A Christmas carol……

Celebrating Yorkshire’s Coast & Country

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A little Christmas cheer……..!

Many of our oldest and most cherished Christmas customs are neither so traditional (in some cases), or ‘Christmasy’ (in others), as we might think. Most of the cults of greenery such as Holly, Mistletoe, and in some regions Rosemary, Bay or other evergreens are decidedly pagan; with fertility and sexual overtones. So what about ‘Father Christmas’ a man of many aliases like St Nicholas and Santa Claus? Well he didn’t celebrate Christmas and knew little about Reindeer. In Dutch legends, ‘Sinterklaas’ rides a grey horse, wearing bishop’s clothes (well I suppose it takes all sorts at Christmas ……). If you head north you may come across the Finnish legend of ‘Old Man Winter’ who does drive his reindeer down from the mountains and brings the snow with him. So we now have a man who sounds like he sports a long white beard and is involved with Reindeer. The image of Santa that we see everywhere – as the plump, jolly figure, long white beard etc is depressingly recent. It comes from the drawings of Thomas Nast in Harpers Weekly between 1863 and 1886; the fur-trimmed robe inspired by the furs of the wealthy Astors. However, there is worse to come (SO SMALL OR SENSITIVE CHILDREN SHOULD NOT READ BEYOND THIS POINT).

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Our ‘traditional’ Santa in shops, in gardens, in corporate displays, on cards, inflated and illuminated in countless balconies of homes in for example the Gleadless Valley across to Dinnington, and from Askern to Grimethorpe, is a complete fraud, a charlatan. The jovial bundle of fun and merriment clad in red and white (a Blades fan of course!), is the invention of Coca-Cola. Before 1931, Santa Claus had different garbs from a natty green elf number, to a sombre St. Nicholas; in one he was a gaunt man in animal skins or straw, called Knecht Rupprecht, and apparently rather frightening. English legends relate to the ‘Green Man’; not ‘Swampy’ or even David Bellamy or today David Attenborough,  but an image harking back to pagan ancestors, the spirit of nature and the wildwood. From our Viking ancestors was the Norse god Odin in the depths of winter visiting his worshippers with gifts for the deserving and punishments the bad; a few folk should be looking out around Yuletide!

Anyway Coca-Cola commissioned young Swedish artist, Haddon Sundblom to do an image makeover; in modern parlance a bit of spin. It worked a treat with St. Nicholas wearing a red coat with white trim and a thick leather belt, and posed various seasonal scenes. In 1934 he gained a hat also trimmed in white. He also lost his pipe and gained a bottle of Coke; posing with children, reindeer, sacks of toys, or letters. His very modest gifts of things such as cakes, fruit, nuts, dolls and items of clothing, also became much more expensive and led to the pinnacle of the consumer-driven Christmas experience. This really is the American dream! So have a ‘Cool Yule and a Happy Hogmanay’; just one cheerful thought:

Don’t forget, environmental catastrophe isn’t just for Christmas, with any luck there’ll be a bit left over for Boxing Day!’

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And to help the seasonal festivities – Ian’s Christmas Bird Pudding Recipe

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You need a large bowl and several smaller bowls, a large wooden spoon, peanuts (bird-food not salted!!), mixed birdseed, sunflower seed, Niger seed, raisins (optional but avoid desiccated fruit or other such foods) and other food scraps such as bacon rind. It is best to wear a kitchen apron for protection and to keep a roll of paper towels on hand to wipe excess of your hands. If you are going to use the pudding in containers to hand outside then you need to have these pre-prepared as well.

First, take four 250 g packs of lard (or of a vegetable lard substitute). Place on a plate and allow them warm to room temperature. They need to be sufficiently warm as to be mixable by hand in a large bowl.

(You can melt the lard in a saucepan but then it does take a long time to cool and set, and also it smells! If you do this then take care as it splashes and scalds, and is hard to remove from clothing etc).

Prepare into separate bowls the ingredients you intend to add to the pudding. I suggest the following:

  • Two handfuls of peanuts
  • Two handfuls of mixed birdseed
  • Two handfuls of sunflower seed
  • Two handfuls of Niger seed
  • Two handfuls of juicy raisins
  • Other suitable food scraps

Having placed the lard into the large bowl and mixed to soften with hands and the wooden spoon, gradually add in the peanuts and seed whilst stirring with the spoon.  Try to get a reasonably even mix throughout.

Now you can dispense the pudding in one of two ways:

1)     Place it into suitable containers for handing outside

2)     Smear dollops of the pudding to set on suitable locations such as tree branches or forks in trees etc. Avoid placing where the pudding might drip onto a surface where it isn’t wanted.

Sprinkle some nuts, seed and Niger seed onto the outside of the cooling budding to tempt the birds in. The pudding can then be allowed to cool further and to set. This will provide a long-lasting, energy rich food source for the birds and is relatively low cost too. Additionally, as far as I know, the grey squirrels are not too keen!

Add a sprig of holly or mistletoe for seasonal effect. Good luck.

And then, after all the food, get out on the moors and walk off the excess – in my region you may even spot the Peak District’s White Winter Hare

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Photograph buy Peter Wolstenholme

One of our most distinctive and evocative animals is to be found on just a handful of sites around the moorland fringe of the High Peak. Seen by relatively few people, high on the Pennine moors, on a bleak winter evening, this mysterious creature roams the rocky crags, peat bogs and heaths. This is the Mountain Hare, Blue Hare or Irish Hare. It is the upland cousin of the Brown Hare. In winter it can turn almost pure white, so this year expect mottled brownish-grey!

Anyhow, step outside the Strines Inn near Bradfield on a winter night, and you may get a shock as a white ‘rabbit’ skips across the road in your car headlights. Many a late-night drinker has foresworn the demon drink after such a vision. Yet they should count themselves lucky since it is only during cold harsh weather that this denizen of the high tops, ventures lower down the slope. They occur as far south as Stanage Edge though the more rugged and northerly Derwent Edge is their stronghold. I saw one a few years back on the main Hathersage Road near Blackamoor and they have been reported from Big Moor (both quite southerly in the Peak District sense), but that is exceptional.

Interestingly, the Mountain Hare is the true native hare of Great Britain, but not in the Peak District or Pennines. Here in the Peak it was introduced as a moorland game animal to be reared alongside the Red Grouse. Native or not, the Mountain Hare has been adopted as an iconic conservation species in this part of the world, and local naturalists make a New Year’s Day pilgrimage to count them along the icy tors and boulders of Derwent Edge.

Whilst the Mountain Hare is a rarity in both Yorkshire and Derbyshire, it is not necessarily shy. If you find them, then you can approach quite closely without undue disturbance. I suspect that sometimes they are not too bright and they are vulnerable to becoming causalities of road traffic accidents. Many years ago I was leading a group from Losehill Hall (then the Peak Park Study Centre) ‘to find the rare and elusive’ Mountain Hares. Having laid it on a bit about the need for the large group to move carefully and quietly to get a lucky glimpse of a Hare, we rounded a large boulder atop of a massive Derwent Edge tor.

Sat motionless on the ground in front of us was a young Mountain Hare, nonchalantly preening itself and not a care in the world. A gasp of amazement came from the group – what a lucky break and of course an excellent expedition leader! As it became clear that this animal was not going to budge at all and really did not care one bit that it had an audience so close, I think the regard for my tracking skills perhaps subsided slightly. However, everyone did enjoy a fantastic and once in a lifetime view. Another problem that the Hares face is that sometimes they do not change colour; at least not fully.

A mottled brown and white Hare on white snowy moorland stands out very clearly to predators. The numbers of the Hares vary with weather and with the condition of the moors. Like the Red Grouse, they do need the right balance of old and younger heather to mix cover and fresh green food. If the balance is not right or for example if there has been a bad, catastrophic fire, then numbers will drop. I suspect that a rise in human disturbance also affects numbers and of course, a dog off the leash can have a bad effect on Mountain Hares and their young. At once, the approachability of this iconic mammal makes it both charming but also vulnerable to people getting too close and not taking care, which is a shame.

Some final thoughts:

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Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen….

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…………Sheffield’s trees lay round about

Where the chainsaws left them

Brightly shone the lights that night

Though the frost was cruel

When a poor man came in sight

Gath’ring winter fuel

Hither, AMEY stand by me

If thou know’st it, telling

Yonder peasant, who is he?

Where and what his dwelling?

We shall surely cut his trees

Then our coffers be swelling

Cut them, chip them, grind them down

All we do is felling

Sire, the night is lighter now

And the wind blows stronger

Fit for purpose, I know not how,

I can cut no longer.

Mark my contract, my good page

Read the small print boldly

Thou shalt find the locals’ rage

Freeze thy blood less coldly.

In the Council’s steps they trod

Where the paths lay dinted

Roots lay in the very sod

This the Council printed

Mark the notice my good page

Note the reasons boldly

{All together} Dangerous, Dead, Dying, Diseased, Damaging, Discriminatory

AMEY and Council forth they went

Forth they went together

Through the people’s wild lament

And the bitter weather

Not for turning that’s for sure

With their mantra loudly roar

{All together} Dangerous, Dead, Dying, Diseased, Damaging, Discriminatory

Sheffield’s street trees still stand proud

And the folk together

Save our trees they cry out loud

Let them live for ever

Therefore, AMEY men, be sure

Wealth or rank possessing

Ye who now will bless the TREES

Shall yourselves find blessing

With a nod to Mason Neale (1853)

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And from previous years……..

https://ianswalkonthewildside.wordpress.com/2015/12/25/merry-christmas-to-all-my-readers/

https://ianswalkonthewildside.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/celebrating-the-wild-side-of-yorkshires-coast-country-mistletoe-and-more-time-for-that-christmas-cheer/

https://ianswalkonthewildside.wordpress.com/2014/12/13/christmas-and-the-magic-mushrooms/

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One Response to A Christmas carol……

  1. Terrific blog, Ian! Especially the Mountain Hare – I wonder if that is the hare in one of Yeats’ loveliest short poems? And the anti-Amey Carol! Well done. Very best wishes for 2017!

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