Summer in Saddleworth by John Kirkbride

JOHN Kirkbride takes a look at Saddleworth in summer as we aim to follow the roadmap out of lockdown

For months, the Old Original at the end of our road has been closed, and every time we walked or drove past it we were pierced with a little arrow of sadness. When we pass it now and see the flowers blooming in their baskets and the customers blooming on the terrace it lifts our hearts.

I think it’s hard to overestimate how difficult lockdown has been for so many people in so many ways, and the reopening of the pubs and restaurants in May was an absolute tonic (with a double Gordon’s in it, of course).

Saddleworth is renowned for its fine eateries and hostelries, and oh my days, how we’ve missed them. So let’s start off with a big thank you to all those catering establishments who’ve put in such tremendous effort to keep the heart of hospitality beating until they could welcome us back.

Summer in Saddleworth is all about enjoying the space we live in, and our pubs and restaurants play a massive part in that. True, Whit Friday did seem eerily quiet, but man, next year’s going to be an absolute humdinger.

Stuff about summer
Though not quite as old as the Saddleworth hills, the word ‘summer’ dates back over a thousand years. Apparently it’s derived from the Old English word ‘sumor’, though it’s obviously related to the German ‘sommer’ and Dutch ‘zomer’. And you know what, who cares as long as we get sunshine?

Cow behind wall

Meteorological summer always starts on June 1st and ends on August 31st, but as we all know, there’s plenty of wiggle room there. Last year the shorts and t-shirts were out in early April, while this year our seedlings were still getting zapped by frost well into May.

Some interesting facts about summer include the news that on a hot day in Paris the Eiffel Tower expands and grows taller by up to 17 cm. Personally I get dizzy just looking at pictures of it so that extra 17 cm would be too much for me.

The hottest temperature ever recorded in the UK was 38.7˚C, which sizzled people in Cambridge in July 2019. But being Britain, we’ve also had snow in June, which caused a number of cricket matches across the country to be abandoned in 1975.

Summer on Saddleworth farms
For most of May we were still waddling around in thick socks and woolly jumpers, so it’s hardly surprising that the fields across the valley took longer than usual to go green. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the infamous April showers were conspicuous by their absence this year.

For farmers with livestock, the month of June is largely occupied with cutting sheep’s hair. It’s called shearing, and it’s similar to what a Polish barber in Waterhead used to do to me when I was 11.

Haymaking and silaging is also important during June and July, as this is the stuff that will help keep the animals’ tummies full over the winter. I love the sight of those big rolls of hay drying in the sunshine at this time of year. It’s like giants have had a party and left their wine corks scattered in the fields.

Hay rolls

In June, the spring-born calves generally lose their horns. I don’t mean they misplace them – they actually have them removed, as it makes the animals easier to handle and less dangerous. It’s known as ‘disbudding’, and if your lockdown challenge has been to learn a new word every day, you can have that one for free.

Visiting Saddleworth
Talking of staycations, (I know I wasn’t, but I am now), Sadddleworth itself has become something of a tourist destination over recent years. Uppermill has for some time now been a popular place to indulge in a spot of aimless wandering, and there’s no doubt the local economy has benefited from the influx of visitors.

The delights of Dovestones, too, have clearly been discovered, and right now you’d be hard pressed to insert a parking ticket between the abandoned cars on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I think it’s wonderful that more people are now getting to enjoy Saddleworth’s glorious landscape and scenery. I just can’t help thinking the phrase ‘Park and Ride’ might be a pertinent one going forward.

My wife and I visited Suffolk recently, and we had a nice time (despite the wind and rain). But the truth is, we saw and did little that we couldn’t have seen and done in Saddleworth. And that’s the point; Saddleworth has an awful lot to offer, particularly during the summer months.

We have our outstanding pubs, restaurants and independent shops, as well as our hill walks, bridal paths, canals and numerous sites of historical interest. In Suffolk we were half an hour from Norwich. In Saddleworth we’re half an hour from one of the most vibrant, fast-developing cities in the UK.

Harrop Edge

Granted, we’re not Saddleworth-by-the-Sea, but we do have Dovestones and Castleshaw. (Remember though folks, no cooking or swimming).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that on top of losing your fortnight in Turkey you should remain in Saddleworth for your summer holiday. I just feel we should be appreciative of the fact that if there was no alternative, there are a lot worse places to be.

Summer Events
Along with our beloved Whit Friday Band Contest, other Covid casualties this year include the Diggle Blues Festival and the Cotton Clouds music event. The good news is there’s still plenty to look forward to over summer in Saddleworth this year.

At the time of writing, the Rotary Club’s Wellifest is still set to go ahead on June 26, and unless we hear otherwise, Yanks Weekend will make a return over August 7 and 8.

Saddleworth Rushcart Festival is another fantastic local tradition that the pandemic rained on last year (makes a change from the weather I suppose). All being well, the Morris Men and gurners should return from Friday August 20.

Following fairly quickly on the heels (or wheels) of the Rushcart, Saddleworth Show is scheduled to take place on September 19. As well as a dog show, this fun-filled event is due to include circus skills, Punch & Judy, archery, sand art, inflatables and a fairground. It’s also a chance for local businesses, crafters and charities to get themselves in front of the public.

(Given the potentially changeable nature of things at the moment, I’d check online nearer the time before you pack your picnic and fizzy stuff).

Summer ain’t cancelled
Whatever the summer throws at us, one thing is certain: the trees and flowers in our beautiful villages will continue to follow the seasons. On sunny days – and I’ve pre-ordered as many as I could – a walk along one of our ex-railway bridal paths will offer a sea of green dappled with white sunlight. So make sure you have your cameras and phones ready.

Many of our pubs will be festooned with hanging baskets and planters full of colourful flowers and foliage, and if that doesn’t make you smile… it should.

We can all spend more time in the garden (if you’re lucky enough to have one), watering, pruning and taking care of the wildlife.

If you’re growing vegetables, either outside or in a greenhouse, mid to late summer is when they start to look like products you might actually want to eat. There’s nothing more satisfying than creating a salad with items freshly picked from outside your own door. Is it just me being fanciful, or do they always taste sweeter and juicier than store-bought produce?

The point I’m trying to make, I suppose, is that life is a combination of merry-go-round and rollercoaster, and unless we get taken out by an unfeasibly large meteorite, the world will continue to turn.

So, enjoy your summer in Saddleworth, and make the most of all the pleasures this cheerful season brings. And with a bit of luck, next year we’ll be hugging each other at the band contest as well.

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