Garden: Spring daffodils

It’s been quite a week here, weather-wise. Thunder yesterday, hail the day before that, and today it’s been rain and fog. But I still know it’s spring, because…

Single daffodil

I have my first daffodil!

Since we moved into this house in December, the garden at the time was an unknown quantity. All I could see then were the dead stalks of last year’s growth and some old and rusting garden ornaments, so I had no idea what was going to come up this spring. A few weeks ago I went out and cleared all the junk and dead stems to make space for the new growth, and since then I’ve been enthralled watching everything slowly unfurl and identify itself.

But while daffodils were a predictable feature – there’s hardly a garden in England that doesn’t have a few somewhere, and there are scores of them up and down the village already – there’s a special joy to seeing your very own first one open. Snowdrops tell you spring is thinking about coming, but the daffodils are the gods’ own golden trumpets to tell you it’s arrived. Even if the weather seems to disagree, it’s spring, everyone. I have a daffodil. And better yet, I’ve got another dozen or so that are still to open:

Daffodils ready to flower

Going to be lovely by this time next week, that is. Although I really hope the weather by then has brightened up again:

View over the valley

The view from my door this afternoon.

If it does, I’ll be going on some more adventures next week, so stay tuned!

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Home: A moment’s peace

There’s something very special about living in a place where one feels spiritually healed just by stepping out of the front door. I’m going to be mostly working this week (I’m a freelance editor, so I get to work from home), but I had to go out just now to take something to the post office. As I opened the door and stepped onto the path, the whole valley felt silent – no wind, no cars, no voices. The air was still and neither warm nor cold, the sky a pale silver grey.

And it felt like someone had pulled the emergency brake on my soul. I’d been running at usual 21st-century mental speed, worrying about this, thinking about that, doing five things at once… and suddenly, blessedly, my mind just came to a complete and perfect stop. I stood for a moment, simply breathing, listening, looking around me, and felt the weight of the world lift off my shoulders. It’s like having Heaven on your doorstep, living here.

Here’s a quick shot of the view over the valley, with the clouds breaking to show a flash of sunlight across on Danby Low Moor:

 

Danby Low Moor

The view from my doorstep.

And now, back to work…

Places: Danby and the Moors Centre

It’s funny how sometimes life does you a favour. I’d been planning to go to Whitby yesterday, but I overslept and missed my train. When I did wake up, I checked my email only to find that the friend I’d been planning to meet wouldn’t be available anyway, so I’d have had a wasted trip!

But since it was definitely too good a day to spend indoors, I decided instead to go out for a walk to Danby, Castleton’s next-door village, to visit the Moors National Park Centre there. While there is a bridleway covering part of the distance, after a winter as wet as this one has been I wasn’t sure it would have dried out yet so I took the shorter of the two available road routes, along the bottom of Esk Dale. It’s no more than a mile or so from Castleton to Danby village, though the road is steep in places and since there’s no pavement you have to keep your wits about you – there are some awkward blind bends where cars can come up on you very suddenly. Still, in glorious spring sunshine it’s a joy to walk:

Esk Dale

View over Esk Dale.

Ash tree

Huge ash tree in the sun just outside Castleton.

Danby village

The approach to Danby village from the west.

The Moors Centre is another half-mile beyond Danby itself. The North York Moors National Park’s flagship visitor centre, it has a permanent exhibition of Moors nature and wildlife, a gift shop, and the Woolly Sheep tea room (whose amazing butterscotch cake has to be eaten to be believed), all housed in a converted row of beautiful old buildings:

The Moors Centre

The Moors Centre.

It’s also home to the “Inspired by…” gallery, which hosts a regularly changing programme of work by local Moors artists in all kinds of media. This month’s exhibitors included artist blacksmith David Stephenson (http://davidstephenson.org.uk/) and landscape painter Sue Slack (http://www.sueslack.co.uk/) in the main gallery, while a side room contained a set of remarkable photographs by Charles Twist (http://www.citiesandparks.com/The_Moors.html). For this exhibition Charles made use of vintage camera equipment and lenses, with the result that his photos of the high moors are eerie, sepia-tinted things that could have come from a hundred years ago rather than today. I found them especially evocative as I love the moors at their most foreboding, and Charles definitely captures that side of their nature perfectly. For copyright reasons you aren’t allowed to take photographs in the gallery itself, but please do take a look at the links to see what I was browsing through!

I did, however, snatch a picture through the glass roof of the gallery’s side corridor when a brief summer squall hit while I was inside. It was actually a surprisingly lovely experience, even though it only lasted a couple of minutes; the sound of the rain on the gallery’s roof made it feel almost like being in a tent, and there’s a sense of primitive magic about looking up to see rain falling on you and then stopping only a couple of feet above your head:

Rain on glass roof

Rain on the roof.

My next port of call was the permanent Moors exhibit, which offers simple info boards about the animals, plants, and life of the Moors, various interactive exhibits for the kids, and a selection of stuffed animals:

Stuffed otter and hare.

Stuffed otter and hare.

Carved wooden birds

Particularly enchanting were these carved wooden curlew, meadow pipit and golden plover, who had little motion sensors in their backs: stroke them, and they would play recordings of their songs for you.

Stuffed pipistrelle bat

Stuffed pipistrelle bat – like the ones which roost in the Centre itself.

I went back out via the gift shop, stopping to pick up a pack of Kendal Mint Cake. Not actually a Moors delicacy but a Lake District one, this mint and sugar confectionary is sold all over the North and is hugely popular as walker’s trail rations – so much so, in fact, that a batch of it went all the way to the summit of Mount Everest, in the pockets of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on the first ever successful ascent of the mountain in 1953. And indeed Romney’s, who supplied the Everest expedition, are still making the stuff today:

Romney's Kendal mint cake

Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake.

Back in Danby, I stopped off for a quick drink in the Duke of Wellington; a classic English rural pub, complete with Land Rover on the forecourt and a selection of antlers on the walls. In this case the antlers were more interesting than usual, though, as the set over the fire in the front room belonged to an elk shot in 1996 by the royal hunt of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden:

Elk antlers

The royal elk.

Window view

The view from my seat in the “Duke”.

The Duke of Wellington pub

The Duke of Wellington – exterior.

As I was the only person in there, it didn’t take too long for me to end up chatting with the barman, who it turned out was also a former Castleton resident (this is another lovely thing about the Moors, everyone invariably turns out to be from somewhere relevant and to know someone you’ve already met), for half an hour or so before walking back home. Not bad for a completely accidental day out, even if the weather was on the turn as I got back:

Clouds over Castleton

Clouds gathering over Castleton.

Next time I go this way, though, I’m planning something a little more challenging: a hike to the top of nearby Beacon Hill to visit Danby Beacon. Stay tuned…

Beacon Hill road

The road not taken (this time): the lonely and windswept way up to the Beacon.

Welcome

Welcome, dear reader, to the Moors.

The Moors, you say? What are the Moors? The Moors are the North York Moors National Park: home to the largest single area of heather moorland in England. 554 square miles of windswept uplands and broad valleys, this region has been inhabited by humans since around 8,000 BCE, and hardly a landscape in Britain is richer in traces of prehistoric monuments, burial mounds and settlements. The Romans marched across these hills; the Vikings came here, and found themselves at home. Over the centuries, the Moors and their people have evolved and adapted to each other, creating a from a wild and seemingly barren landscape a uniquely beautiful environment, rich in history and heritage and fiercely beloved by both locals and visitors. On a first encounter, the North York Moors seem bleak, harsh and lonely; but once you learn to love them, nowhere in the world is their equal.

I grew up in the softer, greener countryside of Yorkshire’s West Riding, but my parents always brought me for trips and holidays to what I then knew only as “the Moors”, and the place got into my blood. Wind and sky, heather and dry-stone wall were the face of Heaven to me before I was old enough to know any different, and while I’ve wandered up and down the country in my life, I always, always wanted to live on the Moors. So in late 2013, when the chance came up to rent a house in the Moors village of Castleton, I jumped at it. I moved here with my housemate from Whitby, the Yorkshire coast town famous for Captain Cook and Count Dracula alike, to a beautiful old house at the top of Castleton that used to be one-half of a pub called the Buck Inn. I have a view over Danby Low Moor out of my living room window that takes my breath away, and an attic study whose window faces up Danby Dale for an equally beautiful alternative. I have a garden of my own and sheep wandering past my front gate. I have lovely neighbours. I have the whole rich history and culture of this amazing place to explore at will; and best of all, I have the wind and sun and sky and thousands of acres of wild heather, my beloved Moors, outside for the asking every time I step out of my front door.

And I realised: I am too lucky, and all of this is too beautiful, to keep it to myself.

This blog is, then, a chronicle of a Yorkshire life, by a Yorkshire lass. Here you’ll find posts about nature, wildlife, walks, local history, heritage and folklore. You’ll also find recipes, DIY and gardening tips, and crafts both traditional and modern, plus a few tips and suggestions in case you should have the good luck to visit the Moors yourself. So, please: sit thee down, have a cup of tea, and welcome.

Welcome to the Moors.