5 March 2015


St John's Chapel, Belper (1250)
Belper is a town in the middle of Derbyshire and home to 22,000 souls. Until Tuesday of this week, I had never been there before but as we were promised a sunny day I decided to go and investigate. It's about an hour's drive south of Sheffield. My plan was to take a stroll around the town before rambling in the rolling Derbyshire countryside just west of Belper.

Two things were important to the growth of Belper. Firstly, The River Derwent which flows through the valley and once powered cotton mills. Secondly, local mineral deposits including coal and iron ore. The earliest industry here was nail making and even today the nickname of the local football team - Belper Town - is The Nailers.
Fountain in Belper Marketplace
There were many interesting buildings, including churches, squat little mill workers' cottages and the great East Mill down by the river. Several old pubs appear to have been mothballed and there were some lovely stone mansions looking down into the river valley. The oldest building in Belper is believed to be St John's Chapel up from the marketplace. It was built in 1250.
Shangri-La is in Belper
A view of The East Mill, Belper - It was a cotton mill
After the town walk, I parked at Mount Pleasant where I purchased a locally made pork pie and a pint of milk from the grocery store at the top of the hill. After consuming the aforementioned items, I set off to The Dalley - a pleasant little dale - and then up the other side to Handleywood Farm. Onwards through the woods to Hollyseats Farm where a big lorry from Grimsby was trying to reverse down the narrow lane. The driver was blaming his SatNav but I am not so sure that that was the real culprit. A farmer with tractor had come along to try to help but for all I know the truck could still be there. Crazy world.

Then on to Blackbrook and back up the sloping side of The Dalley where a nasty boxer dog in a khaki coat came barking at me from behind the gorse. Ugly mutt. He was associated with some horsey young women who were exercising their prancing beasts in a paddock down below. I didn't like the look of that slavering, red-eyed hound as he came up behind me and got rather too close to my legs. I would love to have given him a damned good kick with my size elevens but I knew that the horsey women wouldn't be too happy if Mutley ended up with a broken jawbone. After a stand off of two or three minutes, one of the horsey women finally responded to the dumb creature's incessant barking and reluctantly he trotted off back to Horseworld. Phew! What a relief!

Past the cottages and up the steep  hill on the other side to return to my car at Mount Pleasant. And then an hour's drive back to Sheffield via Ambergate, Matlock, Chatsworth and Baslow. A fine day out and so good to be feeling quite healthy and strong again. As I wasn't in the mood for cooking, for a pleasant change we had fish and chips for tea from The Ranmoor Frieries.  Truly scrumptious.
Cottages by Dalley Lane
Hollyseat Farm
The perils of SatNav on  Hollyseat Lane

3 March 2015


Who is that sunning himself in our garden? Still alert to danger with ears moving like radars, he's an experienced old dog fox with battle scars and a pronounced limp. I was twenty yards away at our kitchen door, behind the glass, knowing that if I opened the door he would be off like greased lightning. But he didn't mind the camera lens watching him from behind glass. Yet he kept looking my way just to be sure.
When it was time to go, he yawned a bit then sniffed the backsides of Beau and Peep, oddly disappointed - before pushing his snout through a hole in the hedge to visit next door's garden. Come again Mr Foxy! Maybe next time I will put out the leg of lamb that's in our fridge or would you prefer a live chicken?

2 March 2015


Overstones Farm beneath Stanage Edge. It has appeared in this blog before. The place is so photogenic and whenever I pass by, if  my camera is in the car, I might stop to snap a few pictures if the lighting is good. Over the years, I must have taken a hundred shots of Overstones from different positions, at different times of day and in different seasons. For example, see this post from 2012.

Anyway, here are today's offerings:-
Half a mile further down the road to Hathersage I stopped to take a picture of another farm. This one, at Callow, is in ruins and behind it on the horizon looms a rocky outcrop called Higger Tor. In times gone by this was a primitive fortress, like nearby Carl Wark - long before the Romans came...

1 March 2015


Muddy Waters - McKinley Morganfield (April 4, 1913 – April 30, 1983)
The English language is forever changing. That's part of its electric beauty. New words and phrases are absorbed as others are filed away on dusty shelves marked "archaic".

There's no logic to anybody's feelings about language and I am just the same. There are some new words and phrases or not-so-subtle grammatical changes that really get my back up while other changes or additions cause me no grief at all.

I hate "standout" - as in "Who do you think the standout player was?" and I hate the youthful modern tendency to use words which are pretty much the direct opposite of what you're really trying to say as in "The film was wicked!" or "That's sick!". "Vanilla" is a word that has recently been used to describe things or ideas that are bland, or middle of the road but I will never use the word in that way just as I will not misuse the word "narrative" which has become popular with certain politicians and commentators.

But I like "cool" and I like "chugger", "bookaholic", "cyberbully", "gastropub", "widget" and "trolling". Such added words seem to fill gaps and aid enable clearer communication. Another term I like is "mojo". We all know what it feels like when our mojo isn't working and we all know how it feels when we have got our mojo back. It's to do with being on top form or simply not being ourselves. I was curious about the term and decided to do a little investigation.

It probably originated in the deep South of America. In 1926, a certain Newbell Niles Puckett published this definition in his "Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro": "The term mojo is often used by the Mississippi Negroes to mean 'charms, amulets, or tricks', as 'to work mojo' on a person or 'to carry a mojo'." Some academics have connected the term with sexual libido so that getting your mojo back may have once meant rediscovering sexual prowess.

That meaning is certainly heavily hinted at in the song "Got My Mojo Working" which bluesman Muddy Waters gave to the world in 1957:-

Got my mojo working, but it just won't work on you
Got my mojo working, but it just won't work on you
I wanna love you so bad till I don't know what to do
I'm going down to Louisiana to get me a mojo hand
I'm going down to Louisiana to get me a mojo hand
I'm gonna have all you women right here at my command

That song spread the term "mojo" around the world but its everyday usage was very subdued in Great Britain through the sixties, seventies and eighties. It is only within the last twenty years that the term has been truly established on this side of the Atlantic so that now most people would not bat an eyelid if you slipped the term into ordinary conversation... "I just don't know what's up with me these days I've lost my mojo" or "I feel I've got my mojo back at long last!"

27 February 2015


Conisbrough was a grim little town in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield. And yet it had history. Long before coal was mined on an industrial scale, Conisbrough's location was judged to be of strategic significance. In the eleventh century, as the Normans sought to strengthen their political control of northern England, a castle was built at Conisbrough by William de Warenne, the first Earl of Surrey who had fought with William the Conqueror at The Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Over the next four hundred years, Conisbrough Castle remained an important stronghold and as the year's passed it was modified, extended, repaired and strengthened but by the sixteenth century it had fallen into a state of semi-dereliction and played no part in the English Civil War that tore through the country in the seventeenth century. However, in the nineteenth century a new spotlight was shone on the castle ruins by the famed Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott - in his novel "Ivanhoe" (1819).

Scott wrote of Conisbrough - There are few more beautiful or striking scenes in England, than are presented by the vicinity of this ancient Saxon fortress. The soft and gentle river Don sweeps through an ampitheatre, in which cultivation is richly blended with woodland, and on a mount, ascending from the river, well defended by walls and ditches, rises this ancient edifice, which, as its Saxon name implies, was, previous to the Conquest, a royal residence of the kings of England. The outer walls have probably been added by the Normans, but the inner keep bears token of very great antiquity. It is situated on a mount at one angle of the inner court, and forms a complete circle of perhaps twenty-five feet in diameter. The wall is of immense thickness, and is propped or defended by six huge external buttresses which project from the circle, and rise up against the sides of the castle as if to strengthen or support it. These massive buttresses are hollowed out towards the top, and terminate in a sort of turrets communicating with the interior of the keep itself. The distant appearance of this huge building, with these singular accompaniments, is as interesting to the lovers of the picturesque, as the interior of the castle is to the eager antiquary...

As it happens, Scott may have been wrong to assume that the castle was of Saxon origin. No archaeological evidence supports that stance though I find it difficult to believe that the mound on which Conisbrough Castle still stands was a blank canvas before William de Warenne arrived. And it is worth noting that the name "Conisbrough" is of Saxon origin and means "king's stronghold".

Yesterday, I didn't go inside the castle. I walked past it and down to The River Don. There I noticed yet another pub that has bitten the dust. Now converted to residential units, it was once, somewhat ironically, called "The Castle".  No boozy laughter any more or shiny brass bar rails or pub quizzes. When was Conisbrough Castle built? Rest in Peace.
"The Catle" has gone

25 February 2015


Every Wednesday afternoon I work as a volunteer at our local Oxfam shop. Charitable Sheffielders bring in their unwanted possessions in plastic bags or cardboard boxes. You never know what you are going to get - from a Barbie doll to a dead man's pin-striped suit. or a battered cricket bat or a lampshade with frilly bobbles. And there are plenty of books. I spend a lot of my time processing book donations - upstairs in the books and bric-a-brac room.

Today as five thirty and the end of my shift approached, I noticed an old photo album on one of the cluttered shelves. I dipped into it for personal interest. It was filled with old postcards from the nineteen twenties. Back then, many family portraits were printed in postcard form so the album contained a mixture of family photos and souvenir postcards from exotic holiday locations like Blackpool, Ilfracombe and The Cheddar Gorge. 

In the middle of the album, I spotted a sepia photo that took my breath away because it contained the image of a woman who is almost identical to a certain female blogger who often drops in to "Yorkshire Pudding" and leaves comments. I just had to buy the postcard The long deceased babe from The Roaring Twenties is so beautiful and so dainty, dressed in her best dancing outfit. She could so easily have been Miss World 1922. Of course, I do not wish to embarrass the lady blogger who is this woman's doppelganger but I think we can all guess who she is:-

24 February 2015


In north west Lincolnshire there's a district known as "The Isle of Axholme". Long ago, when effective land drainage techniques were in their infancy, the area was literally an island - surrounded by rivers and watery marshes. To get on to the Isle of Axholme or off it you needed a boat or a particularly dry summer. Shirley was born on the Isle of Axholme - in the southern part - where her father was a farmer - so I knew that part of the island well.

However, I was very unfamiliar with the northern part so last week I went there - the same day I snapped those sad village pubs. Above you can see one of the drains developed by Dutch engineers in medieval times. It's called Boating Dike.

Below, an old chapel near Crook o' Moor Farm. Not so long ago it was derelict but thankfully somebody has had it converted into a house. In past times, the rich farmland would have been worked by a veritable army of agricultural labourers so the chapel would have been thronging on Sundays.
The church below is St Oswald's in Crowle. The land at Crowle rose a few feet higher than the surrounding fields so it was a sensible location for the most significant settlement in the northern part of the Isle of Axholme. Some parts of the church predate the Norman invasion of 1066 and as there are no stone quarries for miles around, it would have taken an enormous effort to import the stones - on rafts or sailing barges.
The signpost below is in the village of Eastoft. Once The River Don flowed through the village but its course was drastically diverted in 1626. The signpost stands on what was once the Yorkshire side of the village.
I crossed the River Trent at Keadby Bridge and later parked in Burton upon Stather. From there I walked to Normanby Hall which is the family home of  PM David Cameron's wife Samantha Sheffield. There were snowdrops:-
 And here's the eighteenth century hall itself - set in extensive parkland:-