Thursday, May 31, 2012

In praise of wistaria

 Wandering round Hyland House yesterday, my love remarked that I was always happy in a garden.  True, the mad mass of May flowers reminds us of a paradise garden devoted to flowers, shrubs and trees, the birds singing happily in the trees.  Hyland House is formal, but is well tended and loved by its gardeners.  I have written earlier about its history.  I have some old delicate chinese cups, they came in a big black box lined with red silk a gift from my first mother-in-law.  Depicted on the green and gold background of the porcelain are the racemes of  wistaria's purple and white flowers hanging in profusion.  
Walking under the tunnel of these pale mauve flowers below, a faint scent greets you in the shade of their presence.  In other parts of the garden purple irises and alliums echo the colour, underpinned by the blue of cat's mint and the pale yellow of ladies mantle.
Paths of laurels and rhodendroms wind round, so winding in fact that I almost collapsed through weakness for want of food!  But we then visited the World Garden, a recent addition and beautifully constructed with a small Arts and Craft building to walk through and a serpentine stream of water running all the way through. 

the World Garden

Purple alliums

poppy buds read to burst

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Summer time

Two old willows are in the slow process of dying by the Terling river, looking at their vast trunks and you realise they will have to rot and fall because they are too large to cut with chainsaws and the branches too rotten for clambering up as well.  Old giants with their great roots  embedded in the bank will make the land on the other side of the river 'wild' for a time.   Why is England always 'white'at this time, great hawthorns flower in the hedgerows and cow parsley spreads itself with the exuberance of early summer - beautiful.

Young blackbirds keeping a keen eye on the compost bin for worms, not a good idea when there are cats around.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Solva - The Gribin

The promontory fort at the end of the Gribin

A couple of weeks ago I found some news about another settlement being discovered on the Gribin ridge overlooking Solva, that there were now three settlements along its ridge. They are presumably Iron Age, perhaps lived in at different times,  though it could be that the large 'D' shaped enclosure at the end would be defensive.  I only knew of two, the picture above is the promontory fort to be found at the end of the ridge, small step like banks are all that remain of this one.  The other is in the middle of the ridge is small and I must have walked over it many times, the last one lays at the furtherest end of the ridge and is the 'D' embanked enclosure.
I have always loved this fairly short walk up the cliff from Solva, honeysuckles twine in the hedge plants along the cliff path, and then you can look down on the two valleys, one of the village of Solva and the other of the valley below, with its old field walls still showing through very wet and boggy ground.

The 'drowned' valley with the Gribin to the left

The narrow rocky path

The 'D' enclosure I/A
Old field wall across the valley

This is one of the small banks of the promontory fort at the end

the little river that runs through

Stepping stones
More information here on Megalithic Portal

Friday, May 25, 2012

Elderflower champagne

 Not quite sure of the champagne bit but it is sparkling fresh on a hot summer day.  I have made it for years, and it disappears quite quickly, always keep an eye on it, just in case the top of the bottles comes off. Plenty of lemons, sugar, a dash of white vinegar and then those beautiful scented panicles of white flowers with their small yellow centres are plunged into the water.... Only problem is we don't have enough bottles!

Books read - Sea Room - Adam Nicholson

I have just come to the end of my book Sea Room by Adam Nicholson, all I can say is that it was excellent and thoroughly engrossing book.  Skimming over the Shiant Island's long history like the sea birds that cluster so thickly there at certain times of the years Nicholson conveys the great sense of peace on these rocks that could just about give a living to several families, if they worked hard and did not mind the hardship of strong weathers.  The fat little puffins who breed there and the great skuas, the sheep who roam so perilously close to the cliffs.  Those cliffs of pillared basalt, occasionally a column would fall without warning into the sea, The Minches a sea that must be travelled over from the Isle of Lewis to the Shiants, in whatever weather sometimes you could be stranded on the islands for a long time as the winter storms raged.
There are sad stories, one particularly comes to mind when a husband and wife went hunting down the cliffs for puffins, the wife on a long rope managed by her husband caught and killed the puffins and hung them round her waist.  But the rope broke and she tumbled into the water to be swept away on a petticoat of puffins, talking to her husband who could do nothing to rescue her but watch her swept out to sea buoyed up by her harvest of puffins.
There is tales of the archaeological digs by a Czech team which uncovered prehistory as well as much later evidence of pottery made on the islands by locals as late as the 18th century. Poor stuff made out of the clay to hand, fired in the hearth fire, this Craggenware pottery must have resembled the earlier Neolithic pottery.
Another funny story comes to mind, this to do with cattle, all animals would have been transported by boat from or to the main island.  There is evidence of a horse jaw and a house cow was  presumably often kept in the later centuries.  But to return to the story, a bullock was hauled by a small crane into the fishing boat for transportation back to Lewis in the 20th century, as he swung gently in the air over the four men who were hauling him over he emptied his four stomachs over them - and in Nicholson's dry sense of humour - cattle have not been seen on the islands since!
The famous black rats of medieval England still live on all the three islands, feasting on puffins when they are around and famine sets in when the puffins have gone and they have to eat grass.  They live in the one habitable house as well, scuttling across the rafters boldly peering into your face on your bed at night. So that Nicholson's womenfolk refuse to stay there, no loos, no electricity and the ever present rat.
Life on a Scottish island romantic of course in summer, in the dark of winter with the storms beating at your door and windows maybe not so.  There are still remains of the black houses of the past, cosy with half of the insides for human habitation the other half for their animals over winter, the smell could not have been too pleasant, though the animal floor sloped away to the east for drainage.  And in spring, the east stone wall would be knocked down and the bedding removed to fertilise the fields.  The few cattle would often be starving by the end of winter and would have to be carried out to the fields, very similar to their Scandinavian brethren.

Blackhouse Museum on Lewis

You can see from the following photo how a blackhouse would look, the ropes and stones thrown over the thatch, is a method used in places round the West Welsh coastline, Aberridy immediately springs to mind.

Black House reconstruction; Creative Commons with no attribution

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tulips coming to an end

Not a good title, what I meant was the tulips are full-blown and coming to an end, it is not often you see a tulip behaving so voluptuously as a rose!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Staithes Art Group

Staithes…. It was there that I found myself and what I might do. The life and place were what I yearned for – the freedom, the austerity, the savagery, the wilderness. I loved the cold and the northerly storms when no covering would protect you. I loved the strange race of people who lived there, whose stern almost forbidding exterior formed such contrasts to the warmth and richness of their nature.”

Written by Laura Knight early in the 20th century, an art group that only lasted 15 years, I came across them in a book in the local library.
I am always interested in paintings, depictions of the world around us, their subjective imagery belongs to the artist not you.  I had been to an auction just along the road, and came in when the paintings were being auctioned off, surprisingly for Whitby (or maybe not) some of the paintings ran into thousands of pounds, and though I am not keen on over ornate gold frames and rampant stags there were other smaller paintings of interest. Also at the Pannett Museum, the first room you enter (free) has two galleries, one given over to Whitby's famous painters, Richard Weatherhill, and the other gallery to local artists, their paintings for sale.
I have mulled over buying some prints or an original but this exercise is difficult.  I had decided on some of Nikki Corker's quirky prints, like the fun element and the children would appreciate them, nothing too serious for me, animals, birds and flowers.  Sutcliffe and his sepia photos though fascinating are too miserable to stick on the wall.....
So back to the Staithes artists, I can understand what drew them to this 'picturesque' part of the coast, and they were welcomed by the people of Staithes bringing in much needed income. The railway had come to this part of the world so travelling was not too difficult, though even today, as I can testify, travel by train takes a long time, whether from Bristol - 4 hours to York, an hour to Scarborough and then another hour by bus to Whitby, the whole day is taken up with travel and waiting, and don't get me going on the state of the trains ;)

Brunswick Road

When I walk to and thro from my daughter this is the road I walk down, the  road of the three churches I call  it, they cluster at the bottom, ugly in colour and forbidding though one has a rather beautiful portico, of three arches. Why three churches cluster together I don't know, but Whitby has many churches, and of course a retreat house.  Early evening the gulls gather on the wall of the Brunswick Centre to sleep the night away, one evening a flock of gold crest squabbled furiously in the bushes, their bright sharp colours enlivening the gray of the stone.
Cross the road at the bottom and you notice a strange building in front of you, this is Bagdale Hall, it has always looked very Victorian to me but in fact it is much earlier, Tudor (1531) to be precise, but I suspect the 1882 restoration has hidden much of its past.

Brunswick Road

Bagdale Hotel

The plaque and window that gives its age away

Tombstones seemingly attached at a later date

History of Bagdale Hotel

Friday, May 18, 2012


The Shiant Isles. Creative Commons attribution Tony Kinghorn
Looking from Garbh Eilean to Eilean an Taighe on the right with Eilean Mhuire in the distance

Territory;  I touched upon previously the territorial rights in the small yard at Whitby at the moment I am reading Adam Nicholson's Sea Room, this a book about three small islands called the Shiants just off, or at least 4 miles from the larger island of Lewis, surrounded by rough seas and the tide-ripes of the Minches, it is difficult to get to and difficult to live on, sheep are the only livestock, but in days past there would have some crofters living there as on St.Kilda.
The islands were brought in the early 20th by Adam Nicholson's father from Compton Mackenzie, inherited by Adam and to be passed on his son in due course but of course to some locals, it was not 'owned' by an English family.  This understanding rests lightly on the warring factions of the Scottish tribal or clan system, though strangely the Nicholson family had earlier claimed dominance on the islands as Vikings in the 12th century. Eight generations of landlords, Compton Mackenzie had bought the islands from an earlier English landlord Lord Leverhulme, who also owned the Isles of Lewis and Harris.  Of course this state of affairs of large Scottish estates owned by outsiders still exist, nothing much changes.
What caught my eye though was a statement by the Reverend  Donald MacCullum in 1894 when he made an impassioned plea to the Royal Commission who was hearing the state of the crofters in the island, it was a very emotional attack on 'landlordism' and its existence, but it gives a state as to how local people feel confronted by outsiders who take possession of their lands....
have necessarily resulted from the fact that land, lake, river and estuary are appropriated to the sole use, and regulated by the will of a few irresponsible individuals styled by themselves and others as lords.  Every man has a right, natural and god-given to the earth and its fullness - its fullness of light, air and water. of vegetation and fruit, of beast, bird and fishes, of metals and minerals.  The lords who first sold the land had no right to do so and therefore the lords who bought the land are not the owners thereof.  That which a man has no right to sell cannot become the property of the man who buys it.
He goes on to say....
Lordism impoverishes the land.  The wealth that is on sea and land, instead of being used in rearing the families of those who earn it, is spent in providing luxuries for idle lords..

Well obviously he did not win his case but the hostility occasioned to landlords is probably justified when your background is Scottish or Irish, the appropiation of land by force whether Saxon, Norman or the dissolution of the monastic houses and their lands falling into the hands of rich entrepreneurs in England are again echoed by the wealthy 19th century industralists who with money in their pockets, land grabbed and forced people from their settlements in Scotland laying waste the land to deer and birds for shooting by the wealthy.......

Well back from Whitby my mind bubbling over with thoughts and things done. (and also things not done)!
Patchwork and knitting fills my need to keep fingers active, family keeps my social life turning, we had 'girls nights in the cottage which consisted of spaghetti to eat and a video to watch, the children sprawled on the floor.
My next door neighbour (let us call her X) called me a proper 'resident' and her other neighbour an 'incomer' (Y) though she has been there for 12 years.   Well my rise in status is one to be watched, a fall from grace could be on the horizon should I step out of line.  The problem is a rose tree pruned within an inch of its life, in fact it died, (this was done by Y cutting below the bud) and now its tall thorned stems are adorned with bird holders. Really it should be dug out of the ground and replaced but what do we feed the birds on? I have suggested a proper bird feeder, but we have large birds coming down. Jackdaws my favourite, a few pigeons, 2 pretty white doves that advance to the steps of the cottage as if wanting to come in and of course the dreaded seagulls. Do not feed seagulls is always the cry that goes out though to be honest I feel sorry for them.  Though their odd blue menacing eyes as they contemplate you is a bit off putting
So what distinguishes a 'resident' apparently it is the 4 small areas of our gardening space, the little end cottage was a warehouse (must have been very tiny) in its time and the cottage above me a bakery.

Whitby must have been filled with tiny shops, as it is now of course, butchers, greengrocers and bakeries still exist of course.  Bothams the bakers which lies but three minutes from the cottage, has beautiful cakes, pies which I try not to indulge in and fresh baked bread.

The jumbled skyline that I love so much, this little beach is approached by the back alleys

A whole book could be written about the infill of cottages

West Cliff, the Victorian era of large hotels, not a place I visit with its whale bone monument

Lillie, striding confidently down the road in her choice of clothes, mostly anything thing to do with purple!

My greatest acquisition was a book, there it was in a charity shop, a beautiful clean copy of The Making of the English Landscape by Hoskins with an overview by Christopher Taylor.  Written in 1955, (mine was a 3rd edition 1986) the book is a subjective but erudite description of the growth of England from prehistory to the middle of the 20th century.  Taylor criticises beautifully, Hoskins is a conservative with a small 'c', all is doom after the Victorian industrial revolution, satanic mills, terrible modern buildings, destruction of beautiful old market towns but of course that is change and evolution.  And it must not be forgotten that we still fight for every scrape of green in danger of obliteration by the evils of a Tesco supermarket or vast housing estates, not all is lost.
The book had to be left behind too heavy, but I took photos of two still existing Roman roads still to be found on the moors, we had in actual fact gone to look for the Yorkshire one.....

This is Blackstone Edge, Littleborough, Lancs, the most remarkable road surviving on the high moor above Rochdale. The central groove is said to have been cut by the friction of the brake-poles of carts descending the almost 1 in 4 gradient.

Wade Causeway, Wheeldale Moor, N.Yorks - Roman  Road from Malton to Whitby.  What is visible are merely the rough foundation stones.  Smooth roadway had disappeared - a failed roadway.