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

Do you know your rights?

The rather wordy Harland family plaque in All Hallows Church, Sutton-on-the- Forest
All Hallows Church, Sutton-on-the-Forest  has a number of impressive  plaques droning the walls. 

The other day I had cause to visit All Hallows Church in the pretty village of Sutton-on-the-Forest near York and my attention was caught by a rather imposing and elaborate plaque on the wall next to me.

It was a memorial to a couple who had passed away and, apart from instantly knowing that it must be dedicated to a very important local family, the wording of the inscription caught my eye. It went like this:

‘Near this Place Are deposited the Remains of PHILIP HARLAND Esq. and ELIZABETH his Wife; Eminent Examples Of Conjugal and Parental Affection.
To perpetuate their own Gratitude And to do Justice to such Respectable Characters, Their two surviving Daughters ELIZABETH and ANNE Have erected this Monument.’ Then followed their parents’ ages (59 and 52) and dates of death (1766 and 1763).

Good grief, I thought, this couple obviously set the bar for marital perfection at quite a height! How can the rest of us ordinary folk possibly live up to that? Childishly, it also made me silently snigger, because for me, the word ‘conjugal’ instantly evoked images of sexually frustrated prisoners being allowed a brief rendezvous with their partner after months of enforced abstinence.

It is only in recent times that the word ‘conjugal’ inspires silly people like me to think primarily of the sexual relationship between two people, rather than the relationship between them as a whole. The word comes from the Latin ‘con’ meaning ‘together’ and ‘iugum’ meaning ‘yoke’, suggesting a couple who are formally joined together (‘Conjux’ means ‘spouse’). Today, as well as the term ‘conjugal visit’, we also refer to ‘conjugal bliss’, inspiring images of two people living together, to the exclusion of all others, in a state of perpetual contentment.

Of course, it is far from the truth, but when people pass away, we do have a tendency to gloss over the bad bits. Yes, there are many marriages that are successful, happy and long-lasting, but to suggest that they are in a permanent, unshakable state of utter bliss is, quite frankly, poppycock.

Every marriage has its ups and downs, its highs and lows. Maintaining a long-term relationship with the same person for years on end while life lobs its regular curveballs at you can be far from blissful, no matter how much you love each other. Maybe the best description for a partnership that stays the distance is ‘conjugal stamina’ rather than bliss.

There used to be such a thing as ‘conjugal rights’, where a husband could insist on sexual relations with his wife whether she wanted them or not. It stemmed from the days when women were considered the property of their husband the minute they tied the knot and ‘conjugal rights’ were part of that marriage contract. It astonished me to learn that as recently as 1991 it was not considered rape if a man forced himself upon his wife against her will. In a landmark case, a man had been convicted of raping his wife the previous year, but he appealed against the decision, citing that his conjugal rights as a husband meant he could have sex with her  even if she did not consent.

The ruling ultimately went to the House of Lords, and members rejected the husband’s appeal unanimously, stating: ‘Nowadays, it cannot seriously be maintained that by marriage a wife submits herself irrevocably to sexual intercourse in all circumstances.’ In the Sexual Offences Act 2003, the illegality of rape within marriage was explicitly laid out so that there could be no such debates in the future. Now, sex without consent is rape, whatever or wherever the situation. If convicted, you can be sentenced for between four and 14 years, depending on the circumstances. In certain situations, a life sentence can even be given.

Going back to the plaque that inspired me to write this, I had a wander around the church and there were several more, all featuring equally loquacious epitaphs extolling the endless qualities of the deceased.

It made me wonder whether, when my time draws near, that I should make it known that I will expect my sons to erect a similarly fancy plaque near my resting place that lists all my earthly virtues. I can imagine their responses, but as this is a respectable publication, it might not be the right place to reveal them.

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 20th and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 18th May 2022.

Reasons to be careful

This week sees the 13th of the month fall on a Friday. I’m not particularly superstitious, and yet I do experience mild hesitation when thinking about plans that involve that date. I would probably avoid arranging to travel or do anything else significant unless I absolutely have to. Just in case.

It surprised me to learn that this superstition is relatively modern, and there are no written references to it before the nineteenth century. One early suggestion comes in a biography of Italian composer Gioachino Rossini written in 1869 by Henry Sutherland Edwards who says that ‘If it be true that, like so many Italians, he regarded Fridays as an unlucky day and thirteen as an unlucky number, it is remarkable that on Friday 13th of November, he passed away.’

And then in 1907, American millionaire stockbroker Thomas W Lawson, who had a reputation for being superstitious, wrote the novel ‘Friday the Thirteenth’ in which the protagonist chooses that day to take revenge upon Wall Street. Lawson’s misgivings about the date were compounded when a boat bearing his name sank off the Isles of Scilly at around 1.15am UK time on 14th December 1907. With the time difference, in Boston where Lawson was living, it would have still been Friday the 13th for him. Some believe that it was Lawson’s book that triggered the fear associated with the 13th day of the month landing on a Friday.

But if this was the case, then you would have expected a mention in a 1910 book by T. Sharper Knowlson called ‘Origins of Popular Superstitions and Customs’, but there is nothing about it. Connecting bad luck with the number 13 does go back further, as do references to Friday being the unluckiest day of the week, but the two are rarely joined together before the early part of the 20th century.

Some would argue that it does go back much further, attributing it to the Christian belief that there were thirteen people at Jesus Christ’s last supper on Maundy Thursday. Judas is considered to be the unlucky 13th guest who betrayed Jesus to the authorities, sealing his fate to be crucified the next day, a Friday.

And yet, there are no early written references to Friday the 13th specifically being an inauspicious date. Just because we can’t find anything written down does not mean that it didn’t exist though – it could have just been a ‘word-of-mouth’ kind of fear. But conflicting with this is the fact that in the 17th century, the publication of almanacs became very popular. These were books containing information, folklore and superstitions relevant to every date in the year, and no mention of the unlucky Friday the 13th has ever been discovered. Before almanacs, scholarly types would keep diaries detailing their everyday lives and thoughts (Samuel Pepys being the most famous) and yet again, no reference to this unlucky date has ever been found.

So with all that in mind, I can’t be certain when or where this most famous of superstitions originated. And is it actually any more unlucky than any other date in the year? It could be said that it is rather unlucky for the economy as it has been proven that people travel less, spend less and party less on that particular date.

If the month starts on a Sunday, then the 13th will be a Friday and it can happen up to three times in one year. In 2022 there is only one, while in 2023 there will be two (January and October). The next time that three occur in the same year will be 2026. There are four notable unfortunate events that did occur on the date. On Friday 13th, 1307, King Philip IV of France ordered the mass arrest (and later, execution) of hundreds of members of the religious and military order, the Knights Templar, successfully disrupting their power and influence. On Friday 13th September 1940, the Germans bombed Buckingham Palace during World War II, and in November 1970, a cyclone killed 300,000 people in Bangladesh on that date. Then, in 1996, rapper Tupac Shakur was shot dead on Friday 13th September. But that is not a lot of significant events over so many hundreds of years, is it?

Do you think it is worth make any changes to your regular routine to minimise the risk of a calamity befalling you?

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 13th and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 11th May 2022.

Buckingham Palace was bombed during the Second World War on Friday 13th 1941.
Picture by Lucien Smith

Following the drill

The former St Andrew’s Drill Hall in York, now owned by hardware store Barnitt’s

The design and brickwork of the building is quite elaborate

The Latin inscription above the main entrance reads ‘Pro aris et focis’, which means ‘For home and hearth’

I’m writing this in the second week of the Easter school holidays, and we have been blessed with some very fine and warm weather. I had to go into York town centre today and on days like this, it is an absolute pleasure to walk around the city.

York has so much to look at as you wander around, buildings bursting with history and splendid architecture around every corner. I particularly like to go slightly off the beaten track, and find things that are not on the normal tourist trail. There are so many interesting curiosities to see down the back streets and alleys that you might otherwise miss. I believe there is a map online that leads you on a route around these less-explored snickleways.

One of the buildings that caught my eye on this occasion is on St Andrewgate. It is constructed of red bricks, with white brick details, and an impressive set of double doors in the centre. An elegant tiled mosaic sits in an arch above them, and arched windows either side run the length of the single-storey building. In the brickwork near the roof above it is a Latin inscription which reads ‘Pro aris et focis’, which means ‘For home and hearth’. It is quite appropriate, for the building is currently owned by well-known York hardware store, Barnitts, which acquired it in the 1990s.

I decided to find out more about this striking construction, and discovered that it is the former St Andrew’s drill hall, and is Grade II listed. It was built in 1872 and designed by architects Gould and Fisher to house the headquarters of the 1st West Yorkshire (York) Rifle Volunteers.

Drill halls became commonplace during the expansion of the British Empire in the mid-1800s. At that time, there was significant unrest around the globe and the authorities wanted to establish a volunteer force with military training that could be quickly mobilised should the need arise. Enforced enlisting had been abolished, but in 1859 voluntary service was opened up to the general public which proved very popular, attracting 160,000 men by the end of 1860. These recruits were expected to train for between 21 and 56 days during the summer, but the British weather did not always play ball which meant that it became necessary to provide appropriate places to train them all. Thus, when it became clear that town and village halls did not always have the correct facilities, or were simply too small, drill halls began to spring up to provide internal as well as external space for training.

Originally they were privately funded and, as in the case of St Andrew’s Hall, quality architects would be brought in to design them. Most were quite elaborate, and followed the Gothic Revival style that was fashionable in the mid-19th century. There were several requirements that every hall had to have alongside a large open space, including an administration block, which needed somewhere to securely store weapons, ammunition and supplies, a large open hall, often with an indoor target ranges and viewing balconies, and last of all, living quarters for the caretaker or drill sergeant.

Following the Regulation of Forces Act of 1871, the responsibility for the volunteer forces was switched from county lieutenants to the Secretary of State for War, and they began to be treated more like the regular army. In July 1914, the various voluntary units, comprising cavalry, infantry, artillery and engineers were amalgamated, ultimately becoming what is today the Territorial Army. After the outbreak of World War I, their numbers swelled from 268,000 volunteers to 720,000.

The oldest drill hall in the country is in Armoury Road, Selby, North Yorkshire. It was built in 1862 at a cost of £1,300. Like the one in York, it also follows the Gothic Revival style, and although the internal structure no longer contains all the elements of its original state, the exterior has been well preserved. The same applies to one in Sheffield, the Edmund Road drill hall, which was built in 1879 when the Tudor Revival had become more popular. When these halls fell out of use, many were either pulled down or converted into houses or flats, but thankfully for some, their architectural importance has been recognised and they have been listed so these unique and beautiful buildings will hopefully survive for many centuries more.

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 6th and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 4th May 2022.

A story that’s dead in the water?

The Lewis Creighton painting of Dead Man’s Pool near Beggar’s Bridge in Glaisdale, North Yorkshire

A salmon leaps out of the water in the corner above Creighton’s signature

Another of Creighton’s paintings on my aunt’s wall, this one of Beggar’s Bridge near Glaisdale, North Yorkshire

I was visiting my aunt in Pickering recently and remarked upon the several Lewis Creighton pictures on her wall. He was known as The Moorland Painter, thanks to his wonderful depictions of the North York Moors.

Creighton was a familiar feature of my childhood, in as much as my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, all had his paintings. My dad’s maternal grandparents ran the Anglers’ Rest pub in Glaisdale, and the family story goes that Creighton used to frequent the pub and would sometimes settle his tab with paintings. I have no idea if that is true, but we do seem to have accumulated a fair few of them.

You will still find pieces of his work for sale today and they fetch a few hundred pounds. I don’t understand why they are not more expensive, as some that are in our hands are very well done. He had a particular gift for mood, colour, light and shade.

One of the four on my aunt’s wall caught my eye, as it had a slightly different feel to the others. Instead of rugged moorland scenery, it illustrated the calm and serene waters of a river. My aunt explained that it was a spot called Dead Man’s Pool, which lies on the River Esk, not far from Beggar’s Bridge in Glaisdale.

From what I can gather, Dead Man’s Pool is a particularly deep section, and over the years has had a reputation for being a favourite place to catch salmon and brown trout. In fact, my ancestors, the Rheas, were instrumental in re-introducing salmon to the Esk, I think in the 1920s or 30s, after they had died out about a decade earlier. As I mentioned, my great grandfather, Thomas Rhea, ran a public house which was originally called Three Blast Furnaces after the local iron works. The works had closed down in 1875, yet fishing in the area was very popular, with people travelling from all over try their luck in the Esk. So in the 1930s, Thomas Rhea changed the name of the pub to Anglers’ Rest.

I asked my aunt if she knew how that part of the river got such a tragic name, and she said something along the lines of “People used to go up there to finish themselves off”! Of course, I then needed to find out more, and to discover whether what she was saying was true.

It turns out there is not a vast amount written about Dead Man’s Pool, but I did find an article in the Whitby Gazette from 30th October 1903 which described it as ‘the only salmon-anglers’ paradise in Yorkshire’.

The same piece goes on to say, ‘It is a piece of dead-looking water where three years ago an angler fished up a good boot from the bottom, the very boot, so ‘tis said, which was lost by the unfortunate person after whom this pool was named.’ But the writer does not elaborate further on the story.

I also came across a sad tale that happened a few years later, in 1906. Appearing in the Leeds and Yorkshire Mercury on June 1st of that year, it explained: ‘The unaccountable absence of Mr Wm Middleton, residing at the Anglers’ Quarters, Glaisdale, occasioned much anxiety to his relatives throughout Wednesday, and during the latter portion of the day, a search for him was instituted. This resulted in his body being found in Dead Man’s Pool, Arncliffe Woods, about eight o’clock in the evening.’

A report from the same day in the Whitby Gazette stated that Mr Middleton was a businessman from Stratford, London, who’d been staying with his brother-in-law, Edward Caygill, in Glaisdale for some weeks. At the inquest, Mr Caygill testified that something had been troubling Mr Middleton, but he could not say what, although on the night before his disappearance, he had been ‘as full of life as could be’. He had never threatened to take his own life. However, the jury returned a verdict of suicide by drowning while in an unsound state of mind. Records show that the pool was named many years before this event though.

Incidentally, during my search, I found that an oil painting of Dead Man’s Pool by a Mr & Mrs Lester Sutcliffe, sold for £7.7s in October 1897.

Anyone know how much that would be worth in today’s money?

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 29th April and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 27th April 2022.

My French Angel

Me (far left) on my first exchange to France in 1983 with Angeline (far right) and her little sister Magali in the middle.

We kept in touch all those years and met up again in 2007

The Garrault family were lovely, and meals times were often spent in fits of giggles

By the time we met up again in 2007, Angeline and I were both married with children.

When I was a teenager, I was offered the chance to welcome a French student into my home and Angeline Garrault came to stay with us for two weeks during the Easter holidays of 1982, with a view to me doing a return visit the following year.

These ‘exchanges’ were quite common, and always a risk, as there was no guarantee that the youngsters would get along. I’d heard plenty of stories of fallings-out and homesickness that had ruined the experience for all involved.

Thankfully, Angeline and I hit of off immediately. My French and her English weren’t up to much, but we muddled along thanks to the fact that we both seemed to have a similar sense of humour. We spent a lot of the time laughing.

What I didn’t realise at the time (and what my dad failed to mention) was that he had written about this visit in his column from 24th April 1982, and so it was a pleasant surprise when I came across it this week.

‘We have been honoured by the presence of a guest from France. She is a 14-year-old schoolgirl called Angeline from Sancerre, some 100 miles south of Paris,’ he wrote, ‘Much of the work of talking to Angeline and of showing her something of English life, has fallen onto the shoulders of my own 14-year-old daughter (me!), but the outcome is that they have become the firmest of friends, and each has learned a little more of the language of the other, something of a different way of life. For young ladies embarking on a busy life, that is a very good thing to do.’

What’s wonderful about reading this column now is that Dad reminds me of the things we did together, things I had completely forgotten. Angeline had brought with her some of the delicacies from her region, such as small rounds of goats cheese known as Crottin de Chavignol, after the tiny village from which they came. She also brought my parents several bottles of Sancerre wine (At the time I knew nothing about wine, and didn’t appreciate just how fine it was).

We took her to York and Harrogate, and she was delighted to see the newly opened International Conference Centre, which that year was to host the Eurovision Song Contest (on 24th April) after Buck’s Fizz had won the previous year with ‘Making Your Mind Up’ (Ah, the glory days! Now, we just wonder if we’ll be bottom or not!). We also took her to Kilburn to see the White Horse and the Mouseman furniture workshop, and, Dad adds: ‘It was interesting showing Angeline…the way we organise our lives so that the milk, the papers, the meat, the bread and other household necessities are delivered to the door and the way that rural folk in Yorkshire go about their daily lives’ (How things have changed!).

Angeline came from a rural part of France, and her parents were farmers. I remember more about my return trip the following year than I do about her visit here. It was the first time I’d been abroad without my family, so I was very worried about homesickness. But the Garraults were so warm and welcoming that I immediately felt at home. My most enduring memory is how much we all laughed. Every evening, the family would gather for the main meal of the day (Angeline had two sisters) and we never failed to end it in fits of giggles.

I recall one conversation around snoring, and her mum asked me if I snored. I replied, in French, that I didn’t know because I was asleep when I snored. The whole family exploded into hysterics, and soon there were tears streaming down our faces. I don’t know why it was so funny, or whether I’d unknowingly made a boob in French, but it was an absolutely joyous occasion.

We kept in touch for many years, and in 2007, I was able to go back to visit Angeline. By now, we were both married with children, and Angeline was a district nurse while her husband was a farmer. We returned to the house in which her parents still lived, and it was such a pleasure to see them once again.

I came away with several bottles of the finest Sancerre, but this time, I appreciated every single drop.

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 22nd April and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 20th April 2022.

Crossing the Bridge

I often cross Naburn Swing Bridge on my dog walks along the old York-Selby railway line
Naburn Swing Bridge looking north towards York
The swing bridge showing the control cabin on top and engine room underneath. This part of the bridge would open to allow boats through
A train crossing Naburn Swing Bridge
The rusty gear mechanism covered in ivy that we spotted by the path
The roller frame still in place in the former engine room below the bridge that would rotate to open it


There is a dog walking route that I do regularly. It follows the former York-Selby railway line and crosses the River Ouse via (what we call) The Iron Bridge, although its official name is Naburn Swing Bridge. Others refer to it as The Fisherman’s Bridge because a huge sculpture of a man with a rod and line sits on top of it. The four metre-high sculpture, which is entitled The Fisher of Dreams, is constructed from galvanised steel rods and was put in place in 2001.

We had chosen an alternative route that takes you below that bridge and had just passed underneath when my son pointed out a big iron gear mechanism camouflaged by ivy near the path. Only then were we reminded (despite the official name telling us this!) that at one time, the bridge would have swung open to allow large river vessels to pass through. The rusty old gear was a relic from that time.

It prompted me to look into the bridge’s past when I arrived back home, and I discovered that it was designed by the chief engineer of North Eastern Railways (NER), Thomas Elliot, in 1870. He was already a well-established engineer, and a contemporary of George and Robert Stephenson. One of his most famous achievements was the huge Skelton Viaduct that crosses the Ouse near Goole in the East Riding.

NER were looking to build a faster link between London and York, and they were proposing a new main line via Selby that would shave 10.5 miles (and around eleven minutes) off the existing route that went through Knottingley, near Leeds, but it would mean having to cross the Ouse. Their main rival, the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, objected, fearing they would lose substantial numbers of passengers using the existing line.

However, the plans were given the go-ahead, with the undertaking that the new bridge at Naburn would not impede the commercial water-based trade between Hull and York. Therefore Elliot was tasked with designing a crossing that could be opened to allow large boats through. Although the bridge was completed late, the route finally welcomed its first trains in January 1871.

Elliot had created a bridge with two wrought-iron bowstring spans, one 108 feet long and the other 180, with a supporting pillar placed where the two spans met. Only the longer portion of the bridge moved, and it was kept for the most part in an open position so river traffic could sail along freely. But when a train was approaching, the signalman, who surveyed the railway from a control cabin built on top of the bridge, would set the big crank shaft in motion. Powered by an hydraulic engine in a room below the bridge, the span would slowly begin to swing open.

Being a railway worker wasn’t without risk. On 8th September 1896, the mangled body of the Naburn signalman was found on the tracks. An inquiry concluded that he was walking to work along the railway, then stepped on to the other track when he saw a train coming, failing to realise that there was another one speeding the opposite way too. And during the National Rail Strike of 1911, the Naburn Bridge cabin was occupied by an angry mob who brought the East Coast Main Line to a standstill by refusing to close the bridge. The military were sent in to take back control.

As time went on, the amount of commercial river traffic decreased along with the size of craft using it, and so it was no longer necessary to leave the bridge open.

It might surprise you to learn that this track, unlike many others, was not condemned by Dr Beeching during his sweeping changes in the 1960s, but remained part of the busy East Coast Main Line right up until 1983. It was closed because Wistow Mine, part of the vast Selby Coalfield, opened that year, and the railway line ran right over the top of it. There were fears that activity beneath the ground would lead to subsidence and so the railway line was shifted west, and the part between York and Selby closed down.

The cycling charity Sustrans acquired the redundant trackbed in 1987 and turned it into one of their first ever motor-vehicle-free cycleways, forming part of Route 65 on the National Cycle Network.

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 15th April and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 13th April 2022.

Dare you grasp the nettle?

Nettles can be dangerous to dogs, but don’t sting when they are very young

We are now firmly en route to summer, and one of the more annoying aspects of the increase in plant growth is that stinging nettles are starting to shoot up and, as I am often walking dogs on countryside paths, they can be a bit of a nuisance.

I was out with a little Shorkie (a Yorkshire terrier crossed with a shitszu), and she kept stopping to lick her paw. So I picked her up to see what was wrong, and couldn’t find anything. No nails were split, and there were no thorns embedded in the pad. However, I did notice that there were some nettles just beginning to peep through the undergrowth and came to the conclusion that they must be the culprits.

I have since found out that indeed, over-exposure to stinging nettles can have very serious consequences for dogs. If they run back and forth through a patch, not only can they get stung, but they can also ingest poisonous chemicals thrown into the air by the disturbance.

Dogs with thick skins, lots of hair and tough paw pads and noses are unlikely to suffer much, but thinner-haired and thinner-skinned breeds can be prone to nettle poisonings, so it pays to be aware of the symptoms. These include furious licking of the affected area, and high agitation after just emerging from the nettle patch. There can also be swelling and redness around the stings, shaking, drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea and even breathing problems.

If your dog displays any of these symptoms, take them to the vet immediately. Deaths from nettle poisonings are very rare, but the vet will advise you on how to make your pet more comfortable until the irritation subsides. There are lots of suggestions for at-home remedies online, but I’m not in a position to know how well they work, if they work at all.

Although nasty little blighters, nettles are very clever pieces of engineering by Mother Nature. Their leaves and stems are covered in tiny hollow hairs called trichomes which contain poisonous chemicals in their very brittle tips. The slightest touch causes the tips to break off, and they act like medical syringes, attaching themselves to the invaders and injecting toxins into the skin. We all know how that feels, that the pain intensifies in the first moments after the incident, and can be felt for many hours afterwards.

Usually, where you find nettles, you also find dock leaves, and growing up, I was told that if you get stung by a nettle, rub the area with a dock leave and spittle. I do believe it works, in that it offers some relief, although I can’t say if it would work on a dog and would only try it on milder incidents of stinging. In the old days, you were supposed to recite a charm as you rubbed the affected area to guarantee that it worked:

‘Nettle in, dock out. Dock in, nettle out.
Nettle in, dock out. Dock rub nettle out.’

Some believed that if you placed a some nettles under a sick person’s pillow, that would predict if that person would live or die. Stay green, and the patient would recover. Go brown, and the Grim Reaper was waiting in the wings. Others believed it was bad luck to speak aloud of the medicinal qualities of nettles. To ensure their healing powers would work, they had to venture out to gather them only at midnight.

In my dad’s archive, I found a piece where he tells us that some people believed it was the Romans who introduced nettles into this country, although that is not actually true. What is true is that they brought plants with them on invasions as it was very useful and easy to grow. It was woven into clothing and a highly nutritious source of food, packed with vitamins and minerals, that could be quickly cooked in a similar way to spinach.

So it has been with us for many, many centuries, and judging by how many I see on my walks, I don’t think it is yet under any environmental threat.

In my dad’s article, he quotes this poem about nettles:
‘Tender-handed stroke the nettle, and it stings you for your pains.
Grasp it like a man of mettle, and it soft as silk remains.’

So who among you will dare to grasp the nettle?

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 8th April and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 6th April 2022.

Don’t fret, canny lad

A sea fret is known as a ‘roke’ in Yorkshire dialect. Pictures by Alastair Smith


I was having a chat with a lady from Lockton near Pickering who is a regular reader of my columns and she asked me if I had ever come across the dialect word ‘roke’. She’d heard it some years ago when a local man used it and she had to ask what it meant.

He told her that it referred to the mist that rolls in from the sea, otherwise called a sea fret or sea fog. A fret feels and looks different to your average fog, and can stubbornly hug the coastline, leaving it dark and damp, while the rest of us are basking in blazing sunshine. It occurs when warm air drifts over a cold sea, and it thus cools down and condenses, creating the fog. If it is a calm day, the fret will likely remain hanging over the water, but if the right breeze is blowing, it will be pushed onshore, and sometimes even further inland. Frets can last for a few hours, or a few days, depending on the ground temperature, the strength of the wind, and the heat of the sun.

Frets can appear very suddenly, and reduce visibility substantially, which is why sailors have to be well prepared to ensure they don’t get disorientated when it descends.

According to my dad’s Yorkshire dialect dictionary, it can also be spelled ‘rawk’, and a second meaning is a line or scratch, such as you might find on a piece of furniture. ‘Rawky’ means cold, damp and misty, while ‘muck-rawk’ refers to a dirty line or tide mark, the like of which you might see on someone’s neck showing the limit of where they have washed.

I have visited the Netherlands many times and know that the Dutch word for smoke is ‘rook’ (pronounced like roke) and its origins likely lie in the Old Norse term ‘roka’ meaning fine spray or whirlwind. Indeed, the word ‘reek’, meaning ‘stink’, is a relative, as is the first syllable of the Icelandic capital ‘Reykjavik’, which means ‘Bay of Smoke’.

There are a number of words and names used along the East Coast of England that are very similar to modern Dutch. It is little surprise, bearing in mind the country’s history as a seafaring nation, and us being the first land they would come to if they set sail in a westerly direction. In our seaside towns you often see the word ‘strand’ used in various ways. In Dutch, the ‘strand’ is the beach. My sister used to live in Bournemouth, and she would frequent a restaurant with stunning ocean views housed in a building called ‘The Overstrand’, the translation from the Dutch being ‘on the beach’.

In many of our communities you will also find an ‘Outgang Road’ or ‘Outgang Lane’. In Dutch ‘outgang’ (uitgang) means ‘exit’ and invariably, if you follow these streets, they will lead you away from town.

In my dad’s column from 3rd April 1982, he talks about another dialect word, ‘canny’, and its various uses. It is commonly associated with Tyneside rather than North Yorkshire, but it was (and still is) spoken here. It is uttered in many contexts and your meaning is conveyed by your tone of voice and facial expression, and depending on that it can mean nice, kind, clever, funny, careful, cunning, or even deceitful.

Calling someone a “canny lad” with a warm smile on your face is a compliment. But exclaiming “Why you canny little tyke!” with a frown is rather less so. It could also be used to rate a piece of work: “Thoo’s made a canny job ‘o that!”, or to warn someone to be careful if it is a tricky task: “Tak care to be a bit canny wi’ that.”

It can also be used to to signify your approval when a choice is involved. For example: “Aye, that’s a canny spot for a picnic.” Or to signify you’ve enjoyed something: “Eee, that were a canny pint ‘o beer.”

Even though we think of it as a dialect word, it does have an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary where it is defined firstly as ‘Shrewd, especially in financial or business matters’, then secondly as ‘pleasant, nice’. It suggests it originated in 16th century Scotland, derived from the word ‘can’, now more commonly spelled ‘ken’, which means ‘know’.

I must say, I’ve had a canny time writing this piece!

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 1st April and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 30th March 2022.

To market to market

Easingwold Market was bustling with locals

The stalls at Easingwold Market sold high quality products

I bought some fresh eggs from this couple, who also made chutneys and pickles from their own produce

This week, I was passing through the town of Easingwold on market day and as I had a bit of time to kill, I decided to stop and wander around the stalls.

An array of local producers were offering freshly baked breads, cakes, cheeses, free-range eggs, home-made relishes, fruit, veg, fish, olives, exotic delicacies, clothing and eco-friendly products. It all looked to be of excellent quality.

I got chatting to the couple on the stall selling eggs, and asked about the range of pickles and chutneys also on offer. I learned that the gentlemen grew the vegetables himself, and his wife pickled them and put them into jars to sell.

In this age of convenience, with supermarkets stocking just about everything you need, it was encouraging to see the market busy, the local population supporting these small independent businesses. I bought a dozen free-range eggs, and then moved towards the eco-friendly stall.

I want to find a kinder, yet effective, alternative to some of the products I regularly use and this stall had huge containers full of liquids, and you bring along a reusable container that they fill for you (they do have spares if you turn up empty-handed). I bought a large bottle of laundry detergent, and a pack of dishwasher tablets.

I am a little sceptical as to whether they will be as effective at cleaning as my usual earth-damaging, skin-irritating versions. I did try quite a famous eco brand when my kids were younger, but it wasn’t very good at removing stains. The chap on the stall assured me that things have improved since then, and that I should have a far better experience today. I will let you know how I get on!

When you visit a small town or village market, you do get a real sense of community. If you stand and watch for a bit, you’ll see people stopping and asking after one-another’s welfare, others sending a cheery greeting as they pass. You don’t get much of that in your local Tesco. I felt that same sense of community yesterday when I attended a funeral in my home village. The lady who had died was a family friend who was very well loved, as demonstrated by the amount of people who attended.

I still call it my ‘home’ village, even though I haven’t lived there for more than 30 years, and it’s at occasions such as this that you see people you haven’t seen for an age, and yet you instantly know them. Having grown up in the same place, you have a common bond that eternally connects you. There was a man who was a regular at a local pub where I was a barmaid when I was 20-odd, and whom I haven’t seen since (By ‘eck , we could tell each other a few tales about the things that went on in that place, but what went on in the pub, stayed in the pub!).

Then there was the mum of a primary school friend of mine, who was there with her other daughter, again neither of whom I had seen for decades. And there was the lad with whom I used to be best friends when I was about five. Back then we boldly told our parents that we would be getting married when we grew up. But as we went through school, it became clear that it wasn’t done to have playmates of the opposite sex. The other kids would tease that we were ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’ and the eight-year-old us found that just too crushingly embarrassing.

By the time my primary school years were drawing to a close, I was glad to be going to the same all-girl convent school as my sisters. That was until my parents informed me that my year would be the first that they would accept boys. I cried. I was even more upset when I found out that of the three classes in my year there would be one all-female class, and I wasn’t in it.

Fast-forward a few more years, my attitude to boys turned full circle again, and our class had earned the reputation for being one of the coolest. Our badge of honour was that we were the first in the school’s 400-year history to get a whole class detention. Well done boys and girls!

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 25th and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 23rd March 2022.