Being queer and disabled

“Most of the time, I need to choose between being disabled and being queer, even if, in reality, that’s not possible.” – Katie Reilly

Sadly this is something that many of us who are queer and disabled can relate to. Spaces that focus on disability, often don’t consider sexuality and gender. And spaces that are carved out for queer people, tend to be inaccessible.

Perhaps we’re talking about the LGBTQ+ bar that’s up a couple of steps and doesn’t have an accessible toilet. Or the event that hasn’t thought about sensory impairments. Or a gig that doesn’t have seating…

I’ve been heavily involved in York Disability Rights Forum for the last couple of years and it’s been really important to me that people of all sexualities and genders feel able to get involved. I’ve tried to make sure our social media reflects an array of experiences and that we have pronouns on our About Us page.

But, the biggest display of this ethos and this intent to make a space where people don’t have to choose between being disabled and being queer, is Quiet Pride! Brought to you by York Disability Rights Forum and Portal Bookshop!

Reads Quiet Pride above YDRF logo and The Portal Bookshop logo

Quiet Pride.

A space to feel welcome, without music and crowds.

Drop in for as little or as long as you want.

The venue is wheelchair accessible, has nearby accessible toilets and accessible parking. BSL interpreters are booked 4-6pm (we may be able to extend that to cover the full three hours but can’t confirm yet).

Join us with your ear defenders, your mobility aids, or just bring your wonderful self! We want you to feel safe to be your most comfortable self, whatever that means to you. Wherever you want to sit or stand, there will be no pressure. Bring a book if you want, whatever makes you feel at home.

We’ll have a ‘quieter corner’ where you can just sit and be, and a space to work on a communal art project or individual art. There’s also going to be a timetable with optional activities including art and games.

When you book, you’ll get the chance to tell us about any access needs you have, but you can also get in touch with YDRF directly: or leave a message on our answer phone 01904 326781.

We will be sending a video with subtitles and voice over to people who’ve signed up with information about how to get to the room, Blue Badge parking etc. If you have any other questions, or want to have a contact number for on the day, get in touch and we’ll share a personal mobile number.

Boxing Day Floods

One of the tasks from the Wild Words course I did was to write about flooding. In York, in 2015, there were awful floods which affected many people and areas that aren’t usually flooded. York does flood regularly but this was the worst I’ve seen in.

Boxing Day Floods, York

Source: York Flood Inquiry

December 2015
wettest month
since records began
Ouse and Foss catchment

Boxing Day:
unprecedented situation on the Foss

                       weekend Bank Holiday
                       middle of Christmas

challenge escalates

27th BT exchange

loss of landlines internet
mobile phones
no electronic communication
                        misinformation can take hold

four hundred and fifty three
residential properties
one hundred and seventy four

remarkable efforts
generosity community spirit
assistance offered quickly
unstintingly. Donations
                       local, national

spontaneous volunteers
‘unwavering response from responders’
praised for dedication and contribution

thirteen thousand sandbags
                       builders’ merchants very helpful
                       opened depots on request

voluntary sector:
                        evacuation-meals-shelter-warmth-assisting with clean up-warehousing and distributing donated goods-practical emotional recovery support

no warning

‘Recovery from flooding does not simply end
when people move back into their homes.’

problems with insurance claims
managing builders
living in a state of disrepair

long-term issues identified:
                       respiratory problems made worse- mental health problems exacerbated-disruption to home-lost personal possessions-strain of moving in with family-strain of being separated from family-breakdown of relationships-financial pressures-lost ability to earn-went out of business

problems do not recede as quickly as water

York will flood again
an inevitability

‘York as a community would benefit from becoming more resilient
and better prepared for an emergency situation.’

York Disability Rights Forum and Blue Badges

You may, or may not, have noticed that things have gone a little quiet over here… That’s because I’ve been heavily involved in setting up York Disability Rights Forum and before we had even launched, we leapt into action.

There have been changes to city centre Blue Badge parking all over England as councils scramble to make their city welcoming but suitable for social distancing. In a number of city centres, on the street Blue Badge parking has been suspended and inadequate alternatives have been implemented, without consultation.

In York, the changes mean parking outside the city walls, in a car park away from the shops and using a ‘shuttle service’. At the time of the changes, the communication was poor and information about the nature of the shuttle service was scant. As such, we – York Disability Rights Forum – felt we needed to take urgent action. We were already recieving emails from other disabled people in the city about the issue and even though we hadn’t really launched, we felt this was too important not to speak up about.

We contacted the local media about our concerns, wrote to ward councillors and the relevant council staff and were invited to a zoom meeting to raise the issues we had. They boiled down to concerns about the appropriateness and accessibility of the changes, a lack of information and the language used to communicate what little was shared.

As such, I’ve been a bit busy! And also my head is filled with things about Blue Badges etc. However, I did want to write something for my blog and so Blue Badge changes it is!

I am pleased to say that there is now more information on the council website about the shuttle service, which also answers key questions about how accessible the service is and how safe it is given coronavirus is the reason it was implemented!

Further, I am meeting with someone from the council this week to talk about communication and consultation.

Everything got off to rather a hurried start with the forum but it’s exciting to see our work making a difference and I’m passionate about speaking up and advocating for the wider disability community in York.

I’m fully aware I post on a wide range of topics here and I don’t know how many of you are actually interested in York and disability together but as I said at the start, this is an issue that is happening across the country. You personally may not be affected by the changes but it’s likely you know someone who is, whether it’s a friend or a cousin or a grandparent.

York Death Tour

Recently I took it upon myself to drag one of my carers around York to learn about death and graveyards.  Don’t feel too sorry for her, it was a warm day and we had stopped for a cup of tea half way through.

The information I used to cobble together the tour came from a York tourist board self guided tour, The York Graveyard Guide and Tyburn Tales (about executions in York).  It was both interesting and educational and I thought I’d share some of what we discovered in case anyone else is fascinated by the history of death in York…

It is estimated that the city of York contains about half a million corpses and skeletons within the walls alone.  In the middle ages, there were about 50 graveyards and over the years, they filled up, were closed and sometimes built on.

We started off the tour in Museum Gardens at St Leonard’s Hospital Arch.  The hospital was erected on the site of St Peter’s Hospital which was damaged in a fire in 1137.  In medieval times, hospitals cared for the sick, the poor, the old and the disabled but also tended to spiritual health as well as physical health.

In one of the arches of St Mary’s ruins, you can see the tomb of William Etty.  Next we headed round the corner and peered over the fence to St Olave’s graveyard.  In 1853 vaults were available in the church but cost a rather steep £100 to discourage people from being buried there.


Inside Kings Manor there is apparently a couple of find medieval stone coffins but you need to ask the porter’s permission to see them so we didn’t bother.  We did however learn that the coffins were wedge shaped and this was because Christianity stressed that you should leave the world as you entered it – that is without any grave goods.  This was very different to the Roman way of doing things which involved many grave goods such as wine and food and jewellery.  Bodies in the Christian burials were wrapped in a shroud, which in the 17th century had to be made of English wool to encourage the English wool trade…!  Like the Romans, the coffin was made of stone to preserve the body for resurrection.

Next stop was Bootham Bar which has been a gateway into York since 71AD.  It was also one of the places where you could find heads impaled on spikes.  If you were found guilty of treason you would be punished horrifically and your head would be boiled in salt water and covered in pitch to preserve it before it was put on a spike on one of the bars (entrances) to York.

Walking through Bootham Bar and heading towards the Minster you find St Michael-le-Belfry Church.  In front of the church is a triangle of pavement and was once part of the graveyard.  Burials are often still close to the surface so building work can disrupt them; on one occasion, a skeletal hand fell out of the floor.  One of the people buried here was Nathan Drake who died in 1778, 47 years later his wife Mary joined him, aged 92.  Another notable person was Dr Alexander Hunter who was a medical graduate from Edinburgh.  He came to York to take over a medical practice and was one of the founders of Bootham Park Hospital which opened in 1777 and was the fifth purpose build asylum in the country.

There is obviously much that could be said about the minster and death but that feels like an entire blog post (or series of books!) of it’s own.

Monk Bar was the next stop.  It is the tallest of all the bars and home to York’s only working portcullis which was last lowered in 1953 for the coronation of the queen.  The rooms above the gateway give access to so called murder holes which allowed enemies to be attacked from above.  At one stage the rooms were used as a prison and in 1631 held a man called Martin Best.  Best had arrived in York having previously been in London, in a house that was infected with the plague.  He was kept in the prison and his goods were burnt as part of the attempts to mitigate the impact of the plague in York.

This tenuously led on to us learning more about the plague.  The worst plague in York was in 1604 and was blamed on the arrival of the Scots.  York was struck again in 1631 but managed to avoid the great plague of 1655.  Attempts to control the plague included killing the city’s cats and dogs who were thought to spread the disease.  The poor who got ill were moved to camps outside the city and were supplied with food and drink.  Other victims quarantined themselves in their home.  Money was dipped in vinegar and goods coming into the city, especially cloth, were often impounded.

Nearby was St Maurice’s which has since been pulled down to make way for the inner ring road.  The church was near the County Hospital and when you went in for help, you had to pay a deposit to cover your burial fees.  If you made it out alive, you got that money back.  If not, you were buried in St Maurice’s graveyard.


After a quick chat about St Maurice’s in Monkgate, we moved round the city walls to the sainsburys car park.  Also known as Jewbury which might give more of a hint about its relevance.

Jewbury was a cemetery between 1177 and 1290 when Jews were expelled from England.  Before 1177, Jews had to be taken to London for burial, wherever in the country they lived and died.  In 1177, Henry II gave permission for Jewish burial grounds outside about 10 cities, York being one of them.  This was obviously still incredibly inconvenient but a slightly better situation that before.

When Sainsbury’s car park was being built, nearly 500 skeletons were excavated but it’s estimated that the remains of about 1000 individuals were buried there.  As only one of the skeletons showed signs of a violent death, we know these were not the victims of the 1190 massacre.  Most of the burials were in wooden coffins with a few personal items.

Following the walls again, we headed onto Peasholme Green and stopped at St Cuthbert’s Church whose graveyard is raised above the pavement level.  Graves were originally dug 6 feet down, but as more and more people were buried, the sheer volume of bodies meant that graves got shallower and shallower and began to smell awful.  The authorities dealt with this by heaping earth on the graveyards which meant that the land rose quickly.  Shallow graves were also vulnerable to body snatchers and York was well placed to serve the illegal trade for both London and Edinburgh, being close enough to both to get bodies there before they perished too much.  As a result of this, the rich would pay more to be buried inside churches.

Just pas the church, on the right, is a sign to an art gallery and cafe.  Follow it and amidst the hubub of cars and buses and so on, you’ll find a wonderful garden, a sanctuary.  You’ll also find the friendly York School House Art Gallery and Cafe which had a wonderful turkish apple tea and I’m told the brownies are also great!



Whilst there are many churches and graveyards in the centre of York, I didn’t want us to get overloaded with death so I’d selected some that were more personal to me, basically just because I had lived near them for a number of years.  They were familiar in the sense that I saw them on a near daily basis going to and from work and yet I didn’t know much about their history and who was buried there.

Starting with St Michael’s on Spurriergate.  This parish covered part of an undesirable area but also shopkeepers.  It had a small graveyard which was reduced in size in 1337 when it was divided into two parts by Church Lane.  The part now split from the church became a public urinal in 1857.

As you cross over Skeldergate bridge and start to head uphill, you pass a church that is now a nightclub.  We stopped here, on the edge of the busy road, to learn more about St Johns.  In the nineteenth century, this was the second most crowded parish and was next to the most crowded parish.  This busy area meant that the graveyard was reused many times and had to be closed in the mid 1800s.  The graveyard was paved over in 1966 when increased traffic meant the road needed to be widened.

Heading further up the hill, we came to St Martin-Cum-Gregory’s which was once one of the richest parishes in York.  Quite a different congregation to Spurriergate only a stones throw away.  This area was home to nobility but because the graveyard was crowded, in hot weather the smell of death was in the air… Amongst those rotting corpses, there are two monuments to the Cave family.  Thomas Cave was the founder of a dynasty of engravers and his grandson, Henry Cave, created a book with 40 engravings of York buildings which was published in 1813.


Nearby is St Mary Bishophill Junior, confusingly older than St Mary Bishophill Senior.  Anyway, St Mary Junior, had what might be one of the most overcrowded graveyards in York.  Burials meant breaking coffins and disturbing remains.


A little further on is St Mary Bishophill Senior which dated back to to the eleventh century.  By the 1930s, worship had ceased and the church began to fall into ruin.  In 1963 it was pulled down and some of its stones were reused to build Holy Redeemer on Boroughbridge Road.

York was a place for the fashionable members of society and the hair styles of the late eighteenth century meant combs were in demand.  To keep piles of hair upon the head, the comb industry was essential and at this time they were made from horn.  Traditionally, comb makers were found near the source of the materials, that is the Shambles which was a street of slaughter houses.  Increased demand meant that new workshops were established around Micklegate Bar and Tanner Row.  The invention of a comb making machine in 1796 would see the end of the combmaking in York.  Anyway, the point of this detour into combs was all to say that one of the families buried in St Mary Senior were the Rougiers.  Joseph Rougier founded one of the largest and longest lasting firms of combmakers in York.

Other people buried there included George Benson, a cheese and butter seller and James Cawthorp who died in 1852 aged 37.  Cawthorp was a prison governor at the nearby gaol.  Thomas Gowland was killed on 3rd November 1851 when a train he was working on was hit from behind by another train.  He was crushed and died two hours later.  The coroner’s jury noted that no one was to blame and that it was bad luck and in 3 out of 4 cases, the second train would have come off worse and the guard wouldn’t have been harmed.


We did try to find the headstones of a few people who were executed.  At one point, executed criminals could be buried in church yards and Tyburn Tales does record the burial location of many of the executed people.  As such, we knew that on Wednesday 2nd August, 1672, Robert Driffield (aged 24) and Mark Edmund (22) were executed for setting fire to six corn stacks.  Many people gathered to watch their execution and their bodies were later interred in St Mary Bishophill Senior.  Given the age of the burials, it’s not surprising we didn’t find any trace of them.

And thus concluded this particular portion of my death tour of York!

My Rivers: The Ouse


“A river can give a city its very soul… We think of them pragmatically, as conduits of commerce, which is certainly one of their major gifts to us, but generally we overlook the spiritual benefits they bestow on the community living on their banks”
– Thomas Moore

The rivers in York are historically important, they are the reason the city was formed here.  They provided trade routes to the sea and were routes for people to travel along.  But the importance of the Ouse goes beyond the river herself and into the fields that follow her.  These floodplains, the ings, have been important to man, to plants and to other animals and have shaped both the landscape and the culture of York.  They have also allowed the city to survive the regular flooding of the river.


“Yorkshire’s rivers have been an important factor in man’s history, in the settlement and growth of towns and cities and in the formation of industries.  Wetlands can help man control the force of water, particularly during flooding.”
– Wild Yorkshire

It is this flooding that is key to the ecological and economic value of the land.  Sediment carried into the flood plains replenishes the land, increasing its fertility, and leaves it ripe for crops.  These fields produced agricultural produce which could then be exported along the Ouse herself, creating one half of an import export chain which brought raw materials and valuable goods into the city.

The fields grew hay which was used to feed sheep, cows and horses in the winter and the cycles of flooding and haymaking along the Ouse inspired poet Andrew Marvell in the 17th century.  The ings would also provide resources such as gorse and peat for fuel.  Willow collected from the river banks was also important and could be used to make baskets and fish traps.

Skeldergate Bridge (edited)

The history of the ings goes beyond what they could offer in terms of resources.  In 1639, King Charles I was staying in Kings Manor and, according to a member of his retinue, his “chiefest pleasure here was to ride downe into Clifton Yngs and have his nobilite about him, and see his cavaliers on their brave horses.”  Horses were not uncommon on the ings with records suggesting they were used as a location for racing since the Roman times.  In 1709, Clifton Ings became the official venue for York Races although it would later move to the Knavesmire, where the races take place today, after the Ouse flooded and the races had to be cancelled in 1729.

In the 19th century ice skating became popular on the frozen fields along the Ouse and the ings were mentioned as a skating venue at least as late as 1902. The other sport I am aware of with links to the Ouse is swimming. NB, the current is strong and the river has taken many lives over the years, please don’t try this.

As well as a fascinating social history, the floodplains are also a crucial habitat for birds, plants, insects and mammals.  In terms of plant life, the riverside is home to numerous species including:Reed Sweetgrass, Slender Tufted Sedge, Meadow-Rue, Meadowsweet, Northern Marsh Orchid, Ragged Robin, Large Bittercress, Guelder Rose and Field Garlic.

In recent years five species of bat have been found living along the river, utilising bridges as roosting spots.  There are also mice, voles, squirrels, shrews, moles, hedgehogs, rabbits and deer.  Evidence of otters suggests a slow recolonisation.  When it comes to birds there are a variety of species of ducks and geese alongside mute swans, gulls and songbirds.  The common frog, the common toad and the smooth newt are all found widely along the Ouse corridor.

Follow the leader

Perhaps the most scientifically important species to live in the floodplains of the Ouse is the Tansy Beetle.  It makes its home on the Tansy plant and is incredibly rare.  It has been christened the Jewel of York and is a beautiful, iridescent beetle with a coppery sheen.  According to myth, Victorians so admired the beetle that they used it as sequins… Not a good way to keep a species alive!

Like many waterways, the river Ouse also winds its way into folklore.  One story set in York is a spin on the ring in the fish tale.  I’ve also seen this version elaborated on but still, at it’s essence, the ring and the fish, a fable which goes back at least as far as ancient Greece and is found in various parts of the world including Norway.

Perhaps a more localised belief is that if you drop five white stones into a special part of the Ouse as the Minster clock chimes 1am on May Day morning, the surface of the river will show you a reflection of anything you desire to see, whether it be in the past, present or future.

So, it seems very appropriate to be posting this on the last day in April.  Go ahead and see what the river can show you!

I owe a lot to Martin Hammond who wrote Deep Meadows and Transparent Floods, The Story of the Ouse Ings.  It’s a well researched interesting look at the historical, social and environmental tale of the floodplains and is available from Carstairs Countryside Trust.


The Rivers Running Through Me

“We are all caught by a river.  This, I think, is what catchment means.  Every fragment of landscape slides to one river or another and our feet are sucked into the mud wherever we stand… A river is mire than the ribbon of flow at the foot of a valley.  It is the distillation of that valley.  A river is the expression of us and we are rooted in it.  The meandering relationship between the shaper and the shaped is revealed time and again: the rivers of childhood surge through memory and water the formation of the self.  Rivers are in the blood.  Rivers get under the skin.  Rivers stay with you when everything else moves on.”
– Charles Rangeley-Wilson

There was a brook near the house I grew up in.  For a small child, trying to explore and play, the banks were high and the trickle low.  There was a noticeable difference between summer and winter and you could stand on a rickety wooden bridge and peer down.  Later, once I’d grown a little more, I could clamber down to the water.  Splash about in wellies.  You wouldn’t want to go barefoot.  It wasn’t that sort of stream.  Getting back out was harder, wet boots slipping against the muddy slopes, hands grasping at clumps of grass and pulling your body weight up with the faith that the roots would stay loyal.

I looked it up recently.  It flows into the Mersey.  Not surprisingly.  But I’d never thought to think about it before.  This was my brook, this little stretch, and I spent very little time thinking about where it came from and where it went after.  My world was contained, and with that, so was the flow of the water.

Had I been a more courageous or adventurous child, perhaps I would have followed that stream bed in my little blue wellies.  Perhaps I would have twisted and turned with it, the water level rising and rising until it flooded my boots, drenched my socks.  Eventually sweeping me off my feet and pushing me along until the brook-now-river spat me out into the Mersey.

The Mersey was a feature of my life.  Echoed by the Dee on the other side of the peninsula.  We went on the ferry across the Mersey on a school trip.  I remember my finger had been trapped in a toilet door that morning before we left.  We traipsed round the slavery museum and walked around the docks.  But like most people, when I traversed the river, it was normally going under not over it.  The Kingsway and Queensway tunnels.  You needed to have change to get through.  These days I suspect they take credit cards.  An anxious child, I always held in my mind that question, what if?  What if the weight of the water became too much and the tunnel could no longer bear to stand up?  What if it started to crack?  What if?  What if? These worries echoed through the tunnel until we emerged into daylight.  Stunned by our survival.

The River Dee on the other hand, was exclusively crossed by bridge.  No ferry here.  No tunnel.  From the Wirral, you can see across the Dee to Wales.  You can walk out into the Dee at low tide to reach the uninhabited Hilbre Islands.  Again, what if? What if? Rung loud in my ears as we crossed at low tides.  Warnings of sinking sand and a vivid imagination.  What if?  What if we got the tides wrong and were stranded on the island?  What if?  Always, what if?

A safer way to experience the Dee is to stand on the front at Parkgate with an ice cream in hand.  The water itself is too far away to touch and the land between is marshy and is now an SSSI – A Site of Special Scientific Interest – I believe.  The river used to reach the walls.  It used to crash up and over them.  It fed into an open air swimming pool, my Granma told me about it.  Perhaps, a hundred years earlier, here too I’d have heard those endless what ifs?

You would think, from this, that perhaps I don’t like water.  But I do.  I love water.  I love the sea, rivers and lakes.  I love their beauty but I have a respect for their darker side too.

Leaving the brook behind, I headed east to the River Ouse and the Foss.  York.  A town built on rivers.  A town which once had a healthy respect for water.  Floodplains allowed the river to rise and fall, allowed her to live on her own terms with her own rhythms.  These floodplains have been built on in places, showing no respect for a river who bursts her banks many times in a year.  An attempt to control the uncontrollable.


Sited where the Foss joins the Ouse, York was a very strategic settlement.  The two rivers providing natural defences as well as communication and supply routes in and out.  Romans built jetties and wharves and warehouses here.  Vikings arrived with their shipbuilding and navigation skills.  York, through the Ouse, was connected to the entire world.  Liverpool would come to echo this, the Mersey replacing the Ouse when it comes to commerce today.

By the late sixteenth century, larger sea going ships couldn’t reach York, the rivers were filling with sediment. Shortly after, in 1715, Liverpool’s first dock was built.  I moved in the opposite direction to trade.  York’s rivers, no longer used for commerce, today host pleasure boats, historical cruises and an ice cream boat.

The riverbanks gained importance as the river itself lost some of hers.  This fertile land was used for agriculture and today there are four SSSIs along the banks in York; Clifton Ings and Rawcliffe Meadows, Fulford Ings,  Naburn Marsh and Acaster South Ings.

For me though, it is not the trees or shrubs or flowers or rare beetles which make the river Ouse a magical place although they do add their charm.  For me, meeting the Ouse as an adult in a new city, it is the memories that pull me, that draw me into the currents. I met the Ouse in a more academic, detached kind of way. The way that adults meet rivers.  There were no wellies splashing or scampering up and down banks.  Instead, the Ouse is a patchwork blanket with strands of emotion tying together moments and woven with facts.

The Ouse will always be the river I walked along with my love.  It will always be the night I went for a walk with my close friend and it rained and we were tipsy and took off our shoes and ran home.  The conversation I had with another close friend about the death of her mother.  The days when depression had wrapped itself around my heart like bindweed and threatened to squeeze my lungs and I stood staring and staring on a platform over the river.  There was the night I returned from a protest and it was pitch dark and my friend walked me home despite going far out of his way and we encountered a creepy shadow and both held our breath.  Sitting on the steps, watching geese scare overly brave tourists.  Ducklings floating by, defying the strength of the currents.  This river undoubtedly runs through my veins.

For the second and third years of my life in York, I would walk along the river path to town.  Doing so makes you acutely aware of the seasons and cycles, the life of the river.  Some days that walk would be impossible, underwater.  Other days it was borderline and the waves would lap dangerously close to the path.  The river wove itself into my life in those years, I became attuned and aware of her character.  She has her twists and turns, her placid days and her violent deadly moments.  She is both life giver and life taker.  We have our own rhythms, but both are the same.

Apart from my first and fourth year in York, I have never been more than a stones throw from the Ouse.  One of those years my bedroom looked out onto a tributary of the other river, the Foss, but that was a year of intense depression and detachment and I never knew that beck like I do the Ouse.

The Foss, thought to be from the latin fossa, meaning ditch, is a stranger to me.  The waters run and mingle and become the Ouse and it is only when coupled with my river, that I know the Foss.  It is like the partner of a friend.  You see them through the eyes of your friend, you know them as part of your friend but you do not know them truly, not in their own right.

“The many waters I’ve known as part of my own personal world – rivers, streams and lakes – have taught me, shaped me, and given me a sense of values.”
– Thomas Moore

The Mersey, The Dee and The Ouse.  These are the rivers which run through me.  These are the rivers which shape me.

Watery words

There are many many different words for bodies of water.  We have the ocean, seas, bays, estuaries, springs, rivers, lakes, brooks…

And on top of the geographic language, there are interesting regional words and this is what I want to look at.  I’m honing in on Yorkshire and northern England as that’s where I live but even with that focus there are still many words so here are just a few:

  • Beck – a stream
  • Blatter – a puddle
  • Carr – boggy or fenny copse
  • Foss – waterfall
  • Gill – deep rocky cleft or ravine, usually wooded and forming the course of a stream
  • Grain – the point where a stream branches
  • Ing – wet meadow, especially one by the side of a river
  • Keld – deep, still, smooth part of a river
  • Mell – sand dunes
  • Moss – bog or marsh
  • Mytholm – meeting of waters
  • Ness – promontory, cape or headland
  • Sike – a small stream, often flowing through marshy ground
  • Slack – hollow in sand or mud banks on a shore
  • Slake – stretch of muddy ground left exposed by the tide; mudflat
  • Sleck – mud at a river where the tide comes in and out
  • Strand – shore
  • Tarn – a mountain pool or small upland lake

As well as there being a vast array of words to describe different types of water, it is also interesting to look to the names of the individual bodies.  For example, in York, we have the River Ouse which some people believe comes from the celtic word usso*, which literally means water.  Other Yorkshire rivers are also named for water (such as the river esk from isca and the river don from dana) and we find yet more rivers being named after celtic nymphs and goddesses.

*another theory is that it is derived from udan, a Sanskrit word for water


As I discussed a few months ago, we can gleam a lot about the history of a place when we turn to their names.  The same is true of water.  For example, if we know somewhere is called Ings, we know that is likely to have been used as a flood meadow in the past, even if this is no longer the case.  Another example is the wonderfully named Blubberhouses gets its name from the medieval blubber, used to describe the foaming or bubbling of the sea, and probably referred to the turbulent flow of the River Washburn.

The famous Knavesmire Racecourse gets its name by combining a person’s name with a landscape descriptor; Knorr (a personal name) and myrr (meaning marsh).

Thanks to Robert MacFarlane’s Landmarks and his twitter feed for both informing and inspiring this post.


It’s raining, it’s pouring…

On rain: “It covers the flat roof of the cabin and porch with insistent and controlled rhythms.  And I listen, because it reminds me again and again that the whole world turns by rhythms I have not yet learned to recognise, rhythms that are not those of the engineer”
– Thomas Merton

How we talk about rain is very important I think.  I explained a bit about how language shapes our views and rain does not fare well in this.  As a society we equate rain with some sort of terrible thing which is happening to us personally to make our day go badly.  We attempt to avoid the rain, hurrying under umbrellas from building to building and cursing if our feet get wet.  How much stress would we save ourselves if we accepted the rain and were thankful for the good that it does.

“Of course, the festival of rain cannot be stopped, even in the city… the streets, suddenly washed, became transparent and alive and the noise of traffic becomes a plashing of fountains. One would think that the urban man in a rainstorm would have to take account of nature in its wetness and freshness , it’s baptism and its renewal.”
– Thomas Merton

Having said all of that, I am not a fan of the rain.  Rain means I have to wear my wheelchair waterproof if I want to leave my flat.  This means I have to have someone with me to get it on and off as I can’t do that myself.  It also makes it hard to go into shops etc as it makes me take up a lot more space, it’s not easy to get on and off and my hand is under a cover so the controller does get wet.  This means I only have my left hand available and if I want to check my phone or pay for anything I have to scrabble around underneath the waterproof with my left arm which is covered in droplets of water.  So despite all the effort I have to go to, I still get a bit wet.  And I can’t go out on my own.  And I can’t go out on my own if there’s a high chance of rain and I’m not going to be near any helpful strangers.  NB, not all strangers are happy to help, I’ve had people say no when I’ve asked politely if they could help me out of my waterproof.

So, my feeling about rain feels justified.  The lack of appropriate aids makes the rain quite debilitating.  But for most people this isn’t the case.

The power of rain

Despite everything I’ve just said about rain not being evil, it is immensely powerful.  It wears down rocks and soil into tiny fragments over time.  It plays a key role in dissolving certain rocks and it causes devastation and destruction in the form of floods.


It is floods that I’m going to focus on here.  I live in York, a city prone to flooding.  It floods every year, normally several times and sometimes quite severely.  You might have seen news coverage a few years back of David Cameron standing in flood water, that was at the end of my street.  Aside, don’t stand in flood water, it can be dangerous, it can have stronger currents than you think and be deeper than you think…


2007 floods

There are two rivers which run through the centre of York, the river Ouse and the Foss which converge in the city.  The Ouse is the principal drainage basin in Yorkshire and is formed by the Ouse Gill Beck and the River Ure, Swale and Nid as well as a number of tributaries.  Interesting aside, until 1757 the Ouse was a tidal river.  The River Foss originates in the Howardian Hills, north of the city.  York’s floods tend to occur because of heavy rainfall and/or melting snow up river.

We know that York has experienced devastating flooding with records going back to 1263 AD. Notable floods occurred in 1947, 1948, 1982 and 2000.  More recently, there were serious floods in 2007 and 2012 as well as the 2015 floods.

Whilst there are many measures in place to reduce the impact of floods in York, it is not a problem that is going to go away.  Lets face it, we’ve had almost a millennia to figure out options!


Forgive the image quality, this was 2007… Trees standing in water is a common sight in York.

But why does York flood so much? Well, it turns out this seems to be on the GCSE Geography curriculum based on my google search!  It’s obviously a multifaceted answer:

Firstly, York is a vale and the Yorkshire Dales to the east are steep which means fast runoff from the slopes into the rivers.  It also means less water infiltrates the soil as there simply isn’t time for it to be absorbed.

Secondly, this problem is exacerbated by the impermeable clay which means water can’t soak into the ground.  As well as clay, the Dales are also made up of limestone which is very permeable and allows the water to pass through very quickly.  Combining this with the first reason basically means there is nowhere for the rain or snow to go other than down into the river.

Thirdly, at higher altitudes vegetation tends to be heather and moorland which doesn’t soak up much of the water or slow it down very much.  Another factor which means more water in the river.  There are some trees in the area which do intercept the water but deciduous trees only do this when they have leaves, and the worst of the floods tends to be in winter.

Human impact has a role to play as well.  Use of land for arable farming means less plant life to suck up the water, deforestation means less trees to do the same and urban developments also play a role.  Tarmacked roads, housing estates and shopping centres all mean water has less chance of being absorbed into the ground so instead it makes it into sewers, drains and ultimately the river.

Climate change is also playing a role in York floods.  We are experiencing wetter winters which of course means more water in the river which means there is less space for additional rain water.

But whilst the floods in York cause a lot of damage which involves a lot of money to sort out, they don’t tend to cause much in the way of injury and death.  Many other parts of the world are not so lucky…

And that is a topic for another day…

A journey through place names

This month’s day trip was to the Yorkshire Coast!  We started off in Bridlington with a walk along the promenade and it’s wonderful fragments of writing etched into the stone slabs.  I had a very short walk on the sand which was so nice but very hard work so I quickly returned to the path and the wheelchair.


This was followed by lunch in the car next to some bushes filled with chitter chattering little birds, sightings however remained elusive.

Then up the coast a bit to the fantastically accessible Bempton Cliffs where we think we saw Gannets and Guillemots as well as Corn Buntings, Tree Sparrows and Chaffinches.  On the way back to York, we saw a bird of prey, a Kestrel I think, hovering by the side of the road and eyeing up a nice mid afternoon snack!

In terms of weather we had a really strange day!  As we headed to the coast we hit a long patch of dense mist and about a mile from the sea it started to rain but had stopped by the time we parked up.  It was breezy but stayed dry for us.  And then, just after lunch, the light changed and the sun turned into a pinkish reddish ball that looked so much more like the moon that the sun.  As we drove home, the light kept changing and felt so much more like a crisp winter’s day.  I think it was down to sand in the air and such but I’ve never seen it have such a dramatic impact on how the day feels.

The sun

During the journey, we passed through a vast array of interesting place names which give hints about what the land used to look like, if you know how to interpret them.  Before we dive into some of the detail, I want to give the example of York to show how place names can be important to us.

  • In 71AD, Romans established the city as a fortress and called it Eboracum.  This may have been taken from a Celtic personal name Eburos which is related to an old Celtic word for yew-tree.
  • Romans left in the 5th century and by the 7th century, Anglo-Saxons moved in.  They changed the name to Eoforwic.  One suggestion is that they did this because it was related to their word eofor, wild boar.
  • When Vikings arrived in the 9th and 10th century, they adapted the name to become Euruic, Jorvik and/or Jork.  Over time this became York.

From the history of the name we can hypothesise that York was an area of yew trees which was rich in wild boar.  Neither of which are true today but potentially shed light on what the land looked like in the past.

Another example is Salton, which has nothing to do with salt.  Instead, the place name is derived from the old word for willows, sealh.  Despite the draining of the land and the disappearance of the willows, we get a glimpse into the landscape of the past, remembered in it’s name.

York to Bridlington, a selection of place names:

  • Gate Helmsley – Gate is from the Norse for road or street and Helmsley is Helm’s forest clearing.  It might also refer to a piece of dry land surrounded by marsh.
  • Kirkby Underdale – Kirk comes from the Norse word for church and dale comes from either Anglo-saxon word for valley or the Norse word for valley, they are very similar.  It could be an entirely Viking place name or it could have been altered by them.
  • Fridaythorpe – ‘Frigedaeg’s outlying farm/settlement’, with thorpe being a norse suffix.  This personal name may be based on Frigg or Freya, the name of the Old Norse god of fertility from whom we get the name of the day called Friday.
  • Wetwang – Probably, ‘field for the trial of a legal action’ although it’s controversial as at first glance it seems to suggest the wet field.  However the nature of the land doesn’t fit with this.
  • Garton on the wolds – ‘Farm/settlement on/near a triangular piece of ground’ in the ‘forest’.  A gore was a triangular plot of land, tun comes from a word denoting dwellings and wold comes from the anglosaxon for woodland
  • Nafferton – like with garton, ton means dwelling so we have ‘Nattfari’s farm/settlement’.
  • Bridlington – ‘Farm/settlement connected with Berhtel’.
  • Sewerby – recorded in domesday book as Siwardbi that is to say Siward’s farm.
  • Flamborough Head – Fleinn was possibly a personal name or could be from the noun for hook and burg tells us that it’s a fortifcation or there’s some sort of defensive work there.  Another suggestion is that Flam comes from a word for arrow.
  • Bempton – ‘Beam farm/settlement’ ,ie., made of beams or possibly, ‘tree farm/settlement’, indicating it was near a prominent tree.

One of the key things you can see by looking at Yorkshire place names is how much more woodland there used to be.

Serendipitously, this article popped up on twitter about disabled access to the countryside and using place names and maps to access nature differently. 

The most useful tool I found for looking into place names was from Nottingham Uni.

Unlocking images hits the marketplace!

So the time has come to unveil the unlocking images shop…!  At the moment, I’m focusing on Christmas cards but in the new year I’ll be opening it up to include more general photographic and art cards as well as prints and other surprises!

In the run up to Christmas, 50% of the profit from any purchase will go to the Violet Chambers fund.  This amazing fund lets children and young people who are looked after in York apply for funding for a meaningful and memorable experience. Previous applications have included spa days, a trip to a show in London etc.