16 December 2003

Milnthorpe Stainton Beck

Stainton Beck held a number of memories for me mostly all good. It was the beck I now suddenly realise that I occasionally dream of but although I see it in the same place it looks different. The one I see in my dream is not fast flowing but it is with a lazy flow through stony pools of eddying water and lazy fish. I do dream a lot don't I?

Stainton Beck was too large really to be called a beck; it was really a small river and flowed through Kidside House paddock near the road. It is the place of the large hollow tree where I found a tree creeper's nest. I saw this small bird running up and down the trunk of a large tree pecking here and there for small insects. Although I had never seen this small bird before but I recognised it immediately from drawings. I watched for a while and then saw the tree creeper disappear into a hole in the trunk. I climbed the tree and found the nest with 4 eggs present behind the loose bark and I took one.

During my days at Sharrow Bay I never came across a robin's nest but when we came to Kidside I quickly found one. Yes, it was along Stainton Beck in the boundary wall of a house upstream from us. I like robin's with their cheerful cheeky chatter, hopping close to see if you have dislodged any insect life as you move along. In 2003 during our visit to Vicky and Ian's Wiltshire home, they had a resident robin in their garden and it its antics took me back to the days of my youth.

Sometimes after heavy prolonged rain I used to go down to Stainton Beck by the Kidside farm lane bridge fishing. Here just down stream of the bridge was an old holly tree with its trunk bent over the water and its roots partly blocking the current, this forming a slowly swirling eddy and a small deep backwater pool. I used to get my fishing rod out, dig some worms from our compost heap and go fishing. The trout in the river were hungry for worms in the deep swollen swiftly flowing brown water from the rain and I could always count on a bite in the holly pool. Sure enough not long after popping my line in the brown water there would be a bite and out I would pull out a trout, and then another and another. When I had sufficient I would head home to the frying pan with the fish.

John used to fish Stainton Beck too but that was really at the confluence really of Stainton Beck and Peasey Beck where they joined to form the River Bela that was at the end of Kidside Farm land. John’s method of fishing was by swimming, he was a good swimmer and much better than I. John would dive into the deep water and swim towards the weed bent over with swift flowing current, dive and run his hands along the horizontal weed strands until he felt a resting fish. Then he would grab it by the gills and toss it onto the bank. Quite a party trick, really.

We weren't really allowed to fish in the Stainton Beck, not even if it flowed through your land. The fishing rights belonged to the local fishing club with yearly right of renewal. Strange, your land and you couldn't fish in your part of the river! But that was England in the 1940s and probably long before that.

I had a friend called Tom Wilson. He was much older man than I and I met him in the mid 1950s through our mutual interest of amateur radio. Tom was a keen fly fisherman and the Stainton Beck flowed through his back garden in the village of Stainton about 5 miles from our home. Tom belonged the angling club so he could fish as he pleased but worms were illegal bait. I never told him of my fishing exploits. More about Tom later.

One day I went down to the beck to find an otter hunt in progress by the local Otter Hunt Club. The large shaggy coated long-legged hounds were following fast, the scent all over up and down the banks of the stream but left after a while empty handed to try their luck further down stream. I was glad, Otters were not a problem here decimating the river fish stocks and I don't like hunting too much purely for the sport of it.

But, I'll tell you of fox hunting later.

15 December 2003

Ullswater: A Frowned on Hobby.
One of my favourite hobbies is, by a large number of people today, very much frowned on. I was first introduced when I was at Sharrow Bay and continued with it when I came to Kidside.

Well I suppose I must let the secret out and tell you it was bird’s egg collecting a popular hobby by boys and adults sometimes, going back many generations. Today birds egg collecting is a dirty word as far as environmentalists are concerned and some ordinary people too. But in those days it was not so, endangered birds of today were common in the 1940s.

I used to travel all around the district both at Sharrow Bay and later Kidside on my bike seeking breeding sites for species I did not have. My total of various species was miserably short on the list of possible types but I enjoyed what I did find. When at Sharrow Bay I heard that some of the seagull species and water birds nested on the Penrith sewage works land so a friend and I biked to Penrith, found the sewage works but we were on the opposite bank of a river, most probably the River Eamont or it could have been the River Lowther. Fortunately the riverbed was wide and the river shallow and we waded across. On reaching the far side we found scores of nests of both gull and wader species that I was short of for my collection. We quickly collected samples of the different kinds and proceeded to explore further. Suddenly there was a distant shout and a figure waving his arms headed for us. It was time to leave we thought for it was the works caretaker and he looked angry.

We picked up our booty, collected our shoes and socks and waded back across the river. Drying our feet we didn't rush, the angry man wouldn't cross the river after us and risk getting wet, he knew we would be gone on our bikes in a trice before he could reach us.

Returning to Pooley Bridge, the evening was late and when we reached my friends house I found my father waiting for me, anxiously wondering what had happened to me. The time was close to 9 p.m. and I had been gone since early morning. He didn't chastise me at all, no sharp words or even “don't do it again”, but then my father left all the discipline to Mum.

A Second Story

Arriving at Kidside I found that different species of birds were present in the area. One I remember vividly was finding a magpie’s nest over the rear high hedge of a house across the paddocks from Kidside. I had never seen a magpie's nest before but I did know they could be a vicious bird. I climbed the apple tree and eyed the nest and waited a while, noticing no activity from the big round mass of twigs before me, I noted the entrance hole and wondered, should I? I plucked up courage and slowly put my hand in the nest hole ready to jerk it back but no magpie was present, but I did feel the roundness of 2 eggs present and I took 1 for my collection.

Another new species I found was near Kidside House in the paddock by the Stainton Beck was a tree creeper. I saw this small bird running up and down the trunk of a large tree pecking here and there for small insects. Although I had never seen this small bird before I recognised it immediately. I watched for a while and then saw the tree creeper disappear into a hole in the trunk. I climbed the tree and found the nest with 4 eggs present behind the loose bark and I took 1 egg.

After I left home I think my egg collection was taking up valuable space and a few years later Mum took the opportunity to dispose of it to one of the sons of the farm worker living in the workers house attached to Kidside Farm. I was a bit miffed at the time but I realised later the collection had gone to a good home.

13 December 2003

Milnthorpe: Gyp into the Sunset Years
For the next decade I spent a good part of my time away from home, first at South Shields Marine and Technical College and then following my profession coming home during holidays and leave. Gyp would always greet me with his usual wag of his tail and a fuss.

When on leave I often used to be at a loose end during the day, old friends were busy working during the week. I sometimes used to go down the fields of Kidside Farm and have a look at my old haunts. Gyp would be overjoyed when he realized were we were going. One day walking along the banks of the Stainton Stream I heard a splash, Gyp heard it too and we went to investigate. There swimming slowly at an angle across the stream was an otter, this long sleek animal was a lovely graceful sight. Gyp was exited, to him it was prey to be hunted but I commanded him to stay but he couldn't help himself but to edge forward and I again said “no” to him. As I've said previously Lakeland terriers were bred to hunt and Gyp was no exception, the urge to hunt had been bred into him.

As the years passed, on one of my periodic visits home to Kidside I noticed Gyp seemed to spend more time around home, not going out as much with Dad down to the gardens or on his periodic wanderings around the countryside as he used to. I started to notice a touch of grey around his jaw line; he was starting to age a little. I mentioned the fact in conversation with Mum and Dad and they told me he seemed to be a little stiff in the mornings too and used to drink more frequently from his water bowl. They said it would be his kidneys starting to fail him, he was past 10 years old and it was to be expected.

It must have been in the year 1958-59 or thereabouts, Pat said it was before our marriage in 1960. Mum had Dad had gone down to Morecambe for their annual holiday and I was living at home alone. One morning I got up, it must have been Saturday to find Gyp lying on his side raising his head to look at me. He was very obviously sick, I offered him a drink of water, which he sipped and lay down on his side again. Things are a little hazy from now on but I must have contacted a vet and I next remember finding myself in a vet's waiting room, the one who was down Stricklandgate in Kendal, with other people and sick animals.

Our turn came and I carried Gyp into the surgery, the vet asked me the usual questions and then examined Gyp. After a short while he returned to his desk and told me Gyp was in a bad way, he had kidney failure and there was nothing he could do for him long term. He paused and continuing said to me that the kindest thing to do for Gyp was to put him down. Sensing my indecision as I told him my parents were on holiday he said to think it over for a few minutes and he went away to tidy up. Returning he must have noticed my intense distress and he suggested that he would be more than willing to look after everything and I could leave by a side door opening to an alleyway. I said goodbye to Gyp and left him in the hands of the vet. In the alleyway I remember leaning against the wall for sometime as I gained control and tided myself up. I didn’t tell anyone except Pat that Gyp had to be put down until my parents returned home and I had broke the sad news to them. They listened quietly as I told them the story of Gyp, the house was a quiet place for quite a while afterwards, and they probably missed him even more than I did.

I sometimes, even now think of Gyp, that cheerful small dog and wish now that I taken him home to Kidside and buried him in the garden.

But then in those days we weren't supposed to get sentimental over animals as we sometimes do now. It was only an animal we were told

During our 2003 visit to the UK we visited Kidside Cottage and as I looked over the hedge to the garden gate and where the compost heap still was and thought that undisturbed place in the corner would have been ideal to inter Gyp.

12 December 2003

Milnthorpe: Gyp's Life continued
Both at Sharrow Bay and as well at Kidside Gyp used to be able to run free, but he chose to spend most of his time in the vicinity of home often accompanying Dad during his duties. Now and then he would disappear overnight and then turn up next day, we had no idea where he had been. Occasionally a neighbour mentioned in passing, of Gyp on his "rounds". Sometimes quite a way from home, there were no complaints of him so we didn't worry too much.

When at Kidside during the breeding season it was a different matter, Gyp would disappear for days at a time and we would worry. Eventually days later he would again appear often looking sorry for himself and hungry. His smart black and tan coat would be dirty, matted and sometimes bloody and one time torn ears. We knew he had been fighting. He was well known for visiting the "ladies" in the district when in season and the surrounding farms, too. His biggest problem was the farm dogs, they were usually bigger and heavier than Gyp but their size did not deter him, which we learnt from stories that filtered back of his escapades. Lakeland Fox terriers were renowned for the fearless disposition. They were bred to tackle marauding foxes in their holes and kill if need be, never turning tail on their enemy.

Gyp would sometimes arrive home from his expeditions a little worse for wear, bloody and battered. His first port of call would be Mum. He would quietly wait whist she scolded him with words like "where have you been?" and "just look at the state of you" and such like phrases. Then she would get some hot water and sponge of the mud and the blood and examine Gyp's wounds. Next would come the iodine and Gyp would flinch but sit tight as Mum applied it to the wounds, then would come the antiseptic ointment. When Gyp was patched up then Mum would feed him, Gyp was ravenous after 2 or 3 days or more away from home on the battlefield, his appetite sated he would then settle down on the mat in front of the fire and go to sleep, dreaming I guess doggy dreams as he twitched and growled in his sleep.

As Gyp ran free around Kidside and sometimes farther afield through the hedgerows and undergrowth he tended to pick up ticks on his coat, nasty beasts. Usually these were around his head and neck were his coat was thinnest and the hair finer and easy for the ticks to reach skin level. The ticks would burrow into the skin and extract blood into an ugly white sac attached to the tic's body which turned a dark colour as the sac filled.

Dad used to spend time de-ticking Gyp when he saw him scratching, he would grasp the tick at the base of the sac with his thumbnail and first fingernail and pull the ticks off. By using this method the whole of the tick was removed. If the sac pulled away without the head the head would fester and cause a sore to form. John and I would sometimes de-tick Gyp but it was not one of my favourite jobs. Many animals picked up ticks from undergrowth and greenery.

Lakeland Terriers are happy dogs by nature and have all the attributes one could wish for in a dog. They are also fearless, in fact they were bred for their fearlessness, their job with the hunt was to go down the rocky holes on the Lakeland fells to flush out foxes when they went to "ground" during the hunt. If necessary they were required to kill the fox underground and a dog had to be fearless to face a big strong "dog" fox with his needle sharp teeth.

Todays show Lakeland terrier looks much different to the working Lakeland terrier of the hunt that I remember. Visually the show one looks a different dog, the coat is longer and curlier to allow clipping and trimming, I suppose. The colour seems sandier and the rich back and tan of the working dog seems to be absent. To this end I was relying on pictures on the Internet that invariably were show dogs only.

8 December 2003

Ullswater: A Dog named Gyp.
Well he wasn't really "our" dog he started life as John's dog at Sharrow Bay as a birthday present when John was about 7 years old. Or was it Christmas?

Gyp was a Lakeland terrier, he came as a pup from the Ullswater Foxhound pack kennels situated at Patterdale. He was what I would term a real or proper Lakeland Terrier, not looking like one of those show dogs we see today, in the year 2003 from breeding kennels, with a pedigree as long as your arm.  Gyp was black and tan and was not a show dog, he was what was called, a working dog and as he grew, he was a handsome dog to boot.

When we first got him we were living at Sharrow Lodge and we kept him hidden in an outhouse at the bottom of the backdoor steps until the special day. Mum used to feed him in the evenings and it was my job to keep my eyes open for John and divert him if need be, from the backdoor area.

As he quickly grew he endeared himself to everyone. One day he blotted his copybook unfortunately. We had got 2 tame rabbits complete with a wooden tongue and groove custom built "A" frame combined hutch, and run. We used to keep it on a rough piece grassed ground at the rear of the house. One evening when I went to feed the rabbits and wheel the rabbit pen to a new piece of grass, there lying in the run was a dead rabbit, and a hole dug under the run. There was no sign of the other rabbit so I opened the rear door of the shelter and peered in, there was Gyp lying in the hutch and the other rabbit lying dead between his front paws with Gyp looking at me and wagging his tail.

I raced back to the house, Dad had just arrived home and we rushed back to the rabbit run. Dad reached into the hutch grabbed Gyp by the scruff of the neck and hauled him out. By this time Gyp's tail had stopped wagging as Dad shouted at him. Dad commanded me with "hold him". He reached into the hutch; pulled out the warm dead rabbit then tipped the hutch on its sideband retrieved the other rabbit. Dad laid the 2 rabbits on the ground together and he took Gyp from me by the scruff of his neck looked him in the eye and shouted then he took Gyp and buried his nose in the dead rabbits. I then saw Dad had his folded belt in his hand and he gave the dog 3 or 4 good wallops then he took Gyp and again stuck his nose in the rabbits. He then took the dog and looked him directly in the eye and again shouted then put him down on the ground. Gyp slunk away to the house where all evening he lay quietly in the corner.

Dad told me later that was the way of the huntsman to punish an offending dog except the huntsman instead of using a belt he bit the dog in its most tender place while shouting at it and looking the dog in the eye, he bit the  dogs nose sudden and hard.

Years later there was a sequel to this incident, at Kidside. We were out rabbiting and we had missed netting a bolthole and a rabbit shot out. Gyp shot across its track to cut it off and grab the rabbit. He suddenly came to a skidding stop, the rabbit was a light sandy colour, and he ran away from the rabbit and lay down. Although the sandy rabbit was a different colour from the wild rabbits it was not at all like in colour of our tame rabbits... dark chocolate brown. Gyp had remembered his lesson of a few years ago.

As Gyp grew from a pup to an adult dog he became a friend to all the family. One day we had a knock at the door and there stood Mr. Platt, a rather pompous man from Sharrow Cottages a way up the road towards Howtown. He said, "Your dog is lying on the road, could you please remove him? He snarls when I try to do so and I can't drive around him". There was Gyp when we arrived, stretched out, dead centre in the middle of the narrow road. As he raised his head I'm sure he smiled as we picked him up, or was it just a quiver of his upper lip? I don't think he cared for Mr Platt either.

The black tar seal was always warm even on a dull day and Gyp enjoyed the warmth, usually he lay on the edge of the road. One day we saw Gyp limping holding up one back leg, we thought a vehicle had probably hit him. Initially he flinched when we examined the leg but after a while he seemed better. Although not sore he still limped. Years later he limped... sometimes. He would still run normally and trot along at a fast clip and then as though he had forgot he would start to limp, running on 3 legs. I used to think it was habit only, something would catch his attention and he would run again normally.

3 December 2003

Rationing and Us

Arriving at Kidside in 1948, 3 years after the end of WW2 many food items including milk was still rationed and the meagre quantities of WW2 were in the main still maintained.

Our family during the wartime years and later managed to live and eat better than most people. Our primary advantage was our location in the country and a close-knit community. We grew all our vegetables and our fruit requirements were taken care of; we grew lots of carrots and turnips and buried the surplus in a shed of dry sand for winter use, apples, well with surpluses we laid them out on paper in a cool darkened shed and they lasted through most of the winter. Tomatoes too and even gourmet artichokes if we wanted them.

We caught fish in Lake Ullswater and the river at Kidside. Meat from local farmer friends and Uncle John Brough, also from shot, snared and caught rabbits; rabbit meat from sweet pasture was very tasty, especially in rabbit pie. Our hens provided us with chicken meat also and any amount of eggs. Dad used to incubate fertile eggs each year and Mum too to secure new stock. We kept a cockerel to do his duty.

At Christmas we always managed a turkey to dress the table, most farmers produced a few extra and gave to friends although one year I had to bike past Howtown to buy one from a farmer who dispatched the bird on the spot and tying its leg together, hung it on the handle bars of my bike. Yes, we lived quite well.

Tea, sugar, soap, etc. was a different matter we had the rationed amounts only. With sugar, Mum used to empty the sugar from the bag into a container and then proceed to carefully dissect the paper bag and extract the sugar granules from its folds, a teaspoonful at the most. For extra butter we had a small hand churn and used cream from the farm. Mum knew all about salting butter to taste from her years on the family farm. Tea was not too much of a problem, we boys did not drink it very often, and milk was preferred. Dad liked his big regular mug of tea and mum liked her share too no doubt. Bread, well Mum baked her own another legacy from the farm; we seemed to always have enough flour. Fat was precious with the small sorry ration, bacon fat found its way into the fry pan as did fat from pork and beef. Soap, well you never let it stay in the water, you used it and put back into the holder promptly. Soap powder again the very minimum was used for washing and the wash was always a full load.

And so it went on, carefulness and common sense was the order of the day. As I pen this, I think of those townspeople who were not so lucky as us with our facilities, having to rely much more on the rationed goods

When we were at Sharrow Bay a wood known as Barton Park was not too far away and full of hazel nut trees. We used to pick the hazel nuts in autumn and store them for winter treats.


Ah, I here you wonder, what is a Spiv? Well the picture of a Spiv in those days of the 1940s and 50s was a flashy suited "gentleman", loud tie, pointy-toed shoes, light camel-hair overcoat all topped with an American style Fedora hat over slicked Bryllcreamed hair. This "gentleman" was a wheeler-dealer, he could get you anything... petrol, butter, meat, in fact anything that was rationed, a luxury or in short supply in austerity Britain but at a price. He had plenty of customers clammering for his goods, be it food, nylons for the girls or petrol for a visit to relatives.

He operated the local black market and knew all the sources of illegal goods. Some farmers would sell him meat, poultry or eggs. Some people sold him their surplus produce. If he could not find sellers of these sources
He would not think twice of stealing them if he had to without getting caught. There were always sellers of illegal goods if the price was right and buyers of rationed goods at inflated prices. He was the middleman.

His name stemmed from the word VIPs... Very Important Persons spelt in reverse according the most popular explanation of the era. I tend to believe this explanation, there are other suggested ones.

In many peoples eyes a Spiv was a necessary evil, for he did bring a little sparkle into the lives of people of dull, austerity-ridden Britain.

1 December 2003


Rationing started at the beginning of WW2 and continued for 14 years... it was 1953 before the last item, meat was released from rationing.

1940-1945 Random facts

Typical examples per person per week:-
1 egg per week per ration book!
Icing sugar banned.

Tiered wedding cakes were frequently made from cardboard and were hired from bakers.
Paper was in such short supply that wrapping of shopping items were forbidden.
In 1941 cheese was down to 1oz... 28 gms.
In 1942 you were asked to use no more than 5 ins. of water in your bath to save fuel.
Between 1939 and 1945 80,000 civilian adult men, women and children were killed on the home front by enemy action.

Just about every food item and shopping items were rationed. Queues at shops were an everyday occurrence and when your turn came it did not guarantee the food items were still available, most were in short supply. Every person, baby to adult had a ration book with tear out stamps for your quota. Many items disappeared off the shelves altogether.

Clothing coupons were issued each year. An overcoat would cost almost a years issue of coupons. That is if you could find one for sale. It would be made from poor utility cloth.

Grow your own was encouraged. It was illegal, carrying a heavy penalty to sell your surplus. Flower beds and front gardens in the towns were turned over to vegetables and back gardens... if you had one, to hens and even pigs and goats if you had scraps to feed them.

Certain items as extras were available to babies and children essential to their growth. Their special ration books containing stamps for cod liver oil and orange juice. Eggs were also increased.

After WW2 in the late 1940s some items were slowly released from rationing and some of the rationed allowances were increased.

Research in later years showed that the population of the UK was the most healthy ever during and after WW2

An interesting website to visit for WW2 and the home front can be found HERE

I was 14 years old before I saw and tasted my first banana.