Park regulars, no 1

This is the first of a series of interviews of people who are Park regulars.

Allan Birkin and Ron Cowl built the tow boat Balboa

The park lake is the home of the York Model Boat Club, and so Bob Smith, along with other members of the club, regularly uses the Park lake to sail boats and to host model boat regattas. On regatta days, dozens of radio-controlled boats are launched, of all different sizes and styles, including large sailing boats, tugs, submarines, and even the famous boat with its skeleton crew. Bob says “I run a fast electric boat. It regularly hits a wave and somersaults across the water only to end up capsized and stuck, out in the middle of the lake.  So I then have the crowd-pleasing job of climbing into full-length waders and setting off into the thigh-deep water.  This is great fun (if a little weird), although there is always the fear in the back of your mind that you will get tangled in some abandoned bike or shopping trolley.  Thankfully so far, touch-wood, this has never happened.”

Bob says the park is special to him because he’s had so many happy family times there. He says the park can be quite peaceful and that local residents see it as important to them. As a model boat user, Bob says he notices that the water can get very weedy in the summer (and smelly), which he puts down to the amount of goose droppings going in, and a lack of fresh water. If given a chance to go back into the history of the Park, he likes to imagine how it would be if the open air swimming pool were still available “On a hot summer day, I think that would be fantastic – maybe it would be community-run by now, too.”

Bob is also the web master for the club, which has a great new website including a weather forecast – so you know whether to take your brolly or your sunhat, when you’re off to a regatta in the park. The first regatta this year is this weekend, on the 25th March, with the others on 27th May, 22nd July and 23rd September, so do go along and see what the club are up to.

Rowntree Park Photo Workshop

Photo by Jane McWeeny, 2009

All are welcome to this family-friendly event, a photographic workshop to be held on Sunday 15th April at 2pm. Terence Michael and Graham Smith, who are organising our 2012 Photographic Competition, offer this chance to learn more about photography and maybe get some shots to enter into the competition.

More details are available in the poster.

2012 Rowntree Park Photo Competition

Photo by David Ormerod, 2009

We are pleased to announce the 2012 Photo competition. This year we have an theme of “Beauty in the Park” and this can be interpreted in any way you wish. All photos must be taken in the park. There will be three categories: Under 16, Amateur, and Enthusiast or Professional, with prizes kindly donated by York Digital Image. All entries will be exhibited at the Rowntree Park Birthday Party on 14th July 2012, with the winners announced during the event. Entry to the competition is free to members of the Friends and there is a £5 entry fee for non-members (which includes membership of the Friends for 1 year).Terence Michael and Graham Smith are kindly organising the competition this year, including offering a FREE photographic workshop suitable for all ages.

Deadline for competition entries: Noon 30th June 2012

Please click here for the competition leaflet and entry form; and here for the poster for the composition.

Sights and sounds of spring

Ladybirds in February

These ladybirds think it’s time to get up and get active in February’s sunshine. We spotted them on the little bridge over the stream, when they came out of nooks and crannies, within the bridge as well as the wooden steps over the flood wall. We also listened to the sound of the woodpeckers, who are looking for this year’s home in the Park. A pair of woodpeckers have made their breeding chambers here for the last few years and they have been a big favourite with visitors because they are so big and colourful.

March’s Story – Squirrelled Away

I think it’s safe to say that Spring has arrived in Rowntree Park. There is birdsong to be heard and the sun is shining onto the waters of the lake that were solid ice only two short weeks ago. Everything looks very fresh and green, and the air is noticeably warmer. There are buds on the trees, but still only very wee ones. This means that if you stand still under one of the very tall trees along the Ten Tree Trail and lean your head back as far as you can and peer up to the very tip top of that very tall tree, you can still see the squirrels running about up there. It’s worth a try – your neck might ache after a while but you’ll be rewarded with the sight of some pretty amazing furry-tailed acrobatics that will be hidden later in the season by a thick screen of leaves.

 I did this the other day with my four-year-old son, and we saw a couple of the squirrels scampering about up there, seeming to defy gravity with their crazy leaps, never falling although the skinny branches they chose to dangle from bent and swayed dramatically. They criss-crossed back and forth between two trees, having a shouted conversation as they flew past each other in the air. We stood still and craned our necks as far as we possibly could, and listened in. This is the gist of what they were on about.

‘Cyril! Look out below – there are some people watching us!’

‘Never mind, Beryl – they’re too far down below to hear us. And they probably don’t understand Squirrel-ish anyway.’

(Ah, but the wind was blowing at just the right angle to carry their words down to us – and we do understand a fair bit of Squirrel-ish. It’s not unlike Weasel-ish if you want to know the truth, though it sounds quite a lot furrier.)

‘Where have you hidden the last of those acorns?’

‘Well if I knew that I wouldn’t be leaping about between these two trees trying to find them, would I? I know it was somewhere near here. Now keep looking please, I don’t want Errol and Daryl scoffing them all.’

And the two squirrels kept jumping around between the two trees in search of their hidden store – too well hidden! We kept looking up and listening in although our necks were pretty stiff by now.

‘Oh Beryl, I nearly forgot!’ said one little furry voice from above. ‘I did dig a bit at the bottom of the tree like you suggested.’

‘Well then?!’ shrieked Beryl. ‘Did you find any nuts down there?’

‘Not nuts’, replied Cyril coyly. ‘But I did find – this…’ and he produced a lumpy brown thing from a hole in the tree trunk and threw it to his companion in passing. ‘Do you think it’s edible?’

‘Hmm, no, I don’t think so’ – and she gave it a little chew to make sure – ‘No, definitely not. Yuk! It tastes like it’s been buried for a hundred years!’

‘Ok then, chuck it away,’ said Cyril. ‘Better keep searching for the acorns.’

And with that, he scampered away, making a daring leap to a further-off tree top which swayed wildly as he landed.

There was a thud as Beryl dropped the lumpy brown thing onto the ground at the foot of the tree, where it landed right next to my boot! My son picked it up immediately before I had a chance to wonder if small boys should handle things that squirrels have chewed recently.

And what was that object? Well, here are some photographs of it – what do you think it is?

Beryl thought it tasted like it had been buried for a hundred years, and in fact it really might have been. The land where Rowntree Park now stands was a dump in Victorian times, and many small objects have been dug up in the park that were indeed buried in that dump a hundred years ago or even more than that!

If you’d like to see the object that Cyril and Beryl dug up and threw down at my feet – and also get ready for Spring and welcome the new season to the park officially – then come along to the next meeting of the Very Young Friends of Rowntree Park on 6th March ! We meet at 12:30pm on the first Tuesday of every month at the pavilion [to the left if you come into the park through the big gates on Terry Avenue, just behind the tennis courts]. We have themed woodland trails and a picnic with songs, stories and arty activities. For under fives and their parents/carers. Bring your lunch! More info from Lara on 07941 448594.

Council budget proposals

Tracks in the snow

The council has announced its budget proposals for next year. For the Parks and Open Spaces team, they are proposing to cut one Ranger post (the team already has one vacant Ranger post) and three gardening posts, as part of a review of gardening and attendant cover. This will be discussed at the Council meeting on the 23rd February, see here for further information about the suggested Council budget, which includes spending some funds on restoring the Rowntree park cafe. The Friends welcome your opinions on this; written comments to the council have to be in by the 13th February.

February’s Story – sheep in sheep’s clothing

Once upon a time there was a small hill town not far from here called Shipton. In fact, there were lots of towns called Shipton, or Skipton – some of them are still there – and the name meant – and still means – ‘sheep town’.

In this particular Shipton there were a few people and a lot of sheep. The people looked after the sheep, fed them, took them to places where there was fresh grass to eat, and rescued them when they got stuck in bogs or tumbled over cliffs. In return, the sheep surrendered their fleecy coats to their shepherds once a year, and the shepherds were able to spin the fleece into lovely soft wool which they knitted into warm clothes that they could wear, sell, and swap for other things with people from other towns and villages. The system worked pretty well for many years. What happened was this; in the Spring the shepherds would herd the sheep into pens and shear off their coats, and the sheep would feel wonderfully light and free and scamper off to eat grass and gossip. Their coats would then begin to grow back, which did feel a bit scratchy and uncomfortable, but by the time winter rolled around they would be fully woolly once again and ready to face the cold. And the following Spring they would get sheared again, and so on.

One year, however, things didn’t go quite as smoothly as before. Just after the big Spring shearing, a sheep called Baaarbara was frolicking in the woods near Shipton enjoying the sunshine when she met an angry goat who was bashing her head on a tree for no particular reason. The goat laughed at Baaarbara and said, ‘you’ve had a close shave! Where’s all your wool gone?’

‘I’ve just been sheared’, said Baaarbaba cheerfully. ‘My wool is on its way to market in York so that people can make lovely jumpers out of it.’

‘Lovely jumpers!’ scoffed the goat. ‘What they’re making out of your wool, my dear, is lots of lovely money! Why are you helping the shepherds to get rich? I’ll bet they don’t share the profits with the likes of you!’

Well, it may not surprise you to learn that, being a sheep, Baaarbara was quite easily led. She soon became convinced that the goat was right and set off to find her flock and urge them not to grow any more wool for the shepherds to shear off!

‘Sisters’, bleated Baaarbara, ‘We’re having the wool pulled over our eyes! This removal of our coats is ‘shear’ madness! Those shepherds are knit-wits! We won’t let them fleece us any more! I’m not going to regrow my fleece this year, and there will be none for them to steal away and sell – that’ll teach them!!’

And, like sheep – they all followed her lead. That year they did not regrow their fleeces. The shepherds couldn’t understand why their flocks stayed bald all through the year. They tried massaging the sheep [which the sheep really enjoyed], reading to them [they particularly liked the story of Little Bo Peep], and giving them extra lovely things to eat [yum!], but nothing made any difference – the sheep stayed bald. The shepherds scratched their heads in bewilderment and the sheep bleated smugly, thinking they had somehow beaten the system.

But then the winter arrived, and with it harsh, biting winds that whipped across the grasslands and chilled those naked sheep to the bone. In vain they tried to grow some wool to keep themselves warm, but it was too late – the growing season was over.

‘Baaarbara!’ they clamoured. ‘You silly sheep! You’ve made us stay coatless and now we’re cold!’ Needless to say, Baaarbara did feel a little bit sheepish.

Just then, a young shepherdess named Fleecity came to check on her sheep – one of whom was Baaarbara – and overheard their conversation.

‘Ladies’, she said, ‘I have an idea which might solve our problem.’ And she went off to the town’s wool store and brought out all of the fleeces that had been stored there from previous shearings, waiting to be spun into wool for jumpers. She tied a fleece securely onto each sheep. They were warm again, and skipped delightedly around the fields bleating with delight. When Fleecity left to go home they all followed her, bleating out their thanks – which is why flocks of sheep today will still follow a person who comes amongst them.

The old ram, Mutton Jeff, who despite being hard of hearing was relatively wise [for a sheep] declared that from that day on, sheep would always grow another fleecy coat after being sheared – and they still do till this day, despite anything that’s said to them by silly goats!

If you’d like to celebrate all things woolly with the Very Young Friends of Rowntree Park, meet us at the pavilion on Tuesday 7th February at 12:30! Bring your lunch! For under fives and their parents/carers.

First meeting of 2012

All are welcome to the Friends’ first meeting of 2012, on Wednesday the 18th January, 7.30 at Clementhorpe Community Centre, Lower Ebor St. These are always informal and friendly meetings, Friends and other interested people are all equally welcome. They cover Friends’ activities and other activities in the Park over the next few months and always include some items to do with Park maintenance. Attendance normally includes a Park Ranger or member of the Council’s Parks and Open Spaces group. Refreshments will be provided – Lara has threatened us with some flapjacks! Contact us for more information.

Footprints in the park