We gather round That Apple Tree to hear its story.

We gather round That Apple Tree to hear its story.

Isaac Newton, as every Englsh school child knows, was sitting in the garden when an apple from the tree under which he was sitting dropped beside him.

He thought about it.  And then he thought some more.  Why do objects always fall vertically?  Why not go sideways?  Or upwards? Me, I’ve never even wondered about this.  It’s just the way things are.  But sitting under that apple tree, 350 years ago, Isaac Newton began to work on developing his best-known achievement: the theory of gravity.

Yesterday, we visited the house where Isaac Newton used to live, and saw the apple tree which grew from the ruined trunk of the tree which he sat under.  I’m a National Trust volunteer at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal – more of that in my next post – and we were on a summer ‘works outing’, visiting a couple of properties in Lincolnshire.

And here we were at Woolsthorpe Manor.  It’s the farmhouse where Newton was born in 1642, and where he grew up.  Isaac was a reflective, head-in-the-clouds sort of child, and it was obvious that he’d never be a useful farmer.  His teacher persuaded his mother to let him study at Cambridge University, where he paid his way for some of the time by working as a valet.  But in 1665, Cambridge temporarily closed its doors, for fear of the plague.

It was during this time of ‘exile’ that Newton began many of his experiments in the field of optics, astronomy and the laws of motion.  He developed the branch of mathematics we know as calculus. And then he left for Cambridge once more, and his career as academic, MP, and warden at the Royal Mint was launched.

Woolsthorpe Manor , as Newton seems to have discovered, is the place to come to be reflective.  This is a seventeenth century yeoman farmer’s house, comfortable, unostentatious, and set among a jumble of outbuildings and an apple orchard where that famous tree still stands.  In truth, it’s not quite the same apple tree.  That was struck by lightning in its old age. But a shoot grew from its ruined trunk, and that’s the specimen we see today, propped, pruned, and generally cossetted to keep it going as long as possible.  Other fragments have grown into other trees, as far away as a university in America.  The orchard is filled with other ‘babies’ born of the original, against the day that almost-Newton’s-tree finally gives up.  The orchard and grass are tended, but not too much, and sitting amongst the apple blossom, with the buttercups and meadow flowers moving gently in the breeze was a fine way to pass the late morning.

There’s the house to see too.  A working kitchen, a living area focussed round an enormous hearth, bedrooms – this was a comfortable family home.

Then there’s the Science Discovery centre.  Enjoy the chance to play with prisms, to break light up into all the colours of the rainbow before uniting them to white.  Experiment with gravity, throwing weighted balls from the top of a tower… and so on.  Get in touch with your inner child and learn a lot whilst you’re having fun.

Playing with light in the Science Discovery Centre.

Playing with light in the Science Discovery Centre.

And then go to the coffee shop there, treat yourself to a home-made cake and a nice cup of tea, and sit quietly in the courtyard there, reflecting on your good fortune at being in such a charming, relaxing, yet instructive place.

Woolsthorpe Manor.

Woolsthorpe Manor.

‘Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night;

God said “Let Newton be” and all was light.’

Alexander Pope

Recently, we became members at High Batts Nature Reserve, just down the road.  Many of those who join are enthusiasts, well able to name every bird, bat, butterfly, moth and insect that inhabits or passes through this area of mixed woodland and open clearings.  We can’t, but that’s rather why we wanted to join.  We’re keen to learn.

Close-packed trees at High Batts.

Close-packed trees at High Batts.

We had a bit of a chance the other evening.  And yet High Batts wasn’t our destination.  Instead it was one of the local quarries, normally closed to the public, but open for one night only to members of High Batts.  It’s Quarry Central round here: lorries hauling gravel hither and yon are a common sight.  But once exhausted, and in fact in many cases while they’re still actively being quarried, these places become nature reserves, havens for native and migrating water birds, and creatures of every kind, pleased to find tracts of undisturbed, unfarmed countryside where they can live and prosper.

So the other evening we were at Bellflask.  A still very active quarry, it’s not open to the public, and hidden from view down long and fairly inaccessible tracks.  But it’s very much open to wildlife.  Our guides on a cold and blustery May evening were the quarry’s manager, Bob Orange, and Brian and Sue Morland, whose passion is for the flora and fauna of the place.

Bob’s role is to ensure that as each part of the site outlives its industrial usefulness, it becomes a housing and holiday destination for as wide a variety of wildlife as possible.  He says that even where gravel is actively being extracted, sandpipers, martins and so on fly within inches of the giant-sized machinery and immense trundling diggers with no fear at all.

A larger than life digger at the quarry.

A larger than life digger at the quarry.

But it was Brian and Sue who were most endlessly fascinating.  They live in a cottage on site, where they have a lease on a large area of riverside.  Their income comes from the fishery they’ve developed, but their real passion is in creating a favourable wildlife habitat.  Largely, this means leaving things to grow unimpeded.  Every evening for many years, Bob has set moth traps.  Because of the richness of habitat on the site, undisturbed by farming and pesticides, there are moths here that are found nowhere else in Yorkshire, and hardly anywhere ‘up north’.  This is important, he says. ‘What a lot of people don’t understand is that if you take, say, a pair of blue tits, to raise a family they require about 35,000 caterpillars and each one of these moths lays three or four hundred eggs. This is the bottom end of the food chain. Take your moths away and your birds starve’.*

Their secluded address means that they are the ones who have found a grey atlantic seal here, quietly fishing after having been swept nearly 60 miles up river one summer in unusual flood conditions.  On a summer’s evening, Brian may go looking for lampreys in the river, and find himself at the centre of a group of gambolling and playing young otters.  He and Sue are keen to allow nature to take over, but they’re not above giving a helping hand.  They’ve planted reed beds.  That way, the increasingly rare reed warbler is thriving, and they even hope to have the bittern that now pass through breeding here.

Eurasian bittern:

Eurasian bittern:”Bittern – Botaurus stellaris” by https://www.flickr.com/photos/lincsbirder/ -39969015. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

We saw nothing like this.  The cold and slightly dismal conditions kept wildlife at bay.  But just as interesting was the sight of all that machinery: the 24-hour-a-day pumps keeping the water level in the gravel pits at a level that permitted working to take place, the mammoth diggers with their immense caterpillar tracks.

Excavator at rest.

Excavator at rest.

We’ve noticed a few more sessions when this place will be open to the public over the next few months.  We’ll be there

* Yorkshire Post, Friday 10th September 2010

Anyone for footie?

Turton Tigers in action.

Turton Tigers in action.

We were over in Bolton for the night – Daughter Number One played on of the lead roles in ‘The Nerd’, with the Marco Players. It’s a play which deserves to be far more widely known: it’s clever, funny and a grand night out.

But being over in Bolton on Friday night means being over in Bolton for Saturday morning.  And Saturday morning, for twin grandsons nine years old Alex and Ben, means only one thing.  It’s match day for their footie team.  They play for Turton Tigers.  Parents, grandparents and associated hangers-on play at being supporters.

The thing about being a supporter is that it involves being cold.  We knew that only too well when Daughter Number Two played away matches for a hockey team in Harrogate.  Nowhere is colder and windier than a hockey pitch made from a reclaimed slag heap somewhere outside South Elmsall.  Except perhaps a community football pitch somewhere in Bolton.  It might be May at the moment, the tail end of the season, but wrap up warm.  Find your woolly socks.  Don’t forget your hat.

Football is a closed book to me.  I can’t tell which shots are amazingly good, and which ones might be astonishingly bad.  I can’t understand why it seem to be OK when the ball goes off the pitch.  It was never allowed in netball I seem to recall. I can’t tell when a ball has even half a chance of getting between the goalposts.  I can’t join in those conversations which Malcolm is able to initiate on the lines of how very much the team has improved and matured since last we saw them play a few months ago. I try hard not to clock-watch.

It's half time.  That's why nobody's looking at the pitch.

It’s half time. That’s why nobody’s looking at the pitch.

It’s lovely to see the boys giving it their all, to see their enjoyment, determination and sheer physical fluency.  I just wish I knew what was going on

But I’ve realised we may have a get-out clause.  Last Saturday was their first defeat in an unbroken nine week run of success.  The time before when we watched them play they lost as well.  And the time before that.  I think the boys are beginning to observe a pattern.  Next time we visit, we may be forbidden from watching. Oh dear.

It’s OK, Alex and Ben.  I don’t mean I don’t enjoy watching you two.  But you hit the nail on the head a few weeks ago Ben. You’d been talking animatedly and without pausing for breath for several minutes about (of course) football. Suddenly you stopped and regarded me pityingly. ‘Granny’, he said, ‘You haven’t understood a word I’ve been saying, have you?’.  And I’d been trying so hard…..


Do you fancy coming out to lunch with me?  I know a nice place we could go – it’s only been open for a few days.  We tried it out on Monday, and we’ll be back.

Corrina and Friends Community Café is no ordinary caff, though you might think it’s just another cheerful addition to the high street when you spot its bright blue facade and funky decor.  Friendly staff will greet you as you walk in, and present you with a menu.

But what’s this? There are no prices mentioned.  That’s because you’re invited to ‘pay as you feel’.  You’ll slip the sum you decide to pay into an envelope, and nobody will be any the wiser about how much you think your meal was worth.  Those staff who welcomed us were all volunteers, and so were the cooks in the kitchen.  This is why, according to their website:

‘With no set prices, customers pay what they feel the meal is worth or what they can afford. At the end of each day the café will open its doors to Harrogate’s homeless and vulnerable – all produce left over at the end of the day will be given away to those in need. All profits will go back into helping Harrogate District’s homeless and vulnerable people.’

Corrina's partner up-cycled these catering-sized tins into up-to-the-minute lampshades.

Corrina’s partner up-cycled these catering-sized tins into up-to-the-minute lampshades.

Corrina Young and her friends make a redoubtable team.  They’ve persuaded  businesses  to give their surplus food, or food which is still fresh at the end of the day, but has reached its sell-by date, to the cafe.  Individuals have donated dry goods, tinned goods, storage space, kitchen equipment and white goods.  Local groups have organised whip-rounds and raffles.  Others have donated paint and their skills as painters and decorators to make the place look clean, smart and inviting. Corrina herself raised money last month by getting people to sponsor her when she spent 72 hours in a skip outside her business premises (yes, she has a day-job as well)

Corrina seems to have endless energy and enthusiasm.  Wanting to do something worthwhile, in December 2013, she and her family and friends provided a Christmas meal for the homeless and vulnerable.  The idea developed and quickly became a weekly two-course meal.  Yes, Harrogate, prosperous and successful spa town, contrary to appearances, knows all about poverty and homelessness.

By then, people were beginning to talk about The Real Junk Food Project in Leeds.  Alarmed by increasing food waste, a chef, Adam Smith, developed a café in Armley that uses exclusively food destined for landfill: all that stuff that food retailers, especially supermarkets, are legally obliged to junk because it’s reached its sell by date, but not the end of its life.  Corrina was inspired by his work.  But her motivation is slightly different.  She wants to help prevent food waste.  But above all, she wants to help the homeless.  Getting a good hot meal inside someone who hasn’t the means of cooking is only the first step. But a very important one.

A busy day.  Photo: Mandy Lotts.

A busy day. Photo: Mandy Lotts.

So….. a café for the cash-poor homeless then, using where possible the food that’s had to be discarded by other shops.  That’s not sustainable.  But a café that attracts a wider paying public?  That might just work.  It brings the project to life.  A paying public have a jolly good meal, see what the project’s achieving, pay what they feel for what they’ve just eaten, maybe make a donation.  And at 5 o’clock, the café closes….and immediately re-opens its doors to the homeless and vulnerable.

These non-paying customers choose what to eat by looking at this board, covered in post-its.

People who’ve donated money write a ‘serving suggestion’ on their post-it, and the café users who come in at 5.00 chose a couple of these, and hand them over in lieu of payment.  They’ll eat what’s listed on the post-it.  Here’s what some people have written:P1190641

‘Soup and a toastie, Hannah x’

‘Coffee and a cake, George.’

‘Something hot and tasty. Love, Alison xx’

‘Eat what you fancy. Enjoy! Lee x’

We didn’t want  a big meal, so Malcolm and I had home-made soup.  Then we shared a cheese and ham toastie, and after that, we thought the cakes looked nice……  We’d had a great time, and Corrina made time to talk to us.  She’s found 2 more supporters in us.  She’s got 47 people begging to be considered as volunteer waiting staff.  All the profits that the café makes will be ploughed back into helping the target community.  The long-term aim is to resource, help and empower those people who are so vulnerable in today’s harsh economic and political climate.

Here's Corrina, in her bright pinny, ready to welcome customers.

Here’s Corrina, in her bright pinny, ready to welcome customers.

Congratulations, Corrina and friends  You’re an inspiration.


The Marmion Tower

P1190613Not much more than a mile up the road is West Tanfield.  It’s an ancient village that already existed when the Domesday Book was written in 1086.  Its inhabitants might say though that the most recent chapter in its history was written only last year, when the Tour de France passed through the village.  The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge dropped by in a helicopter to watch the riders hurtle down the hill from Masham, over the old bridge and on to Ripon.  They took the time to walk through the village talking to as many people as they could. It’s a memory many locals treasure (I’m thinking of you, Penny!)

As you walk through the village yourself, you’ll notice a tower next to the 13th century parish church.  That’s the Marmion Tower.  It’s a 15th century gatehouse, and is all that is left of a vanished manor house that belonged to the Marmion family.  As the direct line of this family ended, the succession passed first to the FitzHugh family, then the Parr family.  You’ll have heard of them.  William Parr was brother to Catherine, the sixth and last wife of King Henry VIII.

The Marmion Tower with its oriel window.

The Marmion Tower with its oriel window.

That staircase.

That staircase.

It took me till yesterday to go and explore the remains of this tower.  It might look like a castle, but there’s no evidence that it was ever designed to offer real protection.  There’s no portcullis to the gatehouse, no narrow windows through which to loose offensive arrows.  It’s a three-storey tower, which provided accommodation of reasonable comfort for the time, though the extremely narrow twisting staircase is a bit of a challenge.  Although large, the rooms are domestic in scale.  They offer splendid views over the River Ure and the fields and woods beyond, and on  one side, over the village itself.  One of the windows is a beauty in its own right.  It’s an oriel window – a kind of bay window – projecting from the first floor of the tower.

It’s ‘worth a detour’.  And afterwards, you can go and sit in the gardens of the pub next door, the Bull, and relax over a drink in the picturesque surroundings of the river with the church and tower beyond.

Once upon a time, if you had a country house, you had to have deer too.  At Studley Royal, part of the Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal World Heritage Site, there are deer and a deer park….. but no country house.

There was a medieval manor house once.  That burnt down in 1716.  John Aislabie, who inherited the site, and was responsible for the magnificent water gardens here,  rebuilt the site as a Palladian mansion.  That burnt down too,  in 1946.  There is no house any more.  But there are some 350 deer.

And on Saturday afternoon, we went to see them, and to find out more.  We’d been promised a grey but tolerable day.  In fact, it was grey and intolerable, with drizzle turning to driving rain.  But if the deer – some 350 of them – could manage, so could we.

Some of them are red deer, the native species of the British Isles, and the largest.

Red deer stag.  Wikimedia Commons

Red deer stag. Wikimedia Commons

Some are fallow deer.  These were introduced to Britain by the Normans, and became prized as ornamental animals, and for hunting.  They’re smaller than red deer, and perhaps seen as prettier.  They can come in two shades of tan with spotted coats, or in some cases black, or even white. Look at their antlers: quite different from those of the red deer.

Fallow deer stag, Wikimedia Commons.

Fallow deer stag, Wikimedia Commons.

And some are sika.  They look a little like darker versions of fallow deer (not the antlers though), and were introduced from China and Japan in the 19th century.

Sika doe, Wikimedia Commons.

Sika doe, Wikimedia Commons.

We learnt to distinguish one from the other by looking at their size, their antlers, their coats, their markings, their tails.  We learnt that deer are responsible for the very neat way in which the trees in the park are finished off.  Deer graze the leaves they can reach, thus leaving all the lowest branches and twigs at exactly the same height.  They’ll all happily munch bramble, gorse and nettles too: stinging leaves and prickly thorns don’t worry them at all.

At this time of year the males are losing their antlers.  They lose and re-grow them every year, which is a terrific drain on their energy, so they tend to take things fairly easy while this is happening in the early summer.  Each year until they’re aged 10 or so, they’ll grow larger antlers than the year before, and  with more points.  New antlers are velvety, so stags will spend time rubbing this soft coating off by scraping their new accessories against the dead wood that’s deliberately left lying in the deer park.  They’ll want them to be good and ready for the rutting season when they’ll wrestle other males in the quest to be the females’ Top Stag.

They’ll also enjoy a wallow.  We saw muddy depressions here and there where deer have lain down to have a good old scratch and bathe in thick oozy mud.  At this time of year it’s to help free themselves of their winter coat as they moult.  But it’s a different story in the breeding season.  Males urinate into the earth to make it even muddier.  Then they’ll roll round in the resulting muddy soup.  Their splendid appearance and smell as they rise up, magnificently coated in sticky earth and bits of vegetation makes them thoroughly alluring to the females they hope to attract.

On Saturday, the deer were edgy, a little spooked.  Nobody knew why.  The large groups we saw were always at a distance, always ready to bolt away.  The three varieties of deer don’t really mix, but neither do they feel the need to place real distance between themselves.  We didn’t get to see them at close quarters.  But we saw them well enough to distinguish one species from another with increasing confidence.  A good day then, despite the increasingly dirty weather.  We’ll be back when the sun shines, to visit the deer again.

Thanks to members of the volunteer Wildlife Team at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal for our afternoon with the deer. 

Yesterday was the day when Malcolm was to have done his first ‘proper’ walk since his operation.  But life got in the way, and at the last minute, he had to wait in for a workman.  I went anyway, because I was ‘recce-ing’ the route ahead of leading the Ramblers on the same route in 10 days or so: and it’s a busy 10 days.

The route I was checking was a walk full of only charm and delight:

– because, unusually, I could get from door to door (not that walks have doors) courtesy of the bus that passes the end of the road.  There are only 3 buses a day, mind you, so some planning is necessary.

– because it follows paths in the gentle sweeping valley of Wensleydale: a tranquil, lush and gently wooded area.


– because the walk begins and ends at one of Yorkshire’s ruined Cistercian abbeys – Jervaulx.  It’s even more ruined than Fountains and Rievaulx, but it’s a peaceful place to meander through; to sit quietly; or to explore for flowers clinging to ancient architraves, or topping off columns which no longer have any roof to support.

– because the path I took leads through English parkland which at this time of year is home not only to sheep, but to their young lambs, busily feeding, playing ‘I’m the king of the castle’, and having lamb-races, before cuddling up with mum for another little sleep.

– because Thornton Steward, a quarter of the way through the walk, is a picture postcard of a village.  There’s a green where you can rest for a while whilst looking beyond the cottages to Wensleydale beyond.  Even better, there is a village hall.  You won’t find anyone there, but the door is open.  The villagers encourage you to come in, make yourself a drink, help yourself to a biscuit,  and have a ‘comfort break’. Whilst relaxing, you could browse the books on display in two large bookcases.  Swap one of your own if you have one, or if not, make a donation and take a book away.

Thornton Steward Village Hall, all set to welcome weary walkers.

Thornton Steward Village Hall, all set to welcome weary walkers.

– because just outside Thornton Steward is the charming, tiny, isolated church of Saint Oswald.  Mainly Early English, it still has fragments – parts of the nave wall and the porch door – dating from before 1066.

The church of St. Oswald.

The church of St. Oswald.

– because at the edge of a field quite near the church, some lucky child’s dad, or granddad has made a very special tiny secret den from an ancient hollow tree.  Just look at this:


– because I passed Danby Hall, as well, begun in the 15th century and finally finished in the 19th century. Danby Hall was once the home of the Scrope family, a Catholic family of some influence who hid priests, attended clandestine masses and somehow survived the turbulent times of Tudor-Elizabethan England.


– because most of the second half of the walk is along the River Ure.  On one side, it’s all woods, wild garlic and wood anemones.  On the other, open views across the river itself, and Wensleydale beyond.


– because the route was so well way-marked that I barely needed a map to find my way round.

A style, a signpost, an easy route to find.

A style, a signpost, an easy route to find.

– and because of honesty boxes.  That’s how you know you’re not in the city.  Park at Jervaulx Abbey and there’s an honesty box so you can pay the parking charge.  Visit the Abbey itself, and there’s another one.  And at Thornton Steward they encourage you to make a donation for your refreshments: but no-one checks up: it’s up to you to do the right thing.

Thornton Steward advertises its'comfort break' facilities.

Thornton Steward advertises its ‘comfort break’ facilities.

On the walk, I thought of poor old Malcolm, stuck at home whilst I enjoyed one of the very first summer days, bright, fresh, and really rather hot.  I thought of one of my fellow bloggers, Sharon, whom – very exciting, this – we’re going to meet in a fortnight or so when she comes to visit Yorkshire: she might like this walk.  And I thought of another fellow blogger, Kerry, an American , who’d probably love to use the wool all those lambs and sheep are busily growing in one of her weaving projects, even though wool isn’t usually her chosen medium.

The path ahead, seen from the churchyard at St. Oswald's.

The path ahead, seen from the churchyard at St. Oswald’s.



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