One reason for writing this blog is so my friends in the big city don’t forget me (in my mind I hear them saying vaguely to each other, ‘Who was it we used to know who could tell us everything we ever wanted to know about sheep….?’). I’ve always had a soft spot for our woolly friends, having spent many of my summers since age 5 on mountains and moorlands kept neat and trim by Swaledales, Herdwicks and Beulah Speckledfaces. But now I’m living in hillfarming country, I’m getting a different perspective on them. I have been very stressed out recently by having three ewes and their great big lambs in the hay meadow recently, chomping the heads off all the wild flowers which are just coming into their best, and flattening all the grass which is mown and sold in July. Now I understand the person who wanted to smack Little Boy Blue’s silly head for him, and why it’s such a big deal if the sheep’s in the meadow (and the cows are in the corn). Though our hay meadow is small, it’s looking pretty good. The National Trust owns half of Upper Wharfedale, mainly because of the hay meadows, and we have our own delectable little bit of one too.
I have moved out of the guest room I’ve been staying in for two months and into a bedsit in the community accommodation, which is 60s build (converted from some old garages); some bits of it are very damp but my room is fine, and starting to feel like home. I share kitchen, bathroom and shower with two young fellas, one who is a very laid back and hugely accomplished organist who ought to be playing in a cathedral, but apparently there are a lot more talented organists than people who need to employ them, so he’s Personnel Secretary at Scargill instead, and the other who works on the estate here, owns four working dogs and has part shares in several more, leaves mole traps under the kitchen table and cooks up burdock stir fries and pots of exploding nettle soup. Upstairs is someone who’s been in community at Scargill for 18 years and whose birdfeeders give me better entertainment than the TV (much better), a dynamic Yorkshire woman, and a very engaging, outgoing and friendly young guy (that's him in the picture with the baby) doing a year’s work experience in the finance office here while studying for a business degree, and organising impromptu cricket matches in the evenings (it’s hard to get him to take ‘no’ for an answer, but I think he’s finally accepted that I don’t do bat-and-ball).
Wharfedale is incredibly green and lush at the moment, as we’ve had a fair bit of rain (it’s very wet rain, even when it looks so thin you’d think it was nothing) and also lots of sunshine and warm days, so everything has broken into leaf and grown and burgeoned and blossomed – you get the picture. This month’s visitors have included the annual arrival of the entire Year 5 of a London primary school, who scramble up hill sides and go down caves and finish their week with a rip roaring evening around a big bonfire. Another group startled me when I was doing a quick constitutional round the estate one evening – it takes thirty minutes at a fast pace to get to the top and back again, which is just perfect for a bit of quick exercise. As I rounded a corner at the very top of our woods, I came across three men dressed in green combats sitting around a green Land Rover, half hidden in the trees. They had rigged up shelters in the trees and had various bits of equipment dotted about. They were clearly trying not to be conspicuous. Poachers? Badger diggers? A terrorist cell in training? I was sharply aware that it was a very isolated spot and no-one knew I was up there. Breathing very steadily, I walked past them in what I hoped was a confident and brisk manner, like someone who was expected somewhere right now. When I got back to the house, I mentioned them to the centre manager. ‘Ah yes,’ he said, ‘the bush survival group. They’ll be here for a week, but they won’t come to the house. If we see them at all it means they’ve failed. Actually,’ he added, ‘I don’t think they’ve paid yet … Hmm, could be difficult…’