In view of the idiotic price of petrol, and the fact that I got up a bit late, I decided to have a local walk. Bruno mentioned that we’d never been to the Butter Stone and, drooling at the prospect of a rock fabricated entirely from Kerrygold, he was quite assertive about it.
So, we allowed enough petrol for the forty mile trip to Barnard Castle and back.
And so, after parking neatly on the main street, we wandered down to the River and used the gas pipe bridge to get across – and soon we were in the frosty-yet-somehow-still-muddy wildwood of Deepdale. The hills around had a general cover of new snow, which must have fallen last night and the breeze blowing over the snowfields was searching.
The wild wind wanders around the old wintery wood
Wondering whether it would waken the weather
Winding it’s windy fingers round the old wald world.
Yes folks, it was perishing.
Woodland paths are always filthy at this time of year, and the path through Deepdale is a fine example of filthyness. It wanders up and down the sides, just like the wild wind, in fact.
But – I did notice that there was a lot more bird song in the woods today. Outside the woodland, in the pastures and meadows, there is no apparent life at all.
At one point it traverses a short tilted shelf overlooking a vegetated crag where the path is slippery with slutch and where a slip would have dire consequences. Bruno was strictly on the lead here. If I fell, he was coming with me.
At another point, there are six stone plinths which are the foundations for the Bishop Auckland – Tebay railway which crossed the gorge at this point. The trackbed of the viaduct was about 50 metres above this point.
Later, the path escapes to the long Eastern Pennine slope where there are small crags with overhangs and dry bracken – ideal for scoffing a chicken and bacon butty out of the nithering breeze.
Even later, we wandered across the edge of Battle Hill firing range and over easy moors to the Butter Stone, disappointingly (for superdawg), not made of butter at all.
The Butter Stone, so local legend has it, used to be the place where the villagers of Cotherstone, undergoing a self-imposed lockdown during the plague, would leave dairy products for trade. And these would be swapped for whatever they would have needed. I suspect that this would at least contain salt, since villages in those days would be pretty much self-sufficient.
I also suspect that the stone had a deeper significance and an older function, because its not very big, to be frank, and it would have had top have had to be well known in plague times. There was, in fact, a small votive offering in a little depression in the stone. A penny. Not much of an offering. I added a 5p. Again, not much, but a wish or a blessing (or a curse) escaped me at the time. I expect you’d have to circle it three times clockwise for a blessing and widdershins for a curse. Or something.
We passed down through Lartington Hall parkland which at one time was a walled pleasure garden and at another, belonged to a 10th Century Danish aristocrat who gave it to the Bishop of Durham. It has some very fine old trees…
As I returned to Barnard Castle, it went dark.
We did 11 miles and about 1000 feet of uphill
The snatch of poetry , by the way, is an English translation of an old poem – I can’t remember whether its Old English or whether somebody just made it up and said it was Old English… .