I saw a barn owl! I was walking up towards a field to the west of the village when a car suddenly pulled up following a sheep dog. A woman leapt out and raced over to a field gate saying “The barn owl! The barn owl!” I joined her and we watched this magnificent bird flying over the field, dropping down and taking off again. The woman (who turned out to be the wife of the farmer who owned the field) told me she had been riding her horse at sunset yesterday when she saw it silhouetted against the horizon. We watched for a while until it had flown into the trees when the sheep dog took off along the road.
“He’s gone off to bring the horse in for his breakfast,” she said and sure enough I watched as the dog did just that.
Back at the cottage Mirinda & I prepared for a trip into York – Bob & Claire spending the day haunting the tea rooms of Thornton le Dale. We parked at the park and ride and took the bendy bus into the city.
It was like coming home! Ok, I’ve only been once but I do like York a lot. I felt almost like that first legion of Roman soldiers who, weary of foot, stood between the banks of the rivers Ouse and Foss and looked out, hearts aflutter with the joyous vista assaulting them. As they gleefully prepared a camp for the night, setting up their little camp-fires and nibbling petit-fortes, it’s easy to imagine one of them saying to his mate “I reckon this’d be a top spot for a town, Sextus.” To which Sextus would reply, “Yeah, mate. It could be called Eboracum! And have 70 pubs!”
After the Romans successfully built a wonderful walled city, then left, lots of others came and went, giving York lots of different things, especially names! There was the Angles (Eoforwic), the Vikings (Jorvik) and finally the Normans with the very simple and refined York. Of course, the Normans were never happy with much that didn’t have that special Norman design edge, so they rebuilt the place in their own image. Or the one decided on by Bill the B.
One of the great highlights of York is the Yorvik centre – a visit to York as the Vikings intended it. I visited with the weasels when there was a 15 mile queue but today? Surprise, surprise, no queue! We went straight in, did the time travel thing then took the ski lift through the Viking village with its smells and sites and sounds. This time I was sitting in the front and saw a lot more. I recommend the front seat! Though perhaps not the smells – they are very life-like!
After inspecting the ancient battlefield injuries and tortured ancient bones, we popped into Starbucks across the road for a quick pick-me-up which took a long time – the coffee not the pick-me-up. Mirinda then suggested we go and see Fairfax House. We wandered up there but it was closed. It was then off for a wander including Mirinda’s hour spent browsing in the Japanese shop. It was then off to the Shambles.
For those who do not know, the Shambles is a particularly old and rambling shopping precinct. Buildings lean precariously at all angles known to Pythagoras and yet remain standing. A few almost meet across the street where it is said, neighbours could shake hands. Such shops house single, glittery treasures rarely glimpsed in these days of mass construction. People have lived and worked in the Shambles for as long as anyone can say and probably longer – it is mentioned in the Domesday Book and is the only street to be so.
For centuries the Shambles was inhabited by butchers and slaughterhouses. In fact a mere hundred years ago, there was still 31 butchers! Apparently they laid their meat out on low flat tables, sort of like a grocer with his veg, and you could pick out the best. Bet it smelled as fresh as a daisy down there. A Day-z that’s just taken a dive into the biggest, muddiest pond on Blackdown then rolled in fox droppings! Anyway, today there is but a single butcher and he displays his meat behind his window like every normal 21st century butcher. Well, except for that bloke in Woking who chucks chops at you from the back of his truck on Fridays.
It is in the Shambles that Margaret Clitherow is supposed to have been born – though from my account of the Life of the Saints, it seems it wasn’t the one with the plaque and the shrine! Anyway, she was, by all accounts a pretty amazing woman. No snake whipping for her! Far braver. She was Roman Catholic when it meant death. She was married to a protestant who was easygoing and apparently wasn’t bothered that his wife held masses in dark corners and behind hidden curtains with other criminal Catholics.
Anyway, eventually she was found out and in 1586 was dragged before the court to answer the charges. Instead of giving any answers, in order to save anyone else having to give evidence against her, she refused to plead, saying “Having made no offence, I need no trial“. Unfortunately the penalty for refusing to plead was the peine forte et dure which resulted in the poor victim being crushed to death by having a door placed on top of her which was then weighted down with big stones – where’s the rhyme or reason with that?
This happened on 25 March 1586 and she took just 15 minutes though it was surely an agonising quarter of an hour. Her contemporaries described her as good-looking, witty and merry. She was finally made a saint in 1970 and is one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. A true saint in my mind.
We wandered round to the station where we booked a hire car for Saturday (we are driving home while Bob & Claire go on to the Isle of Man) then tried to visit the Bar Convent to eat but it was closed. So rather than enjoying the tranquillity of the oldest living convent in England (and perhaps glimpse Margaret Clitherow’s hand which resides there) we made our way down to the Slug & Lettuce for a steak sandwich and a pint of Guiness.
After refreshment it was time for more wandering. I was making a beeline for Mr Wood’s Fossils – fantastic place – where I ended up buying a 380 million year old trilobite though I was sorely tempted by the raccoon’s skull. We decided to tempt Bob with it tonight and see if he can resist its lure when we return on Friday!
We gradually made our way back to the park and ride stop in Piccadilly and caught a bus back to the carpark. From here it was a simple run back to Thornton le Dale.
I made Pork & Fennel without the fennel though no-one complained. One day, just one day, I want to make pork & fennel for Bob & Claire and INCLUDE the fennel!!!