Friday, April 28, 2006

Bookends To What Lies Between

I took a walk along Whitby seafront today. The entire fishing fleet was in because of a severe weather forecast. The trawlermen have their own drinking haunts, tucked away up sidestreets and darkened alleys - they are a breed apart from the plastic palaces of daytrippers and the superficial tweeness beloved of off-duty systems analysts from the cities looking for haute cuisine and a comfy corner overlooking the harbour. They risk their lives on every trip and I can honestly say I have yet to meet a trawlerman I dislike. Good honest folk.
The town is full of the very old and the very young this week. The allure of the rolling waves and far horizons bring mystery to the young and memories to the old. Fish and chips and sandcastles, seagulls and slot machines - adventures anticipated and good times remembered - bring smiles to the visiting faces. What lies ahead or lies behind does not seem to matter - its a day out by the sea. Life may get in the way, but the magic will be with you always.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Robbing The Sundance Kid

I can't quite believe that April is coming to an end. In February it seemed so far away, yet it will be another year until I see my favourite month again. Treasure your Aprils my friends - we don't get many! My little feathered friend here obviously had an eye on breakfast and refused to be intimidated by the presence of a camera lens just a foot or so from his tailfeathers. Further up the valley a goat was enjoying the morning sun when he heard the sound of my boots on gravel. At this merest hint of distraction, a pheasant scurried up to his bowl and wolfed down a generous helping of grain. And who could begrudge him his spoils? The pheasants that have survived the winter shoots and hard frosts are beautiful things. Their tails have blossomed into long plumes and they seem to strut with pride and swagger. They know not, nore care, that their Aprils are very few indeed.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Out For The Count

Whitby Abbey was the setting for part of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' novel. The Count arrived in Whitby during a tremendous storm and legend has it that his boat was wrecked on 'Tate Hill Sands' which nestle beneath the ruins of the Benedictine monument. Each year thousands of 'Goths' convene in the Town clad in all manner of magnificent black finery and teutonic attire. So this weekend is 'Goth weekend' and we decided to take a walk to the Abbey to witness this strange phenomenon. As we approached the Abbey plain we noticed a small crowd gathered overlooking tate Hill Sands below to witness a rare spectacle - a 'Gothic funeral'. One of their number(the brother of a high profile politician no less) had sadly died and had requested that he be given a traditional Viking ceremony here in Whitby.

His ashes were placed aboard a replica of a Viking Longboat and a large crowd gathered on the sands awaiting the rising tide to float the vessel. Flaming arrows were then fired on to the boat from the shore and the blaze slowly sunk the craft. Despite the solemnity, there was, as was his wish, laughter, rogueish tomfoolery... and the flutter of batwings all around . Rest In Peace Sir.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Thoughts from A Lighthouse

I wonder how many storms Whitby's East Lighthouse has endured since 1855? Each pit and scar on the faces of the sandstone bear testimony to fierce Northerlies, ships admonished and sailors glad to be home to wives and foaming ale. As a child I often dreamed of being a Lighthouse keeper, but I guess solitude makes a good wish but a poor reality. Ships passing on the horizon often fascinate too. Where are they going? What adventures lie ahead? I guess the reality is humming diesel engines and international red tape - but the mystery still endures. The wind was pretty fierce when I took this photo today, but I have sat on the steps of this benevolent monolith when perhaps I shouldn't have - at midnight, with waves crashing right over the pier in a force 8. Sometimes it takes powerlessness to make one feel alive..

Monday, April 17, 2006

Fowl Play At The Duck Race?

Its a Bank Holiday here in England. For the uninitiated, this is the traditional day for the typical Briton to jump into the car, get stuck in a traffic jam for four hours, then eat soggy sandwiches by the side of a busy trunk road. The photo here was taken this morning at Sandsend, a popular beauty spot about three miles North of Whitby. It was taken around 7.00am and as you can see there is not a a solitary soul to be seen. I shall be back to Sansend this afternoon to witness the traditional Easter 'duck race' - compare the later photograph to the one seen here and you will get the flavour of a British Bank Holiday! Since I moved to the countryside five years ago I have been astonished as to just how seriously the locals take their fetes, fairs and shows. We once entered a rural Inn to find two aged gentlemen engaged in an almighty fracas - sleeves were rolled up and it took a touch of master diplomacy from the Landlord to prevent bloodshed. The reason for the debacle? Infidelity? Money lent but not returned? No - this unholy row centered on the rules of ONION GROWING! So expect skullduggery and intrigue at the duck race this afternoon - its bound to end in tears..


A healthy crowd turned out for the duck race. There WAS some jiggerypokery and the odd duck got a helping hand - but otherwise a fair contest with duck No.341 romping to victory.... exhausted but triumphant.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Coming Home To Uncertainty

You may just be able to make out the forlorn figure of a pigeon in the centre of this picture. I say forlorn because he(?)appears to be looking in the direction of where his loft used to be. You see one of my neighbours has spent the last few weeks dismantling his various pigeon lofts because he is moving away to be near his grandchildren. He left yesterday. I'm not sure how racing pigeons adapt to the wild or whether they get lonely without the company of their fellow feathery friends or not - but I hope he survives and prospers. On the subject of homecomings..On New Years Eve, as my good lady and I weaved our merry way back from the local pub I picked up a Christmas tree decoration which was lying on the pavement and took it home, where I ceremoniously hung it on an outside tap. I agree with you that this is not in any way humourous or amusing - but at the time I thought it was hilarious. (Its a non-stop cacophony of mirth around here you know!). Anyway, the decoration is still there although it is looking rather tired and faded now but stands as a memorial to a happy, carefree night out. If it ever disappears or is blown away - like the melancholy pigeon - I shall be most disappointed.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

A Random Remembrance

It was a sunny but chilly evening tonight so we decided to have a walk around the Churchyard. The wind has not been kind to many of the sandstone headstones, but some of the more sheltered ones still proudly bear the names of the long since departed. Many of those will have walked the way we did in times past and mused upon the stories and lives of those at peace. One headstone caught my eye - 'PHILIP LEWIS'- Beloved Husband Of Mary Lewis Of Kettleness - Died July 23rd 1912. Just why this particular inscription amongst the hundreds of others drew the eye I cannot say, but there was something in the way the Sun and shadows conspired to illuminate the stone which made me kneel and read the engraving. He was 57 when he died and lived in what was the small fishing village of Kettleness which lies on the Cleveland Way. Many ships were wrecked on its rugged approaches and 'Jet'- a semi-precious mineral was collected on the hazardous shoreline. Was Philip Lewis taken by the sea? Did he die of natural causes? Perhaps I shall dig deeper and bring you my findings at a later date, or perhaps I will forget - but it brings a kind of comfort that a man born nearly a hundred and fifty years ago still remains, however fleetingly, in the mind of the living.

It seems that Philip Lewis was not a man of the sea afterall. A search of local records, the 1881 Census and parish newspaper records, reveals that he was 'a farmers son'. He was the son of William Lewis (B 1814) who 'farmed 109 acres' around Kettleness. There is still a coastguard station in Kettleness, as there has been since Roman times. The current Auxilliary Coastguard in charge goes by the name of....William Lewis..

Fair Game?

Without getting into the rights and wrongs of Game Shooting I must confess to a feeling that the odds are stacked against our feathered friends.Whilst the tweeded sportsman may be impeded by the giddying effects of brandy, the typical pheasant seems to possess some kind of death wish. One would suspect that in the briefing rooms of Hereford, the battle-hardened SAS operative would not reccommend 'Squawk and flap about a lot on the approach of the enemy' as a valid means of remaining undetected. But that is what they do. Many times I have been startled in such a manner whilst walking in the woods. The pheasant is a poor flyer and a relatively large target for a wall of lead-shot to hit, so to trumpet the avian equivalent of 'Geronimo! when approached by a platoon of macho accountants seems less than prudent.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Giggling In The Rigging

Well that didn't last long! Dull and cloudy this morning but with a mild wind blowing offshore. I haven't noticed many cows in the fields yet - the ground is sodden around these parts and I expect there is not enough wellingtons to go round. I expect that within weeks there will be little calves all over the place poking their heads over fences and being generally nosey.Last year seemed a poor year for roe dear, and as yet I haven't caught sight of one this spring either. The year before there was an abundance of them - I remember my better half and I stopping to observe a group of five or six of them frollicking and fighting amongst themselves in field of broad beans.
I played the tourist yesterday and spent half an hour watching the goings on on 'The Grand Turk'(above), a full-size replica of an 18th Century Frigate which is moored at Endeavour Wharf in Whitby. A group of unruly schoolkids were poking around deck & jib. One pair of scallywags were using the huge steering wheel as a kind of seesaw - two hundred years ago they would be walking the plank. I believe she sets sail for Belgium shortly, let's hope they dont find any little stowaways..

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Hope Springs Eternal

(Photo Taken This Morning)

Spring in Whitby, England. Despite an acute awareness that the passing of years means I have seen Springtime more times in the past than I will in the future, one cannot help but feel the optimism in the chirping birds and crisp, bright mornings. When I moved from the City to the country I vowed to be able to identify each cheap, chirp and whistle individualy, perhaps Bill Oddie and I would one day meet at The White Hart Inn and discuss lark, finch and hawk over warm beer? - as it stands I am yet barely able to distinguish a cow from a horse - but I can appreciate the beauty nevertheless.
It has been a long winter. The bad weather came late and a cruel North Easterly brought snow and sharp frosts. The trawlermen have had a tough time of it too - already restricted by fishing quotas and EEC red tape they have been kept ashore a lot recently by the weather. One of them was telling me that they decided to try and ride out a Force 9 on the NW coast of Scotland instead of seeking shelter ashore. They turned into the storm and had to keep the engines at full speed just to stay still. They could not trawl of course, but there was method in their apparent madness - they knew that the vast majority of boats will have stayed in their harbour and that any fish landed immediately after the storm would meet a heavy demand.....and fetch a handsome price at the market! Nice work guys.