Where there is sun, there are shadows

I couldn’t identify the Big Friendly Giant – but then he had no nose.  The bishop, though, was instantly recognisable. He had a mitre. And a sign. Plus he was standing right beside the church gate.

His ecclesiastical lordship, the BFG and I were keeping each other company in a small Lancashire village on a sunny, silent Sunday.

Well, silent except for the traffic.

And the occasional drive-by joker.

And the birds.

So, no, not really silent at all.

But it was that wrap-around kind of heat. When it feels as if everything, including sound, has been stifled by a hot, humid, invisible summery facecloth dropped on the world.

We’d parked at the village cricket ground, where a couple of chaps left over from Saturday’s match still hung around in their whites. Presumably waiting for the next game. Or perhaps Sunday lunch.

A stroll down the leafy main road brought us to the church and now, venturing past His Lordship, into the baking heat of the churchyard, I was a bit nonplussed to come across Joan of Arc (born 1412). But then, given the church tower is contemporary with Agincourt (1415), who knows what it has witnessed since?

Part of the tower and spire of St Cuthbert’s Halsall


Despite the fact it was Sunday, the church door wasn’t open, so I can’t vouch for the treasures that lie within. But others have been there before me.

I have an unreliable, but charming guidebook I often use when delving into the past of my home county.

And, sure enough, ‘Lancashire,’ written in the 1930s by Arthur Mee, offers a tantalising, romantic glimpse of what lies within St Cuthbert’s  church. (While saying nothing whatsoever about the village.)

 “in alabaster on their altar tomb are Sir Henry Halsall and his Margaret, he in heraldic armour and she in a long tightly-waisted dress, but without a head”

How inconvenient for poor Margaret.

“a faded wreath sent by Queen Victoria from Balmoral for the grave of one who had been her maid-of-honour”

I wonder if it is still there?

And, perhaps saddest of all the memorials in this place of many memorials:

“ still treasured in this place, where once his father was 42 years rector, is the sword of Wilfrid Blundell, tragically killed in the Boer War by an enemy to whom he was offering a drink of water.”

Aged 28, in 1899.

But none of these things we saw.  And leaving behind the enigmatic church and its welcoming graveyard, toddled off sightseeing.

And what sights we saw.

Across from the church, an artist sitting on a bench, sketching (I don’t think she should give up the day job).

A tiger (who’d come to tea)  in the nature walk’s picnic area.

A beekeeper taking a break, small bees buzzing beneath a tree at his side.

A couple in their wedding finery.

Escaping convicts.

Even Donald Trump.

And a glamorous roadside siren – 50% mermaid, 50% princess.

My poor feet, in that blistering [groan] heat, were ‘Tyred out’ when at last we reached the canal.

And conveniently, the pub.

Here the first turf was cut for the Leeds-Liverpool canal.

A striking stone memorial rises from the ground, a tribute to the ‘navvies’ – ‘navigation’ workmen – who built the waterway.

Adjourning to the pub, with two shandies and a bag of salty crisps before us, we sat by the cool water. Watching.

A duck preening.

Canal boats, moored or puttering by.

And then, the sun still high in the sky, we drove home, to a glorious day in the garden.

But even in the heavenly sunshine, surrounded by blossom, with water boatmen rowing on our tiny pond, the wretched chiffchaff chiffing and chaffing non-stop, the remnant shadow of tragedy lingered.

A year ago Jo Cox, MP, was murdered. In a place I spent many a happy evening in my late teens, meeting my then boyfriend at the pub.

Thanks to Jo’s husband and her friends’ efforts, a memorial fund was set up and last weekend, around the nation, celebrations were held. To remind us we have more in common than divides us.

But other shadows linger, too. Wisps of cool, chill, emotional air.

The murderous London attacks: most recently a white man, in a white van, driving into Muslims leaving their worship.

The charred, accusatory finger of that tower block in London, home to hundreds of the less-than-wealthy, in our capital’s richest borough.

But closer to home, for me, those families, some just down the road, whose loved ones never came home from a pop concert in Manchester.

And I felt a little guilt that I could sit there, drinking chilled rosé, eating local asparagus, delighting in the quirkiness our world can still display, amid all the tragedies and terrorism.

But the truth is, our world can be both tragic and joyous simultaneously – it’s how things are.

And so, I’d just like to say thank you to the villagers of Halsall.

Thank you for reminding us what a wonderful world we humans can create. In such a small, yet such a happy, quirky way.

And to you, dear readers, wherever you are in this world of ours, thank you, as ever, for reading.

And I hope you enjoy the other ‘scarecrows’ (rather a lot of them!) that I’ve posted here below.

An annual festival of fun

Man at work

Not really a scare bear is it?

Beautiful ploughed field just beyond the bear

Aw, her hero

Go on whistle – don’t worry be happy!

More tea, Vicar? (A quaint English saying, just leave it at that)

Sporty Santa!

A very cheery garden with a beautiful rose hedge

Incoming crow!

Sports related by any chance?

More workers, midwife (?) and a decorator

Mr Clean Teeth is quite the scariest dentist I have ever seen

Sigh. This couple really have their work cut out

A very bright day in the farmyard

A selection from the fence outside the school – starting with? I want this to be Weetabix but…

My little pony 😉

The lollipop man – always a cheery sight (and lollipop women of course)

Howdy, cowboy


Pirate with sadly deflated head… but nice right hook

Did you know Spiderman can bilocate?

The jilted bride

A scarecar speed camera and a sneaky speed trap, scarecrow style

Nice advertising!

He hasn’t got a brain. And you can tell 😉

And finally, I nearly forgot, the one you have been waiting for all this time,  the Big Friendly Giant.

Yes, really 😉

Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then, Lancashire & the golf coast | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Olde England, carrying on

It wasn’t a dawn chorus, it was a cacophony. And it went on, and on, and on.


The lambs joined in.

Then the donkey.

Then we heard the clippety-clop.

Clutching my camera, I leaned through the tiny window, in the thick stone wall, of the old farmhouse that’s now an inn. An unusual inn…

‘Good morning,’ I called.

‘Good morning to you,’ replied the passing stranger, ‘how are you?’

‘Fine,’ I replied, ‘how are you?’

’I’m very fine,’ he responded with the biggest, sunniest smile you’ve ever seen, ‘I’m on holiday.’

A flat cap on his head, greying moustache on his upper lip. A spring in his step and a twinkle in his eyes, the gypsy was walking beside a horse pulling an old-fashioned, brightly-decorated gypsy caravan. Looking barely big enough for a man his size.

But I doubt he lives in it year round. For this is a special time of year. When gypsies head to Appleby-in-Westmorland. For the Horse Fair.

He did smile a big beaming smile right after I took this, honest!

The day before we’d passed one or two caravans, seen several settled for the night on verges, their handsome, tethered horses munching lush, unmown grass.

We’d spent the night in Lancashire. The witching part.

On the way I took the prof for ‘my’ walk at Wycoller.

In just three weeks change was visible everywhere. Trees still putting out leaves were  dressed in creamy blossom, whinberries all gone and lambs well past gambolling.

Last visit in the sunshine

Spot the difference (no, not just the weather)

As a light rain fell we drove on – to what was meant to be a treat. A ‘boutique’ style pub near the foot of Pendle Hill.

Thank goodness I didn’t book two nights.

The hamlet of Barley itself was a gem. A walk we took (while our noisy room and bathroom minus mirror was readied) was pretty with gleaming buttercups, a chuckling river, stone cottages and an old mill chimney.

The hamlet’s other pub, the Pendle Inn, was where we should have stayed. Full of locals reading papers and supping pints. Dogs curled patiently at feet.

No thin boutique veneer, just homespun comfort. And not £2 for half a pint of beer…

Breakfasted, bill reluctantly paid, we decided against climbing Pendle (500 metres) on such a sunny morning.

That’s Pendle in the background

Instead we took a road unsuited to motor vehicles. Upwards, past two reservoirs. Through scented woods to a promised – and impressive – sculpture trail.

Not far into the walk, looking back down a long-ish but gentle hill… so far

I haven’t altered this image – it really was that brightly green

Tree repurposed

Trees, also repurposed

Trees and a dry stone wall my favourite of the sculptures

A reminder of the ‘witches’ who lived hereabouts

Beyond the trees, the summit was broad and high.  To one side Pendle loomed, its mood constantly changing as the clouds sped by.

To another, distant ‘civilisation’.  And a total surprise.

Something I’ve never seen. Hard to capture with a camera’s little eye.

Vast expanses of bobbing white heads – cotton grass, stretching to the horizon.

Like a fairy kingdom we’d trespassed upon.

But earthly time moved us on.

Another treat lay in store, in a county not far away.

First, though, Barrowford. Pendle Heritage Centre. And lunch.

An old house, knot garden, café. And a museum worth more time than we gave it.

The story of the sad Lancashire witches – and a find. My family name on an old map of Lancashire Catholic recusants, created for persecution purposes.

Pendle Heritage Centre, Barrowford, originally home to the Bannister family as in Roger Bannister the runner. We ate lunch looking out over this herb garden buzzing with bees

A 16th C cruck barn taken down, moved, reassembled and incorporated into 20th C stone building

Back on the road, we began to see gypsies.

A rare treat of a spectacle.

On we travelled, through Lancashire to West Yorkshire, to North Yorkshire, to Lancashire, then West Yorkshire.

The strangeness of human-drawn boundaries.

And at last, reaching our destination, we sat, awestruck. Sipping tea and eating cake. Gawping at the natural melodrama playing before us.

View from the back of the inn

Down the gash in the distant hills a waterfall fell. Our genial, round-ish host, a Quaker man of cheery countenance and country clothing, asked if we planned to walk.

‘I predicted rain today,’ he said. ‘half past five, I reckon,’

The woman of the house, our chef for the evening, came in search of the cat.

‘Come on,’ she grasped it firmly, ‘you’ve work to do, I think we’ve a mouse in the kitchen.’

(Their hygiene rating is 5 out of 5.)

At half past four we decided to risk it.

Crossed a bridge over a gentle river.

Passed grazing sheep and lambs. Tromped rocky paths.

A promised Iron Age site proved hard to fathom. There’d been a pathway to the – possibly ritual – waterfall. Were the rocks either side of the path a gateway?

Looking forward to the darkness…

… looking back, to the light

Passing through the gatekeeper stones, the wind began to pick up.

Grey clouds swept in. We pressed on through a light scattering of raindrops.

Looking back on stupendous views, changing with the passing cloud, we felt as if we were alone in all creation.

But the old Norse gods weren’t welcoming.

More than once a forceful wind pushed me backwards.

As soon as we turned for home, the wind dropped and the sun appeared.

But the most stunning thing of all about this walk was, that all this land, this magnificence, is ours.

We don’t own it. But there are no walls, no hedges, no fences. It was never enclosed.

This land is common land.

Back at the inn we were ready for a hearty meal – and we dined well on game pie, local lamb and rhubarb crumble.

Drank wine we’d brought to the inn (that’s a clue).

Chatted awhile in the parlour with the other guests.

Retired to a crisp-white-sheets and blanket, snowy-bedspread bed, tired and happy.

An old armchair stood in the corner and a wooden towel rack.

No television.

Nothing boutique. Just clean, cosy, homely. And perfect.

Until morning and the birds…

A pretty pair of horses, passing as we were about to leave, on their way to the fair

About to leave, as we chatted to our chef about her hidden gem of an inn, she said:

‘People come here and  say, ”I’ll tell all my friends about this,” and I say, oh, please don’t.’

‘You’re not a filthy capitalist then,’ I said and she burst out laughing.

Our Quaker host joined us – and that’s when I learned how enclosure had passed this area by.

And that there’d been another terrorist attack, this time in London.

We’d stepped back in time – yet we hadn’t.

Full of joy, subdued by sadness, mazed with nature’s grandeur, we were ready for home.

In England. Olde England.

Where nature, despite everything – and often far from calm – carries on.






Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then, Lancashire & the golf coast, Yorkshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Dylan, dogs and the Devil

The gale force wind had calmed a little, though the evidence remained. Everywhere the verges were strewn with debris, as if an automotive bridal procession had just passed by, the bridesmaids strewing branches.

Late, as usual, stress kept me company as I wound my way through the backstreets of Oldham. Ms Satnav had been accurate – up to a point. That point, unfortunately, not being the one at which I wanted to arrive.

But a crackly phone call later and here I was.

A man with a beard waved from across the road as I arrived, but before we could greet each other an evidently Muslim man with a great big smile on his face stopped – and the two men hugged.

Next in line for a cheery exchange of greetings was a man in a pale grey track suit.

I began to wonder, did I need local membership?

No, seriously, I was already warming to my subject – he knew everyone! But then, Oldham’s an old northern industrial town so that’s only to be expected.

The next challengers to my arrival were two dogs, low level hairy creatures that even to a non-doggy person were cute as a baby panda.

Possibly cuter.

I think Red likes Graham

I think Skipper likes Graham too!

Skipper, was the more inquisitive. Red, a little reluctant, retired upstairs.

They were rescue dogs.

Even their names were rescues.

Graham, my host, didn’t fancy yelling ‘Fred’ on the street. Nor Kipper. But the new names had to sound the same, still, for the dogs. Just one letter each made all the difference, as you’d expect a publisher to understand.

Stepping into a ‘space’ that barely deserved the name, it was obvious this was a place of many treasures.

Of passion well spent.

Of ‘where-did-I-put-it’ winning out over ‘everything-in-its-right-place’.

This was the home of a small Press – and I’d invited myself to visit.

And more prosaically: http://www.inclinepress.com/

Its name came from its original address on Incline Street, but though now on Bow Street, it still inclines over an incline.

Graham leads elusive Red and frisky Skipper back in from a breath of fresh air.

The nineteenth century building, once a small cotton mill, is ‘fireproof’.

No wood was used in its construction, rather brick, stone, rubble and metal – which won’t catch fire.

And now it’s full of paper.

Which probably would.

The paper’s the kind that makes you want to stroke it – especially the Amate, from South America, made of bark.

The cover of this work in progress is made of the rare and beautiful Amate paper

And the marbled kind. Silken to the touch, rich to the eye.

I can see this making beautiful end papers

Music was in the air, Dylan warning us, too late, a Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall. That was the night before. But then, this is the North of England, so he’ll probably be right again soon.

Graham Moss, who runs this gem of an enterprise, is a human repository of useful and arcane knowledge about the craft of printing. About the art (as a determined craftsman, he probably won’t like that) of publishing.

It was among those jewels of arcane knowledge that I encountered the Devil.

Early in its genesis, industrial printing drew odium from many quarters.

Words printed by metal, impressed upon paper, were forgeries. Real words were made of handwritten letters, using pens held in monkish hands in scriptoria.

What with the forgeries and the spreading of the vernacular Word to common folk, it was a bad time for scribes.

And then there was the blackness of the ink, which inevitably transferred itself to the skin of the lowest link in the production chain. The poor young lad who swept the floor and fetched the beer and pies.

He might, if he was lucky, work his way up to apprentice. Until then, though, he was shunned as the Printer’s Devil.

Mike, Graham’s typesetting colleague, claims to be a latter day version. But he looked pretty clean to me. (I suspect he’s really an apprentice but is wary of having ideas above his station.)

Mike at work on a first proof – where the type is laid out a in a tray and given one press to make sure it’s correct. It’s not quite there yet, see the next picture

Now this is the first proof marked up. Rather Mike than me.

Graham is showing me why we have the terms ‘upper case’ and ‘lower case’ – the capital letters were originally in the case above the desk, the rest below. Now the cases house both upper and lower … cases

A font. No, a design of type is not a font. Font is a collection of type, a standard font weighs 7lb, There you go, pub quiz sorted

The selection and commissioning of the works – books, pamphlets, ephemera – is Graham’s domain.

He needs, I think I detected, to feel inspired in order to start on this long, exacting process of setting, printing, binding and publishing by hand.

Sometimes it’s a long forgotten or never published work that the two men bring to the modern world. Sometimes it’s a new commission, on a theme that has lit Graham’s flame of enthusiasm and intrigued him.

Poetry figures large on the list.

Lines from an unpublished poem ‘An Essay On Censorship’ by Anthony Burgess, portrait by John Watson

Look closely and you will see that some letters are actually just one piece of type – like the ‘st’ in Feed’st – and that some of the capital letters are different forms of the same letter. A term applied to the sweeping tail of the R in rose is, I believe, swash. This was submitted by Kathy Whalen at Incline for the Bodleian Library on the 400th anniversary of the first printing of this opening and thus unnumbered sonnet

‘Always work to a design, not a budget,’ said Graham – and it applies to every detail.

Politics creeps in.

Printed for the Women’s March in January, the Manchester one


And even jam.

The printing process itself almost feel like an irritating necessity, only done to make these labours of love visible to the world.

Bought from the widow of a Welsh Methodist printer, this is operated by a treadle. It prints using a technique called ‘clam shell impression’

Originally imported by Eric Gill (he of Gill Sans, yes) this electrically driven printing press operates by ‘parallel impression’

I’m planning a more detailed post on my Maid in Britain site. So please visit there in a few days’ time if you’d like to know more details about the press’s work and see more pictures.

But now, it was time for the unwelcome journey home.

It was a day of some anxiety. The day before our General Election. Could I do anything, still, to make a difference?

As I drove back, eschewing the motorways this time, I realised what we lose as we travel on the highways and miss out the byways.

For I saw the transition of this part of the world as I drove.

Everywhere, I saw red brick.

Mills, their chimneys toppled or shortened. The old terraced houses of the workers. New terraced houses. And factories turned shopping complex.

Walls still standing, shielding active demolition.

Former pubs turned who-knows-what – or nothing. Functioning pubs, looking shabby. Forlorn mobility scooters tethered outside, waiting for their owners to take them home.

The palace of brick that once was Pendleton Industrial Cooperative Society.

Defunct police stations, casualties of austerity. Betting shops. The Job Centre.

And then, the remains of a dramatic accident. A car upside down. No choice but to observe, while my traffic lights stayed red.

But then I saw grass and trees. And the sun emerged.

And I saw this world is never still.

What once is rich can be poor. What once is poor can be rich.

And I hoped that one day, our politics might bring fairness and equality to our lives.

To all our lives. Everywhere.

Yeah, I know. They may say I’m a dreamer.

But I’m not the only one.


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