Exploring Dod Law

Goodness, what a long time since I last posted!

It’s not that I haven’t thought about it – or been without topics to write about. It’s more that I have questioned the whole raison d’être of personal blogs …. the internet seems so crowded … who am I to add to the general digital busyness ….

I have sort of resolved this in my own mind. I can’t resolve the problem of internet busyness, but I do really love blogging when I get into my topic.  And right now, that seems a good enough reason …

So here I am,  with a wonderful wonderful walk from last week,  in one of our very favourite parts of North Northumberland – the lands about the Cheviot Hills and the Milfield Plain.view over to the CheviotsWe were looking for something, something that we had looked for before and not found.  Would we be successful this time …. ? Hmm, you’ll have to wait and see!

Our walk started from the village of Doddington, parking not far from what appeared to be a Holy Well. I would guess this was an ancient sacred spot, Christianised perhaps  in the 19th century with the addition of the cross …Doddington's holy wellA trickle of fresh water running gently at the foot of the cross … this is a mysterious and elemental place – a good start for a walk into mystery …water trickling out of holy wellNot far up the road we found a worn and shabby signpost, barely legible for the lichen … but it’s definitely pointing the way to Dod Law … just half a mile up the hill!waymarkerSo up we go! You’ll remember that I’m always behind …
Stephen leading the wayInto the gorse …Stephen leading the way through gorseWhere pretty soon it becomes clear that this path isn’t walked often …. the gorse so overgrown even the sheep are finding it tricky to get through … almost impassable gorseBut then it opens out, and really this is the best sort of walking, the ground springy underfoot, the bracken too young and freshly green to give anything but pleasure …Stephen walking up the pathAnd the flowers! Foxgloves looking statuesque amid the gorse …foxgloves at their bestLittle white starry flowers underfoot … I wish I knew what they were!
young bracken around pathEven more delightful when mingled with small blue flowers, some of which are Speedwell (thank you, we will) but I can’t identify the others. Any ideas?
starry white and blue flowers underfootAnd the bell heather is just coming into bloom …bell heather coming into bloomJust when it all seemed to be going so well, we hit a problem … This stile has collapsed.  As I said earlier, this route no longer seems to be much walked.  The path over the stile takes us onto Access Land (private land where permissive walking is granted but no right-of-way footpath exist).  The unrepaired stile is probably  a reflection not of landowner disinterest but austerity.  Footpaths such as these were once the responsibility of local authority councils but their budgets have been so heftily slashed that footpaths must be bottom of their to-repair list.

Never mind – I did get over it, but only just. Lucky there’s no barbed wire on top!
broken styleOnwards and upwards … you can clearly tell which way the prevailing wind blows …no doubting which way the wind blowsExposed they may be, but these trees clearly offer welcome shelter to sheep …
sheep sheltersOnwards and upwards again … track leading invitingly upwardsAnd then up to scrubbier ground – with providentially a bench for respite …
happy benchmanWith what a view!a great place for coffeeThe land stretching down and round over the Milfield Plain …new growth on the hillsideGaps in the bracken show clearly where the farmer has burnt back growth – so much preferable to treating the bracken with herbicidal sprays …evidence of scorching down the brackenJust a little further and we find ourselves at the hill fort – that’s Stephen ahead, just entering it. This hill fort is thought to have been constructed about 300 BC.entering the hill fortSadly it’s very difficult for an amateur photographer such as I am – and on the ground too – to give a real impression of the magnificence of these remaining earthworks. But the farmer’s trackway gives an idea as it runs through the inner and outer ramparts.modern trackway running through hill fortOver on those hills in the distance were many many other hill forts … An almost unimaginable world …walking through the hill fort rampartsJust as we are immersing ourselves in the magic of this place, we look back to see somebody spraying the adjoining golf course! Aagh! is not even a spot as wild and beautiful as this safe from the common use of pesticides?!spraying the golf courseThe hill fort is a magnificent distraction, but it’s not what we’re really here for … We’re looking for rock art!  Some of the most intriguing and fine specimens are to be found on Dod Law.

Well, apparently so.  But last time we visited we couldn’t find them.  On that occasion we approached Dod Law through the golf course (a route almost parallel to the more circuitous one we had taken today), and we walked round and round and round and round – and found nothing.

You see everywhere – all over Dod Law – there are stone slabs lying exposed to the elements … there are stones everywhereYou can ramble around here, through the golf course, over the hills – and find nothing .. wandering through golf course looking for rock artDespite having Ordnance Survey maps, mobile phones, and hand-drawn maps from the master, Stan Beckensall’s Prehistoric Rock Art in NorthumberlandStephen at the trig pointOK, we did find the trig point – and were pretty pleased with that.at least we found the trig pointAnd – just above the Shepherd’s House – we found some very moving modern rock carvings …
the Shepherd's houseBless you, Sadie and Tom Young – what a place to be remembered!  You must have loved it very much up here …
modern rock artAnd then suddenly it clicked!  And the maps made sense, and I found the three clearly exposed pieces of rock art on Dod Law!

This is the first we found, and probably the most indistinctive of them all.  The problem isn’t just that my iPhone wasn’t really up to the task.  A June day – even if cloudy is not a good time to see the markings clearly.  Best days to see the rock art are in the low light of autumn and winter.

However, if you look very carefully you may be able to make out the cup and ring marks near the top.cup and ring marks on the rocksYou can see the engraved spiral much more clearly on this slab.circular rock artAnd it’s not too difficult to make out the patterns on this so called Main Rock. These are the most distinctive and unusual patterns.unusual rock art on Dod LawI can’t quite tell you how mind blowing it is to see these carvings, worked so many thousands of years ago (latest thinking is that they were made by Neolithic people between 6,000 and 5,000 years ago). But to stand on Dod Law with these very ancient rock messages and the Cheviots in view and a lark singing takes you, I reckon, almost as close as it is possible to our very distant ancestors …rock art with the cheviotsNobody knows what our ancestors meant with these rock carvings. There has to be a religious element, surely – some expression of peoples’ relationship with place and nature and life and death?

I’m intrigued to have read recently that a new project, Belief in the North East, has been set up under the aegis of Durham University “to explore the rich archaeology of the belief, religion and ritual of North-East England”. Studying the local rock art will be part of their brief.  I wonder what they will come up with ..

Back down the hill – just as pleasing as coming up, if not more so for mission accomplished – and the views as good as ever!following Stephen down

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To Cumbrae and back through the Scottish borderlands

Last Monday we left our home near Berwick and drove over the country to the Scottish west coast, roughly on exactly the same longitude as our home in England. It has always fascinated me that we are so close, have so much in common … and yet are so different.To our delight, whilst English Berwick on the east coast was bitterly cold, Cumbrae, in Scotland on the west of the UK, was sky-blue – shorts and sandals weather! We waited for the ferry to take us from Largs to the Isle of Cumbrae.Our visit to the Isle of Cumbrae was prompted by my wish to visit West Kilbride and some very talented Scottish craftswomen there.  Stephen was tasked with finding us somewhere to stay in the locality … and he came up with the College of the Holy Spirit, which adjoins the Cathedral of the Isles on Cumbrae.These establishments were designed by William Butterfield in 1851, at the request of the 6th Earl of Glasgow, George Frederick Boyle. Boyle was an enthusiast of the Oxford Movement, believing in the reinstatement of older Christian traditions.  He wanted the College to train priests for the Episcopal Church – perhaps like the men enjoying the College grounds in this old print below.Alas, Boyle, an enormously generous and devout man (he was also pouring money into the building of Perth Cathedral at this time) depended too much perhaps on divine providence – Dominus Providebit (God will provide) is the Boyle family motto – and went bankrupt in 1885.Luckily the College Chapel had been consecrated as Cathedral for the Scottish Episcopal Church United Diocese of Argyll & The Isles in 1876, so the Diocese was already responsible for these buildings.

The Cathedral Spire towers over the island, even when glimpsed from the hills above.We first glimpsed it through the trees. You get an idea of Butterfield’s original concept from this drawing that appeared on the front of “Butterfield Revisited”, edited by Peter Howell and Andrew Saint, and published by the Victorian Society. The Cathedral stands proud, surrounded by manicured lawns, with a young avenue of lime trees.That’s not how it is now!  The Diocese may have funded the Cathedral buildings, but there was no money to pay for garden upkeep.

By a magical transformation, those uncared gardens have become wild and more beautiful than one could imagine. Trees have grown up everywhere – the lime avenue is enormous. Underneath the trees, are masses and masses of flowering ramsons (wild garlic).The fine lawn banks host bluebells as well as the ramsons.I do so hope George Boyle is not turning in his grave as he contemplates the changed garden!  He is indeed buried here – in the large flat tomb in the foreground of this picture. He must have loved this place very much. It is extraordinary to find such buildings on such a tiny island. Butterfield’s vision of this small group of buildings is harmonious and elegant.  Here you have the windows of the Lady Chapel, the Cathedral and the Refectory – all varied in pattern and size, but united in stone and form. And look how very deftly Butterfield has highlighted the Cathedral window with the descending dove of the Holy Spirit above it.We stayed in the North College which had once housed the choristers. Our room was the upper left hand window, set amidst the tiles.  We had the place to ourselves for the first couple of nights, and after that only another couple came and stayed at the other end of the building. It was extraordinary!The rooms are called after Christian virtues.  Ours was Fortitude ……hmmm.Inside was all dark wood and heavy carving. The corridor …The fireplace in our bedroom ….. huge and cumbersome!The common room …What I didn’t like was the inside of the Cathedral.  It looks OK from here …But once you go up into the Chancel, you get tile madness!  I don’t care for the Victorian tones of green and brown anyhow, but, that to the side, it looks to me as though some student was told to see what variety of patterns they could come up to fill the space available. It’s truly tile pattern madness!Sometimes we joined Warden Amanda and Lay Chaplain Alastair for morning and evening prayers – quiet and peaceful, though the Scottish rite (just slightly different from the Anglican one we know) caught us out a bit …Outside the calm inner sanctuary lurked danger … In the evenings we explored Millport.  I don’t think the authorities meant us to take this image away with us ….And we chuckled at this …..There are lots of boarded up properties round Millport, looking just a little bit sad and unloved … Masses of rabbits everywhere … (not an easy place to be a gardener, I guess) …Including several black ones (or was it the same one and it just got round a lot?)  …After our evening walks, we went back to the College and lowered the ecclesiastical tone, sitting in the warm, evening sunshine with a bottle of wine …The road round Cumbrae is perfect for cyclists of all ages.  This looks like a 1960s group setting out to enjoy a bicycle ride en famille.You can hire all sorts of cycles …We hired two quite ordinary bikes to get round the island.  This was extremely brave of me since I haven’t been on a bike for well over 15 years.  It was a glorious ride, and despite much moaning on my part (the seat was horribly uncomfortable), it was a wonderful experience.Picnic lunch and an opportunity to enjoy the view of the islands of Bute and Arran (grey and lowering in the far distance).I don’t think I have ever seen a war memorial as powerful as this. It is dedicated to the men and women of the British and Allied forces who have no known grave.After our bicycle tour of the island, we spent a couple of days on the mainland about West Kilbride. I got to do the workshop that I have longed to do for so long with lovely Lorna of Chookiebirdie.  We spent an entire day sewing together …. Oh, just look at this sewing heaven!Lorna was teaching me to make paisley botehs like these ones of hers.And I was so thrilled with what I made that I have only just stopped carrying it round with me!Another day I finally got to visit Old Maiden Aunt’s yarn shop in West Kilbride – somewhere else I’ve longed to go to for ages! So many gorgeous colours.  And we got to peak into her dye studio too. As an amateur dyer, it’s fascinating for me to see her professional systems – though perhaps the multi-coloured spatters behind the pots is the give away that Lilith herself might not call it that …I have to confess that I find yarn buying overwhelming.  I may have decided that I am going to make a green scarf, and need green wool, but when I see the yarns available, all my carefully thought out plans go awry.  This is what we came away with – all lovely stuff, but not a lot of green, and certainly not the grassy-greens I had in mind …At the Barony in West Kilbride we found an amazing exhibition of Radical Craft. Doesn’t this Landfill Tantrum by Pinkie MacLure just say all you really long to say about waste and rubbish and pollution?!!Who could not love Rosemary McLeish’s What I Do When I Don’t Do The Ironing ?! Dedicated I think to all those who hate this chore …But the pièces de résistance for me were these two works paying homage (as it were) to Angus McPhee.  They were both made by Joanne B Kaar – the boots are copies of Angus McPhee’s orginal boots (those too fragile to be exhibited now) and she made the hats in the spirit of his work. I came upon the story of Angus McPhee from Donnie Monro’s song, Weaver of Grass.  As far as I can see the pop song world is dominated by mostly saccharine love songs, so  it amazes and delights me to hear such a glorious song about a mentally ill man. Perhaps it is really a love song in another guise …..

Time then to say goodbye to the little Isle of Cumbrae. The weather was changing as we headed back to Largs …On to sunny Sanquhar – another place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time because of their famous knitting designs.  The little Tolbooth Museum there is a gem …Holding information about and examples of lots of historic Sanquhar knitting patterns …..We were also interested in the displays there about the local brickworks.As it happens, we have a small collection of lettered bricks.  This started with us finding them on our local beach at Spittal.  There is an entire history of northern English and Scottish collieries and brickworks to be revealed from those names.  Luckily the lovely museum attendant at the Tolbooth Musuem knew just where to send us!And so we found ourselves quite unexpectedly rooting around the old Sanquhar brickworks.There were the sad remnants of the buildings ….And we found a brick or two …..Most poignantly, Clarks Little Ark, an animal rescue shelter at this site, have constructed a memorial wall of the old bricks for those dear ones they have lost.Time to go home now – perhaps crawl would be a better description for our heavily-brick-laden car. The weather got nastier and nastier as we travelled up through the Lowther hills …Still extraordinarily beautiful ….We had decided to travel back via the source of the River Tweed, high up in the Lowther Hills. There, masked in the mist and murk, we found this sign. From this point, a tiny stream and all the little tributaries that run into it flow eastwards to where it meets the sea on Spittal beach.This is an iconic spot to many (including us) because it is a great river. Appropriately there is a finely ornamented stone, incorporating words that speak off the Tweed: “it is one of Britain’s cleanest rivers …”Sadly, it was not a clean site.  The rubbish was disgusting and a terrible reflection on lazy, casual visitors. I have an uncomfortable idea that people feel they have license to behave so because Dumfries and Galloway council have not provided a litter bin ….Oh dear, what a negative way to end a great holiday!  So I won’t.  As we travelled through the Borders, the sun shone through the damp leaves, and we slowed down to enjoy the wonderful countryside …. and an antique Rolls Royce … Festina Lente!

Christmas makes

Part of the fun of Christmas for me is the making of both gifts and Christmassy stuff. It’s an excuse to make all sorts of things.  In the lead up to December, we were busy with lots of such projects, but because they were presents, I haven’t said much about them. Now – with Christmas well behind us – this is the opportunity to show what we were busy with in those autumn months.

I started my GiveWrap making in September with lots of fabrics spread around, and some very intriguing printed pieces from my cousin Polly. When I’m working with Polly’s prints, I sort them first into colours, and themes.  These two predominantly blue GiveWraps mainly incorporate a mix of her human body prints.  Her images are bold so I try to marry them up with fabric that has equally strong images – thus, in the top example, there are striking Japanese ladies from an old yukata, and some wonderful owly pieces too. The images in the lower givewrap are softer in colour and tone, and have accompanying softer fabrics.mixed-polly-katherine-blue-givewrapgivewrap-incorporating-pollys-blue-printsOther prints from Polly inspired work in different colourways. Her “little people” are all facing inwards here, dancing to the central tune, in a golden melange. It’s a particular favourite of both of us.gold-givewrap-incorporating-pollys-gold-peopleThis wine-coloured GiveWrap is at heart a worn-out cushion cover of Polly’s. I covered up the holes with bits of new fabric, and built up the edges.givewrap-made-of-pollys-old-cushion-coverLater in the autumn, I made more GiveWraps. These blues, yellows and golds worked so well together that I got carried away and made two more similar GiveWraps.blue-and-gold-givewrap3-blue-and-gold-givewrapsAnother old cushion cover (this time an old green one of mine) got re-pieced here.  The holes and stains were removed and I added some strong contrasting purple.  Interestingly, this GiveWrap attracted more interest and likes on Instagram than any other that I have made.green-and-purple-givewrapLastly, I made a small red silk GiveWrap with my mother in mind. This to my mind is the best of the lot! I loved it – was sad to part with it – but my mother loved it too. And when a recipient loves the gift that is best of best!glorious-red-silk-givewrapOff they went to new happy homes, bearing Christmas wishes and love!givewraps-ready-to-postApart from GiveWraps, there were practical things to make like the Christmas cake – here garlanded with our own gorgeous glossy holly.christmas-cakeWe also made jams and jellies.  Here’s Stephen concentrating intensely as he pots up his chilli pepper jam.stephen-making-chilli-jamThe finished products – chilli pepper jam and spicy harvest jelly – don’t look bad for Christmas presents, do they?finished-jam-productI made two little Toft monsters this year as gifts.  The patterns come from Kerry Lord’s brilliant flip book of patterns, Imaginarium. A mix-and-match pattern book to enable the crochet creation of just the monster you want.  small-green-ghost-toft-friendThe other little monster I made is quite different – but that’s the whole point of a book with so many pattern choices!small-toft-friend-for-stephenDifferent they may be, but they look like good friends, sitting here together.small-toft-friends-togetherYou may have read an earlier blog I wrote this autumn about our Seaview poppies … we collected as much seed as possible, and packaged it up to send off to friends and family, hoping to spread a little bit of poppy colour in other gardens.seaview-poppy-seed-packsI made hats too.  Some I forgot to photograph.  But one I did remember to photograph was this pink two-eared beanie for my daughter.  The pattern came from my beloved ancient (1977) Paton’s Woolcraft, and I knitted it using odd pink scraps from my stash.  The scraps included some Rowan Kidsilk Haze so together with the alpaca pompoms, it was a fluffy hat!pink-twin-earred-hat-for-helenJust right for our beach walks …wearing-christmas-presents-on-the-beachMy son is fascinated (and most knowledgeable about) the periodic table.  So what better to give him than periodic table pillowcases?! Stephen found the fabric on the internet, and I sewed them up.  Does he now dream of the elements of the periodic table? …. I must ask him …periodical-table-pillowcasesThere was the usual making as well.  You might say, the bread and butter making. Wonderful to have a man around who makes all our bread.homemade-breadStephen made some wonderful knits for Christmas presents.  He wrote in an earlier blog about the blanket he knitted on his knitting machine as a present for his youngest daughter.  That knit incorporated a knitted monogram of his daughter and her husband’s first initials: J and E.  My cousin admired it especially because her two daughters share those particular initials.  So how about some cushions with your daughters’ initials on them as a Christmas present for my cousin! Here is the maker man himself with his wonderful knitted cushions.stephen-with-his-machine-knitted-cushionsHe made two scarves for other daughters.
Stephen here: Here is one of the scarves I knitted about to be cast off the machine. blue-christmas-scarfFor the technically mind it is knitted in 2-colour tuck stitch using every third needle with tension dial set at 10 (the largest possible stitch size) to give a lovely loose feel. The wool is Rowan baby merino silk double knit – in all I needed 100g of each colour. When washed carefully they came out beautifully soft, though somewhat narrower and longer than anticipated.

I also experimented with some Christmas designs. Here are two panels I knitted just for fun. The left hand one is of random snowflakes ( see the end of our blog Ellie’s Blanket for  more details of this design) and the second is derived from typical Scandinavian Christmas designs and made using their traditional colours.2-xmas-patterns-3Perhaps by next year I will have my own machine-knitted supply of Givewraps.

Katherine here: I’ve written so far about the pre-Christmas preparations.  But there was one project we made that involved all of us who were here over the Christmas period.

One of my most treasured Christmas decorations that comes out every year looking sadder and more worn is the crib my children made when small out of toilet rolls, tissue paper, and a bit of glitter and trim. There’s only one shepherd these days, and one king has gone AWOL.rather-sad-cribI put this picture on Instagram, and a helpful virtual friend of mine from Nice suggested it was missing a Ravi as well. You don’t know what a Ravi is?! Well, a character from the santons of Provence, the Ravi stands amazed at the events taking place, with his (or her) arms in the air. So we got to work, and we got delightfully carried away.  I made a Ravi, Stephen created a new king, and son James added a Cagador. (James knows this character as a Cagador having lived in Spain, but it is elsewhere known as a Caganer.) new-characters-for-our-cribWhen the Cagador turned round and revealed his true intent, the King and the Ravi turned away, a bit giggly and embarrassed.the-king-and-the-ravi-dissociate-themselves-from-the-cagadorBut they all came together to make a much happier crib scene … all-sorts-of-things-came-to-the-cribSeveral other creatures and presents crept into the mix … but that’s life isn’t it? All can come to the manger …

Lane problems and a tale of the Derwentwaters

We’ve had heavy heavy rain in the UK over the winter – particularly bad in the west of the country with serious floods in Cumbria and Yorkshire. In the North-East we have had nothing to compare with those troubles, thank goodness.  But it has caused particular problems with the rough farm track we drive along to get to our house.deep runnels

The farm track has always been a bit dodgy.  But this winter’s lane problems were new. Heavy, heavy rain meant the surrounding fields were waterlogged, with old duck ponds and boundary brooks reappearing.  Finally, yet more rain over Christmas meant the land could take no more and water poured off the fields down the only path it could find: our lane.water coming off field

Deep runnels, pits and channels appeared.  The rain continued.  The runnels got deeper, the lane more pitted and craggy.deep pits and channels

Driving became precarious.  Those of our neighbours who had 4-wheel drive came home with confidence.  Those with sports cars and low-slung suspension travelled much more cautiously.  Our little Suzuki Alto did not like it at all.  When temperatures dropped and the water froze, we decided it was far too tricky to drive home, and took to leaving our car in the car park near the sea, at the bottom of the hill.  Hard work carrying shopping up from there!water freezing in runnels

We hit crisis point, and some neighbours decided action must be taken. But it is very complicated because we do not know who owns parts of this lane.  Such land ownership problems are not unusual, but ours have a particular history behind them – which is romantic and tragic.

The surrounding farms belong to the Greenwich Hospital Estate – and they used to own our cottage (in the old farm steading) and most of the old cottages about.  Yes, we live in the most northern part of Northumberland, just a few miles south of the Scots-English border, and yes, Greenwich Hospital is in East London (some 400 miles away).  (You can read more about the Greenwich Hospital and its responsibilities and functions in its 2012-13 annual report here)

Before Greenwich Hospital owned these lands they belonged to the Earls of Derwentwater. Their family home was at Dilston, near Corbridge, in the south of Northumberland.  But the Derwentwaters owned large parts of North Northumberland.  They were said to be the wealthiest and most powerful Jacobite family in the north of England.

Tragedy struck for the 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, who (a devout Catholic and Jacobite) was one of the leaders of the 1715 Jacobite uprising.  The British had deposed their Roman Catholic King  with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and replaced him with his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her Dutch husband, William.  But many longed for the return of Roman Catholic Jacobite rule, among them the Earl of Derwentwater.

The rebels were defeated at the battle of Preston, and Derwentwater and the other rebels were captured and taken to London where they were lodged in the Tower of London.  Despite the reprieve of some of the other leaders, the King was determined to make an example with the Lords Derwentwater and Kenmure, and they were beheaded on Tower Hill on 24th February 1716.   (Below detail of print showing the execution.)IMG_0120

This story of Derwentwater’s fall is told in Devil Water by Anya Seton. She’s a rather forgotten historical novelist these days, but I read – and loved! – all her books when I was young.  I re-read Devil Water when we came to live here and there is no doubt her historical research was excellent.  Her writing about this area of Northumberland is accurate and evocative.Anya Seton Devil Water

With his execution, Derwentwater was stripped of his honours and titles, and his estates confiscated. In 1748 the Derwentwater Estates were granted by Act of Parliament to the Royal Hospital at Greenwich.

The Derwentwaters are almost forgotten here, though the odd (mis-spelt!) street sign about still remembers them.Derwentwater road sign

But Greenwich Hospital is still very much part of the area.  They continue to manage a Northumberland Estate of 8,000 acres – and that includes the farm fields around us. Their name is also common in the locality.North Greenwich road

So how does this tally with our lane problems?! Well, the old farms here were very small – completely impractical for modern farmers – so as farming families came to the end of their leases and moved on, the fields were given to other farms and the houses and buildings sold on.  Life has changed so much – in sales of the last century, people didn’t always have their own cars to drive to their home, there were vegetable-growing allotments where modern owners might want enclosed private gardens, and old pathways with habitual rights of way were thought sufficient for new owners.

We know half the lane is co-owned by the four steading cottages at its end.  It is the other half – the bad part! – whose ownership is unknown. The cottages alongside have sometimes done some repairs – and Northumberland County Council has even visited recently and made vague encouraging noises.

But we can’t wait for the Council’s deliberations – the track was almost impassable! Initially, a small group of neighbours gathered with a digger and a massive delivery of tarry road chippings, which were helpfully deposited in large piles along the troubled parts of the lane.dumper truck and hard coreThe idea was to run a pipe across the lane and under the new chippings, channeling the water further down the hill, out of harm’s way.water pipe and hardcoreThere was just the simple task of spreading the hardcore.digger and spreading hardcoreI never saw myself working as a navvy …spreading hardcoreUnfortunately – another night’s heavy rain, and all our good work was washed away.deep runnels againThe water completely overwhelmed our nice little pipe arrangement.  So much for amateur engineeringmore rain, more damageOn a recent weekend, an another impromptu neighbourly working party was assembled, pick axes were mounted on unpractised shoulders …pickaxingtrenches were dug …shovelling – and water was diverted with a new larger pipe! Yeay!new pipeMore gravel was spread over the damaged lane …more gravel burying pipeWe haven’t had any serious rain yet to put the working party efforts to the test, but for the moment the lane is passable. At least we can drive home!

But before I finish this post, I want to return to the story of the Derwentwaters.  It was only when I started writing, and checked my facts that I realised the relevance of the date on which James Radclyffe, the 3rd Earl of Derwentwater was executed: 24th February 1716 – by some strange coincidence that’s 400 years ago this week.  So, it seems appropriate to mark this anniversary.

What I hadn’t realised was that Derwentwater was only 25 when he found himself the leader of the uprising in 1715 – 26 when he was executed the next year.  So very young.  According to some accounts he was a very decent man.  His contemporary, the Scottish writer, Tobias Smollett, called him “brave, open, generous, hospitable and human.”  The Reverend Mr Patten’s description was even more glowing: ” [Derwentwater was] formed by nature to be universally loved for his benevolence was so unbounded that he seemed only to live for others.” (Patten was another contemporary, and the chaplain to the other uprising leader, Thomas Forster).

Fine comments indeed.  Some dismiss them saying this was only propaganda by reactionary writers, and actually he was a person of little importance and weak character.

What I can definitively say is that he was brave indeed at his execution.  I’m going to quote here some of the very moving description of that event from Christopher Sinclair Stevenson’s book, Inglorious Rebellion:

“At ten o’clock […] he drove in a coach to Tower Hill and then walked through the ranks of
soldiers to the scaffold draped in black.  his face was ashen as he mounted the steps to the block, but he retained his calm composure.  A few prayers were followed by his speech.  It was an extraordinarily moving address in which he retracted his plea of guilty made at his trial, spoke with great warmth and feeling of James III, and assured his audience that the country could have no lasting peace or happiness until the restoration of the Stuarts.  His last words were devoid of bitterness: ‘I die a Roman Catholic; I am in perfect charity with all the world, I thank God for it, even with those of the present Government, who are most instrumental in my death.  I freely forgive such as ungenerously reported false things of me; and I hope to be forgiven the trespasses of my youth, by  the Father of infinite mercy, into his hand I commend my soul.”

His body was taken to Dilston, where he was buried in the family vault.

There’s a nice little accompanying story to his end.  Apparently, the Northern Lights were particularly brilliant at the time of his beheading, and in some places they became known as the Earl of Derwentwater’s Lights.  As it happens, there have been some fine showings of the Northern Lights in recent days (though we haven’t actually seen them here) – who knows?  Perhaps there will be a magnificent replay of the Earl of Derwentwater’s fabulous lights to mark the 400th anniversary of his death …

Whatever, James Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater,  RIP.James_Radclyffe,_3rd_Earl_of_Derwentwater_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_20946Picture of James Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater reproduced from Wikipedia (public domain)

Hard lives

Beached up on the north Northumbrian cliffs, we are exposed to all that the weather can throw at us.  Over this winter so far we have endured violently squally and bad-tempered Southerlies bringing rain, rain and more rain. Recently the winds have changed to sea-salty and much colder Easterlies.

But whatever the weather throws at us, we sit tight in our small sandstone cottage, and are good at keeping busy and toasty.seaview cottageMy eye is always drawn out – when the grey allows ( and we’ve had a lot of grey this winter)  – to Holy Island on the horizon, and to wonder how the monks there coped with the wind and the cold and the rain.Sunrising behind cloudsWe know about these monks because some of them were so exceptional, so saintly, that Bede (himself an exceptional early historian) recorded their history. In the early 7th century,  King Oswald of nearby Bamburgh had summoned the monks from Iona to bring Christianity to his kingdom.  It was St Aidan who stablished the monastery, and St Cuthbert was to follow there as bishop.LindisfarneFol27rIncipitMatt

We don’t have Bede’s histories alone to tell us about these early monks.  We have inherited from this place and these early years one of the most remarkable and beautiful illustrated books of all time, the book of the Lindisfarne Gospels, apparently made by the later Bishop of Lindisfarne, Eadfrith, in honour of God and St Cuthbert.

First page of St Matthew’s gospel.  Image made available to the public domain by Wikipedia.

These are the ruins of the monastery church on Holy Island today.  Life in these buildings would have been hard and rough enough, but, in fact, these aren’t the buildings Cuthbert, Aidan and others knew. These are 11th century buildings. The early monks would have had oak buildings thatched with reeds.Holy Island ruins of prioryFrom the security and warmth of our windows, I often look out on Holy Island and wonder about the monks’ lives.  And that manuscript – how on earth could the scribes do this skilled, delicate work in such bitterly cold conditions – no windows, remember?

Hard lives. Hard and dangerous lives.

Extreme danger, in fact, with the earliest known Viking raid on Lindisfarne in 793.  Eventually (in 875) the monks fled, taking with them what they valued most: the body of their beloved St Cuthbert.  A life-size wood carving in the church on Holy Island commemorates their journey.  It gives a sense of the struggle to carry the coffin and body, but what of the panic, the fear, the gut-wrenching terror.wood carving of monks carrying Cuthbert's bodyFrom our small cottage we can see the sea and down the coast to Lindisfarne, and when there are large bonfires on Holy Island, we can often see their smoke too.  Farmers here might have seen the approach of those terrifying Viking longships, or the smoke from their destructive fires.view out of garden to seaSkip through the generations to the 13th century, and people here endured a new menace: the Reivers.  The Border lands, the ungovernable country between the separate kingdoms of Scotland and England, experienced years of lawlessness (right up to the Union of the Crowns in 1603) because of the depredations of the Reivers.

Novels have been written and ballads sung of the Reivers, the wild lawless men who grabbed and took whatever they wanted – especially if it belonged to another family that they were at odds with.  It was Sir Walter Scott who really put the Reivers on the map.  His Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border established the tales of the Reivers as romantic, glamorous, and exciting.  Actually, they were nasty, cruel and vicious.Minstrelsy of the Scottish BorderThese Border lands were divided into six Marches, and Berwick lay in the English Eastern March.  It was better governed than most.

But it was bad enough.  It’s not hard to find examples of defensive architecture.  In our adjoining parish of Ancroft, the church itself had a secure tower to offer safety when the Reivers swept in. The walls are 1.35 metres in thickness, the upper windows are tiny.  You can climb to the top of the tower, and there are fine views around.  It might have been used as a look-out, and it’s possible warning beacons may have been lit from here.  This tower is certainly no ecclesiastical adornment.Ancroft churchEven in more recent times, life was miserably hard in these parts.  Coal was mined under the neighbouring fields, and the tramway bearing coals to transport ships runs across our view ( it’s the uneven shrubby line of trees running from the top right of the landscape across to where it meets the modern Eastcoast Mainline running along the coast).old railway trackIn the local churchyard, there are several sad gravestones which tell of deaths at the colliery.  One of them is for John Harbottle who was accidentally killed on the 21st November 1865, aged 45 years.  We don’t know how he died, but you can read more on these accidents at Scremerston Colliery at the Durham Mining Museum webpage.  No Health and Safety Inspectorate in those times.  John Harbottle's grave stoneBut of all the troubles in this part of the world, it was surely the sea that caused most grief.Spittal beach promenadeJust up the coast at St Abbs, these small statues stand as a reminder of the terrible cost of fishing disasters.  These are the wives and children of Charles Purves and James and William Thorburn who lost their lives in the great storm of 1881.  189 fishermen from the east coast of Scotland perished in that storm.St Abbs statuesAnother extremely dangerous (but potentially very lucrative) sea-faring enterprise was whaling.  Berwick’s last whaling ship, the Norfolk, left on its last voyage in 1836.  She sailed over to the North American coast in the spring, but come winter, found herself trapped by ice in Pond Inlet (of Baffin Bay) with several other ships.  The Captain of the Norfolk recorded on 15th January 1837: “…The frost is very severe and the ice has been pressing to a great height all around us.”  They did not escape the ice until mid-March.  Many, many men died of scurvy as well as frostbite.

One Berwick whaling-ship owner proudly announced his trade on his front door.No 1 Wellington TerraceThose are harpoon heads on the front door panels.Detail of door of no 1 Wellington TerraceThese balustrades on the roofs of local Spittal houses are sometimes know as widows’ walks.  From them pacing wives and ship-owners might scan the sea, looking for sight of ships.widows' walksThe whale oil was processed in the manufactories where the last Spittal chimney now stands.  It was a foul-smelling and obnoxious process. Spittal chimneyIs it surprising that people fled, leaving this beautiful area for places where they hoped they might have a better life?emigration noticeI am left to reflect on my twenty-first century luck to be living here, safe and warm and healthy – so as to be able to enjoy it in comfort.

Oh, alas for all those poor souls who lived in these parts for whom life was such a miserable and dangerous struggle.Poe in front of fire

Christmas

Yesterday we put up our Christmas tree.  For many years, we had a proper natural tree, and I loved the excitement of getting the tree,  but it is a relief now, in retirement, to have an easy little synthetic tree that just comes down from the attic.  And anyhow, it is the decorations that give me most pleasure.

Out come the boxes of old and new.  There are the felt stockings my mother made us when we were children, the American Thanksgiving paper turkey, sparkly decorations, the Christmas mobile, and much, much more.Christmas stockingThese are old glass balls that came from my grandmother.  These are so fragile that they could be cracked with just a squeeze of the hand.Granny's glass ballThe box (much repaired) alone is a delight.Ancient Christmas decorationsOdd little things have come into the Christmas collection – and stayed.  I love Zacyntha’s little card of wishes (including the wish that all her cats were with her from the old house …)  Not sure why we have mementos of Truro and Winchester Cathedral …  The golden Catherine Wheel (from New York) was a gift to me, of course!Old Christmas tree treasuresSome ornaments truly are treasures.  My American sister-in-law gave me this beautiful glass ball from San Jose’s Museum of Art.San Jose baubleAlas, there are always breakages.  We bought this charming couple in Krakow a couple of years ago.Christmas breakagesThere are new things to join the collection.  We already have Mary, Queen of Scots, so thought we should add Elizabeth I.  Some delightful freebies from the British Red Cross, a Mexican angel – and a happy memento of Jak and Ellie’s wedding earlier this year.New Christmas treasuresThe pièce de rèsisistance for me is my knitting angel.  How could I not find a knitting angel enchanting – especially when she was made for me by the dear, dear friend who taught me to spin in Devon a good few years ago!Eileen Seddon's Christmas fairyChristmas is often a time of looking back – memories are particularly poignant and powerful at this time of year.  Over the last few months I’ve been scanning the family photograph albums, so I’ve been looking at Christmas through family recollections.

These lovely pictures of my father with his parents in Melbourne are the oldest Christmas pictures I can find.  Here is my grandmother with her 9 month baby, Christmas 1926, taking him for his first dip on the beach at Cowes.  She looks enchanting – so happy, so proud.My father's first Christmas dip 1926, CowesIn 1928, they were again at the beach at Cowes.  It’s my grandfather on the left, she’s in front, holding their little boy’s hand.  They are clearly having such a happy time.  I do wonder what they are looking at out to sea?  My father’s holding his mother’s hand – for reassurance?  He looks a bit worried – perhaps just that deep thinking of a child who is struggling to understand what the adults are telling him?My father at Cowes Christmas 1928Sadly, my grandfather, Vin, died in 1933.  He had got amoebic dysentery in Gallipoli, and never fully recovered.   Dora, my grandmother, later married an Englishman and moved to Leicester with her two little boys.  So these are the only photos I have of the hot Australian Christmases that my father would have known as a child.

The rituals of big English Christmases that my mother’s family liked gradually took over.  Here we all are at my grandparents’ table for Christmas Lunch, 1961.  My parents are there with their four children (err – yes, that’s me the bossy one with her arms folded at the end of the table), together with all my other aunts and uncles.  There are still a few grandchildren to come …. This photo records a rare family get-together.  My father (the photographer here) and uncle were both British diplomats so spent much of their working lives abroad.  My uncle Bow (on the far right) lived in California with his family.  No wonder my grandfather looks so pleased – truly a grand-paterfamilias moment!Christmas lunch Paddock 1961Aaah – those reprehensible 1960s habits!  Here is my father smoking a pipe – and, oh dear, holding the baby at the same time!!  It’s really an archetypal Christmas picture of its era.  The paper hats, the gathered family in their Christmas best, the well-behaved children, my cousin in his short trousers …. this could well have come straight out of a Ladybird book on Christmas.Christmas Paddock 1961 - sitting in drawing roomMy mother’s family always got a visit from Father Christmas.  Here is my patient Uncle Harry wearing the family Father Christmas costume with great aplomb (my mother’s the helpful elf behind).Father Christmas visit 1961A few year’s later, my father’s work took us back to Japan.  He was Head of Chancery (sort of Embassy Personnel Officer) during this time, so he felt very much that is was his job to look after the waifs and strays at Christmas.  This meant a formal Christmas lunch in the dining room, cooked (as usual) by our Japanese cook, Mori-san.  We were waited on by our two lovely kimono-wearing Japanese servants, Hisatsuni-san and Mitsuko-san.  There were always spinster secretaries and batchelor diplomats who joined us for lunch (during which we children obeyed the old adage to the letter of being seen and not heard).  Afterwards, my father would get us all out to play football on the lawn.  The fun was to see how poor Miss X from the secretarial pool coped with the garden mud in her unsuitable suit and heels.  How I wish I could find photos of those Christmases!

One Christmas – one awful, awful Christmas, – there was the disaster of the Chancery Guard’s lunch.  All the Embassy staff enjoyed a Christmas holiday bar one person –  the Chancery Guard.  He had to be on duty in the Embassy offices in case an important telegram came in, some crisis in Whitehall etc.  In his Head of Chancery role, my father promised that we would supply lunch for the Chancery Guard as the offices were just round the corner from our house.

Alas, we forgot!  It must have been about tea-time when we realised.  My father turned black with anger and mortification – how could he forget and fail!  A deputation of children was roped in to trail round to the Embassy offices with cigars, bottles of spirit, crackers, chocolates – and I guess some cold turkey.  But my father never forgave himself – a pall of black hung over the day.  Memories of the Day we forgot the Chancery Guard’s lunch remained with my family for a long, long time.

Christmas 1966, and I was given a camera for Christmas – a very nice Japanese Minolta.  These are some of my first photographs.

Here is my father, amid the detritus of Christmas paper and presents, in our huge Department of Works furnished sitting room.  Diplomats entertained regularly and – in those days – were provided with large, elegant houses and regulation Government furniture. RHE Tokyo christmas 1966I also photographed my Christmas presents in my bedroom. I was 12 – on the cusp of the teenage years, so I’d been given a smart black patent handbag (must have been my first “proper” handbag), and there’s a sewing basket I can see there, along with quite a few books.  How arid and unexciting that would seem to today’s 12 year old! My bedroom Christmas 1966Actually, I was quite contented with my Christmas presents – but I did have a rather big paddy later on those holidays about the endless old-fashioned hand-me-down dresses I was expected to wear.  My mother finally took me to one of the fantastic Japanese department stores and bought me a couple of Mary-Quant-style dresses so I felt better equipped for the parties of the season.

There were lots of parties in the Embassy world over Christmas.  I didn’t go to this one, of course.  It’s the 1964 Imperial Court New Year party – that’s some dressing up!  My father is standing at the top right, very smart in his diplomatic uniform, and my mother is second from the right at the bottom of the picture.  She looks gorgeous.Imperial Court New Year party 1964 Tokyo EmbassyIt was also during these holidays that my parents took us Christmas shopping to the Ginza shopping street – an incredible glittering Christmas experience.  They bought each of their four children the Christmas ornament of our choice.  This snowfamily was my choice – a bit worse for wear now, but still very much treasured.Christmas snowmanBy the 1970s we were back in England, and, his Australian summer Christmases long forgotten, my father settled into comfortable paterfamilias mode.  There’s even a spinster secretary (on the far left) who has joined our family Christmas dinner.Christmas 1975 FarninghamThere were no Japanese servants working for our comfort any longer.  Here the kitchen is staffed by family: three generations (my mother, grandmother and sister) making brandy butter together.Christmas 1970 Tasting brandy butterOne year (1970) we had proper snow.  How opportune! That’s one of my Australian cousins clearing the steps (as though he had done it all his life) and my Californian aunt is standing on the left of the picture.  A really proper picture postcard English Christmas laid on just for them.Clearing snow Fanringham 1970We walked to the church through the charming snowy English village.Christmas 1970 walking to churchAnd we sang carols around the piano over the holiday (my mother playing).   It could almost be out of the same Ladybird Christmas book that I mentioned earlier.Christmas 1970 carol singing round pianoJust when you think you’ve got this Christmas thing sorted, along comes a complication.  Yes, it’s a delightful complication – but not at all what I expected.  I had a Christmas baby!   I still have the letter in which my mother wrote to me in the days before James was born, telling me that I must make sure not to give birth too close to Christmas – it just wasn’t kind!  (He was 10 days early.) James' Christmas birth in Express & EchoA Christmas birthday puts a whole new complexity on the celebration of Christmas.  There were yet more presents for James (at tea-time), – and there were special cakes.  I worked so hard to make this gingerbread cake!Gingerbread cake for Jam's 3rd birthdayIn 1981 Father Christmas started visiting us.  James is definitely very intrigued  – does he know something about the person wearing the costume that we don’t?Father Christmas visit 1981He visited again in 1985.  I think it may be my brother wearing the Father Christmas robes.  By now the children seem to be taking Father Christmas rather more for granted.Father Christmas visit 1985 FarninghamA Christmas birthday was, of course, a great excuse for a children’s fancy dress Christmas party.  Here we are in a rather cold and draughty Devon village hall.  It’s 1988.  Judging by the costumes, I think I must have asked the girls to come as Christmas fairies and the boys as Christmas decorations. Shobrooke Christmas party 1988Skip through the years quickly, and I’ve been through a divorce and embarked on a new marriage.  I have four step-daughters – we are a step-family!  Perhaps the hallmark of stepfamilies should be flexibility.  We certainly were open to change.  One year’s Christmas lunch was Shepherds’ Pie, Star-gazy Pie and Angel Delight.  Hmm … an experiment never repeated.

Of course, what really changed in recent years is the abundance of photos – digital cameras make a big difference.  For the new step-family, there were ups and downs, comings and goings, swings and roundabouts.  Lots of happy Christmases in amidst all the changes, perhaps summed up with this lovely picture of four of our children in the fancy dress costumes that I had made them for Christmas.1991 Christmas fancy dress costumes editedJust as Christmas is a time of looking back, so it is a time of looking forward.  Dawn is a metaphor for hope, for blessings, for future promise of goodness.  So I leave you with this magnificent picture Stephen took of the sunrise this December solstice morning.Sunrise past Bamburgh CastleHappy Christmas to you all!

Misty Moisty* on Holy Island

There has been dense fog over much of Britain for the last week or so – not cold, just moist and very misty.  You can sense the sun is trying to break through.sun trying to break throughAnd there have been days when the sun has actually broken through … even if it is only for a little time.  So when the weather forecasters said the sun might break through on the Northumberland coast, and we saw that the tides were convenient (so to speak), we decided yesterday was the day for a walk round Holy Island.

Crossing the causeway was forbidding: the fog was deepening.driving over a misty causewayThe car park – not surprisingly for a grey foggy day at the beginning of November was almost empty.  (Contrast this with our summer visit several months ago.)car in almost empty carparkIt wasn’t cold – just very damp, very grey, and not a little bit disappointing.  But we’d set the day aside for this walk, so better make the most of it.  And how very rewarding it turned out to be.blackened plantsWith so much mist – such limited vision – you see things differently.  Dark, decaying plants stood out strongly.  strange blackened plants in the mistColours – even the smallest patch of gold lichen on the wall – leapt out at us.stone wall with lichenPlants that had been silver earlier in the year were now turning gold.undergrowth turning goldThere were clearly cattle around – much evidence of them: the ground churned up, cow pats.  But we never saw them.  I was imagining how they would look looming through the mist.evidence of cattleWould the mist lift when we got to the beach.  No, far from it – the fog was denser there than ever!walking along misty beachWhat I can’t convey with these pictures is how haunting the sounds were as we walked round the island.  And nowhere more so than on the beach.  We found – and heard –  a couple of curlews amid a plenty of gulls – and our favourite little sanderlings (for whom we have set out searching before).

This was the view – or lack of it – from the hide.  It’s usually busy here with people settled in to watch the water birds.  But yesterday?  Nobody else – just the water birds busy and noisy.   What colours and splendour of bullrushes!  reeds, bullrushes and waterfowlWe met nobody else on the walk – until we had passed this hide.  The sense of walking in the pervasive grey and damp with just bird calls floating out and about was extraordinary.

As we drew near to the castle, we passed the cairns shrouded in mist.  Visitors construct these out of local stones – in memory of loved ones or perhaps for fun?  I don’t know.  Today they were beautiful and mysterious.cairns in the mistSomebody had left a message …message in the cairnsAnd then we approached the castle … or did we …where was it?  Never before have I seen (or not seen) Lindisfarne Castle like this!approaching Lindisfarne castle in the mistCuriously, it is even more magnificent glimpsed in fog.

We couldn’t leave – on a day like this – without paying our respects at the Priory.  Most disappointingly, it was shut, so we couldn’t get inside.  Still plenty to see outside.Holy Island ruins of prioryWalking round the graves in the churchyard, you can’t help feel how appropriate the old festivals of All Saints and All Souls are for this time of year.  graves in churchyardRemembrance Day also falls in November, for the very good reason that Armistice Day, when the guns of the First World War fell silent, is on the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  Here amid the grey mists and grey graves, it comes naturally to remember.  These lost souls almost stood around us.grave in churchyardSuch an enjoyable walk – how very surprising!  When we got to the pub for lunch, the few other tourists there were complaining about the weather: Such a horrible day!  We knew better.walking through the mist* Misty moisty are technical weather terms of Stephen’s.