Saturday, July 31, 2010

West Yorkshire In Ten Squares : Square 4 - West Wood, Calverley

This project attempts to provide a flavour of what is typical in my home county of West Yorkshire by focusing on ten randomly selected squares from throughout the County. Each of the 500 square metre areas has been chosen by a random number generator and here I explore each of them in images and words.


It is Week 4 and, as the random number machine picks my square, I suspect a certain rhythm is emerging : mills, moors, water, woods. It's the rhythm of West Yorkshire itself, a rhythm that seamlessly blends nature and industry. The random number generator has come up with West Wood in Calverley, a patch of woodland that straddles the modern-day border between Leeds and Bradford. The map shows a square with a good many tree symbols, a couple of roads or tracks and a small stream : what more could any explorer ask for?

The square in question is half a mile west of Calverley : one of those small  West Yorkshire settlements that are almost a history of the county in themselves. Anglo-Saxon in origin, the village name derives from the Old English word "calfra" meaning "a clearing used for calves". The village followed that well-trodden West Yorkshire path : an agricultural community that, in the eighteenth century, began to cultivate a woolen textile industry, which was, in turn, replaced by a twentieth century commuter community serving the needs of Leeds and Bradford. So, a typical piece of West Yorkshire and a piece that would throw up a number of fascinating connections.


The square is dominated by West Wood which, to the great fortune of everyone concerned, is owned by the Woodland Trust. Visitors are therefore free to wonder up and down the paths and explore the frequent outcrops of millstone grit. Even on the bright day of my visit it can be a dark place, but it is never foreboding : there is always some light breaking through the densest trees, always the call of a blackbird or a wood pigeon to cut through the silence. It is a place of great beauty and peace, a place thousands of people travelling down the busy A657 must pass every day without knowing of its existence. A place waiting to be discovered by anyone with time on their hands - and a convenient random number machine.


The map square is dissected by two drives which fan out from their common meeting point with Carr Road - Clara Drive and Eleanor Drive. I was keen to discover the origin of these drives that sounded like a cast list from a Jane Austen novel, and what I discovered showed serendipity was alive and well and with me on my odyssey. The manor of Calverley was originally the property of Sir Walter Calverley (who, in order to spread confusion, was also known as Sir Walter Blackett) but in 1754 it was sold to the Thornhill family. The Thornhill family seat was at Fixby Hall, some fifteen miles away and, by one of those strange chances that make life interesting, within a few hundred yards of where I am writing this now. In 1786, Thomas Thornhill married Eleanor Lynne and for a wedding present he built her a Orangery at Fixby Hall. They had a daughter who they named Clara who eventually inherited Fixby Hall. Later she became a great friend of Charles Dickens and it is said that fictional Haversham Hall in Great Expectation was modeled on the house she  owned in Northamptonshire.

In the early nineteenth century, Thornhill had a plan to make money out of his Calverley estate. He would lay out two grand drives through the woods and sell building plots to the wealthy mill-owners of Bradford. He set out the drives, named them after his wife and his daughter, but only ever managed to sell a couple of plots of land. In the intervening two hundred years, Clara Drive has picked up a sprinkling of houses, but Eleanor Drive remains gloriously unpaved, gloriously wooded, and gloriously quiet.

As you wonder through the woods you keep coming across strange remnants of attempted colonization. An arch will span nothing, a set of fine stone stairs will lead nowhere. Somehow it all adds to the fascination of the place. 


During the Second World War the woods were used for training troops for the D Day landings. In the 1950s there was even a firework factory located somewhere deep in the woods but that tragically fell victim to an explosion. It is almost as if the woods will oppose any attempt to  take them over : to organise them, classify them, civilise them. I have no arguments with that, it is what woods should do.


When you get to the edge of the woods, the fields reappear reminding you that you are but a few yards away from normality. At the far side of the field is the main road, and houses and shops and all the comings and goings, all the doings and findings, the gettings and makings that are West Yorkshire.


To read the other installments of this series follow these links :


READ THE YORKSHIRE POST ARTICLE ON THE BACKGROUND TO THIS SERIES

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sepia Saturday 33 : Fowlers' Cousins Fowler


A faded sepia photograph from Fowler Beanlands's vintage postcard collection shows, according to an even more faded description etched into the glass negative, Mill Bridge in Skipton, North Yorkshire.

I have had a busy week this week and have not had time to visit Skipton (always a pleasure in itself) and record the view 100 years on so I have had to turn to the excellent Google Street View. The answer, I am pleased to report, is that little has changed. The buildings on the left of the old photograph would have included the Castle Inn which is still physically there : but a careful examination of the Street View photograph indicates that it is - or was - to let. Holy Trinity Church is obviously still there and, as far as I am aware, is not to let! The buildings on the right of the road will have included Stanforth's Pork Butchers' Shop which still exists and is now known as the "Celebrated Pork Pie Shop" and reputed to sell the finest pork pies in the world.

As well as encouraging me to revisit Skipton, the card also provided me with an important clue about Uncle Fowler himself.


Since I have been referring to his postcard collection many people have commented on his somewhat strange name. The Beanlands are my mothers' family and have a well-established presence in West Yorkshire. I had always assumed that his Christian name was the incorporation of a previous family surname : a common occurrence in nineteenth and early twentieth century England. Proof that this is the case comes from the deft-handed senders of the card - "cousins George and Ed Fowler". The card provides another fine example of how so much information can be contained within such a small and insignificant card. I now need to track down the Fowlers of Skipton. I think I will pay the town an early visit, pop into the local Library, call in at the Pork Pie Shop and enjoy a genealogical pint in the Castle Inn.

Take a look at the other Sepia Saturday 33 posts by following the links on the Sepia Saturday Blog.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fat Dog To The Big Apple (Via Dunes City)

"Fat Dog To The Big Apple" was a silly idea I had a couple of years ago. It was partly an incentive for me and my soft-coated wheaten terrier, Amy, to exercise more, and partly an experiment in virtual travel. As we took our daily walks along the street of West Yorkshire we would aggregate the weekly total and transfer the mileage to Google Earth in the form of an American transcontinental walk : from Los Angeles to New York. As we traveled we would use the full resources of the internet to experience - as far as a virtual traveler can experience - the places we visited and we would publish a weekly record of our journey. In one ridiculous experiment we could get fit, discover fascinating things about America, and test the limits of virtual travel. In the three years since the adventure started, there have been stops and starts and long periods of inactivity. However, we have traveled up the Pacific coast as far as mid Oregon. The latest report comes from Dunes City, Oregon. Future reports will be published on the dedicated Fat Dog Blog.

Click on picture to enlarge
Click on card to enlarge and read.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Great Yorkshire Pubs : The Travellers', Hipperholme.

It seems to be some time since I featured one of my "Great Yorkshire Pubs" on the blog, so let us try and put things right by paying a visit to the Travellers' Inn in Hipperholme. Get yourself a drink, pull up a chair and soak up the atmosphere of this fine Grade II listed eighteenth century ale-house.

THE TRAVELLERS' INN
Tanhouse Hill, Halifax HX3 8HN  
Tel : 01422 202 494

At first you might be tempted to ask what is so special about the Travellers'. Despite its historic building listing, it doesn't look particularly spectacular (it is probably listed for being typical of the period rather than for being outstanding). Until recently it could have been one of a hundred such pubs which could have been found in each Yorkshire town. No nonsense, stone-built, utilitarian temples to Bacchus : or at least places you could get a decent pint at the end of a hard day's work. But if you are tempted to ask the question, let me tell you what is special about The Travellers'. It is still open. Not only that, it appears to be thriving.

Until Saturday evening I hadn't set foot in the Travellers' for forty years or more. I remember taking some visitors from London there, to give them a feel of a real Yorkshire pub. Back then it was very much a "local" and conversation would still stop when a stranger walked through the door. I probably advised my companions to enjoy their visit because such pubs would not still be around in forty years time. In a sense I managed to be right and wrong at the same time.

The Travellers' in the early twentieth century (this is not, I should add, a picture of my previous visit!)
The fabric of the building is still very much the same, although the stone has been cleaned and the roof straightened. Inside, the little narrow rooms and snugs have been largely opened out - although my wife and I still managed to find a semi-snug in which to enjoy our drink on Saturday evening. From the cars and the bicycles parked outside, I would guess that the clientèle is less "local" than of old, but it is no tourist-trap, and you still feel as though you are entering a pub rather than a theme park. Without a doubt, the beer is better than it was 40 years ago : the Travellers' is now owned by Ossett Brewery and its' range of beers will gladden the heart of any real ale enthusiast. It is a "beery" pub and consequently can feel a little intimidating to the non-enthusiast and its' lists of beers and gravities, hops and fermentations can be a little overwhelming. But I have to say, it fights hard against being over-serious and it remains the kind of place I would happily take a visitor to these parts. A place I would happily take a traveller to : what greater praise can there be.

DRINKING NOTES: I had a pint of Ossett Brewery's Yorkshire Blonde (3.9% ABV) which somehow seemed suitable for the venue. This is very much a 21st century real ale with a colour that, from a distance, could be mistaken for lager and a taste which contains all the elements of a hoppy brew with the slightest hint of sweetness. A good introduction to good Yorkshire beer - a good pint for a traveller to enjoy.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Lost Parks Of Huddersfield II (A Sepia Saturday Post)

The original postcard and the photograph I took yesterday from the same spot.
The other day I did a post featuring an old postcard dating back to the 1930s. The card had a picture of somewhere called Beaumont Park in Huddersfield and I commented that, despite having lived in the town for over 15 years, I had never heard of the Park. I promised to go in search of it and report back. The picture I came back with was as sepia as the one on the postcard so I thought it would make a fitting Sepia Saturday post.

The Gatehouse
Let me first of all say that I should be ashamed of myself : Beaumont Park is the oldest park in Huddersfield and surely must be one of the most spectacular in West Yorkshire. Situated just to the south of Huddersfield town centre and stretching along the steep valley of the River Holme, the park was laid out in the 1880s following a gift of the land from the wealthy local land-owner and politician, Henry Frederick Beaumont. In making the gift, Beaumont said that the object of the resulting park should be "to increase the happiness, promote the good health and elevate the minds of the people of Huddersfield".

Building access roads, planting a wide range of vegetation and setting out woodland walks was a considerable undertaking for the local town council and a special rate was levied on all house-owners. But it must have been worth it because during the 1880s a spectacular park emerged offering wonderful views over the valley and towards the Pennine hills.

The View From Beaumont Park
Today the park is still cared for by the local Kirklees Council with the enthusiastic support of a group of volunteers - the Friends of Beaumont Park. They have a fine website where you can find further information about the history of the park and the delights it can still offer the visitor 125 years after it was first opened. My thanks to the very late Uncle Fowler for introducing me to this little gem of a park via one of his old postcards.

Beaumont Park, July 2010
This is a Sepia Saturday post. Go to the Sepia Saturday Blog to get links to all the other Sepia Saturday bloggers or join in the fun yourself.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Shadowstalking World Tour Hits West Yorkshire


Imagine my surprise the other day when a candy-striped hot-air balloon drifted over Round Hill and settled to earth just short of Bradley Woods and out of the basket climbed my good friend, the Canadian poet Kat Mortensen. (Can I just point out to anyone who has arrived at my blog by chance that us bloggers live in a strange virtual world in which things like this happen with surprising regularity). Kat has just published her first volume of poems - "Shadowstalking" - and has embarked on a world tour to publicise it. I was delighted that her busy itinerary took in West Yorkshire and I persuaded her to join me in the Round Hill Tavern for a chat and a glass or two of Laphroaig before she had to dash off to other appointments throughout Europe. Our conversation went as follows:

AB : Do you feel nervous about exposing your emotions in your poems? 
KM : I’d have to say that I’ve always been a very forthcoming individual. Even as a child, I would talk to strangers (much to the consternation of my mother and father) and give away family secrets. As an adult, I find it most cathartic to put my emotions into a poem and I feel that by sharing my experiences, I am giving people an opportunity to empathize and in many cases work through their own emotions vicariously. I know when I read other poets’ work, it does this for me.
There is always some trepidation about putting yourself out there – exposing your true self, since one never knows how it will be received. That’s when you feel nervous and vulnerable. However, the majority of my poems have been successful and most people “get” them. There are always going to be some that don’t quite hit the mark, mind you.

AB : In relation to your own poems, and other poets you admire, what do you believe are the three most important ingredients of a good poem? 
KM : That’s a tough question. I sincerely believe when I write that I must be true to who I am and not try to “fake” it by copying another person’s style or word usage. I don’t force the work; if a poem is ready to be developed, then I run with it. If there’s nothing in my mind, or I’m struggling with an idea, I don’t compel myself to write. I like to let things stew. (This is an excellent way to avoid the “writer’s block” trap, by the way.)
I’m not sure if I’ve answered your question.
I think what I admire in other poets is honesty, a sense of what’s real and a bit of fun. I guess that’s what I hope is in my own work.
I cannot tolerate poets who write angsty poems that really have no meaning. I don’t mind a bit of free-thinking, but if I get lost or bored by the third or fourth line, you can be sure I’m not going to seek out their work again.

AB : What is the best single line - poetry or prose - you have ever written? 
KM: That is an even tougher question. I do know that my favourite poem that I’ve written thus far is, “Snow Upon Snow”. It’s a piece that just came to me one winter’s day when I looked out my kitchen window to see a worker in the cemetery behind my back fence finish up after a funeral. I can’t confine it to a single line because the verse is really one line:

There’s a corpus delecti descending today;
I dream that the Angels are holding at bay,
The demons who prey on the newly laid low,
And silently falls, the fresh snow upon snow.

One of the reasons I like it is because it puts me in mind of the Christmas Carol, “In The Bleak Midwinter” which has the line, “Snow was falling, snow on snow...” It's been a favourite of mine for a long time.

Dave (The Barman) : Another couple of malts in there?
AB : You don't need to ask.

As I escorted Kat back to her waiting balloon, I asked her where she was heading for next and I have to say that her reply lacked the coherence of her usual splendid verse. As the balloon rose into the evening sky and followed the M62 west in the direction of Manchester I wished her well. It may be some time before I see her again and therefore I have ordered a copy of her book. And knowing of her work from her blog, I would strongly recommend the volume to everyone else. Kat has set up a dedicated blog for the book and it contains a link to buy your own copy. Check it out.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Lost Parks Of Huddersfield

A note to new readers : - Each week a group of bloggers from around the world post on a common theme. The weekly theme is taken from a list of suggestions contributed over time by the bloggers themselves and interpretations of the theme can be in any format. Besides the weekly theme, the only other common ingredient is inventiveness. Links to all the participating blogs can be found on the Theme Thursday blog. The theme for this week is "park".


Most of the postcards in Great Uncle Fowlers' postcard collection date back to the first decade of the twentieth century and it is unusual for me to get a glimpse of his life after that time. Although I met him in the late 1950s, by then he was very old and I was still too young to take any interest in the story of his life. It is only in recent years that I have begun to piece together the story of this Keighley-born millwright and most of the clues have come from the messages on his treasured postcards. It was therefore with interest that, in searching through the collection to find a card to illustrate this weeks' theme of "park" I came across a card sent to him in June 1933. The front of the card shows a picture of Beaumont Park in Huddersfield, but it is the message side of the card that first caught my attention.


In 1933 Fowler was living in Raven Street, Keighley in a back-to-back terraced house which, as far as I can discover, is still standing today. The card comes from a certain B or perhaps R H Scott. For some reason the message has been written upside down, so to make things easier I have transcribed it.

Dear Bro Beanland. I have not as yet fixed up my digs but I intend leaving here at 1.55 pm arriving in Blackpool about 5.20 pm on Mon s if you are there first please look out for me. Yours Fraternally B H Scott.

The "Bro" (Brother) greeting and fraternal signature strongly suggests that both Fowler and Brother Scott were both delegates to a trade union or labour movement conference that was taking place in the seaside resort of Blackpool in June 1933. I have tried all the obvious candidates - the Labour Party, the TUC, and the AEU - but none of them seemed to have been meeting in Blackpool that year. But no doubt I will eventually track down the reason for the excursion to Blackpool, and another piece in the jigsaw puzzle that is Uncle Fowler will fall into place.

But the reason why I first pulled this card out of the box was the picture of the park and not my unfinished history of Fowler Beanland. What was rather surprising is that it shows a picture of Beaumont Park in Huddersfield, and although I have lived in the town for the last sixteen years I have to confess I had never heard of it. I have now done a little research and discovered where the park is. So tomorrow I intend to go in search of, what for me is, one of the lost parks of Huddersfield. I will try and find the same spot from where the postcard photograph was taken 75 years ago. As I write this I have no idea what we will find there, but by this time tomorrow, both you and I should know.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

West Yorkshire In Ten Squares : Square 3 - Woodlesford

This project attempts to provide a flavour of what is typical in my home county of West Yorkshire by focusing on ten randomly selected squares from throughout the County. Each of the 500 square metre areas has been chosen by a random number generator and here I explore each of them in images and words.

In the days leading up to me asking the random number generator to nominate the third set of co-ordinates for my ten square odyssey of West Yorkshire, I wondered how on earth the chosen square could match up to the historic interest and the natural beauty of the first two squares. An old brewery perhaps (those who know me know that I like an old brewery almost as much as a fresh pint). In the event I was close, very close, missing out by a mere forty or so years.


When I checked the random numbers against my West Yorkshire atlas and realised my allotted square took in a good slice of the village of Woodlesford I assembled a list of all I knew about the place : it was somewhere to the south of Leeds, it had a railway station (I recall hearing its name intoned by the lady announcing the slow train from Sheffield to Leeds), and, at some stage, it had a brewery. During my visit I did discover a lot more about Woodlesford and found that it had its' own take on Yorkshire beauty. Even though the brewery is long gone, it is anything but a one-horse (or a one-train) town.

Let me start with that brewery and with a picture of how it used to be. The drawing shows the Eshald Well Brewery of Henry Bentley & Co of Woodlesford as it would have been in the 1890s. Later, following a series of mergers and acquisitions, it became better known by the initials "BYB which stood for Bentleys Yorkshire Brewery.
Bentley's Eshald Well Brewery (Illustration from "The Noted Breweries of Great Britain" by Alfred Barnard)
Much of the land which once housed this fine brewery site has now been redeveloped as a housing estate, and only a series of twee names give a clue to the hoppy grandeur that once was. In his monumental four volume record of "The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland", that great Victorian, Alfred Barnard, describes a visit to the brewery in the 1890s and how he was taken to see the fermenting house, "a lofty, well-ventilated building, measuring 70 feet by 40 feet with its ten slate fermenting squares, with latticed pathways between them, each fitted with copper rousing pumps, worked from shafting connected to the main engine" Ah, do the residents of the neat new houses know where they are sleeping at night?

Tom Pudding boats passing along the Aire and Calder Navigation, Woodlesford
But the fine industrial heritage of my square has not been all buried under bijou properties. The Aire and Calder Navigation still runs through the top corner of my square and as I watched from the road bridge I was delighted to see a group of old barges approach. This was a rare sight indeed as they were the last of the "Tom Pudding" boats returning from Leeds where they had been taking part in a festival. Tom Puddings were a unique system of container barges developed for moving coal along the Aire and Calder and Calder and Hebble canals in West Yorkshire. In a way they were a precursor to the idea of a container ship, except the flat bottomed containers filled with coal were strung together and floated rather than piled high on some ocean-going ship.

My square was not all industrial archeology. You can walk along the canal path - which forms part of the magnificent Trans-Pennine trail - and see little but green fields and hear little but the buzz of insects and the songs of birds. There were some fine buildings within the part of the village that fell within my square, one of the finest being the building that, until twenty years ago, was the local church. All Saint's Church was originally build by Bentley family (the brewers) in the 1880s but was converted into a private house in the 1990s.

Breweries and barges aside, the housing mix was perhaps the most fascinating element of the square. Within 500 square metres you can find one of the most eclectic mixes of houses you could ever hope to discover. There are fine old Yorkshire stone terraced houses, stunningly adventurous new designs, converted public buildings and suburban semis.

The former All Saints Church, now a private dwelling
Typical Yorkshire terraced houses in Woodlesford
Modern housing on Church Street, Woodlesford
The overwhelming feeling you get from a visit to Woodlesford is that it is a nice place. Having been introduced to it by serendipity, I will return (my square contained a fine looking pub - The Two Pointers Inn - which was not open during my early morning visit and therefore a return trip is necessary). Whilst my first two squares were spectacular in their own ways, they were less representative of West Yorkshire at the beginning of the twenty-first century than Square 3. If the random number generator is right, and this is typically West Yorkshire, I for one will not be complaining.

Woodlesford Railway Station
To read the other installments of this series follow these links :

Monday, July 19, 2010

This And That And A Guilty Secret

My end of the week round-up of miscellaneous jottings - the accumulated fluff at the bottom of the drawer of my subconscious mind - unusually appears at the beginning of the week which means I'm either late or very early. Having always been a kind of half-full type of person, I think I am very early.

THIS summer we are having a whole series of house guests. At the moment our cousins are staying with us en-route to relocating to a new house in the country. Shortly after they leave, my niece and her family from the British Virgin Islands will be staying with us for a few weeks. We love having guests in the house - it's a bit like Kibbutz living for older softies - but there is one aspect of having a house full of people that does cause me some concern. It's our bottle output. We have these bottle boxes for recycling in which you pile all your empty glass bottles to be collected by the glass collector every few weeks. Before Collection Day the full boxes need to be left outside your house for easy access and the great local sport is to wander up and down the local roads having a good look at what - and how much - people are drinking. We all pretend, of course, not to be interested in such sins of our neighbours, but you would be amazed how many people suddenly discover they have dogs to walk on the morning the glass collector is due. The collector is due this week and our bin is already overflowing and therefore I am busy fashioning a large sign which I will attach to the box saying "IT IS NOT ALL OURS, WE HAVE GUESTS"

THAT dreadful word "austerity" seems to be constantly in the news at the moment. We have been warned on every occasion that times are about to get very hard and we are encouraged to find new and cheaper approaches to the provision of vital public services and infrastructure. The latest craze seems to be for something called "the Big Society" in which citizens groups and charities are encouraged to take things into their own hands. I was going through some of my vintage postcards the other evening and I came across one of Ramsdale Valley and the Valley Bridge in Scarborough. Reading up on the history of the bridge I was intrigued to discover that in the mid nineteenth century the local citizens of the Yorkshire seaside town decided they needed a bridge across the deep Ramsdale Valley. Not being able to afford a new one (there is nothing new about austerity) they acquired a second-hand one which used to span the River Ouse in York. Now I assume they asked permission before dismantling the bridge and moving it thirty miles to the east, but it does make you wonder. The thought of groups of local vigilantes creeping around at night in order to dismantle and re-locate bridges, schools, old people's homes and stretches of motorways is rather attractive although I am not sure that it is what David Cameron had in mind.

My GUILTY SECRET is not the empty bottles. Anyone who is even casually acquainted with me knows that I have  a hefty ability to empty bottles of alcohol. No, the Good Lady Wife and myself have developed another guilty secret over the last couple of months, a passion that we regularly head up onto the tops of the Pennines between Huddersfield and Sheffield to sate. There can be found the home of the magnificent Yummy Yorkshire Ice Cream Company and their range of delicious farm-made ice-creams. There is no point in trying to describe the delights of this ice-cream : mere words should be reserved for describing the beauty of Helen of Troy or the vastness of the Grand Canyon. For Yummy Yorkshire Ice Cream you have to experience both the setting and the taste in order to appreciate it. So if anyone is heading to these parts from the four corners of the world, let me know and I will arrange a personal introduction.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sepia Saturday 32 : Frank's Wanderer


My Sepia Saturday photograph this week was taken by my Uncle Frank. Frank Fieldhouse was an archivist's dream - he recorded dates, places, and names with the thoroughness of an obsessive compulsive. His photographs were collected into neat albums, each album dedicated to a particular holiday or resort. The photographs themselves were not great - he rightly referred to them as "snaps" - but their lack of artistic polish is part of their charm. Frank was regularly guilty of three pitfalls awaiting the keen amateur photographer in those days when cameras were less sophisticated : he had difficulty keeping his horizon horizontal, he frequently included his thumb in his shots, and his intended subject would often be lost in the background. Unintended extras would often feature as the stars in his photographs as can be seen in the above example taken in Hyde Park, London in August 1938.

I suspect that the intended subject in the photograph was Frank's sister - the lady between the posts in the park. But it is the girl inadvertently wandering into the picture - half hidden behind the Fieldhouse Thumb - that captures my whole attention. Some time ago I was trying to write a story set in the 1930s, the main character of which was a young woman, a typical London career girl of the time. In my attempt to describe her I trawled through endless web sites devoted to the  fashions of the 1930s. Somehow I couldn't get her quite right - she was always a museum model rather than a real person. I never finished the story. But having seen Frank's wanderer, I am tempted to return to it. Here is the real woman, caught by chance by my Uncle Frank and his Box Brownie.

Take a look at what everyone else has done for Sepia Saturday 32 - there are links to all the posts on the Sepia Saturday Blog.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

West Yorkshire In Ten Squares : Square 2 - The Thimble Stones

This project attempts to provide a flavour of what is typical in my home county of West Yorkshire by focusing on ten randomly selected squares from throughout the County. Each of the 500 square metre areas has been chosen by a random number generator and here I explore each of them in images and words.


Square two of my ten square odyssey and serendipity still seems to be granting me her favours. After being directed to one of the most iconic industrial quarters of the county last week (Square One : Little Germany), the random number generator now sends me into the very heart of one of the most remote areas of natural beauty - Ilkley Moor. Leaving my car at the small car park near the Whetstone Gate radio masts, whistling "On Ilkley Moor 'Bart Hat", I set out on foot across the moor in search of my allotted 500 metre square. The map had been sparing in detail about the square (my own fault for choosing a road atlas for my odyssey) and I had been slightly worried that it might be entirely enclosed private land. But luck was with me, a footpath dissected my square and mother nature had thrown in some ancient standing stones for good measure.

Looking north-west from the Thimble Stones in the direction of Skipton
Someone once put a comment on one of my blogs saying that they had never quite understood what moors were. Growing up in an area where the moors are always your near neighbour, I had at first been surprised by the comment. It was only later that I realised that hereabouts we take these majestic borders of civilisation for granted, these uncultivated blankets of bracken, gorse and peat.

The moors, a sheep and Wharfedale
High on the top of Ilkley Moor you can look down on civilisation like some Yorkshire God. To the south is the Aire valley and the towns of Keighley, Bingley and Shipley. Just a little further south-east and you can see a hint of Bradford with its urban outskirts clinging to the valley. In the distance you can spot Emley Moor mast signalling the southern confines of the Metropolitan County.  

Looking south to Airedale and beyond.
To the north the view is just as spectacular. Wharfedale cuts an east-west path through the hills giving shelter to the towns of Ilkley and Otley. Lest you think that you have strayed into some rural idyll isolated from the outside world, you can catch a glimpse of the ominous white golf ball structures at Menwith Hills - one of the largest electronic monitoring and missile defense sites in the world.


Yorkshire dry stone walls
My chosen square was rich in views but what did it possess in itself? Well, there was a wall, the occasional sheep, some stone flags for a footpath across the boggy ground - and there were the Thimble Stones. These massive lumps of millstone grit had been abandoned by some long vanished glacier with all the carelessness of a toddler throwing away his toys. Over the aeons, the wind and the rain had smoothed them, ridged them, and shaped them so that now they resemble outcrops of bone sticking out through the skin of some ancient monster. I am told that they might have been used as altars by the prehistoric inhabitants of the moors, but during my visit the only supplicant was a grazing sheep.

The Thimble Stones, Ilkley Moor
So far my odyssey has shown me two sides of West Yorkshire and also two interpretations of beauty. The beauty of Little Germany was a beauty shaped by industrial man, the beauty of the Thimble Stones was the ancient beauty of nature itself. I am not sure where square three will take us - I have yet to ask the random number generator to work its magic - but wherever it may be, I will go, and I will report back to you on what I find.

To read other installments of the West Yorkshire In Ten Squares series click here.