Tag: Yorkshire

Grey invaders

The UK’s squirrels have been immortalised in Beatrix Potter’s ‘Squirrel Nutkin’, as well as in numerous Christmas cards with the traditional snow-covered landscapes, as they nibble on their hidden cache of nuts. These are Britain’s native red squirrels though, a species that has disappeared from many regions across the country since the introduction of North America’s grey squirrel during the 1890s. Grey squirrels are just as cute of course, smaller in size but with the same distinctive bushy tail, but as well as being prolific breeders, they also brought the squirrel pox disease with them and it’s this that has contributed massively to the decline in red squirrel numbers.

Although carriers of the disease the greys rarely succumb to it. The reds though proved immediately and fatally susceptible, so along with being out-competed for food red squirrel populations have dwindled despite ongoing and determined conservation efforts to help save them.

I’ve certainly not spotted any red squirrels during my time in Yorkshire this year, but the greys abound. They are more commonly dubbed ‘tree-rats’ due to being so prolific and a pest, where I often walk my niece’s spaniel, Lexie, it’s a rare morning I don’t see one of them scampering along the ground or racing along the branch of a beech tree somewhere along the woodland track where we often walk.

The greys have their champions of course and it’s certainly far too late to even consider eradicating them now, but even so I suspect these invasive and destructive pests are quietly culled by farmers and landowners as the scientists and conservationists work on developing a vaccine and/or cure for the deadly squirrel pox, alongside working to protect those few red squirrel populations that continue to hang on in the more isolated northern areas of England and Scotland.

An example to follow

It’s no secret that the British are a nation of dog lovers. So back in the land of my birth for the first time in four years (thanks to Covid) it hasn’t taken long to resume by morning walks with Lexie – a rescue dog like our own Della – owned by my niece’s family.

Lexie very soon twigged I was pretty reliable when it came to walking her in the morning. Usually before breakfast but not always given the morning bathroom rush for everyone in the family either getting ready to go to work, college or school.

There are two go-to dog walking spots in this Magdale area – an unexpected and discreet woodland oasis given this outer suburb’s proximity to a former dour northern industrial mill town once renowned for its textiles and fine worsteds. So many dogs are walked in one of these special public areas – the site of a former water mill – which has successfully avoided development thanks to a proactive community that now owns and manages it. A dedicated group of volunteers ensure the extensive natural space is maintained and respected by all those who use it. And people do respect it. There’s very little litter, and with strategically placed dog poo bins, very few owners fail to clean up after their dog. I suspect if they do, and there’s a witness, they’ll be called out and strongly taken to task!

Since my last visit some lovely timber structures have been added, presumably carved and donated by local craftspeople. The river of course is a huge attraction for those dogs that love the water. Lexie, being a spaniel, is certainly one of that number, but she almost came to grief this morning. Determined to have a swim she slithered into the river down a particularly steep bank and then had trouble getting out again. Her quick dip turned into an impressive swim for an ageing dog as I had to coax her downstream to a shallower spot where she could clamber out.

The Holme is nowhere near the size of Tasmania’s Tamar River, but sections must still be good for fishing since there have been a couple of hopeful anglers chancing their luck in the few days I’ve been here. Perhaps it’s more an opportunity for quiet communion with nature than a serious attempt to catch their evening meal.

This park area is definitely a popular spot for walkers though, with or without dogs or toddlers. And as it’s an off-lead area it’s brilliant to see the dogs all getting on. If only humans could manage to do so. Big or small and regardless of breed I’ve yet to see any unpleasant interactions among the many dogs enjoying their exercise in this fabulous public space. It’s a refreshing change given our delightful Della, who while great with people, becomes a Jekyll and Hyde animal when it comes to meeting and greeting her canine cousins. Since she wasn’t always this way I can only assume it’s because she was attacked while still a young dog (and by a St Bernard of all things), that has caused her distressing personality change. Sadly it’s meant we can never let her off the lead to romp about and follow her nose exploring smells and scents, and to generally behave as dogs love to do off leash.

Location puzzle

We’re currently enjoying seeing the celebrated Downton Abbey series, thanks to the loan of the boxed set of DVDs. I already knew the pile of stones that is the fictional Downton, is really Highclere Castle, a UK stately home I know reasonably well since Highclere village is where my grandmother and aunts lived. I’ve often walked the castle grounds, and toured the house – most memorably in the ’80s after renovations revealed a trove of Tut’s treasures hidden away in a secret cupboard, and later exhibited in the castle basement before being sent off to – presumably – the British Museum. It was a fascinating time.
But while I’m enjoying the Downton story, my disbelief often fails to be entirely suspended because the location simply doesn’t ring true.
Highclere is in Berkshire – a county of lush, rolling and very picturesque English countryside, and which if I’m honest is a bit claustrophobic for one who prefers the wild beauty and clean air of windswept craggy Yorkshire moors. Yet my native Yorkshire is where Downton is set. In the vicinity of Ripon to be precise, so the accents – and the chiselled stone buildings – are all North of England. It therefore jars to see Highclere Castle, which is built of the warm, mellowed red bricks common to the county, taken completely out of context for the purposes of television, and transported to the Yorkshire Dales. It makes me wonder how often this occurs when filming other drama series.
Certainly this series must have been logistically interesting in that respect. A lot of the filming of course was done at Highclere Castle, but then the film crews must have had to hightail it 200-plus miles up the MI for all those Yorkshire scenes at Ripon and Kirbymoorside – and maybe other areas as well where houses and buildings historically right for the period – are located.
Yorkshire has proved a popular location for a number of TV series – and I can remember when ‘Heartbeat’ first screened back in the ‘90s picking the location immediately as Goathland, a village also well-known to me from numerous holidays staying with a close friend and her family, in the cottage they owned there. It gave an extra dimension to my enjoyment spotting all the places that I knew so well, and that were the location for so many of the scenes.

And ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ was filmed a few miles away from where I grew up in West Yorkshire. It’s a show that put Holmfirth on the map, as it were, and it’s profited from the notoriety in all the years since becoming a thriving community that has attracted artists from across the spectrum, and that hosts a renowned arts festival every year.

Meanwhile back to Downton Abbey, where we’re currently somewhere in the middle of series three.