Thursday, 15 September 2016

more sightseeing

We have seen too many things since I last blogged to list them all in the title, for Tristam Shandy-like my life is unfolding faster than I can write about it.  So I will see how far I get this evening, before I get fed up or it's supper time.

Monday's first wildlife sighting came before we had even left the cottage, as there was a wren flitting about on the shrubby honeysuckle outside the kitchen window.  Our first stop was Thorp Perrow arboretum, which I have long wanted to see.  It is supposed to be one of the best collections of trees in England, and covers eighty-five acres, including a pinetum planted in Victorian times when seed of many north American species was first introduced, and a collection started by the present owner's grandfather in the 1930s.  Thorp Perrow turned out to be wonderful, with all sorts of nice and interesting trees and shrubs and a very tranquil atmosphere, and one of the best garden guide books I have ever bought.  Rather than putting nice printed name labels on their trees, which tend to get stolen by visitors who would like a record of something's name and haven't remembered to bring pen or paper to write them down (one hopes the rise of the camera phone is gradually putting an end to this particularly annoying practice) the Thorp Perrow trees have numbers.  The guide book lists all the numbers (or at least everything planted up to 2014) with name, family, planting date where known and region of origin listed against every number, then a list of species in the arboretum at the back of the guide grouped by genus.  And it included data on soil types in different parts of the arboretum, plus annual rainfall and hours of sunshine.  And it will serve as a reference guide to what has successfully grown for how long in the relatively testing conditions of north Yorkshire.

And the tea shop was nice.  I liked Thorp Perrow very much, but eventually had reluctantly to admit that I was not going to be able to inspect every tree personally in the course of one visit.  By way of seeing a completely different way of playing with trees in a designed landscape, we went on to Hackfall Wood, somewhere else I've been aware of and wanted to see for years.  Hackfall Wood is interesting on two counts: it is an ancient woodland, and in the eighteenth century was used as the basis for creating a landscape garden of follies and eyecatchers.  After a period of neglect and decline in the twentieth century it was rescued, the Woodland Trust acquiring the site and a garden trust being formed to take care of the buildings, which are now Grade I listed.

The wood sits in a steep valley with a stream romantically tinkling down it, occasionally helped to tinkle better by some artful stonework.  Ferns thrive in the damp air and the trunks of fallen trees periodically span the little gorge, the older ones themselves fringed with more ferns.  All is extremely picturesque, and having not looked properly at the Ordnance Survey map before our walk it came as a complete surprise to me when suddenly the view opened to reveal the valley dropping down below us to a substantial river, the Ure.  It was all very, very pretty.  The newish car park at the Masham end is not very big, and in high season must be rammed: a Monday afternoon in mid September is probably a better time to visit.  The view from the car park is stunning, across the top end of Wensleydale and right over to the vale of York and north York moors.

From Hackfall we returned to Richmond and a third approach to the designed landscape in the form of a town garden belonging to Millgate House.  I think I read about it on the Richmond town website, and saw that it had received glowing reviews from all sorts of people and clutches of awards.  Ever curious about gardens, it seemed worth a visit when it was right on our doorstep and only two pounds fifty to get in.  Reader, it was superb.  If we'd driven quite a long way with the main purpose of seeing it I wouldn't have felt cheated.  The houses in Millgate present a continuous facade, and you reach the garden by opening a door with a notice on it instructing you to open the door and go down the passageway, the first part of which leads through someone's house.  Both sides of the passageway are planted with ferns and roses.  There is an honesty box for your two pound fifties.  You turn through an opening in the wall and suddenly you are in the garden.

And what a garden.  It is not very big, and sits on quite a steep slope, parts of which are terraced. There are no lawns, just narrow paths and plants.  The back of Millgate House extends further down the hill than its neighbours, so that from the garden you have no sense of being overlooked except by Millgate House itself, which is a grand Georgian building with yet more plants tumbling from the first floor balcony.  There are roses, clematis, hydrangeas, ferns, hostas, cheerful self seeding wanderers like Welsh poppies, phlox and all sorts of flowers growing into and around and through each other.  There are topiarised hollies and box, and at least two magnolias, and clipped yews, and I found a choice little daphne unexpectedly plopped down in one densely packed bed.  There are cheerful frilly fuschias in pots and little pots of succulents.  There is a trough with water trickling into it from a wall spout, and lots and lots of places to sit down.  It is absolutely superb, deeply atmospheric, and horticulture of the highest order.  You could not ask somebody who didn't know quite a lot about plants to do anything to help you in that garden.  Taste and judgement ooze out of every cranny.

And then we walked around the outside of the castle, but did not have time to go in because although the castle was open until six, we had put ourselves in a short stay car park with a maximum of two hours and our ticket was due to expire well before then.

Tuesday was earmarked for the North York Moors Railway, since it was forecast to be hot and we thought we might as well be sitting down on a train looking at the scenery rather than walking miles in the boiling heat.  We got on at the Grosmont end, and were initially intimidated by the number of people wanting to get on with us, and the number of people already on the train who had got on at Whitby.  According to the Systems Administrator there was some concern within the railway when they began to extend to service to Whitby, since the track from Grosmont to Whitby is part of Network Rail, and they have to pay a hefty access fee and have network accredited drivers to cover that stretch.  But the enthusiasts for going to Whitby believed that it would boost the railway linking it to a main tourist destination like Whitby, and they seem to be right.  We did get seats, and after the first stop we managed to bag window seats when some people got off, but the NYMR seems to be doing very well.  It is the most heavily used preserved steam railway in the country, with 350,000 visitors a year, and even on a weekday in mid September they had five different locomotives in steam.  A few years ago you'd only have seen that at a gala weekend.

One of the locomotives was a rare freight engine, and another was an American design shipped over here in the last war by the US army, so the Systems Administrator was happy to have seen some unusual locomotives.  I have said it before but when the SA and I look at a steam train we don't see the same thing.  So on the steep hill leaving Grosmont as the engine struggled to keep moving the SA knew that it was not short of steam because a fine mist of rain had fallen past the windows, a sign that the boiler safety valve had opened to release excess pressure, ergo it had full pressure.  I hadn't noticed.  At Grosmont are the engineering sheds, where we saw one of the engines that had been working earlier standing over an inspection pit while a man hit part of it a lot of times with a hammer.  Then the rare American engine arrived, and we thought first that it was going to take on coal and then that its insides were going to be raked over, but instead a man advanced on it with another hammer.

From Grosmont we went to Saltburn-by-the-Sea, which we'd been thinking of doing before thinking of going to Whitby, and then almost going to an ironstone mining museum, which would have been a case of Saltburn doing itself out of two tourists, since we read about the museum on Saltburn's website and it is not at all close to Saltburn.  The last minute return to Plan A was prompted partly by the fear that Whitby would be absolutely jam packed with tourists, and indeed there weren't many spaces in the car park at Saltburn.  Saltburn-by-the-Sea was built as a tourist resort by the railway company, so our visit followed on very nicely from Sunday's trip to the Darlington railway museum, but the biggest draw was the funicular cliff railway, as featured by Michael Portillo and John Sergeant (and apparently in an episode of Inspector George Gently, but we never watched beyond the pilot episode).

The cliff railway has two cars, one going up and one down, and uses water to adjust their relative weights.  We were pleased and surprised to discover it running on a weekday, since the website had made it sound as though it might only be running at weekends, but it was not only running but extremely busy.  The man in charge of letting us on at the bottom told us that this had been their best and busiest season ever.  It would not in fact be very hard work to walk up from the beach to the town as long as you were in normal health, since it's only a hundred and twenty feet, but the cliff railway is very fine, with stained glass windows in the two cars and a splendid Victorian waiting room at its foot.  The town centre is laid out on a grid, being planned, with fine tall Victorian houses and guest houses near the sea front, some with cast iron, glass topped canopies stretching out over the pavement in front of them like those at Llandudno.  The former railway station, now redeveloped for bijou retail use, is in the Italianate style.  There is an Italian garden towards the back of the old town, tucked down in a valley with a promenade walk leading back to the sea front.  Finding the Italian garden was the only point where Saltburn's tourist infrastructure let us down, as the previously frequent town maps petered out in one done to a different scale that didn't show the garden, while the next information board we found after that had no maps, just photographs of three buildings none of which we could see from where we were standing.

Back at the seaside, Saltburn has a pier, the most northerly public pier in England.  It is not very big, but once you've passed through an unobtrusive amusement arcade at the landward end the rest of the pier is wonderfully uncluttered, with nothing but happy people walking about or fishing.  I discovered afterwards that we'd been lucky with our tides, because it was surrounded by water as we walked to the end, exclaiming at how clear the sea was compared with the gloop of the Thames estuary, but when I saw it on breakfast TV as a backdrop to the weather presenter it was standing surrounded by golden sand.  Which is very nice, but a pier should let you out over the water.  The beach at Saltburn is vast.  It must stretch for miles up the coast, and as I discovered at low tide it goes out a long way as well.  The promenade is refreshingly uncluttered by advertising signs, stalls with plastic merchandise or other tat, and the general effect is more Southwold than Clacton-on-Sea.  The locals don't seem to mind not having the chance to buy a plastic windmill or ice cream every six yards: the beach was good and busy with folk of all ages.  According to the waiter in the Indian restaurant we went to the following day, Saltburn-by-the-Sea has always been nice.

And that has caught me up one day so I'm only two days behind, and is more than enough for one evening.

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