Day 350: Knaresborough


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A-Z of Northern Towns. K is for Knaresborough

As far as Knaresborough’s place in the national political scene is concerned it could be said that history stopped in the aftermath of the English Civil war. At first this may seem a little harsh but I think it is one of the great strengths and appeals of the town. While the rest of the country has danced to the music of time, Knaresborough has gone about its business of being Knaresborough at the pace of the gently flowing River Nidd. It has acknowledged the world around it but it has gone its own way; leaving it a town with a gorge full of individual character in a world that has increasingly come to look like Luton.


It’s as Yorkshire as the magnesium limestone that provides the bedrock of the western section of the gorge that gives the town much of it’s splendour and character. Yet it feels unlike any other Yorkshire town. Harrogate is only four miles away. Both are glorious towns but they are as alike each other as chalk and cheese. One is riverless, expansive and outward looking; saying to the rest of the world, “Look at me, look at me, Aren’t I amazing?” (and it is), the other huddled into it’s dramatic riverside setting, inward looking and, though welcoming of visitors, has no great need to show off to the world. I know few people who haven’t been to Harrogate, I don’t know many who have been to Knaresborough. York lies downstream and shares not only the river (the Nidd joins the Ouse a mile or two up river of the Viking capital) but also a medieval past. There are far greater differences than similarities between these neighbours.


At one time Knaresborough was a town where national issues were settled. The “Honour of Knaresborough” was highly prized. The castle defended the safety of the nation; it was even the most valued of the royal hunting grounds. The lead knight in the bungled murder of Thomas Becket; Archbishop of Canterbury and turbulent priest, held the honour of Knaresborough. Hugh de Morville returned to seek refuge in his castle after butchering the priest on his altar. De Morville was later stripped of his lands, banished from the kingdom and excommunicated from the church. Few regard him as one of Knaresborough’s greatest sons.

In the Civil War Knaresborough suffered the fate of many fortified towns. It was taken by the parliamentary army before the Battle of Marston Moor and the castle was ordered to be destroyed. Some demolition was carried out but the majority of damage to the castle was done in the using of the dressed stone from the walls in building many of the older properties in the town centre. This wasn’t unusual. Good building materials have always been hard to come by. It would have been strange if local builders hadn’t taken advantage of the free stone on offer. Happily a good deal of the castle remains and I for one find castle ruins  an awful lot more impressive than complete castles. When they are in such a location as here then the impression is so much the greater.  Knaresborough Castle is a joy to walk around. The local authorities have done a first class job in using the natural spaces of the original building to incorporate gardens, planting, benches, lawns and other features to make it a delightful place to be. Beyond the remains of the curtain walls are the limestone and sandstone cliffs that drop so dramatically down to the deep brown waters of the River Nidd.

The view from the top is spectacular and delightful at the same time. Knaresborough is blessed with the natural geology of the gorge but has harnessed the jaw-dropping glories of the valley into a town that is very much built on a human scale. Everything is in keeping here. The little rowing boats on the river are not lost in the scale of the gorge and the massive viaduct and bridges nestle in without dominating. Such a balance of architecture and nature is rare. Knaresborough has done things very well.

It doesn’t attract visitors on the scale of York or Harrogate but it is a busy town that wasn’t designed for the motorcar. If it got too many more visitors it would become gridlocked rather easily and that would be a pity. If you are going to visit I would recommend arriving by train. Regular services run from York and Leeds and you get the advantage of being able to see the town from the top of that rather splendid viaduct. Schools enjoy making journeys to the town with Mother Shipton’s Cave and Brimham Rocks among the attractions. The first is England’s answer to Nostrodamus. The second are some of the most spectacular rock formations in the north of the country.

Ursula Southeil actually existed but claims that her art of prophesy ran to predicting the invention of the motor car and of steel ships as well as the end of the world (1881 if you are worried) are somewhat dubious. She’d been dead for 80 years before her sooth sayings began to be published and many a forger has joined in the authorship over the years. Knaresborough isn’t above taking a few pounds off you to be duped and they do it rather well. Mother Shipton’s Cave is announced as Britain’s oldest tourist attraction.

Another hero of the town is Blind Jack of Knaresborough. More properly known as John Metcalf he used his experience as a carrier and guide to build roads in the early years of the industrial revolution despite being blind from the age of 6. At school we were taught that he used his stick to see if he was building into a bog or marsh. Well, quite! Jack Metcalf built 180 miles of turnpike road by having a developed understanding of the relationship between geological contours and the weather. Many modern roads in Yorkshire, including some Pennine crossings, keep to the routes surveyed by this remarkable engineer.

We arrived in the middle of the afternoon and sat in slow moving traffic for a while. A cheap car park just out of the town centre on the York road became even cheaper when a smiling family insisted that we use their parking ticket. I put the money saved towards a big ice cream which we ate on the castle walls overlooking one of the great views of England. Two hours wasn’t enough to even scratch the surface but plenty of time to realise that here is a little gem; a town that is worth a proper visit. The shops looked good; plenty of them were independent. There is a weekly market in the square and the people were as relaxed and friendly as any we have encountered. The history is rich and the layout of the town justifies its remarkable geographical location.

The River Nidd was diverted several miles by the last ice age. If advancing moraines hadn’t cut off the original route the Nidd would never have cut the Knaresborough Gorge. Much of Yorkshire was shaped by ice. Knaresborough is shaped by water but water that only came to the town because of the advancing glaciers. The natural world is full of wonders and our trip to Knaresborough was quite, quite wonderful.

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Day 348: Jacksdale


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A-Z of Northern England. J is for Jacksdale

As a nation we are rather good at remembering those who have been in charge when a battle has been won and less good at remembering those who actually did the winning. Statues of generals and admirals and field marshals adorn plinths in high places. Mighty palaces, like Blenheim, are given as rewards for fellows whose deeds are far exceeded by their rewards. Since the end of the Great War though, the ordinary men; the men who marched away from cobbled street and village lane, often never to return, have been commemorated in towns and hamlets, boroughs and cities the length and breadth of the country. Some see them as fitting and lasting tributes to those who could show no greater love; others as a disguised apology for the greater crime committed upon them; for they need not have died.

“If any question why we died,                                                                              Tell them, because our fathers lied”

So wrote Rudyard Kipling who never got over the loss of his son in the fighting. Alan Bennett in The History Boys talks along the same lines. Lines that were first declared by Siegfried Sassoon while the conflict still raged. That there was no justification for what happened in Flanders’ fields and that a close inspection would find the blame for hundreds of thousands of deaths to lie in Westminster and Whitehall as much as in Berlin or Vienna.

“Why do we not care to acknowledge them? The cattle, the body count. We still don’t like to admit the war was even partly our fault because so many of our people died. A photograph on every mantlepiece. And all this mourning has veiled the truth. It’s not so much lest we forget, as lest we remember. Because you should realise the Cenotaph and the Last Post and all that stuff is concerned, there’s no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it.” Irwin in The History Boys by Alan Bennett.

I love war memorials and find a mixture of dignity and sadness, tragedy and glory whenever I stand by one. My family gave a great deal to the cause. Some didn’t come back, and those who did, including my grandfather, were so scarred by what they had been through that they led troubled lives afterwards and failed to see out even half their span. When I first saw his name on a church plaque commemorating those who served, I cried. It was the first time I recognised just how close we are.

DSC_0100Jacksdale has a particularly moving monument. It’s a memorial with its own history as well as a history commemorated. The soldier has more character than many who stand and look back across the years. Is it the peaked cap rather than the tin helmet which makes him look as he might have done as he left the village or returned to rest and recuperate? He looks younger than most such soldiers and he looks kind and smart and proud to serve. He looks trusting and able. He looks like a friend, a mate, a pal. And because of this the mixture of dignity, sadness, tragedy and glory feels even stronger; especially in the hundredth year since the conflict began.

I like this memorial enormously. Rightly it stands as the first thing you see as you enter the village. Rightly it lists not only those who gave their lives but also those who served and returned. Returned to a world forever changed by what they had gone through and forever changing.

The memorial was unveiled in 1921 (Saturday July 9th) at a ceremony attended by thousands. The soldier was blown off the pedestal on a stormy night in 1959. For years  the monument was topped with some simple coping but the soldier was (rightly) replaced more recently.

Some things haven’t changed around here. Almost all of the houses in the main part of the village had been built before the First World War. The simple layout and the names of the streets are the same and echo an older world. There is still something of that older world. On a Jacksdale website visitors are invited to stand and experience the quiet and stillness of the place that has a feel of a time that has gone; that something has been retained here that has vanished from other towns and villages. I have only a few hours but I feel that I am somewhere rather special. All the more special for holding onto this character while most of the original reasons for the village’s existence have rolled over into the history books.

Just as the ordinary soldiers of Balaclava, Trafalgar and Waterloo are long forgotten while Cadigan, Nelson and Wellington are still celebrated, the places and the people who made Britain an engine of the world, a powerhouse economy are quickly lost to time while children are taught of the great feats of Arkwright and Josiah Salt and those who made huge piles of cash out of it.

Coal made Britain powerful and iron and steel and earthenware and textiles. Jacksdale was never big on cloth manufacture but it produced more than its share of the other three. Coal has been dug hereabouts for centuries. At first coal was dug by outcropping. The coal seams of this part of the Erewash Valley came to the surface and coal had been dug out without shafts and drifts. Then with simple shafts that were then hollowed at the bottom known as bell pits. You can find evidence of these all over any mining part of England. In 1874 James Oakes Company sank a shaft that was to become known as Pye Hill Number 2. Pye Hill Colliery was in fact an amalgamation of three pits; the Barber Walker pit at Underwood, Pye Hill at Jacksdale (also known as the James Oakes and Company) and the New Selston Pit (known as the Bull and Butcher pit).

For over a hundred years Jacksdale men toiled in the earth to bring coal to the surface. In addition to the three shafts there was a drift (a sideways tunnel as opposed  to a vertical shaft) and much of the coal was brought out this way. Being practically on the Derbyshire Nottinghamshire border must have led to problems during the 1984 strike. Derbyshire pits had backed the strike while many Nottinghamshire pits continued working. Closure of Pye Hill had already been decided before the dispute and the colliery duly closed in 1985. Like many collieries it has all but disappeared from the area and from the lives of the people. Former miners will never forget. All can feel enormously proud of the job they did. Some regret the loss of an industry, others are relieved that their sons and grandsons don’t have to earn a living hundreds of feet below the surface of the world.

The demolition of the surface buildings has been preserved on film. The strike still seems recent to people of my generation but the film looks like ancient history . The story of coal seems every bit as long ago as the battles of The Somme and Passchendaele. It seems right that the pit wheel and the unknown soldier should stand together.

I breakfast well in the friendly and comfortable rooms of Pauline’s Pantry. It’s a busy and a happy place and the food is good. Predictably I have the cooked breakfast but there is more than a nod to more adventurous cooking: the soup of the day is Butternut Bisque and the drinks fridge has bottles of Fentiman’s soft drinks. A child’s drawing adorns one wall and you can buy hand embroidered cushions here. I like the  balance between comfort and quality.


Beyond the village are playing fields where once tramlines hauled coal tubs and iron ore. Just across the Erewash (at this point a large tumbling stream) are the remains of the Cromford Canal. Filled in in the sixties (oh what a lack of forethought that decade had!) it was once the main artery of this most industrial part of the East Midlands. There are still the last remains of the iron bridge that carried a tramline across the canal.

Today it is hard to imagine why such transport links were needed. It appears that there is nothing here but this is the site of a huge industrial complex of the nineteenth century. Here the Butterley Company had a major iron works. Some of the finest wrought iron in the country was produced here. Next door the James Oakes Pipeworks employed hundreds, and the Riddings brickworks still more. The ironworks grew into a community on the Derbyshire side of the border. Ironville looks tired today but still contains a church, a primary school and many houses of architectural interest. In its heyday it had a fine model village and was a central cog in this part of industrial England.

I wander over acre after acre of land that has been shaped and landscaped to return to birch wood and meadow and mere. It’s rather beautiful and swallows swop and moorhens, coots and diving birds forage on the lake. Purple and yellow wild flowers blanket the ground. It is becoming difficult to imagine the mighty engines and smoke stacks of collieries, ironworks, brickworks and pipe works that dominated this area for two hundred years. The woods seem silent. Trains pass. Among the trees are several rusting remains of burnt out stolen motorcars as a testament to the boredom that replaced opportunities to work. The place has beauty and charm but still carries the scars of economic downturn. Thousands once worked here. There are few opportunities today unless you are prepared to travel.

It isn’t a sad place though. It is a quiet town but very much alive and well and enjoying itself. This is a part of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire that can be easily overlooked and passed by. It shouldn’t be. Not only is it a place that played its part in the whole history of the country, but it is a quite remarkable place in its own right.

I wasn’t there long enough. I’m only just starting to uncover the story of Jacksdale and I look forward to going back.

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I gratefully acknowledge a debt to a series of films made by Tom Wilbraham in the 1990s of Jacksdale. These give a fascinating insight into the history of the village and can be found on Youtube. I include a link to the first of these.



Day 347: Away Days


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Mostly Concerning Food

Teach a Simon a new skill and he’s happy for days. I tried making Cornish pasties once in the early 8os. My natural instinct was that raw meat and potato take longer to cook in an oven than pastry. I therefore pre-cooked the filling. This in itself is no bad thing. Many a decent pasty is made this way. My youthful impatience led me to adding the filling to the pastry while the filling was still hot. The fat in the pastry immediately melted and the crust wouldn’t hold. My disappointment was such that I didn’t bother with pasties for another thirty years.

In the last few weeks I’ve demonstrated a greater degree of patience and pasties have been flying from the oven just about as fast as we and guests can eat them. In today’s food post I enclose bacon and egg pasties and chilli con carne pasties. Both did remarkable disappearing jobs and will be made again. In bacon and egg pies I add whole eggs and let them bake as such. In these pasties I pour beaten egg oven a pile of chopped bacon.

DSC_0004They go perfectly with baked beans.

DSC_0008You can’t really see the bread under a generous helping of Port Salut and mature Cheddar cheeses. A pity because it was very good; well done Waitrose. The tomatoes and lettuce are from the garden.

DSC_0007I used to have crisps and beer while watching sport on the telly. Here I enjoy Leeds and Warrington while indulging in a meal that is both tasty and (reasonably) healthy.

DSC_0010A couple of sultana buns for dessert.

DSC_0011Back to pasties and I’ve discovered that making a pile of pastry circles before constructing the finished products helps. A light sprinkling of flour between them prevents them from sticking.

DSC_0014The chilli is all the more enjoyable for having peppers and chills from the garden in it. I’ve always loved the combination of spicy beef with kidney beans. I’m delighted to discover that increasing consumption of such pulses is wise in fending off diabetes. I come from a line who have suffered diabetes in later life so a little consideration at this stage cannot hurt.

DSC_0015This plate not only acts as a template but also is curved in such a way as to assist in shaping and folding.

DSC_0016I do know how to put more professional crimps into the pasties but prefer this lighter, more rustic, touch.

DSC_0021 DSC_0023After years of using vegetable fat I have returned to using lard in pastry. The bake is crisper and the taste wins out.

DSC_0024My second ever trip to Pret a Manger. The service was really friendly. The coffee no better than ok and the Bakewell was a victory of style over content.

DSC_0147The Mem-Saab in Leicester is hugely popular and rightly so. We are hardly regulars but this is only because we don’t go to Leicester more often. Every time we do go we call in for their two course lunch. Beautifully served on crisp white linen and extraordinarily good value.

DSC_0148 DSC_0149We went halves on different starters.

DSC_0151The chicken tikka masala and the buttered chicken were both excellent. The naans are even better. In fact I have only ever once had naan bread to compare. When I eat out I want to be served something better than I can make myself. I make good spicy food and can match the savoury dishes. I cannot compete with the breads though.

DSC_0230Leicester market is one of the great fruit and vegetable markets in England. We filled several bags with apples, oranges, cherries and strawberries.

DSC_0233 DSC_0002The summer of strawberries and cream (this time my own vanilla ice cream) continues. It has been as good a summer as I can remember.

DSC_0222Marks and Spencer provide the bulk of this impromptu picnic in the middle of a Yorkshire spa town. Harrogate has a lot of good eateries but the sunshine demanded that we ate outdoors.

DSC_0223A selfie of sorts with a hint of the glory of our location.

DSC_0251Yorkshire also provided us with one of the best ice-cream shops I’ve visited. Several people stopped to ask us where we’d got these beauties from. On the left, clotted cream and raspberry ripple. On the right pineapple and banana.

DSC_0314The Great British Bake off is up and running again. I wasn’t going to bother this year. The programme is fine but very missable. The tradition of using it as a family gathering is unmissable though. All the bakers seem jolly nice. The one slightly annoying one got voted out in the first week and even she was probably only a little bit nervous. This week I was sorry to lose a fellow who was obviously a good baker but his weakness at the visual arts let him down. he took it in good part.

DSC_0315I made a large quiche and some mini ones to keep us going during the first half of the programme.

DSC_0320 DSC_0321 DSC_0322 DSC_0325Bettys of Harrogate provided the sweet course for the latter stages.

DSC_0326All of these cakes were fabulous. The programme whizzed by. Family chat meant that we barely watched what was going on and didn’t mind the lame humour of the presenters.

DSC_0327Regulars at Bettys will often forego the fancy patisseries and order one of the Yorkshire favourites. Many go for their characterful take on the scone which they call a fat rascal. My favourite is the Yorkshire curd tart and it’s best not to let Dr Spooner order too many of these.

DSC_0039A Yorkshire breakfast in Ilkley included scrambled egg that was two minutes from pan to table and sausages that had first entered the oven an hour or two earlier.

DSC_0009We didn’t buy any of these pies but can see why certificates of excellence were hanging up in the shop. These were the first of many batches that have folk flocking to Lishman’s of Ilkley.

IMGP4797Picnic season continues with a good combination of hand raised pork pie and fruit. The fruiterer was fantastic. Nothing was too much trouble and the quality revealed a dedication that  obviously sees him at the front of the queue when the wholesale market opens in the very early morning. The tomatoes and the Victoria plums were exceptional.

DSC_0038We even found an English tearoom where you got a choice beyond the usual selection of badly cooked fatty meat products that comprise all too many “full English” breakfasts. T got the pick of the menu with these home-made muffins with butter and jam. If you can’t make your own then Wilkin’s Tiptree jam has always been a pretty good standby. The firm has stood for quality jam for generations.

DSC_0041My eggs Benedict also came on home-made muffins and was a treat. The tea was served in china cups and made the meal into an indulgence. We were miles from home but we shall return.

DSC_0137 DSC_0144The tea shop even wrapped us a couple of slices of cake for our picnic. The coffee and walnut survived the better but both were a treat in the sunshine. As you can see we did our usual trick of ordering differently and then sharing.

DSC_0004For the second rugby league match I went for a simple sub sandwich with salami, soft cheese, rocket and sun-dried tomatoes. It made for a four hour television week. It’s enough.



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Day 345: Wheear ‘ast Tha Bin Sin’ Ah Saw Thee?


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A-Z of Towns: I is for Ilkley (and Harrogate)

I met an American Psychiatric nurse just below the summit of Ilkley Moor. It was a breezy afternoon in the summer of 2011. We talked for quite some time. Much longer than you normally talk to someone you have literally crossed paths with. I was cycling around the country to try to escape from the sort of symptoms she is very familiar with and found fifteen minutes in her company more useful than somewhat. She’s a natural healer and like all great nurses and doctors, she has a deep and instinctive understanding of the human condition. She’s lived in different parts of Yorkshire in the twenty years since she left the States, and has her own take on the natives. “Yorkshire folk are the best in the world but money and these people don’t mix well. It brings out the worst in them.”

She said it affectionately. She was fond of the county but, like me, found it a pity that there is such a tendency to pretentious pomposity once the income passes £100,000 per annum. Not everyone in Ilkley is in this income bracket but enough are (it is a small town) to have a disproportionate effect. It is a town that has everything present for me to enjoy; fabulous location, a majestic river, crags and moorland rising straight out of the streets, weathered Yorkshire stone houses from different generations, independent shops, churches and playing fields aplenty. It even has  a Bettys. Despite all of this I still struggle to develop any affection for Ilkley and I struggle to find any reason other than this questionable facet of the Yorkshire temperament.

Today we’re travelling as a two. We were here two months ago and felt that we hadn’t given it a proper chance. Very sad news was texted through as we approached the town and there was little that could have lifted our spirits on that particular day. Ilkley is worth a second chance and this time we couldn’t be in better moods as we park the car outside Booth’s supermarket.

Booth’s is the best of the English supermarkets. You’ll only find it in the north and you’ll only find it in towns where an enjoyment of good food is an important local characteristic. Booth’s started as a teashop in Blackpool in 1847 and gradually spread throughout Lancashire. As supermarkets started to take over the world, based largely on the ‘pile it high sell it cheap’ mentality, Booth’s always put quality above price. They haven’t grown as big as Tesco or Sainsbury’s but they have done a much better job (in my opinion) and are more likely to be the template of the future food retailer than its bigger rivals. The firm has a family feel and there is an independence of spirit among the staff that isn’t always present in the bigger stores. The motto to “sell the best quality goods in shops staffed by first class assistants.” Safeway tried to buy them out on several occasions but failed. Safeway is long gone and Booth’s are still here. In 2006 they were voted second best food retailer in the world by The Grocer magazine. A long-standing dedication to local sourcing, quality and the product knowledge of the people serving, set them above the likes of Selfridges and Harrods.

If you haven’t got a Booth’s near you and cannot move into the north then make sure you pack a good sized cold box next time you are lucky enough to be in either Lancashire or Yorkshire.

The streets are quiet. We pass a succession of barber’s shops where a careful cutter is looking after a single customer. Lishman’s butchers has moved much of its display away from the impressively canopied front windows. There’s still enough to show why people travel for their product.

And then, disappointingly, a row of shops you could find anywhere in Britain. I’m sure Greggs, Cafe Nero and Mountain Warehouse do well out of being in Ilkley; I’m not so sure that Ilkley gains much from the deal though. I have a different opinion of Timpson’s. They may be national but their upside down management policy makes them the very opposite of most of their High Street cousins. Each branch of Timpson’s is run as if it were an independent shop. Betty’s should be the same; and is. There are only four Betty’s teashops in the world and all of them are in Yorkshire: Ilkley, York, Harrogate and Northallerton. On the surface they are similar but to go to any of them is a unique experience. One that reflects better on the other three branches. In Ilkley the dining room is neither spacious nor intimate. The chairs don’t go with the tables and neither go with the room. The management style here is one of customers being put in their place. Go for the cream teas or other confections. Don’t go for their savoury dishes. They don’t do breakfasts and main meals particularly well and they do know how to charge. Twenty pounds for a Yorkshire tea is good value; you cannot get a more perfect afternoon eating experience. £18 for a breakfast that you can make better yourself isn’t good value.

Bettys in Ilkley also has its ‘locals’. Customers who gauge their social importance by the fact that they don’t see the need to adhere to the “please wait here to be seated” notice and who would be disappointed not to see a fellow “local” and exchange a predictable conversation. “Oh hello. I haven’t seen you in ages. How have you been keeping? We must find time for a catch up.” before collecting a copy of The Telegraph on a wooden cane (to stop it being stolen). We meet two of these. One who looks like she is waiting to meet an illicit lover and one who is wearing a pair of knitted trousers. Presumably he thinks he looks well in them. I presume he doesn’t own a full-length mirror.

The woman waiting for her lover is in a dilemma. She knows she’ll be recognised in Bettys but she wouldn’t be seen dead in any of the lesser eateries in the town.

We breakfast nearby in a place where the food is fine but the welcome is equally grim.

“Is it alright if we take a seat?”

“So long as you’re going to order something.”

“Well, I was going to.”

Apart from the sausages being pre-cooked (a long time ago) the cooked breakfast is tasty. T got the better of it by ordering a toasted tea-cake. The two ladies who follow us in also went for this simple Yorkshire breakfast.

The river is at its very best. The recent heavy rains have filled the banks and stirred the silt. A glorious rich brown stream tumbles over rapids and lurks in backwaters and eddies. The River Wharfe is one of the great rivers of Yorkshire. Its tendency to flood has been built into the town. Few houses are at river level. The park is terraced and the houses that are within reach of rising waters have defences disguised as garden walls and flights of steps. The riverside walk is the best way of getting from one end of the town to the other It would make a lovely cycle route but cycles are banned from here.

After two hours of walking and shopping and snapping some photographs we meet up. There’s plenty of the day left. There is still plenty of Ilkley to see but two hours seems long enough. This is a fine town. It is more attractive and more distinctive than almost any other in the county but I’m usually ready to move on. I wonder if my American friend was right. Is it the combination of Yorkshire and wealth?  Maybe. But Harrogate out-punches Ilkley for affluent people. We drive there and have a fabulous time.

Harrogate is what it is. It is so entrenched at being Harrogate that it would take an earthquake, in physical or metaphorical terms, to change it. Its parks and gardens are the best I have seen anywhere in England. The beds and borders contain far more than the usual range of annual bedding plants. These are maintained by true gardeners. Visiting stately homes and gardens has become a sedate English day out. In Harrogate you can sit and stroll among superior gardens in the public parks or on any of the remarkable stretches of open green space in and around the town. Even the hanging baskets are impressive.

There are far more shops here (both national and independent), far more places to eat and drink and far more happy people. In Bettys you are treated like an honoured guest rather than someone else to be tolerated and served. There are proper performers  at the local theatre and even the policemen are smiling. Ilkley has a lot going for it and plenty of people who want to go and live there but I’d take Harrogate every time. People go and live in Harrogate because it is the way it is. They seem to go to live in Ilkley in order to make it into something they think it ought to be. I find it quite sad when this happens because the true nature of a town is lost. It might be a Yorkshire thing. Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay and Hebden Bridge are all desirable places to be but all of them were much better places before the lifestyle choice people started moving in.


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Day 340: Harvest Moon


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Mostly Concerning Food

The week of our annual holiday and the week when salad crops become abundant in the garden. The holiday is reduced to a good old fashioned three days by the sea in a Victorian resort. What could be more traditionally English? The salad has done really well. Since Jolly came to stay the vegetable and fruit plot has become a lawn and crops are grown between flowers in the borders. It’s a traditional method and a good one; and surprising just how much you can grow and how good they look among the phlox and the daisies.

We have a few tomato plants and they are only just beginning to offer up their fruits. They went in late and were always going to be a week or so behind their indoor and greenhouse compatriots. I haven’t bothered with any great gardening care. I noticed that French kitchen gardeners rather left their outdoor tomatoes to look after themselves and I’ve copied this. They’ve been kept well watered during the hot spell and have got a feed or two of organic tomato food. Lettuces, spring onions and peppers have being doing well, as have the chillies. Add to this a good crop of gooseberries and some runner beans that are charging their way up their canes and I am more than happy with this year’s harvest.

DSC_0012Another week spent mostly outdoors. I’m beginning to forget what food tastes like inside the house. Coffee in the morning.

DSC_0015Scones with strawberry jan and clotted cream. The jam is made by the ladies who run the excellent café at All Saints in Gainsborough. These are served Cornish style with the cream on top.

DSC_0019And these are served in the traditional Devon manner.

DSC_0020One with my own (gooseberry) jam. The messy plate denoting  a high level of enjoyment.

DSC_0021Harvest Festival.  It is amazing how much you can grow between the flowers. I have no idea what variety of lettuce this is. I bought a packet of mixed lettuce seeds from Aldi and all sorts of little beauties have grown.

DSC_0030It’s the first time I’ve grown yellow tomatoes. Both varieties here have excellent flavour. Nice to have a taste of home with us in our little holiday apartment.

DSC_0036Port Salut was the first French cheese I ever had. It isn’t a million miles from Dairylea but I have a fondness for it. The Red Leicester was rather good.

DSC_0037Waitrose provide three varieties of grapes. The red and the white are first class but the black ones score far higher in appearance tests than in any taste challenge.

DSC_0002Cous cous prepared with red onion, celery, orange zest, orange juice, chicken stock and lots and lots of freshly chopped coriander and parsley (also out of the garden) takes no more than 10 minutes to prepare and balances out this steak very nicely. In fact, though the steak was good, the cous cous was the star of the dish.

DSC_0003Waitrose has made a big statement in the direction of supermarket shopping this year. Their free coffee promotion has cost them deep in the purse and has led to them slipping down the table in terms of profits. The chain is going to continue despite this and I, for one, applaud them. It makes shopping more pleasant, shows a caring attitude towards shoppers and the coffee is rather good.

DSC_0004The bread and the sausage in this breakfast cob are first class. Well done Waitrose. You’ve secured my trade.

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To continue the praise for Waitrose: their country breads are very good indeed.

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There will be a lot more pasties between now and the end of the summer. I’ve brought my pasty making skills up to the level of my pasty eating skills and have ideas for quite a range.

DSC_0019 DSC_0162Wells Next the Sea has a very fine fruit shop. The plums were eaten while watching happy families catch crabs on the harbour wall.

DSC_0166Strawberries and cream for the hundredth time this summer. It’s been a good summer!

DSC_0098Red onion, home grown peppers and chillies, spaghetti and some low fat crème fraiche are the only ingredients in this holiday supper.

DSC_0103 IMGP4787No seaside holiday is complete without some fish and chips. Eaten on the green at Hunstanton overlooking the sea amongst a thousand other happy holiday makers; perfection.

DSC_0290My favourite supper dish; cheese, apple, oatcake biscuits.

DSC_0294August moon.

DSC_0297Jolly spark out in front of The Great British Bake Off. It’s the first time I can remember watching television on holiday and it made for a most enjoyable hour of chuckling for all the wrong reasons.

Day 338: Sunny Hunny


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A-Z of English Towns: H is for Hunstanton

I’ve ventured outside my brief. I said that this would be an A-Z of East Midlands towns and here we are on the Norfolk coast. Can this be allowed or must I re-write the entry with a Heanor or a Hucknall? I quite like Heanor and Hucknall is the home town not just of Lord Byron and his daughter Ada Lovelace but also of Eric Coates (the man who wrote the Dambuster’s March) as well as the bare-knuckle boxer after whom Big Ben is named. Hucknall wouldn’t be a bind to do at all.

I chose Hunstanton because it’s an East Coast seaside town whose railway station welcomed thousands of East Midlanders on their annual holiday. Working class trippers and holiday makers often ended up on the Lincolnshire coast where Skegness and Mablethorpe grew up. Hunstanton got a fair share of the urban blue collar influx but this was alongside a greater number of those who worked with a collar and tie. Hunstanton may be the first place where the working and the middle classes made their summer destination. They ended up in different parts of the town and followed different pursuits and the trend continues up until today. To the east of the town centre elegant Victorian houses and hotels look out over acres of mown lawn and bowling green and manicured gardens from their cliff top grandeur. To the west giant funfairs and amusement arcades lead to acres of static caravans and flashing lights and brightly coloured plastic. Along the whole front is one of the longest sandy beaches in the whole of Great Britain. One of the widest too. This is The Wash and at low tide the sea retreats a long, long way.

I’m on my annual holiday. I’ve taken my A-Z blog on holiday with me.

The main town is  a result of the railway boom of the 1860s. It grew up alongside the village that had held the name for more than a thousand years. Confusion was avoided by adding the prefix “Old”  to the village. They make a splendid pair. Separated by a disused lighthouse, a converted lifeguard building and a field that does good trade as a summer car park, the two settlements, between them, tick most of the boxes of things you want to encounter on a trip to the English seaside.

Old Hunstanton is rather special; ancient and unplanned; it’s a ramble of fine cottages,  a  Norfolk church, hotels, beach huts and a beach that entices you further and further away from people. We went on a busy, sunny day and were soon in sole possession of five acres of stress relieving perfection. Ours the only footprints (and paw prints) on the sand and the shallow waters as warm as the Caribbean. Beach huts here can cost up to £20,000. Who, you might ask, would pay this much for a place to boil a kettle and change into your cozzy in privacy? I’m at a loss to answer but you may like to consider that round the coast at Wells Next the Sea beach huts change hands for figures greater than £70,000.

The modern town of Hunstanton grew up, as I said, on the railway branch line which was opened in 1862. It was one of the most profitable branch lines in Britain. It managed to survive the Beeching cuts of the early sixties when most of the English branch lines were lost. However it couldn’t survive the (perhaps) deliberate under investment by British rail which led to poorer services, unmanned stations and general decline. I don’t know if it was a deliberate policy to close the line but it mirrors such policies elsewhere. Whatever the motivation the line closed in 1969 and one of the great railway journeys was lost forever.

There has been talk of re-opening the line but plans for this were finally shelved in 2008. The main reason was the criminal sale of track bed for private housing developments. A similar story blights a return to rail across different parts of the country. Short-term planning scores another own goal.

I include a short piece of film of John Betjeman enjoying a day out on the railway in 1962.


The town is a mix of excellent shops (the delicatessen is one of the best I’ve been in this year), novelty seaside emporia and some national chains. There are plenty of places to eat and drink. We take the friendliest option of picnicking on a succession of glorious grassy areas in and around the town. The green is a large sloping communal meeting point. On Monday it was packed with holidaying families, most of whom were doing what we were doing; eating fish and chips. We tried two chippies; Bears which was very good and Fishers which wasn’t.

On Tuesday we ate deli-sandwiches on a quiet bit of parkland next to the church. We were the only people but the grass was gravy boated with contented ducks. Jolly was fascinated.

On Wednesday we ate fruit and bread and cheese near the lighthouse where the mown grass and benches stretch as far as the town with views out over The Wash to where sky and sea and Lincolnshire meet.

There are beautifully maintained squares and a delightful sensory garden where delightfully scented plants and the sounds of water blend in a fine setting. new delights were appearing around each corner. We had three days to enjoy the town. We’ll need a few more before we exhaust the possibilities. Beyond the sea walls the cliffs rise in tri-coloured glory. Carstone is topped with layers of first red chalk and then white chalk. Nature, or the Creator definitely has a sense of beauty. A sign says don’t picnic under the cliffs. Recent evidence of considerable rockfalls explains why.

I normally include famous people associated with a town. Norfolk has more than its share of native and in-comers. I’ll leave it to some natives. I’m out of touch with trends in indie-music but came across this band in my research. They are mostly from Hunstanton and the song is about growing up in the town. The images on the video are similar to my own photographic record which makes me think I must have caught at least some of the town. I also like the song very much.

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Day 333: Moderation is a Fatal Thing*


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Mostly Concerning Food

Another good week for food up here in Derbyshire. There are certain things that are too important to be done badly. Books take too long to read to be able to find time for too many poor ones; walks are so much more enjoyable if they stimulate the senses as well as the muscles and the very fact that it is possible to eat good food, without much effort, makes it a crime to eat badly. We have plenty of good food: the Saturday food blogs can look a little excessive if taken as a single spread. Divide the food displayed by 7 days and you’ll find a reason why we don’t pile on the pounds. Throw in a number of breakfasts each week that are no more than a bowl of cereal (perhaps with a banana or some strawberries) and some milk; and the fact that we often only have two meals a day and the case for a healthy diet is strengthened. We aim (and usually hit) five a day for fruit and vegetables and neither of us drinks alcohol. (I’ve drunk my share and am happy for others to have theirs.) How many stricter diets are followed by a bottle of two of beer (300 calories in a pint of Stella Artois) or accompanied by a bottle of wine (500 calories) or even a gin and tonic (85 calories for a small pub measure with slimline tonic). Yes I like food but I also like being the size I am ( 12 and a half stones and 5 feet 10) and don’t intend to get any bigger.


A few years ago I found a few pounds slipping on (I’d recently given up smoking and was finding new tastes and appetites). We replaced the 12 inch plates with 10 inch plates for main meals and 8 inch plates for other meals. The chances are that these, in turn, will be downsized in the next year or two. On Sunday we have Frances and Charlie and Sam round for a roast lamb dinner. It was lovely to see them.




The glorious weather continued over the weekend and lasted through to Thursday. This allowed picnics at Sutton Scarsdale Hall (the ruins of a glorious stately home belonging to members of the mill owning Arkwright family), Roche Abbey (an almost forgotten Cistercian monastery between Rotherham and Worksop) and on the South Cliff at Scarborough.



If a picnic has good bread and cheese it is a good picnic.



If it has some salad and a tartan rug then it is a superb picnic.




In my childhood strawberries and cream were an occasional treat. Today it is still a treat even if we have them two or three times a week. I don’t think I’ve eaten them indoors this year.




I had plenty of cold lamb left from the family roast and after contemplating some raised mutton pies I decided to have a go at pasties. The cooked lamb was cut up small and added to an equal quantity of chopped  potatoes from the same meal. A good grating of nutmeg and the same of black pepper and a mug of gravy (also left over) were mixed. The pastry is 1lb  plain flour, a pinch of salt, 4oz cooking margarine and 4oz of lard plus the right amount of cold water to bind it. Because all the ingredients are cooked you only really have to worry about the pastry. About 40 minutes at 160c (fan) seemed to be about right.



We tried one and kept the others back for a picnic and to give to Charlie. Delicious in taste and tempting in texture. I’ve always been lucky with pastry.



We love Scarborough and had a day trip there on Wednesday. An early start saw us parked up and tucking into a first class cooked breakfast by 9 o’clock. Bonnet’s has been going for years and always puts on a decent spread. They do fabulous cakes and scones as well as a range of hand-made chocolates. The breakfast is pretty good. No, the breakfast is very good. I’d swap a hash brown (which I cannot see the point of) for an extra round of toast but, apart from that, it set me up beautifully. They passed the poached egg test. Only good cooks can cook an egg. They did even better with T’s scrambled egg which she gave top marks to. The atmosphere is friendly and engaging and the decor is well chosen to capture a sense of quality alongside the seaside tradition. Highly recommended.





I’m a sucker for a bargain. The Cooperative was selling whole shoulders of lamb for £5. It seemed an opportunity to visit North Africa on  a plate even if obligations to two cats and a dog make an actual visit a few years off.




The first rule of boning a joint is to get some decent knives. With good knives and a little practice (I was also lucky enough to be sent on a butchery course in my younger days) it is easy. Without good knives it is not easy and shouldn’t really be tried. Awkward joints and poor knives cause cuts not nicks.



Bonnet’s also sells the biggest meringues I have ever seen. If you are going to indulge, indulge. Yes, the sharp eyed will have noted three sorts of cream in this dish; double cream, ice cream and clotted cream. Followed by a country hike with Jolly.



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The grass above the Holbeck putting green isn’t often used for picnics. Most tend to be on the beach. It was a winner. Quiet with stunning views and no sand in the sandwiches.



The very best picnics have a kettle, camping stove and a teapot.




I’m really pleased with these pasties. I’m not particularly a purist and have read too much nonsense about the pasty. There may be strict recipes to conform to the name “Cornish” but the concept is too good not to experiment with. I also don’t believe that miners threw away the crust because it was a bit mucky; if only because they wouldn’t knowingly attract rats into the mine. Neither do I go along with the savoury at one end and sweet at the other idea. It’s just too much fuss both for the cook and the eater. The pasty makes a wonderful portable meal though and will reappear on my picnic menu.




This cereal sells itself as healthy and natural and is in fact neither. I normally have Shredded Wheat and played a game of Top Trumps with the nutrition information on both boxes. Shredded Wheat won (by miles) on each category. It even wins for taste. This is packed full of sugar disguised under the name “maple”.



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Lamb tagine with cous-cous. Perfect with the colder, cloudier weather we got on Friday. A wonderful feast of warm spices, meat and dried fruits. Lots of home grown ingredients (coriander, parsley, peppers, chillies, tomatoes). The recipe is based on one by Geoffrey Smeddle who runs the The Peat Inn in Fife. The recipe can be found on Great British Chefs website.  I don’t own one of those elegant chimneyed tangine pans. If it tastes nicer cooked in one of those than in my good old enamelled casserole pan then it will taste unbelievably good. This was almost unbelievably wonderful.

On Monday I travelled first class (worth it) on the train to London to meet up with an American who I last saw in Haworth 33 years ago. On that occasion I spent several hours talking books, travel and education with him (and another traveller who has disappeared into history). We stayed late in the pub as I had a key to the hostel (it was my job). Within a year I had turned in my enviable but directionless life for a degree course and a career in teaching and an increased love of books. It was a treat to see him again and we talked for hours about travel, books and education. He is a teacher and a published writer. The food element is not recorded. We found a pizzeria near The British Museum and ordered different pizzas. We got identical dishes. In fact every one in the restaurant seemed to end up with the same pizza. So much for the list of 25 choices.

I look forward to seeing him again (hopefully within 33 years) but maybe we’ll try a different eatery next time.



*Oscar Wilde




Day 332: Gainsborough


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A-Z of Towns: G is for Gainsborough


For several months in 1013 to 1014 Gainsborough was the capital of England. Even today it is referred to as “the capital that never was”. Ethelred the Unready has had a poor time with historians. First he becomes king aged 13. Then he is suspected of being behind the murder of his brother in order to become king. Then his brother’s legend goes viral in tenth century terms and the nickname police arrive.  Ethelred gets lumped with the Unready tag while his murdered brother becomes Edward the Martyr. Then the Vikings start causing all sorts of bother. Ethelred tries to buy them off; giving rise to a thousand social development lessons about standing up to the bully. In 1013 he leads an army against Sweyn Forkbeard at Gainsborough and is so badly defeated that he flees England and seeks refuge in Normandy. Sweyn is declared king but dies within a couple of months: heavy is the head that wears the crown in those days. King Sweyn has all but disappeared from the popular history books but his son has left a rather bigger mark; and mostly because of an incident that almost certainly took place in the town of Gainsborough but which is often attributed to a more coastal town. The son’s name was Canute and it was here that he pulled off his famous attempt to turn the tide.

How can you turn back the tide so far inland? ( Gainsborough is 25 miles from the Humber Estuary and a further 40 miles from the open sea.)

Well, there are differing opinions about how this story goes and about what Canute’s motivations were in deciding to attempt it. Some say that Canute wanted to demonstrate the point where his kingly powers ceased and the power of God took over. Some hold that he honestly believed he could turn back the tide and it was a publicity stunt that went horribly wrong. Some however, and the good people of Gainsborough tend to subscribe to this one, believe that he had a very clever trick up his sleeve and a little local Lincolnshire (and Nottinghamshire) knowledge allowed him to pull off one of the great supernatural miracles of the late Dark Ages.

The Trent has a bore. (Insert own joke here). But this bore is a tidal bore. Similar to the more famous Severn bore and caused in the same way. High spring tides force so much water up the estuary and into the river that a wave is formed that defeats the downstream flow of the river to such an extent that it continues up stream for many miles. About 25 miles to be precise. The Trent bore is known as the Trent Aegir and is a spectacular sight. A five foot high wave running for over twenty miles up a powerful and broad river. It is very rare that the Aegir goes past Gainsborough because the river changes shape further upstream and the powerful wave quickly become a ripple.

Canute said he could turn the tide (meaning the tidal bore). The wave arrives in Gainsborough and, as if by divine decree, is overcome by the strength of the downstream flow and washes back the way it came. Canute is almost always considered to have been unsuccessful (either intentionally or unintentionally) in his attempt, so it is just possible that the tidal bore he tried to turn (or appear to turn) was one of the rare, slightly more powerful waves that hold their course and strength and height for a mile or two longer.

The Trent Aegir goes quiet, as far as the history books are concerned, for the best part of a thousand years. It continues its epic upstream feat in season but because it is doing it in a relatively obscure part of the north, it goes unremarked. In 1860 it gets a big publicity boost when George Eliot published The Mill on The Floss. The Floss is based of the Trent around Gainsborough and the great flood that occurs in the novel (no need for spoiler alert I’m not giving anything else away) is in fact the Trent tidal bore.

I wasn’t sure about Gainsborough at all for the first hour of my visit. The effects of the recession are obvious in parts of the town. I seemed to have got lost in amongst a most dismal set of streets where scarred and overweight people wore sports clothing with an ironic twist. There was yet another tired and unimpressive “Millennium Clock” (How many small towns put these up?) Pushchairs and buggies were plentiful. Whoever lives here, fecundity doesn’t appear to be a problem.

And then I came out into an open space which had a new shopping development on one side and a street of shops leading to a market square on the other and everything brightened. The sun came out, the buildings became altogether more attractive and the shuffling despondent people disappeared to be replaced by a cheerful bunch of fine looking folk.

The people are terrific. I got stopped and engaged in conversation three times in the first hour. Once by a woman in the church who wanted to show me around, once by a workman by the river who said I’d come to altogether the wrong part of the town to be taking good photographs and once by a fellow in the market square who had an enormous amount to tell me but, despite the fact that his first language was obviously English, I struggled to understand a word he said. I nodded and shook my head occasionally and held is strong eye contact. I think I got my timings right. I hope so. He was an extraordinarily friendly and most pleasant fellow. I got the impression he’d found my company most enjoyable too. The last part of his conversation involved the words “younger woman” and there was a twinkle in those eyes.

There are a number of the usual shops here. Tesco and Morrisons are the main traders and Sports Direct seems to be one of the main fashion outlets. You will also find Argos, Boots, M & S, Costa and a whole range of nationals either in the town centre or in the nearby Marshall’s Yard complex. There are some very good independent stores and shops. Oldrid’s have taken over a department store from the Cooperative and have turned it into a very fine shopping emporium. If I ever want to pay £2000 for a mattress I know where to come: though there is plenty to buy in all of the other price ranges. Oldrid’s started off as a small haberdashery, drapers, mercers and funeral directors in Boston in 1804. They own the Downtown stores and are becoming quite sizeable players in the Lincolnshire retail trade. For a small town it has two department stores. Browns in Marshall’s Yard (a new and slightly better than average modern shopping mall) is also an independent. I was taken with some decent bread and cake shops that still had the wooden shelving behind the servers that was a feature of every local bakery in the 1960s.

As in many towns where aspirations are uncertain, the tattooist is a busy man. I’m saddened by this. Each to their own and freedom of choice are principles I hold dear but… why would you be prepared to have a design imprinted onto your skin that you would take down if you’d hung it on the back toilet wall. I’m not again tattoos but I am disappointed by the woeful standard and lack of imagination of the artwork.

There is good architecture in Gainsborough. All Saints Church was built between 1734 and 1744 and in many ways its classical Georgian design reminds me of St Martin’s in the Fields in Trafalgar Square. Apparently the architect of one (Francis Smith) was a big admirer of the architect of the other (James Gibbs). It is a wonderful church with gated pews and some fine stained glass including a window designed by Burne Jones. The painting of the Last Supper behind the altar is impressive and worth a visit.

The Old Hall is a remarkable building that English Heritage have taken over and haven’t yet spoiled. They cannot resist making things almost look like they might have looked if they had been designed by a textiles student. There are too many rooms for them to have Bowdlerised and a walk round reveals some fine walls and floors. The natural lighting of the building and the rooms don’t require setting off with pretend furnishings and hangings. The main drawing room and the kitchens are well done, the great hall and the bedrooms are not. Rows of modern chairs and off the shelf fire doors may serve some twenty-first century ordinance but they look awful and surely could be disguised. After all they have managed to disguise an awful lot of genuinely interesting walls and ceilings in their “let’s lay everything out as if for feasting” depiction of history.

Despite my reservations the Old Hall is worth a visit.* The mulberry tree outside is heavy with fruit. The juice would serve as stage gore for Kydd’s Spanish Tragedy. The photo of the hand and tissue show the mess one berry made, and that was despite the fact that I actually ate the berry. If you are planning a murder than doing it under these trees would make it difficult for the forensic team. It already looks as if twenty murders have been committed there.

The highlight of the trip was a return to the church and the cafe there. Here I ordered from the displayed menu. Pan Haggerty, chips, beans and a buttered roll served up with a pot of tea for £3.95. It was wonderful. The bacon, cheese and onion in the potato dish were better than I could make at home. I bought a second hand novel, a pot of home-made jam and tea and delicious Bakewell Tart and a pot of tea for T, and would have had a lot of change out of a ten pound note if I hadn’t donated it to church funds. It was a friendly and a lively place. I recommend it most highly.

The town air seems suitable for the nurturing of thespian talent. Sybil Thorndyke was born here. George Bernard Shaw wrote Saint Joan especially for her, West Lindsey District Council named a by-pass after her. John Alderton is also born and brought up in the town. In the sixties and seventies he was a permanent and welcome fixture on the television with a slightly reticent delivery and perfect comic timing. In recent years I’ve only seen him in Calendar Girls where his character dies quite early (round about the point where the film loses its interest).

*See Comments below for people who have been there and had a fabulous time.


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Day 331: Froggatt, A Derbyshire Village


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A-Z of the East Midlands: F is for Froggatt


What is the essence of England? The heart of Englishness? The epitome of what this country stands for? John Major had a go at defining it when in power (was he really our prime minister? Don’t worry we’ll soon be thinking the same of David Cameron and have already cast Gordon Brown into this room … we’re probably better blessed as a nation with these here today and largely forgotten by next Tuesday politicians than we are with the grand standers; the Blairs and the Thatchers with their sense of destiny brought about by the accident that they led their party at a time when the other party had declared itself unelectable).

That is the best of Britain and it is part of our distinctive and unique contribution to Europe. Distinctive and unique as Britain will remain in Europe. Fifty years from now Britain will still be the country of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and – as George Orwell said – “old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist” and if we get our way – Shakespeare still read even in school. Britain will survive unamendable in all essentials.

He quoted Shakespeare. Major was keen to be regarded as being a well-read man. He claimed he enjoyed reading Trollope but nobody really believed he’d read more than a chapter or two. Shakespeare had a go at the Englishness question in a more widely quoted speech put into the mouth of John of Gaunt:


This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

This fortress built by Nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall

Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands,–

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

(Richard II Act 2 scene 1)

And many another has had a go at capturing the quintessential Englishness of this country of ours. In a week when I’ve wandered the teeming streets of our capital city with an American and looked out across the waves of the great North Sea with one born in Australia I find myself thinking that the absolute Englishness that both Major and Shakespeare evoke may have passed us by on the whole. There is little poetry in towns like Rotherham or Newport Pagnall. And the countryside is ploughed and sown  and reaped by monstrous mechanical beasts that were designed to farm the prairies. A field in Derbyshire can do a very good impression of a field in Dorset at first glance. Look closer though and there is still something there. The villages are now largely dormitories for those who see their lifestyle choices as being a little more refined and suited to financial success. In this they have become something of the opposite of what they once were while continuing to sell themselves on their timeless continuity.

Damn it all though. When you find a quiet and well-tended village of stone cottages and gardens, where nets protect the currants and raspberries from the birds, and a chapel stands re-roofed and well tended, there is a peace and tranquility that you’d be wrong to ignore. Froggatt is a village like this. In the times I’ve been there I’ve never seen upward of three residents. I’d have loved to have been a child here and would have been lost to the birch woods, the towering millstone edge above the village and the considerable river (The Derwent) that passes though at the foot of the valley. Any children you see today tend to be a little bit lacking in company. In pairs, decked out for the Bernabau or Fenebache they seek out a little flat stretch of grass where they might be allowed to kick their ball. Two players rarely make for a great match. The summer holidays stretch out for boys like this.

Industry once thrived on the banks of the Derwent. This river drove earlier mills than any in Yorkshire or Lancashire. But now, if you don’t work for the national park or are an employee of a urban or rural district council, the chances are that you work in Chesterfield or Sheffield. It’s peaceful, it’s delightfully beautiful and it still seems alive as a community. Parked cars don’t spoil its views in the way they do in most English villages but a photographer has to look for angles not to fill his frame with wheelie bins.

There’s probably a little more of Major’s vision of Britain than Shakespeare’s in Froggatt, but it is a place to linger. The bridge is unique in having two arches that have little in common with each other other than that they are arches. The waters flow silently. There are good walks along the banks or up the edge and out onto the moors. There isn’t a shop or a pub and the roads (happily) are not designed to welcome too many travellers. If I lived here I think I’d be content. I’d grow raspberries and keep bees. I’ve no time these days for beer (be it warm or otherwise) but I’d listen to Test Match Special and paint water colours. I’d walk my dog and let her jump in and out of the river, and I’d take communion on the appropriate Sunday and show my tomatoes in the local show.

There’s most of what you need for a very good life in the village of Froggatt and all of it is intensely English unamended in most of its essentials.

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Day 327: Life’s a Picnic


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Mostly Concerning Food


Penistone fish and chips prior to a really enjoyable afternoon at the Penistone Literary Festival. Fabulous poetry readings from Andrew MacMillan and Steve Ely and an impressive performance by Simon Armitage. The conversation in the cafe was pure Alan Bennett.




A bought coffee cake (mistake) and some redeeming ice cream.




On Sunday I answered the call (by text) to give blood. I wore my bandage with pride.





Sunday also gave me another chance to sit in Frances’s garden with the chickens. ( F and T were inside watching Endeavour). My rewards (apart from the chickens’ company) were a couple of superb scones and a slice of key lime pie.




Monday breakfast: toasted cheese and tomatoes: perfection.




Much of this week’s food has been eaten outside. The weather has been as good as I can ever remember it. A simple and delicious Bolognaise.




A bought (mistake) pizza. Huge amount of packaging and a decidedly industrial back flavour. Not going to name the culprit but it was a well known brand. One that has a chain of restaurants as well as selling in supermarkets.




Steak with potatoes. I’d read about steak in the morning and couldn’t get the idea out of my mind.




And then the holidays started in earnest. Once T had broken up it was good breakfasts and picnics all the way.




Marks and Spencer provide the ingredients for picnic one in Queen’s Park Chesterfield



Our picnic spot in the foreground, the famous cricket ground in the background.




Strawberries have never been better than this year in my opinion. They don’t go perfectly with lavender shortbread but it was worth a try.



This is the sort of summer we’re having in England at the moment.




Picnic number two was at Bolsover Castle. The food provided by a local sandwich shop. I recommend the ham salad cobs with mustard.




Iced fingers for pudding. They needed to be kept in the shade.


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£1.3 million has been spent renovating the walled garden. It looks like it has been done by Lego. Expensive vandalism in my opinion.



Picnic number 3 is largely bread and cheese. Time to give Tesco some praise. The bread is theirs and is very good indeed. In fact everything came from Tesco except the setting. That is the Old Hall at Hardwick. The best setting so far in what I hope will continue to be a summer of picnics.



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We took the camping stove and brewed pots of tea throughout the morning and afternoon. Tea has seldom tasted nicer.


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A doodle, even by my standards. This took the time it took an ill-suited youth to serve T with an ice cream.


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