Archive for the ‘Life Up North’ Category

Roman Wall Blues

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Off to visit my parents this weekend for my Dad’s 75th birthday.  We live almost on top of the Roman wall outside of Corbridge.  I thought this poem that reminds you of what it must be like being a soldier away from home, whether Romans or Syrian archers back in the first few hundred years AD, or as a soldier nowadays in Afghanistan or anywhere away from home.

Roman Wall Blues

Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.

The rain comes pattering out of the sky,
I’m a Wall soldier, I don’t know why.

The mist creeps over the hard grey stone,
My girl’s in Tungria; I sleep alone.

Aulus goes hanging around her place,
I don’t like his manners, I don’t like his face.

Piso’s a Christian, he worships a fish;
There’d be no kissing if he had his wish.

She gave me a ring but I diced it away;
I want my girl and I want my pay.

When I’m a veteran with only one eye
I shall do nothing but look at the sky.

W. H. Auden

The Sound of Northumberland

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

I have been to listen and watch Kathryn Tickell twice over the last month, once in Ripon and then at the Sage with her new show, Northumbrian Voices with her band and her dad – actually her dad, Mike Tickell, also came to the show in the Holy Trinity Church, Ripon.  She is a great virtuoso player of the Northumbrian small pipes and fiddle, plus there is a togetherness as the core of the Kathryn Tickell band is herself and her brother, so like all great traditional musicians they can move the set around, play different pieces and just wing it as they needed to do in Ripon with their accordion player not there.  And like all natural musicians who are completely confident with their instruments and repertoire, they are often best when they need to tweak, change and stretch themselves rather than just play the same old routine when they would rather have a glass of beer, wine or put their feet up and read a book!

I feel she plays her best when the songs are a bit darker and bleaker, or more frenzied and manic, than those that are lighter or the jollier dances.  Perhaps she laments, quite rightly, the loss of the traditional livelihoods that have shaped the North, whether it’s the fishermen, the pitmen or farmers that scratched a tough life from these beautiful, but unforgiving, lands, to be replaced by softer jobs in tourism or banking.  Somehow, the harder times made for better music, a deeper understanding and enjoyment in our landscapes and seascapes, as well as those times of rest and the spaces and gaps we used to have in our lives that were not filled with adrenaline kicking, speed filled modern media.  No time to reflect, no pauses and no spaces, as well as a detachment for the physical world we actually live in.  Also, perhaps a loss of contrast between the genuinely hard graft and relaxing down times makes it difficult to enjoy simple pleasures.

So her Wild Hills of Whannies is bleak, windy and wet like Steel Rigg, Haughton Common or the Cheviots up by Wooler, before you get the livelier and freer bubbling and flowing of the burns after the flood through the middle of the tune.  In contrast, Billy Pigg’s version has a more joyful, playful relationship to the same countryside.  And I loved the slow, mournful lament for Stonehaugh Community Centre that morphed into a livelier jig that brought back memories of functional community halls and dances, whether country dances or more often than not cheesy disco music.  Then later she played her version of Bill Charlton’s  Fancy.  The sounds were different but the function was the same, people came together from their farms, crofts and houses and had a good crack.  In the days before MP3 players, multichannel TV and digitised everything, that was the height of fun and it kept the mischief controlled and somewhere close by.  Innocent and largely without too much real badness.

But I love their sounds as her Northumberland is still my Northumberland, although for me a river always runs through it, the Tyne, and the smell of the sea is never that far away.  So whether I was swinging on a tyre swing over the North Tyne by Chollerford or swimming in the Tyne at Bywell, or holidaying by Seahouses, or playing kick-the-can in Bell’s Valley by Fredden Hill, her sounds have that doleful, dreich feel that is the bleakness and beauty of Northumberland.  But that’s its soul, my soul, and I wouldn’t have it otherwise.  Yes, there is, and always has been, much fun to be had, but it is hard won and deserved - especially for us who bear the cross of support for the Toon – and a laugh will be deep and unrestrained, but underneath there is not too much softness, more hard rock covered in moss.

This feeling for a land shaped by the hills, rivers and sea was even more closely followed with the Northumbrian Voices show.  For example, the Song for the North Tyne by Mike Tickell specifically told of the changes wrought to the Tyne and the valleys by the building of Kielder reservoir and forest.

This was a country music show that was pure Northumbria (except for the country sounds from Hank Williams’ Your Cheatin’ Heart) and was filled with stories and sounds shaped by hills, snow and sheep.  The music and songs were played by Kathryn Tickell, Julian Sutton (melodeon), Kit Haigh (guitar), Patsy Reid (fiddle and viola), Hannah Rickard (voice and fiddle) and Mike Tickell (voice).  Then there were words transcribed from conversations during the spaces in recordings, covering stories about traditional knowledge and ways of life that have gone or almost gone; whether these are how to look after sheep or how to look after the hill farms or passing down knowledge between generations in hefted flocks on where to graze. 

Yes, life is wealthier and there is more sparkle and glamour in towns and cities, where the shopping is way better, however I do agree and feel that somehow we are culturally poorer as we loose these simple bits of knowledge that have been learnt over 100s and 1000s of years, whether it is how to shepherd the hills or fish the North Sea, and how to dance a reel especial to a particular valley.  We have destroyed our communities, we have chucked away our local culture and replaced it with global media and music that has no connection back to the land.  I worry that there will come a time when we will need to go back to the land and our hands and heads will be too soft to know what to do and unlike the Pilgrim Fathers in America there will be no-one with the local knowledge to help us.  And as Clive Aslett in The Daily Telegraph wrote – who would want to bring up their children as country bumpkins – well, me actually.

Once again, I was drawn to the melancholic that seems to fit the sound of the pipes, so the Pipes Lament and the Carrick Hornpipe that told of cold winters and changes that continue to be wrought to the land, for better or the worse.  But perhaps, it was even better to just hear and sing some of the old songs that have no time to them but plenty of spatial context – Canny Shepherd Laddies of the Hill, Duns Dings A’, Hesleyside Reel and Small Coals and Little Money.

All in all, a bunch of really great shows and something we would be really proud of if we were in the USA, but here it is just so not mainstream and we prefer the fantasies of Britains Got Talent and X Factor than a more solid and honest local music.

St Wilfrid’s Procession In Ripon (30 July 2011)

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Today was the annual St Wilfrid Procession through Ripon.  This celebrates our city’s patron saint, St Wilfrid, who was one of the great northern saints and important people of early Northumbria.  He is very unlike the ascetic Irish (Celtic) saints that characterised the religious communities of Lindisfarne – St Aidan and St Cuthbert – preferring the lavish lifestyle of the Roman Catholic Church and brought the rule of Benedict to Northumbria and had a telling influence on the Synod of Whitby in 664, arguing for Rome over the Celtic tradition.

For Ripon, St Wilfrid provides a sense of pride, for here his relics are kept.  The procession is a fun day that allows the community an excuse to do some dressing up, drink a few pints and have a jolly church service later.  The Anglican and Roman Catholic churches join in the procession, but for most of us it is a few hours of fun during the gloom that is enveloping our world.  It reminds me that community is more important than anything else, and that our community is local not national, centred on Ripon, Harrogate and York, where the turbulence of the stockmarkets, bond markets and events in the big cities seem another world away, even if we will suffer the consequences of changes that these will all impose upon us.

Some photos will tell the story of the day (and there are more on my Flickr site):

St Wilfrid And The Wakeman Wait For The Horse

St Wilfrid And The Wakeman Wait For The Horse

Stars In Their Eyes - Red Triangle & Evolve

Stars In Their Eyes - Red Triangle & Evolve

Calendar Girls - Ripon Belles

Calendar Girls - Ripon Belles

Spare Tyres, It's The Pits! - Next Generation

Spare Tyres, It's The Pits! - Next Generation

Clown On Go Cart On North Street

Clown On Go Cart On North Street

Aldborough Agricultural Show (24 July 2011)

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

After a couple of weeks away, we return home to glorious weather; blue skies and really hot.  Normally, we are still away this weekend, so we generally miss the local show – the Aldborough and Boroughbridge Agricultural Show – which is gentle like the North Yorkshire Show and without the crowds and hurly burly of the Great Yorkshire Show.  It is held in fields between Langthorne and Newby Hall.  It is a gentle rural affair, full of that classic English charm of craft and bakery competitions in the main tent, and the serious stuff of horse competitions and the fun of cattle, sheep and dog shows.  Then, there are the cake stands, beer stands, hog roast, WI tea rooms and bouncy castles for the children.  We went for 1 hour and returned 4 hours later, having met lots of friends and generally had a good time.

My favourite things were the shire horses, the parades of cattle and vintage tractors, all so lovingly kept chugging along.  Here are some pictures that tell the day much better than words can describe:

Shire Horse At Aldborough And Boroughbridge Agricultural Show

Shire Horse At Aldborough And Boroughbridge Agricultural Show

Parade Of Vintage Tractors

Parade Of Vintage Tractors

Stockman Snoozing By His Prize Cattle

Stockman Snoozing By His Prize Cattle

Prize Winning Fodder Beet

Prize Winning Fodder Beet

Pots Of Jam At Aldborough And Boroughbridge Show

Pots Of Jam At Aldborough And Boroughbridge Show

Prize Winning Onion Sets

Prize Winning Onion Sets

Last Walks Along Northumbrian Coast For This Year (22/23 July 2011)

Monday, August 8th, 2011
Arctic Terns Nesting On Beadnell Bay

Arctic Terns Nesting On Beadnell Bay

My mother and I walked along Beadnell Bay towards the nesting turns.  The tide was in and the light from the falling sun was gorgeous.  The shore breeze was fairly strong and the waves were beating against the shore, roiling with the power from the winds.  There was a haze on the water from the crashing waves that glowed in the dying embers of the sun.  Black headed gulls patrolled the shoreline, very so often bobbing off as a wave overtook them.  Then the noise of the terns cut through the roar of the waves as we approached the nesting area.  A warden patrolled his little kingdom.  My mum walked back over the dunes, while I watched the parent Arctic terns continuously bringing along little offerings of glistening fish for their chicks.  The industry and effort was amazing and how they find their chicks in the cacophony is unbelievable.  A group of terns chased away a heron that had got too close. 

Sun Going Down Over Beadnell Bay

Sun Going Down Over Beadnell Bay

Sunset At Beadnell Bay

Sunset At Beadnell Bay

I turned and walked back along the beach.

The next morning was really windy and the waves were violently crashing on the shore.  Sophie and I walked south to Football Hole Cove where I had wanted to swim.  The waves were far too big, concentrated into the smaller bay.  We paddled in the waves and felt the strong undercurrent trying to pull us out to sea.  We walked back along the shore, skirting round the dead seal that was giving off a strongly putrid odour. 

I felt refreshed and pleased to have rediscovered this coastline, where I spent many a happy (if cold) holiday when much, much younger.

Wet weather day in Alnwick (20 July 2011)

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

A dreich, gray day.  What to do: the girls went to Alnwick swimming pool and had a great time.  My parents went to Paxton House north of the River Tweed near Berwick.  We went to Alnwick to Alnwick Castle.

I had not been to Alnwick Castle for years and not with the current Duke of Northumberland.  It is very different with much more effort put into looking after visitors, but a bit too much like the synthetic niceness of National Trust.  Like everything remembered from childhood, it is much smaller.  Alnwick Castle is full of impressive state rooms, glistering with bling accumulated over 100s of years of wealth and power, such as the amazing library; I liked the document demanding the beheading of the 7th Earl of Northumberland for treason in the Rising of The Northern Earls in 1569 and later beatified for his adherence to his faith.  But overall the internal rooms left me flat and gave me museum feet.  I think it is that otherworldliness that is accentuated by the rope barriers that say to us “Do not cross the line; Do not touch” – this is not for the likes of you.  Interesting, a curiosity. 

Alnwick Castle On A Dreich Day

Alnwick Castle On A Dreich Day

However, from outside, I like the shape and colours of the keep, walls and towers that gel with ingrained ideas of how castles should look.  This is something much more familiar and comfortable, even if it may be have been made normal through films and documentaries rather than reality, so a sanitised history without the smells and hardships. 

Wizard Teaching Broomstick Flying

Wizard Teaching Broomstick Flying

Then there were the childrens’ activities  – broomstick flying lessons (some of Harry Potter was filmed here for example the initial lessons in the first film where Harry Potter discovers his skill in flying) and the dragon’s quest where you go through rooms of skeletons, riddles and tasks, plus mirrors to complete a letter puzzle.  This was fun.

We had lunch in the cafe.  I had a dry and indifferent falafel wrap, some tea and an indulgent caramel shortbread, Sophie sweet potato soup and Jay bacon and mozzarella ciabatta and a Mars bar.  We huddled outside under the parasols that dripped with the incessant rain as we tried to find a dry patch to chomp on our food.

It is all quite expensive, but the entry fee does for two visits, so we will return to see the gardens in less inclement weather (see below).

After this, we went back into town to Barter Books which is in the old railway station.  This is a glorious space and was really busy because of the weather.  Look up and think of its old status, imagine the passengers and trains that passed through.  If you love books as we do, this is a brilliant place, cosy and loving like a friendly library and full of all manner of books in chaotic order.  Fiction by authors long forgotten, art, religion, local history, natural history, childrens’ books etc etc.  This is living breathing space where you can smell than familiar fustiness of old books, comforting, and you can open them and touch them and buy them.  Jay bought an old Beano, a book on Torres and stats on the Olympics from 2000, and I bought a couple of volumes of Hodgson’s “History of Northumberland”, indulging my interest in our family tree and local history.  This is a place we could spend a whole day without getting tired, plus willingly spending a small fortune.  Then you can grab a bite to eat and have a drink in the old waiting rooms: the tea is good and the tray bakes to die for, where I would recommend the Malteser & rice crispie chocolate or the one with fudge, and all good value.  Finally, I love the model trains that run around the track above your head, lovingly and impishly harking back to its former state, and the mural of famous writers. 

This is my history brought to life, living & breathing, rather than the facts, figures and details of distant figures of national politics and the news, people with whom I have no connection: neither I with them, nor vice versa.

Later (23/7/2011): we came to Alnwick Castle on a warmer day to look at the water garden and walled garden.  While the kids enjoyed getting wet in the fountains, it was more municipal than inspirational – not worth a visit on its own, but just about okay if you go around the castle as well.  Overall a bit on the dear side, but very popular and interesting from an historical perspective.

Alnwick Water Garden

Alnwick Water Garden

Two trips to the Farne Islands (18 & 19 July 2011)

Thursday, August 4th, 2011
View To Inner Farne Island

View To Inner Farne Island

Ticket Sheds For Trips To Farne and Holy Islands

Ticket Sheds For Trips To Farne and Holy Islands

Jay was desperate to go and see the puffins on the Farne Islands, so he insisted we went on Monday with its ominous, dark and brooding clouds.  Sure enough it began to drizzle as we drove out of High Newton-by-the-Sea.  We booked our tickets at Billy Shiels Boat Trips; we Steenbergs have always gone with Billy Shiels, while my Steenberg cousins now go with Serenity Tours.  The round trip with landing on Inner Farne cost £35 for 2 adults (£13 each), 1 child (£9 each) and various harbour fees.  There is free entry onto the Farnes as we are National Trust members but otherwise this costs extra; they generally have a good joining deal going so it is a good time to renew any lapsed memberships.  The National Trust look after the islands with quite a large number of wardens on the islands, protecting the chicks and seal pups.

Billy Shiels Glad Tidings Boat

Billy Shiels Glad Tidings Boat

We were late for the sailing, so had to charge down to the end of the pier as Glad Tidings was about to leave.  All Billy Shiels boats are named Glad Tidings and range from the original few which are open boats to the large Glad Tidings V, which is for the non-landing tour and is mainly covered.  We sailed on Glad Tidings III which is also partly covered but not so large.  The North Sea was quite choppy and we rolled with the waves, which I find quite exhilarating, but Jay was far less keen about.  By now it was windy, raining and the waves were getting up.

At this time of year, there were still kittiwakes with their nests perched on ledges on the cliff faces, plus a few guillemots and razorbills still either on ledges or strutting on the top of rock stacks jutting out of the sea.  Most of these can be found on the dramatic Pinnacles off Staple Island and if you come in May – June these are chocka with these auks.  As you drive past, you can see the black silhouettes of shags and fewer cormorants, breaking the skyline; often these can be see with their strange bat-like posture of holding out their wings to dry in the wind or sun as they do not have any oil on their feathers, so must hang them out literally to dry.  In the water, you will often see their snake-like heads poking out of the sea as they drift and fish along the island edges and further out to sea.  Puffins congregated on the cliff tops, huddling together against the wind that buffeted against the rocks, while kittiwakes seemed to move tighter into the nooks upon the crags where they nested. [Many more photos of birds at http://www.flickr.com/photos/steenbergs/sets/72157624111478125/]

Puffins On Wall On Inner Farne

Puffins On Wall On Inner Farne

Arctic Tern Coming In To Land

Arctic Tern Coming In To Land

Puffin A'flying

Puffin A'flying

Then, you drive further out to Longstone Island and the lighthouse that is famed for Grace Darling.  Famously, on 7th September 1838, Grace Darling and her father rowed out twice to Big Harcar to rescue nine survivors from the paddle steamer, the SS Forfarshire, which had run aground.  Their amazing daring made her a national heroine.  I do find it odd that you are still told all this in spite of exciting waters – some of the boats did not go out today and there were certainly few takers for the tour on the Monday!  I remember many a trip out when a child in rough waters – once we went out with my aunt and cousin from Germany when the waves were vast to the eyes of a small child, then the boatman asked us to haul a tarpaulin over us for protection from the spray.  However, whenever someone moved water coursed all over the unlucky person at the end, plus passengers were being sick over the edge.  But we got to shore safely in spite of what seemed a scary trip.

We were so wet through, with frozen hands and wet feet that we took shelter in the Pinnacle Bazaar and bought some cut-price trousers and changed into these there and then.  Oh the joy of being dry!  We nipped next door to the Pinnacle Fish & Chip Shop and sat to eat cod and chips with mushy peas (£6.25) with a warming mug of tea, with scampi and chips (£7.95) for Jay with a cup of water.  Slowly life came back into frozen hands, feet and stomach.  The batter was light, the fish fresh and succulent, the peas just right and the tea spot on.  The hunger was talking, but it was still a delicious lunch.  Afterwards, the rain had abated and we had ice creams from Coxons opposite – a 99 for me (£1.75) and a Refresher for Jay – or you can get ice creams at Pinnacles which tasted suspiciously similar to those at Coxons but cheaper at £1.20 for a 99.  Through rose tinted spectacles, this could even have been summer.

Pinnacle Fish & Chips

Pinnacle Fish & Chips

Coxons Ice Cream

Coxons Ice Cream

On Tuesday, the day was different: no wind and a blue sky.  We decided to go again and enjoy a dry trip to the Farnes.  This time the crossing was faster and smooth, but on the downside all the boats were out so there were more grockles like us and the birds were out on the water, so on Inner Farne there were less birds onshore. 

We watched the puffins bob on the water, then either skim across the water as our boat (Glad Tidings IV) approached or break the water clumsily, running on the surface then taking flight like torpedoes flapping furiously in the air.  Puffins are the little comedians of the seabird world, with oversized feet that waddled along like clowns whacky-quacky shoes and they fly with a style that Charlie Chaplin would have approved of.  Shags and cormorants floated closer to the islands, darting under water every so often to catch a fish.  Gannets flew past in small flocks of 5 or 6, with large wings moving in slow motion elegant against the skyline, so different from the puffins.  A few guillemots patrolled the top of the stacks, while kittiwakes every clung to ledges.  [Many more photos of birds at http://www.flickr.com/photos/steenbergs/sets/72157624111478125/]

Kittiwakes On Ledges At Inner Farne

Kittiwakes On Ledges At Inner Farne

Off all the islands, but especially Northern Hares and Wamses, grey seals lazed on wrack covered rocks.  Every so often they barked at each other and a few would waddle, then slide into the water, switching from overweight clumsiness on land to fleet swimmers in the sea, poking their curious and mischievous heads out of the water, watching us looking at them.

Grey Seal At Farne Islands

Grey Seal At Farne Islands

Then again to Inner Farne where you could enjoy the puffins again and watch the Arctic terns and their acrobatic flying and gaze at their elegant shapes.  Mothers protected nest by dive bombing and screeching a nasal kee-arr.  We enjoyed the view which shows the importance of this area to early Northumbrian power: Lindisfarne and the Celtic Christian church to the North on Lindisfarne, then the rock that was the base of Northern thanes, jarls and kings of Bamburgh Castle and the holy retreat of Inner Farne, with Dunstanburgh Castle to the South.  And of course the Inner Farne was the refuge for St Cuthbert, the most important Northern Saint, and where St Aidan came for contemplation every Easter (the Celtic Easter).

Back in Seahouses, we ate fish & chips at Lewis’ where we have eaten for many years.  The batter was light, but the fish less fresh, though the chips were good.  The peas came whole rather than mushed and my tea was forgotten.  Good but not as good as Pinnacles, which was not helped by a sign saying fresh crab sandwiches outside that were not available – we were told tomorrow, but I think it was the never reached mañana.  I did not try Neptune which is the other choice, but my sister went with her family and said it was excellent.

Lewis's Fish Restaurant

Lewis's Fish Restaurant, Seahouses

Walk To Low Newton – Stinking Newton (17 July 2011)

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011
Bodyboards In A Line

Bodyboards In A Line

Today was a glorious northern beach day, with sun, thunder & lightning but no wind.  Having bought wet suits at the Farne Islands Gift Shop in Seahouses (it used to be called Mackays when I was a kid), I ran into the North Sea on Beadnell Bay, as did my son and daughter.  We swam and played jump the waves and body boarding.  It really is still as cold as it always was, but neoprene does stop the wind-chill when you get out and keeps you warm when in the sea, however unsexy you look.  Beadnell Bay is a great place to play in the sea, swim, jump the waves, body board or even surf, then there are the rock pools at Snook Point to potter around in looking for hermit crabs and crabs.

After supper, my mum and I walked in the evening sun across the dunes from Links Farm in Newton-by-the-Sea to Low Newton.  On the way there, we took a pretty direct route along the path which was functional and boring, although we looked at Football Hole Cove where a chap was going through his yoga positions on a mat as the sun went down – alone on the beach.  We left him to it.  No one seems to know why it is called Football Hole Cove, but I like to think that Bobby and Jackie Charlton, with their Milburn relatives, came here on trips when they were young and kicked a football around on the beach watched on by the matriach, Cissie Charlton (née Milburn).  Probably, it is more to do with the shape of the bay that curves as if a football was kicked high and landed plonk on the beach.

View Across Newton Haven To Dunstanburgh Castle

View Across Newton Haven To Dunstanburgh Castle

As you get two thirds of the way, you have one of those views that you must see before you die: as you crest Newton Point you get your first glimpse over Embleton Bay south towards Dunstanburgh Castle.  Dunstanburgh Castle has that gothic feel of ruined stone jutting out into the cold, grey sea, but from a distance it looked warm in the sun’s last rays, a becoming viewpoint.  Down the hill, you see St Mary’s Haven with fishing and sailing boats shining in reflected rays. 

View To Low Newton

View To Low Newton

Low Newton is a tiny hamlet centred around a rectangle of white painted small houses.  Low Newton has one of best seaside pubs, The Ship Inn, famed for its locally caught crab, lobster and fish and run by the delightful Hertfordshire landlady, Christine Forsyth, who we met walking three flat coated black retrievers over the dunes while on the walk.  My mum had walked there earlier in the day and it stank of gaseous sewerage which is actually the sun working on the seaweed that gives off nauseous odours, giving Low Newton its nickname of Stinking Newton.

On the way back, we walked over the dunes by the coast, which was much better if a bit longer.  There was no one else out walking, so we had the coast to ourselves and the birds.

Hyper Energetic Sanderlings At Football Hole Cove

Hyper Energetic Sanderlings At Football Hole Cove

At Football Hole Cove, the oyster catchers (about 9 of them) were busily chattering amongst themselves as they walked through the rock pools and wrack hunting for food with their Geordie black and white clear against the dark greens of the seaweed, and then a curlew towering above them just visible in its mottled brown camouflage and huge curved beak.  Sanderlings frantically skittered along the shoreline, charging frenetically into the wake of the outflowing waves, full of nervous energy; they danced a funny dance with furiously jiggering black legs.  An eider duck family was playing in the waves by the shore with a medium sized baby.  Everywhere there were Arctic and Common terns flying back and forth with small slivery and glittery fish to nests on Beadnell Bay or perhaps over to the Farne Islands; every so often you could see shags, kittiwakes or gulls flying over the black & blue sea.  Along the dunes, swallows and larks can be seen flying hither and thither with that beautiful lilting tsirrup tsirrup.

Sunset Over Beadnell Bay

Sunset Over Beadnell Bay

The sun was setting across Football Hole Cove.  Then we went over the dunes rather than around Snook Point and down onto Beadnell Bay where we were all on our own.  This is perhaps my favourite beach in the world – a long curve round to Beadnell at the north.  Empty except for a few intrepid souls.  I could stand on the shoreline and watch the waves in perpetual flow in and out, such energy and that roar of pure physical power.  Sometimes there is a sea fisherman at the edge of the waves or out on Snook Point, pitting their wits against nature and sometimes winning.  In the distance, you may see sailing boats or windsurfers’ sails around Beadnell Bay and in the distance the odd fishing boat or on the horizon a commercial vessel.

Further south you have the beauty of Embleton Bay and Dunstanburgh Castle or north to Bamburgh Castle, and down south there may be a better climate, but as a beach Beadnell Bay cannot be beaten.

Walk Around Some Of Glenkiln Sculptures (16 July 2011)

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Sometimes you come across something truly beautiful.  Something simple, yet seemingly perfect.  So it was the other day when, on the way from a week near Kirkcudbright in Dumfries & Galloway we turned off the A75 near Dumfries to Shawhead and then to Glenkiln.  My parents had given us the heads up about the Glenkiln Sculptures.

Nestled amongst the gentle lowland hills in the Borderlands, Sir William Keswick, a local laird, has placed statues by Epstein, Moore and Rodin.  While open to the public, the Glenkiln sculptures are kept beneath the radar screen as unscrupulous vandals have attacked them in the past for their nihilist follies.  Anyway, you drive up single track lanes until you reach the head of the Glenkiln Reservoir and park in a tiny car park beside an sculpture by Auguste RodinSt John the Baptist”, who stands in classical poise on top of a small mound surveying the glen and the black faced sheep.  It is a strong, masculine and Romano-Grecian style of artistry of a taught muscled St John who holds out his arm with a crooked finger beckoning to us the people, the flock (or perhaps the sheep are the flock and we are the sheep).  The sculpture is a statement of what Rodin could do before he found his own more fluid and sensuous style.  But remember this is not Florence with Donatello’s “David” or Paris with Rodin’s “The Thinker”, because here we are in the Anglo-Scottish Borderlands.

Auguste Rodin Sculpture Of St John the Baptist

Rodin's St John the Baptist

From there, we walked up Shiel Head past a pink painted farmhouse, Margreig, to the brow of the hill to what from a distance looks like a Celtic cross blessing the hill since time immemorial, The Glenkiln Cross.  But as you get closer the cross becomes angular shapes, that become more curved and fluid.  Then as we reached the summit, it seemed to morph into an abstract male form, a dismembered torso, that suggested Michelangelo’s David across the glen.  Although modern and abstract, this sculpture has the feel of a muscular male, but with less strength than languid, gym-trained muscularatory.  Taught muscles that hint at gym strength with real-life weakness that comes from a beautifying physique, rather than the brute physical strength of warriors like the Campbells or Douglases from when these Borderlands were fought over by real men and women.  Or perhaps it lends itself more to abstract Mayan and Mexican art with its flowing forms and motifs.  Then as we went down the hill it became a cross again.

Henry Moore's Cross At Glenkiln Reservoir

Henry Moore's Glenkiln Cross

We then went back to the other end of Glenkiln Reservoir to the Henry MooreKing And Queen”.  I parked in a lay-by and walked up a slight incline to this most exquisite of sculptures.  This pair sits quietly contemplating the view towards Skeoch across the water.  It is a truly intimate piece with this delightful pair lovingly sitting, close to each other, happy and peaceful in their own moment of quietness.  This King and Queen are an old couple, comfortable in each others’ company, solid together but becoming weaker with age.  The lines and forms are brilliantly simple with a minimal of detail that conjures up the idea of people, one male and the other female.

Moore's The King And Queen

Moore's The King And Queen

It is two people enjoying a moment together, absorbing the view and thinking back over their lives.  They seem to be considering the view, where humans have reshaped the glen, damning the Old Water to build this small reservoir.  The manmade water has its own beauty like a loch, but the old environment was destroyed to create this new artificial one.   What does humanity do in its own name to satisfy its desire for progress?  Is it good or bad? Why must we destroy something that nature made to create something new that man made?  We have dug up ores and wrought metals to make this gorgeous statue and built a picturesque lake, yet at what damage.  The King asks the Queen “Did we do good?” and she answers “Only time will tell, my dear, but we tried our best.  Isn’t it a beautiful view?”

View Of Glenkiln Reservoir With Moore's King And Queen

View Of Glenkiln Reservoir With Moore's King And Queen

And I walked back down the hill and, while we had not seen all the statues, we all drove to Northumberland as time was pressing and the children had lost interest.

Ripon’s Flood Alleviation Scheme

Sunday, June 12th, 2011
Around a year ago, I wrote a few blogs about walking along the Rivers Skell and Ure in Ripon.  The rivers run through Ripon and circle around the ever looming presence of Ripon Cathedral on the mount at Ripon’s heart.  The rivers bring the countryside and riverine nature to the centre of city life, stopping us becoming a classic urban landscape and staying a leafy, watery, sleepy rural cityscape.  I love it.

However, the rivers do flood, particularly when both the Skell and Ure are full and the Ure backs up the Skell and into Fisher Green, a low lying area at the edge of the city.  So a major flood scheme was started late last year just as the flood season starts, so initial work was hampered by, you got it, flooding.  But after a really wet start to 2011, work has progressed decently and I felt it time to record some of the work being done.  It is not necessarily pretty, but it is community history, something which shapes all our lives - usually mundane, but nevertheless important even if much less exciting than the media titillating misdeamours of minor celebrities.

By North Bridge on the floodplain for the River Ure as it comes down from the north, the land has been landscaped to create flood walls from earth and breeze blocks to contain the water as it swooshes down.  While the arches of the bridge have been opened to allow the water to flow through into floodplains lower down, rather than building up behind the bridge.

Diggers On Flood Scheme By North Bridge In Ripon

Diggers On Flood Scheme By North Bridge In Ripon

Barriers By New River Wall On River View Road (not much of a view now!)

Barriers By New River Wall On River View Road (not much of a view now!)

As you wander through the city, there are major changes to Alma Weir by The Water Rat pub.  The weir is being lower to allow water to flow through the city more smoothly rather than building up and threatening houses in this area.  However, work is being hampered as some of the bigger houses prevent access and work on the river walls close to their properties without financial compensation – very civil community spirited.

Changes To Alma Weir On River Skell In Ripon

Changes To Alma Weir On River Skell In Ripon

As you walk to Fisher Green, the old concrete river walls have been removed and the banks repaired and covered with gabion baskets.  Similarly, earthen banks have been built around the three houses on the north bank of Fisher Green.  Lots of work is being done, but I am feeling sentimental about the destruction of the stepping stones, and I pray that they are not going to be permanently to satisfy insidous health and safety requirements.  On the downside, they have managed to dig through a sewage pipe that connects Sharow with the sewerage works, so are needing a continuous movement of sewerage by tankers from Sharow to the works.

Gabion Baskets On River Skell At Fisher Green In Ripon

Gabion Baskets On River Skell At Fisher Green In Ripon

Barrier Where Stepping Stones Used To Be - Fisher Green

Barrier Where Stepping Stones Used To Be - Fisher Green

Small Barrage Along Skell Downriver From Fisher Green In Ripon

Small Barrage Along Skell Downriver From Fisher Green In Ripon

I am sure it will all be a great success, especially as there is a new mini reservoir at Birkby Nab to hold back flood surges on the Laver, which flows into the smaller Skell to the west end of Ripon.  However, it does all look ugly with raised earthen flood banks obscuring the views for some.

Over the year, I have taken various photographs which show progress of the Scheme, and can be accessed on my Flickr sight at http://www.flickr.com/photos/steenbergs/sets/72157624084538088/.