St Cuthbert’s Way

The Carter-Peel walking group headed for the Scottish borders for the 2019 annual trek and a varied, 70 plus mile, jaunt named after Cuthbert, a 7th-century saint.   He began his religious life where the walk begins,  Melrose Abbey, and ended it where he was first buried on Holy Island, our finishing point.It seems that during his life Cuthbert achieved the rank of Bishop but was made a saint when his coffin was opened some eleven years after his death and his remains were found to be perfectly preserved.

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The Eilden Hills

The walk begins with a bit of a haul, the ascent of the Eilden Hills, three peaks that dominate the skyline for miles around. In fact it was almost the last day before we lost sight of them.  Fortunately we passed over the saddle, but still a stiff climb in strong winds and the only rain of the week.  It was one of those occasions when having stopped to don waterproofs we had to shed them not long afterwards as the sun forced its head through the clouds.
The descent was through woodland and the walk continued through field and valley to reach the banks of the River Tweed and on into St Boswells.  As it was Monday the recommended bookshop with cafe was closed, but we found that walkers were looked after admirably at St Boswells Golf Club (cup of tea £1).
Continuing along the River Tweed the route took us to the Roman Road, Dere Street, and eventually the Harestones Outdoor Centre.  Many walkers had arranged a taxi from here into Jedburgh, but a walk along the main road to Lanton allowed us to catch a bus.

One of the great things about this walk was the people we met. Our constant travelling companions (or so it seemed) were Jesse and Hope Suber, Americans, who told us they regularly come to the UK to enjoy our long distance trails; and later we met Jenny Rankin and her friend, Meg also from America. A former church minister, Jenny was researching for a new venture, an Educational Travel Company based in Massachusetts and in the Border Hotel that night she quizzed us about the various walks we have undertaken over the years. They did consider the walk a pilgrimage.

Day 2 – to Morebattle

A taxi back to Harestones put us back on route and soon we were enjoying the sunshine and views on the  banks of the River Teviot, passing Monteviot House on the way.   The suspension bridge across the water actually wobbled as we walked but the setting was too good to miss a photo opportunity.  The stroll along the river was fabulous but all too soon we were onto quiet metalled roads which made up much of the rest of the day to Morebattle.

Day 3 – to Kirk Yetholm

And now the real hills begin.  The Cheviots! Grubbit Law, 326 metres; Wideopen Hill, 368 metres dropping down slightly to Crookedshaws Hill and down into Yetholm. A short but exhilarating day with sunshine and a shower.

Wideopen Hill was an important stage on the journey.  Not only is it the highest point along the route but is also half way between Melrose and Holy Island.  Time for more photography:

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The view from halfway…at the top of Wideopen Hill
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The view from Wideopen

The weather remained kind for much of the rest of this relatively short day though as we headed down from the hills towards Kirk Yetholm a short sharp shower reminded us how changeable things can be on higher ground. That said the sun shone as we reached the village pub, The Border Hotel, and a welcome pint (or two) before heading for our guest house.

Day 4 – to Wooler

An exciting and important day today because we crossed the border into England. Everyone warned us that the day would start with a tough climb and indeed it did. We followed the Pennine Way for the first mile or so then skirting the hill tops we quickly reached the border.

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England one way, Scotland the other

The path from there to the next point of civilisation, Hethpool, climbed and dropped, climbed and dropped until we finally were in a valley which we followed through the village before heading steeply upwards once more on the long haul to the hill tops. Jesse and Hope had been joined by English friends met on a previous trip and they soon passed us as we crossed heather covered and boggy moorland heading for Wooler. It was blowy on the tops and the path was tricky to follow in places, but as we reached a dry stone wall that marked a turn, there, sitting in the shelter were the Pilgrims Jenny and Meg enjoying scones and jam. They’d set off early having heard the day would be a tough one but were pausing for their packed lunch.

We passed Tom Tallons Crag (353 metres) and Gains Law (319 metres) before heading to Humbleton Hill and the start of the descent to Wooler. Another stiffish climb through woodland and then down to Wooler Common and the streets of the town itself.

Day 5 – to Beal

An exciting prospect today was seeing St Cuthbert’s Cave, where, legend has it, the holy man lived for a time before reaching Holy Island and of course sight of the sea itself.

Walking holidays are often about the people you meet en-route and as we strolled through Wooller noticed some rather huge brown and white dogs standing with their feet on a garden gate. Chatting to the lady there it transpired they were hunting hounds from the local hunt and she, like her father before her was a puppy walker. That is she took the puppies and treated them as pets for the first six months of their life. She explained that the main aim was to get them used to humans (particularly children) so that once in the pack there was no risk they would by mistake chase a human instead of a fox (though nowadays the law says it should be a trail laid for them). She was very proud of her dogs and they had even won her prizes in the local show.

We quickly left Wooler behind climbing up onto Weetwood Moor before dropping down to the River Till and an amazing 16th Century bridge near Weetwood Hall. The bridge is a Grade I listed structure. It is thought probable that the English army, commanded by the Earl of Surrey, crossed the River here on the way to Barmoor Castle on the 8th September 1513, the day before the Battle of Flodden.

However the star of the show was the enormous “Scottish” thistle growing on the road side just round the corner. Ironic that the first one we see is actually in Northumberland. But as keen gardeners we had to inspect and photograph the specimen.


Our next surprise wasn’t long in coming….an hour or so later we chanced upon a field of poppies, not the famous red wild poppies, the symbol of remembrance, but clearly a crop. We speculated that this Northumberland farmer might be secretly harvesting opium, but concluded someone has to grow the poppy seeds you see sprinkled on bread buns. Or perhaps the seeds are processed for their oil. Wikipedia says all these are an option but you can read more here Poppies as a crop

The landscape had changed now with far gentler hills dotted with farms and woodland. After skirting the bottom of Dancing Green Hill and the wooded Cockenheugh hill was found St Cuthbert’s Cave. More an overhanging rock really but it would clearly provide shelter from the wind and rain.

More woodland walking took us to Fenwick and our first sighting of the sea, and in the distance, Holy Island. The path crosses both the A1 (watch out for the traffic) and then the main East Coast Railway where high speed trains regularly travel the journey from London Kings Cross to Edinburgh Waverley. It’s a wonderful journey and the only part of the East Coast line that comes so close to the sea, but crossing it on foot is an experience.

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Our first glimpse of Holy Island

First you have to telephone the signalbox from a phone placed on the crossing and are asked how many are in your party and how long will it take you to cross. In our case we assumed it safe because we’d just watched train fly by. But, no, we were told another was due any second and we should call back when it had passed. We did, were given the all clear to continue our journey to Beal. Unfortunately, as it turned out our hotel wasn’t actually in Beal, but next to the A1 which added an unexpected two miles to our walk that day (and the next). Thanks heavens for the caravan site bar which allowed us to refresh before that final extra trek.

Final Day – to Holy Island

We did try and cheat slightly and catch a bus from the hotel back to the landward end of the Holy Island Causeway but St Cuthbert wasn’t having any of it. The bus on the timetable never turned up. The timing was also wrong for us to do the pilgrim thing and walk barefoot across the muddy sand – as long as the tide is right, it is perfectly safe if you follow the prominent markers.

Instead we marched the tarmac among a caterpillar of walkers (including our friends from Florida) heading for Lindisfarne. After such beautiful scenery and footpaths soft underfoot, it was a bit of an anti-climax, something that had to be done, and eventually we reached our destination, which by now as packed with summer tourists.

Where did we stay:

Melrose – Dunfermline House, Buccleuch Street (excellent)

Jedbergh – Kenmore Bank Guest House, Oxham Road (excellent)

Morebattle, – Templehall Inn, Main Street (excellent)

Kirk Yetholm – Mill House, The Wheelhouse, Main Street (excellent)

Wooler – Old Mill House, South Road (excellent)

Beal (two miles away alongside the A1) – Lindisfarne Inn, Beal (adequate)

Luggage: We used The Sherpa Van Project to transfer our luggage from each overnight stop to the next but they contracted out to a local firm. There are other alternatives and you may even find using local taxis is cheaper.

Pershall in the spring

Sometimes there are years you will always remember and 2020 will without doubt be one of them. The year the virus struck. At the time of writing it is estimated that 50,000 people have died in the UK from or in some way connected to the Corona virus which causes an illness spookily called Covid-19 like a disease made up by the writer of science fiction.

We’ve been locked down now for eight weeks; and I’ve been out just three times, twice to the postbox and once for a walk. The dog is old now and finds walks too tiring so I’ve used my energy to work in the garden.

It’s about a third of an acre in all and isn’t pristine normally, nor so this year. However I feel more on top of it than in the past and knowing that we aren’t likely to be going away much as the year progresses I’m growing more home produce than ever. Anyway have a look, and enjoy:

UPDATE: June 29th 2020

Time flies when you are having fun or in the world of gardening and July is almost upon us. Many of the spring flowers have “gone over” as my gran would have said but there are signs of the first summer blooms. The sweet peas have a couple of flowers showing and the Verbascum is now taller than me and showing signs of its yellow flowers. Some pansies are hanging on in the container in the woodpile corner having been joined by some geranium plugs which arrived in the post, a gift from my daughter.

Perhaps the best news is that my much loved (and at times admired) Callistemon or Bottle Brush Plant looks as though it is going to be covered in flowers this year. I bought the plant from the salvage corner of a garden centre a few years ago and for a few winters kept it indoors. Then a a friend in Australia pointed out that down-under they grow in profusion in the wild, and stand temperatures well below zero. It has now survived two English winters out of doors and without protection other than its sheltered location. I keep thinking I should plant it in the soil but it seems to be doing ok in a large pot, and who knows, if we ever move, I might want to take it with me.

One potted plant I will take is the Christmas Tree. It was bought from a supermarket two years ago for £2 and was just six inches high. It was covered in glitter and I suspect most people forgot to water them and they ended up in the bin. I transplanted ours into a decent sized pot and it sits in the nursery area where it’s now at least 15 inches high.

Tabular Hills Walk, North Yorkshire

No I hadn’t heard of it before either, but spotted a booklet and route in a N.Y.Moors information place and it piqued my interest.   In theory it connects the two ends of the Cleveland Way long distance walk though who would want to walk a further 50 miles to pick up their car in Helmsley having just done 110 tough moor and coast miles, I can’t imagine.

However as a stand-alone route it follows the southern edge of the moors park and can be split conveniently into four 12-ish miles stretches, perfect for a short walking break.   I did the route in mid-September after a week of heavy rain but was lucky enough to enjoy sunshine and dry days though the wind was strong at times.

At the start of the walk
Starting the walk

The walk begins on the Cleveland Way route, on the cliff tops at Scalby, near Scarborough, and follows roads, paths and tracks through the forests that mark the edge of the moors, across moor and farmland, all present some fabulous views of this beautiful park of the country.   It should be noted that the route does include a lot of tarmac – almost 13 miles in all, in addition to many miles of wide, hard surfaced tracks.

Wet, muddy paths
Many of the footpaths were very wet and muddy after recent rainfall

Because of the rain much of the 18 miles of actual footpath was soggy underfoot and a walking pole proved invaluable much of the time.  In truth I wish I hadn’t ditched the gaiters from my pack in order to save a bit of weight!

Day 1 – Scalby to Dalby Forest

There’s a short farm path from the cliff top at Scalby to the busy main A165 road which has to be crossed to begin the first of the many tarmac stretches through Scalby to a grass track alongside a wide beck delightfully named North Back Drain.  Most of the rest of day one was on tarmac, gravel or forest roads, but we had a welcome cuppa at the Everly Country House Cafe before plodding through Wrench Green and the long climb into Wykeham Forest. There were some fine views across Troutsdale as the route followed the contours into Dalby Forest and South Moor Farm and a warm welcome from the owners Chris and Bob.    The b and b is pretty remote but offers an evening meal which was definitely the best dinner of the walk.

Day 2 – Dalby to Newton-upon-Rawcliffe

Despite forecasts of torrential rain, thunder and strong winds, the morning dawned fine and sunny for what turned out to be a day of two halves!   Wide forest tracks took us remarkably quickly to the Hole of Horcum, a deep moorland

RAF Flyingdales with Blakey Topping
RAF Flyingdales radar scanner with Blakey Topping in the foreground.

valley off the main Whitby to Pickering road at Saltersgate.  On the way we could see the radar of RAF Fylingdales, not as attractive as the old three white golf ball like radomes….and clearly defined was Blakey Topping, not to be confused with Blakey Ridge several miles away across the moors.     Across the road we joined a great moorland track which took us all the way to the pretty village of Levisham passing Sievy Pond and Dundale Pond on the way.

As they say in the best horse racing circles, from Levisham the going became soft – very muddy indeed, as the route passed through Levisham Wood to cross the North Yorkshire Moors Railway at Farwath where the farmer reported the beck was five feet above its normal level at the overnight rains of the previous week.  My walking companion had by now left me to the sound of the birds, and the hoot of the steam train as it made its way from Whitby to Pickering and I climbed Farwith hill to join a track which took me to the next excellent overnight at Swan Cottage b and b in Newton-on-Rawcliffe.

Day 3 – Newton-on-Rawcliffe to Hutton-le-Hole

Newton Bank woodland path
A wonderful woodland walk down Newton Bank

The day began with an amazing walk through woodland down Newton Bank and across marshy ground and alongside another wood to the hamlet of Stape.  With rain threatening, the pace quickened as the shelter of trees was clearly not far ahead.  As it turned out it didn’t rain, but the paths to Cawthorne were excellent and I glimpsed a fox scurrying away at the sound of my squelching footsteps. Later the unmistakable call of hundreds of pheasants – probably rich picking for the fox family though actually reared to provide fun for the sporting hunter and game pie for many a diner.

Navigation was slightly tricky through Cropton village but only because of the illogical placing of the Tabular Hills signs.  Generally the signage was good but more of this later.    I resisted the temptation to stop for a pint in the village of Appleton-le-Moors and pressed on via field and farm tracks, and towards Hutton-le-hole was joined by a couple from Sheringham in Norfolk, who were tackling a shorter walk using a guidebook and were finding it difficult to keep on track.

A beer for a thirsty walker
Walking is thirsty work but with a pub next door to the b and b, all was well

Spotting my map, they assumed, perhaps wrongly, that I knew what I was doing and tagged along until we reached Hutton – a picture post-card tourist village if ever there was one.    I stayed over at the Barn Tea Room where I was made very welcome.    Conveniently the Barn is next door to the village inn.   I ought to mention here that the Barn Tea Room breakfast got my vote as best of the walk, but it was a close run thing; all the Yorkshire breakfasts I enjoyed set me up for the day, making a packed lunch almost unnecessary.



Day 4 – Hutton-le-Hole to Helmsley

The longest day for two reasons.   Firstly the day’s route was 13 miles, and secondly, wrong turns added at least a mile, maybe more to the distance and finally there was a lot of walking on hard surfaces, not good for tired toes.

Mistake one was within minutes of leaving Hutton.  The map shows the footpath leaving the main road outside the village, but in reality it leaves from a side road, visible if you are paying attention, but I was bouncing along pleased to be starting another day’s walking, and missed it by half a mile.   Back on track I crossed fields and moorland to the village of Gillamoor and a good distance on tarmac toward Caldron Mill where the next map reading error added another mile.  Until now, where two paths or bridleways crossed, all the Tabular Hills waymarks pointed in the direction you needed to walk.   Suddenly they were only on the gatepost with direction arrows saying bridleway or footpath.   I assumed the wrong direction was the right one!  Serves me right for relaxing. For the third time I was glad of my smart phone and the OS App which, signals permitting, allowed me to pinpoint exactly where I was.  Even without a phone signal, the built in GPS provided me with a map reference – great to check you are where you think you are, or not!

Getting out of the valley from Hold Cauldron worked up a bit of a sweat before a walk, through damp woodland to Skiplam and the longest road walk yet to Nawton Tower and the long descent into Riccal Dale and incredibly steep walk out up Hasty Bank.

Steep path at Hasty Bank
The steep path up Hasty Bank doesn’t look anything like as hard to climb as it really was

By now I was on the home straight so to speak: roads and tracks took me to the broad forest road through Ash Dale and into Helmsley, looking forward to, you guessed, a pint, and a curry.

Reflecting on the four days, the highlights were without doubt the stunning views, the wonderful woodland paths, and the solitude:  en-route I met three cyclists, three walkers and a lady on a horse.

Useful Tabular Hills facts: 

Total distance 48 miles
Distance on tarmac 13 miles
Distance on footpaths 18 miles
Distance on forest or farm tracks 17 miles
Detailed information:
South Moor Farm b and b, Dalby Forest:
Swan Cottage b and b, Newton-on-Rawcliffe:
The Barn Tea Room, Hutton-le-Hole: Roofs b and b Helmsley:

Transport:   Parking is limited around the Scalby start of the walk but there are buses from both Whitby and Scarborough to Scalby:  service X93 will drop you off at the Three Jolly Sailors, in Burniston, about a mile’s walk from the start.     From Helmsley, the service 128 will take you back to Scarborough (an alternative return might be to get off this bus in Pickering and use the North Yorkshire Moors Railway to Whitby).

The Swan Cottage b and b offers a package where they will drop you off at the start of each section and pick you up at the end of the day.





The Esk Valley Way

The River Esk meets the sea
The mouth of the river Esk at Whitby

The Esk is the North Yorkshire river which flows into the sea at my home town of Whitby, that delightful – if perhaps at times overcrowded – holiday resort more famous these days for the goth festivals which take place there from time to time.

As a school boy I learnt that Whitby was the port from where Captain James Cook first sailed and then on locally built ships circumnavigated the globe discovering (for Europeans at any rate) Australia, New Zealand and the Hawaiian islands.   It was also the centre of Britain’s whaling trade and at one time recorded as the sixth busiest port in the kingdom before the Victorian gentry turned it into a popular holiday town.

When I was younger the harbour was where I fished for tiddlers, locally called pennock, at Boots’ Corner and later, further inland, where I tried to catch brown trout, being unable to afford the much more expensive salmon fishing licence.

It was with some excitement then 50 years later I set out to walk to the source of the river high on the North Yorkshire moors and then follow it to the sea – passing through some of the most spectacular scenery the area has to offer.

The 37 mile route begins in the moorland village of Castleton and after a loop to visit the source of the river, The Esklets, returns to Castleton and follows the valley to the pretty villages of Danby, Lealholm, Glaisdale and Egton Bridge before skirting the North Yorkshire Moors Railway HQ in Grosmont and heading for Sleights, Ruswarp and then into Whitby.   Full details of the route are on the North Yorkshire Moors National Park Website

With fellow walkers Jennifer, Michael and Daniel I booked into the Eskdale Hotel, in Castleton, for the night before the walk, a comfortable enough place though beware, they don’t serve meals on Sunday evenings.   This lack meant we were lucky enough to eat instead at the Fox and Hounds Inn, at Ainthorpe.

Westerdale on the North York Moors
Dan looking back along Westerdale

Day 1, Castleton to Blakey Ridge, about 9 miles:  We began with a road section to Dibble Bridge before joining the footpath along the side of Westerdale and more road near Little Hograh Moor.   Here we met two guys from York who told us they walked on the Yorkshire Moors every week and warned us of the risk of encountering adders.   Although the June weather was fair it was, in our view too cold for snakes but apparently not.  It seems this intrepid pair had been sitting on a wall enjoying a hot drink from their flask, when an adder – presumably looking for inner warmth too – curled itself around a mug of coffee they’d set on the wall to cool.

Continuing to follow the moor edge the route dipped into a boggy valley where numerous springs and streams – the Esklets – come together to make the beginnings of the Esk itself.  A stiffish climb took us onto High Blakey Moor to join the old Rosedale Railway (part of the Coast to Coast route) and a sprint for a pint and hot shower at the Lion Inn, on Blakey Ridge, at 1325 feet, the highest pub on the North York Moors.

A word of warning here: our rooms at the Lion Inn were excellent, but if you eat dinner in the restaurant, think carefully before having a starter – the portion sizes are humungous.  In fact we all agreed the plates were so full of food it was off-putting (clearly a third world problem).    When we mentioned this to the staff their reply was that they got a lot of similar complaints and that a huge amount of food was wasted as a result.

Stunning moorland views

Day 2,  Blakey Ridge to Lealholm, about 13 miles:  A short road section took us across Rosedale Head and into Danby Dale, where we followed the contours into Castleton arriving in time for tea and sandwiches back at the Eskdale Inn, which redeemed itself for failing to provide us with dinner on Sunday.

We followed the river (and the Esk Valley Railway) to Danby and after passing the North York Moors Visitor Centre climbed the steep hill up Oakley Side to Danby Beacon a moorland high point, once the site of an RAF radar station closed in 1954 and demolished three years later.

From here, it was as they say, all downhill into Lealholm and the truly fabulous, and friendly, Board Inn, where the welcome and the food was exceptional.

River Esk
The river Esk

Day 3, Lealholm to Whitby, about 12 miles:   Dan left the walk here having urgent business elsewhere, hopping on the train into Whitby while the three of us began what we all agreed was the toughest day of the walk – could it be that it was a hot day, or that we were tired?   Following the railway again we were quickly passing the long, drawn out village of Glaisdale, pausing to photograph Beggar’s Bridge, built, it is said by Thomas Ferris in 1619. Ferris was poor but hoped to marry the daughter of a wealthy local squire. Planning to go and seek his fortune, on the night that he left, the river was swollen with rainfall preventing him making a last visit to his sweetheart. He eventually returned a rich man, married the squire’s daughter, and built Beggar’s Bridge so that no other lovers would be separated as they were.

As we next walked through Arnecliff Wood we attempted silence in the vain hope of spotting a deer or two but did marvel at the stone slabs (or trods) which formed the path from there, almost it seemed right through to Whitby, wondering at the effort needed to cut and lay them, and what these sandstone blocks would cost at the local garden centre!

Egton Bridge Stepping Stones
The stepping stones at Egton Bridge

After the toe-numbing descent on the road into Lealholm, the 1 in 3 hill known as the Delves into Egton Bridge seemed easy and top marks to the landlord of the Horseshoe Hotel which sits at the bottom of the bank in Egton Bridge.  Even though he wasn’t actually open for business he kindly made us a welcome pot of tea.    Refreshed, we crossed the river via the two sets of stepping stones and made our way along the Egton Estates toll road towards Grosmont and the path along Eskdaleside to Sleights.

Up until we reached Sleights station we were full of praise for the thorough way-marking on the trail.  So good was it, that we rarely had to check our maps;  not so in Sleights where the signposts seemed to stop and we were left wandering around new housing developments in Lowdale (definitely not there when I was a lad).

Fortune's Kippers
Fortune’s Kippers, not to be missed

Once we picked up the route again past the cricket club and up Echo Hill we started to see Whitby Abbey in the distance.   By the time we reached the village of Ruswarp the Bridge Inn was too tempting to pass without topping up our fluid levels; yet the walk was almost done, just Ruswarp Fields to cross and the walk across town to our B and B, and the following day a trip to buy Fortune’s Kippers before catching the midday train back along the Esk Valley to our cars in Castleton.

Slightly tanned at the end of the walk





Knock, knock, who’s there

I’m up for change; for years I worked in an industry where technology streamlined processes to the point where you can now do at home with a cheap pc and inexpensive software, what used to require hundreds of thousand pounds investment in kit and staff.

That said, I’m also nostalgic for some of the things technology has stolen from us as our world has embraced all things electronic.

Take the door knocker.   That was once new technology.   Our ancestors were happy to announce their arrival at a friend’s home by simply shouting “Get the cauldron on, we’ve come for a cuppa”.   Then as bits of sacking gave way to wooden doors it became necessary to bang on the door to announce your arrival and for poorer folk who couldn’t afford a staff (or stave) to beat out their arrival note, it meant sore knuckles for days afterwards.

Portuguese door knockers
These knockers double as the door knob

Time  passed until an inventive village blacksmith with time on his hands (and perhaps sores caused when he visited Aunt Ethelred a few days earlier) came up with a door knocker.   Probably a plain affair, cheaply made, because his clients probably couldn’t rub two groats together.

Benjamin Franklin was reputed to have said:  “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning” and so it was that Mr Smith’s idea was embraced by others and soon the wealthy were adorning their front doors with elaborate knockers, often intended to outdo their neighbours with their flair and panache.

In Roman times apparently the use of a metal ring as a door knocker allowed the wealthy home owner to chain slaves to his front door so to welcome guests (I guess they had to be chained up or they might be stolen or indeed run away).

I suppose the advent of the door bell was inspired by the practice of ringing church bells to warn of the advance of marauders or maybe if your home was a castle, a knock on the door just wouldn’t cut it.

Mind, even door bells demonstrate the advance of technology.   When I was a youngster our bell had to be wound up (you turned the bell-ringy bit) and the operation was simple, the outside button was connected to a rod which passed through the door when when pressed, turned on the clockwork mechanism.

I well remember my best mate’s gran, who was a bit better off than us, had a chime which consisted of two long tubes hanging in the hall beneath a box of electrical components.  When the door button was pressed small hammers tapped on the tubes to create the sounds.

I’m red faced to admit, but in more recent years we had a wireless door bell! A

Modern door bell
This has a range of 1000 feet and 52 chimes

battery powered button on the door activated the ringer unit which could be carried round the house –  very useful if you were sorting out the attic.

All this new fangledness has one sad aspect though.  I doubt if future generations of holidaymakers will bother to take pictures of the plastic, double glazed front doors of our homes, gasping as they press the shutter, just look at the knocker on that.

If you want to see more pictures of amazing door knockers try Google and click images.

Spring is in the air

The clocks have gone forward, and as if by magic, the weather is noticeably warmer on this, the third day of spring.  In fact, in a few minutes I am off outside to start the task of getting the garden into shape for what I hope will be a long hot summer.

I say start, but in truth I actually began a couple of weeks ago when the traditional task of sowing the tomato seeds took place.   I’m lucky enough to have two greenhouses at Peel Towers and in the smaller of the two I have an eight foot long heated propagating bench which I made out of scrap timber and a heating cable I bought some years ago in a garden centre clearance sale.

Tomato seeds sown

But although this is probably ten times bigger than the propagators most  have at their disposal, as any gardener will tell you, no matter how big any thing is (be it propagator, greenhouse or vegetable plot) it is never big enough.  In the case of my tomatoes, it is because I grow plants for family and friends and because I like to try different varieties.

Within a week the seeds were up and needed transplanting into pots of their own  so suddenly space was at a premium, especially as flower seeds and an indoor sowing of broad beans were all vying for attention.

No room at the propagator

Outside, the lawn has already had two cuts and that has brought its own problems:  the moss I failed to deal with in the autumn has now spread and threatens at least 60% of the surface area and, no doubt, 60% of my time in the coming weeks.

The garden pond is now being inspected daily in the hope that some frog spawn will appear.    The whole issue of frogs in garden ponds has lead to much discussion.   We’ve been here for five years now, and although I regularly see toads skulking on dark damp corners,  I have yet to see a frog.

About 18 months ago I emptied the pool completely and cleaned out vast quantities of dodgy looking black sludge which must have taken years to accumulate.  I also cut back overgrown aquatic plants and installed a fountain, not for its doubtful aesthetic qualities but because a) I like to hear water splashing when I sit in the garden on a summers day, and b) it keeps the water aerated and thus stops the water going green and cloudy.   I was sure this would attract lots of wildlife but not so far, unless you count the granddaughter who took a brief (accidental) dip.

The found is not for its looksI mentioned to a neighbour that I was searching for some frog spawn to help nature on its way, and received a rather amused look.  He argued that the frogs would find the water soon enough and I would be then overrun with the things, regretting it every time I cut the grass.

Personally I don’t mind doing frog patrol to chase the amphibians out of the way when I get the lawn mower out, so each day I check in the hope that even one solitary frog has decided they want to make my pond their home.   They haven’t turned up yet, but I still hope.

The big job this year is to get the wide border back under control. I’ve battled with the couch grass and nettles ever since we arrived here – and lost.  This time I think I will cover where I can with heavy plastic to smother the growth and then use ground cover  and shrubs.  Life is too short to spend hours each week weeding the same patch.

There are also the three raised vegetable beds to sort out (one is full of strawberries for grandson Samuel’s favourite jam, and they need renewing, and I need one of them ready because soon it will be Easter.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any faith;  you see my grandfather always planted his early potatoes on Good Friday.   I suspect this was more to do with the fact that he had time off from work, than it was a horticultural necessity, but it’s a nice tradition and I’m going to stick to it.


Cleaning up after your dog

From: BBC NEWS March 15th 2017

As a journalist I was taught never to apologise for what you write – after all if you have to start with an apology, why would anyone want to read your words? However after putting fingers to keys to discuss the art of making Bolognese sauce I feel I ought to offer an extremely strong reason for wanting to discuss the less than delicate matter of clearing up after your dog.

My justification is the call by an MP for dog owners to abandon the plastic bag when clearing up after their pet and instead use “stick and flick”.   Tory MP Conservative Anne Main was speaking during a debate about the number of plastic bags littering the countryside.

Before I go on, I should, as an aside, reveal that when I worked in broadcasting, one of the trickier jobs when producing a phone-in show, was to generate calls from listeners.   Some days there would be a plethora of topics people wanted to chat about, but on quiet days, we could guarantee a jammed switch board if we introduced either religion or dog-dirt as the subject of the morning.

I can also confirm that one of the biggest bones of contention among boat owners on the UK waterways network, is the number of dog owners who think they don’t need to clear up when their animal fouls the towpath, ensuring that unsuspecting boaters step in the stuff when they moor their boats.   I’ve even seen people mark the stuff with brightly coloured mini-flags to help other boaters avoid the the mess.

More dog pictures here
Benji, the current Peel beast

I’ve owned or shared ownership of a dog of one sort or another since I was eight or nine. Rikki was a fox terrier and, in theory, belonged to my elder sister but as he and I spent many, many hours walking the cliffs, beaches, ravines and countryside around my Yorkshire home town, he sort of adopted me, sleeping at the foot of my bed.

In those days you didn’t carry a pocket full of nappy bags to clear up after your pet but you were thoughtful of others and made sure that,  if he was caught short in the street, he was positioned in the gutter; or if in the countryside, definitely not on the path or places where unsuspecting pedestrians, particularly children, might step in the mess.   Nature took care of the rest.

I remember smiling when the poop-a-scoop was introduced (apparently invented by a Californian man in the early 70s) and considered it something to be used by city living poodle owners.

Over time of course the dog mess situation has worsened.  There are around eight-and-a-half million dogs in the UK and the amount of their daily deposits doesn’t bear thinking about – except they are one of the leading sources of E. coli (fecal coliforms) bacterial pollution, Toxocara canis and Neospora caninum helminth parasite pollution. (Wikipaedia)

And while an individual animal’s deposit may not measurably affect the environment, the cumulative effect of thousands of dogs in an urban area can create serious problems due to contamination of soil and water supplies.

Despite all of this, I share the politicians obvious frustration when walking in the countryside, to see plastic bags full of dog dirt hanging on the hedges, left there by thoughtless owners, presumably because the local authority didn’t provide a suitably marked bin.    Again some quick searching on the web led to the discovery that these bags can take between 10 and 500 years to decompose – which sounds to me to be far more polluting than allowing nature to dispose of the poo.

This is why I’m delighted to learn from the honourable member for St Albans, that the Forestry Commission is now urging dog owners to use the “stick and flick” method of disposal.  That is, you find a stick and flick the mess into the undergrowth where it won’t be trodden on by exploring youngsters but will decay naturally.

I should stress that this policy applies only to what the Commission calls “wider forest areas.” Around main visitor centre areas, owners are still being asked to use a bag and the bins provided near by,  lest instead of having to take care not to tread in the stuff, we have to constantly duck and dive to avoid flying canine ordure.



The great Bolognese controversy

I suppose it is true to say I’m the cook in the Peel household, a situation that came about as a result of circumstances too complicated to go into now, save to say that I didn’t like ironing and Mrs P is ok with that.

It’s also accurate to record (though rather big headed) that my Bolognese sauce always gets rave reviews from all who have had the pleasure:  which is fortunate because I enjoy the preparation and as well as serving it au natural with spaghetti, it is the base for my lasagne too.   Slightly tweaked it works with moussaka.

The controversy surrounding this dish follows the revelation on a TV programme that the spaghetti Bolognese that we know and love, not only did NOT originate in the beautiful Italian town of Bologna but that no right-minded citizen of that place would dream of having a meat sauce with spaghetti.   And to top it all, a few days later, the grandmother of TV cookery, none other than Mary Berry, uses WHITE wine and CREAM in her Bolognese recipe.

Ok, I can get away with the white wine because Mrs Berry did say “which ever you have to hand” but Cream!  Can you imagine it.   I certainly can’t, indeed the thought had me reaching for the Gaviscon (other indigestion remedies are available).

Over the years I’ve tried  a lot of recipes in my search for the perfect  Bolognese, and they all tend to have the same ingredients in varying proportions but not one, no, not a single one have I ever seen contains cream.   But then I didn’t know that no self-respecting Bolognese would serve the dish either.   It seems the pasta you serve with any particular sauce depends on its coating ability.   Tagliatelle alla bolognese is good, spaghetti alla bolognese isn’t.

So for the foodies among you, here is the Peel Bolognese sauce recipe, (adapted over the years) and in deference to some of my younger relatives, with suggestions for vegans.

For those not familiar with Marsala,  this a sweet fortified wine produced in the region surrounding the Italian city of Marsala in Sicily.   I suspect it was originally added to counteract the sharp acidic flavour of the tomatoes. A bottle lasts quite a while but if you don’t have any, a tablespoon of sugar will do just as well.

The fish sauce is added to give a more robust flavour.

500 grams minced beef (Soya mince works well)
125 grams of chopped streaky bacon or pancetta (vegans skip this)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot finely chopped
1 or two tins of chopped tomatoes
1 or 2 tablespoons tomato puree
Garlic to taste – I use up to half a dozen cloves
Up to a bottle of red wine (I don’t use good stuff, that’s for drinking)
1 tablespoon of fish sauce (vegans may want to skip this)
A blast from the Worcester Sauce bottle (honest)
At least a tablespoon of dried oregano
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Secret ingredient:  1 tablespoon of Marsala

Note:  If you want to reduce the meat fat content you could brown the mince first and pour off the fat.

In a large pan, fry off the chopped bacon in some olive oil and then add and soften the onions.   Add the mince and garlic.  Once the mince is browned add the carrot, herbs and one tin of tomatoes (two if you want a stronger tomato flavour).   Add the fish sauce, a good glug of the red wine and about 200 ml of good stock (or a stock cube and water) and 1 – 2 tablespoons of tomato puree.   I add more if I use fresh tomatoes from the greenhouse.

Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer and add the Marsala, season to taste and cook on a low heat for as long as you dare, adding more wine and or stock as needed.     I often leave mine bubbling away all afternoon.

The sauce can be used on the same day but I prefer to leave it in the refrigerator overnight.   It also freezes well.







Making a spectacle of yourself

Sixty may be the new 50, but once you reach a certain age it seems the body has an in-built coping mechanism for a variety of afflictions that you don’t remember troubling you in the past.  I’m being cautious here in case others suggest that an even bigger problem is the failing memory, which is why, when it works properly, the mechanism I refer to  should protect you from such accusations.

Let me give you an example.  You wake up after a rather pleasant evening with friends and your partner says:  “How are you today?”.  You don’t reply that you feel terrible, that, you have doubts that you will last the day or, that having reached a certain age you should perhaps go a little easier on the socialising.

No you smile broadly, and say you are absolutely fine; could not be better in fact, and then slope off to the garden shed to hide away until teatime.

Over the last few days my coping mechanism has been running at full speed.   I’ve been wandering about the house, rifling through drawers,  opening and shutting cupboards and repeatedly checking the pockets of my coats hanging in the hall.   (Why do I have so many coats?).   Asked what I’m looking for I reply with a nonchalance that I don’t actually feel:  “Oh, nothing important, don’t worry.”   At the same time my mechanism respectfully suggests that my searches should take place late at night when no one else is about.

You see the problem is I’ve lost my spare glasses and I need them for a forthcoming holiday.  I don’t actually need them, I just want them in case I lose or break my normal spectacles, a thing that has never, ever happened in the past while I’ve been away, but, well, you never know do you?

It is as if my coping kit doesn’t want it known why I’m stalking around the house poking into every mouse-hole, fearing this would give others the chance to comment, probably unfavourably on my advancing years.

As I write I still haven’t found the missing specs, but as with every cloud there is a silver lining.   I’ve discovered the pack of mini-luggage labels I’ve been trying to find for for ages (I need these to mark the dozens of spare keys we seem to have accumulated, but which languish anonymously in a very old tin).  I have also uncovered in the search:  the continental power plug adapter missing for over a year and already replaced (now we have two) and a small plastic bag containing Euro coinage, which as it turns out will also come in handy very shortly.

Other finds include a 1963 do-it-yourself Gardening Annual (that will make for interesting reading on a rainy day) and a Beatles EP “All my loving” – I hadn’t lost either of these, but simply forgotten they existed.

Oh, and at least four previously prescribed pairs of specs have turned up too – one of these appeared in a photograph I had taken in 1993 and it really does look as though I should have gone to…….




Winning is all relative

Writers Block

I read this morning that a lucky lady from Shipley has just won £14.5 million pounds on the National Lottery and after a luxury weekend in Harrogate paid for with money she had to borrow pending the pay-out, her first action was to pack a few bits and bobs and move out of her council house.  Most of her belongings appear to have been dumped outside to be picked over by neighbours.

Assuming the press reports are not alternative facts, Beverley Doran has cancelled her state benefits and moved into an hotel pending the purchase of a “posh” house.

The story had some resonance in our household because Mrs P and I have just “come up” on the Premium Bonds.   Her win was £25 which caused much excitement and from me much grumbling because in the all the years I have had bonds, I haven’t won a bean.  And this was her second windfall.

I admit I should have been pleased for her, but instead retired to the spare bedroom which doubles as my study and fumbled through the many drawers in search of my premium bond holder number.    I’ve already set up automatic e-mail notification of any wins, so it was a slightly pointless exercise to type the number into the unclaimed prizes box on the National Savings website, but I did it anyway.

What?  I’ve got unclaimed prizes?   Not prize, prizes!  Not one, but TWO £25 prizes.  With inappropriate smugness I publicised the news in my usual style by yelling down the stairs.

Further investigation, which because of the necessary, but seemingly over the top security measures, took two days, revealed that when we moved house over five years ago I hadn’t bothered to tell NS&I and as a result they send my dosh to my old house.

I’m in the process of collecting, but first I have to create an online account, and then write to explain the change of address so I won’t be in the money anytime soon.

This morning’s Lottery news made me think though; it wasn’t many years ago when our joint win (yes I will share it) would have been a really big deal.  I don’t want to sound ancient, so a comparison with the year 2000: in that year you could have used the £75 to buy 120 tins of baked beans (more if you opted for an own label brand).   If I nip to the shops tomorrow, I will only get 60 tins!*

However the point of my story requires me to go back much further in time to the late 1960s when I was working as a reporter on the weekly newspaper in Whitby, in North Yorkshire.  The office took a call from the Yorkshire Evening Post asking if someone could nip round to see a lady who lived in the town and tell her she had won their Spot the Ball competition.

As I was the junior I was despatched to do what I imagined would be a rather nice job. On the walk I mulled over how best to do it.   The £1,000 prize was a lot of money – in those days if you earned £1,000 a year you were considered to be rather successful.   A tradesman at that time was doing well to earn £12 a week.  Should I simply blurt out the news on the doorstep, or be subtler and get myself inside so that the lucky lady could be sitting down when I broke the good tidings.

I rang the doorbell, a lady answered it and as she didn’t look particularly cheerful I choose the doorstep option.

“Hello, I’m from the Yorkshire Evening Post'” I said assuming she would twig that it must be to do with the competition she had entered (and pleased with the exalted status I had awarded myself).    “Yes,” she said, still expressionless and with a tone that required me to continue.    “I’ve been sent round to tell you, you have won the ‘Spot the ball’ competition and a prize of £1,000.”

At that the lady burst into tears, not ordinary tears, but uncontrolled sobbing.  I was only in my late teens and not used to dealing with such situations so all I could think of was suggesting I go in and make her some tea.

It turned out that the lady’s husband had died quite recently and her tears were more about that than the joy of winning the cash.   She chatted for ages about him explaining that life had been tough and this cash would have made all the difference to their lives had he still been around.

Maybe there’s a message here for the Lottery people; even taking inflation into account, it doesn’t take £14.5 million to change people’s lives.

* Updated by me to 2017 product price.