Happy May Day Holiday!
Now that summer's well on its way, Beckside looks beautiful with blooming daffodils and all the saplings putting on fresh leaves and blossom - not to mention much tidier thanks to Mick's latest acquisition: this monster 30-inch wide lawn mower, (see left) which is helping him to zip through the grass-cutting.
As well as being lovely to look at, the ever-increasing biodiversity is turning it into a great habitat for local wildlife - and it'll be even better when we put the pond in this summer. Naturally, we encourage the birds, beasts and bugs - on the right you can see Mick filling up the seed-feeder - and some of the residents are becoming very familiar, like the pheasant which
hammers on the landlord's patio window every day, demanding fat balls! So of course we're getting to recognise and be fond of them, and had just christened one pair of long-term tenants Mr and Mrs Crowy MacCrowface (in honour of the National Environmental Research Council polar research vessel which will not, alas, be dubbed Boaty MacBoatface!) when a tragedy occurred. Last weekend we saw Mr Crowy valiantly chasing off a buzzard, which at the time we felt quite sorry for; then on Thursday, Mick saw him trailing forlornly around the field with a broken wing, possibly the result of another such aerial combat. We hoped he might survive - Beckside is well fenced off from dogs and cruel human pests, and has plenty of shelter and ground-level food - but on Friday he was gone altogether, leaving Mrs Crowy perched on the roof calling for him in vain. We assume that some predator got him - we know there are foxes, owls, mink and sparrowhawks around here, as well as the buzzards - and feel very sad; both Crowys were sufficiently accustomed to our presence to feed peacefully in our vicinity while we worked, so it feels oddly like losing a neighbour or acquaintance. Still, that's nature's way... maybe poor old Crowy went to feed a litter of fox-cubs or a nest of buzzard chicks, and at least he'd had several years of life, raised broods and passed on his genes. And luckily Mrs Crowy is still on her patch, so we're hoping she'll find a new mate (some fine shiny young crow who's been waiting for the chance of a bird of his own, perhaps) and start all over again. Meanwhile it's very poignant to see the black widow all on her own... so RIP, Crowy MacCrowface.
I've had a couple of interesting 'firsts' this month - starting last week at the Monckton Coke & Chemical plant near Royston, Barnsley. Founded in 1873, Monckton spent 130 years as a major producer of coke, gas, tar and benzol, with a direct gas pipeline to supply the nearby Pilkington Glass factory. It was also one of Hubcap's major clients for 27 years, and he played a large part in developing its environmental mitigation strategy including planting thousands of trees (like those you can see on the left). He was always very proud of what he'd achieved there, so it came as a sad blow when this last independent UK coke works was forced into closure late last year, killed off by the demise of our steel industry and imports of cheap coke from China. The site is now being cleared and cleaned up, possibly for redevelopment as a housing estate, and in the meantime still needs some grounds maintenance - so Mick has just been re-engaged to keep the place tidy, and on 4th May I went along to help rake up and barrow away the huge heaps of
long clippings left after his first, rather belated, grass-cut of the season. It was hard but enjoyable graft, (which would have been harder had the gorgeous weather not dried out the clippings and made them nice and light to carry!) and I was very interested to see Monckton for the first time after everything I'd heard about his work there - but also sad to see a piece of industrial heritage being literally torn down in front of my eyes as the heavy diggers chewed away at an early 20th century cooling tower. Definitely the end of an era... not to mention the loss of an employer for hundreds of local people.
Then on Sunday I achieved a very long-standing ambition to walk across the moors to Top Withins, supposedly the setting for Emily Bronte's famous novel Wuthering Heights. Every time I've planned to do this on previous visits I've been thwarted by lack of time or bad weather; but taking advantage of another glorious day, we set off early, suitably equipped, and started our hike from Penistone Hill on the edge of Haworth. Within half a mile we came upon an unexpected sight which we initially took to be the construction of a pre-fab house on the top of a hill (below left); but as the large friendly security guard subsequently explained, is in fact the set for a TV film about the Brontes, scheduled for release in December. The parts being recreated are the parsonage and nearby schoolroom (below right) as the Brontes would have known them, rather than as they look today (below centre); it's truly amazing to see what's being achieved with MDF and paint, and we'll find the programme even more interesting now that we've seen the set under construction.
Our next port-of-call was the so-called 'Bronte Falls' (left), a delightful little cascade running through an extremely beautiful rugged valley - apparently theBronte family regularly visited this spot, and loved to dabble their fingers in the water (my hot feet certainly appreciated it!). This was about 1.5 miles from our starting point, and by itself would have made an easy, pleasant stroll - but we were determined to cross the bridge and press on to Top Withins. As the name suggests, it's high up in the hills (right) and I found the last half-mile or so pretty tiring as I laboured on under the full midday sun! But it was worth it for the spectacular views, although the ruins themselves bear no resemblance to the house described in Wuthering Heights (as an explanatory plaque placed there by the Bronte Society makes clear). In that respect it's slightly disappointing; however, the site is poignant and interesting in its own right as the remains of a farmhouse dating
to the late 16th/early 17th century and originally owned by a William Bentley, who divided his holding at Withins into three (Top, Middle and Lower Withins) for his three sons Martyn, Luke and John. Emily Bronte would have known it as a going concern, as Withins was occupied and farmed until the 1890s; it was then acquired by the Keighley Corporation, and had fallen into disuse by the 1930s (at which time the buildings at Lower and Middle Withins were demolished). It gave us plenty of food for thought as we sat and ate our picnic lunch, then hiked on back to our starting point - a round trip of about 7 miles with spectacular views all the way, and an abundance of wildlife (among other treats we saw curlews, grouse, lapwings and the tiny iridescent Green Hairstreak butterfly). It's not a walk for the faint-hearted - there are some steep gradients, rough rocky tracks and boggy areas - but it's extremely rewarding and we plan to do it again armed with an OS map so that we can check out the minor footpaths.
Then on the way back we stopped off at Hebden Bridge (right), a town so beautiful it's like Fantasy England, and treated ourselves to a late lunch/early dinner at a lovely Greek/ Mediterranean restaurant, Aya Sofia. We had two courses for £10.95/head; I went for the warm feta cheese salad followed by moussaka, while Mick opted for garlic mushrooms then meatballs in tomato sauce. The main courses come with salad, tzatziki and wonderful savoury rice; the flavours were sublime, and after a bottle of retsina to wash it all down we came out feeling VERY happy indeed. It made the perfect end to a perfect day and I can highly recommend it!
This May has been almost as varied as the weather in terms of work for Herstory. On the hobby side, I spent a pleasant afternoon with Hubcap at Beckside, putting canes and spirals on another batch of young trees he’d just planted (see left). We were thrilled to see how well everything’s doing - as the picture shows, some of last year's plantings have put on extraordinary growth and a fine crop of leaves. And we were particularly delighted that the sad story I told on 2nd May (see last entry on page) now has a happy ending: yes, the widow of our late lamented corvid friend Crowy MacCrowface has found herself a sleek young toyboy. I bet he’s in crow heaven having found such a lovely safe field to live in, with abundant food and a fine mature mate to look after him!
Workwise, I did two historic battle lectures (Agincourt for my customary appearance at Doncaster’s annual heritage festival, and a double act with Mick on Towton for Church Fenton Women’s Institute), a half-day of labour for Doggett Garden Maintenance, and, by way of total contrast, prepared and delivered my first burial service for an interment at Rose Hill in Doncaster (see right).
The venue there was quite challenging; there was no microphone in the cemetery chapel, and its music system is less sophisticated than the one at the nearby crematorium; then I spoke again to a substantial crowd at the graveside again with no amplification – it’s lucky I have a big voice, and there was no competition from wind or rain. The woodland burial area, where the deceased was laid to rest in a fine wicker coffin, is very tranquil; the graves have small discreet tags rather than tomb-stones, which makes it feel wonderfully natural and un-cemetery-like, a beautiful place to visit and remember late loved ones, and it was a privilege to do the service there.
Meanwhile on another funeral note, on Tuesday I went to a roadshow in Manchester run by the National Federation of Funeral Directors and SafeHands Funeral Plans. As a member of NFFD it was free for me to attend, and as a home-based sole trader, these training courses are a most welcome chance to do some professional development and networking with other agents and people from the funeral industry. I certainly picked up some good information to include in the ‘It’s Your Funeral’ talk, which I’ve been booked to deliver twice in the near future – plus a timely reminder that the keys to success in any field are goal-setting, effective planning and focused hard work!