Oysters and peacocks

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Saturday morning dawned bright and beautiful if a little on the breezy side. We had been late back from the School gathering and after the long drive, there seemed little point in rushing. Leisurely was fine. Stuart and I met our friend at her hotel and we spent much of the rest of the morning seated outside on the terrace, talking in the sunshine. I can think of few better things to do.

Diana and co north 089Still in leisurely mode, we meandered on down to the Ladybower reservoir to look at the hills… and incidentally to introduce Diana to oysters. They don’t have them in America apparently. Not the shellfish, you understand, but the ice cream and marshmallow variety. It had to be done and served, in some measure, to repay my introduction to maple syrup and crispy bacon. A long talk, many photographs and several tissues later (there is a knack to eating oysters) we wandered up to a favourite haunt on Strines moor for lunch with the peacocks. It was here we had celebrated the publication of Stuart’s book, The Living One.

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The peacocks wander as they will, a whole flock of them, while a gaggle of geese nest beneath a tree and swallows fly overhead… and we were even lucky enough to see them land. In the air they are unmistakable, but so seldom do you see them alight that I had to check that the red throats meant they were swallows.

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The house at Strines has been there since 1275, though the current buildings are a little younger dating back to the 1560s. It has only been an inn since 1771 though… a mere babe in these parts. It isn’t a bad spot, overlooking the reservoir and Sugworth Hall with its Folly. The tower used to have a spiral staircase running to the panelled room at the top, but this was removed when a cow climbed the staircase and got stuck. Stories tell that it was Charles Boot who built the Folly in 1927, to provide work for the locals in hard times… and so that he could see his wife’s grave in the churchyard of High Bradfield across Bradfield Dale, which curiously enough, was where we were heading next.

Diana and co north 078They say third time lucky, but this was our fourth visit… and the first where we had warmth and sunshine. It is amazing how much difference that makes. The inevitable wind was merely a cool summer breeze as we sat in the churchyard surrounded by sheep, looking out across the dale. Inside the church seems to open its arms and details we had somehow missed seemed to jostle for our attention. Carved ceiling bosses with curious faces, dragons dogs and a dancing rat… even a green man we had missed 76 of them, dating to the 15th century. A ‘breeches bible’ sat in a glass case… a rare copy of the 16th-century version where Adam and Eve are said to make breeches to cover their nakedness in Eden. Odd, it might be rare, but we knew of at least another two locally. Funnily enough, there is a lodge built into the wall to protect against body snatchers… and I had first come across that idea just a couple of days ago in Scotland. Lots of coincidences, it seemed.

Diana and co north 107We had missed the 15th century stained glass… we had seen it of course, photographed it… but it hadn’t registered. Nor had a good many other details. What had seemed a fairly Spartan place by our standards was suddenly unlocking its treasures for us. There was even a St Cuthbert’s window, and we had been at Lindisfarne only the previous day… and a couple of days earlier I had been photographing the coast at Dunbar where it is thought he was born. There was a severed head we had somehow overlooked… not to mention all the stone heads gazing down from the nave. Given our fixation on severed heads since starting to write The Initiate, that is unheard of. When you are cold and wet, it seems, the attention is fixed on discomfort, inward-looking instead of aware. An object lesson indeed.

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We lingered, talking in the sunshine. We lingered on the terrace of the Old Horns overlooking the valley. We drove back the long way over the moors, then home for a couple of hours before lingering in leisurely fashion over dinner. And there wasn’t a hint of rain.

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