6th November: Anniversary Adventure (2)
Here's the second instalment from our anniversary trip to North Yorkshire last month: a day trip to Pickering. The picture on the left shows Mick standing on the platform of the immaculately-restored railway station, (adjacent to Beck Isle Museum), through which the North Yorkshire Steam Railway trains run. Alas, we didn't see a steam train during our brief visit, but we did enjoy a cuppa and a bun from the buffet while we soaked in the nostalgic atmosphere; the station represents the 1940's/World War 2, but a lot of small branch line stations didn't look much different in the 1960's - I remember them well!
After that we had a wander round the lovely little market town. It was another nostalgia trip to see the variety of small High Street shops (as opposed to the soulless, bog-standard shopping malls which have homogenised so many British town centres). We had a good rummage in the flea market, lunch in one of the myriad tea-rooms, then headed up to the Castle - as you'll see below, it's mighty impressive!
Like many other motte-and-bailey castles, Pickering was first built in earth and timber in the decades after the Norman Conquest, then rebuilt in stone and extended by Henry III and Edward II in response to threats posed by the rebellious Scots. Given the very reduced and ruinous state of our local castles at Sandal and Pontefract, it was a real treat to visit a site where so much of the monument survives, including large stretches of curtain wall, the imposing gatehouse (below left), an intact roofed chapel dating to the first half of the 13th century, and the three-story Diate Hill Tower (below right), which may have functioned as self-contained accommodation for a captain of the guard or similar officer; the image below centre shows the Coleman Tower and screen wall protecting the entrance to the keep. It was from Pickering that the exiled Henry Bolingbroke came to claim his ducal estates prior to deposing his cousin Richard II; the castle may still have been serviceable during the Wars of the Roses, but fell into increasing disrepair from the 16th century onwards and played no part in the English Civil War, by which time only the chapel was still roofed and usable. Pickering Castle was acquired by English Heritage in 1926, and is a wonderfully evocative site to visit, giving a real flavour of medieval castle life.
18th November: Palm Sunday Shock
Big (bad) news from Towton Battlefield Society: the annual Palm Sunday commemorative event, scheduled for Sunday March 20th, 2016, has been cancelled.
This has come as a great disappointment to everyone who attends the event as a visitor or participant, including many regular 'Towton pilgrims' who never miss a year. The TBS commemorations have been running ever since the Society's foundation in 1994; they began as simple, small-scale events consisting primarily of a guided battlefield walk and short service at Dacre's Cross; and when I had my first Towton experience in 2005, they were still pretty informal affairs involving a few dozen re-enactors and a few hundred visitors. This began to change as the decade wore on, with the event growing until it was regularly attracting a whole barnful of traders and exhibitors, well over 100 re-enactors not including the Frei Compagnie, and at least 2000 visitors... wherein lies the reason for the Executive Committee's recent decision to withdraw the 2016 event. Previous Palm Sundays have only been cancelled due to a foot-and-mouth outbreak or impossible weather conditions (as we had in 2013, when the already waterlogged field was buried beneath a foot of snow).
The Battle of Towton finale of 2014 - will we see its like again?
This year, for the first time, we've faced a different but equally intractable problem: a shortage of volunteers to run it. The ever-increasing size and complexity of the event, coupled with a tightening of the regulations pertaining to crowd control and site management, meant that we couldn't muster the number of people stipulated by the Risk Assessment to take on essential roles like car-park stewards, gate attendants and general site marshals; and obviously, if we haven't enough bodies to manage such tasks safely, we simply can't go ahead.
My own disappointment is tinged with relief: helping to organise and deliver the event created a colossal amount of work for everyone involved, including me and Hubcap, at a particularly busy time for freelance business people (all the end-of-financial year work to do!). But I'd be deeply sad if shortage of human resources meant we could never have another big living history event at Towton, as would a great many other participants and members of the public. So if you want more Palm Sundays like the ones we've held since 2007, there's a way you can help - join the Battlefield Society and get stuck in as a volunteer!
With Hubcap's 50th birthday rapidly approaching, we had a special appointment yesterday: a trip down the road to the monthly coin fair at our local Cedar Court Hotel to find him a suitable present! (There he is on the left with Nev, a fellow enthusiast from Towton Battlefield Society). Coin collecting is a relatively new interest for him and completely unknown territory for me, so I was curious to go along for the first time and see what it was all about.
The answer was a roomful of frighteningly well-informed dealers and collectors, and tables spread with tens of thousands of coins and banknotes from every conceivable place and period (see below left) - everything from Celtic to contemporary Royal Mint collectables, in prices ranging from pence for the commonest coppers to several thousand pounds for fine gold or rare items. There were a few other old things for sale too - sundry antiquities, fossils, postcards, medals and militaria - altogether an interesting mass of items to browse through. I'd gone clutching a random selection from a bag of assorted foreign and Commonwealth coins amassed by my late brother, including one which had been a particular favourite when I was a child: a wavy-edged copper with an Arabic inscription, showing a man wearing a fez; I was interested to learn that it was an Iraqi coin from the 1950's - but rather disappointed that it was of extremely low value (I saw a similar example on sale for 10p!).
Meanwhile Mick was a man with a plan, and after an hour's searching, found exactly what he was looking for on the Saltford Coins stall: a 500-silver (the base silver used after WW2) crown of George V, minted to commemorate his 25th jubilee, with a magnificent Art Deco figure of St George and the Dragon on the reverse (known affectionately in the trade as a 'rocking-horse crown'). Complete with its original presentation box, he thought it was a good buy for the apt price of £50 - so we clubbed together to get it for his birthday because we couldn't quite stretch to the 'raised edge' version at £900!
After that we treated ourselves to lunch in the restaurant - which also turned out to be a good buy. Sunday lunch at the Cedar Court is available for non-residents and served from 12.30 pm (although service for the bar meals starts earlier). The menu is nicely varied and the prices reasonable: starters were £4.50 and both (ham hock terrine with piccalili for Mick and pate with chutney for me) were good. The main courses, at £7.50, were even better. Neither of us opted for the traditional Sunday roast lunch (a choice of turkey, beef or bacon loin); instead I had pan-fried gnocchi with grated fresh parmesan, wild mushrooms and lots of garlic, while Mick opted for smoked haddock in parsley sauce served on a bed of crushed potato. The portions were pretty substantial, so we couldn't do justice to the generous vegetable accompaniments: a big bowl of roast and mashed potatoes, and an equally big bowl of carrots, sprouts, cabbage and battered fried parsnips. Needless to say, neither of us could manage dessert... and we were very sad that Storm Clodagh was hitting with such a vengeance that we weren't able to go and walk the meal off afterwards!
Altogether this makes for an interesting trip out even if you're not a coin enthusiast; the fairs are held on the last Sunday of the month, admission is only £1 per person, and the Cedar Court food is well worth sampling. Highly recommended!