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Sunday, 31 March 2019

The monk's cell

One of the monk's cells at Mount Grace priory has been rebuilt and furnished as it would have been when the monastery was in use in the 1400s. Carthusian monks lived as hermits, spending most of each day alone in their cells, in prayer, worship and work. Though their cells were simple they were not, apparently, spartan. They were actually quite spacious houses, with a sitting room, bedroom, latrine and a sanctuary used for prayer and writing. They had a piped water supply. Upstairs was a workroom. Some of the monks were weavers, others copied and illuminated manuscripts and some were bookbinders. Each cell had its own walled garden with a covered walkway, where the monk could walk and pray. Here, they grew herbs and plants but its main purpose was the spiritual and physical wellbeing of the monks, since meals and other necessities were delivered to them through a hatch in the wall. I have to say I found it fascinating to learn about. The way historical places are set out and explained these days is often really good.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Mount Grace Priory

It was the first day of Spring! After a week or two of rain and wind, it did actually feel quite spring-like and I felt I needed a day out to celebrate. I went to Mount Grace Priory, which lies on the edge of the North York Moors National Park near Northallerton, about 50 miles north-east of Saltaire. It is a ruined medieval Carthusian monastery, founded in 1398 and dissolved (as they all were) by Henry VIII in the 1500s.

Carthusian charterhouses were different from many of the other monasteries, which were strong and active communities. Here, the monks lived as hermits, in their own cells (small houses really), only coming together in the chapel for the nocturnal liturgies, and on Sundays and feast days. They were a silent order and strictly vegetarian.

The plan of the monastery, therefore (see model on left) was a church and individual cells arranged around a central cloistered courtyard. There were at least 17 monks and a small community of lay brothers who looked after them.

The site now belongs to the National Trust, and is administered by English Heritage. The church is ruined but some of the graceful archways and the tower still stand. 

Within the ruined sanctuary is a powerful, modern sculpture by Malcolm Brocklesby: The Madonna of the Cross. Here, 'the Madonna is portrayed not as a meek figure but as a determined young woman, who understands the wonder and importance of her calling and dedicates her child to the purpose of the Creator. The sculpture incorporates both nativity, crucifixion and resurrection - the three facets of Christianity that establish the atonement of mankind'.  

Friday, 29 March 2019

Saltaire pink again

More pink - but not blossom this time. Someone on George Street has painted their front door and gate a rather fetching shade of pinky purple. I quite like it, though whether it falls into the 'approved' range of heritage colours may be debatable. I also like the way the URC church tower sits so neatly at the bottom of George Street, proof if you needed it that the whole village was very carefully planned as an entity, even though it took around 15 years to complete. George Street is one of only three streets that run south/north right from the top to the bottom of the village. So, standing right at the top, you can see all the way down to the church. These houses are on the bottom quarter of the road.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Saltaire pink

This tree has such a lovely froth of pink blossom. It's on Albert Road, in front of what I think are probably my favourite of Saltaire's many different cottages and houses.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Old Bingley

As with many towns, the oldest part of Bingley clusters around the Parish Church, All Saints. The church sits rather attractively, with its back to the (now) main road - though the road, constructed in 1904, sliced right through its graveyard. The original main street is now quite a sweet little street, still paved with stone setts and lined with old houses. It's fascinating that each house is different, some tall and narrow, some tiny cottages. They back on to the river, so they have been known to flood on occasion.

The Old White Horse Inn, at the end of the row of houses, is one of the oldest buildings in the town, dating back at least to the mid 18th century. It was a coaching inn, sited strategically by the Ireland Bridge river crossing and on the Leeds to Kendal coach route. It still has an archway through which stagecoaches would have passed into the courtyard and stables at the rear. On the gables are stone lanterns, which identify the building as once having belonged to the Order of Knights of St John. There are steps by the door from which John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, is said to have preached in the late 1700s. 

The view back towards the church from Ireland Bridge shows just how close some of the old buildings are to the river.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

New: supermarket

In Bingley, the next town up the valley, they are close to completing the building of a large new supermarket for Lidl. It has been built on the site of the former Bradford and Bingley Building Society right in the centre of the town. (See HERE) That brutalist concrete edifice, once described by Prince Charles as 'a monstrous carbuncle', lay empty for several years whilst the site was wrangled over. It was eventually bought and demolished by Sainsbury's, as I recall, to build a new superstore. They then pulled out, leaving uncertainty again. Finally, Lidl have taken over the site and built a supermarket. There is a newish Aldi store at the other side of the small town centre, so Bingley will certainly be the 'go to' place for groceries at the cheaper end of the range. Whether Prince Charles would approve is a moot point!

Monday, 25 March 2019

New: nature trail

Work is underway to create a new footpath along the Baildon side of the River Aire, below the Higher Coach Road estate. It is already a well-used 'desire path'. (I only recently learned there is a name for such things - illicit paths worn by many feet choosing to go the same way, as a shortcut or, as here, a route used by walkers to reach Roberts Park 'the back way'.) The local residents' group successfully applied for 'pocket park funding' and they aim to create a nature trail (see HERE) and to plant a wildflower meadow. It is at present land left rough, as it forms a flood plain for the river, to protect nearby houses. It can be a bit muddy, especially on the western side, so the new path should make it rather nicer to walk there, as well as looking more cared for. The steps will connect it with an existing path that crosses the river over a footbridge.

The two photos were taken from the exact same spot, looking in either direction.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Not a landscape...

Sometimes when I'm on a wander with my camera, I collect textures and abstract shots to use in the future. Then when it's raining and I'm bored, I can sit at the computer and 'play', combining them and using special effects. I never know what is going to result but it's really fun to experiment.

This image started off as two different shots of old, fading paint on a canal boat. Combined with a plaster texture and a coloured layer, it ended up looking rather like a landscape - reminiscent of the Yorkshire Dales, perhaps?

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Aerial view over Bradford

I showed a photo HERE of the ferris wheel which was offering rides in front of Bradford City Hall. It was a lovely day when I was in town for the St George's Hall Open Day and I had time, so I took a ride on it. It wasn't the best one I've ever been on. The pods all had a lot of steel bars and lots of reflections, and its position close to City Hall restricted the view somewhat. Still, it was fun and it's always interesting to see a place from such an altered perspective.

Above, looking west, across the mirror pool of City Park, which starts off empty each morning and gradually fills up. You can see the two halves of water not yet meeting in the middle. In the background to the left is the National Science and Media Museum with the Ice Rink at the base of the tower block behind it. Looking tiny in the centre is the white and grey domed Alhambra Theatre. To the right of that, the red brick edifice with two domes is the old Odeon cinema. Its future has been the subject of many wrangles but I believe it is now being renovated. The buildings behind that belong to Bradford College and the University.

Looking northeast, you can see the odd mix of solid but elegant Victorian buildings and some more recent structures that make up the city centre. The brutalist concrete 1970s block, rear left, is Kirkgate Centre (shopping mall) and the more recent Broadway Centre shopping mall is just visible at the end of the street on the right. You can perhaps also see the tower with the clock, which is the historic Wool Exchange, now a wonderfully atmospheric branch of Waterstone's books (see HERE).

Looking south-east, the three Victorian buildings are (from the front) Britannia House, which is Council offices, St George's Hall (see yesterday) and the Great Victoria Hotel. The concrete block is the Bradford Hotel and in the foreground is the roof of City Hall.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Inside St George's Hall

On the Open Day, it was rather fun to be allowed onto the stage in St George's Hall to view the auditorium from that angle. It has three levels of seating: Stalls, Dress Circle and the Grand Tier, fondly known as 'the gods'. I remember watching Emerson, Lake and Palmer from way up in 'the gods', and marvelling at the lighting and pyrotechnics.

The stage can, I think, be dismantled to reveal the original pipe organ behind it (see below) and to make space for a full orchestra. The hall's acoustics are renowned for being marvellous. One of my fondest memories is of a large Christian gathering here some years ago. A packed hall, all singing that wonderful hymn 'Crown Him with many crowns' was a spine-tingling experience.

The original details have been preserved as much as possible: the decorated ceiling and plasterwork in the auditorium and the mosaic floor in the downstairs lobby, now a smart café/bar. Hopefully, the money they've spent will enable the Hall to continue as 'The People's Palace' for many generations to come.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

St George's Hall

St George's Hall is the main concert venue in Bradford. One of the first of the major Victorian public buildings to open in the city, it is one of the oldest concert halls in Europe still in use. It was designed by Saltaire's architects, Lockwood and Mawson, and first opened in 1853. It has been extensively remodelled inside, after WWII and again after a major fire in the 1980s. Recently it has been closed for three years for an £8.5 million restoration of the exterior, roof and interior, financed by Bradford Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund.  It has just reopened, so I went along to an Open Day.

It has 'scrubbed up well' as they say round here! I have several happy memories of attending concerts here, particularly when I was a student at the Uni in the early 1970s. It has hosted many big names from the rock, pop and folk world, including Queen and David Bowie, though I didn't see either of them. I remember seeing (amongst others) Steeleye Span, Elkie Brooks and a wonderful American singer-songwriter called Harry Chapin (who was sadly killed in an horrific accident in New York in 1981) and, perhaps most memorably, Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

The hall is a regular venue for the Hallé Orchestra and has seen many big political and literary gatherings too. The author Charles Dickens; the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst; Labour Party founder Keir Hardie; former PM of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto (who was later assassinated) and the main instigator of the 1870 Education Act, W E Forster MP, all spoke here. Such an illustrious history...

Wednesday, 20 March 2019


I was thinking of titling this post 'Here be dragons' since I thought the machinery pictured looked rather like a friendly dragon's head! It is in fact a huge piece of machinery called a Bucyrus Erie BE 1150 Walking Dragline Excavator, known as 'Oddball' for short. It is a relic of the opencast coal mining that created the site that is now St Aidan's country park. It has been preserved thanks to the work of enthusiasts who raised money from a number of sources. It stands as a memorial to the 'sunshine miners' who worked the site to produce coal, alongside those (like my grandfather and great-grandfather) who worked the deep pits.  More about it HERE if you're interested.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Bearding the tit in his den

When I first arrived at St Aidan's RSPB reserve, I was intrigued to see a group of birders with binoculars and massive camera lenses, all peering into the scrubby fringe of the pool nearest to the small visitor centre. Of course, I wandered over to see what was going on...

As soon as I got there, I saw a little brown and grey bird hopping around, disappearing into the vegetation and then popping out again somewhere else:

It proved, oddly enough, to be a bearded tit. I've never seen one before and they are usually secretive little birds, living deep in the reedbeds and usually spotted flying over, making a kind of pinging call, or sometimes clinging to a reed. This one was behaving more like a sparrow, hopping around and quite unfazed by the crowd of eager photographers tracking it up and down the shoreline.

My lens is nowhere near long enough for bird photography, so it wasn't easy to get a shot and I didn't want to get in the way of the 'pros'. I set my camera to what I thought might work ( ! - not an expert at this type of photo) and fired off a few shots when the bird revealed itself for a few seconds. These photos are heavily cropped, so the quality is poor but I was still very pleased to see this little charmer. 

Apart from that exciting 'spot' I didn't see anything else unusual, though I heard a bittern booming. There are supposed to be black-necked grebes on the reserve but I couldn't see them in the areas I explored. The birds I saw were all the common ones: mute swans, mallard, moorhens and coots, teal, great crested grebes, cormorant, reed bunting, magpie, great and blue tits, black-headed gulls, terns, tufted ducks and the pretty gadwall (below).

Monday, 18 March 2019

St Aidan's RSPB reserve

I discovered that there is a fairly new RSPB reserve, St Aidan's, just to the south-east of Leeds so, one recent, bright day, I went there to explore. It was formerly an open-cast coal mine but in 1988 a breach to the bank of the adjacent River Aire caused catastrophic flooding, resulting in the formation of a large lake. Mining operations were completed and eventually the whole site was converted into a wetland, and transferred into the ownership of Leeds City Council. It is now a 990 acre country park and since 2017 has been leased to and managed by the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds).

The habitat includes reedbed, wetland, meadows and woodland and there are miles of paths and bridleways criss-crossing the site. I was there for almost four hours and only saw a fraction of it. It was a lovely, warm, spring-like day and right in the middle of the schools' half-term so there were quite a lot of visitors. People chatting, with children and dogs running about meant there were few birds brave enough to be seen clearly. You need to be up and about early to make the most of the birding opportunities, I think. It was, nevertheless, a most pleasant place to explore.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Skipton Castle and woods

I had a trip to Skipton with a friend. We did look round the shops (of course!) but we also had a pleasant walk up through the woods behind the castle. The castle stands at one end of the high street, next to the church. I haven't been in there recently and we didn't go in this time, though the entrance through the huge gatehouse arch always beckons. I realise, though, that I have never featured the castle on my blog - a bit of an omission that I must remedy sometime, as it's quite an interesting place.  

The walk we followed took us behind the castle, along the little canal known as the Springs Branch, which forks off from the Leeds-Liverpool Canal in the centre of the town. It was constructed to ferry limestone from local quarries. Beyond the short canal, the path meanders through woods between a small stream called Eller Beck and a channel that takes water from a mill pond down to a corn mill. The mill still exists; it is now a retail and business centre, and its waterwheel has been restored. 

The walk is a pleasant circular trail of about 2.5 miles - described as 'strenuous' but it isn't at all. There's just one significant uphill stretch and some steps. (My uphill walk to church on a Sunday is more strenuous!)  We passed this magnificent 9 ft high willow sculpture of a female archer: The Huntress, crafted by Anna & the Willow and installed last year. I've seen several willow sculptures but this one is one of my favourites. I love the way her skirt swirls round and she looks as though she has grown from the woodland floor.  They do inevitably deteriorate over time, but this one is still very beautiful. (Read more about how it was made HERE.) 

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Rhubarb rhubarb

I finally achieved a small tick off my 'bucket list' by visiting the Rhubarb Triangle. It's a small (9 sq mile) area between Leeds and Wakefield that is celebrated for growing the tender, sweet, bright pink forced rhubarb. It is grown in long, low, dark, heated sheds and harvested, between January and March, only by candlelight to prevent the stems going green and hard due to photosynthesis. All the work is still done by hand, a back-breaking and labour-intensive process (which explains why it is relatively expensive to buy).

Many gardens and allotments still grow rhubarb. It's technically a vegetable, but used as a fruit. My dad grew it and the stems were thick and green, needing gentle stewing and lots of sugar, but I grew up rather liking the flavour (and the peculiar way the oxalic acid 'coats' your teeth!). The Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb (now an EU protected designation of origin - PDO - like Parma Ham or Champagne) is sought after by top restaurants and stores in the UK and abroad. It's very different from the outdoor kind, having thin stems with a delightful colour, very tender and flavourful.

We visited E Oldroyd and Sons farm. Their website (HERE) has lots of fascinating information about the history, cultivation and uses of rhubarb, a plant native to Siberia (which is why it likes Yorkshire's climate!) We were given a talk and then taken into the rhubarb sheds to look. We had my granddaughters with us, and I have to say they got rather bored as the talk went on for over an hour and was not aimed at children. They were very well-behaved, however, and it is good to give them new experiences.  We bought some stems and I'm going to try gently cooking it in orange juice, as recommended. Yum.