The promise

Things have been a bit quiet at the Community Orchard of late. Covid stymied our Committee meetings for several months, last autumn’s ‘harvest’ was pretty sparse (we’ve put it down to the cold windy spell that coincided with much of the blossom, keeping the bees ‘indoors’ so that not much pollination happened), and then in winter there’s not much to do and a dearth of acceptable weather to go out and do it in.

But we’re back!

The row of big Limes along the Northern edge of the site are beginning to impinge on the fruit-trees, and need cutting back. The trees themselves, many of them, could also do with a spot of pruning. All this is easier said than done: many branches are at least 20 feet up. The fruit trees don’t only need sunshine: they also need air to circulate freely about them or, like damp rooms, they’ll ‘go mouldy’.

So we sawed down a load of branches, chopped them into lengths, and hauled them off to the periphery where, heaped-up, they’ll make houses for hedgehogs, beetles and other wildlife.

In the course of all this, we spotted the first snowdrops of the year. They are the Promise: First the evenings will stretch out, lighting your way home from work (if, like me, you finish at 5:30), then the mornings will follow, getting lighter by the day.

The Promise says nothing about temperature, wind or sleet, mind you: snowdrops are tough little blighters and will shine through it all.

Tuesday Man: A short story for January days

January mist glides in waves over the flat river. It drips from the blackened branches of the stately chestnut trees that line the long, straight path.

I can make out a figure a couple of hundred yards ahead. The elderly gent I see, every Tuesday, when I walk into town to do my weekly shift.

My route takes me first on a rough gravel turn through vegetable allotments, then out onto the flat Ings near the taut-drawn steel arc of the Millennium Bridge before bearing right, along the straight promenade – ‘New Walk’ – lain in Regency times for ladies of leisure and gentleman flâneurs to parade in their finery.

My shift starts at ten. If I’m late, I see him near the beginning of the path: if I make good time I see him further north, at its end by the little blue bridge below the flood barrier. Here two rivers meet in a letter ‘Y’: the barrier’s to prevent the main flow making a rearguard action – backing up the smaller tributary, into the city centre.

Today I make good time.

“Hello.”

“Hello.”

It took me three years to get that much. Heaven knows how long it might take before a handshake – ‘My name’s Louise, but most people call me Ziss’. I suppose it’s a Brit thing.

*      *      *

January gales sweep the bare branches in broad gusts. Spindrift rolls over the choppy grey river. A year has passed and my new year’s resolution to find paid work has foundered again.

Perhaps it’s because I like my Tuesdays at the charity shop too much.

A few hardy joggers and determined dog-walkers are braving the storm. Here’s the gent, in his usual long dark coat.

“Hello.”

“Hello.”

He always carries a cane, though I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need one: his back is straight and his gait easy.

I’m early: I’m practically at the blue bridge.

After that the path roughens before passing under the bone-like arches of Skeldergate, along the quayside and in front of the two old pubs – the King’s Arms and the Lowther – that are always on the national News when it floods.

*      *      *

The pale sun of the New Year casts a long, indistinct shadow that leans left on the path before me. I’m once again enjoying my first walk in of the year. The river is blue and smooth. An eight glides like a blade, the coxswain calling the strokes.

Last June my number came up for an allotment. I noticed as I passed just now that the broccoli leaves have wilted. But it’s only frost: they’ll recover.

“Hello.”

“Hello.”

Funny how, past a certain age, people don’t seem to get any older. It’s been six years now.

*      *      *

I can’t believe how mild it is this New Year: I’ve not even bothered with a coat. Several cyclists bowl by on the other side of the path’s white line. One of them has a breathless Staffy on a lead.

I wonder if this year will be as eventful as last: our eldest left home, someone burned down the shed on our allotment, and I found a book about wine-making in the shop and took the plunge.

I must be walking faster: I’m at the blue bridge.

The sky and the river are dark steely grey, but snowdrops gleam like tiny shields on the grassy bank between the two rivers, at the ‘Y’ by the flood barrier.

His face is quite distinctive: chiselled and triangular.

“Hello.”

“Hello.”

*      *      *

January sleet drives like an onslaught. Just as well the Council reinforced the path last autumn. I wasn’t even going to walk this way: their site said Viking monitor was reading two metres above mean summer level. Water would have cut off my route. The river speeds, brown and whorled, but the earthworks have kept the walk clear, as promised.

When the path’s flooded I have to resort to the main road. I make the same time, but I never see him there.

Our youngest left home last year.

My wine won a prize at the local show.

“Happy New Year.”

I almost stop in my tracks.

“Oh… er, and you too!”

*      *      *

Rain lashes the bedroom window. It’s nearly 9:30, but dawn hasn’t gone past dark grey. My eyes are burning. I’m almost too weak to lean across and find the number.

“I’m sorry, Nick. I can’t come in today: I think I’ve got that ’flu.”

“Oh dear. Thanks for letting us know. Take care.”

It’s been the wettest year in a decade, the ground sodden since September. This storm’s so bad they’ve given it a name. It rages on for days. So does my fever.

I sit up in bed and scroll through the news.

The river’s breached its banks. Viking’s broken its record: nearly six metres up. Someone canoed through the top storey of the King’s Arms. The electrics of the barrier seized because water infiltrated the wheelhouse – bit of a design fault there – allowing the flood to overrun the city centre. The Army are on the streets, with sandbags and pontoons. The B.B.C. interviewed an historian from the University, who said the flooded roads used to be a fishpond in mediaeval times. Only human ingenuity defends them nowadays.

Days pass. The floods and my ’flu subside, as they must, and I’m back on my feet by the Tuesday.

Mild air greets me as I leave the house, almost as if in apology for the excesses of last week.

A tall well-built lad passes me near the Millennium Bridge: odd, his type are usually jogging, cycling, or on the main road instead, riding a motorbike or driving a van. I smile at him.

I steel myself to pick my way over treacherous, slimy mud – the floods’ usual aftermath. But it’s not necessary: the Council have already been busy with the clean-up. The path is dry.

The usual cyclists breeze by: students, suits; shoppers. I overtake elderly couples, dog-walkers; young lasses with rucksacks.

I’ve reached the blue bridge.

No gent.

He’s not on the rough path to Skeldergate, or on the cobbled landing by the pubs, now both back in action after the floods.

I’ve never before not-seen him on my riverside walk in.

I’ve even given him a nickname: Tuesday Man.

He isn’t on the steep street up to the shops, past the Dungeons museum with its display of grizzled Viking fighters. Funny how we still invoke their old Gods in our weekdays’ names. And how Tew – God of war – is the one nobody remembers.

I don’t mention it at the shop.

*      *      *

When I walk home I face the low sun – piercing white.

The river glitters, silver and gold. Tiny translucent spears of grass poke up through new mud on the banks. I screw my eyes: can just make out a silhouette crossing the Millennium Bridge.

As I get near, I recognise the lad from this morning.

I wonder why he’s carrying a cane.

“Hello.”

“Hello.”

First published April 2019, in the Cabinet of Heed: https://cabinetofheed.com/2019/04/01/tuesday-man-c-l-spillard/

Howsham Mill in the summer

You can’t tell it by looking at these pictures, but the day we decided to revisit last October’s walk along the River Derwent, it topped thirty degrees.

The woods, though, remained pleasantly cool. There were even tangy wild redcurrants.

The field at the top was full of beans. More than can be said for me by the time we got there! The borders have been left for meadow flowers.

Further on, wheat harvest was in full swing.

The manor overlooks more fields of wheat.

I don’t recall wheat being a thing in Yorkshire when I first learned about it – you associated it with East Anglia. It only takes very little change in climate though – less than half a degree – to shift things miles further north. Half a degree in half a century.

Howsham Mill’s Archimedean Screw water turbine is still working well. You can hear it as a soft, slow, ‘thud, thud’ from across the river.

On the way back to the Priory, another weir awaits. We speculated about whether you could kayak down it.

Back at the Priory, people were enjoying a swim. We dipped our feet in to cool off.

North York Moors, Saxon church, and sundial

“I want to drag you all out for a walk.”

Nobody reacted.

“There’s a Sundial.”

It also has to be said that the temperature had finally reached the upper realms of single figures, and the weeks-long gruesome wind had died down; so off we all went.

The Moors are heather and peat, and sparsely inhabited. At night, they offer some of England’s darkest skies.

The milestone here was put up in 2000. We sat for a bit of a rest and noticed the lamb near the sheep on the left there wasn’t moving – the sheep kept returning to it hoping for better luck each time. Eventually the lamb got up on shaky legs and started to feed. Life isn’t always easy.

This hole i’th wall was Lastingham’s village well.

Lastingham village.

The land for Lastingham Church was originally consacrated by St Cedd, who also took part in the Synod of Whitby (which, among other things, set out how the date for Easter is calculated.)

Cedd died of the Plague in 664. Of a party of monks who travelled all the way from Essex to mourn him, all bar one met the same fate. What with that and the Saxon crypt, the church is kind-of Metal…

The village, under the moors. Ever noticed how it’s the most recently-built houses in Northern villages that have the best views? The older ones nestle to keep out of the wind – and their inhabitants would probably have had enough of the Great Outdoors by the time the working day comes to an end!

Vintage postbox (Note ‘V : R’ embossed at the top!)

We now come to one of the flatter parts of Yorkshire…

…which led us, finally, to Kirkdale, and the 11th century sundial whose inscription mentions not only Edward (‘the Confessor’) but also Tostig, at that time Earl of Northumbria. Tostig’s later support of Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge contributed to King Harold’s defeat at Hastings in the same year.

In the wake of that battle, and wanting to stamp out any possibility of Northern rebellion, William I sent mercenaries north. They exterminated three quarters of the population here.

Like I said – dark skies.

Pandemic Golf

Yes, this is just a walk the length of our local golf course, deserted – at least, by people playing golf – due to the current lockdown.

Turning away from the links, some of the view is like the opening shots of Secret Army. Will we ever get out of here, and back to normal life?

This has been the first dry day for a week, but the paths are not wet – because they’re frozen.

The patterns of winter trees are the best.

Last walk of 2020

It’s been a long year.

Here it is in close-up:

Sometimes it felt like struggling through tangled branches…

Or going through odd places, seeing things from a different angle:

It seemed to go on and on…

Until the last sunset

In the absence of the promised New Year’s Eve party – cancelled due to tightening restrictions (York got moved to Tier 3) – our walk south of the city was the perfect send-off.

Goodnight, 2020. A weird, cruel and thought-provoking year.

The circumnavigation of Beningbrough Hall

In theory it’s easy to cycle from York, where we live, to Beningbrough Hall. In practice, though, it’s been raining almost continuously for a fortnight and cycling through mud isn’t everybody’s cup of tea (It’s a great route in the sumer, though).

We grabbed the one suny morning we had this week, and we drove there.

There’s been a stately home on this site since Elizabethan times, but the present pile was built between 1702 and 1716, in a style inspired by its owner’s two-year tour of Italy.

It went through many incarnations. One owner, a passionate horsewoman, ran a stud farm here. It also served during World War II as a billet for British and Canadian air crew.

Like many stately homes, Beningbrough Hall passed into the hands of the National Trust when its last private owners had to find money to pay Death Duties.

We caught some fleeting sunshine on the Chapel in the grounds.

“Is that river supposed to be there?”

It’s the point where the rivers Nidd and Ouse meet, but they’ve also ‘met’ a few fields, hedges and trees into the bargain.

Not to mention parts of the path…

Running the premises, from the National Trust’s point of view, hasn’t always been easy. In 1979 they teamed up with the National Portrait Gallery so the main rooms could be used for art exhibitions.

In better, non-pestilential times, you can go inside and view interiors and art without having to book in advance.

It speaks volumes that the present exhibition is on the subject of Well-Being (and that it ends on Hallowe’en).

Stay safe, everyone.

Park and glide

Many families go for a walk in the country on Boxing Day. We tend to try and beat the rush, and go in the run-up to Christmas. We’re often out and about on the shortest day or, in this case, the day before. Dusk falls at 3:30 pm, so it’s generally not a long walk.

From the top of Sutton Bank, Yorkshire spreads out like a giant, sage-green quilt.

Someone wants their memories always to remain here.

Sutton Bank, as a scarp facing into the prevailing wind (South West), is ideal for gliders. The Yorkshire Gliding Club has been here in its present form since 1934.

The gliders make an eerie whistle as they ghost overhead.

Moved by seeing the horse hill figures of the Southern counties, a local businessman suggested creating one on the hillside of Sutton Bank. The Headmaster of a nearby school got wind of the idea and, in 1857 with the help of his pupils, made it a reality. The work involved marking and carving out the figure by stripping away the topsoil, followed by transporting tonnes of white limestone to the site.

Their horse is so Victorian! He stands, stolid, as if waiting for work – unlike the ancient horses who inspired it, who run like waves across the wild landscape.

A walk to a mill

There’s been a mill on the site of Howsham Mill since before the Norman Conquest (and subsequent massacre of all things Northern) – it’s mentioned in the Domesday Book.

It’s taken me this long to get round to seeing it. We took a walk there, from Kirkham Priory. This is all that remains of the priory now. The grounds are peaceful, well-tended, and have picnic tables.

From there we headed up into the woods.

The keen-eyed among you might spot a rather cheekily-shaped mushroom at the foot of a tree to the right of the path. More mushrooms were growing on a tree nearby – not edible, as far as I know:

Leaving the wood took us out onto farmers’ land, then a quiet road. A tree had dropped hundreds of tiny apples onto the verge and the tarmac. Many of them have now found their way to places where they stand a better chance of growing. Not into trees with sweet, edible apples to be sure, but at least into trees. This country needs all the trees it can get, and this is just the time of year for-

Pears??


I have never seen a pear-tree, at a random roadside, drop perfectly edible pears (we tested a few) onto the road like this. Pity to waste them…

We crossed a proper staffed level-crossing. Inside the office, we noticed, the windowsills were stacked with books. Perfect job for someone!

And so to the River Derwent:

And on to the Mill.

The present Gothic pile was built in 1755 as part of the Howsham Estate – apparently the gentlemen of the house wanted a bit of a conversation piece, visible from their stately home, as well as a useful source of income.

But bit by bit, over the next 200 years, grinding first flour, and then animal feed, became less and less profitable. The last miller left in 1947 and the building fell into such bad disrepair that some bright spark in the 1960s (of course) put in an application to demolish what was left of it.

Luckily, conservationists intervened.

In the early 2000s local enthusiasts formed the Renewable Heritage Trust with the aim of getting it rebuilt and running, both as a source of electricity and a venue for educational outreach and the like.

Our writers’ group had even booked a day there, but sadly it got Covid-ed.

The Mill now has two sources of renewable electricity: a classic mill-wheel that generates about 10 kW (about enough energy to fire the boiler to heat a small house), and an Archimedean Screw (a spiral rod that the water turns as it passes down a tube – particularly good for venues with a low height difference between the water arriving and leaving, as the Derwent has in this flat landscape) which, when we turned up, was generating about 45 kW.

It also has a picnic table – so we had lunch.

The volunteers who run it all appear to be retired engineers. I worry that, as the national retirement age is raised, life expectancy stops its historic 200-year upward trend, and the supply of rail and other mechanical experts dwindles, we’ll be short of the good types who keep this kind of project on the road, and who are willing and able to start up new ones.