November 2018 to January 2019. Staying fairly local.

As indicated in the title, this post is not mostly about travels in the van, just something to record the months at home before setting off for winter 2019 in the sun again:-)

We had not managed the full six months we had wanted in Europe but by October 2018 we’d been away for the best part of four months. The garden needed beating into submission. Again! Housesitters are happy to water and occasionally mow but more than that is too much to ask with a garden as full and busy as ours. The house desperately needs decluttering so maybe we should apply it to the garden as well.

We caught up on doctor and dentist visits and walked around our home city reminding ourselves of the beautiful historic place we live in. Public buildings are decorated for the upcoming 100th anniversary of the end of the first world war. All Saints bleeds poppies from its roof and is quite moving.

It seems to have been inspired by the weeping window at the truly remarkable Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation of poppies at the Tower of London four years previously. That huge work of art was to commemorate the start of that war.

To continue….I’m not sticking to chronological order here – more a grouping by theme. Maybe just randomly associated thoughts. As well as town walks we went for a wander around Askham Bog – of one Yorkshire Wildlife Trust open spaces. We had signed petitions to safeguard this historic spot from nearby housing development which threatened to disrupt the water flows that sustain the ecosystem of this unique area. The campaign had been supported by none other than David Attenborough who regards it as a “treasure”. (The developer fought succeeding planning refusals all the way up to Government level but finally lost in May 2020. Hurrah!) “Askham Bog is remarkable survivor of the ancient fenlands of Yorkshire. It occupies the site of an ancient lake, left behind by a retreating glacier 15,000 years ago…” Well worth saving.

Other outings included a brief stay in Portia in a farm yard in Alkborough in order to walk to Kell Well. Alkborough is the village in north Linconshire where my father was born in 1925. The little school there had a Schoolmaster’s house adjacent and, since his father was the Schoolmaster, my father was born there and lived in it until the age of 12. He also attended the school for all his junior schooling. He retained a real attachment to the place all his life and I too have a fondness for it both for this reason and from childhood visits. I had left it too late to organise a visit to the tree we had planted in memory of my father in the school garden there –  you cannot just walk into school grounds these days!

I really wanted this time was to check out another childhood memory at the far end of the village – little star shaped stones in a stream. Alkborough is on an escarpment that slopes steeply down to the south bank of the Humber Estuary. There is a path that runs along the escarpment from the turf maze at Jacob’s Bower to the west and south. 

Jacob’s Bower overlooking the confluence of the Trent and the Ouse.

A mile or so along a small stream issues from a stone fountainhead beneath the path and trickles down the slope to the Humber below. I have a distant memory of walking along this path with  my father and finding magical little star shaped stones. I could not be sure if it was a real memory as my sister did not recall it. The path to the Well is a pleasant walk with wonderful views. In January 2019 the snowdrops were already showing through. Definitely worth another visit in summer weather.

Kell Well itself is not a particularly attractive spot on a cold day when it is wet underfoot. We fossicked about in the mud and undergrowth nonetheless hoping a speck of white would prove to be a little star.

I had done some research and the little stars do exist! They are the fossil remains of ancient crinoids. These are marine animals related to the starfish with stalk-like fronds that separate into little star-shaped segments. Their fossilised remains used to be found in abundance at Kell Well (so my memory was true) but none have been found recently. The farmer whose yard we were staying in said he knew of them and his mother had a jarful on the windowsill. Despite my obvious eagerness he did not offer me any and I did not like to ask:-(  Amazingly they are available for sale from geological interest sites on the internet and I bought a few when we got back just to have one in my hand again and confirm the memory.

Google maps shows the village has pub but it is not evident to the casual observer. In fact it is a club, a co-op actually, but non-members are allowed to use the bar and it seems well loved by the villagers. The beer is remarkably cheap and food is available. Had I known we would have eaten there but instead we picked our way back across the mud in the farmyard and spent a quiet night near the chickens.

Back home there were travel matters to take care of. National preparation for Brexit was in a state of chaos and acrimony and our personal preparation needed to keep up. I forget the exact nature of all the different cliff-edge political deadlines now but a stream of them came and went and others were still ahead – depending on negotiations and so on. I think there was one possibly due to happen while we were away in the winter. I have forgotten the actual sequence but we had ended up in a Catch-22 situation of needing separate international driving licences for Spain and France before we left, due to them being agreed under different treaties, but couldn’t get them as they would only become available after we had left the UK, and you had to get them in person at a UK Post Office. Or something like that. So, for this trip we figured we would be out of Spain by the critical date but had to have our licences translated into french – at some cost.

The only other admin-type activity was the regular pre-Christmas visit to Bristol to deal with family matters for my mother. We managed a pre-christmas meal out with her and, as a bonus, there was a carol concert by Helen’s choir in a Bristol church. It was a good visit.

Back home, St Nicholas market was in full swing in the middle of town and the lights went up around the streets.

Bootham Bar gets its coat of lights

And I went carol singing with the ad hoc choir that gathers from the streets around here every year. Nice to catch the full moon!

Christmas came and went and we saw the New Year in sitting around the chimenea in next door’s back garden. Surprisingly warm considering! But not as warm as we were hoping to be in a few weeks in Portugal:-)