Nov 15, 2014

AN UNSETTLING ENCOUNTER WITH A HORSE BOX

We now spend a lot of time in rural France and our bit of France is very much like Derbyshire, lovely hills, rivers, valleys and villages.  Having returned home from a long spell in France I couldn’t help but be aware of some major differences between the two places we have chosen as our homes.

First of all – the traffic.  Everywhere here is so incredibly busy and drivers are much less careful and considerate than in France.

Second – the litter.  Here the hedgerows and lanes are littered with rubbish whereas in our little corner of France it is rarely seen.

Third – and this upsets me most – how rude Derbyshire people are.  You see it in every activity, every day.  Drivers are aggressive and inconsiderate.  Supermarket staff are unhelpful and indifferent.  Shoppers are arrogant, pushing and shoving their way past other people.  What ever happened to manners?  In France we rarely encounter rudeness.  Polite indifference occasionally but generally people treat each other with respect and they have good manners.

Within an hour of arriving home from France I had an experience which upset me a lot.  We took our dog Lulu in the car to one of our favourite walks.  Driving along a narrow lane we met a horse box coming the other way.  The lane is wide enough for two cars to pass comfortably but this horse box was far too wide to pass anything.  I dived as close to the hedge as I dare, not wanting to damage the car wheels on any rocks in the gutter and not wanting to scratch the side on branches of trees. 

The horse box came to a halt and the female driver leaned out of the window and said “do you think you could reverse back a bit?”  The word please did not come into it.  So I reversed rather gingerly, as did the cars behind me, to get to a wider bit of the lane.  As I reversed the horse box continued to drive forwards and I could see the lights sticking out of the side getting closer to my car.  I looked up at the driver but she looking ahead, not at my car, so I sounded the horn.

She stopped and looked down at me with one of those looks that can only be described as a sneer or a smirk, curling her lip as if in disgust.  A male voice from inside the cab said “ silly cow, there’s loads of room.  Silly cow.”

So these people had brought a horse box down a lane where they knew it could not pass other vehicles, I had reversed back to make way for them and they called me a silly cow when I showed that I was concerned about it.  Why couldn’t they have shown me some gratitude and respect, and said something like “don’t worry love, there’s plenty of room”?  There’s a world of difference. 

As we drove on to our destination I was feeling bruised and upset.  “Welcome home Jean, I thought, welcome home.”

Jul 11, 2014

LONGSHAW

I can hardly believe that, having lived in Derbyshire for most of my life, and being National Trust members for over twenty years, I have never been to the Longshaw Estate until this year.

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My friend Ruth, who now lives in Devon, came on a visit to Yorkshire to catch up with her friends and colleagues and hired a small cottage north of Sheffield for a couple of weeks.  She brought her little dog Charlie with her.  She suggested meeting at Longshaw as a half way point, having a walk and lunch at the estate tearooms.

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I was almost embarrassed to admit I had never been there before!  And I now realised I had been missing out.  Except that in previous years we would probably have only been able to visit at a weekend, when, being so near to both Sheffield and Chesterfield, it would undoubtedly be heaving with visitors.

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On a Tuesday morning in early June we had it pretty much to ourselves, although the tearoom was busy by the time we got there.  We rarely go to the popular tourist spots at weekends these days – doing battle with the crowds is something neither of us enjoys any more.  Now we are retired we can do our visiting during the week when the hordes are at work and their children at school.  Much more pleasant.

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At one point a curlew circled overhead.  I had never seen one before but recognised its call.  I guess it was trying to draw attention from its nest by calling and flying away from us. Longshaw8

It was a rather chilly day for mid June.  We all wore fleece jackets and were glad of them.  The temperature seemed to be several degrees cooler than in Chesterfield.  The trees and plants also looked much further behind than at home, more like you would expect in the middle of May.  Which is one of the reasons that life was tougher for people living up on the moors – spring and summer come later, winter is longer and the weather is generally cooler and wetter.

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Three quarters of the way round on our walk we stopped for an ice cream and sat on a bench to enjoy the view.  It takes more than a cool wind to put us Derbyshire (and Yorkshire) folk off our ice creams !!

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The rhododendrons were in full bloom around the estate and provided a fabulous back drop of purple colour.  That in itself was interesting because the rhododendrons at Lea were already past their best by that week.

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It was lovely to meet up with Ruth again.  It’s ten years since we actually met face to face but she’s one of those people with whom you can ease into a conversation just as if you last met yesterday.  I hope it’s not ten years before we get together again and we plan to visit her in Devon later this year if we can arrange it.  And we will certainly be visiting Longshaw again soon.  It’s a beautiful place and now that we are free to do what we want mid week it’s on our list of places to go for a stroll and a picnic.

May 31, 2014

THE AGE OF STEAM

Steam trains have always fascinated me, which is lucky considering the number of Sundays and Bank Holidays we spent visiting steam railways up and down the country as a family.  My dad was very much into steam and in fact has built several his own steam engines in his garden shed.  Models of course!

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So on Bank Holiday Monday, after our trip to the Well Dressings, we headed off through the Derbyshire villages to somewhere where we knew we would be able to get a cup of tea - the buffet car on platform two of the railway station at Wirksworth.

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Unlike in France, dogs are rarely allowed in restaurants and cafés in the UK, so we took our steaming mugs of tea and sheltered from the drizzly rain on the platform.

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The Ecclesbourne Valley Railway is one of the many railway societies up and down the country run by volunteers and donations.  It operates a mainly tourist service along a few miles of line between Wirksworth and Duffield which is very popular.  You can read all about it here.

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When I was a little girl in the 1950’s we often travelled by steam train, regularly getting the bus to Cromford station and then the train to Derby for a day out shopping.  When my dad was in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm the steam train from Cromford would be the first stage in very long journeys by rail to Scotland or Northern Ireland to the Naval base.  We lived in the “married quarters” near to the base.

The railway station at Cromford was also a favourite destination for me and my male cousins to go on our bicycles in the school holidays, messing about on the platform and standing on the footbridge as the trains came and went, tolerated by the station manager, so long as we didn’t get in the way.

In my twenties I was a member of the Middleton Railway Society near Leeds and actually got to ride the footplate and assist in driving shunting engines – as close as I would ever get to driving a steam engine by myself!

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So it was on platform one at Wirksworth that I had to go and “spend a penny”.  Otherwise known as “going to the ladies”.  The original ladies loo would often be engaged and a queue would form at busy times hence the following little notice fixed to the old post box.

day out in Derbyshire

May 28, 2014

WHAT TO DO ON A WET BANK HOLIDAY IN DERBYSHIRE

Having found ourselves at home in Derbyshire instead of in France, we were faced with the ancient conundrum of what to do for entertainment on Bank Holiday Monday.

There is usually plenty going on and the weather’s usually terrible, so whatever is going on is often more or less weather proof.  The inhabitants of Derbyshire are pretty used to making the most of bad weather by now.  The weekend so far had been grey, cold, damp and miserable but on Bank Holiday Monday morning the sun was shining and it was quite pleasant.  So Nick went fishing and I took Lulu for a nice long walk then made a quiche.  A few spots of rain brought Nick home for his lunch.

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On his way back from the river Nick had spotted a poster advertising the well dressings at the nearby village of Brackenfield, so after lunch we set off there, thinking that if it started to rain properly again it was not too far from home.

There’s usually a cup of tea and a piece of cake available in the village hall at these events too.

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I have been visiting the local well dressings in Derbyshire since I was old enough to sit in a pushchair.  In the 1950’s there were very few and they were quite an event.  My dad would load me into the sidecar of his motorcycle and with my mum riding pillion the three of us would purr along the country lanes to Youlgreave or Tissington for a day out to see the well dressings.  On arrival at our destination my dad would lift me out of the sidecar and put their helmets, gloves and scarves inside so they didn’t have to carry them round.  There was no lock and they would still be there when we got back – something which you certainly couldn’t gamble on nowadays.

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Well dressing is a tradition which occurs in Derbyshire and other counties of the UK every summer.  Traditionally the sites of the village wells were dressed with flowers to give thanks for an ample supply of pure water.  You can read about it in Wikipedia here.  Each village will have a theme to their well dressings and in Brackenfield it was gardening.

When I was a little girl it was just a continuation of the tradition in a few Derbyshire villages.  Now they are everywhere in the county and it’s very much a tourist thing.  Derbyshire is now a popular holiday area and you can see the full calendar of well dressings, and a video of how it’s done, on the Peak District website here.

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There are many similarities between Derbyshire and the area where we live in France, which may be why we felt at home in Le Grand-Pressigny straight away.  Whatever the event on a Sunday in France, be it a brocante or fête of some kind, there will nearly always be a display of old cars and tractors.  At the old car and tractor events there will usually be a brocante.

In the small village of Brackenfield as well as the well dressings there was also a display of old tractors, and a craft fair in the school hall.

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And of course there were the old cars to admire.  I rather fancied on of these.

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In the church there was a flower festival.  The arrangements were breathtakingly beautiful and the church was heaving with people. 

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In the churchyard there was an extra well dressing next to the war memorial.  The memorial has very few names on it, because Brackenfield is only a very small village, but like so many other small Derbyshire villages it lost most of its young men during the war.

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As we walked back towards the village hall in hope of a cup of tea and a slice of cake a few drops of rain began to fall.  By the time we got there the hall was full of people sheltering from the rain and all the tables were all taken.  So we decided to head off to somewhere else where we knew we could get a cuppa.

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However that will have to do for now, as I’m running out of steam…..more in the next post !!

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Except that if anyone knows the name of this plant with its lovely yellow bobbles of flowers I would love to know.  It was in someone’s garden in Brackenfield and I quite fancy having one in my new garden – eventually.

Update – it’s a buddleja globosa.  Many thanks to my Aunty Sylvia, who phoned to tell me, and I didn’t even know she reads my blog!