Friday 29 January 2016

A Place In The Country

Work, the weather and other commitments have prevented me 
getting out and about recently.
So here's a selection of photos taken during the last year or so
showing some of the cottages to be found in the villages 
that I've walked or cycled through.
Some are beautifully maintained while others need a little help.

Take care.

Saturday 23 January 2016

Would You Care For This Dance?

"Would you care for this dance?"  
It might mean "Would you like to join me for this dance?" If you've seen me dancing you probably wouldn't, but that's not what I mean.
It might mean "Would you enjoy watching this dance?" I hope you will.
Or it might mean "Should we look after this dance and preserve it for future generations?" And that is precisely what the people you're about to witness are trying to do.


I've been scouring YouTube looking for an exponent of Northern Clog Dancing and can find none more entertaining than the wonderful Hannah James. In addition to her dancing she's also a lovely singer of traditional songs and also plays the accordion. Here she is dancing with the wonderfully-named band Kerfuffle....

video by Peter Simmonds
(lots of folk music from festivals)

Now if you come from the Appalachians you may think that this is your tradition, but it's actually been danced in the north of England since Columbus was setting sail for the west. At around that time clogs changed from all-wooden shoes to leather shoes with wooden soles and these proved to be ideal for "kicking up a racket". The tradition got a big boost during the Industrial Revolution when miners took it up as a cheap form of entertainment. Champion dancers made it on to the stage of the music halls, though in those days all the dancers were men.


Just when you think you've seen every kind of dance there is to see, up pops the gently absurdity of The Britannia Coconut Dancers from Bacup. Every Easter Saturday they dance their way across Bacup, as they have done for generations, taking in several pubs and a stop for lunch. They wear wooden discs upon their hands, knees and midriff which may or may not be the origin of the "coconut" part of the name. The dance and their get-up is just about indescribable so it's just as well that you can watch them for yourselves....

video by Rob Jukes
(a wide variety of videos with quite a few featuring dancing)

Their blacked-up faces have caused all kinds of controversy in these politically-correct times. One day someone will notice that they also wear skirts and turbans too! And what about those clogs? Won't that upset the Dutch?


No, not that kind of rapper.
These rappers are short "swords" with handles on either end and are used in the north-east of England for dancing. In recent years the dancing has become faster and there are more and more female dance teams - and they keep getting younger! Here are the remarkable Sheffield Steel......  

video by Joachim Dreiman
(for lots more videos of Sheffield Steel)

Whew! Quite how they do that without tying themselves in knots is beyond me!

Take care.

Tuesday 19 January 2016

A Traveller Went Walking

The Pub On The Crossroads

In the village of Kennett, on the Cambridgeshire-Suffolk border, stands the magnificent early Sixteenth-century Bell Inn. Along with just about every other old coaching inn around here it claims to have been a favourite haunt of the highwayman Dick Turpin. It's a wonder he was ever sober enough to have robbed anyone! The building also boasts several ghosts including one of an artist who, unsurprisingly perhaps, inhabits one of the bars.

But it was neither ghosts nor highwaymen that attracted my attention as I walked past last summer, but its very individual pub sign which sits, most unusually, on the path outside. 

The Hero Of Ware

"Where do you live?"

Many small towns have erected statues to their most famous past inhabitants, be they writers, artists, politicians, revolutionaries or reformers. But for the millennium celebrations the town of Ware in Hertfordshire unveiled "The Maltmaker" by Jill Tweed which commemorates all the men of the town who worked in the malt-making industry from 1339 to 1994. 

Malt is produced by soaking barley so that it germinates, then halting the process by drying it with hot air. The malted grain can then be used in the brewing of beer. The town was ideally situated for the task, being in the midst of good agricultural land and also on the River Lea, along which the malted grain could easily be transported to the big breweries in London.

The Foundation of Prosperity

The area around Cambridge's railway station is being redeveloped and is increasingly inhabited by students, young executives who commute to London by train, and doctors who work at the nearby Addenbrooke's Hospital. But in amongst the modern brick and paving there stands this reminder of a time of hardship and physical toil. For this rough iron post was the base of a 5 ton crane used for unloading coal and other goods in the railway yards. Although nothing else remains of the equipment it is known that it was constructed in the late 19th century and that the winding gear was operated entirely by hand. Hard graft.

People Of Today

Close by are these steel discs set in the pavement. They are etched from drawings done by the artist, Dryden Goodwin, of people seen in the streets of Cambridge.

Royal Ciphers

One of the perks of being monarch of this fair land is that one gets to have ones initials on every postbox erected in the land during ones reign. While George V and our present Queen are represented by the simple capital letters GR and EIIR respectively, others have more intricate, ornamental ciphers, none more elegant than Victoria's VR (for the Latinised nameVictoria Regina). Those of Edward VIII are the rarest of all since he quickly traded the honour of having his initials on postboxes for the charms of Mrs Wallis Simpson.

Britannia Quells The Flames

High on the wall of a thatched cottage I spotted this copper plate representing Britannia with the word COUNTY underneath. It's another fire insurance plaque of the kind which I wrote about in an earlier post. They were erected to show that the owner had paid his or her fire insurance premium and, if the house caught fire, the fire brigade should attempt to put the fire out. Without such a plaque they might let the house burn down. In reality they seldom did, especially in rural areas where everybody knew their neighbour.

A Fish With Feet !

The owners of modern or refurbished pubs often go out of their way to invent ridiculous but memorable names for their premises. But, as is often the case, tradition is often stranger than invention: Ladies and gentlemen, I present the Eel's Foot at Eastbridge in Suffolk - an excellent hostelry for anyone who likes a good pint and is not too fussy about apostrophes. 

Eels were once an important food throughout East Anglia, especially in the Fens and other low-lying areas rich with water-courses. In order to dine on eels you must first catch them and one tried and tested method was to use long, narrow tubes made of wickerwork. These were baited then submerged in the stream and left overnight. Once the eel had entered, backward facing spikes prevented its escape. These traps were known locally as "boots". A more fanciful story is that it is a derived from Neale's Boot, after a medieval priest who trapped the Devil in his boot and tossed him into the river. The Devil escaped disguised as an eel! 

Take care.

Thursday 14 January 2016

So Far So Good

A couple of days ago I went for one of my frequent rambles
in and around the little wood near my home.
It was all very wet, very mild and very green.
Since then though it's begun to get colder and it starts to feel wintry.

Take care.

Tuesday 12 January 2016

Shelter From The Storm

I mentioned last time that as I walked into the Essex village of Arkesden the rain began falling and I made my way towards the parish church.

I pushed the door and it creaked open. Once my eyes had adjusted to the gloom I found myself in a pleasant enough village church so I slipped off my muddy boots and padded around in my socks to see what treasures the building might contain. A few months ago I let slip that I'm not a great fan of some of the memorials to the good and great that you find in some churches. Maybe somebody up there heard this and directed me to St Mary The Virgin at Arkesden which has a wide variety of monuments. 

The oldest, but by no means the most obvious, is this brass of a military man, commemorating the life of one Richard Fox and is dated 1439. It's around 3 feet (1m) long and is placed on the floor in the SE corner of the nave. It was probably once on the top of an altar tomb.

Also dating from the Fifteenth Century is this effigy of a rather pious-looking individual who turns out to be John Croxby, the vicar here from 1453 to 1456. He went on to other parishes and it's been suggested that the memorial might have been brought here from elsewhere.

But the memorial that you really can't miss because it's a) enormous and b) partly painted bright red, is the tomb of Richard and Mary Cutte, both of whom departed this life in the 1590s.

The painting of the figures is charmingly naive and the representation of their faces is somewhat crude, but it is the sheer bulk of the figures, particularly that of Richard lying there in his full armour that impresses. The details of their lives and ancestry is written on the canopy above.....

You'll notice that punctuation and spelling was rather erratic back in those days - "thoyden boys" is in fact the village of Theydon Bois (pronounced like the name "Boyce").

Richard and Mary look understandably horrified to find out that they're dead!

Around the base of the tomb are figures representing their children. Some are missing their heads and, predictably, this has been blamed on Cromwell's men. However, whatever else you might say about Cromwell's troops, they were usually pretty thorough; it seems unlikely that they would have left two figures untouched. I think it's more likely to be just accidental damage; the two undamaged figures being saved by the ruffs around their necks.

In the tower, rather more hidden than it ought to be, is this elegant memorial to John Withers and his wife (1692). It was once attributed to Roubilliac, though it's since been found to be the work of Edward Pierce, who was an assistant to Sir Christopher Wren for many years.

Underneath there are some finely-carved skulls which were often a feature of such work at this time, but now look distinctly ghoulish.

Coming to more modern times, the lovely stained glass above, depicting The Sower and The Reaper, is dedicated to the memory of Charles Beadle who died in 1925 at the age of 90.

But it'd stopped raining so I pulled my boots on in order to explore the rest of the village and then continue my walk.

Take care.

Sunday 10 January 2016

Boots Required.

It's been wet for the last few weeks but on Friday I felt I needed to get out for a good long walk. It's going to be muddy; paths may be flooded; it might not be very pretty. Are you coming or what?

Let's start from Barley. It's an attractive village with some interesting old buildings but we're looking for a little path near the church which will take us southwards towards Shaftenhoe End. As I expected there's plenty of mud around and I slithered and squelched my way across a meadow; two steps forward, a slide to the side and half a step back!

I idly found myself wondering if anyone's ever thought they were going on honeymoon to Bali, only to find themselves, too late, in Barley! No, that would be too cruel. Mind you, the Fox and Hounds does a very tasty Sausage and Mash.

The path I was following delivered me safely into the churchyard at Little Chishill. The church was firmly locked, as it usually seems to be, so I contented myself with a look around the outside. Villages are a bit confusing around here; not only is there a Great and Little Chishill, but there's also a Chrishall, as well as a big house called Chiswick Hall, in the area. 

From the church I had to take to the roads for a while, though there was hardly any traffic and it was so quiet that I could easily hear any approaching cars. Is it just me or is that a particularly beautifully-shaped tree?

And that is certainly a lovely little pond. So far the weather has been chilly but otherwise fine for walking.

Gypsy Lane Farm turned out to be rather less attractive than its name suggests. But then I was off the road and sloshing across muddy fields. I was reminded of Old Bert's comment many years ago when we were working together on the farm: during a spell of  very wet weather, we heard on the radio that on the mountains of Scotland it was likely to fall as snow, "Arrr", said Bert, "round 'ere it just falls as mud!"

In the distance I spotted a herd of deer. These would be wild (more accurately "introduced, escaped from captivity and now feral") Fallow Deer, their coats darker than their parkland cousins. They seem to thrive in this open country. 

Deciding to wear my waterproof "farmyard boots" this morning was one of my better decisions. In places the paths have become temporary watercourses and when a few horses and motorbikes have passed that way...

It's no good you sitting there smugly, reading this with your coffee and biscuits; we're in this together, you know!

Again at Langley, just like at Little Chishill, the path ran directly to a gate at the back of the churchyard. This is not mere coincidence; many of our English footpaths came into being through people from outlying farms making their way to the nearest church every Sunday. The church at Langley is like a child's drawing; just the basic components very simply arranged with no decoration or elaboration. It would be nice to see inside one day, but it's another one that always seems to be locked tight.

Right next to the church, exactly where it's supposed to be is an old farmhouse with half-timbered walls and a sturdy chimney-stack.

A little further along stands the Baptist Chapel. Not the most wonderful architecture you'll ever see but so typical of the non-conformist chapels that sprang up in nearly every village around here in the nineteenth century. There must have been an awful lot of Methodists and Baptists in those days.

From Langley to Arkesden the path follows field edges, farm tracks and even a short section of old Roman Road - believe it or not that's it above, crossing a stream by means of a ford. 

I hope you've got your waterproof boots on too, because we're going through!

The rain came just as I reached the village of Arkesden, a beautiful place despite having a name more suited to a northern industrial town. I took shelter in the parish church (unlocked, fortunately) until the shower passed. I'll show you what's inside in the next post.

Then it was up on to the "highlands" once more for the final leg of the journey to Wendens Ambo and the train for home.

Once upon a time there was Great Wenden and Little Wenden, which in time became one village - Wendens Ambo, "ambo" being the Latin word for "both", so that the exotic-sounding name, Wendens Ambo, just means "both Wendens". It, or perhaps more correctly they, has (or have) some picturesque corners.

When they were building a railway station to serve Saffron Walden they couldn't get nearer to the town than Wendens Ambo, so ended up building a station in this tiny place. But then they decided to call the station "Audley End", which is at least half a mile nearer to Saffron Walden. Whatever they call it it's still in Wendens Ambo!

Walker's Log:

    Start: Barley, Hertfordshire 09.35

    End: Wendens Ambo, Essex 14.40
    Distance walked: 10 miles (16 Km).
    Notable birds: Buzzard, Skylark, a few Fieldfares, flock of Yellowhammers. Mistle Thrush singing and Woodpecker hammering.
    Mammals: herd of 45 Fallow Deer.
    Churches: Barley, Little Chishill, Langley, Arkesden, Wendens Ambo.

    People with dogs: 0
    Dogs with people: 0
    Dog taking itself for a walk: 1
    People just enjoying a walk: 0
    Cyclists: 2
    Horse riders: 0

Take care.