Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Rock and roll

Some of the most ancient bits of Britain's rocks crop up round here. Slates and other fine-grained slabs have been put to good use in flooring, making bridges, roofs, and other noticeable places. These stones date from a few thousand million years ago.
Through various movements of the Earth's surface, these amazing and beautiful rocks appear right bang next to much younger rocks - the marvellous Carboniferous Limestone which I mentioned yesterday, and then the grits and sandstones, which are even younger still.
The old houses round here display an almost musical harmony in their arrangements of these stone materials, where the textures and colours and grain of the various stones play against each other. Sometimes the black soots of the 18th and 19th century are still logged into the surface, making it look a bit like burnt toast. Some buildings have been cleaned, or re-mortared, or even painted over, but there's some sort of planning control keeping an eye on the colours and proportions, and the results are very pleasing.

Some windows have gone wonky. Some buildings have been extended with nearly-matching stone. Some of the isolated farmsteads up in the moors, with their tight rectangular corners and eaves, look like snappy parcels delivered into the peaty flats below the tops a few hundred years ago and all right and tight.
Lower down, the valleys hold the little towns and villages - all higgledy-piggledy, with market-places, courtyards, houses with their mounting-blocks standing ready for the gentlemen to come out to ride away.  I read today that the farms, up in the empty hills, were settled by the Norsemen, Vikings, and they have the placenames of Scar, Crag, Gill, etc... while the valleys were settled by the Angles, so they have the (to me) more familiar suffixes of -ton, -ham and -ley.   Their architecture really is quite different, even though it's all made of the same sorts of stone.  But the arrangements are strikingly characteristic of each type, and that must date back to way before the Conquest... into the early Middle Ages, or the early post-Roman.
There are field bumps which are Iron Age, and Roman marching camps still visible up on the tops. No-one's ever ploughed them out, so they just remain there, as mute evidence of past practice.
The greensward is tight on much of the land, with rough grazing further up, and there we saw marvellous shaggy long-horn cattle just ambling about. Locals used to claim this was their place of origin, but it turns out they came from the Midlands - it was the farmers of Craven (this area) who worked on the breed and developed it into the adorable fuzzy-faced candelabra-style cattle who look so much at home up here.

Wearing very suitable looking boots etc. we walked to see some of the waterfalls - particularly the Force at Stainforth (Angle = 'stony ford', and there it is, a blooming stony ford all right). The force is not the highest but has some very attractive limestone pavement on the banks, and fish jumping. We did not see salmon leaping but it's not hard to imagine this would be a great place for them.  The beautiful 17thC packhorse bridge (owned by the National Trust since the 1930s) is an elegant swoop of stone - it was part of a network of paths and roads over these complicated hills and valleys, in this case with monastic origins.

I had a strong urge to summon up my old geography teacher from school in the early 1960s. Mrs Gall had drummed into us her passion for such matters as the limestone pavements, Malham Tarn and Malham Cove, sills and dykes, pot-holes and so on, and I wanted to say to her 'Look, I've finally got here! I've been to see. I've understood!' But of course, she died long ago. She had a pretty cottage in Sussex somewhere, with floral curtains. I went there for tea once. She had raved about the Western Ghats in India, and always said 'Him-ahlyer' when she had the chance. I was so scared of her at first but she was a great teacher and she was with me today. 
There are quite a few business properties for sale in the pretty villages up here - tea-rooms, etc.  The one we called into had an appalling amount of tat for sale and served an out-of-date Eccles cake with our coffee. But later we had lunch back in Settle, in a long dark bar called 'Thirteen'. It was rather French in style, quite busy and offered (for instance) a lentil & spinach masala with naan bread for £4, and a bacon and local black-pudding salad for £6, along with a decent glass of wine.  Settle also entertained us with a trip round The Folly (a stupendous airy show-off building created in 1679, and now Grade I listed)... three floors of marvellous architecture housing some nice modern art. Alan Bennett is chairman of the local volunteer group who are restoring and maintaining it. I had to get special permission from the Curator to take pictures (which I will gladly show you). Their exhibiting artists are touchy about plagiarism. One of them found her wonderful landscapes reproduced without permission in a Japanese calendar which was on sale there for a lot of munnee.....  So I promised to exclude any art from my shots and concentrate on the stairs, windows, ceilings, floors, fireplaces etc. which truly made my heart beat faster.  This ground floor room has a massive range of stone windows, which actually go round the corner. Astonishing.

In such a building, the use of the best stone, from quarries far and near, and some of it untouched since 1679 (though some other parts altered of course), all combine to make a fabulous memorable building. They have a history and geology display too, where I learned a lot more about the local stone (see).
Now we're back in Cobble Cottage. Supper tonight will be John Dory, bought at 8.30am from the market from a fishmonger from Fleetwood. In some ways, Craven is nearer to the western seas than to the east coast. They speak a very soft kind of Yorkshire too, and they mock their own dialect, with postcards spelling out quaint sayings.  "It's crackin' t'flags" (meaning "it's very hot today") would be referring to 'flagstoans' or paving stones.  They do love their rocks.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Oop north

It's one of the benevolences of being in Britain that we have in this small set of islands an astonishingly rich tectonic and geological history. You can see it just by driving a short distance in any direction. The landscape changes - sometimes quite dramatically - in just a matter of miles.

Here we have slumped marshes and flat emptiness. The houses are timber-framed. The chosen building material is brick.  Here we have low ranges of hills, with completely different vegetation and farming. Next we have densely industrial sprawls, where all the decisions ever made by man in those quarters have been worked out as concrete and steel surfaces and practical intensity - factories, yards, fences, controls. And eventually we get to the really hard stuff. The Carboniferous limestone.

We left home in Kent just after 5 o'clock this morning and have driven most of the day to get to North Yorkshire. It was the weather - the atmosphere - which governed our experience most of the day, rather than the views, at least as far as the River Trent. And by the time we were 'level' with Leeds, my goodness - the power of the scenery started to hammer home. The rivers are deeper, famous. The towns and cities have a resonant fame - for steel, milling, wool, the factory system. And the houses re all blackened by centuries of soot, even now.

We seized the chance to go into Haworth, a literary detour of course. Up into the moors - Shelf Moor, to start with - how pleasing, as we have little Shelvin not far from us in Kent, and that name was early in the Anglo-Saxon settlements and meant flat land. Precious in the 5th and 6th centuries, and still today.  Drystone walls. Vivid pastures. Distant views. The sense of continuity, though that can only ever be imagined. We can barely begin to imagine the hardships of people in the past. The deaths, so young, of so many.  Patrick Brontë buried his pretty Cornish wife when she was only in her early 30s, leaving him with six small children.  He sent the two oldest little girl to school and they came home to die very soon afterwards. Going into his Parsonage - now the Bronte Museum - the deaths are softly pointed out. Emily died on this sofa. Mrs Brontë died in the main bedroom, and then Charlotte died in the same room after being married for only 9 months.  The average life expectancy in Haworth in the early 19thC was under 29. 40% of children did not live to six years old.   Yet the house is set up to show us not how they died but how they lived....    They played this cabinet piano. They wrote Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall here, in this dining room. Here are the tiny books they wrote and 'published' as children. Here are the paintings and drawings they made of their beloved dogs.....  

It is with these drawings and paintings that the place comes to life for me. I just cannot imagine them sitting and writing, as they did.  It's less real to me than the hills, the stone roofs, the steep streets, the blackened cottages.

I had imagined that Haworth was a really remote and silent place - isolated in a Gothic sense. But I can see that it was - even then - a commodious little town, with quite a lot going on. I feel a sense of relief on behalf of those amazing children. They must have had an astonishing childhood, loved by their father and their aunt, with pets (a dog costing £3!!!!!), and able to travel, and of course to get out onto the moors and hilltops.  They loved their servants, who stayed a long time with them, and were regarded as part of the family.  They had 'things' about them - the piano, books, prints, plain enough, but no less inspiring for being plain.    The Museum has been well-endowed with objects which are known to have belonged to them - mostly scooped up and saved by relatives or astute admirers in Ireland and the United States. It is clean, tidy, and run by volunteers.  I have not done very much literary touring, but I would compare it to Dorothy and William Wordsworth's cottage in Cumbria, and Ellen Terry's house at Smallhythe. Vaux le detour.

We also went to see the old railways station, splendid in its old-fashioned crimson and cream livery, and with a marvellous coal-yard, with all the different grades of anthracite gleaming in dark piles.  Oh, childhood!

Then into Keighley to Lloyds Bank to insist they send some money to Spain for me, as their international internet service turned out to be a dreadful waste of time...  The nice man (who was not an Indian, unlike almost all the other people we saw in Keighley) did all the stuff good and proper and did not charge me for the transaction. 

Finally, we headed off into the wilds to the charming, pretty, prosperous, sorted-out little town of Settle. Here we are in a small cottage, as neat as can be. Dorothy and William could not have been more happily settled. We have 3 or 4 days to explore the area, including the famous limestone caves and pavements. We are not climbers, but we will get to grips with the Carboniferous.  How uplifting it all looks.