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Christmas (De)Lights

Yes, I know it’s coming up to Christmas, even if the storm whatever it’s called that’s howling outside seems to think it’s October or November!

My wife insisted that it’s time for a real Christmas tree to go up in the Living Room. I agree, though it’s a tough ask to expect a Christmas tree to last all December, and a bit of January without shedding all its needles just when it’s supposed to look at it best. I’m a bit of a grouch, aren’t I?

Once the tree’s up, then the fun starts. Dressing a Tree wasn’t part of my training as a child, I don’t think. Maybe I would do bits of that job with/for my parents, but certainly not plan or design anything.

I went into Science at secondary school, rather than Arts, so I just don’t know what looks good on a tree, and what doesn’t – or most importantly why. Getting the tree standing straight is a major ask – dressing it attractively is a different issue entirely.

I recall a couple of years ago (before Covid) grand-daughter Lucy, on seeing my efforts with our christmas tree, removed all the tinselly strings that I had loaded the tree with and replaced them in a beautiful horizontal manner that made the tree look professional. I was really grateful, and overawed!

A significant part of the attractiveness of a tree involves the lights. These days they are apparently foolproof. In my day if one light failed, none of them worked (though I did have to throw away one ancient set of lights this year that I had stored from a previous Christmas, and that now didn’t work) That’s a very modern approach by me – though not very planet-saving.

One thing I was taught by my father, and significantly failed to learn, was that to do a task well, one has to do the preparation/foundation stuff carefully. With our many sets of lights, I’m afraid that I stuffed them into a box, as they came off last year’s tree – not exactly ‘organised’.

As the photo below shows, this does mean that next year (i.e. this one) the start point of the new arrangement involves a preparatory task that I should have done last year – getting the lights into a linear order. There seemed to be a few masses of wires clumped together rather like those virus clumps of branches and leaves that you see on diseased trees.

I adopted a strategy, well several strategies in sequence after each one failed, to tease out the lines of lights. It took a while, and several times I thought that there might not be a solution. I managed to make some of the tangles smaller, and even got the odd one to disappear entirely.

Falling back on my scientific training I tried to recall String Theory, which I’m sure would have helped if I put the effort in to try to understand it. Eventually, Yorkshire grit and determination, supported by the incredible loss of face I’d experience if I failed,  I got it sorted – and then put the lights up (with no apparent plan)

What do you think? Not bad, Eh? Well at least it’s done.

Now all I’ve got to do is see if I can get some, or better, all, of the lights to stop flashing in the multitude of sequences at different frequencies – otherwise I’ll have to watch TV in another room – It’ll drive me mad…

Happy Christmas!

Christmas Capers – Count on it!

The Club’s Christmas Lunch at the Oakdale Golf Club turned out to be quite an event.

The Probus Club’s Summer lunch had been very successful, but no-one knew how members would feel about venturing out in the current uncertainty about Covid. I was thinking that maybe we’d get perhaps thirty folk who were able and willing to join in a social occasion. How wrong I was!

There was a slow start to booking, but registrations for the event (and the all-important food choices) only started coming in as the deadline approached, and still continued after that. I turned up early for the event expecting 49 people, and sure enough the tables were laid out for that number – all seemed sweet.

Then, half an hour to go. And the first few signs of an issue.

One, then two, then four people arrived who I wasn’t expecting! Don’t panic Captain Mainwaring!

It would later turn out that I had bookings from all of them – but had neglected to put them onto my master spreadsheet. What a boo-boo! Apologies are one thing – but what to do about it?

The excellent staff at the golf Club swung into action. Additional chairs at expanded tables. Changes in the kitchen. Drinks are served…

It all went well despite/because of my mistake. There was a fine buzz of conversation around the room.  People seemed to be enjoying themselves, and eventually I joined in too. There’s only so much you can beat yourself up about – I now believe……

The food seemed to be well received. Service was inevitably a bit slow, but the conversation didn’t seem to flag.

Stuart’s ingenious raffle was excellent – finishing off the event in great style and providing great prizes, many of them for the Committee (my mark of a good raffle)

The long lunch set a good target for the upcoming walker’s ‘no walk’ lunch at William & Vic’s this week. The current record is finishing at 4pm from a 12.30 start, so it will take some beating. We like a challenge!

[Webmaster’s note: For more pictures of the event, go to the Photo Galleries page here]

Carry on Walking

While the weather has taken a ‘(winter) turn for the worse, Probus members continue to walk -whatever the weather.
Well, occasionally a walk is deferred (not cancelled), but it takes more than a dose of British weather to beat our plucky lads!

In the last few weeks we have had a deferral and a plucky walk.

Gordon wisely chose to defer a favourite walk from Malham Cove because of the wet conditions earlier in September, but on November 2nd a group of us set off for a long drive.

It did look like we were going to be prevented from taking our walk, as a number of ‘Road Closed’ signs appeared on the only road to Malham Cove. Persevering, like a scene from one of my favourite films ‘Strange Encounters of the Third Kind’, where a ruthless government (lucky we don’t have one of those!) tries to prevent sci-fi mad individuals from accessing a site which aliens were coming to, we progressed against orders and discovered that the road really wasn’t closed (maybe it had been some time?)

On the walk, the streams were very full of beautiful clear, rushing water from previous downpours.

Downstream from Janet’s Foss

A wonderful walk with such a variety of views – moorland, gorges, limestone pavement, Malham Cove itself ….)

After 7.5 miles we happily piled into the local pub for fine food and company.

Ten days later and we were in unknown territory – a new walk touted by the Times, no less, as being one of the best walks in England – and none of us had been on it before!

Avoiding our usual ‘belt and braces’ style, we recklessly decided to do a recce and the walk at the same time, starting at a ‘Druid’s Temple on the Swinton estate, near Ilton.

‘Druid’s Temple’ – well. not really, just a folly from the 1700s to keep the local peasants busy and fed!

Luckily among our number we had:

an experienced walker, user of GPS and consultant to the group

a guy who had found the walk, and some directions, in the sunday paper (me)

an experienced walk co-ordinator (experienced in delegation)

His brother and his lovely old dog called Honey

What could go wrong? Nothing!

Weather conditions – fine. Superb views over lovely countryside. Well marked trail (lots of it part of the Ripon Rowell route) some lovely streams and footbridges. Beech trees shedding their leaves most attractively.

Only towards the end did it all start coming apart a bit.

the drizzle started, seriously. the terrain got a bit more challenging. The legs started feeling a bit more challenged.

But, were we downhearted? Certainly not. Six and a bit miles of pure heaven, topped off after a short drive to Masham with a fine meal at The White Bear.

Great stuff, and we keep doing it! No wonder why! You can’t beat a good stretch in our lovely countryside and a lot of (mostly inconsequential, but always interesting) chat as we walk. Great fellowship, as usual with Probus.

Five Men and a Dog

The adventures of members of the ERDG walking group continue boldly where no men (or dogs) have been before (well not recently).

Desperate to keep up our fitness levels (and to have a good old natter), we continue our weekly walks – this time in the Brearton and Scotton area. I am being a bit vague about the geography because I opted for a start from the latter, when everyone else was agreed that we were meeting at the former! Luckily they are quite near to each other, so that was easily rectified.

Abbie as a puppy, last year
Abbie on this week’s walk!

A new member of the group joined us for the first time, It’s long been rumoured that Abbie would come with us when she (and/or Bill) had been suitable trained – and today was the day! In the meantime she had grown enormously – I don’t know what Bill is feeding her!

It made an amazing difference to the walk, having Abbie with us. We had all the usual chat, plus the discoveries of the natural world around us (a huge flight of geese (a gaggle?) doing an overhead flypast, making more noise with their chattering than we could possibly manage.

Plus we had a new focus of attention.

Bill produced the longest, most luminous green ‘lead’ for Abbie, in order to avoid any strange encounters of the sheep kind.

It meant that Bill, normally our walk leader from the back of the line of walkers, was immediately promoted to the front with Abbie’s need to search out new smells and sounds before the rest of us got there.

With the intricacies of Abbie’s constant movements, – backwards, forwards, sideways – she soon had Bill, in the first instance, doing moves that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Strictly Come Dancing, skipping, twirling, looping, changing hands etc.,

With the length of the lead, we were soon all involved in the strange dances, and the occasional sudden dash by Abbie into a field of maize, or a hedgerow hiding a pheasant, kept us all on our toes.

The piece de resistance of the walk was when Abbie discovered a number of large dead bushes/small trees that she felt she needed to bring along with her. Only the intervention of Uncle Steve, her new best friend, enabled the untangling of the lead and the completion of the excvellent walk.

I think we all loved having Abbie with us, and hope that she becomes a fixture on our walks.

Now I’m off to practice my newly learned dance moves, ready for next week’s walk!

Dob Park Dawdle

This week we had another official Probus walk. You never know how many members will turn up for any given Probus walk, or who it will be, though the work organiser does a grand job in sorting out those who can make it (no hospital appointments, no grandchildren to look after, no late summer/autumn holidays/short breaks that day). The Pub for lunch being duly informed of the numbers coming to eat after the walk, it’s then just a matter of meeting up and setting off.

This walk was lead by me, so I made sure to be there early,

The start of the Dob Park walk is in a strange location, for, as in the well known joke about finding any place, ‘ If I was wanting to go there, I wouldn’t start from here’.

The start was on the Blubberhouses to Otley road, over the moors, and the other side of the Washburn valley from Harrogate. There are at least three possible routes to get there, none of them direct or straightforward, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the full complement of 7 all assembled, and ready to go.

There’s a constant concern for walk organisers about:

how long any walk should be (4 or 5 or as in a recent case 7.5 miles?),

how hilly it should be (pancake flat, gently sloping, a bit up and down or brutal?), and

how many stiles there should be (all aluminium gates, a few regular wooden stiles, some of those stone stiles that go diagonally up and down the sides of a stone wall, or dangerously dilapidated wooden or stone walls to clamber over?)

From a walk organisers point of view, it’s only when you reconnoitre a walk that you find out the mix of these characteristics that exist, and by that time you’ve got an emotional commitment to the walk (having invested time and effort into it), whatever its drawbacks.

Apart for the three characteristics above, there are are other features to consider, and to report to members about: such as the beauty of the views, the degree of muddiness to be expected, the likelihood of having to walk through fields with animals in them, and the time the walk is expected to take.

This last feature has been largely solved through experience, some of it bitter.

Clayden’s Third law of Rambling states that any walk takes 3 hours, however long or difficult it is.

This helps a lot in planning the timing of the pub lunch – possibly, apart from the weather, this being the deadline of greatest importance to walkers (and to publicans).

A new issue has emerged over the time we’ve been walking together – the degree of honesty shown by the walk leader in describing a walk. Increasingly this has been challenged, especially by our President.

How many stiles did you say there would be?

You didn’t say this hill would be so steep, did you?

I wasn’t expecting this amount of mud!

In the Dob Park walk there were many such challenges to my honesty, many of them in an open, even friendly, manner.

As ever, ‘you can’t please everyone all the time’ ( a quote from Abraham Lincoln?)

My version of the walk was:

‘A bracing five mile walk down the side of the Washburn Valley, passing a 1600s hunting lodge, going through some beautiful woods, having a short break at an ancient Packhorse Bridge, a short climb and then an extended flat walk with wonderful views of the countryside, finally climbing gently up the hillside to return to the start point. There were a number (a plurality) of tricky stiles and wall crossings at the beginning, but nothing that strong virile healthy Probus members should fear. The pub meal at the end was exceptional. And it didn’t rain!’

Not everyone on the walk would agree with all that, of course!

The continual banter and discussions we had during the walk made it fun as well as healthy!

Visit To Leyburn – SOLD!

It has been a while since the club has had a social trip, for obvious reasons. As the current club social secretary, I’ve had my feet up since I was ‘appointed’ (everyone else stepped back quicker than I did!) – but my luck was bound to run out at some time!

  • Our walks continued throughout the pandemic, always within the guidelines, and often just in twos.
  • We started face to face regular meetings a while ago, and
  • we had our summer lunch at the Oakdale Golf Club in August as a first ‘mass’ club lunch – a very nice occasion it was too!

But the trip to Tennants Auction centre at Leyburn last week was the first real trip, even if we drove ourselves there rather than hiring a coach as in days gone by. This event was planned for April 2020, by Bill Harrison, but it was worth the wait. It was a glorious warm and sunny day, showing off the Dales, and the Tennants facilities, at their best.

Twenty two of us were greeted in a surprisingly plush centre, and made comfortable with a good cup of coffee and a warm piece of shortbread (I think they must be very experienced in welcoming guests of a certain age!)

We had a very professional introductory talk and slide show from one of the current generation of the Tennants family, their company having developed from simple house and farm sale auctions over four generations through to the current multimillion pound international operation.

The building also had a very nice café, open to all, and I made a mental note to drop in if I was passing. They also use the building as an excellent  location for weddings and other events.

After a lovely lunch, and already convinced of the value of the trip, we were conducted round the many sale-rooms, with separate collections including electrical items (much knob-twisting and ooh-aah-ing from our engineer members), furniture (some huge tables with a dozen chairs round them – very suitable for a Country House, but not really appropriate for my semi!), jewellery, porcelain etc. etc.

We were shown some bottles of ancient and valuable single malt whiskies, but disappointingly the request for tasting glasses was met with a negative response!

There was a vast range, both in type of items and in the quality/obvious cost of items. Interesting items were everywhere, and it was just as well that we weren’t able to bid there and then for the items on view, or it would have been a very costly trip.

I’m pretty certain that all present enjoyed their day, and we’ve kicked off the post-Covid social program in some style.

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?