Dianna Bowles: My Yorkshire

ENJOY THE SILENCE: Professor Dianna Bowles on her Nidderdale sheep farm.
ENJOY THE SILENCE: Professor Dianna Bowles on her Nidderdale sheep farm.
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DIANNA Bowles is the founder of the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products and is a Professor of Biochemistry at York University. Her pastime is keeping Herdwick sheep.

What’s your first Yorkshire memory?

When I came to Leeds in 1979 as a lecturer at the university, my first academic position, three memories come to mind. One image that always springs to mind is Kirkstall Abbey, because I was fortunate enough to rent this incredibly cold but very beautiful, unfurnished flat in an old house that overlooked the abbey. An equally strong memory was the indoor market – they sold butter from this huge slab of butter – which had its own stall. Thirdly, I remember drinking superb Tetley bitter at an old run-down pub in a derelict part of Armley.

What’s your favourite part of the county – and why?

I love the Dales, particularly Upper Nidderdale where I am lucky enough to live. It’s still possible to have absolute silence – such as by Scar and Angram reservoirs – sometimes the sound of skylarks, always a sense of the wind.

What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire?

Working alongside the sheep I keep, drinking ice-cold ginger beer if it’s hot weather, or, if temperatures on the hills are freezing, Zubrowka vodka that tastes and smells of hay, and then coming home to a meal that’s been cooking all day in the Rayburn and can just be served up.

Do you have a favourite walk – or view?

I love Fountains Abbey, the view looking back with the abbey at the head of the valley. Also seeing hills in the Dales covered in a sheen of blue from bluebells marking out where there was once ancient woodland. Maybe my favourite view is sitting on the wooden seats outside Middlesmoor St Chad’s church and seeing a landscape that has been experienced by people living at the site of Middlesmoor for 2000 years or more.

Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch?

I like the speed and passion of Rugby League and would be delighted to take Brian Noble out for lunch to Betty’s. He has always seemed superb in interviews and clearly has helped a number of Yorkshire clubs to success.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, or past or present, would you like to take for dinner?

I watched Sean Bean for years in Sharpe which I thought was excellent. Maybe invite him to a lamb dinner in Middlesmoor? I also adored watching Last of the Summer Wine and Bill Owen would have been a close second to Sean Bean.

If you had to name your Yorkshire hidden gem, what would it be?

Since I was a child I have always taken photographs and been caught by changes in the light – so my hidden gem would be those times at early evening when low sunlight transforms heather moors into the most amazing colours. The light in Yorkshire, when those long beams of sunlight transform the moorland would be the hidden gem.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

I think it is just the richness of variety. The county is so diverse, the differences between the major cities, the characters of the towns and villages, the range of different landscapes, the very different cultures and the people. When you compare towns, if you go to Holmfirth and compare that with Ilkley, and compare Otley with Ilkley, they all have their own characters.

Do you follow sport in the county, and if so, what?

I don’t really follow sport, but I think my most memorable moment was the test match when Ian Botham turned the whole thing around (the 1981 Ashes test against Australia at Headingley. It was so dismal and then it caught fire, essentially through his bloody-mindedness.

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?

In addition to drinking Black Sheep in my two lovely local Crowns at Middlesmoor and Lofthouse, I also love the atmosphere of the Blue Lion at East Witton. We took my mum there for her 90th birthday, drank my other favorite drink, champagne, and had lunch at the table close to the huge inglenook fireplace. And I drank my first Timothy Taylor Landlord in the Old Hall Inn in Threshfield. Restaurants, well, Bryan’s fish and chip restaurant is great in Headingley as is also the superb quality Indian food in the Corner Café in Leeds. But I prefer to cook rather than go out for meals.

Do you have a favourite food shop?

I love simple, quality food – whether to cook or to eat – and certainly prefer savoury to sweet. So my top two shops are both butchers – Weatherhead’s in Pateley Bridge – amazing quality beef – and Ian and Andy also take my Herdwick lamb to sell in season, as well as butcher my lambs for me to freeze and cook The other is Roger’s in Masham – the cooked belly pork slices are sublime. The taste has brought many of my friends to a complete standstill when simply eaten within a slice of bread from the bakery close to the butchers, with cherries for afters from the fruit shop next door.

How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you’ve known it?

I moved to Leeds from working at a research centre in Heidelberg in January 1979, so I have lived in Yorkshire for more than 30 years. Maybe there was a vibrant sense of political energy in the time of the miners’ strike in the mid ’80s, an awareness of injustices being done and a sense of commitment to caring. There seems less of that now, even though the injustices are even more pervasive.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?

Different people for different reasons. Sir Ken Morrison for his grit, commitment to both food and farming and to the ethos of Yorkshire life, Oliver Worsley for his love of people, (Dame Barbara) Hepworth and (Alan) Bennett for their ability and determination to follow their creativity.

Name your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer.

I think the writing of Alan Bennett is superb, particularly the power of the Talking Heads monologues, and I also love the sculpture of Barbara Hepworth. I first saw her work at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park at Bretton Hall, when I was taken there many years ago by an architect friend who was trying to educate a scientist to appreciate fine art and the tactile energy of sculpture. I hadn’t realised until recently that she was from Yorkshire. In terms of music – the Northern Ballet in Leeds – also listening also to Jan Garbarek in a tiny jazz pub in Sheffield.

If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be?

I think it must be Upper Nidderdale, taking in the villages, landscapes, food and alcohol, and ending up beyond Scar Reservoir at the head of the Nidd.