27 February 2016


Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow? 
With silver bells, and cockle shells, 
And pretty maids all in a row.

In the sixteenth century, Mary Queen of Scots spent the last eighteen years of her life "imprisoned" at several locations in England. Politically and religiously she was deemed to be a threat to the English throne. I put the word "imprisoned" inside inverted commas because hers was a rather odd sort of imprisonment. Not for her a dark cell with bars and a drunken jailer rattling his keys. No. For Mary, there were hunting parties, an entourage of servants, banquets and trysts with noblemen. There was, it seems,  little actual suffering until her head was chopped off at Fotheringay Castle in 1587. She was forty four years old.
For most of her many years of "imprisonment" she was under the stewardship of The Earl of Shrewsbury. Fabulously wealthy, The Earl effectively owned several important properties including Sheffield's lost medieval castle, Sheffield Manor and a massive manor house located some twenty four miles south just outside a Derbyshire village called South Wingfield.

Strategically located, the palatial manor was constructed in the middle of the fifteenth century for Lord Cromwell, The Treasurer of England on the site of a Norman Castle.

Two hundred years later, in the middle of the seventeenth century, Wingfield Manor was ruined during The English Civil War and no one has occupied it since but a farm - called unsurprisingly Manor Farm - was built within the old manor house's grounds. Today the ruins and the working farm complex mingle together.

Public visits to Wingfield Manor are strictly controlled by English Heritage. I have a sense that the current landowners and the occupiers of the farm have been resistant to pressures to improve access. But it is a part of our country's heritage and to me it is a crying shame that visitors are kept away by warning notices - "Private", "No Entry", "No Public Access" etcetera. The ruins also deserve proper maintenance.

When I walked by the ruins on Thursday, I was only able to snap a few external shots that hint at what lies within. As I returned to South Wingfield in the late afternoon, the daylight was becoming gloomy but looking across a sheep pasture I think you get a sense of just how monumental Wingfield Manor was. An intriguing place from where a troubled queen once looked out and heard crows cawing in the oak wood below...

26 February 2016


Earlier this week, a rowing boat arrived in Antigua in the West Indies. It had been rowed all the way from La Gomera in The Canary Islands. The journey took sixty eight days and the distance covered was almost three thousand miles.

The rowers were all women aged between 45 and 51 - Niki Doeg, Helen Butters, Frances Davies, and skipper Janette Benaddi pictured below on the far left.
The name of the boat? "Yorkshire Rows" and where are these four brave women from? Yorkshire of course!

I know that some of you out there are dismissive of feats like this, thinking - What's the point? But I salute these four women and am in awe of their courage - not only in achieving their goal but in doggedly organising the adventure with sponsorship, simply getting the boat built, media coverage and back-up support etc.. None of this can have been easy. Bravo indeed!

To visit their website, go here.

24 February 2016


Wold top scene
Sixteen miles. That's how far I walked on Monday. I arrived in the Lincolnshire village of Elsham at just after nine in the morning and got back to my car at three thirty in the afternoon. Not once did I sit down in those hours but there were a few "rests" as I paused or took short diversions to take photographs.
Disused phone kiosk in Elsham
It was a day when it felt good to be alive as late winter sunshine bathed the northernmost section of The Lincolnshire Wolds. By the time I reached Horkstow Wold at about one o' clock I could see the mighty River Humber and distant views of my true homeland - The East Riding of Yorkshire. Just north of Horkstow and South Ferriby the wide band of ancient chalk that forms The Lincolnshire Wolds dips under the river before rising on the other side to become The Yorkshire Wolds.
St Clement's, Worlaby
On this delightful walk I saw many things and loitered in  the following villages - Elsham, Worlaby, Bonby, Saxby All Saints and Horkstow. They all sit on the springline and when walking on the upper part of the wolds you have to descend to reach them. They look westwards into the sunset, sheltered from the most bitter winter winds that arrive from The Ural Mountains in Russia, faraway across the grey North Sea.
Disused Methodist chapel in Bonby
I met a man in Worlaby and he was curious about my photo-taking - but in a friendly way. We stopped and chatted for a while. A couple of hours later he drove past me on the quiet top wold road and stopped to chat some more. He was impressed by the distance I had made and perhaps he was wondering slightly enviously about the joys of country walking.
St Andrew's Church, Bonby
I saw kestrels hovering and snowdrops bursting forth, a woman in a big red Christmas jumper, crows pecking at winter corn, five ancient churches (all locked), a tumbledown farm shed, a cyclist in a fluorescent outfit. The Humber Bridge and millions of pieces of chalk scattered across wold top fields like bits of ice or springtime blossom. Strange to think that they were once part of a primordial seabed.
Saxby All Saints
It was cold up on the top lanes so I was glad that I had remembered to don the red thermal hat I bought in Bury Market. When I finally got back to the car, I was cream crackered. It was only then that I sat down and gobbled the banana I had been carrying for sixteen miles. And the plastic bottle of spring water was almost syphoned down to my complaining kidneys.
On Middlegate Lane - heading back to Elsham

23 February 2016


On days like today you might think that the winter has already gone. I drove to Apperknowle,  just beyond Sheffield's southern boundary and there I bought a dozen seed potatoes. They need "chitting" before being planted at the end of March  - weather permitting. "Chitting" means allowing the seed potatoes to develop hardy sprouts in  cool, light conditions so that when they go in the ground they are ready to establish themselves.

After my visit to Tommy Ward's garden centre, I drove to the edge of the  village where I took these two pictures of "The Travellers' Rest". It remains a "free house" which means it is independently owned and run and not tied to one of the country's big breweries. Sadly, there are not many free houses left. They tend to be more characterful - not following corporate orders but financially they struggle to stay afloat these days.

As you can see, the sky was blue with a few cumulus clouds drifting by. It was the same yesterday when I plodded for sixteen miles along the northern section of The Lincolnshire Wolds... but I'll blog about that another time. Perhaps tomorrow.

22 February 2016


Kum bay ya, my Lord, kum bay ya!
In England we have a right wing politician called Alexander Boris de Pfeffel  Johnson or "Boris" for short. He was born in America and spent his privileged school years at Eton before moving on to Balliol  College, Oxford where he gained an upper second class degree in Classics. He played rugger and was also a member of the notorious and exclusively upper class drinking and dining society - The Bullingdon Club.

For some reason that I cannot figure out, the British media have put Johnson on a pedestal. We are led to believe that he has "character" and voter appeal with his unruly mop of white-blonde hair and his over-excited misuse of the English language.  Some say he is destined to be our next prime minister. In my opinion, he has been given and continues to receive far too much airtime. It is as if the media have made him.

In 2008, Johnson became the elected Mayor of London. On the face of it, you would imagine that in leading the governance of one of the world's major cities he would have more than enough on his plate. Twenty four hours a day and seven days a week would surely never be enough to get everything done.

But no! In May 2015, Johnson became the Conservative MP for  Uxbridge and South Ruislip - representing more than 72,000 electors in parliament and presumably dealing with his constituents' endless issues. And this is what I don't get - How can somebody be both Mayor of London and an MP? To do both jobs effectively is surely impossible.

On Sunday, the media scrum were waiting outside Johnson's West London townhouse to find out which camp he intended to join ahead of Britain's European Union referendum to be held on June 23rd. In or out? Johnson announced he would join the "out" campaign. 

It was in that moment that my vote was suddenly magnetised towards the "in" box - despite my many instinctive misgivings about what Brussels and Strasbourg have done to our country in the  name of European unity.

21 February 2016


The Angel of The Lord in Roughton Church
On Tuesday, I wandered across  a rolling section of the southern Lincolnshire Wolds and came upon several rural churches. They were all unlocked. In other parts of the country, churches tend to be locked these days - mostly because of light-fingered visitors. Sadly, in these modern times,  the church authorities have been forced to learn from experience.

When I find a church unlocked I go in and marvel at the stonework, the artefacts and the windows while absorbing atmospheres that speak of past times - the christenings, the marriages, the funerals and of rural vicars preaching to God-fearing congregations. Tales from The Bible, prayers and hymns. A chain of human life going way back in time. To when Christianity first came to these islands and gradually smothered our ancient  paganism.

In Tuesday's churches there were visitors' books which I duly signed, leaving comments like this: "Thank you for leaving the church unlocked for passing visitors like me. Much appreciated." It is important to make a point of signing visitors' books in such churches as this provides evidence of footfall which may help in pleas for financial aid. These old churches need a lot of expensive maintenance even though their congregations may have dwindled down to single figures. Many  rural churches are in fact now redundant - their last ever services but distant memories.

They are monuments to rural life and to a religion that swept across our land - into every valley, every hamlet, every hilltop and every riverside. You could say that these churches became the glue that held England together - promoting a shared belief system with all of its do's and don'ts. Arguably they provided the foundations upon which the mighty British Empire was built.

I have been an atheist since the age of ten, never wavering in my disbelief but I love old churches. Listen carefully and you can still hear the songs of folk who went before us and their mumbled prayers from the pews. The cobbler, the blacksmith, the farrier, the farmer, the lord of the manor, the schoolteacher, their wives, their children - all cowering beneath the shadow of The Lord. All hoping for something impossible called heaven.
High Toynton
Bag Enderby
Somersby (as in my "Tennyson" post)
Ashby Puerorum

19 February 2016


On my little adventure at the start of this week, I took a break from driving with a short stop in the village of Torksey. Somewhere I had never been before. It is situated on the Lincolnshire side of The River Trent, not far from its junction with  the manmade Fosse Dyke that begins its Roman route in the city of Lincoln.

The sky above was as blue as cobalt with cotton wool clouds gently scudding south. Sunshine illuminated the old  village church theatrically and so I photographed it before deciphering some of the churchyard's weathered gravestones - farmers and farmers' wives, babies, a boatman and a soldier - all gone before us. Perhaps to life everlasting.

Then as I walked on towards "The Hume Arms" pub, I noticed a building beyond windbreaking trees to my right. It aroused my curiosity but how could I reach it? Soon, wading across a knee-deep carpet of ivy, I stumbled to the river bank until there it was in all its ruinous glory - Torksey Castle. Largely destroyed by a royalist assault in the English Civil War, it has been crumbling away ever since that fateful day back in 1645.

It sits on private land and was never really a castle - more of a country house. Being so close to the river, its foundations have frequently been flooded. Some historians have suggested that it occupies the site of a Saxon stronghold and maybe that is how it earned the nomen "castle". A mile to the west of it, Cottam Power Station still belches its fumes into the country air, providing a stark visual and historical contrast.

I love places like Torksey Castle. Redolent of times past. Neglected and yet beautifully evocative. In a way I am happier to witness such a structure crumbling down than to see it surrounded by scaffolding and men in hard hats. After all, nothing lasts forever.

18 February 2016


A general view of Somersby
I enjoyed a lovely walk in the southern Lincolnshire Wolds on Tuesday. The weather was gorgeous. A bright, clear winter's day with frost on the ground when the sun rose up above that rolling chalkland. 

Somersby Church where Tennyson was
christened in 1809
The walk brought me to two tiny villages where, in the early years of the nineteenth century, The Reverend George Tennyson was the local vicar. In one of these villages - Somersby - he and his wife Elizabeth had twelve children. Their fourth child was named Alfred, later Alfred Lord Tennyson who was to become England's Poet Laureate, an office he held for forty years spanning most of the Victorian era.

In the other village, the curiously named Bag Enderby, there was a little display inside the church  in honour of Tennyson. It included the following poem, in which the poet imagines himself as a stream. The lines were undoubtedly embroidered with memories from his rural childhood - the same landscape through which I was walking.

In St Margaret's Church, where the Reverend Tennyson often preached, I read the poem through and contemplated its loveliness, like The River Lymm babbling its narrow way to the sea. I leave it here for you to enjoy too....

The Brook

I come from haunts of coot and hern,
I make a sudden sally
And sparkle out among the fern,
To bicker down a valley.

By thirty hills I hurry down,
Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorpes, a little town,
And half a hundred bridges.

Till last by Philip's farm I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles.

With many a curve my banks I fret
By many a field and fallow,
And many a fairy foreland set
With willow-weed and mallow.

I chatter, chatter, as I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I wind about, and in and out,
With here a blossom sailing,
And here and there a lusty trout,
And here and there a grayling,

And here and there a foamy flake
Upon me, as I travel
With many a silvery waterbreak
Above the golden gravel,

And draw them all along, and flow
To join the brimming river
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
I slide by hazel covers;
I move the sweet forget-me-nots
That grow for happy lovers.

I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeam dance
Against my sandy shallows.

I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)

17 February 2016


What is on your bucket list? Swimming with dolphins? Perhaps a sky dive...  being a contestant on a TV quiz show... a bungee jump... seeing the northern lights? None of these things are on my own  bucket list. In fact, my bucket list consists of... err... buckets.

1  A traditional leather fire bucket

2. A plastic mop bucket

3. A wooden bucket - especially useful if you have a well or you are playing a part in a medieval drama,

4. A children's bucket for the beach - good for making sand castles.
5. A galvanised zinc bucket - good for collecting milk from farm animals.

6. Hyacinth Bucket in the old British TV comedy show "Keeping Up Appearances" - played by Patricia Routlege:-
I bet you had bucketfuls of fun laughing at this blogpost!  No? Well I tried.

14 February 2016


Ma and Jack in "Room"
"Room" directed by Lenny Abrahamson is a gripping film. The first third of it is set solely inside a garden shed where Joy lives with her five year old son Jack. In fact, Jack was born in this shed and has never seen the outside world. They are sustained by a night-time visitor called "Old Nick". Only he knows the keycode to get in and out of the shed.

Jack is quite contented within his little world. He has his mother "Ma", a television set and food to eat. He has known nothing else and is dumbfounded when Ma tries to explain that there is a world beyond their room.

They escape Old Nick and Jack is thrown into the outer world, a world of which he had no true knowledge. He meets his grandparents and sees distant horizons, cars and wide spaces. It is mind-blowing but gradually he comes through it and learns to live in the real world.

Brie Larson plays Joy Newsome (Ma) and Jacob Tremblay plays Jack. For a child actor he is very convincing in his role though he never looks like a five year old. In fact in real life he was seven when the film was crafted, This oddity was at first a slightly unwelcome distraction but I managed to shelve the disbelief as I found myself drawn into what was in my opinion a superb and well-observed film. 

Humanity and tenderness shine through as the director - Abrahamson - and writer - Emma Donoghue - avoid any temptation to indulge in salacious sensationalism. This is a film that confirms what it means to be a human being and in the final analysis the story is uplifting, even joyful as little Jack and his Ma are born again.
Emma Donoghue, the author of "Room"

12 February 2016


This may sound a little crazy but frequently I drive up onto the nearby moors simply to read. I find a quiet place and sit in my car without distraction - totally focussed upon the book. Daylight helps to illuminate my pages.

And so it was on Thursday afternoon. Sitting right on the border between Derbyshire and Yorkshire, I absorbed two long chapters and then looked out across Burbage Moor. In the distance I noticed the unmistakable shapes of tiny paragliders, hovering about Stanage Edge, making use of rising air currents. Actually, they weren't tiny at all - that was just the perspective. They appeared like little may flies.

It was a reminder of the summer of 2008 when Shirley and I paraglided over the lagoon at Olu Deniz in Turkey. We were strapped to experts and lived to tell the tale. See this old post. For us it was literally a once in a lifetime experience but for others it is a mad passion that they revisit at every opportunity - even a cold February day. It's an adrenalin addiction.

Two chapters were quite enough so as that bright afternoon advanced towards evening, I decided to drive onwards to Stanage, hoping to snap some photographs of those daredevil paragliders. In total, I took sixty one pictures in twenty minutes, hoping that a few of them might turn out okay.

11 February 2016


The south door - Worksop Priory Church.
The door is made from yew with intricate scrolled ironwork
- dated around 1250 - but the Norman stone arch is  considerably older.
Worksop is a town in Nottinghamshire. The Font of All Knowledge - Wikipedia - tells me that it has a population of 44,970. Worksop is an odd name. It sounds like "workshop" but the origins of the word lie dim and distant in our Saxon past. Some say that the name probably derives from the Old English for Wyrch's Valley. How ever the place name came about, there was certainly a significant settlement there when the Normans arrived to assert their powerful influences upon our land.

They built a magnificent monastery at Worksop with a fine church attached. During the Dissolution, the monastery was ruined by Henry VIII's forces but the priory church remains, albeit altered and developed through intervening centuries.

On Tuesday of this week, after a long walk around the town, I managed to gain admission to the church. A funeral service was scheduled to commence at one thirty but a kindly church warden was happy to give me a guided tour of the building before that sorrowful event. He was passionate and knowledgeable about the church and pleased to regale me with some of  its tales.

He showed me graffiti left by crusaders of the fourteenth century and in a tiny recess in the north wall he revealed a palm-sized piece of skull with an arrowhead  lodged in it. The skull has been radio-carbon dated with results giving support to the notion that this relic came  from The Battle of Agincourt (1415) when our lads whupped The French during The Hundred Years' War.

It was a lovely sunny day in Worksop and  a joy to walk around it and see it so brightly illuminated. When I was twenty four, after taking up a teaching post in the nearby coal-mining village of Dinnington, I visited Worksop on several occasions. I recall a night club on Bridge Street and a woman called Susan with lips that attached themselves to me like a limpet on a rock and I remember fish and chips and a couple of pubs but I really didn't know Worksop at all. I just wasn't as inquisitive in those days. I guess there were other things to think about.

Worksop Gallery:-
Mr Straw's House - museum of a forgotten life

10 February 2016


The Red Lion

Drinking in a country pub one summer’s day
Watching tiny particles of dust
In cinema slow motion
Dancing daintily in a sunbeam shaft
Like miniscule krill in a bay yet
Switch off the sun and
You wouldn’t know the dust was there
But my friend these particles are everywhere
If you only care
To look.

I sink another glug of beer
This glass ringed as a tree
Each line of foam left here
Like a layer of history.
Then turn to The Gents
Or head for the door
Dimly aware
That you need no more
For that’s time at the bar
Time at the bar please
Leaves dust