Happy Diamond Jubilee - I hope you had a wonderful time despite the dismal weather! Hubcap and I celebrated in quiet but pleasant style, enjoying some walks around local beauty spots - and I feel very fortunate that these two gorgeous views can be found within a 10-minute walk from our house. Left is a fine family of Canada Geese having an evening swim on Kettlethorpe Lake, a popular local fishing spot; and right is Owler Beck, part of an area which, thanks to heroic efforts by Wakefield Council, is turning into a glorious nature walk. I was very impressed and heartened by the number and range of wildflowers we spotted: not only the commonplace cow parsley, nettles, daisies, dandelions and ground-elder, but carpets of delicate blue speedwell, shocking pink spikes of red campion, yellow buttercups and celandine, the subtly pretty pale pink cuckooflower (whose leaves can be used in salads), and starry white stitchwort. And the elder trees are coming into full bloom - so we'll be out again soon harvesting for the new season's batch of elderflower champagne, cordial, fritters and sambocade (elderflower cheese tart).
Then on Tuesday we made the most of our extra day off with something we've both been promising ourselves for years: a visit to Temple Newsam House near Whitkirk, on the south-east edge of Leeds (see left). Of the original house (built c. 1500 - 1520 by Lord Darcy, who was beheaded by Henry VIII for his part in the Pilgrimage of Grace), only the central wing remains; the rest of the present structure was added in the early 17th century by the wealthy financier and courtier Sir Arthur Ingram. And now Temple Newsam has something to offer whatever your taste: the huge mansion with collections of period furniture, fine and decorative art; a working home-farm with traditional animal breeds; and what we'd gone specifically to see - the superb gardens featuring seven national plant collections, a walled garden, river and bog gardens, and a truly spectacular Rhododendron Walk.
The glasshouse in the walled garden, with a 'meadow' of The 'Auricula Theatre', a Victorian mode of display Part of the Rhododendron Walk - we'd just missed its best,
cornflowers and poppies, and an amazing wall of geraniums for a national collection of these delightful little but the colours were still stunning
These images don't do it justice (especially because it was rather a dull day) - it really is a feast for the eyes, and a great tribute to all Temple Newsam's grounds staff. We're hoping to go back later in the summer to catch the Rose Garden in bloom - and to see the herb garden and Italianate garden near the house, which we were too footsore to take in. So I can heartily recommend Temple Newsam for a visit - and also recommend the very tasty burgers made from their home-farm beef, which we enjoyed after our hike!
Well, in spite of the miserable summer so far, the fruits of Helmickton are ripening! Our strawberries are coming, as you can see on the left, and it looks as if we're in for a bumper crop of gooseberries and currants too... not to mention grapes, figs and raspberries. I'm not sure how the greenhouse will perform, though... we've hopefully planted peppers, tomatoes, courgettes and a melon, but there's been so little sun they're coming on painfully slowly. (So i might end up with a bumper crop of green tomato chutney as well, come the autumn!). And apart from the home-grown, we're also gathering from the wild - on the right is Mick's latest batch of noyau, with fresh young beech leaves steeping away in gin and sugar, which in three weeks' time will be a beautiful liqueur. In the meantime we're enjoying the
nettle ale he made last month - a very different beast to last year's brew! It fermented for a lot longer, which has made it less sweet and with a lovely flavour I could easily mistake for a perry - and it's a lot stronger, too (a pint makes me feel quite squiffy). So he's bringing a flagon along to the Open Day at St Oswalds's Church on Saturday, to see what the rest of the Frei Compagnie will think of it! And I'll be out a-gathering home-grown and wild herbs for a medieval salad, elderflowers to put in a tart, and some nettles to mix with soft cheese and onion in a batch of pasties - I wonder if anyone will realise it's not spinach?!
If you're reading this - thank you! Statistics show that visitor figures to this site are creeping up to around 3000 per month - small beer by some people's standards, but an increase of around 1000 hits per month compared with this time last year, so I'm absolutely delighted. And an even bigger thank you to those of you buying the books... sales for all the Herstory titles are encouraging - the best possible news for a writer! I'm very grateful to you all, and hope you enjoy what you read.
My next task is to get Gondarlan out as an e-book - using Smashwords, a company which specialises in e-publications - and hope to have it out in this format by the end of the summer. (Their huge catalogue is well worth a browse - many Smashwords authors offer their books on special free promotions or at rock-bottom prices, so it's a very economical way to build up your e-library).
Meanwhile the Frei Compagnie event season is in full swing - we had a splendid day at St Oswalds Church in Kirk Sandall on Saturday, helping the Friends Group try and raise £25,000 to extend the use of this beautiful old building by installing toilet facilities. (All we had on Saturday was a camping loo in a tiny tent behind the church - very hard to use when you're wearing a full-length gown and under-kirtle like I was!). Mercifully, the week's torrential rain had abated and we only had a few passing showers - the most persistent, typically, came when we were packing up at the end of the day. So visitor figures were up on previous years, the archery squad took £50 in have-a-go fees (£20 of which went into the Toilet Fund) - and indoors and out, a good time was had by all.
Admiring Pete Lawton's display of medieval arrow types - all made (apart from the heads) by his own fair hands.
Me trying to shoot 'Captain Cabbage', our vegetable target
The Doctor is In - Neil Wilson with his ever-popular Frei Co 'newbie' Pete Lawton, Hubcap and our other newbie, Rob Atkin, preside over the
medical show resplendent in new livery armoury and weapon-master Dave Moss's impressive array of
June 25th: R.I.P George Peter Algar, 1956 - 2012
The saddest entry I've ever made on this site: on Thursday, June 21st, our good friend and staunch supporter of Towton Battlefield Society, the author George Peter Algar, died in hospital at the tragically young age of 55.
We met Peter when he joined the Society in 2009, shortly after the publication of his first historical novel, The Shepherd Lord. Already a great champion of local heritage and activist for the Richard III Foundation and Bolling Family Association, Peter soon made an indelible mark on TBS. Forever generous with his time, energy, wide-ranging talents, raffle prizes and financial support, he was always in the thick of things - leading guided walks, helping with the Palm Sunday event, developing the spanking new Society website, promoting the Society through the media and 'Welcome to Yorkshire', searching for the fabled 'Towton Rose'... the list goes on and on. (There he is on the right of the picture top right, entertaining us at the last TBS Christmas party; and below right in the middle, larking about as we gathered firewood for Palm Sunday 2011).
At least Peter lived to see the publication of Dead Man's Hill, his sequel to Shepherd Lord... if not to see the success it will undoubtedly become. A truly great man who will leave a massive hole in our lives - and in the historical organisations he worked so tirelessly to support. We'll miss you terribly, Peter.