Going for a song

I was recently contacted by reader David Severs who used to be the sergeant at Helmsley Police Station when Dad was village bobby of Oswaldkirk in the 1960s. Towards the end of my dad’s police career when he was press officer in the early 1980s, they also had adjacent offices at force headquarters in Newby Wiske Hall. 

David writes: “I told him that I had seen an Oxford philosophy examination paper in which the first question was ‘Do birds enjoy singing?’”

He goes on to explain that Dad used this question as a topic for a subsequent column, and so I decided to see if I could find the column in question in his archives. With the help of my team of detectives (my mum and brother) we came across a piece Dad wrote in 2008 on the very subject. It might not be the original column, but nevertheless discusses this topic.

Dad writes: ‘If we think carefully about that query, it is almost impossible to answer because the first question must surely be: What constitutes bird song? And secondly, why do they sing?’

He states that we think of bird song as something musical and melodic, so therefore does the squawking of a herring gull count? Or what about the repetitive call of a cuckoo? Is the quack of a duck or the honk of a goose bird song?

Dad explains that birds sing for specific reasons, such as to attract a mate, to warn of the presence of predators, or to indicate where its territory may be. In other words, it is a tool of communication, so to know if they enjoy it is hard to judge. It’s a bit like asking us humans if we enjoy the act of talking (of course, we could all name at least one person we know who loves the sound of their own voice).

However, according to one study which was featured in The Times newspaper, there is now scientific proof that at times, birds do actually sing just for the love of it. And it is that which prompted Mr Severs to get in touch, as when he read it, it reminded him of his previous conversations with my dad.

The article was prompted by research on starlings that seemed to prove that although singing was a means of communication, there were also occasions where the birds sang just for the pleasure of it. This was termed ‘gregarious’ singing.

Biologist Professor Lauren Riters from the University of Wisconsin-Madison explains that the birds practice the notes in the songs: ‘They try out different songs, they order and reorder and repeat some sequences, they add and drop notes. It sounds a bit like free-form jazz and it’s quite distinct from the structured songs that male songbirds produce when trying to attract mates.’

She goes on to explain that when they sing in this way their brains produce opioids, chemicals which are known for inducing pleasure and reducing pain (the same as are found in the addictive drugs heroin, morphine and fentanyl).

Professor Riters’ team fed the birds low doses of fentanyl, and sure enough, this triggered high rates of ‘gregarious’ singing. They were also able to switch off the opioid receptors in the birds’ brains, and after this, the birds sang less.

When lockdown was at its height and there were very few vehicles on our roads, I really noticed the bird song around me. I liked to think that our feathered friends were thoroughly enjoying an environment free from polluting exhaust fumes, or was it simply the lack of traffic noise that meant that I was more able to hear them?

There are some very tall poplar trees in my neighbour’s garden, and I often see groups of starlings gathered in the highest branches, singing at the tops of their beaks, and they very much look like they are enjoying themselves. And similarly, on my dog walks, there is a particular hedgerow which is favoured by dozens of sparrows. If they don’t notice you coming, they all cheep excitedly and noisily among themselves. As soon as you stop to listen though, they go quiet. It reminds me of a school assembly hall full of noisy children before the head teacher signals for hush.

But are these sparrows singing for fun, or is their noise about something else? I wish I could ask them! 

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 18th September and the Gazette & Herald on 16th September 2020

A starling ready to break into song, and the empty A64 dual carriageway. During lockdown, the birdsong seemed so much more noticeable because there was no traffic noise


Who was the Countryman?


The Countryman was my dad, Peter N Walker (aka Nicholas Rhea), who died on 21st April 2017 from prostate cancer.

He was a full-time writer for more than 35 years, and before that, wrote in his spare time from his job as a policeman. He wrote stories based on his experiences and they were turned into the hugely successful TV series Heartbeat. But he also wrote much more, including crime novels, detective novels, short stories, local history books, collections of folk stories and tales, and also columns for local papers.

When he was younger, he used to read the Countryman’s Diary in the Darlington and Stockton Times by a well-known writer and local history expert, Major John Fairfax-Blakeborough. The Major had always been an inspiration and source of encouragement to my dad, who dreamed of taking over his column, so when he passed away, Dad was thrilled to be invited to take over. He continued that column for 41 years, and another (Rural View) for around 30 years in the Malton Gazette and Herald. Despite his success, he had a huge sense of loyalty and would not give up the weekly columns, continuing right up until a couple of weeks before his death, although towards the end, they were a struggle for him.

After his death, I began to wonder what would happen to his columns, and felt it would be a shame for them to simply disappear after so many years. With support from my family, I called the editors of the papers who readily agreed to my taking them over, even though I don’t have Dad’s writing pedigree, nor his extensive knowledge of all things country and Yorkshire. But, as my brother pointed out, I do have access to my dad’s archive, 40-plus years’ worth of columns to draw upon.

So I decided to take each column from the same week 40 years ago and see what I could use to inspire my column for today. What I have found is not only a wealth of material, but that it is bringing back some memories that were long-since forgotten, memories of my dad, and of our family, of which he was so proud. And it feels like I am getting to know my dad in a way I never expected nor thought possible. It’s an honour to be able to do it and, step by step, week by week, it is helping me make my way along the long road of grief that his passing has left behind.

Sarah xxx

A load of old Crapper

Dad was an expert on many things, including Yorkshire dialect

My dad was an expert in various things, including Yorkshire dialect, and dialect words often crop up in his past columns that I look upon for inspiration.

In his column from 17th October 1981, he talks about the word ‘tyke’ being associated with people from Yorkshire. I would not take offence if someone called me a tyke, but rather I’d see it as a term of endearment. Having said that, its origins are not so friendly. It is thought that it comes from the Old Norse word ‘tik’ which meant a female dog although was later used across the country to refer to a rough ill-mannered lout. I’m not sure when it began to change from being an insult into a more affectionate term but, according to Dad, it is only after the 18th century that we find references where it was reserved solely for people from Yorkshire.

In another column from November 1978 Dad talks about the curious Yorkshire saying that describes something as a ‘bramah’. It is one of those words that I haven’t come across, and so I take great joy in the process of discovering what it’s all about.

The word was used to describe something that is of excellent quality, or rather unusual. For example, you might stay, “Eee, it’s a right bramah that one.” I can’t say that I have heard the phrase used, and wonder if it is still said? Perhaps someone reading this can enlighten me. 

The origin of the word is likely to have come from a South Yorkshire man by the name of Joseph Bramah who was born a farmer’s lad near Barnsley in 1748. He grew up to be an exceptional inventor and engineer, most famous for his locks, the first one of which was patented in 1784. 

Bramah was noted for his close attention to detail, and understood how important precision was in engineering. His locks earned a reputation for being extremely secure and high quality, and people with property and valuables worth protecting found themselves worrying less if they were secured by a Bramah lock. They crop up in works by Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw and Frederick Forsyth and according to Peter Wright, who wrote the controversial book ‘Spycatcher’, Bramah locks were used for diamond safes and were by far the most difficult to break and practically impossible to pick.

The company that Joseph Bramah founded in London in 1784 still exists, and has expanded further into the security field by producing alarm systems. 

Perhaps Bramah’s most important invention was the hydraulic press which enabled the force of a few pounds on a lever to be converted into hundreds of pounds of pressure, and Bramah’s perfection of this method using a small pump plunger found various uses in industry, including book binding, paper production, printing, leather work, engineering and the electrical trades.

Bramah became a leading inventor of the industrial revolution and other ideas he patented included a fountain pen, a fire engine and a valve for a flushing toilet that meant it didn’t freeze up in the winter. Many of his inventions can be seen at the Science Museum in London and one of his toilets still works at Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s residence on the Isle of Wight.

It seems that lots of people have been involved in improving the original flushing toilet. The aptly named Thomas Crapper is thought by many to have invented it, but this is not actually true, although he did help to increase its popularity. Apparently it was Sir John Harrington, the godson of Queen Elizabeth 1 who, in his work Metamorphosis of Ajax, first described a toilet with a raised cistern connected to the basin by a small pipe which released water when a valve was opened. The Queen had one installed in her palace in Richmond, yet it was a further 200 years before Alexander Cummings invented the ‘S’ pipe underneath to prevent foul odours from escaping. It wasn’t until the end of the 18th century that flushing toilets became the norm.

Incidentally, the word ‘crap’ was used for some years before Thomas Crapper happened upon the toiletting scene so, surprisingly, is not in fact related to his name. It is first recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1846, 15 years before Mr Crapper launched his bathroom-related business. 

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 22nd October and the Gazette & Herald on 20th October 2021

Have you the clue to Banniscue?


Did Spandau Ballet really write a song that included the lyrics ‘The sound of muscles’?


The theme of misunderstood words and lyrics continues to bear fruit and I have a few more to pass on. 

Clare Proctor remembered that back in the sweatband clad 1980s, there seemed to be a few pop songs in the charts where references to the male physique were prominent either in the lyrics or in the accompanying dry-ice-laden videos. Olivia Newton-John’s rather saucy example, ‘Physical’, features an abundance of toned Adonises working out, while Diana Ross’ video for her song, ‘Muscles’ was filmed in a similar vein.

It was against this backdrop that Clare writes: “A new Spandau Ballet song came on the radio, and in front of all my staff I groaned, ‘Not another song about muscles!’ …The song? ‘True’. The line? I heard ‘This is the sound of muscles.’ Tony Hadley was actually singing: ‘This is the sound of my soul’!”

Roger Barlow wrote to me saying: “I had a good laugh at ‘Peter God’. It reminded me of my childhood when I asked my mum why her bag was called a ‘ham bag’. ‘Did you used to put ham in it?’ I enquired.”

It seems these instances of misheard phrases have their own particular name. Peter Sotheran wrote: “They are called ‘Mondegreens’ from a common mishearing of a line from the 17th century ballad ‘The Bonnie Earl o’Moray’.”

As Peter explains, the words are often sung like so:

‘Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands, Oh, where hae ye been?

They hae slain the Earl O’Moray, And Lady Mondegreen.’

In fact, the term ‘mondegreen’ came about thanks to American writer Sylvia Wright who had an essay published in Harper’s Magazine in 1954 entitled ‘The Death of Lady Mondegreen’. It was as a child that when singing the ballad, she envisioned the earl dying tragically next to his true love, Lady Mondegreen. In fact, the proper lyric is ‘And layd him on the green’. But Wright preferred her own much more romantic version and, following the publication of her essay, the term began to be used for misheard song lyrics that change the intended meaning of the original.

Peter also mentions another fairly well-known mondegreen, that of ‘Gladly, the cross-eyed bear.’ Many a child would believe the pious bear featured in the hymn ‘Keep Thou My Way’, whereas the actual line is ‘Gladly the cross I’ll bear’.

In 2015, the Independent newspaper asked for people to send in their favourite mondegreens, and they included ‘The ants are my friends, they’re blowin’ in the wind’ (The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind’, Bob Dylan), ‘All the whiskey in the sea’ (‘All that’s missing is the sea’, Club Tropicana, by Wham) and the obvious ‘I don’t know why we had a divorce; we’d roll and fall in brie’ (‘Out on the wiley, windy moors, we’d roll and fall in green’, Wuthering Heights, by Kate bush). 

I’m sure you have your own, and please do keep em’ coming. They don’t half make me chuckle! Some of you might also be able to help with a query from another reader. Ian Atkinson contacted me after having read my column about the quirky farm names near Husthwaite. Ian’s wife Linda was brought up on a farm with the name ‘Banniscue’. Ian says: “Nobody has ever been able to shed any light on its origins, so I wonder if your readers might.”

I did a bit of research myself, and found that Banniscue is the area in Ryedale between Hawnby Hill and Easterside Hill, near Rievaulx. There used to be three farms, High Banniscue, Low Banniscue and Little Banniscue, all situated around Banniscue Wood, but only High Banniscue exists now. I couldn’t find any clues as to how it got its name, and wondered if there was any influence from the Viking language. I found a few Old Norse words that may or may not be connected. ‘Banna’ means ‘to forbid’, while ‘bana’ means ‘to kill’, and ‘bani’ means ‘a cause of death’, or ‘slayer’. It could also be influenced by Old Brittonic, where ‘benn’ means peak and ‘isca’ means ‘water’, so perhaps the word refers to its location overlooking a nearby beck?

I’d be intrigued to know where this farm name comes from and whether anyone can shed light on its origins. Contact this paper by letter or email, or use the contact page at www.countrymansdaughter.com

Contact me, and read more, at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 15th October and the Gazette & Herald on 13th October 2021

Snow way to say ‘I do’

My mum in St Hedda’s Church, Egton Bridge, where she and Dad were married on 10th January 1959.

Mum and Dad on their snowy wedding day in 1959, taken by Whitby photographer John Tindale from the top of his Land Rover


A few years ago I wrote a column about my parents’ wedding day. They were married on 10th January 1959 at St Hedda’s Church in Egton Bridge, and the night before there was a great blizzard.

I recalled that the registrar happened to be a retired sergeant whom Dad remembered having a fiery temper and had once forced him, when he was a young cadet, to clear snow from the path to his private house. It had given Dad great pleasure to hand the man a spade to help clear the snow from outside the church.

On his way to the ceremony, this registrar had ended up stuck in a snowdrift, but he was rescued by the wedding photographer who happened upon him en route. Using his Land Rover, a vehicle suited to winters in the country, he helped tow the stranded car out before giving the registrar a lift the rest of the way. What I did not mention first time round was that this photographer was well-known Whitby figure, John Tindale.

I was very fortunate recently to be invited to the launch of an exhibition at Whitby Museum featuring John’s work and celebrating his life. John was an excellent photographer, and his passion was to document the lives of the ordinary people who lived and worked in the town. Most families earned their livings either from the sea or from moorland agriculture, and John’s work, which spanned the years between the 1950s and the 1990s, celebrated the everyday, yet remarkable, stories of these people.

Although it was this kind of photography that John most enjoyed, his main income came from working as a news photographer for the Whitby Gazette, and also as a wedding photographer, sometimes attending up the three ceremonies in one day. He could often be seen standing atop his trusty Land Rover to get a better position from which to take a shot. In fact, one of my favourite photos of my parents’ wedding was taken by John looking down from the top of his car as they left the church.

At the centre of the exhibition, which can be seen until the end of May next year, is a film called ‘A Vision of Whitby’, created by film maker Anne Dodsworth. She invited my mum to participate to talk about her memories of the wedding day, and the part John played in it. I must admit, seeing Mum describing the occasion on screen for the first time was very moving, especially as Dad was not there to share in the moment.

There is a companion exhibition in the museum’s Costume Gallery which showcases the changing fashions in wedding dresses spanning the years that John operated as a bridal photographer. My mum’s simple cotton broderie anglaise dress is one of those featured, as is a stunning and far more elaborate gown belonging to the Marchioness of Normanby.

Alongside my mum’s dress is a plaque showing an article that appeared in the Whitby Gazette at the time. I loved reading the contemporary account, which describes how Tindale helped the registrar get to the church, only to arrive and find that the bride herself had not turned up.

The article goes on to say: ‘Inquiry showed that the taxi she had ordered to convey her from her home to the church was held up. Mr Tindale tried to help but ran into a drift and after half an hour’s delay, the bride had to take off her wedding shoes, don a pair of boots, and walk to the church, using the schoolroom to change her footwear before the wedding ceremony.

‘The bridegroom had not risked road conditions, and had travelled to Egton Bridge by rail.’

I took my mum for a trip back over the moors a couple of months ago, somewhere she hadn’t been for a long time. We visited Lealholm, driving past the house where she was born, and also through Glaisdale where Dad was born, then went to lay some flowers where her late parents and sister lie in Sleights Church yard.

A highlight of the trip was visiting St Hedda’s Church, which is absolutely beautiful inside, and well worth a visit. More than 62 years after she said ‘I do’, Mum lit a candle for Dad, and remembered that very special snowy day back in 1959.

Contact me, and read more, at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 8th October and the Gazette & Herald on 6th October 2021

Oh man, the tales we tell!

York Minster, which an American visitor described as ‘That wee little church’


The theme of word confusion has prompted a few readers to get in touch with their own funny stories and I thought that sharing a few might brighten your day.

A rich source of mirth are the things that children say, be they malapropisms, mispronunciations or valiant attempts at the right word. Alastair Smith said his daughter would call her brother ‘Ditchead’ instead of ‘Richard’ and swans were ‘Fonz’. When Lynn Catena’s son was little, she wasn’t sure what he meant when he asked her if he could listen to the ‘old fashioned CDs’. It took her a moment to work out that he was referring to her vinyl LPs. And Teresa Watkin’s son invented his very own word whenever his parents would try to tickle him. “Legoffme!” he would shout, instead of ‘Let go of me’ (I think that word deserves its own entry in the English dictionary). One of Lynnette Brammah’s funniest came courtesy of a friend’s daughter, whose favourite film was the one with Dorothy and the ruby slippers. She referred to it as ‘The Buzzard of Was’.

Lynnette also provides us with an excellent example of when our friends from overseas unwittingly entertain us with their attempts at our very complicated language. She was asked by an American if she knew the way to ‘Can-arse-bow-roo’. Any ideas where that is? I couldn’t work it out! Turns out it’s that pretty town that lies on the River Nidd, otherwise known as Knaresborough. And Lynn Catena was asked by a French visitor if she knew where he could buy ‘shoe’ cream for his wife. He rubbed his face to help Lynn decipher what he meant. “I figured it out,” she says. “He wanted Boots the Chemist. He was close…it was footwear!”

I don’t know about you, but it seems that everything in the USA is bigger than here. Their food portions, for example, are huge, and if you ask for a large carton of cockporn – I mean popcorn – at the cinema, you get enough to feed a small country. The same goes for the width of the roads, the size of the cars, and even the buildings. Dad once told me a story about some visiting Americans who were very proud of their country’s reputation for all things jumbo. He was driving them around York, pointing out the significant sights and landmarks, and they passed a particular one for a second time, at which point one of the guests exclaimed: “Oh gee, look! There’s that wee little church again!” The wee little church? Only York Minster!

And I was walking with a German friend in the Dales a couple of years back, and as we passed by a farm he declared, “Look at all those midgets!”. I looked towards the farm buildings, but not one midget could I see. When he began to flap his arms about his head, I realised he actually meant ‘midges’.  

But it’s not just those from abroad that sometimes get it wrong. It seems our southern neighbours have trouble with understanding the way us northerners might say things. Lucien Smith says: “I had a great Northumberland place name that was Southernised recently. Slayley Hall, pronounced Slay-ley, was poshified to ‘Slarley’. It took me a moment to know where she meant!”

And that brought to mind another memory of mine which always makes me giggle. In the 1990s I used to work in East Grinstead, West Sussex, and as I was handing some paperwork over to a colleague, she said, “It’s Maggie outside.”

“Pardon?” I replied.

“Maggie, outside.”

“Oh, is she? Who’s Maggie?”

“No!’ she laughed, “I mean the weather! It’s warm and maggy!” The penny finally dropped. What she was trying to tell me was that it was a muggy day outside.

On the subject of getting words wrong in church, a reader revealed: “One of my brothers, when he was a kid, used to start the Lord’s Prayer like this: ‘Our father who art in heaven, Alan be thy name…” And one of my friends reported that her daughter used to think that everyone was saying ‘Oh man!’ rather than ‘Amen’. So it turns out that Peter God whom, as I mentioned last time, some of us would thank every week during Mass, now has a mysterious colleague called Alan.

Oh man!

Contact me, and read more, at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 1st October and the Gazette & Herald on 29th September 2021

Vicars, beware of staples!

I lived in Greece for a year when I was 18, and my host wrongly thought I’d taught her son a naughty word.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about certain words or phrases that I had got wrong in childhood. I mentioned that in church, I used to say ‘Thanks Peter God’ rather than ‘Thanks be to God’.

I have spent my life since then assuming I was the only person who ever thought that, but it turns out not to be the case. I was contacted by reader Graham Hunt whose son used to visit St Gregory’s Minster, Kirkdale, near Kirkbymoorside, because his grandfather was the organist and choirmaster there. After one such visit, he returned home to ask his parents “Who is Peter God?”, and the family regularly wheel out the story to this day. He also admits that, similar to my childhood pronunciation of ‘W.H.Smith’ as ‘WuhSmith’, he also used to call a well known brand of ink, ‘Step Hens ink’, until he learned it was actually ‘Stephen’s’.

Since I wrote that column, another couple of corkers came to mind. When I was 18 I took a gap year in Athens, Greece, where I looked after a four-year-old boy named Marios while his parents were at work. After a few weeks, his mum took me aside and said, “I think you have been teaching my son a new word.”

She looked quite cross, and I wondered what word she meant.

“S***t!” she said.

I was shocked, and began to protest my innocence, until she began to giggle, before explaining that Marios had been repeating the word ‘s***t’ to her over and over again, and she was about to seek me out to give me a stern talking to. But then she saw him motion with his hands and say ‘open’. He followed that by clasping his hands together again and saying what she now knew to be ‘shut’!

On the ‘potty mouth’ theme, a friend told me the story of their own memorable occasion which has passed down into family legend. She is from a large Irish family, and they all gathered for a special meal, a first for her new boyfriend. Their formidable grandmother, who originated from County Cork and possessed a very strong accent, was in attendance. The boyfriend was rather taken aback when she aggressively demanded of him, “Pass me the f*****g knife.” He fearfully scrabbled for a knife to give to her, but couldn’t understand why she gave him a look. “And the f**k! There, right there by you!” she said impatiently.

It was only with intervention from his girlfriend that he realised that what granny was actually asking was for him to pass her a fork and knife.

One particular avenue of incomprehension that I bet you will have travelled down is undecipherable pop lyrics. We have all at some point merrily sung along with words that we think are right, only to discover years down the line that we’ve been wrong. I can’t be the only one who would sing ‘Sue Lawley’ over and over again to ‘So lonely’ by The Police. Or how about ‘Poppadom Preach’ to Madonna’s ‘Papa Don’t Preach’? And isn’t it true that if we enjoy a song, but don’t really know what the words are, we simply invent noises that vaguely sound like the words, none of which you will ever find in an English language dictionary.

If you like this sort of thing, then I would highly recommend searching online for Peter Kay’s ‘Misheard Song Lyrics’. He recalls taking part in karaoke where they play the backing track, while the words to the song flash up on a screen as you join in. It’s only then that you realise the words you have been singing for the past 15 years have been nothing like the intended lyrics.

It had me in absolute stitches, and once you see him mouth his invented version to the actual song, you will never sing it the right way again. The one that had me laughing loudest was when he lip-synced along to ‘We Are Family’ by Sister Sledge. ‘Just let me staple the vicar’ he sang whereas the real line is ‘Just let me say for the record’.

Now, every time I hear that song, I have images of vicars being stapled by the cassock to the nearest object. I wonder what song lyrics you have unwittingly invented only to discover you were wrong all the time?

Contact me, and read more, at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 24th and the Gazette & Herald on 22nd September 2021

Farming for verses

A poem was written years ago featuring the pretty names of farms surrounding the village of Husthwaite, North Yorkshire.

In my dad’s 1981 archive of columns that I’ve been reading over the past few weeks, he mentions several times a particular verse that was associated with some farms in the Hambleton area of North Yorkshire.

It is a pretty rhyme made up of the names of those farms and I wonder if anyone else has come across similar in their part of the world? It went like this:

‘Rising Sun and Peep o’Day, Throstle Nest and Flower o’May,

Acaster Hill and Baxby Mill, Well Pots Green and Providence Hill.’

A slight variation of the same poem was sent in by a reader who lived at Bickerton near Wetherby, and it read:

‘There’s Rising Sun and Peep o’Day, Throstle Nest and Flower o’May,

Then lying in the mist so far, is Thornton Hill and Acaster.’

According to my dad, the farms were on land surrounding the village of Husthwaite, and the questions in my mind were: When was this poem written and by whom? And did these farms really exist? If so, were any of them still there now? Of course, I set out on a mission to find out.

I’m pleased to report that I have had some success. Listing them in the order of the poem, I found a Rising Sun Farm a mile and a half north-east of Easingwold, although it is some four miles away from Husthwaite. Is it the right one? Peep o’Day Farm is still there, a couple of miles south of the village, next to Peep o’Day Wood. Part of the address of this farm is listed as ‘Thornton Hill’. Is this the Thornton Hill mentioned in the second version of the poem? But if so, would they mention both Peep o’Day and Thornton Hill in the same verse if they were in fact the same place? I couldn’t find another Thornton Hill Farm in the area around Husthwaite. 

I found a Throstle Nest Farm, slightly south of the village, and in the course of my research, I came across two Throstle Nest Plantations (one near Norton-on-Derwent, and one near Darlington) and two Throstle Nest Woods (one near Giggleswick in the Dales, and one near Pocklington in East Yorkshire). Incidentally, my research led me to discover that ‘throstle’ is an old word for a song thrush (of course, my dad would already have known that, as I’m sure many of you reading this do too! But as I said when I first started writing these columns more than four years ago, compared to my dad, my knowledge of such things is scant indeed!).

Flower o’ May is still there, just south of Husthwaite, and Acaster Hill Farm is almost opposite it. ‘Castre’ is the Latin word for ‘camp’, so I wonder if there are any Roman connections?

As for Baxby Mill, I believe the mill itself is either no longer there or derelict, but its location, as you’d expect an old water mill to be, is on the Ings Beck in Husthwaite, at the bottom of the hill heading west out of the village. I drew a blank for Well Pots Green, but there is a Woolpots Farm, a short distance to the south. Is that the one they mean? Providence Hill is still there, to the south west of Husthwaite.

So, clearly, there are still some questions arising out of these two similar rhymes, such as when they were written, but it is clear that most of the farms mentioned do still exist. I will put money on the fact that a reader will be able to furnish me with a some clues as to how these farms got their names. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone can tell us more, and perhaps even share their memories of the farms in question?

One of dad’s readers drew his attention to the most unusual name for a farm that he had come across which was ‘Gateway to Happy Sparrows’! Dad doesn’t mention where it was, nor whether it still existed in 1981. Not entirely surprisingly, I could find nothing out about it either, but would love to hear from you if you know of it, or have tales about properties with unusual names and how they came about them. If you want to get in touch, either write or email this newspaper, or go to countrymansdaughter.com and use the contact page to sent me a message.

Contact me, and read more, at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 17th and the Gazette & Herald on 15th September 2021

Caught in a trap

The Venus Flytrap plant bought by my son
An unlucky victim!

In 1981, when Dad was writing his column for the corresponding week to this one, there was rather a fuss being made in the news about the height that some local foxgloves were achieving. The average height of a foxglove is between four and six feet, but there were reports of one in York reaching seven foot, and another eight foot six inches.

This ignited my dad’s competitive spirit and he eagerly headed into the garden, armed with a tape measure to find out how our clumps of foxgloves fared against their lanky rivals. Indeed, he found the leader of this unruly bunch, which had colonised a corner near our garden shed, to be at least eight foot tall, and the rest were over six foot. The foxgloves had done unusually well, he believed, because there had been plenty of days of rain that summer, followed by long spells of warmth and sunshine, a bit like this year.

It makes me wonder if any readers have come across any giant foxgloves in 2021? The bumper year four decades ago also prompted Dad to ask: “I wonder if there is such a thing as a world record for the tallest foxglove?”

Of course, had he been asking the question now rather than in 1981, he would have quickly found the answer thanks to the internet. I can reveal that the Guinness World Record has been held since 1997 by Lydia Foy, from County Kildare in Ireland, whose specimen was measured at 10 feet 10 inches.

It might surprise Dad to learn, though, that even that one was beaten by the tallest foxglove yet to be recorded. That honour went to a couple who live Victoria, Canada, who last year measured a still growing flower at more than 11 feet. It prompted Ken Marr, the botany curator of the Royal British Columbia Museum, to declare it was ‘a flower on steroids’. Despite the accolade, the owners were not tempted to apply for inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records.

The foxglove is excellent at seeding itself, and as such is considered a pest by some. It starts blooming in May or June, the individual bell-shaped flowers adorning its stem, and as it shoots up, the flowers appear higher up, and the lower ones mature into little capsules full of seeds. It is a most useful plant, its dried leaves being the source of the drug Digitalis, which is still used today to treat heart problems. It strengthens the contractions of that vital organ, thus helping a diseased or weakened heart to cope with the demands of the human body. English physician and botanist William Withering (1741 – 1799) was the first to use it in this way. 

Digitalis can also be poisonous, though. Occasionally, toxicity can build up inside the body leading to loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhoea or blurred vision. It can also cause the heart to beat faster or slower than normal, or to become erratic, and in extreme cases, can even lead to heart failure. As a result, the drug must only be taken under close supervision.

Talking of plants, one of nature’s most curious creations currently sits on my kitchen window sill. It is the fascinating, yet undeniably gruesome, Venus Flytrap. My son decided he wanted to buy one because he was captivated by the thought that a plant could be carnivorous. I didn’t object because, thanks to the warm weather, we had hoardes of flies buzzing about the house.

My son takes great pleasure in picking up dead flies and depositing them into the waiting jaws of the trap (he does that because he doesn’t have the patience to wait for a live fly to land upon it). Touching the hairs lining the trap triggers an electric charge which causes the jaws to shut, the interlocking teeth preventing escape. A live insect will continue to struggle, and that prompts the trap to completely seal before secreting digestive juices which dissolve the soft tissue, turning it into a nutritious liquid that is then absorbed by the plant. Once it is completely dissolved, usually about a week later, the trap reopens ready to welcome its next meal. 

I’m not going to lie, it is quite macabre to watch, and yet so interesting, and each time I see it happen, I have to marvel at the wonder of nature. 

Contact me, and read more, at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 3rd and the Gazette & Herald on 1st September 2021

No place like home

My boys were distraught when we announced we would be moving house
I wasn’t attached to our old house, but I underestimated how attached my children were to it

In my dad’s column from 22nd August 1981, he mentions the fact that we would soon be moving house. After 14 years, we were decamping from our small 19th century cottage to a larger, brand new house further up the village.

I remember feeling terribly excited, the 14 year old me not appreciating ye olde worlde charm of our little dwelling. The wooden beams, cast iron fireplaces and fantastic garden couldn’t compete with two bathrooms and a downstairs loo (and anyone who has performed the toilet dance while waiting for the one and only WC to become free will understand that).

But the abundance of facilities wasn’t the only attraction. After having shared a bedroom all my life, I was finally going to get one all to myself. Granted, it was only a box room, but I couldn’t wait to have a space to call my own. In fact, according to the original floorplan, my bedroom didn’t exist, but Dad persuaded the builder to shave a bit off some of the other bedrooms and squeeze in a fifth, for which I (and no doubt my sister who otherwise would have had to share with me) was eternally grateful.

I have very fond memories of both of those houses and still refer to the village as ‘home’, even though I have been away from it for longer than I lived in it. I still feel a strong bond which I simply will never have with the place in which I live now.

It wasn’t evident on the surface that my own children had such a bond with the house we lived in when they were small, but it was memorably demonstrated to us when we decided to move in the early 2000s. My husband was Dutch, and after having lived in the UK for many years, he had the prospect of a better job in The Netherlands. How nice, we thought, for our children to get to know their Dutch family better and to experience life in a different culture.

We knew our three boys, then aged between 10 and 15, might be reluctant at first, so decided that when we told them, we would sweeten the blow with a promise of a meal at their favourite pizza place (others might call it an attempt at bribery, but I can’t possibly comment). About an hour before we were due at the restaurant, we sat the boys down and broke the news, ready for any questions they might have, expecting some protestations, but confident that the lure of pizza would win them over.

Oh boy, how we underestimated the impact of our revelation! What next ensued was the kind of drama you only see in the Queen Vic when the Sharon Watts is having a barney with Phil Mitchell. The middle one threw himself on the floor screaming, the eldest ran up to his room screaming, while the youngest stayed on the sofa, screaming. After half an hour of extremely loud and bitter screaming, we had to admit that our strategy had completely backfired. I had to phone the restaurant to cancel the table, then spent the rest of the evening trying to console three bitterly upset, bewildered and still screaming children.

My husband and I didn’t feel particularly attached to the house we lived in at the time. It was a nice house in a good location that suited our circumstances, but it wasn’t anything special, at least, that’s what we thought. What we had completely failed to appreciate was that our children felt completely differently. It was the only home they had ever known, and so of course to them, it was special. All their friends lived around there, they all went to school together and they each had their own bedroom, a space they treasured. They felt about that house just as strongly as I did about my childhood homes, but until that moment, that thought had never occurred to me. No amount of pizza could make up for uprooting them from where they felt they belonged and making them start again in a completely new country. 

Of course, if we had moved, I’m sure they would have eventually settled in to their new surroundings, but, for a number of reasons, we ended up staying where we were anyway.

Never again, though, did I underestimate the value of ‘home’, wherever in the world that happened to be.

Contact me, and read more, at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 27th and the Gazette & Herald on  25th August 2021

A sad tale of doggedness

A steam train pulling into Garsdale Station on the Settle-Carlisle railway line. Picture by Karen Bergdahl. 

Graham Nuttall’s faithful companion Ruswarp, who would not leave his master’s side, even after he died. Picture by Karen Bergdahl.

Like my dad before me, I am an animal lover, and one of the things I enjoy is looking after dogs when their owners are working or away on holiday. Many breeds have crossed my threshold, and it’s no surprise that the one I find most intelligent and loyal is the good old Border Collie, a dog that for obvious reasons is favoured by people working in rural parts of North Yorkshire.

This week, a tale about such a hound was brought to my attention, and it moved me to tears. It’s one I’d not come across, although I have no doubt that some readers will be familiar with it if they have ever travelled along the Settle to Carlisle railway line. A friend alerted me to it, having discovered it while on a break in the Yorkshire Dales.

The story starts with a chap called Graham Nuttall, a rail enthusiast who often used smaller cross-country routes to travel and to go walking with his trusty companion, a Border Collie named Ruswarp (as an aside, in all the articles I’ve found during my research for this column, the dog’s name is always followed by the instruction ‘pronounced ‘Russup’’. It never occurred to me to pronounce it any other way, descending as I do from a line of moorland folk who are all very familiar with the village near Whitby with same name and same pronunciation! Does anyone out there pronounce the ‘W’?).

When Graham got wind that one of the most beautiful train routes in Britain was threatened with closure, he decided to do something about it and helped found the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line, a group that was dedicated to campaigning against the closure. They spent many years fighting and proving that the line was worth saving and raised a petition, collecting signatures from more than 32,000 people – and one dog. Ruswarp, being a fee-paying passenger, was allowed to add his paw print to the petition. On 11th April 1989, they got the news they’d been hoping for, with the announcement that the treasured route had been reprieved.

Sadly, Graham, aged 41, did not live long enough to continue enjoying the train journey he’d battled so hard to save. Just nine months later, on 20th January 1990, he and Ruswarp left their home in Burnley, Lancashire, and purchased a day-return rail ticket to Llandrindod to go walking in the Welsh mountains. But they did not return. An extensive search and rescue effort failed to find them and it wasn’t until three months later, on 7th April, that another walker found Graham lying dead by a mountain stream.

Remarkably, however, Ruswarp was still alive, although obviously exhausted and emaciated. For 11 long, cold and wintry weeks, the faithful dog had not left his master’s side. He was too weak to walk and had to be carried down the mountain. A local vet nursed him back to health, and he was well enough to attend his master’s funeral. According to an eye witness, he sat quietly at the front, until Graham’s coffin began to move behind the crematorium curtains, and only then did Ruswarp let out a low, mournful howl.

Ruswarp was awarded the RSPCA’s Medallion and Collar for Vigilance and Animal Plaque for Intelligence and Courage. Sadly though, those traumatic months had taken their toll on the poor dog, who was already 14 years old, and he died not long after.

The story does not end there, though, and in 2009 on the 20th anniversary of the reprieve, a bronze statue of Ruswarp was unveiled at Garsdale Station, which lies on the line a few miles east of Sedburgh. It was Graham’s favourite stop along the route, and it’s easy to see why, as it commands beautiful views across to the west Pennines. The statue of Ruswarp is on the southbound platform, and he gazes across to the opposite platform towards a bench dedicated to his master.

The success of the 72-mile route today is a real credit to Graham and his colleagues who fought tooth and nail to preserve this heritage line. It has 14 tunnels and over 20 viaducts, and Ribblehead Station, once neglected and derelict, is now an award-winning visitor centre. What a wonderful lasting legacy, thanks to the man and his faithful dog who helped to make it happen.

Contact me, and read more, at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 20th and the Gazette & Herald on  18th August 2021