24 August 2016


West of Sheffield, lush farming land and quaint stone-built settlements give way to bleak moorland. Up there, there are no trees, just coarse grasses, heather and upland bogs. Hardy sheep graze amongst windswept hillocks and occasional ramblers with rucksacks and compasses follow ancient tracks as grey clouds scud ever  eastwards. It is wild country and it effectively separates Yorkshire from the mysterious "other side".

But carry on travelling westwards, beyond the wild hills and you find the moors giving way to lush farming land and quaint stone-built settlements. It's like a mirror image of our side of the Pennines. 

Yesterday I mounted my trusty steed, Clint  - the sleek silver Hyundai - and drove over The Snake Pass to the "other side". To be more specific I went to Glossop and then turned left, heading south towards Little Hayfield but at  the hamlet of Brookhouses Clint came to rest in a lay-by next to a dangerous bend on the A624.

With boots on, I set off on a four hour ramble that took in Rowarth, Pistol Farm, Near Slack Farm, Cown Edge, Coombes Edge, Stich, Monk's Road and Matley Moor. It was a glorious day for walking and it was delightful to be doing so in virgin territory. Naturally, I snapped quite a few photographs - in addition to the one at the top of this post and I have chosen four more to share with you.
Monk's Road
Charolais cow and calf by Gun Road
Cottage in Rowarth
Sheep above Far Slack Farm  with Manchester in the distance

22 August 2016


“Siberia: it fills one twelfth of the land-mass of the whole Earth, 
yet this is all it leaves for certain in the mind. A bleak beauty, 
and an indelible fear.”  -  Colin Thubron

Five million square miles - that's Siberia. To compare - Canada's land area is 3,850,000 square miles while The British Isles is only 100,000 square miles. Yes, Siberia is big, very big. However, until this month arrived, what I knew about Siberia could have been written on the back of a small envelope. 

Sorting through book donations at the Oxfam shop where I work every Wednesday, I spotted a book called "In Siberia" by Colin Thubron and decided to buy it. Though I shall never visit Siberia, at least Colin Thubron could give me a vicarious sense of the region through the eyes of an inquisitive travel writer.

Just inside the front cover, there's a map of Siberia that shows Thubron's itinerary. Mostly, he skirted the region's southern underbelly - travelling from The Urals parallel to Kazakhstan, Mongolia and eastern China. But there are vast swathes of land on the map where he didn't venture. Perhaps these areas are uninhabited wildernesses without roads, landing strips or paths. I don't know.
He visited Omsk and the vast inland sea that is Lake Baikal and he visited cold, godforsaken places such as Yakutsk, Norilsk and Magadan. Along the way, Thubron met many people who related their memories and observations. He saw nature's wild beauty and witnessed the ruins of Soviet expansionism - abandoned mines, crumbling prisons, empty schools, lost people. Of course it helped that Thubron is quite fluent in the Russian language. Though there are other indigenous languages in Siberia, Russian became the lingua franca over a hundred years ago as the Russian state sought to spread its wings.

I think I will draw this blogpost to a halt very soon. Is there anything more boring than somebody summarising a book you haven't read or a film you haven't seen in tedious detail? 

Let me just say that Colin Thubron is an accomplished writer with an enquiring mind. He likes to get under the skin of a place and he has always displayed a passion for Asia. Sometimes we might forget that the Asian continent  isn't just India, China, Indonesia and other neighbouring exotic countries such as Thailand and Japan. It is also Siberia - vast, often brutally cold, rather empty and mysterious... even after you have finished reading the 286 pages of "In Siberia". 

21 August 2016


In an ambulance in Aleppo, Syria, five year 
old Omran Daqneesh is too traumatised to cry...
Sometimes, words are superfluous.

20 August 2016


Panda has a floppy neck. Somewhere along the line, he must have lost some of his stuffing but I can't remember when.

I first met Panda in the autumn of 1953. He joined me in my cot when I was a helpless baby, before I could even walk or talk let alone blog. When I slept my fitful baby slumbers, Panda just sat there watching over me, leaning against the cot's wooden spindles. Back then, the white parts of his coat were more obviously white. Now they are almost grey. I guess Panda is growing old - just like me, for of course we are the same age.

Throughout the past twenty seven years, Panda has been sitting within inches of my pillow on a shelf next to our bed. He gathers dust and, to be brutally honest, I hardly ever notice him. He is just there as he has always been, gazing into the void with his glassy eyes.
He is reliable and constant. Family members have passed away and friends have come and gone.  Our two children have flown the nest. More than two hundred and fifty seasons have fluttered by. But Panda is still here, silent, never uttering a word or passing judgement. As loyal as the most faithful dog.

And if I ever die, I want Panda next to me in the coffin. Should that unthinkable day arrive,  I will have become just like Panda - silent. peaceful and motionless without a thought in my head. Reaching that exalted state - it is a lesson that it will have taken an entire lifetime for Panda to teach and for me to learn.

18 August 2016


The Brownlee brothers today - Alistair with the flag of Yorkshire
Yorkshire is doing well in The Rio Olympics. So far, we have won more medals than Brazil. New Zealand, Canada or Jamaica for example. This afternoon, without actually travelling to Brazil,  I watched Yorkshire brothers -  Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee win gold and silver in the triathlon. It was a gruelling event requiring guts as well as natural ability... but eventually I manged to lever myself off the sofa. As Alistair approached the finishing line, he grabbed not one but  two flags from a generous spectator. Of course, one of the flags was the national union jack. The other one - light blue with a white rose in the centre - was the flag of Yorkshire. It was great to see Alistair proudly declaring his Yorkshire heritage.

And even  while I have been typing this blogpost, I have watched another Yorkshire athlete - flyweight Nicola Adams -  heading for the gold medal match in women's boxing. Raised in Leeds, smiley Nicola, the gold medallist in 2012, never forgets her Yorkshire roots.
No doubt there are more Yorkshire medals to come as we seek to better our medal haul at the London Olympics - where we finished twelfth overall just behind Japan and Australia but above The Netherlands, Jamaica and Ukraine. If only Yorkshire was a country in its own right...
Nicola Adams in Rio today.

17 August 2016


Paradise Mill, Macclesfield
Yesterday, Shirley had a day off work and was keen to do something with it. Weatherwise, it was a lovely day. We set off at half past nine, heading westwards. West to Buxton and then over The Cat and Fiddle Pass to a town we had never visited before - Macclesfield in Cheshire.

It is a town of some 70,000 inhabitants which boasts a professional football team with an uncommon nickname - The Silkmen. Why The Silkmen?  Well, for two hundred years Macclesfield was the centre of silk weaving in The British Isles. It is a long and proud story of endeavour and ingenuity. What began as a cottage industry saw Macclesfield grow into an important and prosperous manufacturing centre.
View from Paradise Mill to St Paul's Church
I had heard there was a museum devoted to silk in the town. We discovered that right next to it there's a silk mill that closed as recently as 1981. Fortunately, somebody had the foresight to ensure that Paradise Mill's looms and associated machinery were saved for posterity.

We joined the 11.45 tour led by a knowledgeable fellow called Mike who told us things we never knew about silk. It began with him passing around mulberry silkworm cocoons from China. It was the Chinese who first "discovered" silk and began to produce it over five thousand years ago. Gradually silk made its way to Europe along a trading route that we now call The Silk Road.

Mike operated some of the old machines and explained some of the clever intricacies of silk weaving. I mean, how do you create a pattern in a piece of silk cloth? Mike showed us. It confirmed how creative Victorian silk weavers were in finding solutions to production problems. Too ingenious for me to explain in this blogpost.
Silk bobbins
We had a late lunch in The Society Rooms run by The Weatherspoon pub-restaurant group before strolling around the centre of Macclesfield in August sunshine. It is a nicely located place, nestling on the western edge of The Peak District. It seemed prosperous and lively with lots of independent shops. 

On the way home we stopped off for refreshing drinks at "The Angler's Rest" in the Derbyshire village of Bamford. All in all a great day out. 

15 August 2016


Once the land to the west of Teversal was scarred by coal mining. Great charcoal-grey mountains of slag altered the profile of the countryside and coal dust hung about the hedgerows, blowing on to Monday morning washing lines. In these ways it was not dissimilar from other villages in the North Nottinghamshire coalfield. 

But now the coal mines have all gone. Silverhill Colliery is no more. Visitors from other parts of the country might think that the wooded hills near Teversal were natural, like miniature wolds. But dig down and you will still find the slag - all the useless waste brought up from below the earth's surface during  the quest for coal. It was a coalrush that took a hundred years to complete.

The tallest mound on the old Silverhill site is now the tallest point in the ancient county of Nottinghamshire and sitting on top of that artificial mound is a bronze statue of a miner holding a Davy safety lamp. Created in 2004 by Antony Dufort, "Testing for Gas"  pays homage to the lost coal industry, the people who worked in the pits and the tight, hard-working communities that coalmines created.

They were not what Margaret Thatcher called "the enemy within", they were the salt of the earth. Whenever I think of the adjective "Great" in Great Britain I think of coal miners and farmers, textile workers and ship builders, steel workers and engineers, not Margaret Thatcher or David Cameron or other toffs from Oxford and Cambridge. There are not many significant monuments to lost industries. Mostly those people get forgotten, relegated to unfortunate footnotes in the annals of history but "Testing for Gas" acknowledges and proclaims them, reminding visitors about coal and the heroes who mined it.