2nd January 2017 HAPPY NEW YEAR!
So 2016 is behind us, and what a strange year it was... readers of my blog will know that I'm not sorry it's over! However, we (Hubcap, Frei Compagnie Secretary Wayne Reynolds and I) did see December out in a quite exciting way: we made a site visit to Tadcaster on Friday 30th, to plan the Frei Compagnie's participation in a prestigious event at the end of January.
Yes, at long last Tadcaster Bridge, (left), which had to be closed after being seriously damaged by floods in 2015, is
almost repaired and ready to re-open. This is wonderful news for the town, which was effectively cut in half by the loss of the river crossing, and for all the residents and people who pass through Tadcaster and were massively inconvenienced by the closure. The official re-opening was scheduled for Friday 27th January, with a great community celebration to follow on Sunday 29th; however, as the works will not be completed in time, the opening has been put back to Friday 17th February, with Sunday 19th for the celebration. The event will start around noon with a blessing of the bridge by the Archbishop of York, then there'll be lots of other stuff going on during the afternoon, including a medieval market and our living history camp, all rounded off by a lantern procession across the bridge by local schoolchildren.
It's a big honour for us to take part, and very relevant to our remit - Tadcaster was one of the places through which the defeated Lancastrian army routed after the Battle of Towton in 1461. So we're keeping fingers firmly crossed that the weather will be as fine and crisp as last Friday, and looking forward to pitching camp in this lovely spot (above right): parallel to the River Wharfe, near the church and remains of the motte-and-bailey castle, and just below the bridge itself. Weather permitting, we plan our usual living history displays, archery and sword combat demonstrations and a children's bill-drill, and I'll be there with the TBS and Herstory merchandise tent. If it's too wet and windy to camp, we'll still go along to parade around in costume and talk to people - in fact the only thing that'll stop us attending is if we're snowed in and unable to travel. So watch this space and the Frei Company Facebook page for further details - and if you fancy blowing the cobwebs away on this very special occasion, come and see us in Tadcaster in February!
One New Year’s resolution Hubcap and I will be happy to keep is to do plenty of walking together; and ever since we visited Hebden Bridge last summer, we’ve been determined to go back and explore its glorious surroundings. So when 2nd January dawned cold, clear and bright we duly armed ourselves with my new walking staff and compass, some emergency snacks and an old AA walk guide. Then we wrapped up well and by 8 am were heading for historic Heptonstall, the starting point for a four-mile tour of sights along the Calder Valley; but since our route took us virtually past its front door, we decided to stop off first at Shibden Hall on the edge of Halifax.
One of the great things about Shibden is that you can enjoy it any time, even when the house is closed to the public, because the exterior and gardens are so picturesque (see left) that they merit visiting in their own right. The Hall’s oldest part, the H-shaped housebody, dates to the early 1400s , with a stone frontage and first floor added in the 17th century. Extensive changes to the house and gardens were then made by possibly
its most famous owner, Anne Lister; wishing to convert it into a Gothic Hall, she gutted and remodelled large parts of the interior, added the pseudo-Norman tower (left in the picture) and a Gothic-style service wing, and created the formal terraced gardens you can see in front. Very little then changed until Shibden was acquired by the Halifax Corporation, and it became a local authority historic house museum. Its lovely park setting contains lots of nice paths to walk and interesting features to look at – I was very taken by a stone wall with a number of stiles built into it, and interpretative boards giving the name of each type. If you fancy seeing this fascinating place for yourself, check out the website museums.calderdale.gov.uk/visit/shibden-hall for further information, directions and opening times; adult admission to the Hall costs £4.50, and we certainly plan to go back and take a proper tour of it, indoors and out, in the near future.
Monday 30th January - A Sunny Sunday Out (continued)
Invigorated by an hour's stroll around Shibden Park (see below), we pressed on to our destination: Heptonstall, an ancient settlement, long famous as a well-preserved Jacobean town with many stunning period buildings (see pic below left), and more recently due to its connections with the late Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, and his equally renowned poet wife, Sylvia Plath (buried in its churchyard, see right). So we aimed to kill several birds with one stone: a nice hike with spectacular scenery; chance to collect images of iconic places like Hardcastle Crags for my new presentation on Plath and Hughes; and chance to pay our respects to Sylvia as the 54th anniversary of her death (11th February 1963) approaches.
Unfortunately, half way up the steep, winding approach road, the car conked out! Fortunately, the AA gave us priority because we were stranded on a dangerous bend, and fixed the problem in no time (phew!). But the delay meant that it was too late to embark on the long walk we planned, so we just explored Heptonstall – and there’s plenty to see.
First port of call was the church – or churches! Heptonstall is unique in having two parish churches next-door to each other. The first, (above left) founded c. 1260 and dedicated to St Thomas a Becket, was so badly storm-damaged in 1847 that it was abandoned and a new one, St Thomas the Apostle, constructed alongside.
The churchyard is very striking in its extreme fullness; in some areas the grave slabs are so close together that it’s impossible to avoid walking on them. After a poke about in the ruins, we crossed to the cemetery extension, added in 1911 when the old churchyard could accommodate no more. There are so many graves that we couldn’t find Sylvia Plath’s until a local gave us directions and a fellow literary pilgrim finally spotted it: well-tended, covered in offerings of coins and pens, and marked by her restored headstone (replaced after being repeatedly vandalised) bearing her full name and the famous quote from the Bhagavad Gita.
We then moved on to explore the town, found a lovely old pub where we could lunch, and set off afterwards on the short walk to Heptonstall Crags. The scenery was breathtaking, albeit rather too misty to make for decent photos; so after simply enjoying the views and the bracing fresh air, we headed back to the community centre where we'd parked our car. Endearingly, this car-park is free to use (elsewhere in Heptonstall there are stringent parking restrictions owing to the narrowness of the streets) - there's just a polite request for donations and a slot in the door to post your money through. So although we still haven't done the walk we've been planning since last summer, we had a grand day out (apart from the breakdown!), and have a good excuse to come back again in the near future.
The grave of Sylvia Plath: 'Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted'