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).
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.
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-
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!
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.