NOW we're well and truly into Summer, a change of tack. My friend Skip, aka Robert Palmer, poet and editor of my latest book, 'Dreaming World Awake,' gave me a book yesterday, one he'd found in some 2nd hand bookstore; Highways and Byways in : Yorkshire. I can't take my head out of it. He gave it me knowing I was a Yorkshire Lass born and bred, tho' strangely my thoughts had already been turning back to my heritage these last few weeks. Making summer pudding I can't help looking to my grandmother, now long dead, but seeking in memory for her cookery tips. She was a professional cook, but retired towards the end of the last war. But that's another story. This story is remembering that she'd lived as a small child on the outskirts of Sheffield and, all the time I knew her, she'd spend long summer hours gathering free food out in the wilds and moorlands where mushrooms, bilberries and blackberries grew. Her summer puds were the stuff of legend and fairey tale; once tasted, they became the standard of all that was delicious and luxurious --and all for FREE!
She'd lived along with 7 other children (back in 18' something-or-other) in a tiny cottage near Loxely Hall. Robin of Loxely. Tales of Robin Hood abounded here in South Yorkshire. Just across the border, down in Derbyshire, there was the grave of Little John in Hathersedge Churchyard. He must have been 7 or 8ft tall to judge by the size of it. As a child myself, we often made the trip in my father's old Ford car to Sherwood Forest in the county of Nottingham, but until reading this book today, I didn't realise that Sherwood had stretched, not only as far as Sheffield, but way up into the north of Yorkshire. This is going back into the mists of recorded history, of course, but it is well known that Britain was once covered in wild and dangerous forest. What I'm discovering now is how the Robin Hood legend persists across wide stretch of the Midlands and Yorkshire.
The authors of this book discuss this in an early chapter. Here I quote; The argument (of these scholars) is, I understand, that Robin was no more that "a faint western echo of the heroes of solar mythology" ; indeed, no better than Poor William of Cloudesley," that good yeoman," who modern wisdom has also relegated to the land of shadows, and who has been identified by some bearded professor with "the Nibelungs, the heroes of Cloudland." It is not now for the first time that I notice what a short and easy way there seems to be from the studies of professors into Cloudland. But let the professors e'ne go there if they will. Cloudland is a long way off; and it is moreover full of clever people, who are always a nuisance to their neighbours. We will stay upon the green earth, and watch the shadows sweeping by across the trees, and smell the fresh scents of the spring grass, and catch what we can of the lustiness of that strong, simple life among the downs and woodlands of which the old ballad writers said in such incomparable language.
"In somer when the shawes be sheyne,
And leves be large and long,
Hit is full mery in feyre Foreste
To here the fowlys song
To se the dere draw to the dale
And leve the hilles bee.
And shadow hem in the leves grene
Under the grenewode tree."