of Barcelona from Port Vell.

A view of Barcelona from Port Vell.

And then we shall cross them back again.  To visit our friends in Laroque d’Olmes.

A view of the Pyrenees from between Laroque and Foix

A view of the Pyrenees from between Laroque and Foix

We’ll be in touch when we get back to England again.


Just arrived at ArtisOn.  Here's the view.

Just arrived at ArtisOn. Here’s the view.

ArtisOn?  ArtisOn?  Never heard of ArtisOn?  Well, that’s your bad luck, is all I can say.  Just six miles from here, outside Masham, are some studios. These belong to ArtisOn, who provide programmes of day workshops that will unlock your creativity in ways you might never have thought of.

I’d fancied doing some print-making.  Back in the dark ages, when I was at school, I’d enjoyed the odd chance to do lino cuts.  Something about simplifying objects back to their very essence, seeking to capture their vitality using simple materials,  simple cutting tools, choosing papers to print my images appealed to me then and appeals to me now.

I spotted one of ArtisOn’s courses – Printing without a Printing Press. This promised the chance to re-visit now rusty skills and have a go at one or two more.  And Malcolm promised to enrol me on it as an early birthday present

What a fantastic day.  Only six students, and one most motivating teacher, Hester Cox. You can see her work, largely inspired by the rural environment in which she lives, here. She showed us collographs: we added to and removed layers from thick card, adding scraps of textured paper, dried leaves, sand and small found objects to make simple textured images.  My resulting stylised flower looked OK, I thought, but when I tried printing it later, I was disappointed.

Lino cutting went better.  I enjoyed choosing the best cutter for achieving different effects.  I enjoyed choosing which parts of my design to leave in relief, and which to gouge away.  What a satisfying time that was, carefully cutting away at the lino until it revealed something like the effect I was after.

I've just finished hacking away at my sheet of lino.

I’ve just finished hacking away at my sheet of lino.

Then it was time to eat.  I’d been told – several times – that the real motive for going to ArtisOn is to have lunch.  I can confirm this is an excellent reason.  Pasta bake and bowls full of different salads may not sound exciting, but when a simple dish is crammed full of varied vegetable tastes and textures, there is really nothing not to like.  Berry pudding, tiramisu, juicy fruit salad…  it all slipped down very easily, as did a quite sensational parsnip and ginger cake with our afternoon tea.



After lunch it was time to get printing.  We learnt how to prepare our paint for action with rollers, how to mix colours within a single print, how to apply pressure to our papers to get the image to ‘take’.  And we had the excitement of seeing our efforts come to life.  We got so involved that we had little time for our final activity of making simple stamps from wood blocks and easily-worked soft polystyrene ‘funfoam’.  I shall enjoy making stamps such as these to label my pots of marmalade, or to make hand-stamped wrapping paper.  Here’s my first effort.

Marmalade labels in the making.

Marmalade labels in the making.

This was a great day.  I was buzzing with ideas on the way home, and I know I’ve been equipped to begin to develop my long-forgotten interest in print-making.  If you’re on my Christmas card list – you have been warned. Limited edition print on its way to you in nine months time.  Blame Malcolm.  He paid.




Christ the Consoler, Skelton-on-Ure.  Wikimedia Commons

Christ the Consoler, Skelton-on-Ure. Wikimedia Commons

Here is a tale of a murder.  A murder which led to the building of a very fine church not many miles from here.

In 1870, Frederick Vyner, son of the Marquess of Ripon and Lady Mary Vyner, travelled to Greece with a small band of English and Italian friends and servants.  They were set upon by brigands who had probably been tipped off, and who demanded a huge ransom: £50,000.  Women, children and servants in the party were regarded as useless bargaining tools by the brigands.  They were released.  But five men remained captive, including Frederick.  The money was found to pay off the ransom, but before it could be delivered, the Greeks sent in the army, and in the resulting battle, soldiers, brigands and four of the hostages were killed, among them Frederick Vyner.

Vyner’s mother, Lady Mary, determined that she would build a church in her son’s memory on the Newby Hall estate which was their home.  Her sister, Lady Ripon, was at the same time engaged in a project to build a church at Studley Royal, Fountains Abbey, Ripon.  William Burges , noted Victorian architect, obtained the commissions for both churches in 1870.

I’m going to get to know St. Mary’s Church, and the work of William Burges very well over the weeks and months to come, as I have just been accepted as a volunteer for the National Trust at Fountains Abbey, where one of my duties will be as an Information Assistant at the church.  Yesterday though, as part of our training, we were taken to see the church at Newby, which was until the 1990’s, the parish church of the village of Skelton-on-Ure.

It’s clearly Saint Mary’s sister church, yet more stolid, more weighty in appearance. Originally to have been called St. Michael and All Angels,  the church has a unique dedication – to Christ the Consoler.  Wander round the outside, and you’ll see over the door Christ the good shepherd with some of his ovine flock: a complement to the sheep in the field beyond, at the moment nursing their young lambs.

Christ's flock above the church door.

Christ’s flock above the church door.

Within and outside the church Christ is omnipresent, perhaps most spectacularly in the rose window which portrays Him at its centre.  The several ages of man are illustrated on an inner wheel of glass, and the various occupations and conditions of man on an outer wheel: noblemen at the top, working types below.  Curiously, being ‘negro’, seems to be a job in itself.  All turn their gaze upon the risen Christ the Consoler as they go about their business.  It’s easy to imagine this spectacular window being a teaching aid to any cleric needing material for his sermon.

The rose window.

The rose window.

Walk down the nave and you’ll witness the miracles of Christ on one side, his parables on the other, each complemented by the event from the Old Testament which is traditionally held to be the precursor of that in the New Testament.  This one was my particular favourite: the Annunciation, whose forerunner was the story of Moses and the burning bush.

The Annunciation.

The Annunciation.

Moses and the Burning Bush.

Moses and the Burning Bush.

The dominating view as you enter the church is an almost overwhelming sculpture above the entrance to the chancel. Here is Christ’s Ascension with a crowd of 12 looking on.  These are the  disciples of course: but not Judas.  His place is taken by Mary: a very mediaeval take on the event.

The Anuunciation.

The Annunciation.

The chancel itself forms an intimate place for the Vyner family.  Heraldic misericords record the arms of close and more distant branches of the family, all surrounding as if to embrace the memorial to the murdered young Frederick in a private and understated way.  It’s decorated, as is St. Mary’s, with columns in Irish marble: dark green, plum red, greyish-white.  More stained glass windows of Christ carrying his cross, then crucified, each with a number of Old Testament precursors.

There’s more.  There’s a glittering reredos with the Magi.  There’s a spectacular organ casing set before the chancel.  There’s detail to keep you happily busy and exploring for hours.  Newby Hall and its gardens ought to be on your tourist map if you explore our area.  Don’t leave the church out of your itinerary.

The miracle of the loaves and fishes.

The miracle of the loaves and fishes.

As for William Burges, and the story of the two churches he built here near Ripon… well, there’s plenty here for another day

The sheep and lambs of Newby Hall, glimpsed from the churchyard.

The sheep and lambs of Newby Hall, glimpsed from the churchyard.




A cautionary tale

Saturday night.  All dressed up and somewhere to go: friends in Ripon – good company and good cooks – had invited us over.  Malcolm popped out to the car, leaving the keys in the ignition, then came back into the house.  Two minutes later, we left together …. and found the car firmly locked.  It had done it all by itself.

We peered in, we rattled the door, we shook the car.  Nothing.  No spare key.  We lost that years ago, and never got round to replacing it.  The car defiantly remained unusable.

Distinctly disgruntled, we shelved the problem and ordered a taxi.  And had a good evening.

The next morning, there we were, prowling round the car once more.  Our neighbour and Malcolm mulled over and rejected various strategies.  I walked into West Tanfield for a newspaper.  The shopkeeper there knows everyone.  He was sure to come up with someone who coud help.  He didn’t.

The internet revealed a couple of businesses who would come and help: at a price.  £100?  We didn’t think so.

But several hours later, we were forced to admit defeat.  The man we rang said he charged no extra for Sunday work, and would come in an hour.  He thought he’d have us sorted out within seconds.  But he didn’t.  He struggled with ever more sophisticated gizmos until finally, after about 20 minutes, the lock gave in, and opened once more.

Workshop on site.

Workshop on site.

And this is his advice, which I share with you.  You’re welcome.

  • Never leave your key in the ignition unless you also turn the key.  If the car doesn’t ‘know’ you’ve put the key there, it may lock automatically as one of its safety features.
  • If you normally ‘zap’ open your car by using the remote control button, the lock may eventually clog with dust and so forth.  About once a month, open your car the old-fashioned way by inserting the key and turning the lock.

What with his visit, and two taxi fares, this little incident cost us £130.

I think it may be time to replace that lost car key.

Man at work

Man at work

Spanish flag

Spanish flag

We’re off to visit daughter Emily in Barcelona soon.  And it’s about time we stopped being so dependant on her to be our mouth-piece when we’re there.  It’s about time we stopped expecting her boyfriend to make all the effort of speaking in a less-than-familiar language.  It’s about time we took a grip, and learned some Spanish.

Yes, I know.  In Barcelona, Catalan is the preferred language.  But if we want to travel more widely in Spain, given that everyone in Barcelona speaks Spanish too, Spanish it’s going to be.

I looked for Adult Education classes to help me.  There was nothing for beginners here in Ripon, and I didn’t fancy a 35 mile round trip to Northallerton or Harrogate for a weekly session.  The U3A here in Ripon has a class, but they’ve been going quite a while and are on book two of their chosen text-book.  In any case, there’s not a native speaker in their midst to correct idiom or accent.

So I’ve looked to the internet.  And being a tight-fisted sort, I’ve looked at what’s out there for free.  There’s quite a lot.  The advantage for me has been that the lessons these courses provide come in bite-sized packages, which encourages me to learn little and often.  The big disadvantage is that I don’t really get to speak: and if I do, there’s nobody to correct me.

There’s Duolingo, which takes me through families of words, using simple sentence structures, and testing my ability to understand and to remember.  I’m not likely to forget about that crab that drinks milk, or my brother (haven’t got a brother) who wears yellow trousers.

Then there’s Games for Language.  American David, who has a Spanish dad, is travelling round Spain.  Through ‘virtual’ card games and arcade-type games, I’ve learnt the Spanish I need to understand his travels.

FluentU is good.  From Lesson 1 it uses short video clips from Spanish TV commercials, children’s broadcasts and so forth to teach Spanish…. as she is spoke: that is – fast and furious.  I can tell you all you’ll ever need to know about Maradona eating at MacDonald’s.

And my latest discovery is Memrise: this offers you structured sentences and vocabulary, and makes you repeat them and repeat them till you jolly well get it right.  And then, a few days later, it’ll be checking to see if you’ve forgotten.

You must think I spend my whole life slogging away at Spanish.  I don’t.  It’s 10 minutes here and there.  But it IS every day.  I’ll let you know whether it’s paid dividends when I’m back from Barcelona.

Catalan flag

Catalan flag

March2015 (98)

Up betimes, in order to be at Harrogate Hospital by 7.30 a.m.  Yesterday was a day of white-coat-syndrome-induced high blood pressure, insensibility whilst under the knife, and not a little discomfort for Malcolm.  He’s been waiting for months for some minor surgery, and now he’s had it, his life should get a lot more comfortable.

I, meanwhile, had to spend the day in Harrogate waiting for the call to go and collect him.  I had quite a few errands to run in any case,  and after that it wouldn’t have been worth traipsing back and forth from North Stainley.

So I did my jobs, and then had plenty of chance to loaf about.  I’m not the world’s keenest shopper, but I do have a favourite charity shop in Cold Bath Road.  Our friend Jonet volunteers there, sifting through and sorting donated books.  I love the serendipity of looking along the shelves crowded with fiction old, new, English and foreign, next to an eclectic collection of non-fiction.  As usual I left the shop with a satisfyingly large pile of reading, and this time, a new-to-me summer dress.

Then I headed for green space.  What makes Harrogate a special town is its area of open parkland in the centre of the town – the Stray.  It was created from common pastureland in 1778 to link most of Harrogate’s springs (it’s a spa town after all) and an Act of Parliament preserved its size at 200 acres.  Even now, if part of its area is lost due to, for example, road widening, it must be replaced elsewhere.  It’s pretty unique to be able to step directly from busy shopping streets straight onto a vast green area unbounded by railings or fences.  Paths and roads will lead you through this green space to other parts of town.  Like me, you could walk across the Stray to get to the hospital, or to reach the community round Cold Bath Road with its neighbourhood shops and Victorian housing.  And yesterday, you could enjoy, as I did, the crocuses which have burst forth in their hundreds and thousands in glorious lakes of colour – purple, mauve, sunshine yellow and white.  They’ll be followed in a week or so by an equal multitude of daffodils, and then avenues of cherries will blossom in all their pink finery.  Here’s a few shots of Harrogate Stray on the warmest day of the year so far.


A sunny morning on the River Ure, just before we reached the Canal.

A sunny morning on the River Ure, just before we reached the Canal.

We went for a walk along the Ripon Canal the other day, starting from the point where it meets the River Ure.  Back in its heyday during the Industrial Revolution, busy as it was then, the rural towpath we walked along might not have looked so very different.  Back in its heyday, keels would have hauled coal northwards from the Yorkshire coalfields, and lead and agricultural products southwards.  The canals were the freight-haulage routes of their age, and even though they were busy thoroughfares, the whole business of passing vessels through the three locks in one direction at a time limited the flow traffic to levels well below what those of us who’ve ever been stuck in a bad-tempered rush hour traffic jam on the M1 have experienced.

Ripon Canal is not one of the country’s great canals.  There are water super-highways such as the Grand Union Canal linking London with Birmingham.  That’s 137 miles long. There’s the Leeds-Liverpool Canal.  That’s 127 miles long.  The Ripon Canal runs for just two miles, from Ripon to Oxclose Lock, where it links with the River Ure.  Like many of the country’s canals, it was built in the latter part of the 18th century, between 1767 and 1783, opening up water traffic between Ripon and York, and it eventually put the products of the Durham coalfields within Ripon’s reach.

The railways proved to be the death of canals all over England.  Ripon’s withstood the opening of the Darlington to York railway in 1841, but the Leeds and Thirsk Railway finished it off.  The railway company actually bought the waterway, to ensure local support , but they then neglected it, failing to dredge it, so that it became less and less useable.  The canal was abandoned as a waterway in 1906.

But its fortunes have changed again.  No longer a tool of the industrial revolution, the canal has become a playground for people who like ‘messing about in boats‘*.  The Ripon Canal Trust spearheaded its restoration from the 1960s, and now the whole thing is managed by the Canal and River Trust.  So whether you like boats, barges, or a stroll along a quiet backwater near town, Ripon Canal’s worth a visit.


*That’s what Ratty used to like to do in Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’


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