Anyone who knows me even a little bit must be aware that I consider daffodils to be the main reason to be in England in the spring. We have wild daffodils of course. Think Wordsworth tramping through fields of flowers in the Lake District: think Farndale’s charming walk through the daffodils crowded along the River Dove in Yorkshire. But it’s the vibrant displays planted along roadside verges, in urban parks and on village greens, in garden tubs and along dual carriageways that grab my attention, every day.

Today though, I was thinking of a walk in France, just two years ago, to see the astonishing display of wild daffodils, in hills not so far from Foix. I thought you might like to remember it too.

Originally posted on From Pyrenees to Pennines:

Yesterday, we walked in Les Dolomies, which you could confuse with the Dolomites with its craggy pillars and rocky outcrops: though actually it’s a small area between Lavelanet and Foix, just along from Roquefixade.  After a few days of hot sun and blue skies, it was disappointing to have the threat of rain, but the slight mistiness brought its own beauty to the landscape, softening the distant views, and enhancing the vibrant greens of the springtime meadows. Everywhere, blossom and flowers.

We walked upwards through the woods.  Anny and Maguy had a surprise for us.  And quite suddenly, there they were.  Daffodils.  Thousands and thousands of them, extending upwards over the hillside, tumbling over rocks, leaving not an inch of path for us to walk along.  The weather cleared. The sun came out.  We were entirely happy.

Come and share the walk with us, along blossom-laden paths, through the daffodil…

View original 25 more words

We’re just back from France.  Specifically, we’re just back from Laroque d’Olmes, the town which we left exactly a year ago, and which for six and a half years, we called home.

We felt anxious about this trip.  What would we feel?  Would we find we’d made a horrible mistake in leaving Laroque?  Would our now rusted and un-exercised French measure up to a week or more of more-or-less constant use?  Would people want to see us as much as we wanted to see them?

On a  stroll near Laroque with Francis and Tine, we meet one man and his (five) dogs

On a stroll near Laroque with Francis and Tine, we meet one man and his (five) dogs

What actually happened was that for the first few days, we barely had time to think at all.  As soon as we got there, we were launched into A Social Diary.  We’d have lunch here with one set of friends, our evening meal there with another.  We’d slot other friends in for morning coffee, or afternoon tea.  One morning we even commandeered the local bar and held court there, in order to catch up with people whom we couldn’t see in any other way.  We started to flag. We simply couldn’t keep up the pace.

And luckily, we didn’t have to.  Saturday was the day the walking group had suggested we set aside for them.  The planned ‘rando’ had to be kicked into touch because of the promise of rain and wind.  Instead, a dozen or so of us walked for a couple of hours whilst Jean-Charles, as clerk-of-works, organised a team to transform a roofed shelter outside the church in nearby Fajou into a banqueting hall.  As ever, this turned into a magical occasion in which home-made tarts and pies, home-cured sausage, cheeses, bread, wine, more wine, cakes and puddings of every kind were crowded onto picnic tables for us all to feast upon as we gossiped and sang and reminisced, trying not to notice the cold and wind only inches away from us.  It felt as if we’d never been away.  Part of our time was spent making plans for the group to visit us here in Yorkshire. Watch this space!


After that, life became so much more leisurely.  Lunch in Foix on Easter Sunday with friends, then a lazy Easter Monday with our hosts, getting sunburnt in the garden, cooking and eating the traditional Omelette de Pâques.

..and this was our view, as we cooked and ate our omelette de Pâques on the hillside above Francis and Tine's house.

..and this was our view, as we cooked and ate our omelette de Pâques on the hillside above Francis and Tine’s house.

It’s memories of all those moments with friends that we bring home with us.  Memories too of the much-loved scenery of the foothills of the Pyrenees.  Would we return there to live?  Not a chance.  Laroque itself is going through very tough times, and it shows. The shop, the once-thriving music centre, children’s services – all are struggling.  Some of our French friends commented that perhaps we could have made our lives easier by not getting ourselves involved in day-to-day life there, and they could have a point.  We plugged into the local networks that talked and acted against corruption here, services closing there, money talking somewhere else, when instead we could have been sitting in our little bubble on a sun-dappled terrace drinking wine and  sun-bathing.  But by getting involved, we hope we made friends for life, and understood a little more about the society we briefly became part of.  But never fully part of.  Our very different background, our lack of real understanding of certain basics of French culture left us always feeling to some extent outsiders, however much we were accepted and made to feel at home.  It feels as if this is the right time to be involved in  life in England once more.

A moody sunset seen from the supper table chez Francis and Tine, with the sloe trees in full blossom.

A moody sunset seen from the supper table chez Francis and Tine, with the sloe trees in full blossom.

And anyway, who could bear to be anywhere else but here when the daffodils are in bloom?

Daffodils in Snape, the village along the road.

Daffodils in Snape, the village along the road.

Sprung Spring

A picture is worth a thousand words and all that… so here are some shots taken in the garden of a few spring time moments.  Happy Easter!

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


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 104 other followers