Posts Tagged ‘rural’

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

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 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.

Should We Encourage People From Countryside To Cities?

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

…Self doubt gets you thinking.  I am still thinking through my concerns about Fairtrade and I wonder whether I’ve got it arse over tip. 

People who live in the countryside are relatively poor compared to people who live in an urban environment, but is that because there are, firstly, too many people in the countryside trying to eke out an incremental profit from cash crops to keep themselves above water, and secondly you actually are richer and better off just by being in a city or town. 

There is a strong argument that workers shifting from rural Amazonia and moving to Manaus (the regional capital of the Amazon region) to carry out industrial activity have taken farmers out of Amazonia and so reduced pressure on deforestation, allowing those remaining in the countryside to farm more efficiently and spread their profits across fewer people, while simply the act of going to a city has improved their personal finances.  So rural-to-urban migration is good for everyone financially and great for the environment! 

There is a strong case (and made by people much cleverer and knowledgeable than me) that people living in the slums of big cities and the favelas of Latin America are one of the most dynamic and happening economies of the world.  These are people getting on with life, generating income and stepping up out of poverty.  These places are not the pits of despair that we all once thought and continue to be taught.  Okay, they’re not perfect but they’re significantly better than rural poverty.  And city dwellers have less children, so women are liberated from their historical rural position as child-bearing machines that must cook, fetch water and bring up children.  City life gives them freedom and the creative energy of the fairer sex is a massive force for good and economic improvement.

So should we be encouraging rural-to-urban migration rather than preserving current rural farming structures.  Urban living is better for the environment as it is more efficient on the world’s resources.  Urban living is better for women.  Urban living reduces overpopulation as people living in towns and cities have less children – overpopulation is effectively a rural problem.  Finally, when people move to the city it reduces the amount of people living in the countryside and so reduces the burden from humanity on the countryside and nature quickly recovers – yes, the rainforest does just simply regrow when people leave it be. 

Lastly, is our nostalgic lova affair with the countryside and rural idyll and farming (I don’t know if it is just an English obsession, and I mean English in this case as I cannot speak for others here) simply wrong and something that just makes us look via rose tinted glasses at all rural farming, believing that this must be a great, wonderful and rewarding life for everyone in the countryside, rather than something most farmers just want to escape from, and be liberated from the back-breaking, never-ending drudgery of subsistence living and would rather become housekeepers, labourers, doctors and accountants or whatever is available in the nearest mega-city.  Who are we in the developed world to deny those in the developing world from wanting to live a better life with loads more consumer stuff to ease their daily grind?  Who are we (the great polluters and destroyers of the world) to deny the rural poor a new start and free women from the potential prison of a rural life?

I suppose what I am saying is that if farmers cannot make a living wage from growing sugar or tea or vanilla or fruits or rice, shouldn’t we encourage more of them to move to cities so then less people grow these crops, so then there is a relative shortage of supply over demand and then prices will go up until farmers can then earn a living wage or more.  Are we not just perpetuating an imbalance of excess supply over actual demand by offering a bit above market prices via Fairtrade?

In stark figures, a rural farming family in Madagascar earns $600 per annum, with Fairtrade vanilla they can earn $2000 per annum, but what could they earn were they to live and work in the capital city of, for example, Madagascar – Antananarivo – and perhaps their family size might also fall*.  So isn’t it better to get them to migrate to the cities where education and public services are better and they will have a lower impact on the environment?

I honestly don’t know the answer, but it remains a dilemma that is constantly fighting itself out between my heart that says “yes to fair trade and ethical food” and my head that says “yes to free trade” and reducing levels of rural farming and shifting population towards the cities.

As in everything in life, the answer I suggest is a fudge – we need to trade ethically to ensure that those farming now are not disadvantaged and abused hence Fairtrade, while at the same time providing incentives for people to move from the villages and rural economy into the nearest cities, and then to ensure that cities become as economically vibrant, socially responsible and environmentally sustainable as possible.  But I will probably never answer this quandary to my own personal satisfaction, so will remain racked by doubts and indecision.

* I asked The Foreign Office and World Bank for help on numbers here, but the former could not help and the latter never deigned to answer or acknowledge my request.  That is a worrying starting position for Madagascar.

A Sense Of Community

Monday, August 30th, 2010

On Saturday morning, I went to Havenhands the Bakers in St James’s Square in Boroughbridge*, then on to the Post Office before going to Ripon to watch the start of the Annual Raft Race in the Ripon Canal Basin.  On that short journey, I met several people who I knew really well in both personal and business life, and a few others who I knew well enough to pass the time with.

It made me realise why I enjoy living in the country, in a rural space, rather than in a town or city.  I love that sense of community that gently underpins life in our rural community-scape.  We know the current Mayors of Pateley Bridge and Ripon quite well, which sounds grand but it’s not especially so in our small community – this ain’t London or New York.  We know the family that runs Boroughbridge post office, many of the local postmen, the local courier drivers, a good proportion of the local policemen, the local vicars and Dean of Ripon and many of the local schoolteachers and so on and so on.  You soon realise how many people you know who create the fabric of our local community.   And we know many of the local business people well enough to have an idle natter with, and we do have those chats.

I like that, having been brought up in a rural Northumberland.  City life never fitted comfortably, and the money never got close to compensating for a loss of that fabric that can bind people together.  While some business gurus talk about the business environment giving that community spirit, it does not really work, as there is always a hint, an undercurrent, of tension and aggression; business does not forgive mistakes and transgressions, whereas real communities live with, forgive and forget, and perhaps are defined by their own sense of forgiveness and tolerance for day-to-day transgressions amongst their own.

I feel that the Internet can go some way to recreating that sense of community and rebuild a fabric for society and go some way to letting people have a sense of belonging to something, a community, and hopefully that is a civil and decent digital and online community.  Maybe the Internet and its web can bring people together in a way that Governments really have failed to do, in spite of the billions in cash spent and huge amount of brain cells and legislation proposed on areas such as social inclusion and redevelopment.  In the end, it is people and communities that matter not politicos with an agenda to grab power.

Recently, Ripon as a community celebrated its founder, St Wilfrid, with the exuberant St Wilfrid’s Parade, full of joy and singing and not a small amount of indulgence.   This weekend our real life community had fun with its Annual Raft Race held at Ripon Canal Basin, where teams competed on a course in a mobile swan and on home-made, but rather professional, rafts; then on Sunday, it was the turn of the duck race held by The Water Rat at Alma Weir in Ripon.  What is great is the huge amount of fun and joy that people have when taking part in these community events – just look at the smiles on peoples faces and in their eyes.

That’s community, that’s North Yorkshire.

Photos from St Wilfrid’s Parade 2010 (more at Facebook):

A Vampire Screams

A Vampire Screams

The Jolliest Zebra I've Ever Seen

The Jolliest Zebra I've Ever Seen

A Jolly Bee With A Lovely Smile

A Jolly Bee With A Lovely Smile

The Great And Good Of Ripon - The Wakeman, The Dean, The Mayor

The Great And Good Of Ripon - The Wakeman, The Dean, The Mayor

Photos from Great Raft Race 2010 (more photos on Facebook):

Mayor Of Ripon In A Swan

Mayor Of Ripon In A Swan

Happy Face

Happy Face

Pirate Boat

Pirate Boat

Pirates Rowing Hard

Pirates Rowing Hard

Getting Dunked...

Getting Dunked...

...And Splash

...And Splash

Photos from Great Duck Race 2010 (more photos on Facebook):

Helping The Ducks Over Alma Weir

Helping The Ducks Over Alma Weir

In The River Skell

In The River Skell

* I bought croissants, jam doughnuts, cinnamon Danish and a loaf of bread which Havenhands bake every day on site and the bakers still live above their bakery.  How about that – I bet you thought small village bakeries like that had died away and the only ones were the new wave of hip, ultra healthy microbakeries.

Of Meat In Dumfries And Galloway

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

21/7/2010 – I am sitting here at a table overlooking a glorious lake; not some picture postcard view across Lake Como in brilliant sunshine, but a grey, overcast day with some low lying wispy clouds moving slowly across the conifer plantations opposite me as I look across Loch Ken between Castle Douglas and New Galloway.  Soaring up in the sky there is a red kite, and sometimes you can even see ospreys around here.  I am watching my son sailing with what little wind there is over the loch.  It is your normal British style holiday – activity by the water, or over the dales or over climbing frames.  In the background, I can hear screams of fun and joy as four families battle it out in the laser quest battlefield beside us.  But at least it is currently dry, but probably will start to rain when I go out kayaking this afternoon.

Boats On Loch Ken

Boats On Loch Ken

So I turn my thoughts to other hidden foodie secrets of this wonderful part of Scotland.

Firstly, one that isn’t worth it.  Castle Douglas bills itself as a foodie town, but it’s all a bit of a let down, so other than a decent butcher (Hendersons – good for sausages), a goodish deli/chocolate shop (In House Chocolates) and Tesco, don’t get overexcited about the hype.

However, on Saturdays in Gatehouse of Fleet, they hold a small farmers’ market with a bigger one on the first Saturday of each month.  Last Saturday was the smaller version and it was belting it down when we were there with a few others.  Jen Hen’s is a stall that sells eggs – surprise, surprise – from a flock of mixed hens on a farm near Tongland.  Then, there’s Wigwam Bakery, which was the reason I was here bright and early, as last year when I pottered down the hill, her small selection of beautiful hand-baked goods had all been sold.  I was especially after her Roman Spelt bread and Maslan Bread (a mix of 50:50 white to wholemeal bread using a rye sourdough base), plus she does a goodly variety of other breads, including one called Aphrodite with seeds and things.  Susie had a great selection of sweet baked goods and people were busy trying to get her delicious chocolate cake, while I went for two of her cookies that are a health meal in themselves, packed full of amazing seeds.  You can tell she has a reputation as the locals all queue from her stall early and even on that bitterly cold Saturday.

Then, there was the mobile butcher’s shop, Wullie’s, which is the shop for Wm. Lindsay in Creetown.  I bought some lamb chops from Willie, but really was there to ask him about salt-marsh lamb as I had spotted last year (and this) a flock of sheep on the salt marshes beside Creetown.  Sure enough, he gets 6 lambs every year “for the English” in mid August, but told me he preferred the “blackies from the hills” which he gets in late August/ early September.  I said I would ring him in August about the salt-marsh lamb, so I will keep you posted if I succeed with that.

Sheep On Salt Marshes Near Creetown

Sheep On Salt Marshes Near Creetown

Blackie Sheep On Hills In Dumfries And Galloway

Blackie Sheep On Hills In Dumfries And Galloway

Amazing Horns On Blackie Ram In Cairnsmore Hills

Amazing Horns On Blackie Ram In Cairnsmore Hills

Other than that I had been hunting around for decent meat, which there is little to come by at this time of year, what with lambs being out of season.  The two places I have found good meat are Barstobrick Farm Shop and Cream O’Galloway.  Barstobrick is a fairly soulless site with an equestrian centre, some walks and holiday cabins, plus a dreary cafe and farm shop; however, they do sell their own meat within the farm shop.  It is Aberdeen Angus beef, reared on the farm and slaughtered at their own butchery.  Robin & Hilary Austin then let the meat mature for 21 days before it is packed and sealed and frozen on site.  They sell fillet and sirloin steak, as well as beef sausages and beef-burgers.  We went for the sirloin steak (£24.99/kg), which had great marbling and a lovely deep, brown-red  hue.  We tasted it that night, fried simply in butter to medium-rare and eaten with new potatoes and runner beans; it was deliciously meaty with a sweet hint of grassiness, while your knife just glided through the meat with no problem.  They were really good and worth the visit to this otherwise unprepossessing place.

Sirloin Steaks From Barstobrick Farm Shop

Sirloin Steaks From Barstobrick Farm Shop

At Cream O’Galloway, they butcher some of their Ayrshire dairy herd for meat for their burgers that they serve within the cafe area.  They are delicious burgers (as well as organic) and are made on site; I have had pretty much every type of burger they do over the last three years, with my favourite being the double Mexican burger, where I put a mix of the guacamole, soured cream and salsa between the burgers and then enjoy.  They use decent bread rolls for the burgers, overcoming one of my major bugbears about many burger joints in the UK.  Sometimes, hidden between all the pots of organic ice cream (I’ll talk about those in a separate blog), you can get a few fillet steaks (or other cuts) in one of the freezers before you go into the main activity centre.

We bought a couple of fillet steaks that had a deep red-brown colour and were decently marbled; they were also nicely thick at about an inch or so.  They cost £30/kg and are worth every penny.  We lightly fried the Cream O’Galloway fillet steaks (sold as Rainton Farm which is the name of the farm while the brand I am using is strictly speaking for the ice cream).  We ate them with new potatoes, broccoli for the kids and tomato salad for Sophie and me.  They were heavenly: and were perfect “melt in you mouth meat” as our daughter called them – you knife just sliced through as if you were cutting through silk, and the taste was a rich, luxurious, umami taste of healthy, well-reared meat; you got the sweetness of the organic grass together with the pure salty air off the Solway Firth.  Everyone’s plates were quickly emptied to sounds of “more please?”, but as for Oliver there was no more to be had, except that we had scoffed it all.

Fillet Steaks From Rainton Farm In Dumfries And Galloway

Fillet Steaks From Rainton Farm In Dumfries And Galloway

Rainton Farm steaks are one of the best meats that I have ever come across and if you can ever get close to the Gatehouse Of Fleet area, I urge you to make the detour, as this is one of those amazingly awesome food sources that you stumble across once in a while.

Of Cheese In Dumfries And Galloway

Sunday, July 25th, 2010
Big Water Of Fleet Bridge

Big Water Of Fleet Bridge

(19/7/2010) Up the Water of Fleet, you get to Cairnsmore of Fleet Nature Reserve and the Clints of Dromore, which is not only a wonderfully romantic name for some hills but also a decent-sized hill that you can walk up in no time, or along and around, getting towards a beautiful brick old railway bridge called the Big Water of Fleet Viaduct that seems sort of out of place up here, but it was about a mile east of Gatehouse of Fleet Station and appears in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey book “Five Red Herrings”.  “Five Red Herrings” looms, also, over the drive between Gatehouse of Fleet and Kirkcudbright as it was somewhere along that road that the dastardly murder took place amongst the fictional artistic community of the area; it is a good, light read, even if not here best novel.  Up on Cairnsmore of Fleet, you can see a wide variety of birds, including peregrines, if you’re lucky, and adders basking in the sun.  The other things you see around here are sheep and Galloway cows.   This brings me on to cheese.  (Sorry that was a bit of a strained intro).

I had always wanted to visit Loch Arthur Creamery at Beeswing near Dalbeattie.  Don’t you love the quaint name of the place – is it a bee’s favourite style of music or a part of bees?  Loch Arthur Creamery is part of the simply awesome Camphill Village Trust, which follows Steiner ideas and seeks to create places for those with disabilities to live a normal life and not be hampered by people like you and me.  So here at Loch Arthur, they run a farm and make, inter alia, organic biodynamic cheese, as well as running a fabulous shop.  You are greeted by a wondrously colourful display of fruit & veg, which in an area that seems curiously devoid of decent vegetables, and so seeing us resort uncomfortably to the delights of Tesco in Castle Douglas and Kirkcudbright, was a blessing and made me smile.  Then in the shop, they have a good selection of organic ambient foods and chilled meats and cheese.  We also bought some locally made spelt and seeded breads, as well as being tempted by the chocolate and orange cake that literally came out of the oven as we were there and was still deliciously warm; the cake was to die for – rich and chocolaty with a subtle hint of citrus.  Perfect.

Organic Vegetables Display At Loch Arthur Farm Shop

Organic Vegetables Display At Loch Arthur Farm Shop

Inside Loch Arthur Creamery Organic Shop

Inside Loch Arthur Creamery Organic Shop

But we were here for the cheese.  They make this on site; in fact we could see them washing down the factory through a clear window behind the counter.  They have a cheddar-like Farmhouse Cheese, as well as their little stars (in fact roundels of cheese) called Crannog.  Crannog are 10cm in diameter and have a white waxy exterior and the cheese inside is creamy-white and slightly soft like a chilled butter.  We bought the standard cheese and a green peppercorn cheese, as well as their hand-churned butter.  Both were wonderfully creamy and had that sweet, earthy taste that comes from cheese made from milk that is produced naturally from rich, organic grass, and which is faintly reminiscent of a good Wensleydale.  Somehow high street, mass-produced cheese seems more fatty and greasy with none of the flavours or tastes that should come through from the field, i.e. just texture and then…nothingness.  We also enjoyed the delicious rich and creamy butter that when eaten on good, wholesome spelt bread was a meal in itself; industrial food just does not have this body or richness, as I suppose stuff is taken out to help processing, improve consistency and functionality (my absolutely, most hated food term).

Loch Arthur Cheese, Butter and Chocolate Cake

Loch Arthur Cheese, Butter and Chocolate Cake

Organic Crannog With Green Pepper on Oatcake

Organic Crannog With Green Pepper on Oatcake

The other local cheese is Cairnsmore cheese from Galloway Farmhouse Cheese at Millaires, Sorbie by Newton Stewart.  They have organic cheese made from cows, ewes and goats milk, but as they have a sheep them I reckon that the ewe cheese is their love.  We bought the cheese as quarters off a larger block.  The cheese is a cream colour with a good, flaky bite and none of that yucky, plasticky, greasy texture from industrial cheese.  The cheese has a delicate earthiness that’s less intense that the Loch Arthur Creamery cheese, but seems a bit sweeter and with a delicate salty, peatiness coming through.  I liked the cows’ cheese a lot, but the ewe cheese had a lanoliny richness that felt slightly akin to a cross between manchega and parmesan cheese, but with a creaminess and more depth of character.

The tasting notes from my notebook were:

  • Standard Crannog – soft, velvety, with smooth but earthy cow’s taste that you don’t get with high street cheese – a certain comforting taste of sweet grass, reminiscent of fresh smells and tastes of dairy behind Broomley School in Stocksfield (long gone as now a housing estate) or from dairy farms in Bavaria on hols years ago.
  • Green Pepper Crannog – as Standard Crannog, but light, frivolous warmth of pepper offsets bitterness of earthy, cowiness → delicious.  A truly great, old fashioned real cheese.
  • Cairnsmore Cheese (ewe) – strong texture with some crumbly flakiness.  Creamy with rich taste and light but definite sweet earthy flavour and a damp, peaty taste and a sea-like saltiness.  Great.

We tasted the cheeses on their own and on plain oatcakes from M. Corson (Bakers) at Castle Douglas, with and without butter from Loch Arthur Creamery.  These oatcakes were simple with a good oaty flavour and a decent bite to them and none of that soft, crumbliness that you often get; oatcakes should be quite tough and be able to last aeons.  Another local maker is Cairnsmhor Fine Foods in Dalbeattie but these were a bit crumblier and saltier, which would probably work better from most people, but I preferred the tougher, simpler ones from M. Corson (Bakers) which is on the High Street in Castle Douglas – I guess that’s the puritan in me coming through.

Walk Around Nosterfield Nature Reserve In Yorkshire

Sunday, July 4th, 2010
Silt Pits At Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Silt Pits At Nosterfield Nature Reserve

When I went to track down the Thornborough Henges, I parked initially at the Nosterfield Nature Reserve.  Nosterfield was formerly a sand and gravel quarry for Tarmac that has been restored to open water and shallow pits.  It has become one of the best places in North Yorkshire for passage and wintering waders and the birds were making a jolly, happy racket while swimming around on the waters.  It is claimed that there are 150 species of birds, 25 butterflies and 297 plants that are to be found on the site.  Perhaps even more lovely is that fact that when I visited the other day it was basically empty of visitors – there were 3 others tootling about.  They were all garbed out in proper twitching clothing with huge, showy cameras and binoculars and (as always) proper sturdy walking boots, while I had my camera, a notebook and a cheap pair of trainers on from Sports Direct.

There are black-tailed godwits, avocets, moorhens and ruffs (note to self: get bigger zoom lens).  I was particularly taken by the butterflies and some awesome small bee orchids that I came across.  The photos I managed to get of the butterflies included mainly common species but they are still beautiful as there is still beauty in the commonplace, which is one of my main campaigns in life, i.e. for people to realise that life is good and to see the beauty on your doorstep in the seemingly and supposedly mundane.  I saw cuckoo spit, ringlets (with very feint ringlets), speckled wood butterflies, burnet moths (really gorgeous), green-veined whites and small skippers and many more that just would not stay still! 

I shall be back to look more closely as it is just on my doorstep by West Tanfield.

Pretty Pink Flower on Common Bindweed

Pretty Pink Flower on Common Bindweed

Bee Orchid Flower At Nosterfield

Bee Orchid Flower At Nosterfield

Cuckoo Spit By Footpath

Cuckoo Spit By Footpath

Small Skipper On Bramble Flower

Small Skipper On Bramble Flower

Speckled Wood Butterfly

Speckled Wood Butterfly

Green Veined White

Green-Veined White Butterfly

Ringlet Butterfly

Ringlet Butterfly

Two Burnet Moths

Two Burnet Moths