Author Archives: David Clayden

Back Again – Face to Face!

It’s been a long hard slog – being locked down in a variety of ways for the last 18 months or so. But, as of August 4th, Probus meetings are back on the calendar!

Of course we’ve had Probus talks via Zoom during lockdown – the last as recently as July 21st when Cathy Shelbourne talked to us about Admiral Lord Nelson’s life. Nelson seemed to have had a life that wasn’t all a barrel of laughs – in fact his ships apparently always carried a barrel full of sherry or some spirit so that his body could be preserved if he died in battle far away from home.  This puts the phrase ‘being in a pickle’ in a whole new light!

Such talks will be all the more powerful for seeing the speaker ‘in the flesh’ rather than on a screen alongside small video images of all the members ‘present’ – though I found it very reassuring to ‘see’ other members regularly. Our next talk is next week , so find out about it from our website! 14.00 for 14.30!

There have also been weekly Probus ‘chats’ via Zoom, that have proved to be a mixed bag. Sometimes we’ve had a large group of members signing in, a few times we’ve struggled to get a quorum. The topics have been eclectic (I’ve always wanted to use that word, now I’ve discovered what it means). There’ve been occasions when it’s been hard to get a word in edgeways, others (few!) when we’ve struggled to get any substantive discussion going. Topics have included health (obviously including Covid), local and national politics, archaeology, how to mend a printer, what’s the best local restaurant these days and some fascinating anecdotes from many of our members’ lives. Zoom has suited some, put others off. I’m sure we’ll be glad to get back together, face to face.

Of course the walking groups have been active throughout. Sometimes it’s been limited numbers permitted walking, then limited numbers eating (not meal sizes!), but it’s been a lifeline for many of us – to get out of the house, experience the fresh air and the even fresher company! The walks, of course are continuing apace, with a walk of some sort every week nowadays!

It’ll feel strange, meeting at the clubhouse in The Oatlands again. I hope that lots of members will feel able and confident enough to meet up again.

A few, of course, have sadly departed this world during the pandemic, and we haven’t been able to say goodbye properly to them. Others have become more restricted in their abilities to move about and communicate with others. However I hope that many of us will be willing and able to come back towards the old ‘normal’, enjoying face to face conversations with friends, interesting and stimulating talks, and a cup of tea and a biscuit, again.

See you there.

Don’t forget that our social program is starting up too! Next event is the Summer Lunch at the Oakdale Golf Club on August 25th.

See you there too!

A Bridge too Far? Not for Dumas’ Heroes!

Another week, another walk! This time it’s a re-visit to the Washburn Valley, last seen BC, by four musketeers of the ERDG.

A discouraging start with conflicting weather forecasts suggesting either a wet morning, clearing up after lunch (Boo!), or a clear morning, deteriorating about lunchtime (Hurray!).

The actuality was good, with the highlights (or me) being:

The solid navigational advice provided by David P, our resident SPAD (advice but no responsibility)

Seeing a flock of Herdwick sheep – don’t they look lovely, and so hardy!

A stroll over the fields downhill towards the valley – fabulous views to get absorbed in

A few boggy streams to navigate – a leap here, a stumble there, a slightly damp boot resulting

The lovely Dob Park packhorse bridge, 17th century apparently, with some repairs in the 18th century – an example apparently followed by Harrogate Borough Council with our roads?

A true boggy bit – the first time for quite a while – when it’s touch and go whether the boot comes out or just the leg

An outstandingly messy looking farm area, with ancient, recent and modern farm equipment scattered around, steadily rusting

A Wild West encounter with a farmhand on a quad bike attempting to round up and direct a group of frisky heifers. The result, a close encounter of the herd kind, with the ‘cowboy’ commenting that ‘we must have had our lives flash in front of our eyes’. Yes!

An energy-sapping climb uphill across the largest field you’ve ever seen….

A flock of different sheep, Texels I believe, busy munching the grass, as they do

Finally, an excellent lunch at Timble Inn – a tasty and light fish platter, to round off a lovely morning.

Lambs and Buttercups

Another month – another couple of walks.

An excellent walk in the Timble area led by Bill. With Bill you know that any walk is likely to have a bit of Roman road in it. Usually there’s no sign of the Roman road, except on the same OS maps that identify paths with green dots where a path is presumed to exist but there is no physical sign of it.

It’s all part of the fun of walking/exploring, however many reconnoitres you do in advance. This walk was exceptional in that at no point did I feel lost! Admittedly I had taken part in recces of this walk, but Bill always introduces new variants (he’s very up to date in his terminology!), possibly employing a complete switch of direction, to confuse anyone not paying attention.

The weather was wonderful, the terrain we covered was wonderfully diverse, even including the crossing of a stream on wobbly stones (always a favourite of the group). Highlights included the discovery of a dead ewe (with sad lamb by her side), the reporting of this to the local farmer and meeting someone on our walk who by his manners ‘owned’ the land we were walking on, and who could out-talk Lothar (that’s a first!)

The Timble Inn provided an excellent lunch too. Whole experience rated 9/10 (I have to reserve the tenth point for an out of this world experience).

Our second walk was from Linton, and was a gentle ramble through beautiful countryside. At this point I have to declare that I led this walk, having reccied it with my daughter a few days earlier. She declared it to be an excellent walk, probably because it wasn’t too long and we completed the circle in good time (enough time to get an icecream in Grassington.) OK, to be completely honest we did take the wrong path at one point and then had to walk along a busy (Sunday) road for a few hundred metres, instead of going across beautiful fields.

On the day, however, I had a cunning plan. I found the ‘missing’ path on the aerial map of What could go wrong.

Very little in fact, I just came out on the busy road a hundred metres beyond the correct position (so a shorter walk back along that road..) A definite improvement.

The walk itself was superb. Nature turned up in force – glorious sunshine, fields full of buttercups , and assorted other wild flowers that could be seen from right over the valley (what is the collective term for buttercups I wonder? a churn?)

There was little time pressure, so we walked at a gentle pace. We took the many stiles (particularly the giant vertical ‘A ‘ framed wooden stile/ladder) with few insults uttered to the walk leader.

The lunch at The Fountaine Inn was superb, as usual, and the pub was not crammed with people (good for us, less so for the pub owners).

I have to give the whole experience of this walk a 10/10 mark – for that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that only a walk leader can discern!

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….

Re-opening after a Short Intermission!

A small group of friends from Probus, some of us who have continued walking a deux during CP (Covid Pandemic), have now emerged, blinking, into the semi – light as restrictions have been relaxed a bit. In the last couple of weeks the new (up to six) sized groups have restarted our dining-related walks in the lovely countryside around Harrogate.

We started with a fairly relaxing ramble a few weeks ago from Ripley to Hampsthwaite and back, in fine weather but with no possibility of pub lunch afterwards, as we ‘jumped the gun’ before outdoor eating was possible. We did however see the daffodils in Ripley Castle grounds, and enjoyed the unusual experience of meeting, with Bill, his own dog, Abbie, coming the other way – being walked by his daughters!

Our next weekly walk featured North Rigton, a lovely walk with gorgeous views of the Wharfe Valley as well as glimpses of half-remembered stretches of countryside that I’m sure I’ve seen before, but can’t quite remember where! The Piece of Resistance, as the Franglais might say, was a real pub meal, outside in the sun (but with a touch of cool breeze) – our first such meal for a lo-ong while.

The most recent walk was yesterday, starting from central Darley (if Darley can be said to have a centre), proceeding up the southern side of the valley (and then down again), crossing the river Nidd (twice) and a lovely flattish stretch of flood plain back to the cars.

Signpost to … where..?

This was a heavily pre recce’d walk, so what could go wrong?

In the recce’s Bill and I failed to notice this rather prominent signpost that told us exactly where we should walk (but we didn’t notice it!). Hence another (incomplete) recce.

The power of the group while doing the real walk became evident.

Steve proved adept at spotting virtually invisible stiles hidden in stone walls from some distance away, while David P as usual was able to nudge us gently back onto the right course when we erred (ever so slightly…) – providing (excellent) advice but not taking the ultimate responsibility for the choice of route.

Bill’s normally reliable sighting of yellow direction arrows was not at its impeccable best, but we made it round the six mile course in approximately twice the time foreseen by the OS map (but perfectly timed for a splendid lunch at The Station Hotel, Birstwith).

With the inclusion of Bob at the lunch table we had a glimpse of the past social gatherings BC (before Covid) – superb food, very pleasant surroundings and fabulous company.

Things are really getting back to ‘Normal’ ? Even the weather!

Next week David G is leading a walk in the Dacre Banks area. Yippee!

And another pub meal! Double yippee!

Time Passing

That’s a possibly depressing title, but I’m really thinking about the twice a year changing of the clocks that’s happening in the UK this weekend.

Well, I’m assuming it’s happening North of the Border too, though it would seem to be an ideal candidate for the Scottish Government to strike a pose about – perhaps changing the date of the Equinox which it relates to, because the sun revolves around Scotland rather than England?

Maybe the Scots might consider making a half hour modification, rather than the full hour forward that the rest of the UK is going to do. I suppose, though, that this might produce a rash of amusing jokes about ‘having to put your clocks back when visiting Scotland, but hey ho!

I seem to recall that farmers in Northern Scotland didn’t like having to abide by the current rule, because they had to have their breakfast and their tea in the darkness, what with them being closer to the North Pole than the rest of the UK.

Well, personally I find this clock changing stuff very confusing. I know it’s only a couple of times of the year, and once it’s done it’s done – but one of the delights of living a long life is the ability, or even requirement, to be annoyed and confused – and happily register those thoughts.

The first dilemma is whether to put clocks forward or back. I have now learnt the mantra ‘Spring forward, Fall Back’, so this has now ceased to be a real problem.

Another issue is when you wake up on the Sunday after the clocks have changed, it’s difficult to know the real time because;

you’ve remembered to change some clocks (but which ones?),

others have changed automatically (how clever!) and

some clocks you’ve forgotten all about.

For some reason the clock in the car is usually a problem for a few days – though I’m sure that somewhere in ‘The Settings’ there’s a way of automating this.

I have given up on the cooker and the microwave, because every time there’s a brief power outage they need resetting, and it’s very complicated…

A final thing for me is my daily contact using Facetime with my sister in Western Australia. They don’t change their clocks at all, but if our clocks go forward an hour, does that mean she will have to ring me an hour earlier (for her) to keep the call at the same time for me? Or perhaps it’s an hour later?

Answers on a postcard please!

Zen and the Art of Front Garden Maintenance

You may remember the well-known book of a similar name by Robert Pirsig in 1974 on motorcycle maintenance rather than garden maintenance. In fact the book was about ‘quality’ in life and all our actions, defined during a long cross-USA trip of discovery on motorcycles with his son.
I found it a fascinating book – very ‘70s, I suppose – but I loved it. He had such style in his writing and the American landscape has always fascinated me.

Well, back to Covid, and I got myself a project (naturally) for Autumn and Winter last year, as part of the lockdown. I changed our small front garden completely from a conventional (very mossy) lawn into a Zen Japanese-ish garden.

I’ve always thought that front gardens were a bit of a waste of space, apart from keeping the front door away from the pavement! However I have seen some lovely Japanese gardens while abroad (Vancouver, Chicago and Sydney come to mind), and though these were a lot larger than my little garden, a DVD of Monty Don in Japan clinched it for me. I just had to try.

So, with a bit of gentle mockery from the Probus walking group, where the conversation moved away from Tim and his privet hedge towards my travails in designing (a bit of a strong word for what went on) and constructing the garden.

It is meant to recreate a stream (in gravel) with river boulders (Cornish granite!) and a lot of bamboos and evergreen bushes forming a backdrop (Plus a couple of the mandatory miniature Acer trees)
The ‘icing on the cake’ is the use of a special Japanese rake to form the image of the flow of the stream and some eddies around the rocks. [The rake is just there for the photo!]

Yes I know it’s not quite finished yet – with a bit more planting and certainly some tidying up of gravel…. I’m not sure I’ve got it right, but it was creative fun at a time when there wasn’t (isn’t) much about. I do change the ‘stream’ from time to time (it’s meant to be very therapeutic).

It has revolutionised my relationship with the neighbours and passers-by. Most often-asked questions are: Is it a Japanese garden? [Yes – ish!] and: ‘Do you rake it every day?’ [No!].

Unspoken questions include ‘Have you lost your tiny mind! [No?]

Spring is Sprung

‘Spring is sprung, the grass is riz
I wonder where the boidies is
They say the boid is on the wing
But that’s absoid, the wing is on the boid!’

You may recall this piece of nonsense verse from your childhood. I certainly do, and according to Google it was first written by an author called Anonymous. A very productive person over the centuries!

Well it does feel a bit spring-like at the moment, with flowers coming up, some rain coming down (today) and a mixture of cold winds and sunny showers. Mind you, that description could fit any month, these days of global warming (or should it be global warning?)

The weather, and particularly the lighter mornings we are starting to experience, have put a bit of a spring in everyone’s step. No longer a focus on Covid and its restrictions to our lives (though a number of Probus friends are getting their second Covid jabs this week), but a looking forward to better times.

Spring, Summer, meeting people face to face, BBQs, even holidays seem possible – soon, maybe …..

On our regular walk, last week, Bill and I were fortunate enough to come across thousands of starlings (possibly the correct terminology is ‘a shedload of starlings?’) roosting on a large bare tree in a field. It was like a scene from that Hitchcock film, to the extent of the birds emitting a low pitch chattering noise, the origin of which was difficult to locate for a while – I thought it might be a swarm of bees buzzing – very disturbing.
Then they took off all together, merged with another flock (Oh, that’s the word) and started doing their wonderful ‘murmuration’ displays, right above us. Very impressive, all the more so because of it being unexpected.
I had thought these displays were pre-roosting shows, but this was 11am. Maybe even the birds are confused at this time of year!

And the trout fishing season starts on March 25th, so all will be well with the world again (or at least a great improvement)

Horses and Hard work

Excellent talk yesterday from David Alred about Nidderdale.
Obviously it helps that so many members are familiar with our local jewel of a valley. Well, this was a comprehensively researched set of photos from the local inhabitants of old photos that they had in the family. (black and white, or sepia, of course!)

It was so impressive that David talked in depth about the villages where the photos were taken, but also about the individuals and the scene. It was really personalised work – a fantastic project.

I was struck by the differences between their rural life in the 1880s to 1950 period concerned and our own lives today.

So many people were involved in manual work – really manual work, digging, scything, shearing, mining, quarry work. The photos of work in the 1990s on constructing Gouthwaite reservoir showed the hundreds of navvies hard at work with hand shovels, and even in the 1920s construction of Scar reservoir mechanical support from cranes and trains looked a bit of a Health and Safety nightmare!

Horses were everywhere, often with carts or wagons behind! Those lovely Shire horses that we nowadays see (before Covid) only at The Yorkshire Show were busy pulling massive loads of loose hay (no hay bales then) or massive pipes to conduct the water from the reservoirs being built. Not the few smart, elegant racehorses or leisure horses we see today in the valley

I never knew that Pateley Bridge had two railway stations then, linking so many tiny railway stations on the way to Harrogate (7 services each way every day!) and up the valley to the reservoirs.

With the arrival of the railways and of early cars (solid wheels – no power steering either!) villagers were able to get out a bit more, and you sense that this started the loss of this small community life, with its fairs and feasts and close local relationships.

The faces of the valley folk were expressive. Many weatherworn, craggy faces, full of experience and resolve.

I wonder how I would have coped if I had lived in those times? Not very well, I suspect. We’re all so relatively pampered now – office work, living in warm houses, machines to do all the work (though we do have to know how to get them to do what we want them to). Perhaps the next change will be all the machines doing the work, with us kept on as ‘machine minders’, with no real role other than to collect our digital paycheck. Would that be so bad?

A wonderful look back – not so far, really – to a simpler, harder life, but with many benefits that we only recognise when we lose them!