Revisiting England and Wales: Farm Camps in northern England

 FROM THE MOUNTAINS of SNOWDONIA WALES to CHESHIRE ENGLAND

28th July 2015

FARMER PETE’S CAMP.

 Cooking breakfast at our mountain camp was done in the back of the van as it was raining heavily. After breakfast with a little wheel spin we headed out and fortunately there was no deep water across the road barring our way.

A wet Snowdonia valley.

From the mountain  camp we passed through the tourist town of Betwys-y-Coed in the heart of the Snowdonia National Park and headed towards Birkenhead from where we thought we might cross the Mersey for no other reason than to say we crossed it. The Mersey has iconic status and to cross it is akin to crossing the Bosporus in Istanbul, the Indus River Pakistan and, closer to home, the Darling River out Bourke way. But the traffic got too much for us so we made a beeline for the Peak District in Derbyshire and more open country.

Looking across the Mersey towards Liverpool on a fine day. Image credit: Photo by REPT On1x and via Wikipedia.

After 109 miles and reaching the county of Cheshire we were becoming desperate for a place to camp. Not far from Chester we stopped at a house of ultra modern design in the village of Mouldsworth. The lady who answered the door was, like her house, trim and rather proper. After asking where a suitable camp might be she directed us to farmer Pete’s camping area on the outskirts of the village.

Farmer Pete was a jolly soul who talked in riddles and made jokes about colonials. It could be said he had the gift of the gab, which for readers who are not conversant with the term means one who talks easily, mostly about idle matters. The word gab was a primitive word for mouth.

The camping area was adjacent to a small lake, which was stocked with carp and for a fee fishermen could fish to their hearts’ content. However they had to return any caught fish to the lake.

‘Carp Lake’ adjacent to our camp.

No taking the fish away, no cooking and no killing the fish.

A $5000 fine if you fish for carp without a rod licence is a bit extreme!

A fisherman near our campsite using the pole method to catch carp.

Attached to the end of the pole is a short piece of line and a hook, which had no barb. When a fish sucks on to the baited hook the rod is disassembled or pulled backwards drawing the fish into the bank. Pole fishing does not involve the use of a casting reel. Instead, to increase the angler’s range, poles are extendable, some up to sixteen metres long.

A pole rig. The wheeled trolley supports the rear end of the pole as it is drawn in.

A small carp. The fisherman was flabbergasted when I suggested he kill it.

The full extent of the impact of carp on Australian ecosystems is complex but there is little doubt that communities and the environment generally would be better off without them. Carp are considered feral and not particularly good eating; therefore in Australia, fishermen have to decide what to do with a caught carp.

Fishing commentator Ken Smith in the closing paragraph of a story stated: ‘Finally, love ‘em or hate’em, carp should be dispatched quickly and humanely. Do not leave caught fish scattered along riverbanks or shorelines to rot. If you have no use for carp, simply cut them up and return them to the water for the shrimp and yabbies to feed on’. I thought returning the carp meat to the river would feed the carp population problems but upon further reading I determined carp prefer molluscs, insect larvae and seeds. They suck mud in and filter out the food. They rarely eat fish so throwing them back for the yabbies to eat is acceptable.

A revolting obese carp.
Image credit: No machine-readable author source provided, via Wikipedia.

If I was to write a Trip Advisor type review of the ‘carp camp’ I would not give it many stars. The campsite was exposed and the showers were not hot. When Bev and I were in Italy in the early 1970s and booking into a hotel I would insist on going to the shower, turning it on and waiting for the hot water to come through even if the owner assured me that the showers were hot. Often they weren’t and I would exclaim ‘Fredo, fredo! I want caldo, caldo!’ After the carp camp I thought if we stay on farms in the future where there is a fee I will have to once again adopt the ‘fredo caldo’ approach.

29th July 2015

CARP CAMP to KEN’S CAMP near BUXTON DERBYSHIRE

CHESTER

From the ‘carp camp’ is was not far to Chester and because it was a beautiful sunny day we decided to make a visit. There was a Park and Ride car park (park your car and get on your bike or catch a courtesy bus) on the outskirts of the town so we left our van, mounted our steeds and spent a number of hours riding around Chester and along the River Dee in glorious sunshine.

 The city is classified as a ‘cycling demonstration’ town and although we didn’t know it at the time we now realise it was definitely bike friendly as it had top class bike paths and some streets were car free. There are around fifteen cycling demonstration towns in England and they initially received grants, sometimes up to a million dollars, to establish bike paths and encourage bicycles as a mode of transport.

Chester city centre. Note there are no cars, very bike friendly.

Even though Chester was on the map as far back as Roman times little Roman architecture remains. Most of the buildings today are Victorian as it was in this time (1837-1901) that restoration of older buildings was carried out. The architectural buffs classify the buildings as Jacobean half-timbered style and it is said they are the finest examples of the style to be found anywhere in England.

Half-timbered jetty-style shops with herringbone pattern terracotta brick infill.

Since Bev and I started our Encountering the Past adventures in 2012 I have attempted to educate myself in relation to the various styles of architecture and now four years on I am fairly confident that in many cases I can look at a building and categorize it. However there is one building in Chester that had me baffled and that was St John the Baptist’s Church. Informed authorities say it is one of the best examples of 11th-12th century Norman Romanesque architecture in England. This statement confuses me as the church does not have semi-circular arches, which all references say Norman Romanesque buildings have. St John’s has pointed arches which in my mind, and I stand to be corrected, are more Gothic. Following is an extract from Wikipedia, which confirms my thoughts: ‘Since Romanesque evolved into Gothic, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between them’.

The pointed arch porch of St John the Baptist’s church in Chester.

The avid reader of this blog will know Bev and I frequent churches on a regular basis when travelling, not because we need a religious experience but we enjoy making contact with history, wallowing in the architectural art of the building, experiencing its solitude and silence and to look at the noticeboard to see if an organ recital may be coming up during the period we are in town. Unfortunately during the time we were in Chester there was no organ recital mooted but on the noticeboard there was an  entertaining and amusing welcome note. Following is a copy.

WE welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our rector who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome if you are’ just browsing’, just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you are more Roman Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been to church since little Joey’s baptism.

WE extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like organized religion, we’ve been there too. If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here.

WE offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church. We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both.

WE offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down their throat as a kid, or got lost in the traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts AND YOU.

NASCAR refers to men who watch American car racing or similar high-impact sports. One reference suggests NASCAR is an acronym for Non Athletic Sport Concerning All Rednecks. Of interest: apparently during Donald Trump’s election campaign in 2016 he targeted NASCAR men.

Just inside the entrance to St John’s are a café, souvenir and  secondhand bookshop. Prior to the establishment of the cafe I imagine the church authorities pondered over the acceptability of a commercial activity in their church. ‘ And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and outhrew the tables of the moneychangers…My house shall be called the house of prayer’.

A 1580-1585 painting by Sarsellino depicting Jesus driving merchants from the temple.
Image credit: In the public domain as the author died over 100 years ago. Via Wikipedia.

The above painting shows Jesus acting in a violent way that I believed up until now was not in his nature. However according to one reference, Rethink Everything You Thought You Knew, I quote; ‘The Gospels tell us that Jesus was so enraged…he made a whip, turned over tables, and drove animals and people out of the temple…On this precedent of this allegedly violent behaviour, some have justified the use of violence ’for righteous purposes’ today’

You might think a café in a church is out of place but in past times the area just inside the entrance was in some cases reserved for commercial transactions such as the purchase of candles and religious materials. The area was called the narthex and its purpose was to permit those not eligible for admittance to hear and partake in the service.

Another entertaining notice in St John’s related to the use of the toilet. It is not often that public toilets are available in churches but near the entrance of St John’s there is one. I suspect it was installed when a cafe was established in the church.

The toilet is free…but not the paper is not.

 Asking visitors to pay for the toilet paper indicates that the church finances must be running close to going from black to red. The request that people donate for toilet paper is related to less money coming into the plate, probably a result of declining attendances.

In my childhood days when I was forced to attend church, for a short period I took the plate around, which for a cash-strapped lad was very fortuitous as I helped myself to sixpence now and then. This enabled me to buy an ice cream on the way home from church. I was finally caught out when the local storeowner told my mother about my ice cream buying activities and she in turn made me confess my transgression. I’m convinced the storekeeper was in cahoots with my parents as I once found a moneybox full of coins in the back lane that ran at the rear of our house. I hid the booty and drew on it now and then to buy an ice cream after school. Again the storekeeper informed on me and I had to own up to my misdemeanor. The moneybox was the proceeds of a robbery and the police had probably asked the storekeeper to watch out for big spenders.

Church administrators worry about declining church attendance in England. A story that appeared in the Telegraph dated April 2017 quoted the Archbishop of Canterbury as saying the church in England is battling to maintain its place in an increasingly anti-Christian world. Figures based on an annual pew count show that only 1.4% of the population of England go to church on a Sunday morning. One of the reasons for the decline in attendance is older parishioners are dying and younger folk are not stepping up to the altar like they should be.

The café, souvenir shop and secondhand bookshop in St Johns church.

For me, access to books could be a good reason to go to church.

I’m sure church leaders would prefer bums on seats rather than books.

The presence of the café and bookshop in St John’s does not detract from the beauty, solitude and silence of the church. In fact a bookshop and café add to its ambience.

There is an organization called Soul Shepherding and its proponents say solitude and silence make space in our lives for God to do deep work inside us. For us the solitude and silence found in a church is not to encourage God to go to work, for us it’s an escape from the hustle and bustle of the outside world, essential when visiting traffic-congested and crowded cities. Due to declining numbers of patrons many churches have become religious museums and it befits even the non-believer to help, if at all possible, to preserve them for future generations. Churches, either active or in decline, are what I call big space pieces of art.

Our first big space piece of art experience was in 1972 when we visited St Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna. Fortunately for us there was an organ recital in progress the day we visited. The recital centred on the work of Bach, who some say was the greatest organist of all time. Bev and I were enthralled as the organist played one of Bach’s greatest works, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor.    At this point in your reading it’s imperative you go to  YouTube and watch and listen to one of the many presentations.  One has had 14 million views but the one I prefer is BW565 as it is more visual.

Encountering the past Part 6, due to start in August 2017, is going to take us back to Vienna and if at all possible we will time our visit when an organ recital is scheduled.  If there is no recital  I intend taking a recording of  Toccata and with headphones sit in St Stephan’s and listen to Bach’s wonderful chill-to-the-spine piece.

The organ in St Stephan’s Cathedral Vienna, although impressive, is not the biggest in Europe. The biggest in Europe is in St Stephen’s Cathedral Passau Germany and the largest in the world is located in the Boardwalk Hall Auditorium Atlantic City, New Jersey in the United States.

Not all of St John the Baptist’s church in Chester is in pristine condition, part of the church structure is in ruins.

Portion of St John’s fell to ruin following the King Henry Vlll ‘s suppression of the monasteries between 1536 and 1541. During that time Henry decided he needed more money to finance his military campaigns so he disbanded monasteries and other religious establishments and sold off their assets. Sounds familiar? Present day governments are bent on selling off public utilities to finance their spending activities. Things haven’t changed much, we blunder on.

The area around St John’s is said to be haunted by a monk who appears in a cowl and speaks in Anglo Saxon. I couldn’t find out what he talks about, he probably complains about being kicked out of house and home during the time of dissolution.

One last look at the ruined portion of St John’s before leaving on the next part of our journey.

Bev is not only my wife, travelling companion, blog editor and critic but my navigator as well and at day’s end she had us up a country lane near Buxton and on the edge of the Derbyshire Dales. As we cruised along I spotted a farmer looking out over his fields and appeared to be in a reflective mood. I approached him and he happily granted us permission to camp. As has been the case with other farmers we fell into conversation about farming, wool and the problems facing the man on the land in England at the present.   Farmer Ken had a son working in Brisbane Australia who was intent on returning home to take over the family farm but Ken was adamant he should stay where he was as he would never make the same money farming a small plot in England.

Derbyshire dales from farmer Ken’s camp.

At farmer Ken’s camp we had neighbours, not campers or caravans but sheep, to be expected in the English countryside.

Our inquisitive neighbours. Full marks if you know what the breed of sheep they are.

These sheep are Swaledale & Blue Leicester crossed with Texel, a new breed to me. How we know this is because Bev is very good at gleaning information from people and she asked farmer Ken.

Regardless of their pedigree, one thing I have to say about these sheep is if they had a human voice box I reckon they could talk. They came running up to us when we arrived, stood stock-still and tilted their heads sideways as a dog does when tuning to an unusual sound. The sheep’s heads moved from side to side, ears twitching and their actions got me to thinking that maybe their hearing, more so than sight, told them whether we were friend or foe.

The sheep breeding fraternity in the UK have their own language. Following is an extract from the UK Mule web page. Ian McFadzean is quoted as saying: ‘Out of the 500 ewes, 300 are Scotch Mules crossed to the Texel, with the remainder made up of Texel cross Mules, a few Suffolk cross Mules, Bleu Du Maine cross Texels, and pure-bred Suffolk and Texel ewes to breed home-bred tups. All are however, crossed to a Texel ram’  Confused? Yes, so am I.

The following might prove helpful when trying to understand what Ian McFazdean said. A Mule in sheep terms is a cross between an upland ram (usually a Bluefaced Leicester) and a purebred hill (or mountain ewe). Tup can mean a headbutt or, in the sheep world, is the term used when a ram and ewe get together and do what the birds and bees do. If you happen to have teenage children and one says,  ‘going tupping tonight’ there might be cause for concern. A Texel is a domestic sheep from the island of Texel in the Netherlands.

A number of readers have asked me about matters of toilet when camped on farms so now might be a good time to set people straight. When we first arrive at a camp similar to Ken’s camp I go to the closest wild wood and dig a hole at least 200mm deep well away from watercourses. The hole is then ready for quick action. If the call of nature does not come before leaving I fill the hole in. A simple solution but not for the modest.

30th July 2015

KEN’S CAMP to the TENANT FARM SOUTH YORKSHIRE

The grass under foot in the morning was very wet so I pulled into the cobblestone yard at the entrance to one of farmer Ken’s barns and proceeded to cook porridge. Unfortunately I knocked the stove over and the porridge went every which way. Some days just don’t start right and often things continue that way for the remainder of the day. However that was not the case today as the sun graced us and we drove through the Peak District National park in almost perfect conditions. Following are a few photographs showing the country we drove through. But first a map.

The Peak District National Park and surrounding areas.

The Peak District National Park was designated in 1951. The word Peak does not relate to the park’s topography but to the Anglo-Saxon tribe the Pecsaetans (or Peaklanders in modern English) who lived it the area.

Twenty million people live within an hour’s drive of the park and fifty million within four hours drive. Ten million people visit the park each year, it is 90% farmland and there are 1800 farms within its boundaries. Ten percent of its total area is under the control of the National Trust and the remainder is privately owned.

It is hard to comprehend these staggering statistics. Twenty million is equivalent to almost the whole population of Australia. The population of Manchester is 2.5 million, Leeds 0.75 million, Sheffield 0.55 million and Stoke-on-Trent 0.25 million.

The Bridleway through the Peak District National Park.

There are three Pennine ways: Pennine Way, Pennine Cycle Way and the Pennine Bridleway.

A peaceful landscape in the Peak District, Derbyshire.

Sheepwash Bridge over the River Wye Ashford-in–the–Water.

Sheep wash. Sheep were forced into the river through the gap in the fence.

For centuries sheep were washed in early summer a few weeks before shearing. The washing was to remove dirt, and grease which built up in the sheep’s fleece over winter. It was not a simple matter of forcing the sheep into the water and letting them soak, men had to go in with them and scrub the fleece. Washed sheep were easier to shear and the fleece easier to process.

Battlement tower of The Holy Trinity Church Ashford-in-the-Water.

Many churches in England were fortified, particularly in areas where hand to hand fighting was common. When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 spires were placed on top of some battlement tower to celebrate the event.

The rolling downs of the Peak District.

A cleft through Winnats Pass Peak District National Park.

Winnats Pass was thought to have developed when an undersea cavern collapsed, but a more recent explanation is that it was an undersea ravine running between coral reefs. It’s hard to imagine that this country was actually once under a tropical sea.

Again the end of the day drew in and we set to looking for a camp. High in the hills we swung around a corner and our prospective hosts Cullen and his mother Jess were feeding their poddy calves.   After explaining the camping technique we employed Jess quite happily agreed we could camp in their field opposite the house. It had been a glorious sunny day and we made good use of the sun right up to day’s end.

Cullen and his poddy calves.

Note the double fence behind him, a stone clearance wall and a modern ring lock fence. The ring lock fence is to prevent stock from pushing the stone wall over.

 

How envious we are of the English clear complexion.

Bev could be accused of heliotropism, at least when in the northern hemisphere. Heliotropism is when a flower head faces and follows the sun all day, like sunflowers for example. I ask the question, when does the sunflower head turn back east in readiness for the rising sun next day? From observing the sunflowers in our garden it is around 2-00am. If you are into explaining science to kids/grandkids go to ‘why sunflowers follow the sun aaas’ and show them the video relating to sunflowers following the sun, it is informative and entertaining.

Bev doing what sunflowers do at the tenant farmer’s camp.

South Yorkshire farmland.

Another view from our camp on the tenant farm.

Everyone knows stone fences are a feature of England’s landscape and it’s difficult to comprehend how much labour has been put into erecting the hundreds of kilometres that wind their way across the hills and valleys. The oldest drystone walls in UK are thought to be about 3500 years old and they were initially constructed to define territorial boundaries and later for somewhere to put rocks that lay scattered over the fields. Walls built from stone picked up in the fields were called ‘clearance walls’, clearance as in clearing the field. My favourite English fence is the ’ha ha’ (pronounced haw haw) which is a fence built in a trench. The trench was deep enough so the top of the fence did not protrude above ground level, providing an unobstructed view of the landscape.

 Soon after setting up camp we were invited to the farmhouse for a cuppa. During my years when employed as an engineering surveyor I visited properties where the owners discussed with me the implications relating to water supply, irrigation schemes and farm improvement. I learned a lot about farming during those years that has put me in good stead when it comes to communicating with farmers.

The topic of discussion with the Clancy family related to how farming is changing for small farmers particularly tenant farmers. Their main concern is large agri business operators taking over the small family-run farms. I hope it is not a repeat of lives described in John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ where tenant farmers were pushed into poverty. History repeating itself, again?

For tenant farmers, surviving is particularly difficult as they have to pay for leasing the properties they farm plus carry out improvements where deemed necessary. In days gone by the tenant farmer had a secure future, the lease passed from generation to generation. These days some landowners put their properties out to tender.

During our discussions I asked Cullen what he would like to do when he left school. His reply was to be a farmer. I thought on this and I suggested he come to Australia at some time and work as a jackaroo, which he and his parents thought a good idea. I gave him a $50 note and suggest he start a travel fund with the aim of coming to visit and work.   Search archives November 2016 for an explanation of jackaroo.

Next morning we returned to the house for breakfast and again we commiserated about life on the land. From my observations small farmers in England are concerned about their futures and now Britain is exiting the European Union some are worried that subsidies will not flow their way. As we were leaving Cullen’s father Thomas gave us a bottle of 1990 vintage South African wine and Jess presented us with a personalized leather key ring each. Jess is a leatherworker and makes quality horse harness gear. To see her work go to www.bespokebridles.co.uk

Cullen’s young mate, a Border Collie.

Cold country, like England and Wales is where I think Border Collies belong. I’m not sure they really enjoy Australian heat with such a woolly coat. Wikipedia tells us: The Border Collie is a working and herding dog breed developed in the Anglo-Scottish border region for herding livestock, especially sheep. It was specifically bred for its intelligence and obedience.

Bev and I trust you have enjoyed this encounter with carp, Chester, intelligent sheep, the Peak District and Cullen and his family. If you want to follow our movements click on follow and don’t forget to make a comment.

 Agriculture is the most healthful, most useful, and most noble employment of man.   George Washington.

 Go for it, Cullen!

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About tbeartravels

It's been said that I know a little bit about a lot of things and a lot about little things. I hope I can share some of this knowledge with you as we travel.
This entry was posted in Odyssey Part 3: 2015. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Revisiting England and Wales: Farm Camps in northern England

  1. htelconfort says:

    Always so nice to read your blog and learn about the world. Much more accurate and interesting than morning newspapers!
    Did you meet the Cheshire cat?
    Greetings from France

    • tbeartravels says:

      Marie at Hotel Confort Beziers
      Thankyou for your latest comment.

      The good news is Bev and I may be returning to Beziers later in the year. Arriving in Zurich late August and then heading down the Danube (with our bikes) to Stuttgat, Ulm (tallest church tower in the world) to Nuremburg, Passau (biggest organ in Europe 17 000 pipes) Linz, Vienna (Bach in D Minor) to Budapest. From Budapest it will be to Lake Balaton (largest body of fresh water in Europe) and then onto Slovakia (want to ride a railway line converted to a bike track) then to the Dolomites, Italy (to ride down an alpine pass) southern France (want to continue exploring the Midi Canal) and back to Zurich in Feb. I know the latter part of the trip will be cold but providing there is no ice on the paths we can ride. When we get to Beziers we will of course come and visit you.

      There will be some interesting stories no doubt especially relating to Hungary as we were there last during the communist era.

      Re the Chesire cat…I did think about doing a story on the cat but just couldn’t fit it in.

      Looking forward to meeting with you again later in the year, ask the Gods to give us a mild Summer if possible.

      Regards Fred and Bev.

      • htelconfort says:

        Thank you for the nice news. I see you are still fit, young and strong and I wish you the best!

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