Airton’s tea-time watering hole

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Drive, cycle or even take a leisurely walk through Airton and you could be under the impression this little settlement is no more than an extended hamlet, with just a few streets and occupied by houses more often than not with their backs to open fields.  But small as it is, it was at some point considered large enough to have a place called ‘Town End’ attached to it; and although there’s never been a pub in the village and the post office closed a decade ago, the Town End Farm Shop and Café more than makes up for this by providing something of a local destination for residents and visitors alike.

Stocking both staples and artisan products, as well as local crafts and gifts, the farm shop is a destination of choice for discerning tourists staying in or passing through Airton – and is set to become better known still with the airing of ‘Best in Shop’ on BBC2 later this year: a documentary competition celebrating artisan food producers from Yorkshire and the North West.  Chris Wildman, fifth generation Malhamdale butcher and owner of the farm shop and café, has been here before: a few years ago the venue appeared on Julia Bradbury’s ITV show Best Walks with a View.

Chris is passionate about promoting the local economy and protecting environment.  The majority of products stocked at Town End are locally sourced and many others are artisan produced.  Produce is sold in paper bags, not plastic carriers and wherever possible he looks for alternatives to palm oil in products on his shelves.  The two key words are ‘story’ and ‘provenance’.  For every product in the shop, the ideal is that there is a tangible narrative that can be traced back to its source.  His own specialities, salumi and charcuterie, are derived from the family farm in upper Malhamdale, where Craven Longhorn cattle graze in a ‘pasture for life’ system designed to benefit both their health and that of the natural landscape.

For me visiting the café on a lazy afternoon is a treat; and it’s the view that steals the show.  Everyone’s favourite spot is the couch in the corner with windows on two sides offering a panoramic view of the dale, finessed by the arching sweep of Malham Cove at its centre.  And on a sunny day, the view from the terrace is even better.  Any road, there’s no better way to appreciate the sight than over a hot drink and one of the freshly baked treats made on the premises and always served with a smile.


Towards a Yorkshire dictionary of snow…

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Malhamdale in a ‘snadding’. A what?! Read on…

Looking back over the entries to this journal there’s a definite bias towards winter themes and more than a touch of appreciation for snowy scenery.  If a reader had never visited Malhamdale they might have the impression that it’s by and large an icy wilderness populated by shivering sheep.  Nothing could be further from the truth… in fact during a recent snowfall one long term resident told me it had be several years since snow had lain as thickly – although it used to be more of an annual event, the rules of climate change applying here in Airton as in the rest of the country…

There’s a simple explanation to my blogging more in the winter.  It’s a time more than ever when the landscape I love to explore and write about seems to change faces from day to day with varying light levels, low sun angles, atmospheric moisture, and yes, the comings and goings of the snow.  On the other hand, at this time of year the Barn is less busy, so whilst I enjoy the outdoors throughout the year, there’s more time in winter to write about it.  Perhaps I hope to tempt a few more visitors to experience the magic of a Malhamdale winter!  (Though unfortunately the daily changes in weather that make it so interesting for me mean that snow and frost can’t be guaranteed to ice the cake of a stay in Airton at any time of year.)

By the river below Airton in a ‘snidding’. That’s right.

However, there’s more to my penchant for wintry walks and snowy tales than aesthetic appreciation or convenient timing.  Winter might be the dog end of the year, with its gloomy, short days and brown, muddy fields but the annual stasis of the natural world is also a prompt to slow down and be a little less preoccupied myself.  Just as the best ideas often come to people during sleep, the energies needed for the coming months can be gathered during winter.  Deliberately taking the foot off the throttle a little can allow the germ of new things to emerge from the compost of what has gone before – interests, projects, even at times an entirely new direction.  Of course, this doesn’t have to happen in winter, but the analogy is both convenient and resonant.

Here’s a new thing: with every winter’s day looking different here in the Dales, it’s not hard to understand the legendary proliferation of Innuit words for snow.  I’ve counted at least 3 types only today…  So I’ve looked a bit into whether ‘the Yorkshire Dialect’ (of which I know there are many variants) can make any similar claims.  The result?  The only word I can find for snow is ‘snah’.  Now that seems remiss to me, so I’ve made an entirely unauthorised executive decision and would like to propose the following completely made up pseudo-dialetical words for the stuff in at least some of its forms:

frickle                   snow falling as light, dryish flecks

snarush                snow falling in thick wet clumps of snowflakes

snamush              the same but already half way to melting by the time they reach the ground

slat                        sleet

snawhit                a blizzard – a proper white-out

frish                      snow like a grainy powder showing up the crevices in stone walls

frawp                    a dusting of snow on wet grass

frash                     a thin layer of wettish snow laying on top of partly thawed ice

freck                     a thin layer of cold, dry snow laying on top of an even colder layer of ice

squaff                   snow that squeaks under foot

flurrm*                 an impending snowfall that makes the sky look pinkish

flerrm*                 an impending snowfall that makes the sky look yellow

slurrm*                an impending snowfall under a damp grey sky

slah                       slush

drish                     snow that’s been chopped about and got riddled o’ dirt

snud                      compacted snow that’s been driven on

snadding              a full blanket of snow on a damp overcast day

snidding               a full blanket of snow lit up by sunshine (the best sort)

*In these examples, the double ‘r’ should be pronounced as a separate syllable.

[If ever any of these words get into regular use I’ll deny all knowledge.  And just in case one person’s snow is another person’s rotten cabbage, the same goes if they just happen to coincide with obscenities in any existing language or dialect.]

Well, I’m glad I’ve got that out there.  Now what were my jobs for the rest of January..?

Airton in the grip of a ‘snarush’.  According to the “Simon’s made-up dictionary of new Yorkshire snow-words” that is…

Look in, look out!

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Airton in the snow

In the spectacular landscapes of the Dales, the eye is constantly being drawn in every direction, pulled between the far distance and the nearest objects, fascinated by exquisite details and overwhelmed by the sweeping grandeur.  A covering of snow brings new clarity, revealing contours previously veiled under the dun colourings of grass and stone, so that it looks like the earth is newly born; and for a short, silent moment of amazement, all the rough edges and muddle of the world is forgotten.

The time seems ripe for such a moment.  After the noise of 2017, peppered with fearful and appalling events, as well as the compassion shown by the ordinary people who responded to them, we need to catch our breath.  Christmas always feels to me like a collective pause (at least once all the shopping, singing, decorating and cooking are over!) when the noise stops all too briefly and we each – consciously or unconsciously – look around to see what our world looks like today.

It can also become rather exclusive: a time when families gather, yes; but when those on their own become even more isolated.  This year, the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness has collated evidence from a range of organisations researching the prevalence and effects of loneliness in our society.  The results are worrying: people in all age groups and in many different situations experience loneliness, impacting on health, happiness and productivity and placing a burden on public services.  Loneliness can be physically painful – a continual knot in the stomach – like the faint echo of a bereavement for something that was never there.  For those on their own Christmas often doesn’t help.

But in the space that Christmas can at its best create, there is opportunity to reach out and include isolated people.  The family ‘unit’ beloved of back-to-basics politicians really is a modern invention, on its own a fragile thing; put it in a community, make it porous and outward facing and it becomes resilient, nurturing not only itself but the community at large, and receiving nurture from that community.  There are 52 weeks and 365 days in the year; having people from outside the immediate family round the table at Christmas can contribute to making that one meal the special celebration of community that Christmas has always been.

Can, but not ought.  It’s also right that each of us decides how to celebrate and whether we want to be together or to enjoy this time as a pause in our everyday proceeds and simply stand and take in the view.  Look closely enough and we might see something remarkable.  Listen and we might just hear the faint cries of a small baby inviting us to love for love’s sake and in that invitation, lead us simply to the surest hope available to our broken and confused world.

A joyous Christmas to all!

Historic problem, modern blight: why we needed to hear about slavery

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It can be difficult to connect with situations outside of our immediate experience; more so to those in the past.  But over the past six weeks, nine eloquent people have shared with four audiences their insights into one of the modern era’s most persistent yet poorly understood evils – that of slavery – and in doing so, have brought that connection within the grasp of everyone present.

dungeons at Elmina slave fort, Ghana – many thousands of people’s last experience of their home continent

When slavery first comes to my mind it’s often in the form of mental images of grotesque, overtly cruel masters issuing beatings to people wearing chains.  A caricature based half on truth, half conjecture.  However, disturbing as those images are, what’s more disturbing is that the perpetrators of this most extreme form of human exploitation were, and are, no less respectable than you or I.  For much of modern history, until a frighteningly few generations ago, slave-owning was quite normal and acceptable within polite society; and the fact that it isn’t generally acceptable today simply means that the slavery that occurs does so in secret, or wrapped in layer upon layer of convenient complicity.

As I watched and listened to our contributors during our series ‘Abolishing Slavery – Then and Now’, it’s this question of complicity to which I kept returning.  What was it that makes it possible for people within any available moral framework to agree that one person’s life should be circumscribed by another’s whims?  That their origins, family and culture should be erased, to be replaced with the structures of control imposed by their ‘owner’?  What in particular, enabled the Quaker movement to ignore this vicious crime for generations, even sanctioning participation in slave-owning until finally outlawing it within the Society in 1776?  What, two centuries after the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire, makes it possible for people to be trafficked, trapped and exploited within households and commonplace industries right under our noses in this country today?

cover of Marcus Rediker’s recent book on a remarkable but largely forgotten campaigner

We have much to acknowledge in our history that has been forgotten, perhaps wilfully.  As Professor Marcus Rediker narrated in the fourth of our events, Quakers both in the UK and the American colonies of the mid-eighteenth century fought with one of their own – Benjamin Lay – for decades, barring and disowning him as a revolutionary troublemaker because of his tireless campaigning against slave-owning.  Alone in society and amongst Friends, he and his wife Mary were perhaps the first abolitionists.  Without their efforts there would have been no Clarkson, no Wilberforce; perhaps no abolition at all.

It was to Thomas Clarkson we turned in our second event, on 1st October, when Mike Casey and Arthur Pritchard, the duo known as Plain Quakers, dramatized his life and work in the abolition cause.  Inspired by his research for his prize-winning Cambridge University essay on the slave-trade, he devoted his life to forensically uncovering the truth of the treatment of slaves, risking life and limb from hostile opposition in the process; and using his findings to galvanise public support for abolition.

an audience member meets William Craft in the form of actor Joe Williams

But abolition was not all down to members of the slave-owning societies.  Sometimes slaves themselves were instrumental in winning their own freedom.  Our series was kicked off in style by a performance of ‘Meet the Crafts’: the dramatic retelling of William and Ellen Craft’s escape from slavery in Georgia in 1848, which was made possible because Ellen’s mixed heritage meant her light skin enabled her to disguise herself as William’s master.  Joe Williams and Leah Francis of Heritage Corner Leeds breathed life into these largely forgotten heroes of their time: ordinary people facing the most difficult of circumstances yet proving the great courage and dignity of the human spirit.

That courage is no less needed today than at any time.  40 million people are bound in one or other form of modern slavery: from indentured labour to sexual exploitation; from forced marriage to organ harvesting.  Here in the UK, exploitation of migrant labour by gangmasters operating in agriculture, the ‘beauty’ industry and car valeting.  In 2016, nearly 4,000 potential victims were alerted to the UK’s National Referral Mechanism – an increase of 17% on the previous year.  But because of slavery’s hidden nature, the actual numbers are likely to be far higher – estimates place the real figure around 13,000.

On 15th October we heard one person’s harrowing story of domestic servitude and narrow escape.  We heard from Andrew Clark how Anti-Slavery International are highlighting and tackling modern slavery in all its forms.  Cristina Talens of the Wilberforce Institute explained the scenarios she encounters when trying to help businesses identify and monitor how their activities and supply chains rely upon modern slavery.  Sheila Mosley of Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network drew the connection between the absence of safe and legal routes for asylum seekers to Europe and their vulnerability to enslavement during the trafficking process.

It left me shocked and saddened but not surprised.  Just as slavery in many forms is a constant blight on all societies, so are the worst facets of human nature.  But just as legalised slavery was abolished, so can our society work to abolish the slavery of our time.  If this seems too big a problem for individuals to deal with, we can take heart from the fact that numerous competent organisations are committed to bringing about change.  So the question is not ‘what on earth we can do about slavery?’; it is ‘what will it take to make us act?’


Some organisations addressing modern slavery through campaigns and victim support:

Anti-Slavery International –
Hope for Justice –
The Medaille Trust –

Government guidance and data on modern slavery:

Quaker organisations concerned with slavery or related issues:

Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network –
Quaker Peace and Social Witness –

About Marcus Rediker’s book:

To view or pick up information and resources about modern slavery, get in touch with the Friend in Residence to arrange a time to drop in.

Our thanks to all our contributors during the series.

Abolition – an idea whose time needs to come again

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On four Sunday afternoons from mid-September to late October this year, Airton Friends will be hosting a series of moving and informative events exploring the lives both of people experiencing slavery and those who worked towards it abolition, sometimes in spectacular fashion.  However, whilst abolition may have been a great historic achievement, it’s work is far from finished, as we will hear from speakers later in the series.

The events begin on September 17th with a performance by Leeds Heritage Corner ( of Meet the Crafts – a two handed play based on the biographical work Running a Thousand Miles to Freedom by escaped slave William Craft, published in 1860 by William Tweedie of London.  This harrowing story charts the flight of William and Ellen from slavery in the southern US, passage across the Atlantic and their reception in this country.  150 years after publication, the written narrative, available online at, is as gripping as any contemporary adventure, all the more intense through its being the real story of a man and woman struggling for freedom.  Meet the Crafts brings this story back to life as well as giving voice to other transatlantic voices of the time.

On October 1st, we explore the life of Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) in a dramatised reading by Arthur Pritchard and Mike Casey of Plain Quakers Theatre Projects (PQTP).  In Nine Parts a Quaker – Unfinished Business, the duo ask ‘If slavery was abolished in the nineteenth century, why are more than 20 million people enslaved today?’  The title refers to the fact that Clarkson was a sympathiser to Quaker values but was not himself a Quaker – an apt reminder that movements for change are most effective as coalitions rather than as single interest groups.  Follow PQTP on twitter @PlainQuakers.

The third event is part answer to the question posed by Nine Parts a Quaker.  Returning to the present day, in Here and Now, we will hear short talks and engage in discussion about contemporary slavery with contributions from someone who has experienced the sharp end of trafficking and domestic servitude; a former chair of Anti-Slavery International Andrew Clark; Cristina Talens of the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation (University of Hull); and Sheila Mosley of Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network.  Between them, these four speakers will shed light on the continued persistence of slavery both internationally and within the UK.  Abolitionists faced the challenges of their time with courage and determination; facing present reality is the beginning of change – so if you can only make one event in this series, this is the one to attend.

In the final event of the series, on October 29th, we travel back three centuries to explore the life and times of abolitionist Benjamin Lay (1682-1759).  Despite his small stature, he worked as a sailor, travelling to Barbados, where he was appalled by slavery.  Arriving in Philadelphia – where many of his fellow Quakers owned slaves – he provoked and annoyed them with incessant and sometimes extravagant campaigning, eventually being disowned by the Quaker meeting.  Yet his protests inspired subsequent Quaker abolitionists Anthony Benezet and John Woolman, helping to turn the movement wholesale against slavery.  This story will be unfolded for us by historian Marcus Rediker of the University of Pittsburgh, with an illustrated talk based on his book The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist (Beacon Press/Verso, 2017).

We warmly invite you to join us at any or all of these events.  Each begins at 3.30pm.  Entrance will be free and a collection will be taken to cover costs, with the surplus donated to a relevant charity by Airton Friends Meeting.

Keep updated over the next few weeks by visiting this site, including our news page.

Simon Watkins and Laurel Phillipson, 17th July 2017.

Of Nettles, Cottongrass and Orchids

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I’ve been waiting for the right time to explore Pendle Hill – that charismatic whale-back commanding the western horizon in views from pretty much everywhere skirting the south-western foothills of the Dales.  An inspiration to George Fox  as it was (see my previous blog, November 27th 2016), perhaps climbing it will spark a few more modest thoughts of my own.

In the middle of a heat wave the outlook is likely to be hazy but with overnight rains I’m hopeful that the air will have cleared and I’ll have a good view back towards Settle Moor and the hills east of Malhamdale.  Starting from the cheerful village of Barley I soon pick up the well-signed Pendle Way and begin what becomes before long a relentless ascent.  The early stages are marked by appealing encounters with gnarled, hollowed out ash trees, well-kept cottage gardens and I even find a patch of Nettles in full flower attractive.  Well, if you ignore the stings it’s quite a pretty plant really – and useful!

at their peak – a pretty patch

Hills and the views from them are irresistible if hackneyed metaphors.  Nonetheless the logic works: amongst the many reasons for climbing a hill is to achieve a sense of more than physical distance from the humdrum tangle of everyday matters and their accompanying controversies; to see the bigger picture internally just as the external view unfolds in all its glory.  However, my hopes of a clear view soon dissipate: far from clearing the air, the rain was just the vanguard of a blanket of cloud washing out everything further than a couple miles away from sight.

Just as the weather foils my attempt to look back towards home it provides an equally significant metaphor to the hoped-for sense of clarity: although I might not be able to see the whole picture as clearly as I wished but I can at least see what it is that’s blocking the view; and to decide whether it’s possible to sweep it away, or whether there’s nothing for it but to sit it out and wait for the prevailing wind to disperse it.

no clearer for the rain – part way up Pendle

Up here on the summit of Pendle, it’s not only my own challenges that come to mind when I’m looking for clarity.  It seems to me the current state of the country is no less cloudy than this view.  It would be enough that we are faced with the biggest political, economic and legislative upheavals in several generations in the form of our exit from the EU, profound questions over how our role in world affairs should be played and fractious, wavering governance at home; but the terror and cyber-attacks of recent weeks, the deplorable tragedy of Grenfell Tower and the reports of failing public services all serve to disorientate and prevent objective assessment of how we should be as a society in 2017.  I’m reminded of a slogan deployed optimistically by a certain political party during the 2010 election: ‘We need to heal our broken society’.  I wonder how that’s going?

I have no answers of course; but about the current state of politics I do wonder what might happen if, given the divisive nature of the ideologies behind each party’s approach, instead of any one party attempting to represent the whole country’s aspirations in the uniquely challenging task of Brexit, the government were formed of ministers from every party in parliament?  Forced by the need to overcome differences in the national interest those involved might be led to search for a sense of how best to proceed rather than constantly fighting their predetermined corners in a rearguard action against hostile opposition at home and abroad.  I know this isn’t the cricket we’re used to in UK politics but Quakers can vouch for non-confrontational business methods to resolve the most controversial of subjects; and yes, we do occasionally encounter some very interesting controversies even within what is in essence a highly progressive movement.

Through a cotton-grass carpet

Such are my less than conclusive thoughts as I leave the summit, following by whim an inviting flagged path winding down the back of the hill between endless stretches of cotton-grass.   Now there’s one of my favourite things: for some reason, cotton-grass really cheers me up.  In fact it’s up there with halloumi cheese, Chopin’s piano concerto in E minor and Edinburgh.  And I might have gone on thinking that was the best result I could have hoped for from this walk on a dreach day until lower down in the valley I come across a swathe of exquisite orchids dotted about in a fabulous meadow.  It really was worth the trip just for that.  After all, looking closely at the details is just as valuable as seeing the bigger picture – there being, of course, a right time for both.

perfect clarity in miniature

A cry for Manchester: when words fail

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Sometimes there are simply no words.  Thoughts and sentiments beat the exits of the mind, jumbling together in an incoherent mess.  For the time being, no thought, no idea remotely helpful can be formed.  There is no response but shock and no help but silence.

Such is the reaction I find myself locked into this week.  Appalled and stunned along with the rest of the nation, I watched and listened in tears to the news as the awful experiences of ordinary people were described.  Innocent people caught up in the consequences of one of the most disgraceful acts of barbarity ever committed on these islands.  I’ve struggled to comprehend what could make it possible for any person, let alone one born into our own tolerant, multi-cultural society, to destroy the lives of dozens of people including children, wrecking their families, obliterating their potential.  I’ve rallied to the sight of thousands gathering in Manchester’s Albert Square determined to express their solidarity and strength, their willingness to come to each other’s aid and to fight hatred with the far more powerful common bonds of love.  And I’ve asked myself how it’s possible that these two extremes can so evidently co-exist amongst us; and which will ultimately shape our future most strongly.

In struggling with these questions I quickly realise that even if there are answers, I’m the least capable of finding them.  These events are far from not only my experience but mercifully, perhaps that of most people.  We who are spared exposure to this kind of suffering can only watch in sorrow, mourn with the bereaved, support those whose work it is to rescue and relieve, and calmly and rationally assist those whose responsibility is to prevent and protect.  But perhaps the most useful thing for the majority to do is to give space to real discussion about the things which threaten peace, educating ourselves about the whole society in which we live and move and in our public conversations and debates allowing all issues to be examined that might influence the decision of a person to commit unspeakable crimes.

For now, however, I return to silence: a space in which I can by feeling the mix of horror, pity, despair, solidarity and hope reaffirm the connection I have with the communities in Manchester and everywhere scarred by brutal acts of violence.  They it is who will rebuild their own cities but they can do so in the knowledge that people around the world stand with them, pray with them and will support them in peace and friendship as they strive to overcome their present darkness.