Thursday, 11 December 2014

Collected Wood

This evening, as usual now, we are burning mostly well-seasoned ash from Yealand Storrs, a little holly too, some dried-enough beech from that big tree blown down last winter in Greaves Park, and the occasional oddments of driftwood from the tideline on the east side of the Lune between Aldcliffe and Conder Green. With Johnny Howlingale striding past, the draught on the stove is turned to almost nothing, but we're warm.

And a friend has just phoned - it's his wife's aunt who owns the woodland where we get our wonderful ash - and he's given me persistent giggles by describing how last week he went to that same woodland on his own with his bow saw (because he's scared reluctant to use his chainsaw when he's on his own), and had carefully chosen an "oak" with "no branches and therefore dead", he said, only to find that it wasn't dead at all. Except it is now, because he cut right through it. So we'll get it next winter. No less daft is the fact that I know which tree he's talking about - and it's a wych elm.

Wych means pliant, referring to branches, from the Old English wic(e) from a Germanic root meaning bend, related to weak. (And then you remember your German O level and that weich means soft). Those old folks knew their wood allright though, didn't they.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Shouldering the Responsibility

On Monday I did a couple of hours chainsawing. I'm right-handed. Chainsaws are designed for right-handed people and most of the weight of the saw is taken by the left arm. The saw isn't a big one, but I thought it felt unusually heavy.

Tuesday I woke with a thickly nasty pain high up in my left shoulder, but I cycled twistedly to the hospital for pre-arranged physio on one ankle and two Achilles tendons. The physiotherapist, he's a good lad, isn't allowed to do anything for my shoulder because it hasn't been referred by a GP, but he put a heat bag on it and worked away on my good blessed feet. He said, If the shoulder's no better, go and see your GP.

I cycled twistedly home, took the maximum Ibuprofen and for most of the day I walked around with a hot water bottle parroting on my shoulder.

On Wednesday morning my shoulder was still bad, but a 2 week waiting list is quite a disincentive when it comes to making appointments with doctors, isn't it, so I didn't phone the surgery. Instead, about to prepare Joanne's breakfast, I thundered down the cellar steps to the freezer. At full gallop I stepped onto the cellar floor to find that between it and my foot was a door hinge grubbed out of the ashes in the woodstove on the previous day and carelessly chucked there by me. Three rusty screws were pointing upwards. It would be true to say I whimpered as I pulled out the screws, dug out the stupid frozen sausages and hauled myself back up the stairs, grabbed two plasters, hauled myself up the next stairs splishing not insignificant dots of blood all over the place, grabbed two wet wipes and asked my nurse to make it all better.

Mid morning my mate called in. He was on his way back from the hospital. He has been through some awful hard times recently and was in much worse shape than I am, so I agreed to go wooding with him today. But this morning he has phoned and postponed. Phew.

Today I have phoned my healer friend - he makes house calls, and the call taker at the doctor's, and my friend Nick, the osteopath. He's the only one who has returned my call so this afternoon I'll drive 10 miles to Garstang (of all places), and he'll fix the shoulder. Things are starting to look up. Perhaps the GP will even call me back......

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Burrow Heights, Lancaster, UK

For quite a few years I've been able to see Burrow Heights from our house, but only recently allowed myself to consider that it has a flat top and "shoulders". I walked there today for the first time hoping it would look like an Iron Age hillfort, or a Roman marching camp, but it's surely too close to the Roman city of Lancaster to be a marching camp, unless, and like any other army they did this, it's a practice camp, i.e. the result of a training exercise.

The Roman road once ran close by and in 1981 a Roman coin was found on the northern slope of Burrow Heights. Lancashire County Council's website has a good shot of crop marks indicating the line of the Roman road just along by the junction with Burrow Heights Lane to the south of Burrow Heights.

It's tempting to consider that Burrow Road, instead of swinging down to the railway bridge (such bridges being very rare in Roman times), might have continued north from the sharp corner through a now blocked gateway and connected to Uggle Lane. (Uggle? Norse?).

BUT (1) it's Burrow Heights Lane that swings NW as if to connect through towards Aldcliffe Road (where in 2005 the Roman cavalryman's memorial stone was found).

BUT (2) a map dated 1675 shows, in its top lh corner, the main road following a line not very different to today's from "Gaugut" to "Scotford" (Galgate to Scotforth), via Highland Brow and Burrow Road.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

August in England

What an August day. It was as gloomy as November from morning 'til mid afternoon when sun returned hot and stinging through dustless air to be replaced within two hours by a rolling thunder review, middling heavy rain and forks of enlightenment. But that was five minutes ago and now the rain has stopped though it still rushes along gullies and whooshes over grids blocked years ago by neglectful privatised so-called maintenance.

And next day put me in mind of Blaenau Ffestiniog in the rain. Blaenau Ffestiniog where clouds are low and no less black than its broken-backed slate heaps, and in the corner of your eye whole mountains wait to slide and swerve down to sea level propelled by vast fountains of gloom, the frightful might of Snowdonia, and a general god awful grimness. Blaenau Ffestioniog where there are no spaces between raindrops and the only light available glints across the slab-staggering ground dimly reflecting from one sharp angle to the next.

Excepting the mid Atlantic, there is nowhere wetter in the world.

And so I reminded myself this morning when looking out on a sodding wet Lancashire.

Mood music:

Friday, 25 July 2014

The Things You Remember

In the early '80s there were two gay Cumbrian trawlermen who had a smart top floor flat with a great view north over The Mount and further on across the bay to Cumbria.

But imagine being a gay fisherman in Fleetwood! For a town to be more insular it would have to be on an island.

These blokes were rock hard and the big one was scarred by a snapped wire hawser right across his back. They had great stories including one slowly delivered about being trapped in an air pocket inside an upturned boat and almost no oxygen left and rolling a cig from your baccy tin and lighting it anyway. Then hearing the knocking of the rescuers on the hull.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

I Scored Four Courgettes, Man.

Every season we're in happens to be my favourite, but yesterday summer scored particularly high when we stopped at a garden gate in Scorton, (Lancs, UK), to buy 15 dahlias for £1.00 (dropped into an open topped honesty bucket), and I collected 4 courgettes marked "excess produce - help yourself". I've converted them into 1ltr of very good spicy courgette soup, more than half of which has already gone.

In our much too small garden there's a rhubarb forest next to the compost bin. I've just stewed some rhubarb - our third cropping this year - and now I find I'm beginning to wear the determined-to-look-unexcited grin of all those allotmenteers who at this time of year and right on through to October walk past our house laden with good quality, probably organic, and almost entirely free food.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Mynydd Illtud

For about six months in 1966-67 our family of four lived at the Mountain Centre on Mynydd Illtyd (nowadays "Illtud"), near Brecon, (Powys, Wales). For the first three months we were in a 1950s immobile but beautiful Bedford coach with our lolloping labrador puppy, then we overwintered in two rooms while our furniture went mouldy in the basement which a couple of years later became the cafe. (During this period of almost-homelessness my dad threatened to resign from his new job as national park warden if he received no help with housing. Tudor Watkins, our Labour MP, liked my dad and used his contacts to direct us towards a converted Congregational chapel coming onto the market at Cantref. My parents paid too much for it - £6,000).

Meanwhile I went to Libanus school and rode my new Dawes bike all over the common and out to Forest Lodge along Sarn Helen. At Forest Lodge lived Arwyn and by some extraordinary coincidence it was Arwyn's brother, David who in 1975 mentored me when I was doing a teaching practice in Milnthorpe, Cumbria. On other afternoons I would cycle out of school five miles uphill on the A470 all the way to The Storey Arms enticed by a school friend, Corrinne. school.

Back on the common Idwal Jones' mum at Llanilltyd farm used to give us Welsh cakes and, before the cattle grids came, children used to open the farm gates with a hand stuck out for sixpence from the cars that came to the Mountain Centre carrying 12,000 visitors on a fine weekend.

Across from the farm and encircled by pine trees was Llanilltyd church - now long since demolished. And Llanilltyd farmhouse looks unoccupied and the barns and yards little used, if at all.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Farming Today

Did you find recently yourself even briefly caught up in the romance of two farmers driving tractors towing 30 tonne trailers loaded with four days of almost certainly imported cattle "fodder" at 30mph for 230 miles from Yorkshire down the A roads to Somerset to give their loads to more farmers making unnecessary use of the wrong kind of land so as to grow cows that can be killed at 30 months, although they can live for 30 years, so that you can eat those cows, or they can be "milked" so that you can unnecessarily drink their babies' food, before those babies are made into meat, and their mothers too?

Doo doo-bee doo.

Ferraris are red,
Bugattis are blue,
I'd rather a campervan.......,

Doo doo-bee doo.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

▶ Ren Kyst - got a spare afternoon? - YouTube

Ren Kyst = Clean Coast (but, of course!).

Last week in Scotland and a few days ago on the tidal Lune in Lancashire I was sickened to see so much plastic litter.

▶ Ren Kyst - got a spare afternoon? - YouTube

Walking on Warton Crag

Today I walked up Warton Crag from the car park at the east end of Crag Road, (Warton, Lancs., UK). After calling at the Carnforth bookshop for two OS maps of Galloway ordered from (only £5.71 each for new 1:25000) and, as predicted, getting distracted by the secondhand books, yes, and buying a guide to Bulgaria, I'd left it late, late enough to watch a wall of dark rain advancing determinedly from the south. I saw Heysham's hideous nuclear power stations fade out of view and, shortly afterwards, Ingleborough too. Then, halfway up the hill, I heard a distant call and thought perhaps a cow's calf had been taken away, but the bellow had come from a locomotive at Steamtown in Carnforth.

My inexpensive, unpretentious, totally waterproof jacket, a new, dark orange 1970s-style Helly Hansen, not (yet) a smelly Helly, was causing me to steam as I approached the beacon on the summit. At 163m (535ft) Warton Crag is only a hill, but my route from the south had brought me over several false summits formed by concentric rings of limestone crag. The rock was slippery, more so in the rain, and even more so with wet clay stuck to well-worn boots.

To the northeast are two incomplete, but very large, long, curving, defensive walls of limestone rocks covered in moss so thick it would look at home in a rainforest. Before slip-sliding southwards I came upon my second disappointment (the first was bringing my camera without its memory card): great amounts of well-seasoned ash wood, much of it in one metre-ish lengths and quite portable, if only I'd brought my 1970s-style external-framed backpack (bought 2-3 years ago very cheaply on eBay), and some good strong straps. There is no better burning wood than ash.

And talking of burning, as I arrived home in Lancaster, a real steam locomotive was chuffing up the West Coast main line towards...., well, Carnforth probably.