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Monday, 26 November 2012

Trish unearths the momentous to the outlandish for district's pocket guide

book review by Mervin Straughan

Quizmasters are a rare breed. They amass an inordinate number of facts from the bizarre to the truly outlandish and then tease their participants.

Combining the old with
the new: Trish Colton's
new "not a guide"
Our local quizmaster is no exception. But, as we drown our sorrows at the pub at the end of the evening, we take consolation in the knowledge that we are enriched — culturally, geographically, historically and sociologically.

Whether she is or not, I'll wager that regional historian Trish Colton would reign supreme as a quizmaster. In a similar fashion, she delights in unearthing the momentous to the outlandish.

Her latest book Not a Guide to Harrogate & District (£5.99 and published by The History Press) contains a plethora of entertaining and quirky facts about the spa destination and its satellite towns, villages and hamlets.

It's an easily digestible read that the publisher says will surprise folks who think they know the area well.

Trish, who has lived in Yorkshire most of her life, is passionate about local history and has written articles for newspapers and magazines in the UK and abroad. She's author of The History Press title Not A Guide To: York and the co-author of The Knights Templar in Yorkshire.

Her latest offering takes readers through hidden gems, buried treasures, rebellious heritage, famous personalities and even its druid temples. There are more than 120 photographs depicting life across the area. The aim is to bring together the past and present and offer a fresh perspective on local history.

A spokesperson for the publisher, the History Press, said: "Not A Guide To: Harrogate & District offers a contemporary slant on the ‘city guide’ that simply cannot be missed."

The great philanthropist Andrew Carnegie financed the building
of Harrogate's library in 1906 but, we are told, drew a line at donating
funding for building new council offices nearby.
It's difficult to argue with that. After removing it from its padded envelope and, sitting with a cuppa, I was absorbed for half an hour before remembering my urgent appointments. I, therefore, put it down and dedicated proper review time later that day but, in the meantime, kept recalling what I had learnt as I went about my business.

For instance:
  • As the main coaching town between Edinburgh and London, Boroughbridge had twenty inns.
  • Five of the district's men have been awarded the Victoria Cross.
  • Late one January afternoon in 1192, locals would have seen the aurora borealis.
  • Squadron leader James Harry "Ginger" Lacey DFM, one of the RAF's top-scoring World War Two fighter pilots attended King James's School, Knaresborough.
  • Ten rivers flow through the district.
  • Jim Carter, of Downton Abbey, Shakespeare in Love and Brassed Off fame is Harrogate born and educated.
  • On 12 February 1962, a 100 mph gale blew down 800 mature trees in Harrogate and blew the dome off the observatory.
There are many more.

And all these facts bring us neatly back to our quizmaster. Local knowledge continues to feature prominently in his devilish challenges but, this time, I might just be one step ahead.

The book can be bought at

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

What the Dickens is this? It's a hidden gem, that's what!

It's our first visit to Malton and we're getting our bearings. We figure that by cutting through the Chancery Lane ginnel from Yorkersgate, we can reach the market square.

The inspiration of buildings ... Dickens modelled Scrooge's
 Counting House on the Smithson solicitor's offices.

Half way up and, appearing from nowhere like like Mr Benn's shopkeeper, a smiling grey-haired woman begins regaling us with tales of Charles Dickens and his frequent visits to the Ryedale town. In true Derren Brown street-talking style, she mesmerises us and we find ourselves entering an historic building that will turn out to be the find of the day.

The Palace Cinema.
We are in the Counting House, Scrooge's Counting House to be precise. In London, Dickens, arguably England's finest novelist whose books provide a social commentary to harsher times, befriended  Charles Smithson, a solicitor working for the family practice here in Chancery Lane.

Smithson was to find out later that the author had modelled Scrooge's offices in A Christmas Carol on these very premises. The Counting House museum is run by a band of volunteers from the Charles Dickens (Malton) Society who are passionate about the town's literary links.

This hidden gem is open on Saturdays from 10am-2pm from May until October and offers the visitor a fascinating collection of material for both Dickens fans and anyone interested in the town's history. Admission is free but visitors are invited to make a donation to help its running.

The building packs a lot. The visitor finds giant paintings of Ebenezer Scooge and Bob Cractchit, cartoon sketches around the building of many known Dickens characters, a display of novels, a range of pictures about the literary figure, a fine collection of kitchen utensils and other domestic appliances.

But we also gain an insight into the life of Charles Smithson and the family firm. Looking out of the window and onto the ginnel, it is easy to see why Dickens was inspired.

We mention the need to grab something to eat and Linda, one of the team, in true, support-your-local-businesses style, thrusts a discount card into our hands for an eatery that has opened a few days earlier in the old Palace Cinema opposite and minutes later, we are ordering risottos and stake and ale pies. The cinema itself is alive and kicking. It's family owned and shows the latest family releases and quality films for a discerning audience.

Worth checking out ... Malton Market.

After our meal, we head to the impressive market area and from this point, we begin to explore. 

At each corner, we find ourselves stumbling over another ginnel or a street lined with an assortment of quaint independent shops, coffee shops and tea rooms. And Malton has embraced the chainstores but, either by accident or design, has achieved a balance that so few places have been able to across the UK. 

All this literary talk resulting from our Counting House find inspires us to call at the town's WH Smith and buy a Kobo ereader which comes pre-loaded with several classics. Would Dickens have approved of such new-fangled gadgetary? We think so. Surely, an invention that, like its older paper cousin, keeps the connection to our past alive, is good.

We continue our exploration around Malton. As we do, it becomes clear that while the town has moved with the times, it clings defiantly to an era  more recent than Dickens' Days  when life seemed simpler.

Review by Mervin Straughan.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

A triple treat awaits us at Mount Grace Priory

by Mervin Straughan

Two hens cluck and jockey for position to see what we’re up to as we walk towards the manor house.

Serene ...  the quiet haven
 of Mount Grace Priory
 is a stonemason's
throw from the busy A19
We are approaching what will turn out to be a triple treat. This home – one of the rarest of the Commonwealth period and its later incarnation, cited as one of the best examples of the Arts and Craft movement, is hiding another historical jewel.

For, just behind this imposing manor, whose glorious garden borders on this summer Sunday morning are beckoning all manner of bees and butterflies, lies England’s most important Carthusian ruin, Mount Grace Priory dating back to 1398.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Rattle and roll: a rail journey through Wensleydale

by Mervin Straughan

“Put kettle on, lad,” says Dave Turner to his teenage assistant as we head the queue of day trippers aboard the static Elizabeth-Anne carriage that now serves as both a ticket office and a cafe.

Signs of the times ... Leyburn Station
 is a good stopping off
 point on the Wensleydale Railway. 
There are probably more than forty years that separate the pair but it’s clear from our conversation that they're united in a passion to make it a charming and intimate experience for those of us who are about to travel on the Wensleydale Railway. Our train, Poseidon, a Class 47 diesel locomotive, will arrive at the Leeming Bar platform in fifteen minutes.

Although there's a small group of paid workers, the railway is heavily reliant on its volunteers to ensure it maintains its timetable with a diesel stock that rattles and rolls. It's reminiscent of the 1950s-to-1980s rail travel era as we make our way between Leeming Bar and Redmire and through some of North Yorkshire’s most picturesque countryside.

The landscape is beautiful so it would be sacrilege to dream of reading a book, a newspaper or even the Wensleydale Railway Association's own timetable leaflet as we wind our way through Herriot country.
Roll on ... the rolling stock is 
diesel, but the association ensures
 steam buffs are catered for with
 special events during 
the annual programme.

The 16-mile journey takes in the two classic North Yorkshire market towns of Bedale and Leyburn as well as the villages of Finghall and Redmire. The latter puts walkers on a twenty-minute footing to historic Bolton Castle.

It’s an authentic heritage railway designed just as much to serve the community as to offer tourists, families and transport enthusiasts a great day out.

Integration appears to the watchword because timetables are scheduled to allow visitors to enjoy a double historic travel experience – a 1960s bus service run by the Wensleydale Vintage Bus Service and featuring Bessie, a 1961 Bristol and its older 1949 siblings, Dorothy and Edith – travels to Aysgarth Falls, calling in at Leyburn and Redmire.

On this occasion, Leyburn is our stop where we enoy a little more than three hours walking the outskirts of the town and soaking up the scenery before a look around the individual shops. Our visit is sandwiched by wrap salads at Penley's on arrival and hot chocolates in the coffee shop part of the Leyburn Bed and Breakfast which adjoins the tourist information office at the top of the market square and boasts magnicificent views southwards.

Although the rolling stock on the Wensleydale Railway is diesel, steam fans have their fun, too, with locos hitting the tracks at various times this year from July (including the Steam Gala on 1,2 and 3 July) and through to October when the City of Truro pays a visit on the second weekend. Click here for details of the augmented timetables and special events.  Diesel fans will be celebrating their gala the weekend of 23-25 September.

But if the tremendous work that has gone into restoring parts of the track and creating a comprehensive timetable is anything to go by, it will be a monumental achievement by any standards if the association achieves its ultimate goal.  It has designs on turning back the clock to 1878 when forty miles of track linked the East Coast Main Line at Northallerton and the Settle-to-Carlisle Line at Garsdale. The link closed in stages during the 1950s and 60s.
Just the ticket ... a journey on
 the Wensleydale Railway
 is a great experience.

But with costs easily exceeding £1m per single mile of reopened railway, the association is realistic in how long this might take and needs support.  But it also knows that if it realises its vision, the link will provide a huge draw, boosting the number of visitors to this fabulous area and providing stronger travel links for members of the community.

At the time of writing this review, initial plans were being drawn up to extend the railway westwards towards Aysgarth Falls, the next stage of restoration.

It seems fitting that the Wensleydale line should link the Settle-to-Carlisle railway. The latter’s battle for survival is well documented. The Settle-to-Carlisle supporters had to fight tooth and nail to keep the line open when threatened with closure in 1989. Its reprieve was greeted with jubiliation and triggered the formation of the voluntary Wensleydale Railway Association (WRA) whose main purpose has been to re-establish its railway to support economic regeneration of this rural dale in an environmentally-friendly way.

The teams of fully trained volunteers work under the supervision of specialists. Roles range from track inspection to working in the office, shops, buffet coach and tea bar. Volunteers also play an important role on event days, especially when excursion trains or Santa trains visit the Wensleydale Railway.

They're a proud lot on this railway as illustrated by their achievements in the face of the severe snow storms that shrouded and whipped the country last year. When many other railways were cancelling services in the freezing pre-Christmas weather, the Santa trains were kept running. However, the association is the first to admit that starting fifty-year-old diesels outside in temperatures as low as -14 with water freezing as it ran along hoses, and keeping volunteers warm, posed significant challenges. Despite the success, it was not an ideal situation. Two covered sheds are planned for Leeming Bar to house four coaches or locomotives.

Further information about the services or fund-raising and volunteering opportunities with the railway is available on the website of the Wensleydale Railway Association.

Useful links

Aysgarth Falls National Park Vistor Centre
Bolton Castle
Leyburn Online
Visit Bedale
Wensleydale Railway Association
Wensleydale Vintage Bus Service

NOTE: If you've enjoyed reading this review, you might wish to share your favourite spots in North Yorkshire by clicking on the "recommendations" tab on the menu bar.

NOTE: for information regarding disability access at any of the places visited in our reviews, please contact the attractions concerned or check their websites.

Monday, 6 June 2011

This Shandy serves up a literary refreshment

by Mervin Straughan
Pints of Shandy ... volunteers  
give visitors a fascinating insight
into the work of the man behind
 the Life and Opinions
 of Tristram Shandy.

It is warmly ironic that the beautiful gardens at Shandy Hall are orderly and linear.

Such design contrasts sharply with the thought processes of the narrator of the famous book after whom this fabulously preserved home is named.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman – known in short as Tristram Shandy – is anything but linear.

The tale has been described as a “masterpiece of bawdy humour and rich satire” and has confounded any critic who has dared to attempt to pigeonhole it. Shandy, our narrator, digresses at every opportunity with a patchwork quilt of a life story and eccentric philosophy.

The first two volumes in the nine-volume series appeared in 1759 and made the clergyman Laurence Sterne a celebrity. His portrait was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds within the first few months of his book's release, underpinning his new-found fame.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Newburgh Priory – a jewel that's seen only briefly

Stately .. Newburgh Priory.
 The home is built on the site
 of an Augustinian priory.
by Mervin Straughan

He who hesitates is lost – particularly when it comes to making the most of the brief period during which some of the jewels in North Yorkshire’s tourist crown are on show.

There are several places of historic or horticultural interest in the county that open their gates for only a few tantalising months and one of them is the stunning Newburgh Priory.

Economics teaches us that if you make something scarce, it takes on a high value, so it’s little surprise that a discerning number of visitors have come to take in the tranquil views from this magnificent family house and its gardens during the short season (Wednesday and Sunday afternoons between 2 April and 29 June and Easter Monday and the Bank holiday of 30 May). The views against the  Howardian Hills backdrop near the beautiful village of Coxwold are nothing short of priceless.

Monday, 2 May 2011

A touch of the Himalayas in Grewelthorpe

by Mervin Straughan
A floral feast of colour ... the 
Himalayan Garden and 
Sculpture Park is the bringing
to reality of a vision 
by Peter Roberts.

Tucked away in woodland, the Himalayan Garden and Sculpture Park is a testament to how a vision can become a spectacular reality.

The twenty-acre site at the Hutts, outside Grewelthorpe, near Ripon is an environmental award-winning project that showcases more than 1,000 rhododendrons, 250 azaleas and 160 magnolias, as well as glorious primulas, bluebells and daffodils. We are caught up in a riot of colour.

The woodland garden, which is found 850 feet above sea level, is also home to an amazing collection of sculpture pieces, 23 of them for sale at the time of writing this review with the remaining numbers for viewing only. For those with a collector’s eye, the pieces sell for between £300 and £9,000. The sculptures are by 50 well-known and aspiring sculptors from Britain, Europe and the United States.

Second-year art and design students from the School of Design at the University of Leeds have been invited to exhibit their work. Three winners will be chosen, each qualifying for a bursary.

All quiet on the Eastern front:
the relaxing Buddha Garden.
The story of this floral gem begins with Peter Roberts’ purchase of the house – known as the Hutts – 15 years ago. The property dates back to 1780 though we’re told that there was a settlement there around Norse times and that the name means head of the valley.

The property gained prominence in 1885 when the Bishop of Truro bought it. In 1908, it was bought by the Dalton family and extended.

But Peter Roberts frankly admits that, in the beginning, he had little interest in gardening. Thankfully, after receiving advice from the eminent Himalayan plant collector Alan Clarke that the site was one of the most favourable sites for this type of garden, he was intrigued and a labour of love began. The sheltered site has a northerly aspect. It’s also served by a series of natural springs and ericaceous soil

Peter started with a vision as to how the area could be transformed and his first challenge was to tackle the incursion of Japanese knotweed. The removal of some overgrown sycamores allowed more light.
Field Poppy: a sculpture
 of stainless steel and stone
 by Anthony Sturgiss.

Wind the clock forward more than a decade and the transformation is complete and Peter is now known as one of the most passionate among those in his field. As well as being home to some of the finest Himalayan species, the gardens are melting pot of colours and fragrances from Chile to China and Nepal to New Zealand. The care with which this transformation has been achieved was recognised when it received the 2009 Environmental Project of the Year award as part of the Yorkshire Rural Awards.

From what we can see today, the tea shop, near the entrance, is tempting visitors at both the beginning and end of their strolls with a selection of cakes, savouries and refreshments.Visitors receive a guide map and can choose one of both blue and yellow walks. Each takes in some of the more unusual trees and shrubs and has impressive viewing points. Our walk takes us down the slopes to the lake where we sit and watch the world go by.

But before readers get too excited, there’s only a short window of opportunity to experience them, so take a leaf our of our book and get along soon. Open 22 April to 12 June (Tuesday-Sunday 10am-4pm. Open Bank Holiday Mondays).

Unfortunately, our guide tells us that the gardens are not suitable for wheelchair access and our visit confirms that to be the case.

Useful info

Himalayan Garden and Sculpture Park website


Click for Google map of Himalayan Garden and Sculpture Park

NOTE: If you've enjoyed reading this review, you might wish to share your favourite spots in North Yorkshire by clicking on the "recommendations" tab on the menu bar. 

NOTE: for information regarding disability access at any of the places visited in our reviews, please contact the attractions concerned or check their websites.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Walled garden cafe curries favour with tasty dish

Garden of delight ... 20,000 visitors head
for Helmsley's Walled Garden each year.
Helmsley Castle, run by English Heritage,
 is pictured in the background.
by Mervin Straughan

The idea of a hot curry-like soup on a day when someone has turned the sunshine dial to "fan assist" might seem unusual but it's doing the trick.

The Bengal Lancer – the soup of the day – is a combination of coconut, lentils, spices and tomatoes that has almost every sense working in overdrive with an eastern aroma and a constituency that we can’t wait to paddle with our spoon. Its heat is only matched by the temperatures outdoors.

We’re in the conservatory-style Vinehouse Cafe at Helmsley’s Walled Garden which took a runner-up placing in the 2010 Observer’s best UK ethical restaurant or cafe awards. The judges described it as a "wonderful" vegetarian cafe in the beautifully restored 18th century gardens and loved the fact that it uses many of the garden's fruits as ingredients with anything else needed Fairtrade or organic.

Under vines that creep heavenwards, we look out across the outskirts of the garden which sits cheek by jowl with the town's castle. The flat but varied terrain of this horticultural jewel leads the eye naturally towards the fortification on its raised base.

Monday, 11 April 2011

York Art Gallery – an exhibition in free culture

by Mervin Straughan

Playing to the gallery ... an
 excellent showcase for art
 over the centuries
 is found in York city centre.
The man in the blue blazer and cravat is seated almost as if in a church looking for God in the architecture. Occasionally, he stands, walks a dozen or so paces from the wall and gazes for periods before taking his seat again, completely immersed in what is on display.

We're not in a church building but rather in York Art Gallery whose collections of early religious paintings, 17th century Dutch works and 18th century portraits, demand a sort of reverence of their own.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Northallerton: a stopping-off point over centuries

Northallerton on Saturday's market day.
by Mervin Straughan

Just about every man and his dog – or perhaps that should read horse – has stayed in Northallerton over the centuries.

Armies have rested there and armies have laid it waste (the men of William the Conqueror and one or two Scottish invaders to name a few).

It’s been the chief coaching point on the main route between the north and south of the nation and its communications position was strengthened with the arrival of the railways in 1841. The town is on the London to Edinburgh East Coast main line with speedy links to both capitals. Being close to the A1 and the A19 has also helped bolster its place as an administrative and retail centre.

Although the key points of interest are scattered miles around the town such as the splendid Kiplin Hall, near Scorton, the colourful spectacle of Thorp Perrow Arboretum near Bedale and history-steeped Richmond which are are must-visit places, to bypass Northallerton would be a mistake.

Monday, 22 November 2010

A Settle-to-Carlisle rail journey is just the ticket

Amazing ... the Ribblehead Viaduct is one of many
highlights on the Settle-to-Carlisle rail  journey.

by Mervin Straughan

When a journalist asked former Tory transport minister Michael Portillo his greatest achievement, he replied without any trace of hestitation that it was keeping the Carlisle-to-Settle railway open.

It’s almost impossible to mention Settle without including in the same breath the railway line whose journey ranks as one of the nation’s most scenic.

Michael Portillo’s proud achievement was revealed in the BBC TV series Great British Railway Journeys in which he follows in the tracks of George Bradshaw, the 19th century cartographer, printer and publisher best known for his series of railway timetables. He has Bradshaw’s Tourist Handbook as his companion and the Settle-to-Carlisle trip has to be one of the highlights of the series.

Monday, 15 November 2010

A fitting green space haven on Remembrance Day

The War Memorial, like the beautiful
 Ripon Spa Gardens in which it stands,
has been officially recognised several times
by Mervin Straughan

A solitary man, perhaps in his eighties and decorated with medals and ribbons, stands on the fringe of the open-air service paying his respects. The huge turn-out from the city means we're pushed back, standing behind him, at the edge of the bowling green.

The man holds a trilby under his left arm and leans against a walking stick. Occasionally, he reaches for a handkerchief in his right-hand overcoat pocket. He discreetly wipes his eyes and puts it back in the pocket.

It seems apt somehow that, as silence falls around the War Memorial on Remembrance Sunday in Ripon’s Spa Gardens, we're standing in one of the nation’s most treasured green spaces and in front of a memorial that has won praise for the way it honours those who have fallen in conflict.

The memorial – a column with a head-and-shoulders sculpture of a soldier at its top and a four-sided base with the inscribed names of service people who lost their lives in World War One and World War Two – has been named the Best War Memorial in the town class several times in the Yorkshire in Bloom Awards.

And now, as we look across to the bandstand to our right, a banner that has hung since summer, reminds us that these beautiful gardens, a few minutes’ walk west of the city centre, have been awarded their tenth national Green Flag.

Monday, 8 November 2010

It's the Big Cheese among Dales visitor attractions

by Mervin Straughan

Top of the shops ... the cheese shop
 has tripled in size under
 the creamery's expansion.

Looking around the bustling visitor centre, it’s hard to believe that two decades ago, we were reading what might have been the final chapter in the nine hundred year-old history of cheese making in this picturesque part of North Yorkshire.

Wind the clock forward and, with 200 employees, a global reputation and 200,000 people passing through the doors of the Wensleydale Creamery visitor centre in Hawes, and the mood is one of confidence.

As we make our way around the site, we learn that a successful sales strategy has led to the company winning contracts to supply major multiple retail names and wholesales export orders to become a global brand.

This vote of confidence is reflected in the first phase of the £800,000 expansion of the new visitor centre which incorporates a museum and viewing gallery. As part of the expansion, the cheese shop has tripled in size. There's also the 1897 Coffee Shop named after the year in which Wensleydale cheese was first made on a large-scale. The latter sells speciality coffees made with milk from local farms while looking out onto spectacular countryside views. The project has also seen the cheese shop tripling to make more room for its traditional style waxed and muslin-bound cheeses.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Brought to book in Grassington's walker's paradise

Stopping off ... Grassington's
Dales Way location is ideal.
by Mervin Straughan 

The book fair outside the Methodist Church is drawing the browsers while, indoors, late-afternoon business is brisk with a tide of tasty cream teas and carrot cakes.

The cobbled market square is still thronging with locals, visitors and walkers who part like a small Red Sea to allow the cars or the occasional tractor to make their way through. We're in Grassington in Upper Wharfedale, a popular stopping-off point whatever time of year.

We’ve called in after travelling a few miles north from the gardens at Parcevall Hall, the attraction of the earlier part of the day. (Check out our review here)

Grassington has a Dickensian feel: we’re not talking workhouse misery here but the period buildings that provide the town its character.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Small but perfectly farmed for all these animals

Feeding time ... lots of animals
to see at Monk Park Farm.
by Mervin Straughan

Small is beautiful because small is manageable.

As a family that’s done its fair share of “walking” around animal attractions where personal jet packs should have been standard issue, coming across a place that gives us a treat in a couple of hours in an area roughly half the size of a golf course gets our vote.

And so is the case at Monk Park Farm – as seen on TV – where staff are receiving the final surge of the anticipated 60,000 visitors for 2010 during this last week of October before the doors close for this year.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Going loco at York's National Railway Museum

Stock and roll ... there are more than 100
 locomotives and 200 items of rolling
 stock at York's National Railway Museum.
by Mervin Straughan

Historians tell us that Britain’s development into a prosperous nation owes a great deal to the birth of its railway system which is the oldest in the world.

The pulling together of a group of local rail links built during the boom years of the mid 19th century created a tighter managed network. This gave the opportunity for more effective planning and allocation of resources, thereby, boosting the economy by speeding up communications through the transport of mail, news and, of course, people.

And visitors to York’s National Railway Museum get more than a glimpse into this rich travel heritage.

For a start, it has a collection of more than a 100 locomotives and nearly 200 items of rolling stock which combine to build a picture of the journey of rail travel from its beginnings to the modern age. 

Monday, 11 October 2010

Scampston: this secret gem is no secret any more

by Mervin Straughan
Autumnal colours abound ... 
the Walled Garden at Scampston 
is contemporary and characterised
 by plants and grasses that provide 
structure and colour.

There are often times when we think we’re being original, sniffing out a hidden treasure for ourselves only to find out we're not alone in the idea.

Today is one such occasion and three factors explain why the car park is bursting as we pull into the grounds of the Walled Garden at Scampston, five miles east of Malton.

For starters, October’s thermometer reading has stretched itself to a balmy 18°C; second, the autumn plant sale is on and, finally, this little gem has, only days earlier, been named Yorkshire Small Attraction of the Year in the White Rose Awards.

Little surprise, then, that the car park marshal is taking on the guise of a Heathrow air traffic controller, guiding new arrivals with precision to various parts places in the field.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Don't look a gift Hawes in the mouth – it's gorgeous

My kingdom for a Hawes ...
the journey to the Wensleydale
 town is full of breathtaking scenery.
by Mervin Straughan

It seems appropriate that the moment the clouds part and the temperature remembers to rise that a convoy of classic and vintage motorcycles arrives in Hawes rejoicing in the old brand name Sunbeam.

And now, a beam of sun is illuminating the stunning Dales backdrop of fields, moors, pastures and upland farms and painting it with a palette of golden, yellow and green hues.

Just as the dozen lovingly-restored Sunbeams that have pulled up outside a front street coffee shop take us back to a British motorcycling era at the beginning of the past century, Hawes reminds us of its heritage at every few paces.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Robin Hood falls for spectacular Aysgarth

You hear them before you
 see them ... the roaring and 
spectacular Aysgarth Falls.
by Mervin Straughan

Some friendships start off on the most unlikely footing. In the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the people's hero played by Kevin Costner, has his first encounter with Nick Brimble's Little John at a river crossing.

When Robin refuses Will Scarlet's demand for a tax to cross and make his way through Sherwood Forest, a not-so-little Little John emerges from the trees with a wooden pole intent on inflicting maximum damage to the traveller. Twice Robin takes an early bath in the plunging waters whose film location is the upper section of Aysgarth Falls in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Yorkshire 'Angel of the North' is right up our street

by Mervin Straughan

Streetwise ... this
 fascinating streetscape
 has been dubbed 
Angel of the North.
The visible part of the curved structure that crowns the hill gives the appearance of an ancient fort keeping guard over Nidderdale.

From the air, its footprint resembles an elaborate sword that might have once been wielded by a giant King Arthur or, to fans of extraterrestrial travel stories, the type of  "alien landing strip” so controversially depicted in Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods.

But it is none of these because, as we reach the top of our ascent, a modern-day streetscape emerges with high stone walls and bollards. This streetscape without a town or village has been dubbed Yorkshire’s Angel of the North.