29 March 2015


St Stephen's Church, East Hardwick
After investigating Pontefract with its castle, its marketplace and its "Liquorice Bush" public house, I drove a couple of miles south of the town and parked my car in the village of East Hardwick. After taking a couple of photos of St Stephen's Church, I set off westwards towards High Ackworth.

By now the clouds had almost cleared and intermittent sunshine illuminated the countryside though the wind was chilly. High Ackworth seemed a most pleasant, salubrious village with some large, luxurious houses behind security gates and high hedges. "The Brown Cow" pub appeared to be thriving. The old village church is called St Cuthbert's in memory of the time during the ninth century that the bones of the saint of that name rested in the village for a while. Pillaging Danes had invaded Northumbria and on the holy isle of Lindisfarne, Cuthbert's blessed remains were consequently disinterred to save them. He had died in 687AD and today rests in his shrine at Durham Cathedral. That shrine was an important place of pilgrimage throughout the middle ages.
Ackworth Old Hall
On the edge of High Ackworth, I snapped a picture of a fine Elizabethan mansion called Ackworth Old Hall before heading south to Low Ackworth. There I walked by the River Went which passes under a fine railway viaduct built in 1874 on a line that still connects Sheffield and York.
Low Ackworth Railway Viaduct
Jogging to a storm over East Hardwick
Onwards along the Ackworth Bridle Road and Rigg Lane and back to East Hardwick. Before leaving the area, I drove back to High Ackworth specially to photograph the village's "Plague Stone" by Pontefract Road. This old stone has a hollowed basin atop. During the plague of 1645, the basin was filled with vinegar to disinfect coins when goods were bought by the unfortunate villagers. Another deadly plague had touched the village three hundred years earlier. That one was known as The Black Death and it killed some 40% of the population of Europe.
Ackworth Plague Stone

27 March 2015


Pontefract Castle in its heyday.
On Thursday an English king was re-buried - but in the wrong city. His remains were found two years ago beneath a car park in Leicester. He had been killed in battle not far from Leicester at Bosworth Field in the summer of 1485 but Richard III is mostly associated with Yorkshire and should have been buried in York Minster. He was the last Yorkist king and Lord of the North. He spent much of his life in and around two Yorkshire castles - at Middleham and Pontefract.

Yesterday I visited Pontefract for the first time before another long countryside ramble. There was a windy chill in the air as I walked up to the castle - where I was the only visitor. It had stood for seven hundred years, playing a key role in the defence and development of the north of England. Battles and executions, love affairs and feasts, political discussions and imprisonments. Pontefract Castle saw it all. And when its time had passed, it was reduced to ruins. Local people came to take away stones for their own building projects and today what remains is but a tantalising shadow of the castle's glorious and formidable past.
Left - Richard II 1377 to 1399. Right - Richard III 1452 to 1485
A previous Richard, King Richard II died within the precincts of Pontefract Castle in 1399 or possibly 1400 having been ousted from the nation's throne by Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV). It is believed that Richard II was starved to death - not hacked - and his tragic passing is referred to by Shakespeare in his play "Richard III":-
O Pomfret, Pomfret! O thou bloody prison!
Fatal and ominous to noble peers!
Within the guilty closure of thy walls
Richard the Second here was hack'd to death.
Pomfret is simply another name for Pontefract.

The castle was a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War of the mid-seventeeth century and it was during this period that the castle was finally disabled forever. As a building complex it saw many changes during its seven centuries as a working castle and today just enough of it remains to absorb a sense of how it must have been.

As I wandered about the ruins with my fleece jacket zipped up to my chin, I noticed that high on the keep, the flag of Richard III had been attached to the flagpole where it was flying at half mast in his memory. He was the very last English king to die in battle.
Richard III's flag flying over the ruins of Pontefract Castle.
In the distance - Ferrybridge power station.

25 March 2015


I discovered this walk twenty years ago and have plodded it many times. When I was teaching, it was good to jump in the car and travel five minutes out of the city for a good vigorous hike that always seemed to take exactly one hour. It cleared my head and showed me other things, better things than piles of exercise books to be marked or minutes of meetings to type up or the latest official A4 ring binder to rifle through - containing yet more changes to the way we worked. It seemed to be what my Sundays were all about.

Shorts Lane stables are the buildings just east of Quarry (dis). I always park there and set off westwards to the big green area which is Blacka Moor. You have to cross the stepping stones over Blacka Dike thaen it's a long climb up to Lenny Hill. Turn eastwards over FB (Foot bridge) till you look down on to Hallfield Farm. Then along the beautifully named Strawberry Lee Lane to Totley Bents.

That is where you will find "The Cricket Inn". Then north to Avenue Farm and the path soon takes you by a delightful little stream called Redcar Brook where in the early springtime there are great swathes of snowdrops. When I got there yesterday, it had started to rain and the snowdrops were past their best so I didn't bother to get my camera out again.

There is much more I could say about this walk. I have witnessed it in different seasons and different weather conditions and with different people too but here are some pictures of it from yesterday. The sequence begins with my Seat Ibiza parked by the stables and ends back at the stables with a view to Dore which is a well-heeled suburban village on the south western edge of Sheffield. As always, click on the pictures to enlarge them.
All political leaders need time out to gather their thoughts and the charismatic leader of The People's Popular Pudding Party is no different...

24 March 2015


Britain's General Election is getting closer. It will be held on May 7th. Though I am happy to see that The Labour Party's star is rising, it may be time for a new contender - The Pudding Party. Here's my rough draft manifesto. In the "Comments" section please suggest another possible Pudding Party commitment.

1. Every worker will be entitled to a paid day off on his/her birthday. Schoolchildren will also be entitled to a day off.
2. Grouse shooting will be banned.
3. Cigarette smoking will become illegal on the day that the Pudding Party sweeps into office.
4. All rail fares will be halved and frozen for five years.
5. Bankers will not be allowed to receive any bonuses. Like most other workers, they will have to be satisfied with their regular salaries.
6. A committee will be set up to assess the feasibility of banning all religious garb.
7. The building of new mosques, temples or churches will not be permitted.
8. In schools, creative subjects will be central to the Pudding School Curriculum - including art, music, writing and design.
9. There will be far less Maths taught in our schools. Instead, every child will be issued with a free calculator. One hour of Maths a week will be enough for everyone.
10. Children aged ten to thirteen will be entitled to free swimming sessions each week of the school year.
11. The NHS will be one of the Pudding Party's priority zones but there will be some significant changes. Non-UK citizens will have to pay the market price for any treatment - either through medical insurance or from their own pockets. Drug companies' charges will be determined by the Pudding Party itself ensuring that gross profiteering is reined in. A fee will be introduced for any appointment with a doctor at a health centre. This fee will be linked to the patient's income so that unemployed patients pay £5 per appointment whereas the wealthiest patients will pay approximately £250 per visit to their doctor.
12. Any non-Yorkshire people who plan to make Yorkshire puddings must first pass a competency test overseen by a team of Yorkshire-born assessors led by former England and Yorkshire cricket captain Geoffrey Boycott.
13. The following people will be executed without trial - Jeremy Clarkson, Jeremy Kyle, all  members of Take That, David Cameron, John Terry, Noel Edmonds and Jordan (aka Katie Price).
14. Lancashire will be encircled with barbed wire along with guards preventing exit and entry.
15. Any new bikini or brassiere designs will need to be personally approved by the leader of The Pudding Party.
16. Tetley's bitter will be reduced in price to £1 a pint.
17.  All parking fees on public streets and in public car parks will be abolished and all parking enforcement officers will be sacked without compensation.
18. Tattoo parlours will not be permitted and anyone who is unfortunate enough to have any tattoos must keep them covered at all times when out and about in public.
19. There will be no more daytime television. TV channels will only be allowed to operate between the hours of 5pm and 1am.
20. Personalised number plates on cars will no longer be allowed.
21. Premiership footballers' wages will be limited to a maximum of £100,000 per annum.
22. Anyone found using mobile phones while driving will have their driving licences permanently revoked.
23. The BBC Radio 2 Sunday Morning "Love Songs" programme with DJ Steve Wright will be permanently abolished.   
24. Anybody found guilty of child sex abuse will be dumped on the uninhabited Atlantic  island of St Kilda and left to fend for themselves with no possibility of return to the British mainland. 
25. Bloggers who don't post for months on end will be hauled before The Bloggers Tribunal to explain  their laxity and if found wanting will be excommunicated from the blogosphere.

Any other ideas?

23 March 2015


In an idle moment, I typed "funny blogging cartoon" into Google Images and this was the best one that emerged:-

22 March 2015


Medieval stump cross on the edge of Stannington
Sheffield is a hilly city.We are on the eastern edge of the Pennine Chain which is the spine of northern England. It is sometimes said of Sheffield that, like Rome, it has seven hills. Having visited Rome a few years back, I can say without question that our hills are not only  bigger but have exerted a greater influence on our urban development.

Between the valleys of the Loxley and Rivelin rivers, upon one of the seven hills you will find the suburb of Stannington. Once a small farming community on the edge of town, it was finally absorbed by the city's tentacles in the mid-twentieth century. When you go up to Stannington, the air temperature drops a degree or two and it is invariably windy up there even when the air down in the valleys is still. 

Close to each other there were once five pubs at Stannington - "The Crown and Glove", "The Rose and Crown", "The Peacock", "The Hare and Hounds" and "The Sportsman". It was sad to see that the last two have closed their doors forever and "The Crown and Glove" now has an ominous estate agent's sign on its gable end world - "For Sale or To Lease". The kiss of death.

Not long after Friday's eclipse, the skies cleared and sunshine broke through to illuminate the seven hills. I had a wander around Stannington. Typically, there was a stiff breeze. People who choose to live up there must be hardy folk. It wouldn't be for me. Gimme shelter.

Stannington pictures -  "The Rose and Crown", Knowle Top Chapel, "The Crown and Glove", Christ Church, war memorial, VW camper van on Highfield Rise.
Click photos to enlarge

20 March 2015


A partial eclipse of the sun was predicted for today and indeed it happened. Here in Sheffield we had 90% coverage - with just a thin smiley sliver of the sun left behind as the moon moved across the great fiery orb on which our lives depend.

The weather forecast had been promising but as it turned out, our city languished under a blanket of cloud with only occasional breaks in that greyness. On the television, we had tantalising wobbly live coverage of the eclipse as an aeroplane chartered by the BBC flew over the Faroe Islands.

Back in 1999 when we experienced a total eclipse of the sun in south western England, I was all set to drive Ian and Frances down to St Michael's Mount in Cornwall to witness it but cancelled the crazy mission at the last minute because of an unpromising weather forecast. 
This morning, as optimum coverage approached, I went out into our garden and hoped for the best. If the sky had been clear and blue there is no way I would have been able to take any photos of the moon crossing the sun but as the cloud blanket thinned a little I was able to snap the shots that accompany this post. 

It will be eleven years till we next experience any kind of eclipse in Great Britain and I may well not be here then. Astronomers calculate that there'll be one in America in 2017 but of course our ancestors of long ago  never had any idea when they would happen or what if anything they might mean:
“These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend
no good to us: though the wisdom of nature can
reason it thus and thus, yet nature finds itself
scourged by the sequent effects: love cools,
friendship falls off, brothers divide: in
cities, mutinies; in countries, discord; in
palaces, treason; and the bond cracked 'twixt son
and father. 
William Shakesperare - "King Lear" (1606)