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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

Wood yew believe it?

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A yew tree outside St Hilda’s Church, Ampleforth
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Bright red yew berries with their distinctive ‘hole’ in the centre
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A yew tree (on the right) on one of my dog walking routes

The yew is a more common sight in English churchyards than most other species of tree and there are a number of theories as to why this is the case.

Back in Mediaeval times, boys over the age of 16 were obliged to practise their archery skills after mass on a Sunday. As yew wood is strong and flexible, it is perfect for making bows, and so the trees were said to have been planted in churchyards for this purpose.

Another common tale went that because yews are highly poisonous to livestock, they would be planted near churches to stop commoners grazing their cattle over sacred ground.

However, both these stories are likely to be just myths, as the yew, which has a reputation for longevity, is usually much older than the church so would not have been planted in the churchyard, but rather the church would have been built near the already established tree.

This country was pagan long before Christianity came along, and in ancient lore, the yew was considered a sacred tree. Like many evergreens, it signified everlasting life with associations with death and rebirth due to its uncanny ability to not expire. In fact, even one that looks dead can often spring back to life, thanks to new shoots appearing from deep within the apparently dead tree carcass, rising up and surrounding the tree’s original trunk.

Its branches tend to grow downwards and where they hit the ground, new shoots can also spring up. A grove of yews can look like several separate trees, even though they are in fact still, technically, just the one tree.

The reason they are now commonly seen in churchyards is likely to be because when the Christians persecuted the pagans, they took over many of their sacred sites, replacing any pagan structures with new churches. The yew retained its mythical aura, and through Christian eyes, became a symbol of Christ’s resurrection.

In my dad’s column from 17th November 1979, he mentions a grant awarded from Derbyshire County Council to repair what was said to be the oldest yew in England, which was at St Helen’s Church, Darley Dale, and was believed to be 2,200 years old. He says he’s not sure if the claim is correct and cites another yew at Fortingall in Scotland which claims to be the oldest in Europe at between 3,000 and 9,000 years of age. I have also found references to other very aged yews, including at Defynnog, in Wales, which claims to be 5,000 years old, another in Ankerwycke, Berkshire, a comparative youngster at just 2,000 years, and then a middle-aged one of 4,000 years at Crowhurst in Surrey.

It is very tricky to determine which is the true ‘oldest’ yew, but their esteemed reputations have attracted many visitors over the centuries. In fact, in September 1863, the editor of The Times received a letter, purportedly from the Darley Dale yew itself, complaining about the significant amounts of visitors that had begun to arrive, thanks to the advent of trains making it easier for city-dwellers to travel into the countryside.

‘Until tourists began to multiply and excursion trains to run, I had scarcely a single scar, older than time and tempest had left, on my body. But now the Snookeses, and Tomkinses, and Joneses have begun to immortalize themselves (as is the fashion of that race) by cutting their names all over my bark,’ the letter reads.

The ‘tree’ beseeches the editor to publicise the problem so that someone might come to its aid to protect it from further damage. It took until 1876 for the ancient yew’s prayers to be answered, when parish records from May of that year show that Manchester solicitor Charles Lister Esq. had paid for a sturdy iron fence out of his own pocket to protect the yew from further vandalism. That fence, and the tree, still stand today.

One surprising fact about the English yew is that although its needles contain alkaloids that are poisonous to humans and animals, these alkaloids also contain chemicals that are effective in the treatment of some forms of cancer. Known as taxanes, these chemicals help stop new cancer cells forming, and are used in chemotherapy drugs for certain types of breast, ovarian and prostate cancer.

Although taxanes can be produced synthetically in a laboratory, yew clippings are still collected today to extract the chemical naturally.

Well, yew live and learn!

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

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 15th and the Gazette & Herald on 13th November 2019

Can’t stop the feline

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Marmalade the cat slept in plain sight during the day, but would hide when it was time to go out at night

Some people say you are either a ‘cat’ or a ‘dog’ person and cannot be both. Well I don’t agree, for I love cats and dogs equally. Although I grew up with cats, I now look after dogs and both give me pleasure in equal measure. I also have several friends who own both cats and dogs, the traditional arch enemies living side by side in harmony.

You don’t get the same outpouring of unconditional love from a cat that you do from a dog. Generally, a dog’s goal in life is to make his owner happy, and they give love in abundance to those who share their home with them. A cat, on the other hand, just about tolerates its owners, and will switch on the charm only when it wants something from them.

In his column from 10th November 1979, Dad explains how as far back as 1767, a writer was bemoaning the mercenary way cats treated their poor owners, describing the creature as an ‘unfaithful domestic’, and said that those who believed that any cat was theirs to keep was sadly deluded: ‘Even the tamest cats are not under any subjection, but may rather be said to enjoy the perfect liberty; for they act only to please themselves, and it is impossible to retain them a moment after they choose to go off.’ I’m sure, 250 years on, today’s cat lovers will recognise that description.

Growing up, we had stray cats in our garden, and my brother named one of the males ‘Jackson’. Dad describes how Jackson used to come to us for food, and would playfully roll on his back whenever dinner was imminent.

But he was totally wild, and we could never get anywhere near to stroke him. Dad talks about the difference between him and Marmalade, who came to us as a stray, but decided it was far more advantageous to adopt us and move into our home, where she stayed until the grand old age of 18.

Dad wonders whether cats have a higher-than-average intelligence, thanks to some shrewd traits that Marmalade displayed. She seemed to know when were were going to put her outside at night time.

During the day, she normally slept in full view on the sofa, or on the warm boiler in the kitchen. But when it was time to put her out for the night, suddenly she was nowhere to be seen. She had a number of hiding spots where she would conceal herself, often in the most difficult places to reach. But over time, we worked out her favourite places to hide.

But in his column, Dad describes how just a few days earlier, Marmalade had finally flummoxed him. I remember the occasion well. We hunted high and low for her, checked all her usual spots, and some new ones, but just couldn’t figure out where she was.

Then, almost on the point of giving up, someone noticed that the door on the antique grandfather clock was slightly ajar. We opened it and there, staring up from the depths of the case, was our cunning little feline. Although we had found her, it was impossible to get her out without tipping the clock up, which meant risking damaging it, or possibly hurting the cat. So we had to leave her there until she decided it was time to come out. She’d finally beaten us!

Marmalade was always very reluctant to go outside at bedtime where her peers would be doing what cats should do, roaming the land keeping nocturnal vermin at bay.

But she couldn’t be bothered with all that. And luckily for her, my bedroom window was just above a plastic lean-to attached to the back of the house.

I would hear Dad putting her out and locking the door downstairs. Then, like the Milk Tray man on a mission, she’d run across the back of the house, leap onto the garden wall, then on to the roof of the lean-to, scurry up the corrugated plastic until she reached my window ledge where she’d perch outside and meeow until I let her in.

She’d spend all night sleeping blissfully on my on cosy warm bed. Then early in the morning, I would put her outside before Dad got up, and he’d let her in again, non the wiser.

Now that’s what I call feline cunning!

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

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 8th and the Gazette & Herald on 6th November 2019

Shop til we drop

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A 1965 bill from Ossy Thompson’s traditional grocery shop
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The village shop in Ampleforth with a ‘Daily Mail’ sign on the wall
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An old picture of the village shop in Ampleforth which is still the heart of the community

When my dad was writing his column on 3rd November 1979, he voiced concern about the demise of the traditional English village.

The Association of County Councils (now the Local Government Association) had just published a report highlighting the problems of living in a rural area and, as my dad says, ‘the problems will increase in the near future, even to the extent of making village life as we know it a thing of the past.’

I never asked him whether he thought that prediction had come true, although it is fair to say that village life has changed dramatically over the last few decades. It may be that village life as he knew it became a thing of the past, but I would say that, like many things, it has evolved rather than been lost entirely.

I grew up in Ampleforth which was, and still is, a thriving community. In the 1970s we had a village ‘Spar’ shop, a post office that also sold sweets, groceries and homewares, a Co-op, a butcher, and a quirky footwear-cum-habadashery shop. They existed alongside the timber yard, coal merchants, two pubs and two garages.

Our friends’ dad, Oswald Thompson, known as Ossy, also ran a very traditional grocery shop, with a counter all the way round and all the products stacked on shelves behind it. You didn’t help yourself, but Ossy would pass you whatever you wanted to buy. He also provided a delivery service, and would shut every Wednesday afternoon to spend time delivering to his regular customers.

The shop was attached to his home, so when there were no customers, he would slip through to the living room and watch the telly. The shop door had a bell that tinkled every time someone walked in, so at the sound of the bell he would leap up to serve them.

I’m sure Ossy Thompson’s shop was dearly missed when it shut its doors for the final time sometime in the 1970s, but that kind of service was being superseded by the more modern supermarkets and convenience stores that allowed you to help yourself, touch the products and fill your own basket before paying.

But the value of Ossy Thompson’s store was so much more than the products it sold. It was a place where people would come and chat, and pass a few minutes of their day catching up on the local news and gossip while he handed the goods over. And no doubt on Wednesdays, he was a welcome sight to the elderly and less mobile village residents who could not walk down to buy their goods in person.

But time moves on, and along with that comes the inevitability of change. In the late 1970s, the first big supermarket, an Asda, opened not too far way from us in Huntington near, York, and like many other families, we began to frequent it, doing a ‘big shop’ once a month. Local shops just couldn’t compete on price and variety and over the years, many sadly closed down.

But there are those who have survived, and to do so, they have had to be very canny with what they offer with the focus very much on local produce. Today in Ampleforth, there is just one village shop which supplies almost everything you might need, including, grocery items, newspapers, stationery and booze. Having it is a real bonus for the community it serves, which these days stretches to those surrounding villages which no longer have their own shops.

I have noticed a trend away from the big supermarkets now though. Where I live, we have a few village shops where these days I do most of my shopping, preferring to make several trips there a week, rather than heading up to the huge Tesco just a couple of miles away. Although I pay more for individual products, and I have sacrificed the variety of choice, I buy less because I’m not tempted by things I don’t need and, more importantly to me, spend far less time actually doing the shopping.

Every time I do go into the big supermarket for some essential, I come out having spent far more money and time accumulating stuff I really don’t need. But with most of us becoming increasingly conscious about excess and waste, and more competition from budget shops like Lidl and Aldi, the large supermarkets cannot afford be complacent.

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

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 1st November and the Gazette & Herald on 30th October 2019

Bathed in glory

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Twyford’s unique bathroom tribute to the Queen for her silver jubilee in 1977
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The rather ugly gas fire in my home that sits where an open fire would have been

As I’m writing this, I’m looking out of the window and thinking that the weather is telling me very clearly that winter is on its way. The wind is hurrying leaves along the pavements, the clouds are hanging very dark and low, and the threat of rain seems ever present. It’s only 11am, and yet I’ve had to turn on the lights to see what I’m doing.

It’s the time of year when I begin to miss the real fire we used to have in our previous home. On days like this, there’s nothing more comforting than curling up in front of living flames. In my current house, in place of the once open hearth sits a rather ugly gas fire. I’m guessing the old fire was replaced in the 1960s or 1970s when it became commonplace and affordable to install boilers to heat water and radiators, and sometimes the unsightly boiler could be hidden in the chimney space behind an artificial fire on the front.

My dad talks about this topic in his column from 27th October 1979, when he mentions the regular power cuts that affected us in the 1970s. Country folk could rely on their oil lamps for light and their cooking ranges for warmth and food. But he also laments the fact that we had to remove our own cast iron range to make way for a modern new boiler.

It does make me cry a little inside when I think back. I have vague memories of that great big traditional range, which was clearly the heart of our 19th century cottage. But I remember the new white, rumbling boiler far better, as it symbolised the dawn of a more modern, heat-efficient age. It brought hot radiators to our bedrooms, and you had to love the big brute of a boiler for that fact alone.

In the 1970s, we didn’t have the same affection for the old, labour-intensive ways, or an appetite for preserving original features of aging homes. We chucked out anything that hinted of history and tradition to make way for modern and convenient. Why have original ceramic floor tiles when you could cover them over with easy-to-clean patterned lino? Who needed draughty wooden sash windows when God invented double glazing and uPVC? And why put up with heavy dust-riddled four-panelled doors with rattly brass knobs when you could have plain, lightweight Sapele mahogany veneers with easy-to-use lever handles that closed with a whisper rather than a clout?

And then you have the bathroom. White suites were so boring compared to such glorious colours as alpine blue, peach melba, harvest gold, and avocado green. And to keep up with the trend, the loo roll manufacturers produced toilet rolls in a whole range of hues that you’d be hard-pressed to find today. In fact, you could match all your bathroom accessories, like mats, soap dishes and toothbrush cups, to your chosen suite.

I used to work for the company that made Andrex loo roll back in the 1990s, and even then you could still get toilet tissue in yellow, pink, blue, green and peach. In fact, white was only just beginning to be popular again. Today though, the most exciting loo roll colour, apart from white, that I can find is ‘champagne’. I think they’re giving the loo roll ideas above its station with that name. Just ‘cream’ would suffice.

While researching this piece, I came across a blog about the history of the sanitaryware firm, Twyfords, and if you’re interested in revisiting the memories of those fantastic bathrooms of old, then it’s well worth a visit. According to the blog, Twyfords introduced coloured suites as far back as the 1930s and continued increasing its colour palette right up the 1990s.

In 1977 Queen Elizabeth II had been on the throne for 25 years and in a rather unique tribute, Twyford launched its ‘Queen Silver Jubilee’ bathroom suite, which included a huge corner bath, a large oval sink, a grand toilet and, to cap it all, that noble 1970s emblem of wealth and success  – a  bidet. The whole suite was in the rather unusual colour choice of ‘sepia’ brown. But what really set it apart was a distinctly regal flourish – a garland of golden vines weaving its way round each piece of porcelain.

I do wonder if the Queen was amused.

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

Let’s make it plain

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Me in the days when I had a ‘proper’ job as a journalist.

Back in the days when I had a proper job, I used to edit a staff magazine. I had to write articles, find pictures, and then design the whole lot using a desktop design package (Anyone remember good old ‘Aldus Pagemaker’?). I’d come from a local newspaper where, if you didn’t write in good, clear English, you’d be hauled before the news editor, told in no uncertain terms that you’d written a pile of poop, then get sent back to do it again.

So it was with this mindset that I entered the corporate world editing the internal magazine for a toilet paper manufacturer. As you can imagine, it was a whirl of never-ending glitz and glamour.

I never really struggled for content, as I had ‘newsgatherers’ based in all our locations scattered across the country, and they would send in articles and ideas for stories to be put into the magazine. The problem was, these people weren’t writers, but volunteered to do the news gathering on top of their own jobs. Although I was very grateful for them sending me content, unfortunately some of it was, well, how can I put it? Really, really boring. Oh, and very badly written too. You’d also get long, tedious articles about some new manufacturing process, or reams and reams of text about ‘company reorganisation’ written in a bizarre version of English that no-one who actually spoke English would ever understand

I remember one occasion when I was fairly new into the job and had called a newsgatherer at one of our sites to discuss editing what she’d sent me. She was something in HR, and possessed no self-doubt about the importance of her own role in the organisation. The effrontery of a minion such as myself daring to suggest changing anything in her literary masterpiece was simply outrageous.

So she gave me a proper dressing down, and ordered me not to touch a single full stop in her copy.

It didn’t occur to her that I was a professionally-trained writer doing the job I was paid to do, which was to take copy sent to me and turn it into plain English. I would not have dreamt of trying to prevent her doing the job she was employed to do, nor tell her how to do it. But she clearly thought she could write better than a professional writer.

That’s the funny thing about being a writer. Because most of the population can use a pen or a computer keyboard, then we all have the potential to be writers. But being a good writer is like most jobs, in that the skill comes with training and experience. I mean, I play a fair bit of tennis, but I’d never tell Andy Murray how to hold his racquet.

Translating a piece of complicated company jargon into something comprehensible is a particular skill and should not be underestimated. In my Dad’s column from 20th October 1979, he applauds the pressure being put on officialdom to simplify jargon so that its meaning is understood by the people it is trying to inform.

It was the same year that Chrissie Maher, frustrated with the lack of progress in simplifying communication, founded the Plain English Campaign with a fantastic publicity stunt. She shredded hundreds of gibberish-laden Government documents in Parliament Square, Westminster. She was approached by a police officer who ordered her to move on, using the wording of the antiquated 1839 Metropolitan Police Act. Once he had finished his long, drawn-out piece of legalese, Chrissie translated it into Plain English, saying: “Does that gobbledygook mean we have to go?”

On the Plain English website you can find some wonderful examples of meaningless, empty phrases used by people who want us to think they know what they are talking about (you know who you are!).

Try changing this into Plain English; ‘We need a more blue-sky approach to balanced relative paradigm shifts.’

Or how about ‘It’s time to revamp and reboot our synchronised monitored matrix approaches.’

Possibly some of the most famous users of gibberish are our beloved football managers and pundits, and courtesy of the Plain English Campaign’s ‘football gobbledygook generator’, I wonder if you can make sense of this little nugget:

‘We were over-reliant on our custodian once again and we got between the lines well and it’s still potential ‘phoenix-from-the-flames’ stuff.’

Good luck with that!

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

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 18th October and the Gazette & Herald on 16th October 2019

Keeping Robin at Bay

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A traditional image of Robin Hood
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Robin Hood’s Bay, whose narrow, cobbled streets were a haven for smugglers of old

One of the prettiest of our North Yorkshire coastal villages has to be Robin Hood’s Bay, with its jumble of houses perched right on the sea cliffs. From above, the higgledy-piggledy collection of red rooves offers a clue to the hidden maze of narrow cobbled streets which were a haven for smugglers of days gone by.

According to legend, pirates could shift huge quantities of goods from their boats up to the top of the cliffs without anyone seeing them at all, thanks to the labyrinth of alleyways and snickets that only those familiar with the area could navigate.

As my dad says in his column from 13th October 1979, there is debate as to whether Robin Hood even existed, never mind whether he actually visited the coastal village that bears his name. But according to local stories, it was one of his favourite hiding places.

Access from land is still pretty difficult, so you can imagine the struggle they had in the 13th century when Robin was said to be active. And of course, there was only sea on the other side, another substantial obstacle for any land-based pursuers!

Robin is said to have kept a boat always at the ready in the bay, should he have to depart in a hurry to find another hiding spot, possibly in one of the many coves dotting the coastline.

Robin Hood is also linked to Whitby Abbey, just five miles up the coast. Apparently, he was travelling with Little John and called upon the abbot for food and lodgings. They were very warmly welcomed and entertained the monks with tales of their exploits. The monks asked for a demonstration of their legendary archery skills, whereupon the two men were led to a high tower in the abbey which faced down the coast towards an area known as Whitby Laithes.

The men shot an arrow each, and the monks were astounded that they flew nearly one and a half miles through the air. The spots where each arrow hit the ground were marked with special stones, and the fields acquired the names ‘Robin Hood’s Field’, and ‘Little John’s Field’, which still exist today. The stones were first recorded in 1540, but had disappeared by 1881. Having said that, two modern replacements were erected, so the myth will continue to be told for many years to come.

One theory is that the character of Robin Hood was never a real person, but derived from another mythical personality, that of the forest imp, Robin Goodfellow, made famous to many generations of English Literature students as ‘Puck’ in Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.

Robin Hood, they believe, is a corruption of the words ‘Robin of the Wood’, or of ‘Robin Hob’ (‘Hob’ being short for ‘hobgoblin’). And if you’ve ever heard someone recount a funny story, or recap something that you both witnessed, then you’ll know how easy it is for details to change the more times the story is repeated, or become increasingly embellished with every retelling.

So it’s easy to imagine that in the days where entertainment involved sitting around a fire and swapping stories, that tales of the exploits of a character called Robin who lived in the woods could have ended up in the myth of Robin Hood.

But there are a number of real people who are contenders for the role, with records going back to the 12th century of men of that name or similar. For example, a 1226 court register from Yorkshire describes Robin Hood as a fugitive, and in 1354, there is a record of another Robin Hood awaiting trial in Northamptonshire. There are many other recorded references, and clearly they cannot all be the same person. In fact old English words like ‘Robehod’ and ‘Robunhod’ were tags commonly attached to criminals.

Having said that, the first of many literary mentions of the character occurs in a 14th century ballad, which talks about a violent leader of men who lived with his bandits in Sherwood Forest and regularly clashed with the Sheriff of Nottingham. These early literary references all assume that the original character was a real person.

What we do know is that Robin Hood originally had a reputation as a villain, but over time, and many, many retellings of his story, he became a hero fighting injustice and oppression.

Real or not, I know which version of Robin Hood I prefer.

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

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 11th October and the Gazette & Herald on 9th October 2019

I’m so over the moon

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Ripe crops in the fields near my home in August before they were gathered in
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The same fields after the crops were harvested in late September

On my dog walks, I’ve noticed just how busy our farming friends have been recently, gathering in the crops, baling up the straw, spreading the muck and ploughing the fields ready for the next cycle of planting. For the most part, the weather has been kind, allowing the crops to be gathered in the daytime without too much interference from rain. On occasional evenings though, I have seen vehicle lights glowing in the fields as they worked on well into the night.

The sophistication of agricultural machinery would be beyond all recognition to our forefathers, who would have had to rely on the light of the moon to illuminate the land as the nights drew in and daylight hours decreased.

And that is the reason that the big, bright moon we have at this time of year is nicknamed the ‘Harvest Moon’, as my dad explains in his column from 6th October 1979. In the days before accurate weather forecasting, if the crops were ripe at the same time as a spell of good weather, farmers would pull out all the stops to get them in before the weather broke, working well into the nights, and relying on the light of Harvest Moon.

But the official name for the October full moon is the ‘Hunter’s Moon’, so called because it was the best month to hunt for game animals fattened after a bountiful summer. They would be easier to spot once the fields were stripped of their crops, and hunters benefitted from the brighter-than-normal moonlight when tracking their prey.

At the start of the moon’s 29.5-day monthly journey around our planet, it sits directly between the earth and the sun. We can’t see this ‘new’ moon because the side facing us is in complete darkness. If you were standing on the far side of the moon, though, you would be bathed in sunlight.

As this cosmic sphere moves anti-clockwise around the earth, we get to see more of it as the sun’s rays fall upon its surface. So you’ll see a ‘crescent’ moon, then a ‘half’, then ‘three-quarters’ and so on, until half way through its journey, we reach a ‘full’ moon.

But these laymen’s terms do not reflect what is actually happening. A ‘full’ moon is really only half illuminated, as the side facing away from the sun stays in complete darkness. This might seem obvious, but I don’t think I’ve ever really sat down and thought about the mechanics of the moon’s phases, and its position in relation to the sun. And I can tell you, it has made my brain hurt trying to explain it in writing!

The moon’s exposure to the sun increases every day until it reaches its journey’s half way point, and this is known as the ‘waxing’ period, after which it enters the ‘waning’ period. Then, with every day that passes, less of the surface facing us is exposed to the sun, and at the end of the lunar month, it arrives back where it started, at its darkest point, to begin the journey all over again.

The Native Americans relied on the moon to keep time, and it is from them that we have the rather lovely names for each month’s full moon. January’s is called the ‘Wolf Moon’ after the howling of hungry wolves, whose food is sparse during the winter. February is ‘Snow Moon’ reflecting the wintriest of months. March is named after the worm, as spotting these creatures means the ground is thawing and spring is coming. April is known as ‘Pink’ thanks to a species of early blooming wildflower, and May is ‘Flower’, when the tree blossoms are at their most magnificent. June is ‘Strawberry’ after the ripening fruit, and July is ‘Buck’, as the male deer’s antlers have regrown after shedding. August is the ‘Sturgeon Moon’, so named thanks to the abundance of the fish, and September’s is the ‘Full Corn Moon’ reflecting the ripening harvest. This one and, as mentioned, October’s ‘Hunter’s Moon’, can both be called the ‘Harvest Moon’, depending on which of them falls the closest to the autumn equinox, which this year fell on 23rd September.

November is the ‘Beaver Moon’ after the increase in activity of the dam-building creature, and December is simply the ‘Cold Moon’, for obvious reasons.

After all that, I think I’ll head off for a Harvest Moon (that’s an apple and cinnamon cocktail, if you’re wondering!).

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

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 4th October and the Gazette & Herald on 2nd October 2019