Monday, February 13, 2006

Postcard from the Yorkshire Dales (3)

Saturday, 11th February 2006

It is snowing. Not only that, it is settling. Big, white, fluffy pieces of snow fluttering down as though God were silently shaking an icing sieve over the landscape.

Snow was not forecast; at least not in the version I read. Not that it matters. Adaptability is what counts here. A walk had been planned. However, that is no longer a sensible option; at least not at present. The Yorkshire Fell Rescue Services can do without me setting up an impromptu exercise for them.

It is on days like this that the cosiness of a cottage comes very much into its own. Suddenly, we are given the best possible excuse for laziness. The Daily Telegraph and all its various sections will be digested in a leisurely fashion and, following that, I will continue working. Working, that is, in the sense of reading a copy of Alan Bennett’s Untold Stories, about which I have been asked to write a review. Indeed, it is a hard life.

* * *
Two hours later, the promise of an indolent day had receded to being nothing more than a wistful notion as the snow stopped falling and the sky lightened. A walk it had to be and thus we found ourselves in the Strid car park at Bolton Abbey.

The Bolton Abbey Estate, the Yorkshire seat of the Duke & Duchess of Devonshire, has a beauty of its own at any time of year. However, my favourite time is the period between autumn and spring, when the valley is almost deserted. The summer sees hoards of families descend on the estate in order to enjoy picnicking on the banks of the river Wharf, whilst their children play in the clear waters. However, at this time of year the footpaths are more or less our own and we can enjoy the peace and tranquillity.

The descent through the woodland towards the Strid was accompanied by the regular high-pitched ‘see-too’ call of coal tits as they flitted through the tops of the trees. Here and there, the monotony of leafless branches was broken by a profusion of catkins, as the common hazel trees come into flower during February. Occasionally, small streams broke the slopes of the wooded hills, the water tumbling down from the fells toward the river below. From one or two early vantage points, the ruins of Barden Tower, a 15th century hunting lodge, could be seen nestling between the trees higher up the valley.

In the region of the Strid, a series of water-filled potholes within the limestone rock, the Wharf is an alluring mix of rushing water between stretches of calm, almost unbroken pools. Anglers fishing for trout are a common sight here during the summer.

It was William Carr, Rector of the parish in 1810, who persuaded the 6th Duke of Devonshire to open Strid Wood to the public. We owe much to the Rector’s endeavours, for it is a beautiful area. Whilst we stood looking down upon the scene, the clouds broke, exposing a patch of blue sky above us. Through this the sun, as though a spotlight straight from Heaven, illuminated the immediate area of trees, rock and water with a gentle lemon yellow light. Such a scene renders the valley’s attraction to the likes of the artists Landseer and Turner, and the poet, Wordsworth, very understandable.

Our walk continued from the Strid to an area known as Sandholme, a large open, grassy space next to the river, a popular area at any time of year. From here we crossed the river via a footbridge and walked back along the opposite bank of the Wharf and ultimately through pastureland to the Victorian aqueduct; a splendid castellated bridge which serves to hide the pipe carrying water from the reservoirs at the top of Nidderdale to the cities of West Yorkshire. Crossing the aqueduct, we regained the western bank and returned, though a wooded conservation area, to Strid Wood and thence home to tea and toast.

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