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!


The Battlefield

With the great improvement in the weather this week, I have taken advantage of the warmer, even sunnier, weather to do a bit of gardening.

I wouldn’t claim to be a very good gardener, especially where some tasks are concerned, but it is lovely getting out in the (fresh) air, and seeing the house from the outside!

I’ve decided, right or wrong, that it’s time to prune roses and some other plants.

When you look at books on pruning, as I do, because I have no in depth knowledge or experience of the activity – they talk about ideal times to prune the various plants, as well as the way to do it.

As for timing, the roses seem to require Late Winter for their haircut (I guess mine will be late Spring), whereas the Tree Peony I have needs to be pruned in early Spring!

Being pragmatic, I’ve decided that this week must be late Winter, and as it’s quite warm it’s also early Spring.

Anyway, I notice that the Council has had its rose bushes pruned since autumn, and they are always good to look at.

I have a poor track record with pruning roses, on a couple of accounts.

  • They are so damned prickly that I feel that I’m waging a war with them, rather than giving them a short back and sides. It’s a blood bath, not just a sap bath! I ended up with lacerated lower arms before I was satisfied with the cut, and I managed to fill the brown bin with the cut bits, making it so overfull that I had to apply a lot of pressure to get the lid closed. Probably they won’t come out of the bin when they are upended by the bin lorry – and I’ll have to cut them into smaller sections, entailing another bloodbath.
    • Yes of course I should have worn more appropriate clothing – though I did buy some new tough gloves, enabling my hands to escape any damage. Unfortunately they didn’t have long enough wrist protection – hence the major scratches I endured.
  • Having returned to the house after the battle, and reviewed my work,  I now feel that I should have been a bit more radical. The standard roses still have quite a big head (as do I), and could do with a bit more taken off. So it looks like I need to have a part 2 of the battle, but surely it can’t be as brutal for me?

We’ll see!

PS The Peony was fine – didn’t even put up a fight!

A Walk on the Wild Side!

The Probus walks have started up again – in a reduced and safe form. With the change in our national status from level 4 to level 3.5, up to six people are now allowed to gather together, suitably socially distanced.

A bit of discussion amongst the ‘elite’ walking group about what is possible, when we could do it, and how it would work – with particular emphasis on there being no pub lunch at the end of a walk! The Elite Rambling and Dining Group has sadly lost the D in our title, at least for a while!

So, yesterday an intrepid three of us did a walk, dubbed ‘the Phoenix walk’, starting from Conistone in Upper Wharfedale. It was a circular walk through spectacular scenery, and in glorious weather. We walked up ‘The Dib’, an intriguing steep limestone gorge that must have been a river bed in the distant past, and then along the high moor Dales Way at the top of the valley side, passing extensive limestone pavements, exotic limestone buttresses (have you ever seen the Conistone Pie – it’s not something you’d eat!), a Lime Kiln and old (iron age?) settlements.

Lunch, rather than being in a cosy pub was us sitting on limestone blocks, eating sandwiches and looking at the lush valley near Threshfield. The return half of the walk, just outside a large wood, took us on a contoured trail, alongside magnificent cliffs and on a switchback roller-coaster of a trail back to Conistone.

You had to be there to appreciate it! Bill usually does the descriptions of the views that we can’t see because of the murky conditions for many of our walks, but this time the blue sky and the big views were clear for us all to see. 5 or 6 miles of pure heaven!

Maybe our luck is changing!

What counts for Normal round here?

As Good As It Gets!

I’ve been very lazy – but maybe you have too in these 4 weeks of lockdown (so far)?

I haven’t been doing this blog (or diary, if you prefer) for the last four weeks, just at the time it might possibly be most valuable to members to do it. I’m not sure if I have an ‘audience’ for these words, or not, but if I had I may well have lost them by now. Still, here goes – for my sanity if not yours!

I certainly have had a lot of time on my hands – and I’ve been spending most of it in the house and garden. I’ve only been out for essential shopping. I can’t use the excuse that ‘I’ve been busy so haven’t got around to ….’, but I’d claim that the general air of despondency about the Covid-19 pandemic, and our progress against it has de-motivated me somewhat. It’s difficult to keep up spirits (without downing some!)

I guess that lots of Probus folk now have a very different daily timetable from the pre Covid-19 version. I’ve certainly missed our Probus meetings, especially chatting to Probus friends every couple of weeks. I’ve especially missed the Probus walks – having a good walk in the countryside with a small group of friends for an extended chat and the wonderful group feeling as you sit down for a good lunch after a fine walk is so important in my schedule – and it all seems much more than 4 weeks ago. Of course this wonderful mostly warm and sunny weather makes the loss so much more painful.

On the credit side:

  • My garden has never looked better. I’ve spent so much time in it during the first two weeks that I ran out of jobs to do in it (well, at least those jobs that am intending to do!)
  • There is a weekly Skype session on Wednesday evenings for half a dozen frustrated Probus walkers. Lots of fun, where we keep in contact, share some jokes and videos, and tell each other where you can get non-essential items such as garden plants. Contact our secretary David P if you’d like to join in – you’d be welcome
  • I’ve started taking a more regular daily exercise – a brisk walk over the Stray, round town centre and back again. I need to be fit enough to join the Probus walks when they are permitted!
A Virtually Empty Harrogate

God knows when we’ll all be ‘liberated’ – according to the papers today the over 70s may be in this state for another year (if a suitable vaccine is developed, tested, distributed in time).

I think I’ll take it one week at a time …. Keep safe!


Well it’s a funny old time for Probus members, and for all the rest of the population. We’re not just talking about the weather now, or Brexit – the main topic of conversation has become the Coronavirus

It seems a bit of a ‘false dawn’ at the moment, with nothing concrete happening on the local health front, but nothing else apart from the virus featuring on the TV and the Web. 

I gather that before WW2 ( and perhaps before WW1 as well) actually kicked off there was a lot of speculation about whether there was going to be a war. Later this moved to ‘it’ll all be over by Christmas’, and then people dug in for the long haul that it turned out to be.

Hopefully this virus will be on the milder end of predictions, won’t last too long, or recur in subsequent years – but it does seem to have been accepted that if it doesn’t kill a lot of people in the UK it will still cause a lot of misery and disruption for quite a time.

Probus has already had to cancel one of our meetings, and our AGM, due next week, has now been deferred until further notice. The committee is discussing what actions to take about future activities – meetings, walks and events like our planned trip to Tennants on April 29th, as well as the intended follow up monthly visits to The Coach and Horses for agreeable lunches. It’s difficult to sit far enough apart in a Pub for virus safety and still carry on a good conversation!

With Probus forming an important part of many of our lives, the loss of regular activities with fellow members would badly diminish our social lives – though the last thing that we’d want is to put any of our friends in any danger.

It’s tough to realise that we are the main ‘at risk’ group – likely to get a dangerous dose if we do get exposed to the little ******* er.

Ironically it’s our own family and friends that are the big risk to our health – so that makes taking care of the grandchildren a bit tricky! If this goes on for more than a few months we’ll be in the holiday season, and may have to cancel / defer any trips that we’ve got booked.

One of my friends at a Health Club I go to regularly (ironically that’ll now be a likely source of infection rather than of health if the virus gets established!) refers jokingly to the weekly schedule of retired people as being a ’seven day weekend’.

What are we going to do if we’re cut off from others for the sake of our health? Even the football and cricket are being cancelled! Whoa is me/us!

I suppose we should be grateful that this hasn’t had a serious impact on us so far – there are so many individuals and families already affected badly. However I feel a bit better having got that off my chest. Hope you’re OK!