2003 was the year that Mars hung bright and orange in the sky during late summer and autumn. It was the year England won the Rugby World Cup. The year York Minster found it necessary to charge for admission. Richmond in the North Riding was cited as the best place in Britain to find a single man; there are apparently 53% more men than women there – don’t all rush at once. In France the Garden Gnome Liberation Front left 84 stolen gnomes outside a cathedral; a banner read: ‘Free at last’. In 2003 the Princess in Rawdon closed for 3 months, I got a speeding fine in Hull for just breaking the speed limit and the Company I work for was taken over by an American corporation. My elder son started learning to drive and I learnt the meaning of fear. Just another year in the progress of the world. Just another chapter in my life.


Just before Christmas 2003 my wife and I met 14 friends (one-time colleagues of mine – well, the husbands were) for the week-end at the Black Swan in Helmsley in the North Riding. For the record, the service was excellent, the food very good and the price reasonable given that it is an up-market hotel. Helmsley looked lovely. It was sunny and cold, Christmas decorations lit the market square, behind which the castle looms, and the shops were busy. There is a rather fine deli/grocer’s, an interesting second-hand bookshop and plenty of cafes and gift shops. In the evening after dinner we played silly games like charades, took advantage of good wines and laughed a lot. A lovely place to spend a week-end.

The Yorkshire Flag

A farmer in Sproxton made the national news when he found himself in trouble with Ryedale Council for flying a Yorkshire flag on his property. It was, claimed the Council officials who unfortunately had nothing better to do, advertising and therefore illegal. Quite what it was advertising is unclear. Apparently, unless you obtain a licence, you can fly a flag of any country but not of a county. What nonsense. In America state flags are proudly flown everywhere. In Cornwall last summer the county flag was very evident (white cross on black). In France they ignore daft laws. Anyway, Ryedale Council has a potential rebellion on its hands. Many of the villagers are planning to fly the Yorkshire flag too.

Which reminds me that a re-branded hotel in Harrogate put the white blown Yorkshire rose above its entrance. Some local residents and the local paper were scandalised because the rose was upside down. The manager was most apologetic and said that he didn’t realise that there was a right way up. I have to say that until then, neither did I. I know now.

There is something very deep about holly, as an article by Richard Mabey in the Times emphasised. The holly tree is a symbol of continuity and constancy in the country and a holly tree should never be cut down. Dire consequences will result. Planted outside a house, the holly protects against storms, fire and witchcraft. All sorts of customs relate to holly. Historically it was brought into the house as a token offering to bring good luck and overcome winter. At one Yorkshire house, when the Christmas holly is taken down, a leaf is left in every room. In Lancashire one must not burn holly. This reverence and respect presumably results from the holly’s resilience, and the bright red berries among thorns have symbolic association with the Crucifixion.

In the same copy of the Times, writers listed their favourite walks. One chose the four miles of the Hubberholme Triangle north of Buckden in Upper Wharfedale. The walk takes in the village of Hubberholme itself, where the ashes of J B Priestley were scattered – he describes it as ‘one of the smallest and pleasantest places in the world’ – the waterfalls of Cray Gill, views of fells, limestone pavements and a medieval boar-hunting forest. The White Lion at Cray and the George Inn at Hubberholme – real fires and flagstones – are recommended.

The White Lion, Cray

England’s Thousand Best Houses (Allen Lane) by Simon Jenkins has been published. It follows the success of his Thousand Best Churches. It is a beautifully presented book though a little unsatisfying in that one wants to know more about many of the properties. He awards five stars to 20 properties, three of which are in Yorkshire. Harewood House is one – ‘a place of dazzlement, a St Petersburg palace on a Yorkshire ridge’. Castle Howard is another – ‘Vanburgh’s Baroque palace’. The third is Burton Agnes House, seven miles south-west of Bridlington in the East Riding; it is described as ‘the perfect English house’.

Castle Howard

In January an American F15E Strike Eagle aircraft, ‘equipped with the latest smart technology’, dropped a dummy bomb on a field in Holme upon Spalding Moor, a few miles south of Market Weighton in the East Riding. The plane was on a training mission from RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk. A spokesman said it was a mistake. No one was around. So that’s alright then.