Sunday, 16 October 2016

Satan's Whiskers

This is the prologue, and first chapter, of my novel Satan's Whiskers. Please read and comment.


George and Edward Whittaker were brothers, of eleven and ten years of age, they were the oldest siblings of a large family, and the product of a single parent home. Georgie and Teddy often vandalised the streets of Blakewater, while their drug addicted mother seemed to have lost control over her sons, if indeed she’d ever exerted any control in the first place.
Once tired of breaking windows in the derelict properties awaiting demolition, they headed towards the canal towpath, where horses once towed barges laden with coal to fuel the steam engines which powered the looms.
A pair of mute swans had built a nest in the shallow water, where a retaining wall had collapsed allowing the banking to fall into the water and create an artificial island.
“I wonder if there are eggs in that nest.” Teddy queried, as he threw a stone at the pen in an attempt to scare her from her nest, but he hadn’t taken account of the large cob swimming serenely on the almost ripple-less water close by.
The angry cob launched itself at the boys with a flapping of wings, and with neck outstretched towards its antagonists. The boys ran for their lives, with the swan giving chase in fits, starts, and flutters. They ran, and they ran, long after the swan had given up its chase, until the stitch pains in their sides dictated that they run no more. As they bent forward with their hands resting on their knees for support, while gulping in lung-full’s of the polluted industrial air, they began laughing hysterically due to the adrenalin rush of having escaped the angry cob,
“Shush, Georgie ordered. What’s that noise?”
Teddy stopped laughing at his brother’s command, and listened to the buzzing sound which appeared to be coming from a cast iron grate set into the towpath beneath their feet.
“There must be a cellar down there.”
“Let’s find it,” said Teddy, with the intent of creating more mayhem.
Twenty feet from the grate and set into a factory wall, they discovered a tongue and groove planked door of rotting wood. It had been fitted with an asp and staple, indicating that it had once been secured against intrusion using a padlock. Georgie operated the latch, and pushed the door to reveal a flight of worn stone steps, which led to an uneven flagged floor on the level below.
 The buzzing sound became louder as they descended the steps, accompanied by a squeaking sound. Georgie went first in his capacity of the older brother, with Teddy hanging onto his shirt and peering nervously over his shoulder. The room would have been in total darkness, but for a shaft of light which intermittently flooded through the grated coal shoot on which they had so recently been standing, while a second shaft of light followed them down the steps from the open doorway creating distorted shadows of the boys on every step and on the floor below.
“Can you see anything?” asked Teddy nervously, while leaning heavily against his brother to enable a view, and toppling him down the last few steps and into a heap on the cellar floor.
“You idiot,” Georgie moaned under his breath, while examining a grazed knee.
Although it was becoming increasingly dark as they left the light afforded by the open door, the boys were aware that the room was cluttered with objects of an industrial nature, as they wound their way between oil drums and wooden pallets to approach the source of the buzzing.
“Get ready to run,” Georgie warned his brother. “It may be a bee’s nest, or even worse it could be wasps.”
“What’s that horrible smell?” Teddy asked, while trying to cover his nose and mouth with a rather unsavoury looking handkerchief retrieved from his trouser pocket.
“I don’t know,” answered his brother, “but I think I’m going to be sick.”
Rounding an oil drum Georgie imagined that he could see the outline of two people standing in the shadows.
“I think there’s somebody over there,” he whispered, and they hid behind a stack of wooden pallets in total silence for fear of discovery.
“They seem to be tied up; do you think we should free them?”
“You do it,” said Teddy, whose concern for his own safety outweighed his curiosity, “I’ll wait here.”
Georgie crept closer to the human shapes, while ensuring that he remained hidden from view. He could see the people a little clearer now as he approached the light from the coal shoot. One appeared to be a woman and the other a man, they were naked and covered in buzzing flies.
 Suddenly the sun came out from behind a cloud, and a shaft of light streamed down the coal shoot illuminating the faces of figures that were tied to one of the pillars which supported the vaulted ceiling. Rats milled around their ankles squeaking excitedly, and the couple stared at Georgie from eyeless sockets. Georgie vomited uncontrollably, before running screaming from the cellar with his brother in hot pursuit.


APRIL 1964

In April 1964 the Beatles held the top five spots in the Billboard top forty singles in America. The Rolling Stones released their debut album, unimaginatively named the Rolling Stones. BBC 2 began broadcasting in the United Kingdom. Thieves stole the head from the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen. Twelve of the Great Train Robbers received sentences totalling three hundred and twelve years, and Raymond Evans joined the rock and pop band Satan’s Whiskers.

*  *  *  *

I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, studying my appearance as I trimmed my unruly eyebrows using the moustache trimmer attachment on my electric razor. My mother often chased me around the house with a pair of eyebrow tweezers to rectify the eyebrow problem, but as she plucked her own eyebrows to destruction before replacing them with a thin pencil line, I made sure that she never caught me.
 After naming the band Satan’s Whiskers a week earlier, I’d tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the others to follow my example and grow whiskers as a gimmick. A week without shaving and the stubble of the first few days looked more beard-like; although I had to concede that the side growth was disappointing to say the least, which would undoubtedly provide ammunition for the others to ridicule my efforts. On an impulse I shaved the beard into a goatee. If I didn’t like the final result then the whole thing would have to be removed, but what the hell, easy come, easy go. I examined my handiwork from every angle until I was satisfied that I looked as satanic as possible.

*  *  *  *

Freddie Cope was already at Ryan’s house when I arrived for band practise. I’d bumped into Freddie and Ryan a few weeks earlier, when I’d gone into Blakewater on Good Friday evening. I knew them through a friend and joined them for a drink while I waited for my date. It turned out that Freddie and Ryan planned to form a rock band, so the conversation inevitably drifted into that territory.
 I was the owner of a bass guitar, which was currently languishing in my parent’s loft after a previously failed attempt to form a band with two of my school friends, and once they discovered this they asked me to audition at Ryan’s house on Easter Sunday.
I wasn’t confident of my musical abilities, as I’d practised for such a short time and it had been a few years since I last played the guitar. I worried all through Saturday, and wished that I hadn’t agreed to audition for fear of embarrassing myself, but I needn’t have worried as I was accepted as a member of a newly formed band by a unanimous vote.
“Hi Ray,” said Freddie, in his usual cheery way, as I entered the smoky atmosphere of Ryan’s bedroom.
Freddie was a happy-go-lucky character, with a ruddy complexion and curly blonde hair. He was roughly my height of a couple of inches below six feet tall, but I always wore high heeled boots which elevated me to a height in excess of six feet tall.
“I can’t bloody breathe in here,” I told them, open a window.”
 “Stop being such a wuss,” Freddie told me with a laugh. “Here have a fag.”
“You can stick your fags where the sun doesn’t shine,” I told him, as I pushed past him to open a window before I suffocated in the smoky atmosphere.
Ryan, who was the exact opposite of Freddie, in both nature and appearance, grunted a reluctant “Hello,” while continuing to tune his guitar with a cigarette dangling from his lips and with smoke drifting into his eyes, which made him blink continuously and his eyes to water profusely. Because the two of them were so different in nature I found it difficult to understand how Freddie and Ryan had ever become friends.
Ryan Cheshire was dark-haired with a swarthy Mediterranean appearance and a little shorter than Freddie and I. He always appeared to need a shave, and even though he assured me that he’d shaved that very morning, I’m embarrassed to report that his beard growth was more impressive than was mine.
“Will Frank be coming to band practise?” I asked.
Frank Rivers was our absentee drummer and known to us affectionately as Hank, because he idolised The Shadows.
“No, he always works on Saturdays,” replied Freddie, “but practising in Ryan’s bedroom with a drum kit is never going to be an option even if he didn’t.”
Hank and Freddie were maternal cousins, although they were so alike that they looked more like brothers. They were both fair haired with rosy complexions; although Hank’s hair was a shade darker and he stood a couple of inches taller, about my height when wearing my boots.

*  *  *  *

Hank had been playing the drums in a public house along with an elderly organist, when Freddie had persuaded him to dissolve his partnership with the old man and join the newly formed band without a name. We’d played together just once at a wedding reception. The reception had been held in one of the better hotels in Blakewater, and when I say hotels I mean a public house with a few bedrooms and named The Queens Hotel rather than the more common Queens Arms or Queens Head.
The booking had gone well and filled us with confidence, but it was of the easily obtained unpaid variety, a wedding present from Hank and Freddie to a common relative. During the interval, and on the back of a successful first set, we suggested names for the band. Many names were suggested and just as quickly rejected, until I pointed out the name of a cocktail containing gin, Grand Marnier, sweet vermouth. Dry vermouth and orange juice, with a dash of orange bitters from the cocktail menu and Satan’s Whiskers were born.
*  *  *  *

While we were practising Randy Bloomfield (1) entered the room; escorted by Ryan’s mother carrying a tray of drinking glasses filled to the brim with chilled orange juice. Randy was a married man with a baby daughter, and a wife who at twenty years of age had already resigned herself to becoming a band widow.
Randy’s hair had already begun to turn grey, even though he was barely a year older than his wife, but his eyebrows remained thick, black, and bushy. He had strong features with heavy brows, while his nose gave the impression of having been remodelled on the inside of a boxing ring, although in truth it was a natural feature on the landscape of his face.
Randy’s band regularly played at a public house on the estate of council owned properties where he and Ryan lived. The pub was popular with the younger demographic, but as the booking fee was disappointing; Randy was looking to offload this regular Sunday night venue in favour of the more lucrative offers which were beginning to flood in as his popularity gained momentum.
“I’ve got a proposition,” he announced, as he helped Mrs Cheshire with the distribution of refreshments.
“We’ve been offered a late booking for tomorrow night, but unfortunately we’re obligated to play at The Manxman. I’ve spoken with the publican, and he’s prepared to give you a trial, if you’d be interested.”
“We definitely are interested?” Ryan blurted out, without any consultation on the matter. But he could be forgiven for his indiscretion as he was the one credited with putting the band together.
“I’ll come with you if you like and introduce you to the landlord,” Randy volunteered, as he wanted the matter settled as quickly as possible to enable him to move on to pastures new.
Although the pub was within walking distance of Ryan’s house Freddie chose to drive, as walking was never a consideration.
The pub consisted of a large public room divided by folding doors. A red carpet, covered with a busy pattern, helped to disguise the beer stains caused by the frequent spillages, although it couldn’t hide the shiny spots of chewing gum which had been trodden into the carpet and were accumulating daily around the bar area.
Many of the customers, who had already been served, insisted in congregating around the bar while making it unnecessarily difficult for us to reach the bar, even though many of the seats and tables were unoccupied.
Randy introduced us to the publican who was busy pulling pints of beer behind the bar and took little interest in our names.
“This is the band I was telling you about. They’re available tomorrow and willing to stand in if you’re prepared to give them a trial.”
“Stage is in there,” the landlord informed us, as he finished serving a customer and came from behind the bar to push back the dividing doors.
Mounted on braked wheels, the tiny stage was a single step above ground level. A backdrop of vertical silver strips caught the reflected light from a glitter ball, which the publican proudly switched on for effect, and it sparkled in a myriad of different colours, while he watched in wonder as if he had never seen it before.
“The stage appears to be a bit small,” I observed.
“Randy’s band always spills onto the dance floor,” we were informed by the landlord, which Randy confirmed with a nod of his head.
“If you’re a success, I’ll book you to play on alternate Sundays, with Randy’s band doing the others.
We concluded the business agreement with a handshake. I well understood why Randy wanted to move his band to pastures new, as payment for our musical services was close to non-existent, although at this stage of our fledgling career, the money didn’t matter half as much as laying claim to our first professional booking.


(1) The character described as Randy Bloomfield went on to record the single “Looking Good Feeling Bad,” his own composition, and  two country music albums under the stage name of Randy Blue and Deep Water.

 I would very much like you to comment on what you have just read . You will be the editors of my novel. If I get enough comments I will post extra chapters of the novel for your approval or disapproval.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

An October walk in the Ribble Valley.

At this time of year it's about the turning of the leaves from the greens of summer, to the reds and golds of Autumn. It's nature's swansong before winter finally sets in. The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting colder, and the leaves are beginning to turn into the beautiful colours of autumn, as the chlorophyll, which keeps the leaves green throughout the summer, retreats for the winter.

This is a field maple, and like all maples is one of the most impressive of trees when in autumn colour. When you think of maple you think of maple syrup and the Canadian national flag, and of Japanese maples sold in pots for use in gardens, but we do have maples of our own,  as you can see.

I spotted this Virginia creeper growing up a farmhouse wall. It isn't strictly a native to the Ribble Valley, as its name  suggests, but then neither am I and we both seem to thrive here. Perhaps the climate here is not too dissimilar to that of Virginia.

Last month was about the berries, but this month it's predominantly about fungus, which is everywhere. This is a bracket fungus, it grows on the trunks of trees, and sticks out rather like a bracket attached to a wall. I'm not an expert on fungus but most fungi can be eaten, I'm led to believe, but without expert knowledge its a risk too far, as the consequence's of making a mistake can be devastating. 

Here are a few more I spotted.

Honey Fungus                                                       Cep

                                                   Shaggy Inkcap

Russila                                                            The Deceiver.
                                                                       I wonder why its called that?

I spotted this fox crossing a field, it was a long way away but I put the camera on full telephoto and placed it on a fence post for support. The depth of field is quite narrow but at least the head is in focus. I once went to Bournemouth for Easter and urban foxes were commonplace, but foxes in the countryside are more illusive and I was pleased to get this one. 

These are the seeds of the horse chestnut tree. As a boy we used to soak them in vinegar to make them hard enough to win conker competitions. A hole was bored through the conker and then it was used to smash someone else's conker before yours was broken. You received a few rapped knuckles but it was great fun. Playing conquers seems to be banned today as being too dangerous, like walking to school and playing outside with other children. Sad, don't you think?

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Publishing your masterpiece on a shoestring

It's much easier to publish that book you always intended to write than at any other time in history, but it can be very expensive to do so. It seems to me that we have three options when it comes to publication, and I have tried them all. 


The first option is to use a conventional publisher, but interesting a conventional publisher in a book by an unknown author is about as likely as winning the lottery. My first two books were published in this way some years ago. I was asked to pay the cost of professional editing from my advance on sales. I'm not saying that professional editing is not a good thing, I'm sure that it is if you want the book to be the best that it can be, but unless you are confident that you have a best seller on your hands, the probability is that you will never re-coup your investment. 

My books were sold at £7.50 each, and my royalty share was 10% of sales, or 75 pence per copy. After tax that left me with 60 pence per copy if they all sold at full value. If the editing bill happened to come to £1000, which in this day and age is a very conservative estimate of costs, I would have to sell 1,666 of each book just to cover the cost of the editing. I resolved this problem by offering my editor a writing credit, and 2% of my book royalties. The publisher designed the book covers, printed the books, did all of the marketing, and I received an annual check for a decade.


When I retired from full time employment, and decided to try my hand at writing novels, I approached a print on demand publisher after responding to an advert. This method of publishing would have been described as vanity press not so very long ago, because the author is expected to foot the bill for pretty much everything. The publisher did produce the book at zero cost, except for a nominal charge for "administration," but I quickly discovered that this kind of publisher makes their money from selling services to authors, rather than selling books to the reading public, so I cancelled my contract  when sales dried up after just  35 copies had been sold.

This is the option which I currently favour, unless of course one of the conventional publishers would like to take a chance on an unknown like me. In this option the author is also the publisher, and marketer, so it involves a lot of time, work, and commitment to bring the book to fruition. 

How to get started? assuming that you have finished writing your manuscript, it will need to be edited, and edited, and then edited some more. You will be surprised how many mistakes you have made and some you won't even recognise as mistakes, but Microsoft Word will find some of them for you and there are other free download programs to help you to look for mistakes. Professional editing will  resolve these problems but at a cost. To avoid editing fees I employed the services of two of my friends to search for mistakes, and at the end of the day it only cost me two signed copies and a curry at the local Indian restaurant. Editing is more than searching for spelling and grammar mistakes, it includes context and running order, all kinds of things in fact, so I joined YouWriteOn, where you can submit your manuscript for a critical assessment, but to receive an assessment you must be  prepared to do the same thing for someone else. The feedback is very useful, if you are thick skinned enough to accept it, because some of the comments can be brutal. I learned from the process that I'd included too much unnecessary detail, and that my story didn't grab the reader from the beginning, and took too long to get going, so I took on board the comments, analysed my story, re-arranged it, and removed about 80 pages worth of waffle, which is the kind of thing that an editor might do. I am very happy with the result.

A book is no good without a cover. A cover helps to sell a book and could be the difference as to whether a book sells or not, so it must look professional. Book designers will produce a good cover but again at a cost, but it doesn't need to cost a fortune to produce a decent book cover. I bought the rights to use the photograph on the left  on-line, for about £30. My novel is about a band which crashes and burns after being connected to a series of killings, so the picture seemed to be appropriate.
On Microsoft Word, you can select insert from the tool-bar, and then Word Art. There you can choose your text design, and colour. Save the result as a PDF, in your Word document, which will easily convert to a JPEG on a free download. I use free PDF to JPEG converter. It's a bit primitive but it does the job. For the back cover  select page layout from the tool-bar in Word, and then select a page colour. You can use Word Art, or simply chose a text style to complete the cover blurb. You can now self publish your book as an e-book on Amazon Kindle, or as  a paperback on Createspace for free.

When I discover how to market on a shoestring I'll let you know.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

A September walk in Lancashire's Ribble Valley.

We are meeting today at St Mary's church in  the village of Newchurch in Pendle, and walking to St Leonard's church at Downham.
 The Demdike family of witches lived at Newchurch, although at the time the village was called Goldshaw Booth. The eye of God is carved into the clock-tower to monitor witch activity.
   If you look to the right of the porch you will see a sign. This informs us that the grave situated there is the witches grave. It is reputed to be the grave of Alice Nutter, who was hanged as a witch, although it's debatable whether the church would allow a convicted witch to be buried in consecrated ground.

Alice Nutter was reputed to have been a gentlewoman with no history of witchcraft,  Alice denied being a witch to the very end, and seems to have been arrested purely for attending a Good Friday meeting to oppose the arrests of the Demdike clan.
  Alice lived in the village of Rough Lee, which is close to Newchurch in Pendle, and to the best of my knowledge this is the house in which she lived.

 Newchurch is now a tourist village for witch finders, and I discovered a coven of them sitting outside of a souvenir shop which sells all manner of witch related  items. I've purchased two books there in the past, Mist over Pendle by Robert Neill, and The Lancashire Witches by Harrison Ainsworth. I can recommend both of them. 

You may have realised by now that we are not in the Ribble Valley at all, but in the neighbouring district of Pendle. The road from Newchurch, which is situated at the foot of Pendle Hill, travels over the hill until it arrives in Downham village, which also sits at the foot of Pendle Hill on the other side in my home district of the Ribble Valley. You may  be able to make out the village of Downham in the valley below, it looks a long way off, but at least it's all downhill. On sunny days, some rather more daring people than I, para-glide from the top of the hill and float on the thermals.
   Pendle Hill dominates both the Pendle and Ribble Valley landscapes, and is regarded by locals with affection. Listen to the folk song 'Old Pendle' recorded by the Pendle Folk. 
At this time of the year the summer flowers are beginning to come to an end, and it's all about the berries. The one you probably know the best is the blackberry. There is nothing quite like home made blackberry pie, or even better apple and blackberry with custard. When we were kids we would spend whole afternoons, with a Tupperware box, collecting blackberries, but no matter how long we spent collecting them the container never seemed to fill. Perhaps that's because we ate more than we collected, grubs and all.

Rose hips are the fruits of the dog rose, and can be used to make Rose hip syrup, jam, herbal tea, wine, and as it's high in vitamin C, vitamin C supplements.

Sloe's are the fruit of the blackthorn and can be used to make sloe gin, brandy, jam or chutney.

Hawthorn berries are winter food for the Blackbird and thrush species of birds. Redwing's and Fieldfare's visit us from Scandinavia to feast on our winter supply of berries. They are also used to treat high blood pressure and angina.

Elderberry wine, or Sambucus, is a favourite, and elderberries are reputed to ward off the winter flue and alleviate allergies.

We have arrived in Downham, our destination, the church, can be seen at the top of the hill.
 Richard Assheton, my 11th great uncle, bought the village of Downham from Ralph Greenacres in 1558, and bequeathed it, along with the village of Whalley, to his nephew Ralph, my 10th great grandfather, on his demise in 1579. The Assheton family still own the village of Downham to this day.
  The village was used in the filming of the 1961 film Whistle Down the Wind, with Hayley Mills and Alan Bates, and the BBC television series Born and Bred, starring James Bolam, Richard Wilson, Clive Swift, Nigel Havers and John Henshaw, was filmed there. The building that you can see on the right was used as the doctors surgery and cottage hospital.

 St Leonard's church, our destination. Around the back of the church, and out of sight, where you would least expect to find it, is  the  tomb dedicated to members of the Assheton family.
 The Assheton Arms, which was named, I think, the Railwayman's Arms, or sum such, in the television series, even though there isn't a railway line to be found for miles, let alone a railway station,  is situated directly across the road from the church, and that, as you might expect, is our final destination.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Another August walk in the Ribble Valley

      Earlier in the month we walked to the Black Bull. Today, in total contrast, we will be walking to the White Bull.
    I've parked my car  at Dinkley and I'm walking down Kenyon lane towards the River Ribble. You can just see Dinkley Hall at the bottom of the lane. It's a grade 11 listed building which was originally a timber framed building and built around 1600, but it's now encased in sandstone and partly rendered.  It boasts impressive arched oak beams and has been sympathetically converted to modern living, it's currently on the market for £1.3 million should you require a desirable residence by the river. How's that for estate agent speak, have I sold it to you?

The hedges are full of greater bindweed at this time of the year, and have been since June. Only the British would class such a beautiful climber as a weed. If it were called a clematis instead of bindweed it would be sold in garden centres in  pots and supported on bamboo canes for about £6 a pop. It scrambles through everything for support and is one of those plants which is impossible to eradicate, as the slightest bit of root left in the ground and it will re-appear. But why would you want to eradicate it?

    I noticed this butterfly on one of the flowers, it's a meadow brown. Not the most attractive of butterflies I must admit, but I decided to see how many varieties of butterflies I could spot. on my walk Apparently butterfly numbers are in serious decline due to a loss of habitat. Buddleia's are a favourite food plant for many adult butterflies, while nettles are an essential food plant for the caterpillars of many different varieties. Perhaps we should all turn a small corner of our gardens over to these food plants to preserve these beautiful insects before they are lost to us forever. 
      A few years ago, at this time of the year, I would have been in my garden with a book and a beer, and I would be sitting among clouds of butterflies of all persuasions. I still grow buddlia's, but a public footpath which  flanks my house, has been cleared of nettles to allow access to walkers and the butterfly numbers have dropped dramatically
     Here are a few more varieties which I spotted, or at least the ones I managed to photograph. Have you ever chased butterflies around a field waiting for them to land, and then open their wings and pose for a photograph?

PAINTED LADY                    PEACOCK                         SMALL HEATH                                                                                
In our July walk we crossed the suspension bridge on our journey from Marles Wood to Hurst Green, and I explained that the bridge replaced the ferryman back in the 1950's. Today we must cross it again as we need to be on the opposite side of the river to walk along the river bank to Ribchester.

 We must leave the river bank, as it's too steep and dense with woodland, and cross a field of sheep, with the bridge visible in the background. We are following a public footpath, which is part of the Ribble way, and must pass through a wooded area. Another footbridge straddles a stream which feeds into the river. It may look a little rustic in comparison to the suspension bridge, but it appears picturesque  in the dappled shade, don't you think?. 

Back on the  river bank for about half a mile and we reach the road bridge which takes the traffic in and out of Ribchester. This Jacobean house is close to the bridge and on the outskirts of Ribchester. It's not exactly on our journey but it can be seen from where we stand on the bridge. I remember  Ribble Valley Borough Council putting it up for sale for just £1 in the 1970's. Why didn't you snap it up? I hear you ask. Well it was in a dreadful condition and any potential buyer had to prove that they had the wherewithal to bring it up to the required standard of preservation. I didn't.

     We've  arrived in Ribchester and I've had to miss out so many things that I photographed along the way.  Ribchester is built on the site of a Roman fort. Every town or city with a reference to chester, was once a Roman fort, and the most elaborate  Roman helmet ever discovered was found by two small boys while playing in the river at Ribchester. It's now in the British Museum in London, but a copy takes pride of place in Ribchester's Roman museum. 
     Tony Robinson visited the village a few years ago to excavate for the television programme Time Team.  Because the whole of the Roman fort is buried beneath the village, they had to dig in peoples gardens to discover the layout of the fort. Some of the foundations, found in communal areas of the village, have been left exposed for visitors to see, with explanations as to what the visitor is looking at.
     The pillars holding up the portico of the pub, which was once a coaching inn, as you can see by the addition of stables at the far end of the building, are said to be excavated Roman pillars, and used in the construction of the pub way back  in 1707.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

An August walk in the Ribble Valley.

Today I'm walking to the Black Bull pub at Old Langho if you want to come along, but what I didn't expect to meet on the journey was the real thing, and he doesn't look very pleased to see me. Perhaps it's my red polo shirt? You know the old saying, like a red rag to a bull, but I've been told that bovines only see in monochrome, and that it's the movement which provokes them to attack, let's hope for my sake that's true,  I'm too old to run anyway. I think I must have been a little distracted when I took this photograph, because I've only just noticed a nice shot of Pendle Hill in the background.

In days of yore hay-making was a once a year, activity performed by whole families or villages using scythes. The hay was gathered up and made into the rather attractive haystacks that some might remember in children's storybooks. That is why school holidays lasted for six weeks, so that the winter feed, for livestock, could be cut and gathered during the summer months. Now it takes one man one day to do an entire field using a tractor and a bailer, consequently the fields are now cut twice in the year in June, as soon as the grass is long enough, and a second cut in August. I don't think that too many children will be complaining that they no longer need six weeks holiday to do the hay-making.

I noticed these three plants growing in close proximity to each other. Can you guess what they are? If you said sweet peas you wouldn't be far wrong. To the left we have the common vetch, in to centre the meadow vetch, and to the right purple vetch. You will have guessed by now that vetch is  the horticultural name for the pea family, and that these plants  are all wild peas.

Today the Pendle witch is flying very low. You can see the fire in the burner so that he can gain enough height to get over the trees. My family booked me on a balloon flight a couple of years ago as a Christmas present, because I kept banging on about it every time this, or any balloon other, flew over. We were supposed to take off from Stoneyhurst College, but after half a dozen cancellations over a six month period, which were blamed on the, weather, wind speed, or wind direction, the flight was transferred to Lower Bentham, in North Yorkshire, one late September evening. Here is a short video if you would like to see it. I did film the whole of the journey but this video is just the take off part. I can be spotted operating the blower to inflate the balloon.

I can hear croaking in the grass, and on examination there are dozens of grasshoppers. Some are green and some were brown, some were tiny and some are quite big. Grasshoppers are a well known insect to most of us because of cartoons on television and fairy stories in books, but how many of you have actually seen a grasshopper in the flesh, other than crickets in pet shops destined to be fed to lizards and snakes.

Here we are at the Black Bull. We started our journey with a black bull, and we've finished our journey with another black bull, but this one is a far more welcome sight, cheers.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Another July walk in the Ribble Valley

Today I'm walking  from Great Mitton, where Hodder and Ribble's fair waters do meet, according to a  line from the  song, Old Pendle.
There are two grand halls in Mitton, one in Little Mitton,   on the Lancashire side of the river and now a hotel and restaurant, and one at Great Mitton, north of the river, and in Yorkshire until the boundry changes of 1974. A carved stone set into the fabric of the bridge indicates the old boundary between the two counties.  Both halls are now in Lancashire.  Great Mitton Hall was originally built to house monks I believe, and was once used as a hospital, but it is now a private home and the gardens are open to the public under the National Garden Scheme.

Next to the hall stands All Hallows Church, which dates back to 1103, but it would have been a timber building at that time. Turner spent a lot of time painting in the Ribble Valley, and he was so impressed by this church that he did a detailed pencil drawing of the interior. He also painted a canvas depicting the interior of Little Mitton Hall.

Some people are a little squeamish about graveyards, but personally I can't resist them. First of all you get the most fantastic views of the oldest surviving buildings  in Britain, and they are havens for wildlife, which seems to be much more approachable in churchyards and public parks than anywhere else. This churchyard was full of rabbits on my visit, which were quite happy to pose for photographs.

I also discovered this wasp's nest in a hedge. Late July and August are the months for wasps, as anyone who has tried to eat or drink outdoors in summer will have realised, and the little bleeders think nothing of stinging you just for the hell of it. The only thing that can be said in their defence is that they kill a lot of garden pests, now not a lot of people know that.

Time to leave Great Mitton and head for Bashall Eves, but I want to make a short diversion to show you Cromwell's bridge,  a pack horse bridge built in 1561, which crosses the river Hodder. Cromwell crossed it in with 8,000 men in 1684 on his way from Gisburn to Preston. The Battle of Preston took place the following day and the Royalists were routed. Cromwell states that he held a council of war at the bridge.

We have finally reached Browsholme Hall at Bashall Eves and I can now reveal my real reason for undertaking this walk. It's actually a genealogical journey for me. The present house was built in 1507 by Sir Edmund Parker, my 13th great grandfather although a house built by my 18th great grandfather, Richard Parker, stood on the site from around 1400. My 10th great grandfather Roger Parker didn't inherit and became the Dean of Lincoln Cathedral,  but his son Thomas was christened at  Mitton and married in Whalley.  I had hoped that there might be a family connection to Great Mitton Hall, but it would appear not.