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A Howdenshire home transformed on a budget

Words by Heather Dixon

Pictures by Dave Burton

Nothing is quite what it seems in Sue Holliday’s cosy two-bedroom cottage near Howden. Look a little closer and her home takes on a theatrical quality thanks to her ability to upcycle and reinvent.

The shelf in the sitting room is half a chair; a set of coat hooks on the wall is actually the tailgate off a lorry and the stylish bathroom toiletries unit is made from timber cast-offs. 

Husband Greg is also adept at reworking furniture – so much so that it’s hard to tell which items are original and which have been modified. Yet their combined skill in finding new uses for items other people might throw away has saved them a small fortune. It has also given their home a truly eclectic style.

’We are both avid collectors of all sorts of things, from glassware and tins to fabrics, wood and furniture,’ says Sue. ‘We spend our weekends looking around car boot sales and antique fairs for bargains, then giving them a new lease of life. Neither of us like to see things go to waste if they can be loved and appreciated. It’s really satisfying to rescue a discarded piece of furniture and turn it into something useful and beautiful.’

They first spotted the property when they were out walking and enquired about renting it for a while until they could find a more permanent home.

‘It had nothing inside – just a cooker and shelf in the kitchen and an old red tiled floor in the dining room,’ recalls Sue. ‘We just loved the original features and its location and decided to move in. We had to buy kitchen units because it was literally just a shell.’

Their short term plans turned into a 20-year stay, during which time they decorated and installed new bathroom fittings.

‘We saved up and gradually  spruced it up, and made it our home, but we always felt a bit restricted because it wasn’t ours,’ says Sue. ‘There were cupboards we wanted to take out and changes we dreamed of making, but we didn’t want to invest our time and money in someone else’s property.’

Their patience, however, paid off. The owner eventually decided to sell the cottage and gave Sue and Greg first refusal.

‘We jumped at the chance. We loved living here and this meant we could finally make it our own.’

Sue and Greg replastered the walls, laid wooden floors, removed old fashioned fitted cupboards, hung new doors and put in a chimney breast and fireplace ready for a Suffolk farmhouse cast iron rang.

‘I bought it online and it was delivered in the back of a van,’ recalls Sue. ‘It was far too heavy for myself and the van driver to lift into the house, so I called on  two neighbours to help us carry into the dining room.

‘We literally shuffled it into the fireplace,’ recalls Sue. ‘It was a perfect fit and I love it. It’s in fabulous condition.’

The house began to evolve in a way which reflected Sue’s love of painted furniture and Greg’s passion for wood. 

‘He was worked with wood all his life,’ says Sue. ‘He is always making things, reinventing and creating. We generally go shopping together and rarely come home empty handed. We like the same things and often see potential in something that someone else wouldn’t give a second glance. We rarely keep things the same as when we bought them – they are re-worked, adapted or painted, and often completely transformed.’

As a result the house has evolved – and continues to evolve – as Sue and Greg  bring home bargains and salvaged furniture which they do up to keep themselves, or sell at fairs across the country.

‘Sometimes I have to be really strong and not buy something because we haven’t got room, but there is always space for the smaller things that turn a house into a home. I like things to have a memory and a meaning attached to them. Everything in the house has a story attached to it,’ says Sue. 

 The couple have even rescued unwanted furniture from skips. The pelmet in the dining room was destined for the tip when Sue spotted it and asked the owner if they could have it.

‘Most people are happy that someone else can find good use for something they no longer want,’ says Sue. ‘We don’t want our home to be the same as anyone else’s and this way we make everything individual and personal.’

Sue and Greg’s appreciation of anything with history or of sentimental value is already rubbing off on their sons Sam and Joe.

‘Sam recently got his own house and he has already asked us to do up one or two things for him,’ says Sue. ‘They both like the idea of creating a lovely place to live on a budget. You don’t have to spend a fortune to create a beautiful home.’

All aboard!

When word reached us of a Howdenshire property with its own train line running through the garden, we assumed that it must be a model railway. How wrong we were! 

When we visited Elizabeth Shutt’s home near Wressle, we were greeted with a standard gauge – that’s full size – working railway line, complete with an engine and carriages. The East Wressle and Brind Railway, as it’s officially known, is one eighth of a mile long and even has a level crossing, a platform, waiting room and an engine shed! 

It’s modelled on the network of branch line railways that were built up and down the country by Colonel Holman Fred Stephens during the early part of the 20th century. The ambitious project was the work of Elizabeth’s late husband Colin Shutt, who was inspired to create it after building a replica of the Ford rail buses that would once have transported passengers along Colonel Stephens’ lines.

Elizabeth explained: “After building the rail bus for a competition, Colin thought ‘what can I do with it?’, so, he built the railway around the garden! He had to apply for planning permission, then he and a friend built the engine shed. 

“Although the rail bus has since been donated to the Colonel Stephens Railway Museum at Tenterden in Kent, we have a Ruston 48DS diesel locomotive and various other rolling stock, which is in the process of being restored.”

Colin first came up with the idea in 2004 and worked on the project right up until his death in February 2016. Since then, a number of his friends have given up their free time to ensure that the project continues, visiting each week to maintain the line and give the locomotive a run out. They’re currently busy restoring an old goods carriage and creating the façade of a station master’s house, complete with a porch and cottage-style garden, in the end of an old outbuilding, in keeping with Colin’s vision for the site.

David Bancroft, Colin’s former business partner, explained: “We’re all friends of Colin’s and, because we’re retired, we come here most Thursdays. There were others involved too in the early days.

“The Ruston shunter dates back to the early 1950s and had been supplied new to a firm in Leicester, where it had been used to pull aggregrates from the main line to their works. Elizabeth bought it for Colin for his birthday one year, but he had to pay the delivery costs, which ended up being more than the cost of the engine!”

Cousins Gerald and David Christian became involved after spotting the railway line in Elizabeth’s garden through a gap it the hedge and stopping to chat to Colin about it. David lives at Laytham, but Gerald travels from Mirfield in West Yorkshire each week to work on the project. 

He said: “We come to do maintenance, but we have lots of fun. Recently, we completed the level crossing that Colin has started making and we’ve got the old coal truck to restore next. That’s our project for this winter; it came from the Derwent Valley Railway.”

In a strange coincidence, after they began working together on railway line – originally alongside Colin – the men realised that they’d all grown up in Horsforth near Leeds, although they didn’t know one another in those days.  If anything, it was their shared passion for engineering that brought them together. Before they retired, David Bancroft and Colin ran an engineering company together in Leeds; Gerald was a mechanic at Kirkstall Forge; and David Christian was a buildings surveyor for Selby District Council. It seems fitting that the group of friends have continued to work together to enhance and preserve Colin’s wonderful legacy.

  • Although, the East Wressle and Brind Railway is not open to the public, it has hosted visits from interested parties, including The Branch Line Society, the Railway Ramblers and a bus trip organised by local company Thornes Motor Services.

 

The wildlife artist of the Wolds

The floor-to-ceiling window in Robert Fuller’s studio frames an unspoilt view of the bird feeders in his garden, the hedgerows that he planted to attract wildlife and the green dale beyond. When I arrive, the celebrated wildlife artist is putting the finishing touches to a painting of a male kestrel and informs me that his subject is a frequent visitor to the garden. In fact, Robert has been watching the same family of kestrels for several years and they’ve become so used to him that he’s able to sit just ten metres away as they feed. 

Robert explains: “A lot of time is spent getting the subjects into the right location, especially with the owls and kestrels; it could take months or even years. The kestrels I’ve been painting have lived in the garden since 2008 and I feed them every day on day old chicks – they’re cockerels that come from the egg laying industry – and mice. I think a lot of people don’t realise that the subjects of my paintings are often birds that I know well.”

Typically, Robert will take a huge number of photographs of his subjects, often at high speed to capture every movement, before starting work on a new painting. He goes to great lengths to attract wildlife to his property so that he can study it up close; there are 14 cameras trained on different locations, including the residence of a family of stoats and a number of nest sites. Robert has also created several hides from which he can watch and photograph wildlife. 

The artist lives and works in an idyllic former farmhouse near the village of Thixendale in North Yorkshire, together with his wife Victoria and their young daughters Lily and Ruby. It’s just a stone’s throw from Givendale, the village where he grew up, and, since moving there in 1998, he has planted 1,200 trees and more than 500 metres of hedgerow, as well as digging several ponds. He has also erected countless nest boxes and has a daily feeding routine for both garden birds and birds of prey, explaining: “Some people don’t want certain birds in their garden but if I feed the tawny owls, kestrels and sparrow hawks they’re not doing damage to the other species.”

For Robert, adding a spacious purpose-built studio to the family home four years ago was one of many high points of a career that has enabled him to travel the world. It’s not bad going for someone who openly admits that he struggled at school and was eventually diagnosed with dyslexia. 

He said: “My mum was a teacher and she really used to try with me but I had no interest. I only developed my reading and writing skills as an adult when I had children of my own.”

Uninspired by school, Robert found solace in sketching and painting wildlife, and admits that his parents were probably ‘relieved’ when the full extent of his talents became apparent. 

Robert credits his father, Richard, with instilling a love of wildlife and conservation in him from a young age, adding: “At a time when people were still ripping out hedgerows, my father, a beef farmer, was planting them, as well as digging ponds for wildlife. He was a keen conservationist and very much ahead of his time.”

When Robert left school shortly before his 16th Birthday, York College of Art and Technology beckoned. From there, he headed on to Carmarthen College to complete a more specialist course in wildlife illustration. At the ripe old age of 18, he made his first commercial sales to staff at Chester Zoo, where he’d worked during the summer, and was soon earning a regular income from his work. 

He recalls: “I sold £1,200 worth of paintings to people working at Chester Zoo the day I left college, which bought me half a car!”

In 1992, Robert exhibited for the first time and, since then, his paintings have appeared in galleries worldwide, including the prestigious Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris and the Tryon Gallery in London. Painting has given Robert the chance to travel extensively; he’s been to Africa on many occasions, as well as the Galapagos Islands, Antarctica, India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. These days, Robert’s family accompany him on his trips abroad, and his young daughters already share his passion for wildlife and adventure. He laughs: “Lily has already snorkelled with sharks; in fact she’s always one of the most confident in those situations!”

Although Robert counts Africa as one of his favourite destinations because of the sheer wealth and diversity of wildlife that can be seen there, it’s the creatures of the Yorkshire Wolds that inspire him most, particularly the owls and kestrels. He works in either acrylic or oil paints, first creating the background and then gradually adding the detail, and also produces bronze sculptures. The walls of Robert’s studio are lined with images of wildlife that he has photographed around the world, which provide the inspiration for his artworks. Although Robert’s family home is very much off the beaten track, the adjoining gallery and shop attracts a steady stream of visitors all year round and his original artworks now sell for thousands of pounds. Yet, despite such acclaim and commercial success, Robert is clearly happiest when pottering around Thixendale feeding, watching, photographing and painting the many wild species that he’s happy to share this particularly beautiful corner of the Yorkshire Wolds with.

The fascinating tale of Joshua Barrett of Snaith

By local historian Susan Butler

Ever since J K Rowling featured mandrake root in her Harry Potter books, most people have heard of it. In her stories, mandrake roots are depicted as having the appearance of human babies with leaves growing out of their head. When they are removed from the ground their cry is fatal to anyone who hears it.

In fact, the mandrake plant has been used since ancient times as a medicinal plant and was traditionally associated with magical activities. The root can be up to eighteen inches long and often resembles a human figure. For centuries it has been used as a painkiller and a sedative and, when rubbed onto the skin, was said to help cure rheumatism. But what connection does the mandrake plant have with our local history? 

In late Victorian times, Mr Joshua Barrett and two of his sons moved to Snaith from London. Joshua was a farmer’s son from Bluntisham near St Ives. He was originally a commercial traveller selling lace but, in the 1880s, he went into business producing and selling his ‘Barrett’s Mandrake Embrocation’, which he said would cure ‘Headache, Earache, and Toothache instantly … also Sprains, Sciatica, Lumbago, Gout, Neuralgia, Chilblains and Bronchitis’.

Joshua also made other products, such as Mandrake Liver Powders and Mandrake Tonic. He probably used English mandrake, sometimes known as white bryony, and grew it on his family farm. Joshua mainly sold his ‘cures’ at fairs and shows, and advertised in newspapers.

In the 1890s, Joshua moved into a house on Gowdall Lane, which he promptly named Mandrake House – it still bears the name. His wife remained in London.

Many years later, in 1993, a book named Fragments out of Time was published; it was a lightly disguised account of life in Snaith (renamed Priors Ings in the book). The author was the former Sadie Nash, writing under the pen name of Sarah E. Francis.

Sadie lived in Mandrake House from the 1930s onwards with her younger brother, John, and parents, John and Sarah. Her father had come to Snaith before the war as the chauffeur to Mr and Mrs Roderick Shearburn of Snaith Hall and had fallen in love with Sarah Fairbairn. After the war he worked as a chauffeur in Pittsburgh, USA for a director of the steelworks there and earned enough money to come home, get married and buy a piece of land on which he erected the garage near Carlton Bridge.

In her book, Sadie describes how ‘in the early part of the year many people took their Sunday walk down Gowhill [Gowdall] lane and stopped to peer over the hedge of Owd Mandrake’s garden. There in the middle of the lawn, picked out in yellow and purple crocuses, was the shape of a drake’s body with a man’s head wearing a top hat. Owd Mandrake himself was an impressive figure in his striped trousers, frock coat and top hat. He wore a tea rose in his button hole and his thick white beard was neatly trimmed.’

She also writes of the visit by Harold Barrett from Australia. He was Owd Mandrake’s son. Harold explained he and his brother were at boarding school (probably the school at Drax), but, during the holidays, were looked after by the housekeeper, Martha, who was a ‘real tartar’ and kept a diary of their misdemeanours, which she read to their father every evening.

Harold also described how his father, Joshua, made ‘the elixir of life’ from the mandrake roots which grew in the garden. He brewed his medicine in a workshop in the orchard. Harold said his father was living proof of the efficacy of the medicine as he drank bottles of it himself.

Joshua Barrett eventually left Snaith just after the war and moved to Blackpool. There he married his housekeeper, Martha, and, again, named his new house Mandrake House. He died in 1931.

Sadie’s book (still available online) is an evocative look at Snaith. Before moving to Mandrake House, her family lived in the middle of the town. She writes of the High Street being full of stalls on market days which were ‘lit at night by flaring naptha jets’ and how the fogs in November were so bad that two people meeting in the street could only just recognise each other in the pool of light thrown down by the mantle of the gas lights.

She also writes of the Snaith clog sole mill (now a brewery premises) which supplied clogs all over the country. A particularly large number were bought by Lancashire cotton mill workers as the wooden soles were waterproof. 

Before the First World War, the timber for the mill, mainly beech or alder, was brought up the River Aire by boat. Later it arrived on large articulated lorries. The air was often full of sawdust around the mill, which ran six days a week and employed many local people. Those living in the town would set their clocks by the clog mill buzzer, rather than rely on the ‘fickle church clock’.

Perhaps the most interesting chapter is about how Snaith was affected by the terrible floods of 1947. Mandrake House was flooded up to the first floor and Sadie, her mother and elderly uncle had to be carried by her young brother through the rapidly rising waters to the nearby railway cottage.

People stood at street corners ‘watching the water ebb and flow past the clog mill’. The army brought amphibious ‘ducks’ in but they were apparently useless in the narrow streets and one had its bottom ripped out when it ran over a submerged car.

Sadie’s brother and a friend made a raft and sailed back to Mandrake House to rescue their chickens by chopping a hole though the shed roof with an axe and lifting the birds out into a tea chest. 

The family were able to return home after a month, and the house and furniture dried out during the hot summer which followed.

 

Scrummy summer eating

Katie Taylor is undoubtedly best known to most Howdenshire Magazine readers as the owner of Drewton’s Farm Shop near South Cave. A passionate champion of locally-sourced food and drink, Katie also loves cooking and entertaining. Several years ago, she wrote a recipe book – By George…it’s Scrummy: The Country Cookbook – to help raise funds for The Leeds Teaching Hospital’s Lymphoedema Service. It’s a charity close to Katie’s heart because her son, George, suffers from the condition. Here, she shares some of her favourite summer recipes from the book: 

Baked pesto salmon

Serves four.

Ingredients:

50g basil leaves
150g pine nuts, toasted – see below.
One lemon
50g grated parmesan
100ml olive oil
Balsamic glaze
Salt and pepper
50g breadcrumbs 

Four salmon fillets

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 190°C (gas mark 5).
In a food processor, quickly blend the basil leaves, toasted pine nuts, the zest of the lemon, parmesan, a generous slug of olive oil and a drizzle of balsamic glaze. You should have a nice thick chunky paste. If it looks too dry, then add some more oil.

Place the salmon in an oven dish, spread the pesto over the top of each fillet and sprinkle a generous covering of breadcrumbs over the tops. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, until the salmon is cooked and the breadcrumbs are golden.

Serve with new potatoes, seasonal vegetables and a wedge of lemon.

Scrummy tip: To toast the pine nuts, simply dry fry them over a low heat, turning to lightly brown all sides. This makes such a difference to the flavour of the pesto.
 

Pesto pasta

Ingredients:

250g penne pasta (or any other dried pasta)
150g pine nuts
100ml olive oil
50g parmesan
50g fresh basil leaves
One clove garlic
One tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

Method:

Cook the pasta in boiling water for a good five minutes, until al dente, and then run under a cold tap to cool it. Overcooked pasta is useless for this refreshing cold pasta dish!

Dry fry the pine nuts in a pan until they are golden in colour (as per the previous recipe). Place in a food processor and roughly chop them, adding the parmesan, basil and garlic until you have a rough dry paste. Stir in the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and seasoning and add to the cooled pasta, tossing it until the pasta is totally covered.

Scrummy tip: A superb accompaniment to any buffet of barbecue as a cold dish. This pesto sauce can also be stirred into hot pasta for a warm dish, sprinkled with parmesan shavings.

 

Coronation chicken

Serves four.

Ingredients:

Four chicken breasts
One tablespoon olive oil
50ml water
Salt and pepper
300g mayonnaise
One teaspoon grainy mustard
One teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
One teaspoon dried thyme
One teaspoon paprika
50g flaked almonds
100g sultanas
400g tin cubed pineapple, drained
400g tin sliced mango, peaches or apricots, drained
20g fresh chives, chopped
Six spring onions, chopped
One lemon
Two teaspoons medium curry powder.

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 190°C (gas mark 5).

Put the chicken, oil, water and seasoning in an oven dish and cook in the oven for half an hour. Lift the chicken out onto a board and cool thoroughly.

Mix all the other ingredients in a mixing bowl along with the zest and juice of the lemon. Slice and add the chicken once cool and mix well.

Scrummy tip: I love this dish cold with salad, but it easily adapts to a warm dish simply by putting the mixture in an oven dish, adding a breadcrumb topping and baking for 30 minutes.

 

Summer Fruits with white chocolate sauce

Serves four.

Ingredients:

400g frozen summer berries
300ml double cream
70g packet of white chocolate buttons
One vanilla pod.

 

Method:

When you’re ready to serve your pudding, evenly line your dishes or plates with the frozen fruit.

In a saucepan, gently heat the cream and chocolate buttons. Scrape in some seeds from the vanilla pod and stir until the chocolate has melted and you have a hot, thick sauce. Pour into a warmed jug and serve to your guests at the table, pouring the sauce over the fruit. The heat will defrost the fruit and give a hot and cold twist to an easy-to-make, attractive pudding.

Scrummy tip: If the fruit is particularly large, you may need to let it stand a few minutes to defrost slightly before serving.

 

Paris-Brest and pots of summer trifle with a bit of mother’s ruin!

Blogger and lifestyle writer Donna Holland, who originates from Howden but is currently living overseas, shares some of her favourite, seasonal recipes:

Paris–Brest 

If you’ve been to France, you’ll no doubt have seen this; the most famous of French desserts! A real showstopper, the Paris–Brest comes out on special occasions and holidays, in fact pretty much for any celebration since its invention in 1910! I realise not everyone will want to bother making choux pastry, but, if you’ve made profiteroles before, you’ll know it’s not that difficult! The fabulous thing about the ring shape is that you can fill it with anything really, which is great during the summer months when there’s an abundance of berries. You can fill it with a traditional French mousseline cream or just fresh cream. I like to add a little tartness in the form of a good dollop of lemon curd, then fill with vanilla cream – it’s not too sweet – and bang in a ton of strawberries or raspberries! 

P.S. You can add sliced almonds and hazelnuts to the top for added crunch! 

Enjoy

Donna x 

Choux pastry

Ingredients:

  • 70g of milk.
  • 70g of water. 
  • One inch of salt.
  • 60g unsalted butter.
  • 90g fine bread flour.
  • Three eggs (no more than 150g in weight in total).

Method: 

  • Bring the milk, water, salt and butter to the boil. 
  • Make sure the butter is fully melted before reaching boiling point. 
  • Remove from the heat and add the flour immediately. 
  • Stir with a wooden spoon and then return to the heat and beat the dough with the spoon. 
  • Keep doing this for a few minutes to dry the dough out a bit. 
  • It should come away from the sides of the pan easily. 
  • Transfer the dough to a clean bowl and rest for five minutes.
  • Now add the eggs and stir in, one at a time. 
  • Once all the egg is combined and the batter is shiny and firm, transfer it to your piping bag. 
  • Draw a circle on your parchment paper and turn the paper over. 
  • Pipe the outer ring and then continue inwards, piping one more ring, making sure the joins are not in the same place. 
  • Then pipe one on its own the same size as the first ring. 
  • Bush lightly with egg wash. 
  • Bake at 170 degrees Celsius for 40 to 45 minutes. 
  • Let it cool now. 
  • Slice the bigger ring in half horizontally, carefully. 
  • Place the smaller ring inside the bottom half of the big ring.

Cream filling

 Whip together the following:

  • 450mls of whipping cream.
  • Two teaspoons of vanilla extract.
  • 20g of icing sugar (more if you want).

 Method:

  • Pipe your cream on the bottom half using a medium sized tip. 
  • You can add another layer of cream to gain height. 
  • Fill with the fruit or berries of your choice. 
  • Sprinkle with icing sugar.

Pots of summer trifle with a bit of mother’s ruin! 

The Paris Brest is a bit of a faff, so here’s something a little less demanding but just as delicious for your summer gatherings. You can cheat all the way with this one! Or, if you are like me, you’ll be #homemade all the way! Either way, the outcome is the same; I won’t judge, I promise! 

Donna x 

Serves eight in small glasses.

 

Ingredients:

Four madeleines or use any plain sponge or lady fingers. 

One glass of your favourite botanical gin and tonic to pour over the sponge. 

120mls of vanilla custard. 

One teaspoon of finely chopped pistachios.

20g of white chocolate chips. 

100g of fresh raspberries. 

Two ripe peaches, sliced, or used tinned. 

1One tablespoon of raspberry compote or coulis. 

Eight meringue kisses (See the www.humbletartkitchen.com for my recipe).

 

To make the mascarpone mix, whisk together:

200g of mascarpone. 

50mls of whipping cream 

20g of icing sugar 

Two teaspoons of vanilla extract. 

 

How to:

This is more of an assembly job than a recipe! 

So, do that and enjoy! 

 

The Howdenshire farm offering lessons in self-reliance

When Di Hammill’s three children were younger she spent several years living completely off-grid in a remote dale in the North York Moors. There was no TV in the house and the family would collect firewood, forage for food and bathe in the river. Di would even line her children’s Wellington boots with the fur of rabbits that had been killed on the roads.

At the time Di was a single mum and admits: “It was very lonely and isolated, but I wanted to get as back to nature as I could and take the kids of away from popular culture to let them develop in their own way.”

Ten years on, Di and her children, who are now teenagers, are living a much more conventional existence here in Howdenshire. Di rents a former farmhouse close to the village of East Cottingwith, which has become the headquarters for The Wild Harvest School of Self-Reliance, a business venture inspired by the years the family spent living a totally self-sufficient lifestyle.

Di explains: “My kids are normal teenagers now, it wouldn’t have been fair of me to impose that lifestyle on them as they got older but they do say that the values asserted in our childhood come back to us; they certainly did with me. It’s true as my daughter can make pretty much anything.”

It was Di’s own childhood that equipped her with her fierce independence and steely determination, together with a ‘make and mend’ approach and a raft of practical skills, such as the ability to make traditional remedies from plants. 

She was raised by her father and grandfather but acknowledges that she pretty much brought herself up, explaining: “I was given to my Dad in a custody battle, which was rare in the 1970s. He was a single dad and a hippy. I was brought up by him and my Grandfather, who both expected me to become self-reliant from a young age; they’d kind of forget about me at times, each thinking the other was looking out for me. They even taught me how to break into the house when they’d accidentally locked me out! I wouldn’t change anything though; I’ve seen friends who had it all – two loving parents – and they’re weak as anything!”

Di continues: “If Dad wanted something, he would grow or make it, we had a very simple life. When I had my kids I started to see notice how everything is farmed out; we’ve become deskilled as women. Once we’d have cooked everything from scratch and known what plants to treat our kids with when they were ill. I wanted my kids to have these skills, and be quite tough and self-disciplined.”

She adds proudly: “They are pretty tough; they’re never ill!”

Keen to share what she’s learned with others, Di began running wild food walks showing people how to forage for ingredients and self-sufficiency workshops. 

She explained: “I was already working as a teacher and some of my skills, such as willow weaving, are self-taught, but I wanted to reskill myself so I went on loads of courses, usually with the kids!”

The Wild Harvest School of Self-Reliance really took off when Di moved to Boundary Farm near East Cottingwith following a spell living York and working as a teacher. She has established a network of self-sufficiency experts who she can call upon to run different courses, covering everything from bee keeping and wild medicine to an introduction to permaculture.

Boundary Farm’s old foldyard and brick outbuildings make a charming setting for the day courses that Di runs and she can now offer craft retreat weekends, with accommodation provided in a series of white tipis with wonderful views of the Howdenshire countryside. 

With a camp fire and quirky outdoor kitchen, not to mention the family’s Silkie hens and pet dogs roaming freely among borders stocked with herbs and medicinal plants, the farm is restful and creative environment for people looking to escape the rat race for a weekend or those who simply want learn some new skills.

The retreats are proving particularly popular with hen parties, who jump at the chance to try their hand at a wide variety activities during their stay – everything from making rag rugs, candles or bath bombs to willow weaving and archery. Di is keen to demonstrate that self-sufficiency ‘can be an urban concept’, rather than an exclusively rural way of life, and she regularly stages wild food walks in the centre of York, which have attracted students from as far afield as France. She’s an in-demand speaker at events nationwide and hosts workshops as part of the annual Country Living Fairs in Harrogate and London.

Like the mother, Di’s children can turn their hands to almost anything. The family grow their most of their own vegetables and Di has an apothecary stocked with remedies made from wild plants. 

Although she admits that she’s not such a ‘purist’ now her children are older because she doesn’t want deprive them of the typical trappings of teenage life, such as shop bought hygiene and beauty products and iPads, her mission remains the same; to empower people to provide for themselves and their families using the natural resources around them. 

  • For more information about day courses and craft retreats at the Wild Harvest School of Self-Reliance, visit www.wildharvest.org.

 

Recipes to relish

Recipes from some of Yorkshire’s finest chefs feature in a book entitled Relish North East and Yorkshire Volume 3.

Published by Relish Publications, the beautiful, hard-backed book profiles some of the region’s top restaurants and the chefs who run them, but also includes a starter, a main course and a dessert recipe from each of the eateries featured.

The Pipe and Glass at South Dalton and The Westwood at Beverley are among the restaurants featured, and we’ve chosen a recipe from each of them to whet your appetites.

 The Westwood’s loin of Fallow deer, red cabbage, roasted cereal and grains, brassicas, game jus, blackberries.

Serves four.

Wine to enjoy with it: Botrosecco, Le Mortelle, Antinori 2015, Tuscany (Italy).

Ingredients:

Red cabbage purée

90g butter 

1 shallot (sliced)

500g red cabbage (thinly sliced)

500ml water 

160ml dry red wine

160ml port 

160ml red wine vinegar 

1 tbsp caster sugar 

70ml chicken stock

Salt and white pepper

 

Roasted cereal and grains

45g coarse oatmeal 

12g sunflower seeds

5g pumpkin seeds

¼ tsp mixed spice

10g soft brown sugar

½ tsp Maldon sea salt

12g golden syrup

 2 tsp honey

1 tsp sunflower oil

 

Game Jus

2 tbsp redcurrant jelly 

1 litre game stock

500ml red wine

200g tin chopped tomatoes

 

Loin of Fallow deer

1kg fallow deer loin (larder trimmed) 

Salt and pepper

Butter (knob of) 

Rapeseed oil (drizzle of)

 

To Serve

200g turnip (sliced)

Chicken stock

500g kale

 

Garnish

1 punnet blackberries

Red chicory leaves

 

Method:

For the red cabbage purée

Heat two-thirds of the butter in a large pan over a medium heat until foaming but not browned. Add the shallot and sweat until soft. Stir in the cabbage and cook for five minutes. Season with salt. Add just enough water to cover the cabbage, then place a lid on the pan. Turn the heat to low and cook the cabbage until very soft – for about 40 minutes. When the water has nearly evaporated, add the wine and port, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the liquid until the pan is nearly dry. Add the vinegar and sugar, reduce until almost dry. Transfer the mixture to a blender and purée on high until smooth. Add the remaining butter and stock. Blend until emulsified. Pass through a fine sieve. Season with salt and white pepper.

 

For the roasted cereal and grains

Preheat the oven to 160ºC. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Heat the honey, syrup and sunflower oil in a pan, then pour the hot liquid over the dry ingredients and mix well. Place on an oven tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake for 25 minutes, stirring every five minutes for an even colour. This can be made days in advance; store in an airtight container.

 

For the game jus

Combine the ingredients in a pan and reduce to 500ml. Pass through a fine sieve and set aside.

 

For the loin of Fallow deer

Preheat the oven to 180ºC.

Cut the loin into four portions. Season and sear on both sides for two minutes in rapeseed oil and butter. Transfer to the oven for five minutes, then leave to rest for six minutes.

 

Chef’s Tip: Buy the fallow deer from a quality, high street butcher. Wild is preferred, however farmed is a good alternative.

 

To Serve: Blanch the turnip in chicken stock until tender. Sauté the kale and gently warm the cabbage purée. 

 

The Pipe and Glass’ dark chocolate honeycomb bites

Ingredients:

75g honey

540g sugar

5 tbsp water

20g bicarbonate of soda

300g good quality dark chocolate buttons (54% minimum)

Large tray (lined with greaseproof paper)

Silicone mat

 

Method:

Put the honey, sugar and water into a deep pan (it needs to be deep as the mix will bubble up to the top) and bring to the boil. Continue boiling until the mix turns light golden in colour. Remove from the heat and immediately whisk in the bicarbonate of soda – this is when the mix will really bubble up. Pour onto the prepared tray and allow to cool. When cool, break into bite-sized pieces by tapping with the heel of a knife. Melt 200g of the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water. Remove from the heat and add the other 100g of chocolate, stir to melt. While the chocolate is still runny, dip and coat the pieces of honeycomb in it, then lay onto some greaseproof paper or a silicone mat and allow to set. At the Pipe and Glass, we serve these as a garnish with our cinder toffee ice cream, which has been on the menu since day one and is always a firm favourite with our customers!

Chef’s tip: When the mix turns light golden in colour, speed is of the essence; remove from the heat immediately and add the bicarbonate to prevent overcooking.

Relish North East and Yorkshire Volume 3 is on sale from all of the participating restaurants, leading Waterstones stores and online at Amazon and the Relish Publications website: www.relishpublications.co.uk.

 

Follow the trail

To borrow a line from the famous song, ‘if you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise…’

A truly magical and memorable experience awaits visitors to Northwood Trail, a new family-friendly attraction located in an ancient 100-acre wood near Buttercrambe in North Yorkshire.

Billed as a ‘fairy sanctuary’, the Northwood Trail draws on the wood’s fascinating history and links with Professor Harvey John Howland, an eminent Victorian ‘fairy collector, researcher and fellow of the New Society of Arcane Natural History’, who made Northwood his home. The society based there was a little-known organisation with high-profile connections to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood group of English painters and poets, and well as the New England Transcendentalists, an influential group of  writers, critics, philosophers, theologians and social reformers.

In 2008, many of Professor Howland’s writings, journals and sketches were found locked away in an abandoned woodshed, alongside his important collection of fairy antiquities. Professor Howland is known to have corresponded with both the illustrator Arthur Rackham and the writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, both of whom are believed to have visited Northwood.

In 1847 Professor Howland wrote: “The woodlands of Yorkshire are brimming with a hundred different sorts of faerie races, both noble and otherwise; and while some of them could be said to be as mad as their southern cousins; none would call them frivolous”. 

Many of the fairy tree houses and homes in the wood had fallen into disrepair but – with the blessing of the fairies, of course – they have been restored, and it’s old fairy pathways have been reopened. The trail begins on Professor Howland’s Ride, where visitors will spot many of the original fairy doors on the trees. You can buy a copy of an exquisite hand-drawn map to guide you along the winding woodland paths, which have whimsical names that are sure to set imaginations running wild, such as Giant’s Road, Plato’s Shadows and The Slumbering. The trail leads you through a maze called The Trapping, via bridges and archways, and on towards The Chamber of Truth and Justice, where the King and Queen of the Wood Elves are said to hold their court, and Titania’s Garden, a simple outdoor play area that encourages children to build dens, climb and explore.

Along the way, you’ll spot the fairy hamlet at Spider Tree Snicket, where the tree houses are connected by bridges and walkways, and a mushroom fairy ring that has been completely repaired based on sketches of the original, which was built on the same spot in 1852. Throughout the whole experience, you’re in the heart of beautiful woodland made up of oaks, pines, firs and birch, and the air is full of birdsong from the 200 different species that live in the wood. Yet more magic awaits in the charming little Fairy Museum at the end of the trail, although I won’t spoil the lovely surprise tucked away behind what look like cupboard doors. The homemade cakes in the cosy Northwood Kitchen are delicious too.

If it sounds twee, it really isn’t! It’s well thought out and beautifully-styled, with care taken to ensure that every inch of the attraction is in harmony with its picturesque setting. If you’re expecting an all-singing, all-dancing Disney-style experience, Northwood Trail is not the place for you. It’s good, old-fashioned outdoor adventure that encourages children to use their imagination and spend time in nature.

We were accompanied on our visit by two seven-year-old girls, one of whom announced as we pulled up in the car park that she didn’t ‘believe in fairies’ and didn’t ‘want to walk’. Just a few minutes later, she was whooping with delight at the sight of fairy doors in the trees and running ahead of us up the path desperate to see more. Both girls were completely engrossed in the wonderful story told by the map, which features little anecdotes that help to explain the relevance of the places along the trail, and also full of excitement wondering what they’d find next. If we’re honest, we loved it just as much as the children and are looking forward to visiting again later in the year, either to see the wood in its autumn glory or to sit by the woodburning stove in Northwood Kitchen with a hot chocolate on a crisp winter day.

Meet the family behind The Northwood Trail

The Northwood Trail is the latest attraction from Christian and Carolyn Van Outersterp, the couple who are widely credited with getting us all hooked on the concept of glamping after they launched Jollydays, the luxury campsite located next to Northwood Trail, back in 2008. In 2017, the family established a second site near Sancton; North Star Club offers ultra-stylish, log cabin accommodation set in the largest wood in East Yorkshire.

Like both Jollydays and North Star Club, Northwood Trail bears all the hallmarks of the couple’s immense skill and expertise in design and project management. Christian originally trained as a landscape architect and Carolyn worked in fashion but, together, they previously ran an award-winning fireplace business, which won them a coveted design medal from HRH Prince Charles and led to their iconic fire bowl being exhibited at London’s Victoria And Albert Museum. After Carolyn gave birth to the couple’s four children – Alto, Galatea, Midori and Angel – the demands of their London-based design business became too much and they began thinking about business ideas that would be better suited to family life.

Carolyn said: “We’re both passionate about Yorkshire as we each have many happy childhood memories of time spent here and it’s our adopted home. We decided it was the place that we wanted to bring up our family. Our businesses have enhanced family life; they’ve been fantastic places for the children to hang out at weekends and they all get jobs to do. They have a strong work ethic; it’s good for them to have time in nature and to encourage their independence.”

As well as underpinning the way the Van Outersterps have brought up their own children, this same ethos applies to the visitor experience at their attractions. 

Carolyn added: “Northwood’s hundred-acre wood is very close to this family’s heart: they have always loved this magical woodland and, appalled by the quality of children’s attractions, wanted to create a natural experience that appealed to adults and children equally. 

“We’ve always disliked the patronising of children, from the youngest ages our kids always hated anything overtly ‘childish’; who says all kids love bright colours and naff cartoon characters? In our experience, children have a huge capacity to appreciate nature, beauty and intricacy.”

The couple’s eldest daughter Galatea, a writer and illustrator, has a formidable knowledge of the history and culture of Northwood. She has acquired a substantial library of writings on fairy folklore and uncovered the forgotten history of what really is a remarkable place. 

For more information, visit www.northwoodtrail.co.uk.

 

Giving nature a foothold

It’s almost eight years since the last crop of barley was harvested from a ten-hectare arable near Riccall that forms part of the Escrick Park Estate. Since then, Three Hagges Woodmeadow, as it is now known, has become one of the most important wildlife habitats in the Howdenshire area. But what, you may ask, is a wood-meadow and why is it so important? Lucy Oates visited the site with Rosalind Forbes Adam, whose family have owned the land for the last 350 years, to find out more:

Wood-meadows were widespread throughout Europe prior to and during the medieval period, but this unique ecosystem has largely disappeared. With so few forested areas left in England today, it’s easy to forget that ancient wildwood was the natural landscape across much of the country from the time of the last Ice Age and we were, in fact, a forest people. Although the ancient wildwood was vast, there were spaces within the canopy and it was the combination of light, dark and shade found at the forest’s edge that created the all-important wood-meadow habitat. Woodsmen, who cyclically cleared small areas of the forest for fuel, were key to preserving this unique ecosystem and it’s no coincidence that the Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterfly was once known as the ‘Woodsman’s Friend’.

Rosalind Forbes Adam, who is a trustee of the Wood Meadow Trust that was set up in 2015 to manage Three Hagges Woodmeadow, explained: “We had two key objectives when making the wood-meadow; we wanted to create and manage the site for the benefit of nature and the recovery of biodiversity, but we also wanted to use it for education.”

In 2015, Bodgers’ Den – a traditional shelter made of materials found in the woodland – was created to provide a base for school visits and volunteer events. ‘Spotter sheets’ can be downloaded from the website (www.woodmeadowtrust.org.uk) to enable visitors to the site to identify and tick off the different plants and wildlife species found there as they see them.

Ros continued: “We’re very lucky to have a fantastic team of people, many of them volunteers, who monitor and record the butterflies, mammals, snakes, bats, moths and the botany we have here. We believe in open data, which means sharing the information we gather with anyone who is interested. 

“On average, each new plant species will bring four of five different species of wildlife to the site, but for some plants that’s as many as 150!”

After the barley was harvested during the summer of 2012, 10,000 native trees and shrubs were planted. A unique, native seed mix gathered from the flood meadows of the nearby Derwent Ings was sown and the Hebridean sheep that graze the land for several months of the year helped to ‘tread’ this in. Paths are mown through the woodland to create grassy ‘rides’; areas of open space where a wide variety of wildlife and plantlife thrives. The site includes areas of both wet and dry meadow, as well as a pond frequented by dragonflies and damselflies, and a bee hotel. 

Nick Hall of Butterfly Conservation Yorkshire is one of the many volunteers who works closely with Rosalind to monitor the species visiting Three Hagges Woodmeadow.

He explained it’s significance: “It’s one of the best places to see butterflies in Yorkshire because so much life happens on the edge of woodland.

“Every county should have wood-meadows to bring people closer to nature. They really help people to connect with butterflies and make them relevant.”

Nick describes the site as ‘a dream in July’, when it’s ‘a blaze of flowers and buzz of insects’, adding: “We’ve recorded 24 different butterfly species there, including Brimstones, which are ‘harbingers of spring’ and are said to have put the ‘butter’ into the word butterfly because of their pale yellow colour. You can also see Meadow Browns, Common Blues, Small Coppers and Marbled Whites.”

  • Three Hagges Wood Meadow is open to the public, free of charge, all year round. For more information or to download the ‘spotter sheets’, visit www.woodmeadowtrust.org.uk.

What’s in a name?

Three Hagges Woodmeadow takes its unusual name from the old Norse word for an area of woodland that has been ear-marked for cutting, or coppicing. Maps of the Escrick Park Estate dating back to 1600 show a number of plots with names based on different variations on the word, including Rickall Hagge, Child Haggs and Helm Hag, which are a legacy of the Vikings who famously settled in this part of Yorkshire.  Rather fittingly, the term ‘hag’ or ‘hagi’ can also be used to refer to a pasture or enclosure. Although the modern definition of the word ‘hag’ has less pleasant connotations, it’s thought to be a corruption of the original word for soothsayer, a term once applied to the wise women of a village. The name Three Hagges Woodmeadow is, therefore, also a nod to the three wise women who first set out to create it.