Posts Tagged ‘rural’

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

North Yorkshire Walk – Thornborough Henge

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

On Thursday 1 July 2010, I did one of Axel’s Random Walks near Nosterfield and Thornborough in North Yorkshire.  I recently bought myself an Ordnance Survey Explorer Map of Ripon & Boroughbridge (#299) and in the top left corner you can just find the outlines of the Thornborough Henge, somewhere I had always wanted to explore. 

The Thornborough Henge has been described by David Miles of English Heritage as “the most important prehistoric site between Stonehenge and the Orkneys”, yet hardly anyone has heard of it outside of enthusiasts like the Friends of Thornborough Henges, Timewatch and a small group of new age pagans – they celebrate an annual Beltane event in the central henge, camping at a nearby farm.  How unknown it is can be best shown by a search I did at The Open University Online Library, where there was 1 document mentioning Thornborough Henge, Avebury Circle has 190 documents and Stonehenge 963.  Even worse than this, local people have had almost constantly to fight a rearguard action against Tarmac who own much of the land and want planning to quarry for roadstone.  But we, the people of North Yorkshire and Riponshire, do ourselves no favours as the website for the Friends is not very complete and some of the links are broken on its site and that of Tarmac, including the microsite at Newcastle University on finds at the site.

While the Thornborough Henges site are now a national monument, this prehistoric site from about 5,500 years ago is on privately owned land.  No-one really knows why it was built, but our region of North Yorkshire is very rich in ancient history, including many prehistoric monuments, including the Devil’s Arrows at Boroughbridge and other henges at Hutton Conyers and Nunwick, Roman monuments at Aldborough and York and Viking archeaology at York; I even reckon that Ripon Cathedral was probably the site of something beforehand as it’s just too prominent a site to have been ignored by people for thousands of years prior to St Wilfrid turning up to build a monastery.  Some people do claim that the henges are aligned with Orion’s Belt, but that is only speculative.  However, the region has always been very fertile and the River Ure has an important place in the heart and soul of North Yorkshire, becoming the Ouse before York and flowing into the Humber.  The River Ure is equivalent to the power of the River Tyne for Northumbria and the Tweed for the Borders.  And the henges are located close to the River Ure and seem to mimic the shape of the river as if they are seeking to pull energy from the river’s curves; I think the power of rivers was just as important to people as the stars, so you often find prehistoric sites close to water.

I started by parking at Nosterfield Nature Reserve which is a wetlands and bird sanctuary built on reclaimed land that has been mined out by Tarmac for roadstone.  I will write about my walk there in my next blog.  I walked around the edge of the nature reserve on the permitted pathway and then walked out on the public footpath that would take you to Nosterfield, but doubled back and then walked off the road into the Northern Henge which is nowadays a copse.  It was planted up in the 1800s as a fox covert, meaning that ironically it is a wood whereas in prehistory it would have been open to the elements and covered in white gypsum to allow it to stand out in the green landscape.  I walked around and had a peaceful time, listening to the rustle of the leaves from the elder, beech and sycamore trees and the chitter-chatter of the birds singing away to themselves oblivious of mankind. 

I was alone with nature and sat and thought of life while sitting on a decaying tree trunk roughly in the centre of the henge.  I wondered about how blasé we are with the past, perhaps as an embarrassment of local riches, or just the fact that the north is ignored and unimportant to the political power that centres on the south and more specifically London.  I imagined the people who built these henges, tamed the countryside, drained the swamplands, built all the local villages and fought many skirmishes and battles to shape England as it is now constituted.  There was nothing to show that there was an important ancient monument nearby, no information, no signs and no access; if this was the south, it would have been bought for the nation and visitor centres would have been built.  All these forebears of the north have been forgotten, shadows in the past, for whom no-one sings their histories.  I apologise for my sentimentality but trees do this to me; they have a power that sends tingles down my spine – churches, mosques and temples do nothing for me as they are just stones, but give me trees and I connect to the earth, the planet.  Perhaps religions should start building their places of worship outside, sticking up a cross or mihrab in some copse and then I may believe in something bigger, some overriding power.  But stones are just cold and dead for me; sorry.

Trees In Thornborough Northern Henge

Trees In Thornborough Northern Henge

Tree Swing And Graffiti Etched Into Trees At Thornborough Northern Henge

Tree Swing And Graffiti Etched Into Trees At Thornborough Northern Henge

Diggers At West Tanfield Landfill Site

Diggers At West Tanfield Landfill Site

From here, I drove past the West Tanfield Landfill Site, parking just beyond there and walking along the road towards Thornborough.  Here you can see the cursus running along a North-South axis with the Central Henge in the middle.  I left the road and snuck into the field where the Central Henge is located and sat on the edge of the earth mound edges, sharing the day with rabbits who have made the earth embankments their home.  It is in this site that New Pagans celebrate their modern version of Beltane.  I measured the diameter of the circle as about 150 medium steps and the embankments are about 2 metres high; the official diameter is 250 metres and the circle of the henge has 2 entrances facing North and South.  Looking Northwards, you can see the Northern henge as trees in the distance, while the fields have been left to become wildflower meadow which was very pretty; there was a cock pheasant that flew away in alarm as well as 4 partridges that came out of some gorse.  It was peaceful sitting on the bank, even with the throbbing sounds of the digger in the distance and the regular rattle and crash of the trucks coming to collect the earth.

I will need to go back another day to find the Southern Henge as it isn’t easy to access (well you shouldn’t really access it at all).

View From Central Henge To Northern Henge

View From Central Henge To Northern Henge

Top End Of Central Henge At Thornborough Near Ripon

Top End Of Central Henge At Thornborough Near Ripon

Southern Curve Of Central Henge At Thornborough

Southern Curve Of Central Henge At Thornborough

View From Central Henge Towards Southern Henge

View From Central Henge Towards Southern Henge

Inspired And Humbled By Jennyruth Workshops

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Sometimes you visit some people, who really are so good and wonderful that it shames you a bit.  The people at Jennyruth Workshops are some of those unsung heroes that underpin every society in the world; they just get on with it, doing good work, day in day out and neither expect nor want any huge praise.  About a fortnight ago, I had been driving through Ripon as I do almost every day, but this time I had my eyes open when I stopped at the traffic lights on North Street and there was a display in one of the windows about Jennyruth Workshops and I thought I wonder whether they could craft us some spice racks.  So I arranged to meet with them and wow were they lovely, amazing people.

Jennyruth Workshops is a wood and metal craft workshop that provides people with disabilities the opportunities and skills to make things for sale.  Currently, there are about 16 colleagues with disabilities and 30 carers, most of whom give a little time here and there, but some are more permanent like Mark, one of the permanent helpers, who showed us around yesterday with Jonathan, one of the disabled workers, who has been there since the start as his father founded the place.  Jennyruth Workshops is based at Red Farm on the Newby Hall Estate in a large building that looks nondescript on the outside, but has been well built and finished inside with help from prisoners and soldiers.  Although Jennyruth Workshops has been around for some time, having been founded about 15 years ago by Jonathan’s father, it was opened in this new complex in 2004 by the Countess of Wessex

At Jennyruth, they make all sorts of items from bird and bat boxes through to meditation stools, as well as rainbow crosses and wooden clocks; they also make cards and sew products including some brilliant shopping bags from empty, hessian coffee bags donated by Betty & Taylors in Harrogate, who are big supporters of theirs.  They also do a lot of one-off items, for example there was a wooden sign for a toy library in Sharow in progress that was shaped as a giant teddy bear with each letter for “Borrowers Toy Library” being individually cut out and painted.  And Jonathan proudly showed us a farm that he had made with buildings and animals all cut from wood, pieced together and painted; I was awed by Jonathan’s pride, skill and enthusiasm for what is being done at Jennyruth Workshops.  Yesterday, there were also 2 teenage boys from The Forest School in Knaresborough (another amazing place) who were working on a week’s work experience and were busy screwing in the hinges on the kneeling-style meditation stool. 

What I love about the concept of what is being done at Jennyruth and many other similar places is they are trying to ensure that all the disabled workers get involved with every stage in the process from the cutting, through to the piecing together, the painting and varnishing, the packing up and dispatching, so there is no Smith-style division of labour.  It is, therefore, a fun and meaningful place to work.

I was humbled by them all and hang my head in shame that I never help enough, getting so wrapped up in our own relatively mundane and small problems of the daily grind.

What Sophie and I would like to do is start by selling a few of their items on the Steenbergs web site, such as bird and bat boxes and perhaps meditation stools and hopefully spice racks.  We would simply sell them at Jennyruth’s retail price, so making not a penny on these ourselves, and see what happens.  If it becomes popular, then we may add a few extra items, but more importantly we would seek to widen the circle of other great places that also work with people with disabilities and bring their products to our customers on the same “no profit for Steenbergs basis”, since we are all concerned that customers are aware that making such products takes time and that neither Jennyruth Workshops nor places like Botton Village up at Danby are factories but wondrous, traditional crafting places for people with disabilities who should be treated respectfully.

I think it is sad that we as a culture are great at buying ethnic products from the developing world that are fairly traded, but that there is not such a great network for selling products made by people in our own country whether with learning disabilities or just trying to get started and out of a poverty trap.  As they say, charity starts at home, so let’s see if we can develop this more. 

What do others think?

Short Walk In Boroughbridge – Yorkshire

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Saturday evening saw the roads quieten off as everyone hunkered down to watch England in their first match at the South African World Cup.  The constant background noise from the A1 disappeared as it only ever does on Christmas Day – England hoping for glory, 30 million people preparing for disappointment, which came when Robert Green fumbled his save from a half-hearted shot from Clint Dempsey of the USA.  So England start with a 1 -1 draw and the heartache begins, yet we can still dream.

I went on a very short amble before the football to walk past the Devil’s Arrows in Boroughbridge.  These are 3 large sandstone grit menhirs that comprise what was once a line or series of 4 or 5 megalithic structures from around 2000BC, which were mined from Plumpton Rocks by Knaresborough.   In the 1560s, William Camden described “foure huge stones, of pyramidall forme, but very rudely wrought, set as it were in a straight and direct line… whereof one was lately pulled downe by some that hoped, though in vaine, to find treasure”. 

While they have been called many names, they are now generally known as The Devil’s Arrows, as (so the story goes) the devil felt slighted by Aldborough a settlement near to Boroughbridge, so he flung these stones at Aldborough from How Hill, near Fountains Abbey outside of Ripon, but being a poor shot or a bit of a wimp, his arrows fell short.  It is, also, claimed that you can raise the devil by walking around the stones 12 times in an anti-clockwise direction – who knows?

Three of the stones still stand close to the edge of Boroughbridge near housing and roads called Arrows Terrace, Arrows Crescent and Druids Meadow.  The missing two are thought to include one in the grounds of Aldborough Manor and another in the structure of the bridge over the River Tutt within Boroughbridge itself.

Many theories abound as to their purpose, but I like them for their mystery and the fact that they are just plonked their inconspicuously in a field and by a house within Boroughbridge.  History stretches back thousands of years in this region and will continue for thousands of years in the future, and we will toil on and survive whatever is thrown at the region by the devil or the Romans or Vikings or Kings and Queens of Northumbria or England or passed by ukase from London.  Soon the actions and demands from Parliament in London will become lost in time, a mystery, but life here will continue undiminished, unaffected and timeless.

One of the Devil's Arrows

The Largest Devil's Arrow

This is a very gentle walk.  I parked my car opposite Charltons, the Renault car dealer, and then walked about 50 metres before turning left into Roecliffe Lane.  Crossing over, you walk past modern housing that fills the space between Horsefair and the Devil’s Arrow fields.  At the brow of the small hill, you cross over to the largest arrow that stands 6.9 metres high (22 feet 6 inches) beside the road.  I like to touch the stone and feel if there is any power that emanates from it, but it never does as that’s just New Age garbage; I do the same with trees and similarly feel nothing unlike the tree-hugging Fins who think that it centres their souls. 

The Devil's Arrows

Grooves On The Devil's Arrows

This megalith soars upwards, and you can see the grooves that are perhaps relics from when the local tribes cut and dragged the stones to here, and you look up to the trees and the sky, seeing the awesome space that stretches above us towards infinity; frightening, so I return to earth and contemplate the understandable.

I crossed the road and before following the footpath down to John Boddy’s Timber, I walked around the wheat field to the other 2 standing stones – one of these is stranded in a sea of short wheat stalks, while the squatter final stone is in the grasy verge.  This one is a bit squatter and also has the grooves that you could see on the first larger stone.  It’s a decent view back along the three stones.  Now you walk back, then take a small ginnel into the housing area.  Here I paused and watched a thrush and a tiny wren jumping about in the hedgrow and singing out their songs to anyone who wanted to hear, but there was no-one but me.

View Back Along The Devil's Arrows

View Of The Devil's Arrows In Boroughbridge

You are in a housing estate with pretty, neat little bungalows made from red brick and tidy gardens of all shapes and sizes and styles.  This is Druids Meadow that stretches from Roecliffe Lane to Valuation Lane.  Valuation Lane runs alongside John Boddy Timber where you can get all sorts of fancy woods that have been used to refurbish Windsor Castle and York Minster, for example. 

Valuation Lane Through To Horsefair

Valuation Lane Through To Horsefair

As you get to the end of Valuation Lane, turn right back up Horsefair and passing the Methodist Chapel and St Helena to get back to the car.  Horsefair was originally the Great North Road and was a busy staging post and postal area, plus the area of the traditional June horse fair, the Barnaby Fair, where there was a fortnight of horse-trading followed by three days of cattle, sheep and hardware trading plus time for pleasure.

Ripon Water Walks – Walk Along Ripon Canal

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Ripon is blessed with lots of fabulous waterways and green corridors through the city.  One of the most noticeable is Ripon Canal, which cuts a straight caesura into the centre of the city, with the canal sitting on your left as you come in along Boroughbridge Road and onto Bondgate Green right up to Ripon Canal Head.  Like everything about Ripon, it’s on a small scale (only 2.3 miles), beautifully formed and has become forgotten by time, having closed down in 1906 and later reopened for leisure boating and recreation in 1996.  I love it.

Ripon Canal Head In Yorkshire

Ripon Canal Head In North Yorkshire

So following on from my last walk along the River Ure, I have spent some time putting together some thoughts on walking along Ripon Canal, together with some photos. 

The concept behind the canal is simple: the River Ure becomes difficult to navigate on stretches upstream of Boroughbridge, so the building of the canal and other small sections of canal along the Ure made it possible for boats to pass from Hull and York to Ripon, especially with core industrial products like coal into Ripon from the Yorkshire coalfields and back the other way lead and other products.  

A quick history of the canal is as follows: it was authorised to be built by an Act of Parliament in 1767, with construction work being completed in 1773, but it fell into a rapid decline from 1844 when the Leeds and Thirsk Railway Company opened successful negotiations to buy Ripon Canal.  Leeds and Thirsk Railway became part of the North Eastern Railway in 1854 and the Canal was left to decline; by 1892, no traffic was going along the Canal and the railway companies tried to abandon it, then to offload it on the Corporation of York.  When all other canals were nationalised in 1948, Ripon Canal was excluded and was officially abandoned in 1956.  From 1961 until 1996, private boat-owners restored the canal for recreational boating and it now is actively used by enthusiasts.

I start this walk usually by parking outside of Wolseley Center on Bondgate Green, then cross over the road and walk back down towards Ripon Canal Head before turning around and doing the walk properly.  Ripon Canal Head has been renovated and includes some compact canal view houses, a farm shop and an embroidery and craft shop called Barnyarns, as well as a renovated warehouse.  There were four boats moored just beyond Ripon Canal Head and I briefly chatted to a gentleman who was enjoying a glass of red wine and reading a book beside his narrow boat – the Moorhen – and discovered he was based in Retford in Nottinghamshire and spent much of his time travelling the canal network.  It is a short gentle walk to the first lock beneath lovely lime trees, with a few industrial buildings on the left – such as Ripon Builders Merchants and Wolseley Center – and just before the bridge you might get the curious dry, yeasty smell of bread wafting across the canal from Ripon Select Foods on Dallamires Lane, which is one of England’s main manufacturers of breadcrumbs for the food industry.  It is reminiscent of the damper, beery yeasty smell of Edinburgh, which was one of the first memories I had when at university there back in the 1980s.

You amble under the dark, gloomy concrete bridge into the outskirts of Ripon, with Fisher Green on your left.  The canal bank here is covered in grasses and beflowered with meadow buttercups, white and pink wild roses and white ox-eye daisies and everywhere you look there are ducks and ducklings gliding busily along the waterway.  On your right, there’s a quaint wooden bridge, painted white and black, that leads onto Dallamires Lane and down to one of the mooring points where you will sometimes see a long boat with the name, Belly Button, that has got a pub-sign-style painting on the side of a man carrying his large beer belly along in a wheelbarrow.  Today, it was empty save for drake resting his weary head on the concrete.

Sleeping Duck On Ripon Canal

Sleeping Duck On Ripon Canal

Just before the first lock – Rhodesfield Lock – there is the pretty whitewashed former lock-keeper’s house and then you angle down about 3 to 4 metres to the new level alongside a caravan park and berths for narrow boats.  At Rhodesfield Dock, a local boat, the Graceland, had just completed coming up the lock system and the owner was pushing her off the side and was taking her to dock by the wooden canal bridge.  On the right, you can see sometimes see the blue-painted narrow-boat Söll, which has a row of beautiful carved birds on its roof; I don’t know whether it is its Germanic name or the wooden birds on top, but it reminds me of Bornholm and its eider ducks (I know Bornholm is not Germanic but Danish-Swedish, but that’s the way my thoughts erroneously wandered).

Ripon Lock-Keeper's Cottage

Ripon Lock-Keeper's Cottage

Rhodesfield Lock On Ripon Canal

Rhodesfield Lock On Ripon Canal

We now walk from Rhodesfield Lock to Bell Furrows Lock, which is beside Smeaton’s Marina, named after one of the engineers who built Ripon Canal.  You can cross over Bell Furrows Lock to the other side, giving you a decent view back along the route you have travelled so far.  A common frog scuttled across the path.

View To Smeaton's Marina On Ripon Canal

View To Smeaton's Marina On Ripon Canal

From Bell Furrows Lock, it’s a half mile walk to Nicholson’s Bridge and Ripon Motor Boat Marina.  On your left, you have a bird sanctuary beside Ripon Race Course; it is a wetland that has been restored from gravel pits, forming part of a larger wetland area along the River Ure and all the way down to the Humber Estuary.  On the other bank, there are some fields and the well manicured ends of some of the posher residences at the edge of Ripon, while the trees have changed to a mix of sycamores and elder.  I couldn’t see much of interest the other day except a few swans and tufted ducks, while I raised a grey heron that had been calmly fishing in the canal and languidly started its laboured flight off the canal onto the wetlands, with its strange cricked neck folding back on itself.  By Nicholson’s Bridge, you have the edge of Ripon Race Course to your left and the edge of Ripon to your right and move on to cut through farmland to the meeting of the Canal and the River Ure about one and a half miles further on.

Ripon Motor Boat Marina

Ripon Motor Boat Marina

Canal Boats By Nicholson's Bridge Over Ripon Canal

Canal Boats By Nicholson's Bridge Over Ripon Canal

Narrow Boat Under Rentons Bridge

Narrow Boat Under Rentons Bridge

From Nicholson’s Bridge to Ox Close Lock the walk opens out and you have Ripon Race Course to your left and then farmland on the right bank.  On Saturday evenings in the summer, there is loads of activity around the marina and up and down the canal.  Everyone is full of spirits and cameraderie, while proud narrow boat owners are bringing their boats in to a resting place for the night.  Boat names are an art in themselves, while the colours of the boats’ painting are glorious and the flamboyance of the pots of flowering plants atop the boats is full of gaudy joy.  The air is suffused with the smells of hedgerow flowers interspersed with the smoke from charcoal burning in barbecues.

May Fly

Mayfly By Ripon Canal

After you pass one of the starting points at Ripon Race Course, you seem to be walking along a wide garden path.  On the opposite bank, cows come down to the water’s edge for an evening drink.  At Renton’s Bridge, I crossed to the other side to the sound of several joyous song thrushes with their evening choral mash-up.  Mayflies were flying around, bobbing up and down in a weird dance.  At Ox Close Lock, there were quite a few boats hunkered up for the evening, with several more including the Rivendell coming into the canal system off the River Ure.  I walked beyond the canal to a lone oak tree and rested for a while, looking at Newby Hall a short distance to the west and back towards the small hidden opening of Ripon Canal. 

Entrance To Ripon Canal from River Ure

Entrance To Ripon Canal from River Ure

I pondered on why so many people were on boats and in caravans, constantly moving around and why we all felt the need to escape rather than to enjoy the here and now of where we live.  I realised that it’s because we are so disconnected from reality and the natural world in the artificial edifice that mankind has built and calls “life”, so that we need to reconnect with the natural world, rediscover where north is and listen to the music of the nature.  It’s mankind’s fictional “life” that is wrong, and in the end irrelevant, and whenever people realise that deep down, they must rediscover reality for themselves, somewhere, somehow and they need to go on a journey, and that journey is personal and the solution is unique for each individual or family and is beautiful and right whatever the solution they arrive at for restoring their own inner harmony.

Ripon Water Walks – Along The Ure

Monday, May 31st, 2010

I mentioned in my first blog about walks in Ripon in North Yorkshire that I did not believe that Ripon had only been settled as a monastery in 650AD.  I believe this basic historical fact about Ripon’s history even less now after walking along the River Ure.  Firstly, wherever you walk along the Ure and also nearly everywhere you are in the Dallamires area south of the River Skell, you are watched over by the brooding presence of Ripon Cathedral.  It seems to be watching you, eyeing you up and saying: what are you doing, where are you going and are you sure you should really be doing that because I am watching you?  Secondly, Hewick Bridge by one of the markers that indicate the edge of the sanctuary of Ripon was an important bridge in the Roman times connecting a settlement near the bridge/river with Isurium Brigantium, the major Roman town that is now the ancient village of Aldborough.  There is no physical evidence just the circumstantial thoughts of someone who has walked the land and feels that this was just too good a location to ignore.

On Saturday 23rd May, which was a warm and sunny evening after a scorching day, I parked my car on Magdalen’s Road and started my walk along the footpath over North Bridge Green.  North Bridge Green is a floodplain for the River Ure that stretches from the north side of North Bridge and follows the south side of the River Ure as it arcs round from the Bridge to where it meets with the River Skell by Fisher Green.  It is public land that floods regularly and is a green swathe of grass, however it would be great if more trees were planted, which would allow the ground to hold more water when the river is in spate and would also give more woodland for local biodiversity to thrive.

It’s a gentle 30 minute walk along the edge of the river, which languidly flows towards the Skell.  The water had a peaty brown hue to it and looked temptingly cool on an evening like it was.  There are shingle beeches every so often that you can wander down to and watch the river flow past, look for fish, watch the ducks swimming and the insects swarming on the water.  There were some teenagers enjoying skimming stones across the water, but most were enjoying the delights of “Over the Rainbow – The Final”  or some other TV delight.

Hidden Bench By River Ure

Hidden Bench By River Ure

Around half way around, the land rises to a small height where you can look across to Ripon Cathedral as it keeps an eye on you, before you slide back down to river height.  As you get closer to the meeting of the Rivers Ure and Skell, there’s an old bench hidden beneath bushes and covered in nettles, where once there must have been a lovely river view – a romantic sign of decay – while a newer bench by the meeting of the rivers has no seat and just the concrete base – a sign simply of neglect.  Once again, you can turnaround and see Ripon Cathedral checking up on you…

View Back To Ripon Cathedral

View From Skell To Ripon Cathedral

At  Fisher Green, we cross over the stepping stones across the River Skell and then follow the footpath along the south side past Yorkshire Water’s wastewater treatment plant coming out on a field called The Green, which is opposite Ripon Race Course.  It flooded here last December after a snow melt in the Yorkshire Dales and covered over the road, and the field itself floods at least once every winter.

Hewick Bridge In Ripon , Yorkshire

Hewick Bridge In Ripon , Yorkshire

Sanctuary Marker By Hewick Bridge

Sanctuary Marker By Hewick Bridge

At Hewick Bridge, you need to be careful as you cross the bridge as it’s busy and there’s no footpath.  Just over Hewick Bridge, there’s a footpath and a sanctuary marker that marks the start of a walk called the Sanctuary Walk, where you can walk around the ancient limits of one league from the monastery.  We just use the part that goes along the northern banks of the River Ure.  A few yards in from the start there is a concrete section that goes into the river and comes out the other side – I always thought this was a car park but apparently this is where tanks used to cross over the river.

This section of the walk to Sharrow and back to North Bridge takes another hour, bringing the total walk time to a good 2 hours.  This section is a decent walk in the countryside, save for the sound of cars constantly moving.  Soon you blot these out and can hear only the sounds of the birds with their evening chorus – swallows, thrush, ducks, blackbirds, pigeons, the high pitched chirrup chirrup of house martins and then the loud honking of a couple of geese as they flew overhead like 2 bombers.  The trees and flowers alongside the river were in full bloom – hawthorn, chestnut, white butterbur, nettles, wild garlic, bluebells and then you had the white parachute seed heads of the the Old Man’s Clock’s and downy female catkins on some small shrubby willow bushes (I think it’s a type of Osier Willow or Salix viminalis as the leaves are definitely spear shaped, but I am not convinced about this), as well as a patch of forget-me-nots in the middle of nowhere as if someone had just dropped a pack of seeds as they wandered idly by.

Forget-me-nots Among White Butterbur

Forget-me-nots Among White Butterbur

As I got to the point that the Rivers Ure and Skell meet, I walked through nettles and elder, climbed over an ineffectual fence and clambered down the riverbank and stood over the river on the trunk of an elder tree and took a picture of the confluence.  It was probably not worth the effort as it was decidely undramatic, but it was something I had been keen to do, and it satisfied a curiosity.  I still need to find the meeting places of the Ure with the Ouse Beck and also Kex Beck with the River Laver, having found the meeting between the Rivers Skell and Laver earlier.

Meeting Of Rivers Ure and Skell In Ripon In Yorkshire

Meeting Of Rivers Ure and Skell In Ripon In Yorkshire

Near here it is worth looking east towards the Blackamoor Pub and looking over the perfectly landscaped farmland and the patches of Van Goghian yellow of rapeseed flowers, then to the north a derelict farmhouse that I will explore another day.

View Back To Blackamoor Pub

View Back To Blackamoor Pub

Beware Of Witches And The Gruffalo

Beware Of Witches And The Gruffalo

Two-thirds of the way along, you follow a pathway off the river bank and upwards onto Bell Bank, which is a National Trust owned wood that’s about 30 metres above the Ure.  It’s a steep slope upwards covered in trees clinging to the riverbank, so there’s an out-of-place sign warning those who enter the wood that they do so at their own risk – what of: witches or the gruffalo or that I might not notice the steep slope down to the river.  The wood was shaded and dappled with the setting sun and with patches of bluebells here and there, adding a colour contrast to the greens and browns of the woodland.

As you come out of the wood, you get a good glimpse of Ripon Cathedral staring at you, then you are down and nearly out at Sharrow.  As you follow the path along, you go under the Duchess of Kent Bridge, then out and over North Bridge.  Cross over to the opposite side of the bridge and look over the floodplain at one of Ripon’s curiosities – a white wigwam, why?  And you’re back at Magdalen’s Road.

White Teepee Near North Bridge In Ripon

White Teepee By North Bridge In Ripon In Yorkshire

Thinking about it, do you know what I hardly have seen when I do these short potters – people fishing.  Only once have I seen someone and that was in the centre of Ripon, but few people seem to be sitting on the bank, idling their time away trying to catch brown trout or whatever is in the river.  I know there are fishers out there, but where are they hiding?

PS: I must get a filter for my camera as I regularly get the blue sky whiting out in the photos I am taking.

Can We Save Ourselves From Global Warming?

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

I went to a public lecture by Professor John Beddington who is currently Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government.  He was lecturing on Climate Change as a University of York Biology lecture.  And yesterday he was back in London attacking climate sceptics who mistake weather for climate change and so on.

I am slowly trying to understand the science in more detail, having understood the basics since I did science way back when, plus I have even set myself out on doing an Open University degree on Environmental Science/Studies to improve my understanding of these issues.  So I guess I am now an advanced layman rather than much further on than that.

So what came out for me in his lecture was not whether or not climate change or global warming exists – it does and the science is clear, even if there are gaps in getting to a total understanding on the subject.  We know that quantum physics works even though there are gaps, while we know that evolution occurs and that alternative routes co-exist with it, such as horizontal gene transfer.  Gaps and alternatives do not necessarily negate the core scientific theory.

What struck me were 2 slides:

  1. One slide on annual deployment rates for alternatives, lower carbon emission energy sources.  I didn’t have time to take down all the data but it did include 32 new nuclear plants per annum, 215 million m2 of solar panels annually, 3750 offshore wind turbines every year etc etc.  That’s just an awesome task.  It chimed with some thoughts in Stewart Brand’s recent book “Whole Earth Discipline”.
  2. His final slide – which Professor Beddington called The Perfect Storm, where he stated that we must not forget that there are more scientific issues impacting environmental issues than just climate change.  He said that we have the interaction of the following – population growth and a population that will peak at 8-9 billion people, increased urbanisation and the fact that most people live in cities now and this will continue to increase, a lower relative number of poor in the world which will increase levels of consumption and (finally) climate change.  Once again that’s a tough set of environmental drivers to deal with.

For me, this begs the question whether you can marry up the economics that building all this new energy infrastructure requires with the fact that increases in population, urban living and consumption (as a by-product of reduced relative levels of poor) will demand ever greater levels of electricity and they want it now.  Also, if we need these levels of deployment, we better get a shift on and start sorting it out really, really fast.

Which brings me on to nimbyism (the not-in-my-back-yard syndrome) – how will all these new alternative power sources be put into place within the UK’s current planning regime.  Nuclear power – which must be in the energy mix – is hated by people near proposed plants while even near us in Melmerby in North Yorkshire, people are already campaigning against a putative wind farm nearby (it’s not even got further than a bit of scoping by a possible wind energy business).  If we all go around saying, we need to sort out climate change but we ain’t going to let you put your wind farm or nuclear plant next to us, we will never get off first base.  To get this scale of change in the energy supply for the UK, and other countries, politicians will need to become heavy-handed and force through building, while also making the financial returns more pallatable for businesses as these new forms of energy do not have acceptable short term returns, rather a very long and dull economic return.  This all chimes against my own views on liberalism – personal and economic freedom.

Good luck to you all – politicians and scientists.  You have my full support, but it’s going to be really hard to get this all done, especially when you have so many other shorter term demands on your empty pot of money.

Visit to Milk Shake Bar in Ripon

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Yesterday evening, the Steenberg family finally went to visit the milk bar in Ripon.  It was a treat after we took the kids to Evensong in Ripon Cathedral on Monday evening for the Whit Monday service; that was beautiful with the service sung by the boys and girls choir of Ripon Cathedral, who mainly come from the choristers at Ripon Cathedral Choir SchoolThe Archbishop of York, who is very cool, gave the sermon – all about repentance – and blessed the congregation.  He’s definitely a hero with his outspoken views against Robert Mugabe.

Shake Up! is a neat, small shop on Westgate, and although there’s no real place for parking, everyone simply parks on the double yellow lines outside.  The decor is as you would expect a light pink painted wall, and then inside it’s sparse and utilitarian – a counter and then shelves with every type of sweet or biscuit that every parent wouldn’t want their kids to eat.  The aura is 1960s nostalgia, with the feel of English seaside resorts.

The whole experience was indulgent and – as a treat – allowed everyone to enjoy everything they’re not normally allowed.  The milk shakes are made from milk, ice cream and then any of a huge array of flavours you want.  The cost starts at a mere £2.20 – what huge value.  We went for the following 3 flavours – Toblerone, Skittles and Oreo (all differently not mushed together), but you can be healthy and have banana from real bananas and other fruits, however that would have missed the point. 

Did they taste good – yes, and the kids are already planning what evil, unhealthy concotion to have next.

My advice: go there, be tempted and enjoy yourself.

Water Walks In Ripon – Alongside The Skell

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

As you walk through the centre of Ripon alongside the River Skell, you get an appreciation of how many bridges there are.  Sure, Ripon isn’t Venice with its profusion of quaint, romantic curve bridges that play on the imagination nor the strong, engineered lines of the great industrial bridges of Newcastle.  However, Ripon does have a lot of bridges packed into a small area.

For the short walk across Ripon, there are 11 highly functional bridges connecting Ripon between North and South, between the old and new parts of the city, and even as you get to Fisher Green a ford and 2 sets of stepping stones.  Towards the North, there are 2 further bridges over the Ure – North Bridge and the Duchess of Kent Bridge – and Hewick Bridge as you leave the east of Ripon going towards Boroughbridge and York; then there are 4 footbridges over Ripon Canal.  And all of this is in a short distance of 1 – 2 miles (2 – 3 kilometres).  Bridges have always been important to city life – Hewick Bridge and Bishopton Bridge had chapels attached to them to encourage pilgrims to pay for their upkeep – but there were no pontage dues or Bridge Wardens in Ripon.

We start this short city walk where we left the previous walk by Borrage Lane, that is at Borrage Bridge but facing eastwards.  The first thing to notice is the beautifully converted piece of local industrial architecture – the old Williamson Varnish Factory.

View From Borrage Bridge Past Williamson Varnish Factory

View From Borrage Bridge Past Williamson Varnish Factory

You walk along the river for a bit before coming out to cross over a road and past the Williamson Drive Bridge built for the newly built housing around the old Williamson Varnish Factory.  Then we follow another river path that is parallel to the very old road, Barefoot Street, which used to connect Borrage Bridge to St John’s Chapel.  The river bank opposite is dominated by overhanging trees arching over the languid water as it flows slowly through the city, channelled by hard engineered stone and concrete walls to protect the riverbanks and houses from the Skell in spate.  Brown trout can be seen hovering in the river and range in size from 3 inches to about 8 inches in length.

View From Bondgate Bridge

View From Bondgate Bridge

All too soon, we have reached Bondgate Bridge, where the mill race would have entered the river again.  Opposite us, there is a quaint little white house where the owner has placed a cheap looking plaster cast of a fisherman on their wall.  Ironically, someone was fishing for their tea on the bank opposite but seemingly with little luck in spite of lots of brown trout clearly visible and rising to the surface for insects.  Once again, we need to walk over the road by St John’s Chapel and down again on to the other side.  Here you walk along a short while with a recently renovated playground opposite us on a water meadow at Bondgate Green.  And it’s but a short walk to Archer Bridge.

I went under Archer Bridge and continued on the south side of the Skell.  Opposite, you can see the white-painted backs of some of the old buildings connected to Ripon Cathedral, while we walk on towards the Water Rat Pub past Alma Weir with its ineffectual salmon leap.  Alma Weir is one of the places where the Environment Agency measures river flow, but they have also realised that it can cause the water to back up the river, so causing flooding in its own right.  As a result, under the Ripon Flood Alleviation Scheme, Alma Weir is to be removed and the river gouged out to lower it and hopefully make this part of central Ripon less prone to flooding.  The Water Rat and Alma Weir are the location of the world famous (okay locally quite well known) Annual Duck Race held on August Bank Holiday Weekend.

Alma Weir In Ripon

View Across Alma Weir To Ripon Cathedral

Here, I crossed over the wooden Alma Bridge to the north side of the river.  Now follow, the river for a short while before you can see the remnants of an old mill race in a small patch of greenery.  Now, you cross another wooden bridge where Priest Lane dips down to ford the Skell by Wolseley Center’s ugly brown buildings.

Ford in Ripon In Yorkshire

Priest Lane Ford In Ripon In Yorkshire

We’re now firmly back into parts of Ripon that suffer from flooding.  Obviously, the Priest Lane Ford gets unpassable a few times a year, but now we’re entering the Fisher Green area of Ripon which can get pretty wet.  We walk along the Skell’s south bank past the back of some industrial buildings where Interserve is doing work on the Flood Scheme and a strange little building by Fisher Green Bridge that houses NDS, which offers training in rock music ranging from guitar playing to drumming.  Fisher Green Bridge is a classic sturdy piece of Victorian industrial architecture that was built to last; it was formerly the bridge for the railway line that was removed under Beeching and has been collared for the Ripon bypass.  If you look up to the road you can see that the A61 has widened the original bridge simply by cutting off the sides, bunging on some wide concrete slabs that overhang the bridge base by a couple of metres each side and then stuck the edges back on again – sensible but you would not have known this from the road above.

We walk under the bridge and are basically in the countryside.  Save for a few houses on the north side, the small green space northwards between the A61, the Skell to the south and the curving Ure to the east is given over to farming and washlands, which are used for walking by locals.  The houses here along the Skell are all subject to flooding and you can see many of the houses have sandbags to the ready or sturdy floodgates to protect their properties.

Crossing River At Fisher Green in Ripon

Stepping Stones Across Skell

Here I crossed the river over some stepping stones set into the river and walked a short distance along a wide green grassed footpath to the point where the Skell meets the Ure for its journey onwards towards the Humber.  Here, there are a few trees but I must admit that I would like to see more – I can imagine an avenue of trees holding together the river bank and soaking up the water when the rivers get bloated.  The trees around here include sycamores and willows as well as decorative cherry trees, while the river banks are currently covered in flowering wild garlic.

View Towards Fisher Green in Ripon

View Towards Fisher Green in Ripon

New Season Asparagus

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

There’s nothing simpler, nothing more delicious than new season asparagus.  Some years ago, Sophie and I tried to grow asparagus, but we never had sufficient patience and that project came to nought.  But luckily there are loads of brilliant local growers of asparagus who do have the patience.

Sophie came back with a punnet of fresh asparagus from M.L. & R.C. Snowden, who farm on the Leeds Road between Harrogate and Harewood in North Yorkshire.  They are one of our favourite places for asaparagus, soft fruits (pick your own) and fresh salad leaves.

New Season's Asparagus

New Season's Asparagus

We simply trimmed off the woody ends, washed them, boiled them in our upright asparagus pot until they were just softened and then we served them covered in melted butter and a sprinkling of sea salt – we used Fleur de sel and you could, also, use Maldon salt.  Then we eat them with our fingers. 

Delicious, natural and simple yet indulgent.

Tip: never drink white wine with asparagus as I find it makes the wine taste really metallic.