This is the archive page for the 2015 Friends' month by month blog

December at the Cross on Ryton village green

The annual singing of Christmas carols on Ryton village green

took place on December 22 at 6.30pm

Ovington Tynedale Reunion Band are brass band players who get together specifically to play at The Carols at the Cross. The band assure us that they practice for many weeks before the event …and it shows. (Who’s written this ? Ed). The brave musicians arrived from 6:00 onwards and set up to the sound of the Ryton Church bells

Hot soup and more was on offer from Ye Olde Cross pub.

Everyone welcome.

photogaph by Bob Wilson in the snow 2010

The annual singing of Christmas carols on Ryton village green

took place on December 22 at 6.30pm

Ovington Tynedale Reunion Band are brass band players who get together specifically to play at The Carols at the Cross. The band assure us that they practice for many weeks before the event …and it shows. (Who’s written this ? Ed). The brave musicians arrived from 6:00 onwards and set up to the sound of the Ryton Church bells

Hot soup and more was on offer from Ye Olde Cross pub.

Everyone welcome.

November in the churchyard

A quick peek around the far side of Holy Cross church


Ever since I was small I've found time to be annoyingly elastic.

Dreary dark wet November seems endless compared to May – which I remember was over and done in the blink of an eye.


After days of rain, I ventured around the north side of the church over pockets of snow left from the previous night. A last red vestage of sunset faded behind me while, through the bare branches of trees to the east, an angry half moon gained power through scudding clouds.


The whole space had opened up since I’d last been here, before the leaves had dropped. From the far side of the river a mile away, the lights of Throckley and Heddon twinkled along the line of the Roman Wall.

At just gone half past four, it was strangely silent. I wondered how the flocks of homeless rooks noted last month had coped with the wet nights.


As I turned for home a couple of tawny owls lower down the slope hooted a derisory ‘All Clear’.


The Friends Committee meeting


At the Committee meeting earlier in the month it had to be conceded that there was no window available for our customary Ceilidh before Christmas this year, as the Ceilidh band was fully committed. Instead everyone thought it a cheering idea to look forward to one sometime in February  - so watch this space.


The church reported that the architect’s quinquennial inspection had identified a priority need to renew the slate roof to the north aisle and rewire the 60 year old electrical and lighting installations. The church is actively seeking grants that may be available to defray these costs of maintaining the Grade 1 listed building.

The current balance of money raised by the Friends’ at £6,735.60 has been  offered to meet professional and consultancy fees.


The churchyard in October


Four circling kites enjoying playing with the top of Holy Cross spire reminded  me to post the Friends’ October update.

It seems like this weekend we have a taste of the first chill grey days of winter. Each evening for two or three weeks now there have been great flocks of rooks filling the skies over Ryton flying noisily to and fro until just after dark. I wonder is it just youngsters having a last fling before bedtime or a more serious competition over roosting preferences.


I’d love to be proved wrong but the churchyard may be losing another mature red horse chestnut tree – the one to the south west of the tower seems to be showing similar signs of die-back as the one to the south of the church that had to be removed a few years back.

We have to wait to see -  will it revive next spring ?



September "season of mists and mellow..."

The 21st of September marks the Equinox (when the sun is directly overhead the Equator) with 12 hours between sunrise and sunset. It is the morning when the sun rises exactly to the liturgical East of Holy Cross church  .

In old parlance this is a Quarter Day - time for another Ryton Hiring on the Green, when the surrounding pubs (Ye Old Cross, the Half Moon and The Jolly Fellows) would do good business with employers and hired hands celebrating the sealing of three months of paid employment.


But there would have been the disappointed – men (and women), perhaps elderly or infirm, who went back to their dependents without monetary surety as the days shortened and the first frosts of autumn approached.

To help his parishioners, the Rev. Charles Thorp set up the first Savings Bank in England two hundred years ago in 1815 (the year of Waterloo). It was in "The White House" on the Green facing the Cross, and open on Saturdays from six o'clock till eight.*


Did anyone else notice when the swallows departed from the skies around Ryton?

I realised they’d gone at the end of the first week of September and was able to check they had been with us for 15 weeks from mid May.


In the churchyard it has been a good month for blackberries, the juiciest are on the south slopes of the motte. Sated birds, gullets full, flap out of the brambles annoyed at being disturbed.

Thanks to regular environmental management by Gateshead until the last few years of cuts, there are less elderberries in the churchyard than when we first moved to Ryton in the mid 1970s. A curmudgeonly relative would visit from Derbyshire to make elderberry wine. We all hated the enforced ‘sprigging’ sessions where berries rolled into every downstairs crevice.

Nevertheless the old codger would proudly have his wine ready to drink with our Christmas dinner!



William Bourn, “History of the Parish of Ryton”; Carlisle 1896 digitised online here:


August secrets

Because of the dark August foliage, parts of the churchyard’s slopes become shaded secret glades this month linked by winding mown paths. The unmown areas grow into impenetrable no-go zones guarded by spiteful giant overhanging nettles and barbed-wire like briars.


There is a clear difference between generations about such a dramatic chiaroscuro.

Older, tending to frail, village friends are unhappy at being unable to reach loved one’s memorials; also late summer visitors cannot check for relative’s gravestones

Yet  the covert mystery of the slopes excited the grandchildren we had to mind last week. They came across rabbit ‘dottles’ on fallen headstones and giant cow parsley ‘old man’s baccy’ (a close relative of poison hemlock!) which they kept trying to carve into whistles. And just one ripe blackberry!

We found feverfew – a yellow flower I said I remembered chomping (very bitter) back when I suffered with migraine.

I saw them exchange glances that said ‘Weird’.



The Friends all wish our Chair Hazel a speedy recovery after a nasty car accident hospitalised her with 2 displaced vertibrae. Hazel, from Walkergate Newcastle, is one of our original Millennium bellringers. Her effortlessly steady timing will be greatly missed for service ringing. 

A July confrontation

Perhaps a walk in a churchyard ought pose a moral dilemma now and again....


By mid July trees heavy with foliage transform the north side of the church. It becomes a very secluded space.  Several days ago we passed around the west end of the church to find a young grey squirrel leaping around on the grass under attack from four magpies.


The squirrel leaps at one magpie that waits till the very last moment before flying out of reach; at the same time the other 3 magpies mob the squirrel from behind. So the squirrel turns and bounds at another, then the whole cycle repeats.


We witnessed several cycles until a dog blundered in. The magpies flew  onto the vestry roof chattering fiercely, the squirrel vanished into holly shrubbery.

Now we asked one another:

Should we have intervened – or let nature take its course?

If we had intervened – which side would we favour?

It seemed like Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkins illustrations were muddying our judgement.

The dog had no such qualms. It simply continued snuffling around until, following its nose, it vanished back out of sight past the vestry.


I recounted this to fellow bellringers while walking down the path after  Wednesday evening practice.

They all sided with the Magpies - even though two were Sunderland supporters!


June in the churchyard

The summer solstice; the longest day is upon us. The setting sun, from above Heddon on the Wall in these few weeks, can throw orange shadows (sciagraphy) over the corbel mouldings on the north face of the church tower and spire!

Midsummer night never really gets dark. The sky is light across the whole northern skyline of the Roman Wall until the light begins to strengthen at dawn just after 3am.

The elder flowers are out in force; they glow in the twilight. An excitingly edgy musk permeates.

Uncanny evenings, not to be missed.


One evening must have been particularly special for flies, swifts were diving down and hurtling through the churchyard about 2-3 ft from the ground; I actually caught a glimpse looking down upon one.

These are creatures who may stay on the wing for two years or more  only alighting to raise chicks.


May in the churchyard

The red chestnut and right: bluebells with the ash in the background still to come into leaf

The last 2 weeks of May to my mind are the highpoint of the year in Ryton’s churchyard.

It’s the time where the chestnut candles are appearing yet the final tree still to burst into leaf is the ash. It’s the last chance to remember our deciduous trees in winter (curiously - few people can accurately visualise the appearance of their familiar trees at the opposite season.)

But it is the more than ‘forty shades of green’ that are breathtaking, especially standing by the church porch and looking south into the afternoon sun across to Dene Head House, (assembled for his retirement, from parts of old churches salvaged like a magpie by Archdeacon Thorp).

In three weeks time the present wide pallette of fresh greens will have become much more uniform.


The only thing I miss is the sound of the cuckoo; I haven’t heard one here for nearly 20 years. Two of the bellringers have reported cuckoos calling this year: one near Wooler, the other down in the North York Moors.


But there are several deer on the slopes down to the river below the church (or maybe I keep seeing the same one). The lynx is making a come back I'm told.


April in the churchyard

The sound of grass cutting returned earlier in the month. These days, after year on year savage cuts to Council budgets, we are fortunate that grass cutting is performed  voluntarily by a churchgoer who is a retired former Council officer, still with access to a Gateshead machine.


It is worth noting how important aspect is around the church building in mid April (a point so frequently ignored in housing estate development).

At the sunny side - in front of the church porch - all the daffodils are wilting – even primroses are looking a bit bored.

Around the north (Devil’s side) the slopes in shadow down to the Tyne seem at least a month behind.

A strong smell of garlic permeates northfacing wooded slopes in these weeks.

The Queen is said to hate it, I tried sometime back adding leaves of wild garlic to our salads though was very surprised to how much I needed to match even a single garlic bulb sliced up. So maybe better to leave it be on the slopes.



March in the churchyard - birds busying about

I am happy to report that Bellringer Trish's hens are laying again!


In the churchyard birds are busy from a dawn chorus around 6am till dusk - when noisy flocks of rooks wheel around arguing over which trees to roost in.

So are you going to vote for Britain’s National Bird?

Apparently we don’t have one, whereas the US and the Gormans both claim the eagle.

There is a short list selected from an earlier round of nominations shown here:

Although the Red Kite (I’ve spotted these from time to time wheeling around Holy Cross church spire), the Marsh Harrier and the Kingfisher are shortlisted, the choice seems to centre around garden birds – robins, wrens, blackbirds.

Sorry all you Toon supporters, magpies are absent.

I heard the distant call of a curlew the other day and eventually spotted a small speck in the sky hurrying up along the river from the sea towards the moors – Allendale perhaps to nest.

The Curlew would be my choice, were it on the list.


a February view from the motte

The motte behind the church is good to climb while clear of undergrowth to check if Viking longships are arriving to burn and pillage. From March the clear view of the Tyne from Lemington westwards gets obscured by the trees coming into bud.


The panoramic view of the flood plain 200 years ago must have been very different. The wide tidal river meanders would have been way over towards Throckley. So the Rector would be able to walk directly to the cottages in his Parish which now lie to the far side of the river down at Ferry House.  

These days, Tom the Rector has to swim across in summer to ‘beat the bounds’ in order to preserve his living.


It was the great storm of  November 1771 that changed the course of the river in the night, washing away all bridges below Corbridge including the houses and shops on Newcastle’s inhabited bridge.

Joseph Cowens of Blaydon Burn, the first Chair of The Commissioners for the River Tyne after 1862 consolidated the river banks along the Willows to stabilise the river’s course and control flooding. Waste slag was used, from the former Newburn steelworks.

January's first snowdrops

The lefthand photo shows the night’s snow still lying in the shadows at midday, but in the foreground the snowdrops flourish. While taking the photo at least three woodpeckers were drumming away in the trees around me - checking later on the RSPB website, most likely they are Great Spotted Woodpeckers.


The righthand photo (at midday on 22 Jan) demonstrates how precisely the thirteenth century church builders aligned the building liturgically E-W. The sunlight is highlighting perfectly the hood mouldings to the (C19) lancet windows to the east end behind the altar – and also the lime mortar masonry pointing to the chancel gable.


Changing fashions in tombstones.

Precision machine polished granite Celtic crosses marking a revival of interest in the early C7 Northumbrian church cluster around the top of the  church drive. In earlier C19 decades, Roman obelisks sited dramatically across the northern churchyard slopes were the dignified way to mark a loved one's life.

December around the church

In December you no longer need to avoid the last malevolent stringy stinging nettles when moving around 'off road' in the lower churchyard; though  the 'spring line' and boggy patches can deliver an icy bootfull of muddy water.

The trees' autumn crop of berries are almost all dispersed via the gullets of gorging birds. A pair of blackbirds stripped off over 20 hollyberries each, yet still manage to fly off!

Here is an interesting sight glimpsed earlier in the month: catching how the full moon can make the gold leaf shine on the church clock face at night - remembering the basic physics: 'angle of incidence equals angle of reflection'

November in Ryton

It always seems that winter comes that little bit later down in the lower end of Ryton.

  • The last few leaves are still on the big trees at the west end of the church yard - the ones along the edge of Church dene that turn the worst of the westerly storms away from the church.
  • Grey squirrels have been busy hoarding away nuts (its now more than a decade sadly since the very last red one was spotted).
  • At their Wednesday evening practice last week the bellringers woke a startled bat that hoped it had found a nice dark corner to hang out in for the winter.

The Friends were pleased to be able to assist in funding the replacement of the big tenor bell wheel by Pembletons of Chesterfield, the original Millennium Bell Hangers, after it had been damaged by the dislodging of a heavy iron clock hammer.

Bell Hangers and Clock engineers have been at loggerheads since about 1600 when simple automated striking out of the hours has conflicted with the finely tuned mechanisms required for ringers to vary the swing of bells in 'change ringing' traditional churchbells.