It’s a long time since I wrote about Beckside, our little slice of heaven at Newmillerdam – but it looks so spectacular this summer that I thought it was time for a progress report!
Things have changed so much I find it hard to remember that it’s less than 3 years since we started working there. Back in November 2014 the field was just a neglected mass of brambles, bindweed, Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed growing wild over rough tussocks of grass. So the first phase was a major clearance of pest vegetation in order to plant species more productive for us (native trees to give firewood, fruit and shelter/privacy screening), along with grasses and wildflowers to provide habitat and food for other creatures.
And as you can see from the images I shot yesterday, it hasn't taken long! The trees we planted as little 'whips' in spring 2015 (above right) are now fully-fledged saplings 12 - 15 feet high (below right); the one Hubcap’s standing next to has a trunk at least 4 cm in diameter, and some of the rare-variety apple trees which went into the orchard early in 2016 are bearing fruit for the first time. We also have a glorious meadow (the ‘party field’) bounded by hawthorn hedges (left), a great assortment of flowers including poppies, ox-eye daisies and cornflowers – and to our great delight, the wildlife has moved in with a vengeance (see below)! Our resident pheasant Dullard (handsome but thick), comes running to Mick’s whistle to be fed birdseed; he and the missus have just raised a second brood of chicks, which is amazing considering that we clearly have a fox family living nearby (however, he currently has a bad limp, so we think he’s had a close encounter of the foxy kind). It’s also wonderful to see the flowering plants alive with hoverflies, bees and butterflies like the lovely meadow brown and skipper (below right); the increase in biodiversity is really paying off, and it can only get better. What a rewarding project - it's worth every moment of labour we put in there!
Above: Hubcap strimming brambles,winter 2015
Below: now, a lush fecund orchard and meadow
Tree cover, then (above, 2016) and now (below, taken near the same spot!)
Taking advantage of the fine weather last Sunday, Hubcap and I decided to explore part of the wider Battle of Towton landscape; and after stoking ourselves up with a full English breakfast at The Crooked Billet, we set off on the public footpath from the pub and headed for Saxton, a village dating back at least to the Saxon period and mentioned in Domesday Book.
Our first port of call was All Saints Church on Main Street. The Normans built its nave and chancel in the 11th – 12th centuries, probably on the site of an earlier church, incorporating a number of incised grave slabs into the structure (you might be able to make one out below the door in the pic above right); a south chapel was added in the 14th century, and the west tower (left) in the early 15th century – so it would have been visible to the soldiers who fought at Towton in 1461.
Unfortunately the church was closed, so we couldn’t go in to see the medieval octagonal font and various 17th and 18th century monuments it contains; however, we did pay at respects at Lord Dacre’s tomb, and noticed that the adjacent monument to re-interred battle dead from Towton (sculpted by TBS member Stephen Hines and laid in 2005) is weathering very attractively, as you can see in the pic on the right.
All Saints' west tower - its original height is marked by the string course just above the clock.
We then walked on past the old village bakery, complete with built-in bread oven - the bulge in the lower right side of the wall you can see in the pic below left - to another Norman monument: the motte-and-bailey castle on the plot of land between Main Street and Headwell Lane (below centre). It’s only small, (the motte base c. 40 m diameter surrounded by a slight ditch and c. 2 m high, with a hollow marking the site of the tower which once surmounted it), and wasn’t in use for long – the earthworks were altered by the building of a medieval manor house in the north-eastern corner of the bailey, and the creation of several small enclosures (for houses or garden plots), a trackway and a pond. The motte stands in a rectangular bailey whose ramparts have been largely altered by incorporation into later land boundaries, although the eastern side is still visible as a slight bank running to the south of Manor Farm, and the western side is marked by the line of Main Street. The manor house, (residence of the Hungate family whose monuments can be found in All Saints), was demolished in the early 19th century, but stood near the present Manor Farm which we passed on our way to Dintingdale, (the place where John, Lord Clifford and his Flower of Craven were outflanked and slaughtered by Lord Fauconberg on the eve of Towton). On the ground it’s easy to understand why no-one came to Clifford’s rescue - although the Lancastrian army was only a short distance away at Towton and the valley isn't deep, the surrounding hills still cut off direct lines of sight and possibly muffled the sounds of desperate combat, and it was sobering to survey that benign-looking landscape (below right) and reflect on what had happened there in late March 1461.
So all in all, the magnificent countryside and many interesting sights in and around Saxton make the place well worth a visit - especially if you round your walk off like we did, with a pint of Sam Smith's scrumptious stout at The Greyhound on Main Street!