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Friday, 29 May 2020

Bolton Castle

In these days of lockdown, happier memories must suffice.

Bolton Castle was built between 1378 – 1399 for Richard le Scrope, both a soldier (he fought in every major battle between 1346-1384) and Lord Chancellor to the unfortunate Richard II. It’s basically a fortified house with square angled towers enclosing a courtyard and guards the entrance to Wensleydale and its glorious cheese.

One small peculiarity are its spiral stairs. In all other castles they spiral upwards is in a clockwise direction. This allows the defenders maximum sword space in combat - at the expense of those swinging against the spiral. In Bolton Castle the spiral upwards is anti clockwise. 

View from one of the towers. Note the glorious Yorkshire sky

Richard Scrope died in 1403 and in his will left 13s 4d to every resident of the county and 2s to every prisoner in of York gaol.

Speaking of prisoners, Castle Bolton’s most famous resident albeit for 6 months was Mary Queen of Scots. After being turfed out of Scotland, she fled to England with as good a claim to the throne as Elizabeth who promptly ‘guested’ her in Carlisle Castle before moving her on to Bolton Castle where she stayed for six months. She was moved to a more permanent residence in Tutbury from where after seventeen tedious years she mislaid  her head.

As prisons go, Bolton really was a holiday camp. She had her own chambers in the South West Tower with a retinue of 51 people, 36 of whom lodged with her in the castle, the remainder in lodgings nearby. Reading the full list, I was struck by the mysterious ‘Two English Sisters,’ and the fact that she had her own apothecary, a surgeon, a ‘reader’ three laundresses, four grooms and the even more mysterious ‘two others’.

Mary's chamber, but not the bed Mary slept in. It is even more exciting than that. It is haunted and passed on to the perhaps disbelieving Scropes a little time later. It terrified the original owners, no one could sleep an entire night on it without experiencing hallucinations and horrible nightmares. It's been exorcised twice. 

The Great Hall where Mary spent most of her day. The niche to the right of the hearth was where she warmed her wine.

These three window shots held me for some time: the thought that Mary would have spent perhaps hours staring out at a landscape little changed. 

Furniture and tapestries were borrowed from other houses, and Elizabeth herself lent her some tableware and a kettle. During her six months ‘imprisonment’ Mary was allowed to go hunting and even meet up with local Catholics dignitaries – much to the displeasure of Elizabeth’s ministers—perhaps rightly so. Legend has it that Mary tried to escape, once getting as far as Leyburn Shawl, so called because she reputedly dropped her shawl there. It's also known, 400 years or so later, as Queen's Gap. Some dispute the legend citing the fact that nothing was reported back to the Queen's Council. Then again, it's easy to see why they might not report such a profound security lapse. Still, Elizabeth's ministers may have heard something. In the midst of a snow blizzard, Mary was removed to Tutbury where she spent the rest of her seventeen years. 

The Castle fell into rapid decline during the English Civil War when the young John Bolton (a teenager) supported the losing Royalist cause. The castle was besieged by the Parliamentarians for a year reducing those inside to eating their own horses before surrendering in 1645 from starvation. The entire N. Western side of the castle was ‘slighted’ ie reduced to ruins to make it unusable. As ruins, they convey their own unique romance. 

Note the remnants of the heavily buttressed lower roof. The ground floor was built to protect against fire that might otherwise spread more quickly to the upper apartments.

Enroute to the guardroom 

Unlike these picturesque ruins, the  S. Western part of the castle survived largely intact and is still owned and managed  by descendents of the Scropes. 

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Lockdown, Madness and Marketing

Ming saw something was wrong.

Teddy and Bun were bored

Bun had an idea. "We’ll listen to the radio."

But Teddy was cross. He wanted music.  He wanted to dance. 
Bun wanted news.

Ming sighed. "Read a book," he said.

"Don’t like these," Bun said after a time. "They frighten me." Teddy agreed.

"What’s your book about?" Teddy asked.

"About a man with a beard. " Bun said. "Yours?"

""A crazy detective. He shouts  and kills people."

"This book’s alright," Bun said. "I think I'd like to drink there."

Bun looked across to see Teddy's book

Teddy sighed. "More crazy detectives who drink and kill and have nice teeth."

"I’m bored," Bun said.

Ming sighed.

And Teddy fell asleep.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Lockdown: thoughts in a garden with plenty of wine.

It’s been an interesting few weeks, a kind of time-warp taking us back to the fifties – deserted country roads, near empty pavements and roads without traffic. And, shades of 1984, one or two simple messages stamped upon the collective mind: ‘Save our NHS’—‘stay safe,’ — ‘self-isolate. The slogans, along with the manufactured compulsion to clap and bang pots each Thursday night in support of care-workers and nurses, though laudable verge, on the totalitarian with its ‘nudge’ factor compulsion. 

Few would deny that support and appreciation of those fighting to save lives is entirely good. Less good is the smokescreen it offers for the top-heavy bureaucratic behemoth of the National Health and Public Health England. Ministers have become the fall guys for their administrative shortcomings, and that would be true whatever government was in power.

But on to smaller things. It’s been fascinating to see the shy ‘were-all-in-it-together’ smiles as you side-step strangers on pavements or lanes, a new and delicate social quadrille—and you wonder what the new ‘normal’ will be when it’s all over.

On the one hand, I’m so looking forward to seeing friends again, dinner parties, doing what what we once took for granted: the impromptu latte in CafĂ© Nero, the occasional cheeky beer or two on a hot day in a country pub. Or a town pub. Or any pub. Restaurants.

 Part of me looks forward to diving back in and altruistically (yeah, sure) buying even more beer and eating more curries, Italian, Chinese, breathing life into ailing businesses. Resuscitation or greed, who cares?

The reality may be different. Another part of me is cautious, even nervous of plunging back into society—too quickly at least—and I wonder how common this factor may yet prove to be.
It’s a bit like those misnamed ‘free range eggs,’ so called because the chickens, though cooped in large barns have one or two small access points; in theory they can free range but few if any do.

How many of us will have grown used to our ‘barns’ – not those poor buggers cooped up in small flats with two or more children—but enough to make economic recovery even slower?

Keeping with the economics for a moment, an unexpected flip side is the money we’ve saved with less things to spend it on. The downside is how quickly it will be taken from us in taxes, as governments attempt to claw back the money they’ve spent. It will be a fine economic and political line between carrying on the debt indefinitely and clawing all or part of the money spent at the risk of  indefinite recession. 

Saturday, 9 May 2020

The Lane

Each morning we consider the most important question of the day: where shall we walk? We have options: a three hour circular, but one involving stiles a daddy-long-legs would have difficulty clambering over  -  a much shorter walk but less scenic and involving several steep hills - the circular ridgeway route

 or, our favourite because it doesn’t involve squeezing into boots and tying complex knots, ‘the lane.’

At the very end of the lane is ‘Tregate Bridge’ and a decision, do we take a left turn to Crickhowell or turn right to Welsh Newton? I can’t be doing with decisions during a pandemic, besides it’s too far to walk, so we content ourselves with a brisk two-and-a-half-mile trot, our destination a mysterious shed.

I am quietly convinced ‘the shed’ is a cunningly disguised albeit dilapidated Tardis. It hasn’t got around to mastering time (as far as I know) but it’s certainly mastered space. The damn thing never seems to stay in one place.

Time and time again, we convince ourselves it’s just around a clearly defined corner, but it never is. 

Sometimes it’s located on the corner after that, or even one farther along, sometimes it’s exactly where it should be. It’s very exciting – the most exciting thing of a locked-down life – wondering where the shed will have located itself on any particular day.

You might think it gets kind of tedious, taking the same lane but in fact it never is.
Sometimes the sheep are excitable, other days they’re not. 

Those planning to cut their own hair during lockdown - consider.

And then there’s hedgerows bursting with butterflies and bees and every kind of wildflower. My wife is most patient. She knows it’s a ruse to pause and gain breath, but she says nothing as I stop to take pictures. Then again, it’s nice to know via ‘plant-snap’ what these flowers are, Celandine, Dog violets, and my current favourite Morning Campion.

The lane has its own mystery. This section is one of my favourites, little changed— apart from road surface—from the C18th.

Gorgeous in Summer, rich in mystery on dark winter nights when you half-expect highwaymen or worse: Hell-hounds, ghost-coaches, or the Devil waiting to trick a man for his soul—maybe in exchange for a shed that never stays still.