A YEAR ago today I lost a very good friend and our village lost its oldest resident. Dear old Ken was from a bygone age, a hill farmer tending his flock everyday till he died aged 91 years old. He’d never left the country, never rode on a train, let alone a plane, in fact rarely left the dale where he was born and bred. Yet his wise words and “canny crak’” (good chat or banter) drew all manner of visitors to his wind swept cottage on the edge of the moor. Among them me.
“Ouwt fresh?” he’d ask looking for news or gossip.
You move to a remote stone cottage in the middle of nowhere and the unexpected delight is the people you meet and the friends you make. Now you have common concerns, you can share a conversation with people you would never have talked to before: game keepers or farmers; dry stone wallers or mole catchers. The glimpse they offer into their worlds is fascinating and for those who are generous with their knowledge there is much to learn.
So it was with Ken.
He lent me a adze when I didn’t even know such a tool existed and drain clearing became instantly easier. He showed me how to block up rat holes in the walls of our house with chicken wire and gave me spare ends to get the job the done. He’d load his trailer with manure and delivery it to my garden, taking great pleasure when I turned up in Autumn showing off giant potatoes and marrows.
And he always call me “a young slip of a girl” which when you’re 44-years-old is a compliment worth remembering.
Sometimes we worked together on a job. I’d bring my chainsaw down to his fields and cut through great fallen trucks which we loaded into the tractor bucket and chopped in his yard. We were supposed to split the bounty but he always made me take the larger half.
Everyday Ken would climb into his ancient tractor and rattle along the road to tend his flock in fields his family have farmed for generations.
I’d go along to “handle the wicket” or spread hay on “yon rig top”. To a southerner like myself sometimes his language was impenetrable and I’d just stand there looking at him till he explained, with a smile, that by wicket he meant gate or that a rig was the mound in the field beside which was a dip or ‘furrow’.
He still used words like “yonder” for over there and talked about being “fit and full of fettle” when he had plenty of energy.
Ken sold me diesel for the generator at the price he paid for it and great sacks of wheat to feed to my hens and for a while the jobs could wait and we’d sit in our coats drinking lukewarm tea in his lukewarm cottage till my soul was warmed through.
There was a time when as a young lad farming with his dad and brothers Ken could swing a hundred weight load and fuelled his heavy workload by eating “one tattie more than a pig.”
He could remember a time when the Parish was a thriving hub of activity. Every household had hens and probably some cattle. The wagon would collect milk and eggs from the road-end each morning to take into Newcastle and the saw mill, now little more than a tumble down pile of rocks grown over with bracken, was in full operation.
They were made of sterner stuff back then. Ken had never slept in a heated room in all his life and told me “I didn’t know I was born,” when I complained my cottage was cold in winter.
“You’re never ill till you see the doctor,” he told me and he was right.He took to his bed and four days later when the doctor was called, the cancer diagnosed was too far advanced to treat.
He is gone now and with him one more piece of history of this area I have grown to love. The lonely lanes round here are quieter without the rumble of his rusty tractor trundling to the fields to feed his sheep at exactly the same time everyday. You could set your clock by it.
I can hear him now, done with reminiscing and ready to set off and feed the sheep: “this won’t get the bairn (child) a new dress” he’d say signalling it was time to get on. To which the only reply is “and it won’t get a bairn either” and you both stand up and the collies go berserk and wouldn’t stop barking till you are out the door.
Here are a few more treasured pictures.
Ken said our little terrier Hazel was a perfect ‘tractor dog’. She loved hitching a ride with him and even now gets excited when she hears a tractor because she thinks Ken is going to stop and pick her up.
If you have any photographs you would like to share on this site please get in touch.