Saturday, 15 October 2016

Yorkshire Miscellany

To clear the decks before other matters come to the fore, here's a quick round-up of my favourite sites from my Yorkshire trip. Ruins first: the best (that is, most physically impressive) castle I went to was Middleham, enough of whose massive fabric survives to suggest one of those fairytale castles you see illustrated in medieval manuscripts. It happens to have been Richard III's favourite castle, too, and so has become something of a Ricardian shrine which is why you find a statue of him in the bailey and bunches of white roses about the place.
I saw a variety of ruined abbeys, too, and liked best Jervaulx, which is privately owned and so has avoided the cleansing-and-purifying worthy public bodies such as English Heritage must inflict on their possessions and has the air of a very grand garden ornament - at least, a garden is arranged around it, in and out of the various buildings.
High above the town of Pateley Bridge are the lovely remains of the old parish church, St Mary's, finally deemed unsuitable in the mid-1800s and now beautifully ruined. It's true that the way there is precipitously steep. The yew trees sigh above the gravestones and there is a deep atmosphere of peace.
That leads on to church interiors, if you can so describe York Minster. The glorious grisaille of the Five Sisters Window in the north transept is one of the most dramatic, moving sights I've ever seen in a place of worship. 
While in York I realised I was right outside the famous All Saints', North Street, so had to go in. From here, thanks to Percy Dearmer's protegé Fr Patrick Shaw, the English Use spread across the North. It feels a bit museum-like today, but so beautiful, and pungent with incense in the air. The chancel extends so far into the nave that there can't be space for more than 50 people in the pews in front.
Then there is Snape, where the parish church is in fact the old chapel of the Castle, some of which is still lived in as a private home: there are not many public places of worship you have to reach via a staircase round the back of someone's house. All that sumptuous wood panelling is misleading, as until the later 1800s the place was a storeroom, which, sadly, reduced what we must assume was once a gorgeous painted ceiling to wreckage.
My favourite holy well was the Lady Well at Threshfield, favourite because it was such a pig to find. It shouldn't have been, as Edna Whelan and Ian Taylor in Holy Wells of Yorkshire state very helpfully that it's at Bridge End Farm in Threshfield, through a gap in the wall just between the Grassington bridge and the Linton road. The trouble is, without the aid of the relevant OS map to distinguish them, there are two bridges and the topography at the wrong one is curiously similar to that at the right, and there's even a spring in the wrong place too. Thankfully I eventually worked out the mistake and found this lovely well, still nicely looked after.

Finally, museums. The Dales Countryside Museum at Hawes is best-resourced of those I saw and so should be the best-displayed, as indeed it is. It organises the galleries around the elements of the landscape available to the Dales people - 'Stone, Water, Earth, Wood, and Metal' - and so you have no doubt puts five monumental pillars at the start of your journey containing relevant objects. It's very clear, and very good. 

I was lucky to be able to take in a temporary exhibition: an art installation entitled 'Nature, Skin and Bone'. Now, usually the words 'art installation' are calculated to depress my spirits but this was very effective: you enter through a narrow passageway to whispered voices and a low drumbeat into a dark, open space interspersed with arrangements of stone, bone, and bare wood, lit by spotlights. It was as though you were suddenly in the mind of the Stone Age, wondering what it might be like to negotiate a hostile environment, attempting to make sense of the forces determining your life with ritual acts of which all you can see in the installation are the remains. 
And finally there is the Nidderdale Museum at Pateley Bridge, a charming and quite extensive old-fashioned pack-everything-in sort of place with a variety of mannekins who have clearly been pressganged from their previous employment in sundry shops and made to perform new roles. My favourite was this young woman in the costume display, whose significance was not completely clear, but who is without doubt the most catastrophically hung-over museum model I've ever seen. She's got up, she has no idea how the party ended or why she's wearing a corset many times too big for her, and all she knows is that she needs bacon and eggs with an urgency which defies belief.
How she got the late Amy Winehouse's hair is also a bit of a mystery.


  1. I do enjoy your holiday travelogues, this Yorkshire one especially. I wonder if - to pick up an old and possibly wearisome theme, they might as years go by accumulate bookwards?

  2. No, my observations are all too disparate (nothing connects them apart from me) to sell to a publisher and too superficial to make me want to try. This is the proper outlet for them. I'm glad you carry on enjoying them!

  3. I'll risk a final quibble on this theme. Are not some writings enjoyable just because they are disparate, joined only by the sensibility of the writer?