The imposing 14th century brick gatehouse of Thornton Abbey, not far from Grimsby in north-east Lincolnshire (see below, ‘Boo Hiss English Heritage!‘)
Boo Hiss, English Heritage!

St Peter’s Church, Barton-on-Humber

For our 14th Wedding Anniversary Adventure this year, Hubcap and I decided to revisit a couple of Lincolnshire sites I used to monitor for English Heritage. Thornton Abbey is the picturesque ruin of an Augustinian (Blackfriars) order, which grew rich and important due to the medieval wool trade, and survived destruction during the Dissolution by becoming a secular college. Its grounds, with the building foundations and standing scraps of the chapterhouse and cloister, used to be open year-round and were always popular with walkers and picnickers, although you could only access its main attraction, the unusual, opulent brick gatehouse, on a couple of afternoons a month. Now, alas, the whole site is closed indefinitely for conservation of the masonry – which visitors ARE told on the EH website if they bother to check, (we didn’t; nor did a half-dozen other carloads who arrived while we were there) – and as we discovered, you can’t even walk round to a roadside viewpoint to take photos of the interior. The ‘boo hiss’ is for the EH sign suggesting visitors go on to the other local site we’d planned to take in, St Peter’s Church in Barton-on-Humber, which also used to be open daily – but that was closed, too! We learned from a friendly resident that the custodian had been removed some time ago, and EH declined her offer (though she was well qualified) to open it and conduct visitors round. Very disappointing – we had to make do with looking at the exterior of the rare Anglo-Saxon baptistry and tower nave, and a visit to nearby St Mary’s (which we could get inside!).

Henry Wowler Meets Simon Williams
See my interview and book blurb in Simon’s May newsletter

I’m honoured to have among my Facebook friends Simon Williams. Simon is the author of nine dark fantasy/young adult novels including the Aona series, told in a crisp, lucid style with plenty of original ideas and good ‘visuals’ to evoke the worlds of his imagination. He also has an extremely funny website and a thought-provoking free e-newsletter – in which I feel particularly honoured to feature this month, with an illustrated interview about the late lamented Henry Wowler and the fantasy he inspired, Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat.

If you’d like to check it out, visit Simon’s website – and if you sign up to receive his newsletter, you’ll get a free copy of his young adult fantasy novel The Light From Far Below, the sequel to Summer’s Dark Waters, (pictured), also free on Amazon, illustrated by the talented Ankolie. I hope to reciprocate by featuring Simon as my first guest on a forthcoming new ‘Author Interviews’ page.

Wow! Henry’s Still Making News
A ‘Window-Cat’: the original of Janet Flynn’s cover painting

Henry Wowler hit the airwaves this month with our 15 minutes of fame: my interview on Hannah Murray’s Talk Radio Europe Book Show! I was pleased enough with my performance, although there were a few more pauses and ‘ers’ than I recall from the day… and now await my April statement with interest to find out if it’s had any impact on sales! Meanwhile I’m still working on my podcast for Black Swan (see below), and also looking forward to featuring in the ‘author interview’ section of dark fantasy Aona Series writer Simon Williams‘ newsletter – oh, and my article for Cats Protection UK will be out soon in the Summer edition! Exciting times.

Henry Wowler Lives On!
Immortalised in print – and word is spreading

Promoting Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat hasn’t always been easy since the untimely death of its hero on New Year’s Eve. However, needs must – and things are going so well I now feel more excited than sad. I was honoured to contribute an author interview for Black Swan Book Promotion, which should be up on their website any day; and delighted when Hannah Murray of Talk Radio Europe agreed to feature Mirror-Cat on her Sunday book programme. I’m doing a phone interview with her on 28th March, and will post a broadcast date as soon as I know it. Meanwhile I’m enjoying revisiting my photo archive/putting together an annotated pictorial biography which Black Swan will make into a podcast as part of a forthcoming social media campaign. I hope that will be online by Easter – as ever, watch this space!

Henry Wowler: Finally in Print!
The late hero of Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat is unimpressed

Yes, after nearly three years of work, Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat is finally in print! I’m so pleased Henry had chance to see it, (not that he took much notice), before his untimely death on New Year’s Eve, and that copies were ready in time to be given as Christmas presents to family and friends. I’m especially pleased to report that it’s going down well so far with readers young and old, and has received some good reviews on Amazon. Unfortunately, the ongoing uncertainty of the Covid situation means that it’s difficult to plan the kind of launch events I’d like, though I am cracking on with promotion through social media and hope to have it on sale in some local bookshops in the near future. Meanwhile you can read an extract on the New Releases page, order it via YPD Books or Amazon UK, or order signed copies directly from me on at £6.99 inclusive of P+P if you live in the UK or Republic of Ireland.

The Woollies Have Landed!
L – R: Soboray, Socks and Sweater explore their new field

Yes, meet our micro-flock of rare breed wethers: two white Borerays, and a brown Soay/Boreray cross. This ‘thrifty’ breed is famously hardy and requires little care – especially castrated males like these – ideal for complete novice shepherds like us, and we don’t plan to get any breeding stock until we’re more experienced. Meanwhile the Woollies now come to Hubcap’s whistle, and follow us round the field. Bold Soboray, the most agile, likes challenging food (eg leaves and bark from Hubcap’s precious apple saplings, nibbled despite their barricades). Bossy Socks is greedy for treats like apple and carrot, and stamps in excitement when he sees them coming; and Sweater’s new nickname is ‘Messy’ because his fleece is so festooned with vegetation. They’re thriving in their new environment, and simply by grazing down the poor Yorkshire Fog grass Hubcap now regrets sowing so widely, and making short work of invasive weeds and brambles, they’re saving us countless hours of mowing and weeding – plus fertilising the site and providing food/habitat for millions of insects and micro-organisms as they go. Beckside feels even more alive and organic now, and we’re delighted with them!

KNAGing Pays Off!
The founder of Kettlethorpe Nature Action Group at work: Hubcap dredges yet more fly- tipping out of the beck

Hubcap and I were thrilled to learn that Wakefeld District Housing, one of the landowners of our proposed Kettlethorpe Community Nature Reserve, has nominated us for the Community Group section of their annual ‘Love Where You Live’ awards. If we scoop the first prize of £200 when results are announced in November, we plan to get another community skip for use by KNAG members and neighbours – but even if we’re not placed at all, the nomination itself is a massive, unexpected honour, and a nice accolade for all the hard work so many members have put into group projects so far.

Although the only actions we’ve taken recently have been clearing up yet more fly-tipping in the woods and beck, we have been meeting regularly with WDH and Council officers to plan future works, including some major woodland management/tree-planting projects over the autumn and winter when all the present lush vegetation has died back. Watch this space for further developments!

KNAG Update: Huge Progress!
KNAG’s first designer bin by Tom Flynn!

Since mid-January, we’ve achieved great things and caused quite a political stir! Thanks to loads of free publicity through our Labour council candidate, Paul Belbin, we got an influx of new members from Wakefield Labour Group and other local residents, swelling our number to 174. (Paul won a much greater percentage of the vote, though sadly not enough to take the seat). Together with Wakefield Litter Heroes, we’ve pressured the Council to observe ‘No Mow May’ and immediately abandon the use of dangerous herbicides on public green space. Our short-lived ‘Beck Bridge Mk 1’ experiment proved a massive hit with locals of all ages, prompting a rapid response from landowners WDH. Although we had to take it down, officers understand why a bridge is needed/wanted, and are for the idea in principle – so we’re now seeking permission to have an approved crossing of some sort installed before too long. However, our carpenter neighbour’s fabulous designer bin (pictured) can remain – another massive hit with locals which has significantly reduced littering in the vicinity. So everything’s coming together for our Kettlethorpe Community Nature Reserve with safe paths and bridges, lovely informative signage, better facilities for users, and a cleaner, greener environment for nature – with full, enthusiastic support from the landowners and local residents. It’s all good!

KNAG: Action for Local Nature
Sparrowhawk in crab-apple tree in our autumn garden

An update on Kettlethorpe Nature Action Group (KNAG): I’m delighted to report that since its inception, the group has grown to more than 100 members, including our local councillor, and a candidate for the forthcoming council elections. We’ve also held a well-supported inaugural event, a Street Spring-Clean, involving a litter-pick and a free street give-away where people could pass down unwanted items (and browse their neighbours’!) in an attempt to reduce rubbish and fly-tipping at source. I was very pleased to give away plants, bookcases and unused board games, among other things, and to acquire a pretty ceramic jug; and KNAG members collected at least 20 sacks of litter from our street and woodland paths, to be promptly removed by Wakefield Council’s excellent Streetscene service. The event resulted in several new group members and orders for Hubcap’s free swift-box initiative, so we were well pleased – and we have much bigger plans in the offing, which I look forward to sharing in due course. Watch this space!

Coming Soon: Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat!

My first foray into writing for children is on track for a summer release. Graced with a cover quote from renowned arts journalist and author Maeve Kennedy, Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat is a whimsical, humorous tale for children aged 8 years and over, and cat-fans of any age. I was delighted with the proof copy which Hubcap is perusing above, and am now awaiting return of the corrected final version before confirming an order for the first print run. Based on the doings of our own feline companion and beautifully illustrated by talented artist Janet Flynn, it’s a cross between Mr Benn and Through the Looking-Glass, with cats – and if you’d like to know more about Henry Wowler or check on the progress of His book, you can follow him on Facebook.

Herstory Sale – Both New Releases for £10!
Grab this great Special Offer on my recent releases!

Need an entertaining light read for those long winter nights? Then pick up a copy of my funny illustrated tale for children and cat-fans of all ages, Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat from YPD Books for just £4.99 plus P+P (RRP £6.99)! Even better, buy one of my Special Book Packs and get Mirror-Cat AND Courtney Jones’ brilliant new autobiography, Around the Ice in Eighty Years, for only £10 plus P+P. Hurry while stocks last!

Herstory Mad March Offers!
Great savings on my new releases until 31st March!

Beat Brexit and recent price rises with my spring special offers on Herstory new releases! Until 31st March, readers at home and abroad can grab big discounts on my limited first edition of Around the Ice in Eighty Years: An Irreverent Memoir by an Accidental Champion, the fascinating and funny autobiography by Courtney Jones, OBE.

Available exclusively from YPD Books, just quote the relevant code on your order to receive at least £3.99 off the RRP of £9.99. For readers in:

GB, NI, Irish Republic: UKRI0322

European Union: EUBB0322

Americas, Canada: AMCAN0322

Australia, New Zealand, Japan/Far East: OZFE0322

I’ll be offering similar great deals on Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat in April – watch this space!

Unhappy New Year 2022: RIP, Henry Wowler
Happier days: Henry and his She-Ooman in typical pose

If you follow my blog you’ll understand why this post is so late, and so different to my usual positive start to a New Year: I lost two very old and dear friends between May and December ’21, then on the 31st, my beloved feline Muse, Henry Wowler. Alas, heavy senior males with any history of heart trouble, like Henry, (aged 10 in August), are prone to develop saddle thrombus, a blood clot which presses on the spinal cord causing hind-end paralysis and breathing difficulties. It’s a grave condition with an uncertain prognosis even if immediate surgery can be performed – which wasn’t an option on New Year’s Eve during a pandemic. So we had to let Henry go; and if you’d like to know how we coped with this shocking and traumatic loss, I tell the full story as it happened on my Facebook page and his obituary on my blog. I’m also contributing an article to the summer edition of the Cats Protection magazine, which will be a nice tribute to him and hopefully help other cat-parents suddenly bereaved by this terrible condition. And I’m grateful that he’s still alive and kicking on his own Facebook page and now immortalised in print with the long-awaited publication of Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat.

Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat: Coming Soon!
Publicity flyer for my forthcoming children’s book

The proofs are approved, the print run is ordered, and I expect news any day that Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat is finally available to buy! So the advance publicity has gone out via Black Swan Book Promotion: mailings have gone out to hundreds of schools, libraries and university bookshops, and it features in the October 21 Signet catalogue distributed to the book trade. Syros Cat Sanctuary in Greece will also be promoting HW&MC, and a percentage of sales will go towards supporting their important work with the island’s street cats. I’ll be selling copies at £5 (RRP £6.99) at the Towton Battlefield Society Christmas meeting on 6th December, (where I’m also giving a talk on The Story of Christmas) – but if you can’t make that, order your copy direct from I really hope it does well, because I have lots of ideas for a sequel!

New Herstory Publications
First steps on ice – how the skating career of ice dance legend Courtney Jones began

Big news: Herstory is publishing ‘Around The Ice in Eighty Years: An Irreverent Memoir by an Accidental Champion’ by our former British, European and World Ice Dance Champion, Courtney Jones! Given publisher backlogs due to Covid, there’s no chance of having it in print by the February ’22 Winter Olympics unless we do it ourselves – so now it’s full steam ahead with the final touches, including pre-launch publicity. On Tuesday 31st August, my recent interview with Canadian skating expert Ryan Stevens will appear on his Skateguard blog, and there’s a podcast in the pipeline for Courtney. It’s all very exciting, and I look forward to posting further details soon!

Also, the latest corrected version of Henry Wowler and the Mirror-Cat has gone off for what I hope will be the final proof copy before the print-run goes ahead. Considering that it’s my shortest book, it’s the one that’s had the most revisions – I can’t believe how many mistakes got through repeated checks – but now I think (fingers crossed) it’s good to go, and I hope it will be ready for Christmas. Watch this space…

Palm Sunday: Remember the Battle of Towton
Dacre’s Cross, the Towton battle monument beside the B1217

In the last week of March 1461, Edward IV’s Yorkist army fought their way through bitter weather, and sharp engagements at Ferrybridge and Dintingdale, to face a massive Lancastrian army at Towton. Famously fought in a snowstorm, the battle of Towton was among the biggest ever fought on English soil, and the worst, bloodiest rout of the Wars of the Roses, with no quarter given to the vanquished foe. Since the 1990s, Towton Battlefield Society has marked the anniversary with a special event – this diary piece gives a flavour of one of my earliest events:

You can also read about our memorable snow year in 2013, and the event’s effective demise in 2016 in posts on my blogsite, Helen Rae Rants, and a re-enactment slideshow on my Walks page – enjoy!

New Year, New Website!

Welcome to Herstory Writing & Interpretation’s brand new website! On this page you’ll find regular updates, starting with big thanks for all your encouraging and useful feedback, which helped me make numerous layout improvements – and special thanks to the wonderful WordPress support team for patiently helping me get to grips with the software. This site will be far more interactive than my old ones and, with the recent addition on the Walks page of virtual tours of some favourite sites to tide you over until we can physically go there together. In the coming weeks I’ll also be adding new pages of articles and reviews, and developing the Lay of Angor page until I get round to giving it a new website of its own. Enjoy!

Late Flies Strike Soboray

An unexpected ordeal for our sociable sheep

Shortly after penning my blog A Celebration of Sheeple to mark the first anniversary of acquiring our wonderful Woollies, we had to call the vet in for the first time… despite twice-daily inspections and regular application of organic repellent/ fly-strike treatment, the density of Soboray’s under-fleece meant that some eggs went undetected until they hatched – and to our horror, within 24 hours he was crawling with big writing clots. And despite twice-daily catching him, going through his fleece, treating infestations and pulling handfuls of maggots off him, we couldn’t beat them and had to resort to a drop-on insecticide. That did the trick straight away and now he’s back to normal and, thank God, unscathed – we got on top of it in the nick of time before they punctured his skin and began eating into him. But this is clearly something to watch out for in years to come – fly activity should have stopped by September/October due to frosts, but the mild autumn meant that they were still active and a constant threat to our Black Prince.

Around the Ice – on Sale on Ice!
Courtney Jones’ ‘Irreverent Memoir’ on sale at IceSheffield

Great news for ice skating fans! The cracking new autobiography by former British, European and World ice-dance champion and fashion legend Courtney Jones OBE is now on sale at British Ice Skating events at the special price of £7.99 (with £2 per copy going to support BIS). An advance copy attracted lots of interest at a recent private coaches’ event – which I hope was reflected in lots of sales when ‘Around the Ice in Eighty Years: an Irreverent Memoir by an Accidental Champion’ was launched in the September Championship Qualifiers event in Sheffield last weekend! Remember to snag you copy if you attend any BIS skating events in the run-up to Christmas!

Henry Wowler, Time Traveller!
The Bishop of Wakefield and Friends of Sandal Castle with the new Time Capsule plaque

A chilly, dull Saturday 18th June was brightened for me by the unexpected honour of having a half-dozen Herstory books, plus a short piece of writing and ‘biographette’ lowered into the well at Sandal Castle inside Wakefield’s Platinum Jubilee Time Capsule, due to be raised and opened in 2072. Let’s hope it survives better than the Blue Peter capsule! The blue plaque on the nearby wall was unveiled by the Bishop of Wakefield, Tony Robinson, and it was quite a poignant occasion for me and Hubcap; as well as the excitement of being a contributor, it was our chance to bid farewell to our friend, well-known local author, former Chair and staunch Friend of Sandal Castle, Dr Keith Souter (on the right in the picture above). Keith was making his last public appearance in Wakefield before setting off for a new home in Stratford-on-Avon, and will be sadly missed. But at least he could bow out on this high note – and I’ll always be grateful to him for inviting me to contribute to the Capsule. I wonder if our great-nieces will go to the raising event? They’ll be in their fifties by then… what a strange thought!

KNAGing Pays Off for Pond-Life!
Future inhabitants of Kettlethorpe’s new wildlife ponds?

Over the past year, our estate has become a much friendlier place for pond-life, thanks to numerous KNAG members creating or enlarging water features in their gardens, and Wakefield Council’s recent addition of two splendid new wildlife ponds at the unused, muddy end of a playing field near Kettlethorpe Lake. This will be a great boost for amphibians, aquatic insects, and those which lay eggs in water like dragonflies and mayflies – not to mention all the creatures which predate them. Our own pond at Beckside is making a significant contribution with a fine crop of tadpoles and other critters, despite being unfinished/as yet unlined; and we hope a proportion will survive and migrate along the beck corridor to the new ponds nearby. And judging from the number of larvae which lived through the winter, we’re expecting the site to be alive with dragonflies this summer!

Nature News from KNAG
Hubcap helping to plant the White Rose Forest in Kettlethorpe

2022 has got off to a flying start as far as our local nature’s concerned! In January, enthusiastic teams of KNAG members and friends turned out in some horrible weather to plant trees for the new White Rose Forest, an initiative to combat climate change by planting some 100,000 trees across Yorkshire. We were very proud that Wakefield Council and Wakefield District Housing chose a zone each, at either end of our proposed Community Nature Reserve, to receive more than 1000 mixed native trees – and that so many locals young and old came to help plant them. We also had great support for our February event, a big spring-clean to get rid of litter and fly-tipping in the woods and beck, which has made it much safer and cleaner for people, pets and wildlife alike. Roll on the next project!

Rocky Road to Riveaulx
By the time we got here, we were too tired to walk round it!

To make up for our abbreviated anniversary weekend, Hubcap and I finally did something we’ve long planned but never got round to: the 2.5 mile walk from Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey.

The footpath from town takes in part of the Cleveland Way, a stiff hike up and down rough trackways and steep gradients. Overdressed for the surprisingly mild day, we were soon puffing and stripping off layers, and I regretted I’d left my walking stick at home. To spare ourselves for the return journey, we opted not to look round the site (we plan to do that another time), and instead stoked up with drinks and bars of chocolate from the café; and as I couldn’t face a second trip down and up the rough stone steps of a precipitous gorge without my stick, we took the longer (3 mile) route back by road. As I’d hoped, once we’d made the hairy climb up the narrow, winding lane from Riveaulx, (luckily there was very little traffic), the rest of the way along the main road was safe and relatively easy going thanks to the broad grass verges – and unlike the densely wooded footpath, offered spectacular views. So we got the best of both worlds – a nature walk and a scenic walk – not to mention a strenuous cardio-vascular workout. Highly recommended if you’re fit enough!

Battling on: TBS Back in Action
Towton Battlefield Society members enjoy the first public meeting since Covid

After such a long dry spell without meetings, it was great to catch up with old friends on a fine sunny evening in July. TBS Chair Chris Berendt and his wife Jo entertained around 30 members with a barbeque, kindly hosted by Laura Charles in the Crooked Billet’s lovely new outdoor covered dining area. The Society’s programme of guided battlefield walks is now up and running again, public lectures resume at Saxton Village Hall on the first Monday in the month, starting 6th September, and I’m due to give my ‘Story of Christmas’ talk there in December – see the TBS website for further details. (Pre-pandemic, I was scheduled to speak on the Black Death, but we felt that might be a bit too grim and depressing for the festive season!). It almost felt as if the past 18 months had never happened as we all chatted away, although naturally coping with Covid was a big topic of conversation – but it felt very good to be back in company again, and we’re looking forward to being more actively involved with the Society in the coming months.

Accidental Editor for ‘Champion by Mistake’!
Image of Courtney Jones with his first partner, June Markham, supplied by Elaine Hooper and reproduced by permission of Courtney Jones, OBE

As a child fan of ice dancing on TV, I never in my wildest dreams imagined that fifty-odd years later, I’d be editing the autobiography of one of the all-time-great British champions, the unique, multi-talented Courtney Jones (former British, European and World Ice Dance Champion, eminent skating judge and coach, and responsible for Torvill and Dean’s famous Bolero routine and iconic costumes, among many other notable achievements). Then a friend of a friend put us in touch after Courtney wrote his memoir, with no idea how to get it published. To cut a long story short, I knew precisely how to go about it, and volunteered to help. I’ve drafted 10,000 words in a week, adding titbits of research and extra details kindly supplied by Elaine Hooper, official historian of British Ice Skating, and straight from the horse’s mouth – an incredible privilege, and tremendous fun. By far the most important editorial project Herstory has ever undertaken, the story of Courtney’s meteoric (and completely accidental) rise to global skating stardom is pure gold, studded with gems of anecdotes ranging from the touching, (a 4-year-old Courtney skating off clutching his teddy to the strains of ‘Blaze Away’), to the hilarious, (going to Harrods to buy a pair of socks and coming out with a gay Siamese kitten). I feel truly honoured to tell it, and will be amazed if a major publisher doesn’t snap it up straight away – hopefully to be in print in time to catch the Christmas market. Watch this space!

From Wakefield to Towton
Battlefield monument to Edward’s victory at Mortimer’s Cross, February 1461

560 years ago, Edward, Earl of March, was proclaimed King of England in London – the Yorkist rival to the Lancastrian Henry VI. This unique situation occurred after an unprecedented campaign fought by the 18-year-old Earl after the deaths of his father Richard, Duke of York, and younger brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland, at Wakefield in December 1460. The story of his campaign, encompassing Yorkist triumph at Mortimer’s Cross, disaster at St Albans, and eventual decisive victory at Towton on Palm Sunday is told in my book co-authored with Alan Stringer, Walk Towton 1461 – and you can see more of the images Alan and I collected on our research trip in the slide-show just added to the Walks page. I also plan to mark the 560th anniversary of Towton with a feature on memorial events held by Towton Battlefield Society – watch this space!

Nature Conservation in Action

I’ve always been interested in conservation in the widest sense: of museum objects, collections and buildings, of energy and the environment, and of the natural world. So now that Hubcap and I are easing down into semi-retirement, we found the time to set up a private group, KNAG, (Kettlethorpe Nature Action Group), and its companion public page, Kettlethorpe Nature Group, aimed at encouraging local people to care for the flora and fauna on our amazingly rich and diverse estate. It clearly struck a nerve, because we already have 90 group members and 70 page followers in just a couple of weeks – and extremely heartening for us to discover that far from being lone eco-freaks, we’re surrounded by kindred spirits doing their bits for nature, and keen to do more. Check us out for some great wildlife-gardening tips!