The stuff of legend

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Today was a Bank Holiday in England and once the torrential rain stopped at lunchtime Sigoth and I ventured out into the spring sunshine, swathed against the elements and blinking in the light like newly hatched chicks. Of course, the obvious destination in these circumstances was some ruined buildings, so we headed for Kirkham Priory.

Scrambling about medieval piles of masonry is a bit of a treat for us. We like the peacefulness of the site, the texture of the stone, the play of shapes and light, the stories in the guide books, the humorous gargoyles and the fresh air. The average ancient monument has a tendency to be in rather decent countryside and the abbeys and priories of Yorkshire, of which there are many, are often in absolutely stunning locations.

Kirkham Priory is next to the railway line so I have a fondness for it based on the fact that whenever I see it on the train heading east I know I am nearly home. Between the railway and the masonry is the River Derwent, the famously perverse waterway that enjoys notoriety for its meandering path away from the sea; it rises in the North Yorkshire Moors, heads towards the coast then swerves away at the last moment before heading inland until it is seduced into the Ouse, swept to the Humber and finally meets its oceanic destiny near Hull. And serve it right too, the cheeky scamp.

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At Kirkham there is a pretty bridge and an old level crossing from the days when there was a station, pre-Beeching. Now it’s just an English Heritage ticket office and plenty of buoyant moss underfoot as you clamber up and down the site. The buildings are split level due to the slope of the ground, with the cloister starting at ground level at one end and finishing on the first floor at the other.

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The church is sadly diminished but once had a gorgeous Rose Window, which you have to try to imagine as you gaze at the stub of stone that remains.

Once we had finished wandering around we called back in at the ticket office which also operates a small shop, and bought a guide to Wharram Percy. This is a deserted medieval village not too far from Kirkham, and free to enter so long as you don’t mind squelching down a muddy slope about a quarter of a mile, with a number of kissing gates and a field of cows and calves to negotiate before you find yourself on a windy hillside looking at a roofless 18th century church, a mill pond and some lines in the ground representing medieval longhouses. I don’t mind at all, as you might guess.

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I know the site fairly well, but it’s always good to visit. Last time I went it was covered in snow; today there were new shoots on the hawthorn all the way down the path. I like a bit of hawthorn. In the pagan tree calendar the rune “Huath” represents May and the hawthorn, which in turn can be interpreted as the symbol of the triple goddess – maiden, mother and crone. At this time of year she gets her Maiden face on, with white blossom and green shoots. The path to the village runs between lines of hawthorn for most of its length, and in the sunshine you walk through a tunnel of green and white, surrounded by birdsong, sheltered from the wind and nurtured by romantic thoughts of Spring, the cycle of life and new beginnings, while wondering if this is what it felt like to return to the village along ancient trackways a thousand years ago. At least you do if you are EBL. You don’t worry about whether the path is the same in fact; it makes sense in a story about life in the Yorkshire Wolds throughout the millennia.

Increasingly fanciful, I wondered if we might appear as ghosts to the people of the past as we flitted between the rooms of their buildings, dressed strangely and clutching demonic devices. Were we the fairy folk of legends, or the devils that haunted good Christians in those days, just as some people claim to see ghosts of Roman soldiers wading along Hadrian’s Wall? Might the glimpses of people from the past in fact be the reflections of their glimpses of us, which they interpreted as things that go bump in the night? Are we in fact the stuff of legend?

I think the sunshine was making me giddy. I’m not used to it at this time of year and the winter has been so very dull.

I hope you are having sunshine and widly romantic daydreams, or at least a good ghost story.

Namaste.

 

 

 

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Journey

On Saturday I took the train to Leeds to see my female Offspring and spend a day together. I was pleased to do this for a number of reasons: firstly, to spend a day together; secondly, I have not had enough energy to do any such thing for a long time so it was great to be able to even think of doing it; thirdly, Leeds has some marvellous shops and I was looking forward to investigating the markets for wool and Waterstones for books. Inevitably I was mugged by literature but I resisted the overtures of the yarn, enticing and entangling though it was, by reminding myself sternly that I already have at least three bags full of wool (yes sir!) waiting to be knitted up into jumpers. I did compromise and buy a pattern though.

It was the journey itself that stayed in my mind though. I try and listen to music while I am travelling on order to relax and to drown out the wittering that goes on among the other travellers. I really don’t need to hear all about what she said to him or he said to her, or why it’s not fair that stuff happens. On Saturday there was a particularly loud and slightly creepy old bloke across the aisle from me, chatting up young women. He would start off fairly innocuously by asking them where they were going and showing a genial interest, then telling them he was off to see trams somewhere or other, thus appearing harmlessly eccentric. Everyone loves a harmless eccentric. It always ended up with him asking if they liked leather though, which amused everyone concerned. He really was pretty harmless.

So I played my music and turned it up a little and watched the scenery slide by outside. It was bright and sunny, and the stretch of track we were travelling over wound its way through the Howardian Hills and into the Vale of York, then on to Leeds through some rather attractive countryside. Really it’s one of the nicest routes there is. It’s not quite the Ribble Valley Viaduct but it’s a good second, especially around Kirkham Abbey.

The train runs past Kirkham Abbey between York and Malton

The train runs past Kirkham Abbey between York and Malton

With the music playing it felt like I was in a film, in the establishing shots at the beginning. Here was EBL living in Yorkshire, which looked rather pleasant and had a peaceful background track to make you feel calm and probably to lull you into a false sense of security. I watch too many murderous television programmes to assume we were in for a heart-warming tale of everyday folk. It amused me to work out who in the carriage were the undercover policemen (almost certainly the creepy bloke, but who else?). I thought back to the Due South episode on the train of singing Mounties (All the Queen’s Horses, S2:E14, in case you were interested) and wondered if a handsome young Canadian was about to appear with a guitar and start off a round of “Scarborough Fair”. I hoped he wouldn’t be the one that was killed. Then I hoped I wasn’t either.

Outside the scenery continued unabated. I decided to pay it a bit more attention as no Mounties were forthcoming.

Unabated scenery sans Mounties. This was taken on a sunnier day than Saturday

It was one of those days when the clouds were in layers. Do you know what I mean? There were some that were very low and dark and rather wispy. Just above them was some which were a bit more grey but substantial, then above those there were the big boys, full of rain and menace. There weren’t enough of them to imply definite rain, just enough to suggest it was a strong possibility at some point in the not-too-distant future. I regretted not bringing an umbrella then remembered it was pretty windy and revised my regrets to not bringing my hat.

The layers of cloud made me think of the Earth wearing veils, like Salome, and dancing her dance, not for the head of the Baptist, but for the sheer joy of being a living biosphere in a thinly populated universe. Around the Sun she weaves, inflaming the star to greater heat no doubt, and keeping our home warm and bright and growing. It’s a careful balance she maintains, keeping her orbit in that Goldilocks Zone of not too hot and not too cold, so I hope she finds the joy of the dance is as endless and sustaining as we find the light of the Sun.

By the time the train wheezed into Leeds it was much more dull and chilly outside, and I was already working out which was the nearest good coffee shop to the station. Female Offspring was waiting at the barriers and we set off for coffee, croissants and retail mayhem. The creepy guy was not far behind me, but we lost him in the crowds. I hope he had a good day too.

How was your weekend?

Namaste