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Thursday, 24 May 2012

Tuesday night, being A’s birthday, we repaired to a secret location - well, it was a secret from her - on the river Greta, not so very far from Barnard Castle. Had a very fancy dinner with her offspring and stayed in a very fancy room at the Morritt Arms Hotel (above).

Next morning we took advantage of the weather to walk a little way upstream. The sky was clear, the light dazzling, the trees approaching their mid-May peak. I think this is just about my favourite time of year, bar none. I would locate it as specifically the time when the beech and the linden are putting out their leaves, the May blossom is opening, and the sycamore flowers are hanging from the branches. If I had a week to live, and could make a choice, it would be this second or third week in May.

This statuesque linden overshadows an abandoned chapel and cemetery that lie alongside the river. In the cemetery we found a number of headstones dating from the 17th century, none more interesting than this:

The first few lines of the inscription read, ‘Christopher Thwaites, Post Master of Greta Bridge died March 21st [I think that’s the date] 1693 aged 67 years….’ Now, as far as I am aware the General Post Office wasn’t introduced until the reign of Charles II, in 1661, although a postal service between Scotland and England had been established shortly after the  union of 1603. So this chap was a bit of a trailblazer.


This is all there was to see of the chapel. Why it was abandoned there is no clue. But there is no real village of Greta Bridge now - just a hamlet, and the famous old inn where we stayed. Under one of the ruined walls I found this solitary Welsh poppy.

In the fields, the rape-seed is now in full flower - and causing hell to the hay-fever sufferers. Before it actually flowers, and if nobody’s watching, you can pluck a few heads and eat it as broccoli, of which it is a close relative.

Along the riverside all sorts of plants were flourishing. I was particularly pleased to come across a drift of wild garlic…

…and several clumps of osmunda regalis:

Last but not least, a delicate little primrose:

On the work front, today has been a busy one. Down to York this morning to meet a man from Dalesman Publishing, and the photographer, John Potter, who will spend the next year gathering material for Mike Pannett’s Yorkshire - or whatever else we call it. After that - and a stonking fried breakfast in York’s St Helen’s Square - I hurried home to attack this second sample chapter for the London book, which, we have finally decided, will be called Without Fear or Favour. Nearly there. May even wrap it up tonight - in which case, tomorrow will be designated as an allotment day.

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