September 2015




6th September


As autumn begins, the healing of my replaced hip progresses with amazing speed - less than four weeks after the operation I feel very little pain, and I can walk again at my usual speed without using a stick (if you'd like to know more about my experiences, check out my latest blog, 'Hip Replacement Amazement')!


Meanwhile, celebrating my new-found ability to walk, I went along with Mick and our friend Martin to Beckside yesterday, where a summer of great growth has left us with masses of work to do. As you can see from the picture on the left, most of the trees we planted back in the spring are doing very well - and now they're properly established, visible, and in no danger of being accidentally mown down, they no longer need to wear the hazard warning tags I tied on them earlier in the year. So my job for a glorious sunny September Saturday was to go round removing the tags and pulling out the odd whip here and there which had failed to grow, while Mick cut back some trees overhanging the telephone cables (below left) and Martin set about killing off some of our rampant nettles and Himalayan balsam (below right).


Unfortunately, I got a little carried away after de-tagging my trees, and decided to haul out another stand of balsam myself... which proved to be a mistake! As the photo below centre shows, the balsam (now in full beautiful flower) is well entangled with bindweed, and looking so attractive it seems a shame to pull it up - not to mention extremely hard work. After a half-hour or so of heaving and dragging at the stubborn clumps, I could barely walk and felt as though I had toothache in my new hip... oops. So I guess I overdid it a bit, and will have to be more careful until I'm fully healed! Ah well - it did feel good to spend a few hours working in the fresh air on such a lovely day.

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16th September


I particularly like this time of year, and here at Helmickton we're getting well stuck into our autumn tasks! We were back at Beckside on Sunday, checking up on Hubcap's organic weed control strategy in the area destined to be our orchard. This involved removing half a ton of paving slabs, lengths of timber, old doors and fence panels which he'd used to pin down the 30 x 25 m square of black polythene (acquired for £10 from a mate in the building supply trade) laid at the back end of winter before this year's growing season began, then hauling the sheet back to see what was underneath (see pic top left). To our delight, the brambles, bindweed and other weeds there had nearly all starved to death for want of light, while the few survivors can easily be removed with a hoe. Meanwhile the dampness and shelter attracted a multitude of earthworms, which in their turn were pursued by many moles; and between them, they've turned the rough, rooty soil into a beautiful soft tilth. So Mick has very little work left to do before the plot is ready to be planted with our fruit trees, and he's looking forward to getting them in the ground... not that we're exactly short of apples in the meantime, as the picture below left shows. Yes, between our own garden and allotment trees and the generosity of some of Mick's clients, we're getting tons of beautiful fruit - so we also had our first processing session, which yielded a gallon of fresh juice for the freezer and a gallon of what will eventually be cider... not a bad result for a couple of hours pleasant work in the sunshine.


It felt especially gratifying that I could be out there working with him, free from arthritic pain. Now that almost 5 weeks has elapsed since my hip replacement, I feel stronger and better on a daily basis and passed another major milestone yesterday: I managed to do a full day's work with Sir Wayne and a group of soldiers from the MoD School of Transport in East Yorkshire (the pictures left and right below show us having fun at the Crooked Billet).




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As ever, it was extremely rewarding to share experiences with a group of active service personnel. We discovered that the weight of kit worn and carried by a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan is almost the same as the weight of Wayne's replica armour, although modern battles tend to be much shorter, more intense and carried out at greater distances than those of the Wars of the Roses; and that although the technology has moved on, the practical business of war - communications, logistics, transport, caring for the wounded and so on - remain unchanged to this day. It was also interesting to see how they coped with the longbow, a far less sophisticated weapon than they're used to but nonetheless one with its own special challenges. So we had a great day, even though a tight timetable and poor weather prevented us from doing the full battlefield walk - mind you, from the perspective of my convalescence that may be no bad thing!


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21st September


The Frei Compagnie finished off the 2015 summer re-enactment season in fine style yesterday with a visit to one of our favourite historic house museums, beautiful Bolling Hall on the edge of Bradford. It's a place of special interest for Towton Battlefield Society members because it belonged to the Bolling family, clients of John, Lord Clifford of Craven (who killed Edmund of Rutland at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460, only to be slain himself by Yorkist forces at Dintingdale, near Saxton, on the eve of the Battle of Towton). It was also a particularly special weekend for Bolling Hall, marking the centenary of its opening as a public museum; so we were delighted to join in the festivities which included a Viking re-enactment group, a funfair, a rag-rug making workshop, and costumed interpretors representing various periods in a number of rooms inside the Hall. And it was pretty special for me, too - the first time I'd felt sufficiently fit and strong to cope with a full day event since I had my hip replaced!


I thoroughly enjoyed a quick look round the Hall and discovered quite a few changes since my last visit, including the opening of a small local studies library on the ground floor, a recreation of Robert Bolling's solar with replica furnishings in the medieval tower (see upper left), and an exhibition on the First World War which will run until December, featuring a very poignant and beautiful installation of hand-crafted textile poppies in the Georgian Dining Room, made in honour of the Bradford Pals regiments who lost their lives in that conflict (see lower left).


Then it was time to join the crew in our picturesque camp (below, far left) for a full day's living history, (below, second from left you can see Master Weaver in his Percy livery, fletching arrows), and shows including gunnery and a talk for children called 'Lord Clifford's Shepherd' by Des; the arming of Sir Wayne by two fumbling squires (me and Hubcap), followed by his combat demonstration with Dean (below, far right); a hugely successful kiddies' bill-drill led by Little Mick, in which 29 members of the 'Bolling Levy' (our biggest-ever junior army - we only just had enough gold coins to pay them!) routed seniors including Tim, Tall Mike and Big Mick (below, second from right); and a lively session of the perenially-popular have-a-go archery to round the day off.


It was a lovely way to finish the season; as ever, we ate royally; the event attracted more than 900 people to Bolling Hall; it stayed dry all day; and I still had enough strength and energy left to help Hubcap unload the van when we got home. Result!

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28th September


We've just made the most of a perfect autumn weekend with a mixture of hard work and recreation! On 16th September I reported on Hubcap's cunning plan to rid our future orchard at Beckside of weeds (you'll see the item if you scroll down); then on Saturday, while I stayed at home juicing another load of apples, he went to prepare the plot for planting - which turned out to be pretty hard work.


Yes, even though 95% of the brambles and bindweed had died off on the surface, their roots were still ready and waiting to spring back into life now that the plastic sheet has been removed - and that meant the whole lot had to be dug out. By mid-afternoon, Mick reckoned that he and our friend Richard had removed a full ton of roots (the huge pile in the picture on the left), leaving behind a lovely smooth area of fertile soil ready to receive a mix of traditional grass seed (see picture below; the bucket on wheels in the lower right-hand corner is Mick's seed-spreader). In a couple of weeks the grass should be starting to grow; then when the time's right, he'll plant it with a range of eating, cooking and cider apples in varieties which will ripen from July to October (so that we won't have to pick and process everything at once!). I can't wait to see it and start benefiting from the produce.


After that we felt we deserved a treat, so on Sunday we headed out into South Yorkshire to visit a couple of sites we'd never been to before. We started out at Monk Bretton Priory in Barnsley, a Cluniac house founded in the 1150's by local landowner Adam Fitz Swain, where the monks lived according to the 6th century Rule of St Benedict. The 7-acre priory precinct originally contained a meadow, orchard, fish-ponds and monks' cemetery in addition to the priory church dedicated to St Mary Magdalene (see below left) and the usual monastic buildings - which featured one of the most sophisticated water drainage systems in the country. In common with so many of our religious houses, it was destroyed by Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, and now stands rather incongruously in the middle of a housing and industrial estate; nonetheless, it's a fine pictureque ruin and well worth a look if you're in the area.

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From Monk Bretton we moved on a few miles down the A61 to Worsbrough Mill and Country Park (via a very pleasant lunch in the new Waterside Cafe opposite the car-park). There's been a water-mill at Worsbrough since Domesday Book was compiled in 1086, and the oldest part of the present building (see below right) dates to 1625; it was extended in the 1840's with an additional mill powered by a beam engine, then fell into disrepair in the 20th century although it continued to grind oats for animal feed into the 1960's. It was restored as a working museum in 1972, and we were lucky enough to visit on a day when milling demonstrations were being carried out; it was very exciting to hear, see and feel the slosh and rumble as the water-wheel turned the gears and the great granite grindstones - which cost £9000 a pair! - rotated. The central images below show (left) the huge mechanism at work and (right) Mick talking to the highly knowledgeable and enthusiastic miller. Worsbrough Mill now produces several tons of organic flour (wheat, spelt and rye) every year, along with bran, porridge oats and other products which can be ordered directly by calling 01226 774527 or emailing [email protected]. I'm certainly looking forward to making puddings, dumplings and shortbread with the organic semolina we bought - and having sampled some bread and ginger biscuits, can vouch for the quality of the merchandise. We rounded off the afternoon with a stroll around the country park, which has several walking trails offering spectacular views across the reservoir to Cannon Hall and plenty of chances to watch water birds and other wildlife - so I can highly recommend it for a family day out, especially since admission is free!