The first weekend of June was a busy one for Herstory! On Saturday we were with the Frei Compagnie for the annual Scarecrow festival in the beautiful old village of Wistow near Cawood. Last year's appearance there was marred by torrential rain, so we were greatly relieved to have a fine sunny day... although conditions were still challenging, as you can tell by the streaming flag and billowing awning! Yes, it was so windy that I had to sit in the tent to make salad (below left)
otherwise all my herbs and spinach blew away... and several exhibitors elsewhere on the site had their tents and gazebos completely flattened. So we were lucky to get away without loss or damage, and had a very pleasant day - including trying out Bill's new rope-making kit (expertly made by Dave Moss) for the first time (below right), and sampling the delicious home-made cakes on sale in the Community Centre (I can recommend the lemon drizzle!).
Of course, we also enjoyed our customary huge feast washed down with Hubcap's latest batch of nettle beer - and we rounded it all off at the end of the day with a huge plate of steak & ale pie at The Castle Inn in Cawood.
Then Sunday afternoon saw us at another fine Yorkshire village location: the Almshouses in High Ackworth, about 5 miles from Wakefield (below left). This beautiful stone building dates to 1741, and was erected and endowed by local philanthropist Mary Lowther to provide accommodation for 'a school master and
six poor women.' I was there (see right, in a rough approximation of 13th century costume!) to speak on the Magna Carta, as part of an event organised by the Ackworth & District Heritage Group. Although the venue is picturesque, the rooms within are very small - and the one I was speaking in (in the middle behind the grey door) became crammed to capacity. I was amazed that so many people were willing to give up time on a glorious summer afternoon to sit indoors listening to a lecture instead of being outside eating ice-cream, but the 800th anniversary of the charter's ratification on 15th June has clearly captured the public imagination; I've given versions of this talk three times now, and have been booked to deliver it on another four occasions in different venues over the rest of the year. Not that I'm complaining - Magna Carta is a fascinating story and I really enjoyed putting the presentation together!
Midsummer Day wasn't very summery this year - overcast, cool and windy with passing showers - but at least it didn't rain the whole time, so Hubcap and I took the opportunity to do a morning's work together at Beckside. The sight that greeted us in the field opposite was not a happy one (above left): this used to be a lovely walking route to our land, across a field of well-preserved medieval ridge-and-furrow much beloved by dog-walkers. Now, as you can see, it's been bulldozed flat to make football pitches, which will be fenced around for protection from moronic joyriders; and though there will still be a public footpath around the perimeter, this piece of Kettlethorpe's landscape history has been completely destroyed (along with a picturesque picnicking area and playground for many local people). I suppose it's good for the football clubs... but I can't help feeling that more has been lost here than gained.
On a brighter note, we did something to restore landscape tradition: the picture below left shows Mick planting a medlar tree on the edge of the plot destined to become Beckside's orchard. (That unattractive large sheet of polythene in the background is an eco-friendly device to kill off the rampant growth of brambles, nettles and bindweed by starving them of light for a year). The medlar, Mespilus germanica, is an ancient variety of fruit tree cultivated since Roman times and known in Britain from at least the 12th century. Medlar fruits look like a cross between a russet apple and a rosehip, and are unpalatable eaten straight from the tree; first they need to be 'bletted,' which involves laying the ripe fruit out in a cool place, on an absorbent layer of straw or sawdust, until the whitish flesh turns brown and appears to be on the point of rotting. It is then much softer and sweeter, and can be spooned out of the skin and eaten; I've only tasted them once and frankly wasn't keen, although I'm told that they make excellent jelly or jam, and in the medieval period were used to make a wine called cotignac (which was also made from quinces). But whatever we do with our medlars, it won't happen this year - wood pigeons ate all the flowers off when it was in its former location in our garden! I'm hoping it'll do better at Beckside, especially when we plant another Mespilus for it to make friends with.
Our main labour of the day was another exercise in conservation: attacking one of the huge stands of Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera). This relative of the Busy Lizzie was introduced to Britain in 1839, and is highly ornamental with a beautiful fragrance and vivid pink flowers which bees love. Unfortunately, it also grows 7 feet tall and is terribly invasive, with explosive seed-pods that scatter its seed over a wide area, and so successful that it chokes out all the native vegetation - on the left, you can see Mick practically lost in the jungle. So it's got to go to make way for our giant hogweeds, cow parsley, campion, stinking horehound, toadflax, buttercups and all the other wildflowers busily trying to recolonise Beckside... and we need to get as much out as possible before it goes to seed. Luckily it only has shallow roots, so it's very easy to pull out; and despite its tendency to be mixed with more aggressive brambles and mega-nettles, we managed to haul out a satisfyingly large swathe - on the right, Mick's standing in triumph on my personal pile! Alas, we still have masses more to do - thank goodness it's easier to eradicate than the dreaded Japanese knotweed (although we have some of that as well...)