Sunday, 29 May 2016

Royal flight of fancy puts republicans in a spin

       So Prince William and his wife Kate hired an £8m helicopter. This story - featured large in a national paper - took a dim view of this flight of fancy, quoting the cost (£5,000) and tutting puritanically at Will and Kate's apparent laziness in choosing 45-minutes by air over a much longer but cheaper journey by land.

       And, in an attempt to get its readers on side, the article stresses that such extravagance comes from the pockets of ordinary hard-working people who are expected to bow, scrape and touch their forelocks for the privilege.

       But will the proletariat be stirred to action by such princely goings-on? Will blue- and white-collar workers unite behind the republican flag? Should members of the monarchy be tumbrelled along the mall lined by peasants baying for blood?

       Hardly. Let's not forget that kings, queens and princes are put on high only because lesser mortals actually want someone to look up to. Although - or even because - many once-trusted institutions are falling by the wayside along with our belief in God, humans still feel the need for figureheads, the reassuring presence of a well-known face. And, because celebrities come and go or - unforgivably - grow old, monarchs and their offspring will do nicely. 

       Of course, monarchy* comes at a price.  When the nation of Israel was formed under the Mosaic law, rulership was by Almighty God through His judges and prophets. This worked well as long as the people kept to the commandments, but when the prophet Samuel grew old and his sons proved unworthy of taking on their father's role, the people demanded a king. They wanted a majestic icon, just like the kings of the surrounding nations - someone they could see. "Give us a king to judge us."

       Samuel was devastated at what was, in effect, a rejection of Israel's God. Under inspiration, he warned Israel not to appoint an earthly ruler, listing everything a king would have the right to demand. "He will take your sons and put them in his chariots and make them his horsemen.....and he will appoint for himself chiefs....and some will do his plowing, reap his harvest, and make his weapons of war.....He will take the best of your fields, your vineyards and your olive groves, and he will give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grainfields and your vineyards, and he will give it to his court officials and his servants. And he will take your male and female servants, your best herds and your donkeys.....he will take the tenth of your flocks, and you will become his servants." (1 Samuel 8:1-18)

       Did the people listen? No, they were determined to have a king "like all the other judge us and lead us and fight our battles." Anyone who has ever studied the history of Israel will know how few kings succeeded in bringing peace, security and happiness to the people. On the contrary, most of Israel's rulers caused untold misery.

       Fortunately, modern-day royals have comparatively few powers, existing almost solely to be seen and admired. And if they bring gaiety (along with a thriving tourist industry) to the nation, who would begrudge them the occasional helicopter ride?

*Monarchy (the Greek word mon’os meaning ‘alone,’ and ar-khe’ meaning ‘rule’) is the oldest form of human government, a system which has long been viewed as a unifying force. One eminent teacher of medieval history, John H Mundy, explains,   “Because it transcended particular parties, the institution of monarchy was suited for large areas with diverse and conflicting regional interests.” (See my post

Sunday, 1 May 2016

A walk in the Peak - Wormhill and the River Wye

       It’s Friday morning, the sun is shining and my 'Gorgeous Girl' daughter has come up from London for a few days of fresh Derbyshire air….and to see me, of course!
       But GG already has plans. Before the milk cools on her porridge she’s leafing through the little Green Book*. “Now, where shall we go on our walk today?” she asks.
       I sigh inwardly. “Well, I was thinking….”
       “Oh THIS looks good! Wormhill. Not far to drive - and it’s by a river with breathtaking views!”
       Views? Oh-o. Where I live ‘breathtaking views’ mean only one thing - upward slogs up breathtaking hills!
       “….and it’s 5 miles!” she adds, reaching for her sand boots. “Oh good!” I reply, “We’ll be walking all day!” Gingerly, GG shakes each boot to make sure no spiders have taken root inside. “I wish you wouldn’t keep them under the stairs.” she moans, but I’m busy looking for the oxygen mask! 

      Wormhill is a tiny hamlet near Peak Forest on the Sheffield road, a nice drive through gorgeous scenery. We manage to find the perfect parking spot outside an ancient church graveyard. “That’s handy!” I thought. Actually, I rather like graveyards, so we spend a few minutes strolling around and reading old tombstones before setting off on the first leg of our journey.
       “About a 50 yards past the de-restricted sign, we turn right at the footpath sign.” my daughter directs as she strides ahead confidently (and a little too quickly for my liking!) This brings us to a grassy path leading downhill and, true to the little Green Book, the view is wonderful if a little scary. “Let’s not get too close!” I warn, as GG pushes towards the edge. Time for a photo. “Oh no! You’re not going to take photos all day!” she tuts. Seems she has a thing about my hobby. 

       We then follow a stony path wreathed by gorse bushes to the bottom of the gorge and cross a bridge over the river.  

       From now on, it’s uphill all the way but, despite the panting and gasping, the vista that awaits us is truly worth the trek with its dry stone walls, distant rolling hills and lush green fields. The sweet air of Derbyshire is like nectar which even a distant muck-spreader can’t spoil. Fortunately, the wind is blowing the stench in the opposite direction!

       Having reached the apex of our climb, the path levels off and takes us through Blackwell Farm just in time for the owner to pass by on his tractor, giving us a friendly wave. We pause in the farmyard to admire the views. “Are you lost?” asks a lady emerging from a barn. “No, just looking,” I reply, although in fact I was about to take another photo! Situated on top of a hill, Blackwell Farm must have the some of the best views in Derbyshire – magnificent scenery on every side! It also produces one of my favourite delicacies - Stilton cheese! 

      The Green Book now tells us to continue along the farm’s drive, turn left at the bottom and cross the main road at the next junction. A few more yards of tarmac and we take a sharp left along a walled footpath which opens up to more panoramic views of the Peak as we head for Miller’s Dale. 
       “Oooh, the book says there’s a pub there! The Dale House Inn” exclaims Madam. “I could do with a coffee!” Now that sounds promising….
       Sadly, when we arrive at Miller’s Dale village, there’s not an alehouse in sight. A group of builders renovating a large property on the main road have never heard of the Dale House Inn - and if anyone would know they would! Although the Green Book has proved unerringly accurate to date, it was published 35 years ago, so the hostelry has obviously shut down since then.
       Disappointed, and by now very thirsty, we follow the footpath along the River Wye back to where we crossed the bridge originally. An information sign tells us to watch out for water voles by the river’s edge but, look as we might, we don’t see anything except torrents of water and broken branches being swept along with the current. It’s been a long, wet winter and the Wye is wider and deeper than usual. 

       As we walk, my legs begin to buckle and my lungs are tightening with every step. Eventually, having crossed the bridge again, what was a gentle downhill ramble at the beginning of our walk now looms ominously into sight; the gorge is rising and the slope we first descended looks a lot, lot steeper going up!        
       “I’m just going to have to take it easy!” I announce as we start the ascent, yet GG has no problem at all. She bounds ahead of me, her stride as strong and confident as ever. Talk about feeling my age! At least I can take more pics while her back’s turned!!

*Short Walks in the Peak Park by William and Vera Parker
Maps by Paul J Williamson

Published by Derbyshire Countryside Ltd. 1981