Low Bellmanear

Had a nostalgic stroll down memory lane yesterday. The weather had been so dire, but suddenly there was a chink of sunlight, so P and I decided to throw caution to the winds and go for a bracing constitutional in the country.
We got in the car and couldn't agree on which way to go. Then it occurred to me that what I really wanted to do was visit my old home, the place where my eldest two boys grew up and where my then husband and I started our fledgling knit design business.  We also had a menagerie of animals: dog, cats, two ponies, a donkey, a horse, goats, chickens, geese, ducks and bees.  People used to ask how we filled our time stranded in the middle of the countryside, but there was never a spare moment. In fact, as we were growing most of our own vegetables as well, we really needed a 36 hour day to fit everything in. 
Goat and chicken sheds - a watercolour by John Snelling
The house is quite isolated, four fields back off the road through farm gates, which had to be opened and closed. It had stood uncared for and empty for years after we relocated to York - a reluctant move, mainly because the logistics of sweater production were becoming impossible from there. At the time we were designing and manufacturing sweaters for both my own collections and also several US designers, and the articulated trucks that delivered the yarn were constantly getting bogged down in potholes on the farm track, especially in the winter. Also, as we were so remote, it was difficult to get help with the finishing and shipping and after much deliberation we decided reluctantly to relocate to the city where we could rent a workshop.

On our previous visit to Low Bellmanear we'd found a building site, suggesting a major renovation was underway, but as it was the weekend there was no-one there to ask.  So two years on, I was becoming increasingly curious to know how things had turned out and even more to see if anyone actually lived there.
Unmetalled road to the house
So we arrived at the entrance of the track that leads to the house, parked the car and set off walking the 2/3rd of a mile.
The track leading to the farm outbuildings in the distance
As soon as I set foot on the track, it felt like I was coming home - the familiar landscape, the weather (often cold and wet in winter, though glorious on a hot summer's day), the sounds of squawking pheasants, even the smell in the air, takes me straight back to the happy times we spent there.
Water colour of Dutch barn, fold yard and stone barn by John Snelling
The first thing we noticed though, was that there were no longer any gates, they'd been replaced by cattle grids for easier access. Great if you're driving, but I now know why cattle don't walk on them, as they're pretty hard for humans to negotiate too. As we approached the cattle grid where the third gate had been, we could see the outbuildings, and quickly realised the dutch barn had gone.
Low Bellmanear
Tingling with anticipation as we walked through the fourth gate, we at last set eyes on the restored Low Bellmanear, sitting pretty in the pale spring light.

We knocked on the front door, but alas found no-one in - pity, it would have been great to introduce ourselves to the new occupant and, curious as I am, maybe get invited in. However not this time.

From what we could see looking on at a distance, the old stone barn had been demolished, as had the fold yard where Mr Lamb (no pun intended), the farmer, used to dip his sheep. The orchard was no longer in use and completely overgrown, Diggory the donkey's wooden shed had also been knocked down, and horror of horrors, all the paintwork has been painted yellow!
Watercolour of the back door when we lived there, painted by John Snelling
Back of the house when we lived there, with derelict barn attached.
Watercolour  John Snelling
I suppose I'm always going to focus on the things that are different first - it's the longing for it to be the same as when we lived there, to find the old character we knew and loved, only polished up a bit.
View up through Fizgig where the primroses are spectacular
 at this time of year
John Snelling's watercolour of Fizgig viewed from the back of the house
However, on the positive side, I'm SO happy that someone is now lavishing tlc on it, and doing that very well in their own unique way. Everyone has their own style and the house definitely looked as if whoever was living there cared about it.
Much of the wolds are now down to arable crops
Whenever I walk in this landscape, I'm always struck by the raw beauty, and how time just seems to wash over it. It gives me hope that even though farming in the Wolds is getting ever more industrialised with bigger fields, fewer hedgerows and dwindling diversity, ultimately the land will be the boss and the balance will be restored.
Walking back at the end the track, the sun was setting over the lake
The restoration of Low Bellmanear is a mere blip in its long history - yet another episode in the life of this 200+ year old farmhouse in the Yorkshire Wolds. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall from when it was first built - it's intriguing to imagine the lives of all the previous occupants, how different they would have been from ours. And for the future, I hope the new custodians will be as happy there as we were for fourteen years.


  1. Thank you for the colorful commentary and eyeful of delights to brighten our dreary cold winter day in the upper U.S.

    The photos and paintings are wonderful and deeply moving.

  2. Hello Jean - It was so good to find and read your post, so many nostalgic recollections! I visited you and B. a number of times at Low Bellmanear in the mid-1970s, with my then girlfriend. We were close friends with Laurence and Veronica. I remember the gates, the huge wooden beam in your kitchen, and the beehive incident resulting in a van full of angry bees! I still have a couple of old photos of you and the goats and the donkey. I moved away from North Yorkshire in the early eighties, eventually settling in the far west of Cornwall. Every once in a while I think about those times, the places and the people. Good memories!
    My best, Tony

    1. So good to hear from you Tony. The seventies seem like a lifetime ago and yet also like yesterday. I often wonder what happened to people I knew in those days. I remember well your life with Monica at Cheese Vat Farm. Sadly B died in 1990. I still see Monica, most recently at a party given by Magda and Jon (you may remember them from Thorn House) a couple of weeks ago near Whitby. Don't know whether or not you're still in contact with Lawrence, but he was over here from Canada recently and stayed with Monica. It would have been good to see him, but as it happened we were in Wales at the time. If you're ever up this way please get in touch, it would be good to catch up.
      Warmest wishes,

    2. Thank you Jean. I'm very touched that you remember me from all those years ago (I wasn't expecting it!). 'Going back' is always enticing isn't it, as long as we prepare ourselves for the inevitable changes we will find. I have not returned to Yorkshire since 1985 but I have spent hours over recent years looking at the area on Google mapping's satellite and ground view images. The virtual fly on the wall!
      My best wishes to you, and to all our old friends.


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