In August company

The month has been a busy one for me with rather too much driving (on our increasingly busy roads) and a great deal of consuming rather good food etc.

First off was a special trip to the exceptional Countryfile Live event at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.  This coincided with the arrival of my summer migrant into Heathrow on a hot sunlit morning just a few days into the new month.  We headed west but only a short distance to a favourite camp site at Benson, south of Oxford.  I’ve written about the site before (see July 2015) so I’ll spare you the details; suffice to say it’s a great venue alongside the river, having a super on-site restaurant and is reasonably quiet – excepting the very busy main road and some early awakening wood pigeons.  The weather stayed hot for the whole four days of our visit and the sunsets sitting by the river enjoying well cooked and presented food, was just what was needed after my hectic schedule over the last several months.

DSCF5040 The Thames is quite a boating river for those of you that are not familiar with the old girl and as it was a weekend there were dozens of motor cruisers and Canadian type canoes drifting quietly by.

The main point in staying on in England rather than returning to Wales – the normal desire for my American visitor, “Get me to Wales asap !”-was to attend the inaugural Countryfile show in the great parkland of Blenheim Palace.  We headed there on the Friday morning and were thus saved the enormous traffic queues of the weekend.  I had been to Blenheim, at least into the grounds, many years ago and was excited to get to have a good look around.  The event was much larger than I had anticipated an spread itself over several hundred acres of the parkland and fields.

The range of foods to eat, drinks to absorb, clothes to ponder (all far too posh and expensive for the likes of we two wallers !) and equipment to behold was staggering.  The relief for me was that it was so spread out I didn’t have to concern myself with ‘below eye-level’ babies in push chairs (‘strollers’ as I kept getting reminded !) which generally catch me out at such affairs.  Wandering through crowds looking to left or right at the next stall or interesting exhibit often results in me crashing into, over, down onto, a little person being carelessly perambulated through the crowds by an equally unattentive mother !  At least the weather meant I wasn’t forever guarding my eyes against the prongs of low opening umbrellas !

Blenheim Palace ha ha

Ha Ha ! It’s Blenheim with the REAL ha ha doing exactly what it should; fooling the folks in’t big house that there is no stock barrier for the eye to be insulted by, just acres and acres (about six thousand if I remember correctly) of open countryside – slightly manipulated by one Capability Brown of course !)

 

Of course I was drawn inexorably to the vintage displays; nice old threshing machines and smoke belching tractors of nineteen fifties vintage and earlier.  There were also several countryside craft displays and I was particularly taken with the man making traditionsl lip work bee-hives.  These ‘skeps’ are woven from straw which was readily available in the great arable areas of the countryside of middle England.  Skeps are linked with dry stone walling as the warm walls were an excellent place to site such an artificial hive, in a recess built into the walls called bee-boles.

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Traditional ‘lip work’ making bee skeps from straw. This excellent craftsman was a real delight to see at the Countryfile live show.

I could ramble on and on about what there was, I could upload dozens of interesting photographs but I’m mindful of time and space – I’m rapidly running out of megabites on this here blog of mine so time to move on.

Work has to be done in order to enjoy leisure, does it not?  Leisure time and enjoying hobbies or visiting places is only relevant when balanced with work, in all its many guises.  For myself and Miss Carolina that meant getting back to one of our most favourite landscapes and putting stiffening muscles into exercise mode heaving stone.

Collapsed wall being stripped out by a 'Lady waller' from the Carolinas

Whitney Brown of Whitney Brownstone walling from South Carolina bends to the task of stripping out a massive collapse on an old Welsh upland wall.

A rather extensive collapse of a wall I had worked on three years ago – thankfully NOT a section I had repaired ! – needed our attention.  It was back near our old haunt on Rhogo hill near Llandrindod Wells where in 2014 we had restored a large historic enclosure.  I left missie to deal with the large collapse, after all she is young, fit and needs to hone her skills …. whilst I, being old and decrepit, worked on a couple of incomplete sections a little further along.  A good long hard day is just what the body and soul requires after a long weekend of indulgence.  A good long hard day it proved to be too, but despite aching muscles, the satisfaction of finishing the job and standing back looking at the view and enjoying the sense of well-being was more than rewarding.  Well done both of us !

Completed section of wall by Whitney Brown

A very satisfied young ‘Lady waller’ (as she keeps reminding me !)

 

Very soon another journey was required, this time to the far north, well as far as York anyway.  I am soon to be engaged in another project of canal restoration this time on the old canal east of York in the flat lands around Pocklington.  A recon trip was needed to assess both the work and the domestic arrangements.  Hell, it’s a long journey.  Luckily my navigator thinks nothing of a five hour drive, though even she was unimpressed with just how few miles is achievable in that time on our congested road network.  A ‘should have been’ five hour trip ended in a seven hour drive but due to expert time analysis on my part we arrived at the designated canal side RV at exactly the allotted time.

What a superb piece of our industrial archaeology this quiet section of inland waterway is.  It runs from the river Derwent near and east of York to just south of the small town of Pocklington.  Thus far only a short section has been restored to navigable quality but, as with the Cotswold canal I mentioned a short while back, big plans are afoot to re-open the whole length.

Pocklington canal at Melbourne

This photograph shows the current condition of much of the stretch from Melbourne to the canal head near Pocklington; silted up and clogged with reed mace, water lilies and silt it is no good for boating but my oh my is it a real haven for nature.  The importance of the canal and its immediate environs is reflected in the designation of much of it as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  I shall be reporting on the progress of the six week project to carry out some small part of the restoration over the coming weeks.

Finally to end this rather late August post I want to report my very first (“can that be true?” I hear you ask) to the great city of York.  On a very wet Friday in mid month I and my travelling companion took ourselves, via the rather excellent ‘Park & Ride’ facility, into the centre of that ancient city.  Our target was the National Railway Museum – me being the son of a footplate man on the Great Western Railway working out of Pontypool Roads through the wartime years and well into the fifties – and Miss Carolina just being a nut about all things big and steam driven !  What a fabulous place, what visions of the great British engineering prowess of the previous two centuries and what wonderful machines to be seen.  Astonishingly there is no entry fee ! Can you believe it !? And there was me thinking only Wales had free museums, well done England !

Mallard at York museum

What is there to say about this engine ?  Mallard the Magnificent’ says it all.  What a wonderful experience to wander those halls and get right up close to the great edifices of British engineering.

From there we headed into the Yorkshire Dales and the wonder that is the walled landscape of that beautiful part of Yorkshire.  Alas the rain did its usual and despite struggling up through Wharfedale and over to Hawes we were forced to retreat south. We passed-by another great railway heritage site at Ribble head where the viaduct, even on a sodden Saturday in August, was crowded with worshippers.  None of the great three peaks  could be seen so a quick but staggeringly good lunch in a little garden centre in Settle ended our invasion and we set of for home.  This time it only took another seven hours …. Do I need a faster chariot ?   Or maybe I’m just acting my age …… Yes, another damnable birthday has arrived !  Catch you all again soon.  And a VERY HEARTFELT thank you to my reader who answered my plea in an early version of this post – Diolch yn Fawr Ade !

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This poor old bull had also had enough of the rain, backed into a wall high on the pass out of Wharfedale to Hawes, he totally ignored our passing but I’m sure I heard him mutter …..

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