Sunday 3 June 2012


This splendid slow-worm (Anguis fragilis ) was found by Harry Baker on the wooden steps leading to the beach at Runswick Bay one afternoon at the end of May. He was pretty lucky as slow-worms only ever bask for short periods in the day. They are mostly nocturnal, hunting for slugs and worms and spend most of their lives either underground or hidden in vegetation.

Although superficially resembling snakes, slow-worms are in fact legless lizards. Unlike snakes they have eyelids and they can shed their tails when imperilled. The broken off portion thrashes around on the ground confusing the predator and allowing the slow-worm to beat a hasty retreat.

Harry's slow-worm seems to have lost its tail at some point in the past. This is very common and often happens in the wild, the new tail growing as a blunt stump. The females have a dark stripe down their backs whereas the males are much more uniform in colour. Although difficult to see from the photos, this is probably a female.

Slow-worms are the most abundant reptiles in Britain, often living in close proximity to man in gardens, railway cuttings and compost heaps, but they are so inconspicuous as to go unnoticed most of the time.

I remember once many years ago seeing a common lizard (Lacerta vivipara) basking in the sun on the steps leading up from the car park at Sandsend. Obviously reptiles like the environment of our cliffs and moors. It is interesting to compare the appearance of the slow-worm with the strikingly different adders Andy Cook photographed on the moors around Goathland.


Monday 23 April 2012


The following is taken from an official account made by Whitby's port authority of an incident which occurred on 12th August 1724. It goes some way to show the difficulties Customs Officials had when it came to controlling the smuggling trade in a town where it seemed that everybody was on the side of the smugglers.

The ‘Sarah And Gissell’ had made for the safety of port after the weather had turned against her. The Master, Thomas Robertson of Perth told the Customs officer that his ship was en route from Perth and had come into port wanting provisions. But the ever watchful port authorities soon became suspicious of the ship and it’s Master, according to a sworn statement made by Abram Watkins (a boatman) and William Towers (a tidesman and boatman) the crew of the vessel had lived almost completely of their own provisions the whole time they had been in port, only taking on board a six penny loaf of bread and a small cask of ale. The district Riding Officer further corroborated the port authorities growing testimony by claiming that the ship had previously been anchored off  Robin Hood’s Bay selling spirits to the locals.

This was cause enough for the Collector of Customs who immediately sent his rummage men a board the ship, where it was is discovered that the hold was filled with salt in which were buried a large number of barrels containing Brandy. The Master quickly changed his story claiming he had sailed from St. Martin in France and was on his way to Bergen.

The Customs opined that the salt was there to stop the barrels rolling around.‘The salt on board ye ship is in bulk and appears to be made for stowing ye casks in and as ballast and that, when ye vessel first came into port, she appeared to have been lightened above half a foot forward, and by ye stowage of ye Casks it appears that there has been a great part of a whole tier of casks taken forwards’.

The Master of the ‘Sarah And Grissell’ knowing that he had been caught tried to make good his escape and planned to put to sea on the night of the 15th August, the Customs men realising that the ship was been made ready for sea called for re-enforcements, but ‘despite all ye fair means the officers could use, ye Master ordered his men to cast off ye mooring’.

Hacking around with knives in the gloom the officers cut ropes and ratlines to prevent the sails being set, they tried to unship the rudder, but still she moved down the harbour…towed by a local coble skippered by Christopher Hill, recognisable amidst the struggle by his loud voice shouting that he would murder every Customs Officer.

The Master and his mate ‘assaulted and abused’ Mr Selby, the Customs Surveyor, and tore his clothes when he ‘endeavoured to get ye management of ye helm in order to put ye vessel on shore, and at other times when he endeavoured to obstruct their design’.

As the ship moved down the harbour, from St. Ann’s Staith where it had been moored, the customs officers were pelted with large stones from a great number of people on the shore and from cobles running alongside ‘even in such a manner that some of ye officers were obliged to shelter themselves behind ye masts’.

Christopher Hill, ‘that notorious runner of goods whose voice Mr Selby knew very well threatened him and other Officers in a prodigious manner and swearing he would have ye ship to sea over ye next morning’. He went on to have ‘the impudence to abuse Mr Selby and threaten to fight him without the least provocation’.

But the Customs men succeeded in their delaying tactics, the battle royal went on for three hours and she was still not out of the harbour. Abram Watkins, the Customs boatman, tied a rope to another moored vessel, but one of the smugglers slashed it through. Watkins then managed to furl the topsail, but it was immediately unfurled. By now the tide had turned; Watkins managed to cut some of the ropes from the boats towing the vessel out and hauled others onto the ship, during which time he was being assaulted by the Master. Then he bent a small rope to a Cage and dropped it at the stern and was finally able to run the ship aground at Colliers Hope.

After the battle was over a further search of the vessel revealed 13 more casks of Brandy and a parcel of Playing Cards, all of which were removed to the King’s Warehouse. The salt remained on board; the skipper had refused to sell it so the vessel remained in the harbour, so preventing the seizure of the ship whilst prosecutions were being prepared against it’s skipper Thomas Robertson, Henry Mann the mate and Christopher Hill cobleman.

The result of the ship not being cleared of cargo was that the Customs Collector had to stand to the cost of keeping two men on board the vessel. This might look of little importance until it is realised that at the time the Collector only received his dues if the prosecution was successful. Leading to the fact that it might not have always been advisable or even worthwhile actually prosecuting these crimes in the first place.

Saturday 14 April 2012


OUT ON YE! is not a music blog, but the band Rudolf Rocker (named after the aharcho-syndicalist writer and intellectual Johannes Rudolf Rocker) have released a CD steeped in the mystery and mythology of Whitby and the surrounding area.

I interviewed singer and guitarist Mark Goodall one night in the appropriate surroundings of The Black Horse to delve into his relationship with the folklore and history of the district that informs the songwriting. A quick glance at the track listing shows the subject matter we're dealing with here. Some of the songs are unashamedly boisterous knees-ups, but the ones I'm interested in have a haunting, arcane quality to them.

During our conversation, which was recorded for presentation on this blog, the pub gradually filled up with drinkers, so there is a bit of incidental conversation. Also fans of the glam rock outfit The Sweet will notice their hit tune Ballroom Blitz forming a slightly incongruous backdrop to our talk of ancient artifacts. Postmodernism of the highest order.

I must apologise for the occasional rumbling sound picked up by the microphone. I suspect its caused by a slightly unsteady table. In these extracts we discuss four of the thirteen tracks. To my mind these are the amongst most interesting.

I knew nothing of this, but apparently around 1934 a local man had the idea of building a swimming pool and a boating pond in Litllebeck. By 1945 due to disuse it became silted up and was populated only by hundreds of frogs. A film exists in the Yorkshire Film Archives showing boys bathing in the pool.

In Old St Stephen's Church, Fylingdales hang four maiden's garlands. They were made to commemorate the tragic death of a young girl, and would be carried along at the funeral procession.

The wreck of this concrete ship stands forlorn on Whitby Scar. The subject of these strange vessels was covered more extensively on OUT ON YE!  here.

The mummified, severed hand kept in a cabinet in Whitby Museum is purportedly the only surviving Hand of Glory. It was found hidden in the wall of a thatched cottage in Castleton.

To listen to the tracks Showerbath of the Patriarchs, Hand of Glory and Hole of Horcum, and for more information visit Rudolf Rocker's website here.

Maiden's Garlands, Old St Stephen's Church, Fylingdales


Sound recordist Craig Vear has made a sound poem of the River Esk which has been released on CD by 3Leaves. This is the review I did of the work, which was originally published in The Field Reporter blog earlier this year.

What does a river mean?

In some cases it means an obstacle, a barrier that needs to be bridged. For wildlife it means a range of habitats, both beneath the water and along the banks. A river geographically connects the towns and villages along its course. Rivers are often pressed into service as metaphors for life. They begin as unruly infants, high up in the hills, full of energy and exhuberance. Over time and distance they become languid and peaceful before finally opening out into the unforgiving sea.

Rivers have a multitude of meanings and can be read in many ways. Craig Vear’s sound poem Esk is a portrait of a 28 mile long English river flowing from its birthplace on the hills at Westerdale, through the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, and into the North Sea at the town of Whitby. Vear has produced a piece of work that is rich in detail and yet not cluttered or contrived. As with any portrait, a true appreciation of character emerges the longer and deeper you look.

Curiously Vear collected the raw materials for Esk by beginning at the outer harbour wall at Whitby, then moving upriver towards the source. After acquiring what must have been hours of recordings, the piece was then edited and composed in the order of the Esk’s actual flow. In other words in the opposite direction to which it was recorded. In a sense it is moving backwards in time as it gets closer to the sea. The seasons flow in reverse, proving that sound art can render time plastic.

Recording the flow of water in all its various forms is one thing, but what really defines a river is its banks. They channel it and give it form. The geographical nature of the countryside it passes through and the life around it imbue a unique personality. At various points along the route we hear the engines of vehicles crossing bridges spanning the water, and occasionally human voices. This work shouldn’t be taken as an idealised, pastoral portrait. It is grounded in reality and there are some surprisingly jarring sound events. Rough edges have not been smoothed off.

At several points we are plunged beneath the surface into the world of crayfish, dragonfly nymphs and trout. Hydrophone recordings always feel like eavesdropping on sounds that we as air-listeners weren’t designed to hear. They always take us into an unknowable place. We can picture the silver surface of the water undulating above us and the stone strewn bed beneath us.

There are many different facets to Esk, and it moves quickly between environments. On the moors insects buzz, in the trees birds call and in the fields cattle low balefully. We move on towards the sea, the natural direction of flow giving this work its linearity and purpose. The final sounds are deep water surges showing that the journey is complete and the Esk has been reclaimed by the sea.

As with all 3Leaves releases, Esk comes exquisitely packaged in a postcard sized cover depicting the river in winter. Snowblown trees and white banks speak equally of picturesque stillness and the harshness of nature. A fitting image.

What does a river mean?

According to Heraclitus it means change. In his words; ‘You can never step into the same river; for new waters are always flowing on to you’. Similarly, every time you listen to this piece by Craig Vear, expect something different being carried on the current.

3Leaves website

Monday 2 April 2012


There are two Wade's Stones still standing, one at East Barnby and one near Goldsborough. They are thought to be prehistoric in origin and the southern stone (East Barnby) has been associated with an Anglo Saxon inhumation. A spearhead has also been found there (Frank Elgee, Early Man on the North Yorks Moors, 1930).

Although only two remain today, it is claimed that there were at least four stones in the past. When the Reverend George Young spoke about them in his History of Whitby of 1817, he described the sites thus: 'A stone above East Barnby, which once had another near it, is said to mark out the grave of a giant called Wade; but that honour is assigned, by another tradition, to two similar pillars near Goldsborough, standing about 100 feet asunder'.

Two views of Wade's Stone (south) at Goldsborough
Sometime between February and March 2008 the East Barnby stone toppled over, probably due to centuries of cultivation around its base. However Tees Archaeology have recently erected it again. Both stones stand on working farms on agricultural land.

The fallen Wade's Stone (South) at East Barnby
Photo by David Raven 28.03.2008
As the stone appears today, thanks to the efforts of Tees Archaeology
The question of how the character Wade became so closely associated with this area is another story altogether. An interesting accountof Wade and his origins, beginning with the story of what occurred when the author Mike Haigh visited one of the sites, can be found here.

Saturday 24 March 2012



  JRR Tolkien made two visit to the town of Whitby in his lifetime, the first was in the summer of 1910 as an 18 year old student of King Edward’s School in Birmingham. 

Always a keen artist it was whilst holidaying in the town that he sketched ‘The Ruins Of The West End Of The Abbey’, a picture that hints at his broadening artistic ability; a skill which would eventually be used to great effect in illustrating his books The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings. 

It is also interesting to note Tolkien’s handwriting even at this early age has taken on the appearance of the unique Elvish style that he incorporated in to all his Middle Earth his works.

His second visit appears to be in the early part of 1955, and judging by a correspondence sent from Oxford to a Mrs Turnbull of Whitby he was on the cusp of a momentous occasion.

In the letter Tolkien thanks Mrs Turnbull for her ‘munificent and magnificent gift’ (apparently champagne), he then apologies for his tardy response - the gift having only arrived two days before, and finally goes on to discuss the cause for his celebrations - clearing his desk of The Return Of The King:-

 'Though sending off the last items (with a marginal comment 'and at last') for Vol III might have seemed a suitable occasion for the withdrawing of at least one cork, I have so far refrained; but when I drink I shall remember with a gratitude at least as warm and deep as Old Rory felt for the bottles of Old Winyards. I can only hope Vol III will be up to it!'

Although only speculation on my part it would be nice to think that the town of Whitby and the ancient landscape that surrounds it may have - to a very small degree - helped to shape two of the greatest works of fiction ever imagined. 

Post by Richard Locker

Wednesday 21 March 2012


21st March 2012

Adders emerging from hibernation on the North Yorkshire Moors near Goathland. This photo was taken by Andy Cook during a morning walk.


The cruisers of the Bremen class consisted of seven ships in all. Apart from one (The L├╝beck, which had a turbine engine) they all relied on triple expansion engines. They were manouverable vessels, but notorious for rolling badly when the seas became stormy. All were named after German towns.

Even at the start of World War I they were not modern ships and several were lost. Nevertheless some survived throughout World War II, although not as combat vessels.

Prior to World War I the small cruiser Danzig was utilised in fleet operations and in artillery training. In 1914 she was once again used in fleet operations. She took part in the battle of Helgoland and was involved in operations at the Baltic Islands.

In 1919 the Danzig was delivered to England to be scrapped. This photograph shows her in Whitby harbour at the end of her final voyage. She was dismantled between 1922-1923.

Tuesday 20 March 2012


 During the 18th century the Quarantine or Plague Bible was commonly used in England as the first measure of defence against the deadly and highly contagious disease The Plague.

 The first Act of Quarantine was not officially established in England until 1710, some forty years after the country had last suffered at the hands of the Plague. The act itself would undergo several further amendments throughout the 1700’s, each one becoming progressively more stringent. Until eventually in 1824 the laws were finally relaxed, making the act of quarantine only at the discretion of the privy council. 

Up to this point a ship suspected of carrying the plague was placed in isolation for forty days at a distance of up to three miles off shore. The problem with this was that the Master of the quarantined vessel had to then present a report to the local port authority within the first 24 hours, which meant that at some point the Customs Official dealing with the case would have to come into physical contact with the ship’s crew, leading to the possibility that he could catch the disease himself.

So to resolve this problem the Plague Bible was introduced and Whitby, like all major sea ports that dealt with imported goods, immediately began using this rather simplistic and very honest method as a means of verifying whether it was necessary to quarantine a ship or not.

A Boarding Officer (tide surveyor) and a tide-waiter plus a crew of six would use a purpose built coble - a small locally built fishing boat - to a approach the quarantined vessel. Making sure that they were to the windward side of the ship, the Boarding Officer would then hail the ship’s Master.

Then, using a boat hook to hold up a metal encased copy of the New Testament, the Customs Official would make the Master swear an oath upon the Bible that neither he nor any member of the crew needed quarantine. On assuming that the ship’s Master was a Christian, and also that he was actually telling the truth, the vessel was then deemed safe enough to board.

It is also worth noting that in some sea ports across England a copper encased Bible would be fixed to a line and passed over to the quarantined vessel. Once the ship’s Master had sworn his oath, the Bible was cast overboard and dragged back through the sea to the official’s boat, a process which was believed to cleanse the book of  any disease and impurities it might be carrying.