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A Potter's Moll: Winter Sunshine And Cream Of Onion Soup

...My wise friend knew from past experience that the café in the Stable block sells mainly crisps and Kit-Kats, so had had the foresight to prepare a flask of delicious cream of onion soup which we enjoyed with fresh granary rolls as we watched the sunlight play about the, nevertheless, cold landscape from the warmth and comfort of her car...

Liz Robison tells of memorable winter picnics.

Do please visit the Web site of Liz's potter husband Jom Robison http://www.jimrobison.co.uk/

Five days of beautiful weather in February – blue skies and sunshine – have been a welcome spirit-raiser. The day before this harbinger of Spring we had bought a new bench for the woodland area of our garden. Twelve years ago we had a grant to plant the trees, all native species, and it all looks surprisingly mature now, though slow growing species such as oaks obviously lag behind.

We placed the bench where there is a panoramic view on three sides on the edge of the trees. Our actual house and pottery studio are built in a dip so the views are somewhat restricted, but up there on the hillside we can see all down the Upper Holme valley and right across Crosland Moor.

Our son came with his step-son and we had bacon butties and a flask of tea up there in the warm sunshine. Bliss!

The thirteen- year old step grandson - aren’t families complicated these days? – stayed on for three days because it was half term and the adults were working. It was interesting to observe his very tentative responses to the opportunities in a more rural setting compared to his intensely indoor life-style in the big city.

There is hardly any garden where he lives and cars park on the pavements of the narrow streets. Traffic roars by on the main road clogging the local ring road in an effort to get into or out of the nearby Asda and Marks & Spencer megastores.

Here he is free to wander, take the dog for a walk, wander the woods or peer into the pond, but he always wants adult company. He returned very quickly from a so-called walk with the dog saying, ‘I think she was bored!’ He was spooked by the heron taking off overhead and by a pheasant suddenly taking off among the trees. He declared that gong out at night to collect some logs by torchlight was ‘spooky’.

The things he enjoyed most were learning to operate the sit-on lawnmower and going for a spin in Jim’s MG sports car. Returning from the Peak District after their drive he declared that he did not know there was so much space in England.

A wise and cultured friend always has good ideas for where to go for a little jaunt – Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wentworth Castle, and most recently Temple Newsam on the outskirts of Leeds. I had read about it only recently in Alan Bennett’s ‘Untold Stories’ as being the repository for Leeds Art Gallery’s treasures during the Second World War.

As the house now belongs to the city of Leeds it is a well used resource – free if you have a Leeds card and only £3 50 if you don’t. Basically Jacobean, the present house has an impressive three-sided brick façade with a stone balustrade around the roof with a legend of lettering on a suitably pious and patriotic theme. Seen against a cloudless blue sky, the effect was stunning.

There were wonderful things to see inside: hand painted silk wallpapers, precious furniture, intriguing portraits and intricate plasterwork, but what sticks in my memory are the rooms which are in the process of restoration where you can see the original brickwork and see up chimneys and behind panelling. A great insight into the heart of a fine house.

Many of the rooms have large windows and on that day it was a treat to look out onto the Capability Brown landscape bathed in sunshine. Stands of trees cast interesting shadows on the grass, while on the horizon the modern world intruded because, the day being so clear, you could see power station cooling towers in the far distance. My friend also reminded me just how many fortunes in this part of the country were based on profits from mining. The tower of Whitkirk church looks romantic from the house windows, but the landscape was designed to hide the winding gear of Whitkirk pit.

I read somewhere that Brown got his nickname because whenever a landowner consulted him about landscaping he would sell his ideas by saying words to the effect of ‘I believe your land has the capability of being improved.’

As well as the parkland landscape at Temple Newsam there is the nearer knot garden with its clipped box trees as well as laburnum walks and an avenue of pleached limes – all in stark contrast to the apparent ‘naturalness’ of the Brown landscape.

My wise friend knew from past experience that the café in the Stable block sells mainly crisps and Kit-Kats, so had had the foresight to prepare a flask of delicious cream of onion soup which we enjoyed with fresh granary rolls as we watched the sunlight play about the, nevertheless, cold landscape from the warmth and comfort of her car.

A memorable jaunt. More from me in a fortnight.

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