Middle Tongue Bank: North Yorkshire.


Yesterday evening my daughter Annie sent me an email. ‘Mummy, where is the post that you wrote about Gillbeck?’ For a moment I couldn’t think what she was talking about. I’ve touched briefly on the farm where we once lived, when I wrote the posts ‘Why I shall never eat Babi Guling Part One’ and ‘Driving the Vicar’ but I couldn’t remember doing an entire post on it. Then I remembered – I wrote just one post called Middle Tongue Bank on Blogger last year a few months before Irishman and I  moved out to Jakarta.

I’d totally forgotten that I’d written it until Annie reminded me. She missed me yesterday, as I miss her and her brother and sisters everyday, and I guess sometimes we all like to re-visit places where we were happy and life was good. For all of us as a family, Gillbeck farm in Middle Tongue Bank, Pateley Bridge. North Yorkshire, was a special time in our lives. Annie suggested that I post this on my blog. It has nothing to do with Indonesia but it was somewhere where we lived for 5 years and where Theo was born, and if it makes Annie happy to read it again, then I am very touched and I hope that you enjoy it too. (Annie, I’ve tidied it up a bit. Hope you like the picture of the house burner? I drew it very quickly just now with Tom or is it Sam? asleep on the sofa. Mummy xxxxx)

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Middle Tongue Bank

Clearing out boxes this morning I found some old notebooks. In one of them was this short piece that I think I must have written about 6 years ago. Middle Tongue Bank was a place that I lived with my first husband and our 5 young children. That was 19 years ago, for the last 10 years I have been living in London – a far cry from the world that I write about here.  I don’t think I shall be writing anything in this vein again but like Janus I am casting my eye back on the past whilst standing on the threshold of the new and exciting times ahead.

The arrival of the curlews in early March heralded the start of spring and the promise that the long winter would soon be over in the hills. Their shrill cry, a haunting crescendo, would echo from the moor tops down to the ghyll, breaking the eerie silence that blanketed the valley at that time of year. (I met a man a few years later who told me that when he heard that first call, the hairs on the back of his neck would stand up)

Despite the curlew’s arrival, spring still liked to take its time and seemed in no rush to paint the fields and trees with it’s palette of verdant hues.  Although the trees had buds, they did not generally burst into leaf until early or even mid-May some years. On February 14th, I found the first of the six geese laying, her careless nest made in the middle of compost heap at the bottom of the garden.

After the cruel March winds and the last of the snow had left, the month of April was busy with the lambing of 40 ewes. The spring equinox meant that the short winter days were at last behind us and in between showers, bursts of sunlight poured through the clouds that skudded across the moors, giving an ethereal glow to the landscape, and picking up the rich greens, purples and browns of the moors and hills.

The sun was higher now and the windows at the back of the house at last let in the light that had been denied them for nearly half a year as it flooded in and cast its beams across the kitchen, specks of dust dancing in the pools of light.

Our farmhouse was built into the side of the hill, an old stone traditionally built Dales longhouse, part house part barn. Massive thick  stone exterior walls, and modestly sized simple rooms with low wooden beamed ceilings, stone floors worn by generations of inhabitants and small deep set windows designed to keep out the chill – they were perfect for growing potted geraniums all year round. The height of the windows at the back of the house, set into the steep gradient of the field directly behind, meant that they were low enough that I could eyeball the sheep or see the cows legs as I did the washing up at the kitchen sink or be watched by an inquisitive goat whilst having a bath.

Directly in front of the house there was a yard flanked by sheds, and an old stone barn used for housing the tractor with a hay store above.  The yard dropped steeply down into a small, wild garden of sorts, where gooseberries and currants grew in the summer and where the chickens scratched around and laid their eggs in the nettles. Beyond the garden there was an ancient wooded valley (gifted by the previous owner to the Woodland Trust) through which the beck ran, and where our water supply was pumped up to the house by a cranky old generator. The children had made a path  through the woods as a shortcut up to the road at the top, and after breakfast they would gather up their bags and school books and disappear down the rutted farm track, and into the woods. I could hear them but I couldn’t see them until they came out the other side, their little figures scampering up the steep path to the roadside to wait for the school bus. We had no TV in those days so the woods and the fields and farm animals were their entertainment. They had special names for some of the trees and they made up stories about the fairies who inhabited them. Black tooth was a hideous and wicked fairy who lived in the woods. She was the arch enemy of the tooth fairy and woe betide anyone who should cross her path. For some time I think they lived in mortal fear of her. She certainly encouraged them to clean their teeth. Having concerns about  them wandering too far whilst I was occupied with other things, allowed  I invented a character called Ominous, a weird fellow who lived in a cave in the woods. Thanks to Ominous and Black tooth my children never came to any harm during their years on the farm and I believe that their lives were enriched by outdoor living and learning to use their imaginations instead of a diet of TV and other stuff that inevitably we succumbed too in the end.

Hundreds of years before we lived at Gillbeck farm, the monks from Fountains Abbey (some 15 miles away to the east) would shepherd their sheep through this valley at the end of each spring, and walk them up to the summer grazing on the high pastureland. I’m sure I sometimes felt their presence as I trod the winding path that led up to the road to collect the post from the battered  box in the shed.

Behind the house the fields rose steadily upwards towards Greenhow Hill. The grazing was poor by lowland standards but perfect for the Swaledales and Dalesbred sheep that I kept at the time. Stone walls divided the land from our neighbours and ancient hedgerows beaten by the wind grew knarled and twisted offering poor protection from the rain that drove hard from the west or the snow from the north-east. We eventually managed to get a grant and over time planted  1,500 hedge plants and young trees to help conserve the land for future generations.

When early May came round and the fields where rested, fertilized and rolled after the hard winter frosts, the new sweet grass and herbs had grown long enough to welcome the cattle from their long winter housing in the barn. The open barn doors set them free at last, and they kicked and bucked, as they stampeded  across the yard to the other side of the farm, mooing madly, tails in the air they galloped across the yard and up to the meadow, scaring the geese as they passed the pond, nostrils flared with anticipation and excitement. It always took  them at least half an hour to settle down into their new environment but it was one of my great joys to watch their pleasure as they felt the sun on their backs once again, and  their long tongues pull hungrily at the new grass.

There were always jobs to be done on the farm and as the livestock grew so my days took on a different form. With the cows outside again there were still the pigs and piglets to attend to and 8 goats to be milked morning and night, their kids to be bottle-fed. Bread and cheese to be made, eggs to be collected, the now feral bantams laying them in corners of the barn or under clumps of nettles, whilst the chickens laid their brown speckled eggs on tidy golden straw nests in the coop. They followed their daily egg laying with an enchanting unison of clucking, their call to signal that their hard mornings work had been done. Even though lambing was over, I still walked the fields morning and evening to check all was well and in the early evening, as I walked back down towards the house I could hear the distant laughter of the children playing on the hay bales in the barn, and the goats plaintive bleating in their pens waiting to be milked and I felt truly blessed and happy.

The RSPB: Curlew

16 Feb 2012 – The curlew is the largest European wading bird, instantly recognisable on winter estuaries or summer moors with its long down-curved bill, 


The Pasture

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I shan’t be gone long. — You come too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I shan’t be gone long. — You come too.

Robert Frost




26 thoughts on “Middle Tongue Bank: North Yorkshire.

  1. We should share photos of ourselves during lambing. Oh boy would those photos cheer people up, what a laugh they would have, bailer twine hair bands!
    Really enjoyed this Lottie, i remember your farm so well, and the times when the girls were so small and Theo born during a howling gale if memory serves me right?
    I also love the photo you have of all the children a few years later, sitting on the steps in age order.
    We should always enjoy and remember the little things, because as we get older we realise they were the best things!


    1. I think Gillbeck holds a very special place for all of the children and it was an off the beaten track existence that is rare these days.

      Theo was born on a sunny May day after the longest, snowiest winter. I spent half my labour hanging over a 5 bar gate and the other half taking advice from the sheep on birthing methods which they bleated to me through my open bedroom window. The doctor was NOT happy about my decsision to have him at home but it’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I watched the children running down the track after school and heard them yelping with excitment as they charged through the wood and up the other side towards the house. By the time they all had all piled into the bed poor Theo was nearly squeezed to death with all the kisses and cuddles from his doting sisters! Such a happy day!

      I’d forgotten about the baler twine hair accessories!! and those stunning blue overalls! God we were stylish B! I didn’t mind the lambing, it was the kidding that I dreaded – especially the nubians. Multiple babies all back to front and wrapped around each other. You needed the patience of a saint to work that one out at 3am but I never lost one so I must have got something right 🙂


  2. I loved and hated lambing in equal measure. Being in the south i started lambing on 6th January and as i only had a tiny flock it was all over in about 3 weeks.
    I remember the sheer exhaustion, as the boys were small so kept me busy too. I remember one night, like i am watching an old film.
    DONK, (short for donkey), was an old girl with few teeth and had many years of “babies” under her belt. She loved getting her arthritic hips massaged, so i got lots of chances to feel her belly and was sure she had triplets in there.
    She started curling her lip about midnight, but at 5am (after the 3am check), i observed her from my upturned bucket, straining to no avail.
    Scrubbed and sterilised to my elbows, i gave her an intimate examination and found 2 sets of front feet and 1 set of back, and try as i might i couldn’t push them back or pull top set forward.
    I had to call the vet and rouse a sleepy Ben to help.
    I have this fantastic image of Ben, in wellies, pyjamas and ski jacket, plodding through the deep snow in the field clutching the torch to the bottom gate to await the vet and open the gate.
    By the time the vet and Ben arrived to the pen, Donk was licking and loving three huge boys, Huey, Dewey and Louie.
    I hated the fear in the wee early hours, but i loved watching 3 lambs struggle to their feet, with a doting mum, whilst we drank steaming tea and scoffed chocolate digestives.
    Yep, good memories.


  3. Just re-read that, and you know what? With small children we must have been mad! But would we do it again? Yes, in an instant.


    1. Of course we would, and I love your story about the lambing. I’m planning on doing great things with the banana field which I will fill you in with when you come out to stay next month! 🙂

      It feels very strange writing about this as I sit here in Jakarta, staring out over the shanties and tower blocks that surround me and hearing the constant roar of the traffic. I can’t open the windows as the pollution makes the apartment stink and also too hot, so I have the A/C droning away in the background – yes, it is very different!


  4. Lottie,
    You wrote with such description I felt like I was there. It is a truly a beautiful post and one of my favorites. It’s always nice to look back on a time when life was full of chaos but so much simpler. Memories like this always needed to be written down and shared with the world.

    Thank you so much!



    1. No, Thank You Aaron. Your kind words mean the world to me, and I love that in some small way I have been able to share with you a part of my life and that you enjoyed reading it. That means a lot.


  5. Crikey, Pet, I had forgotten what a farmer you were. Beautifully written and beautifully painted, Don’t you long for a cold winters day and a wood burner……


    1. Pet, you know what? I do! Of course I do!

      I miss the seasons terribly, and I miss the cold ( I can’t say that I miss the heat because that would be a joke) I miss grumbling about the rain, I miss the days getting longer, and I miss the days getting shorter. I miss drawing the curtains and lighting a cosy fire in the evenings, I miss Christmas and the build up to it. I miss the frost and the snow. I miss the snowdrops in January and the daffodils in March. I miss the Easter Bunny. The joy of the first swallows arriving in the spring and leaving with their babies at the end of the summer………….I miss the leaves turning brown and red in the autumn. I miss the stormy skies and winds in November. I miss our snowy birthdays in January when the roads are blocked and the postman can’t deliver the 1,000s of birthday cards to us.

      Having said all of that, there are plenty of things that I don’t miss in the least, but the things that I mention, along with my children and friends, are the things that I miss the most.

      Lots of love from Sweaty in Jakarta xxxxx 🙂


  6. I really need to get back to working on my time machine. Among other periods I would love to see, I now must add a visit to your Gillbeck farm. I might have some explaining to do, but you seem like a woman who would be up for an interesting tale! But then, I suppose you’ve already taken us on visit with this wonderful post.

    A lovely, lovely piece, Lottie, especially knowing that one of your daughters requested it. I can see everything as you’ve written it and what a sight it is. I had a big smile on my face while reading about Black Tooth and Ominous. Clever you! Fearsome characters and what a delight.

    Absolutely love your drawing. Fantastic. xx


    1. I’m so glad you liked Ominous and Blacktooth! They are not quite in the same calibre as your wonderful characters but they sure were fearsome!

      I had a skype call from Serena yesterday and I told her that I’d written this piece and she immediately said ‘Mum, did you remember Blacktooth?….’ It was so lovely that she still remembered and we spent a good 10 minutes or so talking about all the things that her sisters and her used to get up to and all the stories that they used to make up and the names that they gave everything and we both agreed that it was a really special place for all of us.

      You have to visit that part of Yorkshire IK, it is so pretty and wild. I’ll walk with you through the woods in case Ominous is around and we will give the tree where Blacktooth lives a wide berth just in case……

      xx 🙂


      1. I’ll feel perfectly safe in the wild woods, so long as you clear my visit first with Ominous. Glad I have a sister with connections!

        Love, love, LOVE your additional drawings, Lottie! xx


  7. Our daffodils are almost in flower and the hyacinths have been for three weeks, snow drops too, Cherry blossoms are coming out, but…… Can’t wait for summer and heat. We were up north in Australia for a couple of days. It was lovely and balmy with palm trees, banana plantations etc.
    Nice piece Lottie.


    1. Thanks Gerard and how lovely to hear about your garden. Makes me quite wistful just thinking about it!
      English summers are always a bit of an anti-climax weatherwise but what I love about them is the minute the weather does improve everyone takes full advantage of it with picnics and outings and barbeques etc.
      I’m enjoying my time in Indonesia but I do miss the seasons much more than I thought that I would. Sometimes I crave for a day when it’s icy cold and I can light a fire and put my jeans and a jumper on, or go for a bracing walk with the wind in my hair and watch the clouds skudding across the darkening skies.


    1. Thank you Sherry 🙂

      No it wasn’t always easy, in fact it was quite tough. We had no central heating just the little stove that I drew in the first picture and an old Aga cooker in the kitchen. The winters were very bitter and long and we would get snowed in for days so I learnt to be quite organised and keep a freezer full of milk and bread and meat, veg etc. We often lost power so I’d be reduced to cooking on the little stove – I became an ace soup maker!
      You couldnt get a regular car down the track because it was so rutted so friends would have to park at the top and walk down and up the other side. They’d complain bitterly about getting their shoes muddy!
      We loved it though and it was a great experience. For all the drawbacks, there were plenty of positives and we gained so much from living there. We all have very happy memories of it.


  8. I remember the elation at getting my car up to the farm, (Bernie the brave)
    , and the despair at the bill from the garage after. Those apples for the pigs cost us both dearly!


  9. What a wonderful piece of writing, it took me to your farm house and life at Middle Tongue Bank. I was born in Yorkshire so it was a romantic daydream of what life might have been like for me as a child growing up, if my parents hadn’t made the momentous move to Australia when I was three.
    Have a great day


    1. I’m so pleased that you enjoyed reading Middle Tongue Bank and thanks for your lovely comment Claire, it’s much appreciated 🙂

      Yorkshire is a beautiful county and I do miss it sometimes. Actually the thing I miss most are probably the seasons and oh, the best pork pies in the world from Mr Weatherheads butchers in Pateley Bridge!!

      You have a great day too! Lottie


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