Posts Tagged ‘walks’

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

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011
Bodyboards In A Line

Bodyboards In A Line

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

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

View Across Newton Haven To Dunstanburgh Castle

View Across Newton Haven To Dunstanburgh Castle

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

View To Low Newton

View To Low Newton

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

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

Hyper Energetic Sanderlings At Football Hole Cove

Hyper Energetic Sanderlings At Football Hole Cove

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

Sunset Over Beadnell Bay

Sunset Over Beadnell Bay

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

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

Walk Around Some Of Glenkiln Sculptures (16 July 2011)

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

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

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

Auguste Rodin Sculpture Of St John the Baptist

Rodin's St John the Baptist

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

Henry Moore's Cross At Glenkiln Reservoir

Henry Moore's Glenkiln Cross

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

Moore's The King And Queen

Moore's The King And Queen

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

View Of Glenkiln Reservoir With Moore's King And Queen

View Of Glenkiln Reservoir With Moore's King And Queen

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

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

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.

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

Water Walks In Ripon – A Walk Along Borrage Lane

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

I have been spending a few minutes every day exploring the waterways of Ripon over the last month as part of some course work.  It has been really enlightening and an abject lesson in what you can miss on your doorstep when you keep your eyes closed and your nose to the grindstone of daily toil.

The first thing that happened was that it was plain and simply good fun – just the beauty and a sense of excitement as you found new things.  Secondly, Ripon really is a little gem of a city, forgotten and a bit tatty at the edges, but truly beautiful with countryside and farmland encroaching into the city.  It’s a green place, teeming with wildlife, and defined by its rivers.

Ripon is an old place.  It’s not Roman, but must have been inhabitated by local Britons before St Wilfrid rebuilt the monastery and cathedral of St Peter’s & St Wilfrid’s in the 7th century and that now defines and dominates the cityscape and skyline.  But it’s when you walk the rivers that you realise why Ripon was built where it is and why also it must have been inhabitated for many years prior to St Wilfrid.

There are three rivers that define Ripon – the River Laver, the River Skell and the River Ure (or in older times the River Yore which hints at its older pronunciation).  All the rivers have their sources in the Yorkshire Dales.  The Laver forms a border for Ripon on the west, meeting the Skell at the western edge of the old city and then the enlarged Skell flows through the centre of Ripon and where it used to form its southerly border.  The Skell then flows out of the old city and meets the Ure at its eastern edge, before the Ure flows past Hewick Bridge and off to Boroughbridge.  After a name change at Linton-on-Ouse, the Ure becomes the Ouse flowing through York, Selby and Goole before flowing into the Humber Estuary at Faxfleet and by England’s largest tidal reedbed – Blacktoft Sands.  The Ouse is the river of North Yorkshire and York is the second city of England.

So the three rivers create natural boundaries to the old city on the west, south and east.  Then you have the low lying hill by the Skell, where Ripon Cathedral now sits and would have allowed you to watch over the shallow valley in all directions.  The rivers are also flooding rivers and the area south of the Skell, where the canal and Dallamires Lane is located, would have been wet and boggy land, further protecting the city, while the surrounding land is good farmland that was mentioned in the Domesday Book.

So Ripon would just have seemed a great location to start a new settlement and I cannot believe that monks were the first people to notice this at the comparatively late date of 650AD.

Back to the walk, I started on Borrage Lane by Borrage Bridge and wandered along this small lane that has houses backing onto the River Skell and must regularly get flooded.  There’s a house here with a plaque stating that Wilfred Owen, the war poet, stayed here when recuperating in Ripon in March 1918 before going back to France and the trenches and death literally days before Armistice Day on 4 November 1918; how peaceful and idyllic Ripon must have seemed then and how dirty, noisy and cruel the war must have seemed as a distant memory only for him to have to return.  In his famous collection of “War Poems and others”, it states in the preface: “having much free time outside the camp, took a room in a cottage near the river where he could work in peace.  In this pleasant retreat, poems begun earlier were heavily revised and new pieces written.”  He decided to go back to the front when Siegfried Sassoon was injured with a head-wound and parting in September wrote presciently to his mother “When I go from hence let this be my parting word, that what I have seen is unsurpassable.”  Because of him, we should all have etched onto our hearts the last 4 lines of one of his greatest poems:

“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.”…And yet we still go to war for glory!

At the top of Borrage Lane just before it curves northwards, I followed the path onto a green swathe that acts as a water meadow along the River Laver and wandered up to Laver Weir by Bishopton Bridge.  Here, I watched the water pouring over the weir – quite mesmerizing and peaceful. 

There used to be a dam here by the bridge called High Cleugh Dam, which diverted water along a Mill Race that went down the middle of Mallorie Park Drive, Skellbank and Low Skellgate all the way to a duck pond at the bottom of Duck Hill, before flowing back into the Skell by Bondgate Bridge.  A cleugh means a cleft with water running through it, which is exactly what this is!  There’s a memory of these mills outside the Hugh Ripley Hall where two millstones are placed in the steps up into this community hall; this was the site of the High Mill.  These mills declined after the High Cleugh Dam was destroyed in a flood in 1892 ending the flour mills of High Mill, Duck Hill Mill and Union Mill.  In fact prior to then even, Ripon used to be the centre for textiles of the north before Halifax took over in the sixteenth century and Ripon entered centuries of economic stasis.  Also, a bit further down river, there is more of the mill race on the north side of the Skell by Alma Weir, but more of that another day.

I pootled back down the River Laver to where it meets with the River Skell by Borrage Lane and wooden bridge that crosses over the enlarged Skell.  This is a great place to play pooh sticks, but today I was more intrigued by where some steps up a bank by the Skell would lead to and where the path on the south side of the Skell came out back in Ripon.  Anyway, the steps led to a field which takes you back to Whitcliffe Lane and the houses in that area plus Ripon Cathedral Choir School, while the path is a short walk back to Borrage Green Lane and a playground that was donated to the children of the city in 1930 by the widow of the last Williamson of the now converted varnish factory by Borrage Bridge in the centre of town. 

Meeting Of River Skell With River Laver In Ripon

Meeting Of River Skell With River Laver In Ripon

Wooden Bridge Over River Skell

Wooden Bridge Over River Skell

If you were to walk across the field and then along Whitcliffe Lane now (May 2010), you will firstly see Ripon Cathedral Choir School which provides the beautiful young male and female voices for the sadly, hardly supported singing within Ripon Cathedral; it’s such a waste of talent that no-one listens to Evensong every evening or the sung services in Ripon Cathedral as the talent is amazing for such a small area that is Ripon.  Also, you should have a nosey at the school’s main building as this was the former finishing post stand for Ripon Race Course for many years – it’s actually back to front, i.e. the front of the school is actually the back of the stand; this was Ripon Race Course’s second location, with the first by the Ure on the far side of North Bridge.  This year and further down Whitcliffe Lane, you will see a quaint ceremonial gas lamp outside one of the houses and this is where the current Mayor of Ripon lives and is inscribed with the words “The Right Worshipful Mayor of Ripon”, and moves around dependent on the current appointee.

It is amazing how green and interlocked with nature this part of Ripon is – farmland cuts behind Whitcliffe Lane and the Skell all the way up to the centre of the city by Borrage Bridge, while modern housing creeps ominously close but has not yet removed this belt of green.  Then on the south side of Borrage Lane you walk among trees and the appetising aroma of wild garlic – masses of wild garlic and other riverbank plants.  Ducks swim with their young broods of 4 or 5 ducklings, and the swallows dive and dance in the skies above the farmland.  Save for the constant drone of cars, buses and lorries in the background, you would never believe that you were literally just feet away from urban life – albeit rural city life.

South Bank Of River Skell Opposite Borrage Lane

South Bank Of River Skell Opposite Borrage Lane

Also, you can see why Borrage Lane floods regularly – its banks are lower than those on the south side by about 2 or 3 metres, while the riverbanks have suffered erosion, especially close to Borrage Bridge.  Also, like many rivers the Skell is deceptive – small, gentle flowing for most of the year, it will suddenly fill up as rainfall and snowmelt rush into it from the moorlands into the Laver, Kex Beck and Skell, all merging quickly and simultaneously in central Ripon to create a rapidly formed flood head that finds the lowest and weakest place to break the banks.  The first place to go for these flood waters to find some freedom is Borrage Lane. 

Gabions Provide Softer Riverbank Edges By Borrage Lane In Ripon

Gabions Provide Softer Riverbank Edges By Borrage Lane In Ripon

Most of the flood protection is home made concrete and solid walls, but nearer to Borrage Bridge gabions have been put in that create a softer edge to the riverbanks that also allows river life to flourish.

And there is loads of river life right here in the centre, and on the edge, of the city – wild garlic, ducks and ducklings, fish (like grayling, brown trout and salmon are slowly wending their way further up the tributaries of the Ouse), native crayfish, bats, skylarks, swallows and supposedly lampreys, water voles and sometimes otters.  This is a part of England that is coming back to life as the countryside is cleaned up and people stop exploiting and fighting with nature, and letting it co-exist with us, enriching our lives.

White House, Ducks And Riverbank From Borrage Bridge In Ripon

White House, Ducks And Riverbank From Borrage Bridge In Ripon