The wonders of Whalley in Lancashire

PUBLISHED: 21:25 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:26 20 February 2013

One of the lovely lanes in Whalley

One of the lovely lanes in Whalley

We make no bones about it – this Ribble Valley community is full of surprises.<br/>Roger Borrell reports<br/>Photography by Kirsty Thompson

Scratch the surface of any community and you will unearth a cast list of characters, events and the occasional, unexpected skeleton. In Whalleys case, six of them.

When Lancashire Life visited this attractive Ribble Valley village we dug behind the bustling main street and hit a rich seam lined with the hugely talented, the admirably quirky and the remains of dear, departed residents from times past.

Our first stop was not far from the library. In a small, unobtrusive garage with only a rescue greyhound for company, there is a young artist called Jo Taylor busy at work. She paints horses - dramatic, loose studies capturing every snort, tossed mane and straining sinew of the real thing.
When they come on a canvas big enough to fill a wall, you want to
duck for cover.

For Jo, who has lived in Whalley most of her life, its a labour of love; horses and painting are among her all-consuming passions.
Unusually, she paints and sketches from life - except for the skull of a sadly departed racehorse in her studio called Toms Tip. (Hes the one model who never moves, she laughs).

Apart from studying these animals while on horseback, she has witnessed veterinary surgeons pare skin from bone at equine autopsies, she has crouched beside chilly racetracks as animals thundered past, sketched in trainer Aidan OBriens Irish yard, spent time with gauchos in Argentina and, like Picasso, she has watched in wonder as picadors and their mounts high-step around fighting bulls.

I do travel a lot, says Jo, and it looks like Im off to Lexington in
the USA next year. But I love my northern roots and I love the landscape around this part of Lancashire. Ill come back from South Africa or
India and wonder just why I went away. I could never imagine living anywhere else.

Jo, who was educated at Whalley School and Blackburn College before studying graphic art at Leeds, works in mixed media, predominately acrylics with some watercolour, pastels and even tissue paper and grit to give texture to her studies.

If you were to cut one of her paintings into sections, they would be striking enough to stand alone as an abstract or an anatomic landscape.
Not that you would dream of doing that - etchings and screen prints
can be bought for a few hundred pounds but her large-scale works can fetch 8,000.

Jo has an impressive list of clients, including Lord and Lady Oaksey and the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, but incredibly she has never staged an exhibition in Lancashire. Shes about to put that right with a show at Food and Breda Murphy in Whalleys Station Road. It runs throughout December and Jo can be contacted on 07966 175089.

Strolling back to the centre of the village, hardboard sheets covering
part of the 13th century Parish Church of St Mary and All Saints catch the eye. Inside, the usual calm of this beautiful building is disrupted by swathes of plastic sheeting.

Its a re-ordering - thats building work to you and me - with the porch being extended to provide a toilet and facilities for the disabled along with the introduction of a serving area for post-service refreshments.
Not a major task, but one that needs care, sensitivity and attention to detail in one of Lancashires historic and spiritual gems. Churchwarden Clifford Ball explains that part of the work involved lifting flagstones and the discovery of six skeletons.

It brought an archaeologist to the site and one set of bones was thought
to be mediaeval. It conjures up memories of the old newspaper headline announcing: Body found in graveyard.

It was probably unexpected by the builders, but hardly surprising when digging around in the grounds of a church. Clifford says one of the bodies still wore a gold ring. After being examined they were all being reburied with all due deference.

Clifford said one other consequence of the changes has been the moving of a 17th century churchwardens pew to a more visible part of the church, giving greater prominence to fine example of craftsmanship.
By coincidence, it was 100 years ago when the last re-ordering took place when three side galleries were removed, the floor lowered and the area re-paved.

Then, the Lord Bishop of Manchester re-opened the church on All Saints Day and a similar celebration will be held by the Bishop of Blackburn when the current work is completed.

Back in the main street, heading towards Whalley Bridge, is a wonderful emporium in an disused garage (the old-style petrol pump remains outside) called Country Furniture, run by Jim King and Bruce Mitchell.
If you are on a wild goose chase looking for something that you know you are unlikely to find, go and see Jim. It may be in there somewhere. Ninety people cent of people like it because we dont tidy up and the rest think its a junk shop, says Jim, a Blackburn lad screwed into a cloth cap you suspect he sleeps in.

When hes not selling things, Jim is working on old engines - anything from vintage tractors to an ancient agricultural motor once used in a Lancashire milking parlour.
Jim, who lives next door, has been there since the 70s but the garage - possibly the oldest in the county - dates back to the Great War and once sold Model Ts.

The business isnt about mending machinery but people just bring us stuff, smiles Jim. The shop is full of stuff - anything from an old delivery bike hanging from the rafters to life-sized stone pigs and log baskets and, yes, there is some furniture if you look hard enough.
Its well worth a rummage and Saturday afternoons sound especially fun as a few local musicians gather to bash out a tune or two in this barn of a building.

The delights of Whalley

Location: Just off the A59, about three miles south of Clitheroe. Put BB7 9TD into your SatNav and you should be in the centre.

Parking: Its a busy little place but there are Pay and Displays.

What to do: Pickwick Night on December 3 is a Victorian-themed street fair with shopping until 9pm. During the day, visit the Abbey and look around the church.

Shopping: A very good range of high quality small independents, from designer shoes and womens clothing to an excellent butcher, Hallworths. Get there when the sausage rolls are still hot!

Eating out: Several pubs and good cafes, including one at the abbey, plus the Lancashire Life award-winning Food at Breda Murphy near the railway station.

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