Monthly Archives: May 2021

A Few Steps Along the Slippery Slope

I’ve always found the walking activities linked with Probus the best part of being a Probusite. The talks are good, the social activities (when it was possible to have some) terrific, but to get to know fellow members well, walking takes a lot of beating.
It inevitably takes a long time, unless we start jogging groups, so you get a lot of opportunity to really exchange views with friends.
The arrangements have changed over the years. Early on in our group’s history, BC (before Clayden) there was a monthly walk – attended apparently by 30 or 40 members! It must have been quite difficult to ‘police’, with that many walkers – but I’m sure it was fun. A small subset of friends who tended to live close to each other in Harrogate (nicknamed the Mallinson Mafia) also used to walk every week, as well, often far into the Dales.

PM (post Mafia), another small subset went on a somewhat longer walk each month in addition to the regular ‘official’ walks. The defining characteristic of this group was their interest in post-walk food. Walks tended to centre on a place that provided excellent lunches, with the actual walks starting to feel a little bit ‘secondary’ to fit in with the high quality catering. This group started to call itself ‘elite’, though this was more to do with the food than with the difficulty of the walks, or the distance from Harrogate!
During Covid the regular monthly walks stopped for a while (they’ve just started up again).

The ‘elite’ group started walking every week, though for a long time we were denied the pleasure of eating at pubs because of social distancing rules. It seems strange to recall that, a year ago at the height of the pandemic in the UK, there was concern about touching hard surfaces like stiles and gates as we passed over and through them. It subsequently seems that this was an over-reaction borne out of fear, but with hindsight it now seems faintly ridiculous.

Our latest ‘elite’ walk this week took us into foreign territory (Lancashire) – but no Covid documentation was required! And the pub we were headed for after the walk enabled us to eat in comfort (even luxury) outside but under cover.

However I need to report a disturbing trend. We started the walk with an English breakfast bun (as well as finishing the walk with a slap-up lunch!) So that’s an extension of the focusing on food, rather than on the exercise (actually requiring more exercise to retain our trim and lean bodies!)
Another recent development is the flourishing of a ‘legless walk’ lunch, arranged at least twice a year at a Harrogate restaurant, where NO walking is involved. Instead there is a somewhat spurious ‘focus’ on birthdays. One of the youngsters, Tim, is celebrating a significant birthday with such a small number that I can’t recall ever having been that young. Another member, Bill, purports to be of such an advanced age that I can’t imagine ever reaching that number!

But heyho, any excuse for a lovely lunch with friends – and the walking bit has been removed almost entirely, being deposited at the restaurant by car, and staggering back on foot after ‘lunch’.

I think I can see the future of Probus walking…

I envisage a monthly trip to ‘Yo Sushi’, or similar, with a variety of food moving past us at eye level on a conveyor belt, to a projected moving backdrop of the Yorkshire Dales, so we appear to be moving while still being seated!

Maybe not such a bad future?

The Mole of Edge Hill, Liverpool

We had another cracking Zoom talk this week – Tom Stapledon talking about the life of Joseph Williamson (1769’ 1840).

What a man. Starting in poverty, working hard as an apprentice in a local company, marrying the owner’s daughter, becoming the owner, moving the company into property development, and as a result becoming a millionaire.
But the most interesting part of his story was his obsession with digging beneath his, and other people’s properties – secretly! Originally it seemed that this was a way to get sandstone for building yet more properties, but he soon had to support the properties from falling into his own holes by building underground arches in sandstone and brick.

As the cavernous spaces he opened up extended further and further, he got skilled craftsmen to make elegant, extravagant and beautiful underground structures, at their deepest sixty feet underground! With the poverty of the times, in the post Napoleonic war era, his obsession enabled him to become a philanthropist, giving work to local people to develop his frantic digging endeavours.

I’d like to say that it all ended well, but there isn’t always a happy ending, is there!

With the growth of railways, Edge Hill became a route into today’s Lime Street station, and constructing the railway route resulted in the discovery, and filling, of some of his mole work. The area he had built his houses in went down-market. His underground spaces were used for what we would call fly-tipping today.

The ‘Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels’ has spent the last few years emptying the underground spaces of this infill, exposing them to a new generation’s eyes.

They offer guided tours of the amazing work underground, which would be fascinating to visit. Looking at the ladders used to descend into Williamson’s vision, however, I’m not too sure….