The Lilacs of Golden Acre

It’s a well kept secret, but it’s finally out. One of our intrepid reporters sneaked into Golden Acre Park yesterday and took the above photos, and we can reveal that an amazing spectacle is unfolding there over the next two weeks. Golden Acre, (just past Bramhope on the road to Otley) is home to a national lilac collection, about 60 different types, and this is their moment. For 50 weeks of the year lilac trees are a bit anonymous, but when they blossom they do it in style – they look great and smell gorgeous.

They’re very late this year. It’s a good job T.S.Eliot didn’t write The Waste Land in 2013, as  his famous lines ‘April is the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire’, wouldn’t work so well if you substitute ‘June’.

Lilac has gone out of fashion a bit, but apparently in Victorian times it was as popular as the rose in the national imagination. Hence such songs as Ivor Novello’s ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs In The Spring’ . I always think of Walt Whitman’s poem ‘When Lilacs Last By The Dooryard Bloom’d’ with it’s lovely lines that describe the lilac well:

the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,

With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,

With every leaf a miracle

The rest of the poem is pretty good too – a lament for the death of Abraham Lincoln which ends up being a celebration of how great death is (that’s Walt for you).

I don’t know why lilacs should be associated with sad things, but that seems to be the case. One of the all time great weepy ballads is of course Lilac Wine, especially as performed by the wonderful Nina Simone or Jeff Buckley. It’s not all gloomy though. In my research I found a lovely piece by Rachmaninov called Lilacs

One way and another lilacs are pretty powerful. , so if you have a spare hour in the next couple of weeks get on an X84 from the bus station and get to Golden Acre. The lilacs are just behind the cafe to the left as you come under the Otley Road tunnel into the park. The best free show in town.

Woodhouse Ridge

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I’ve grown to love the Ridge over the last few years. It’s a deceptively big place. On the face of it just a narrow strip of wood between the tightly packed terraces of Woodhouse and Meanwood Road in the valley bottom, it’s criss-crossed with paths, each of which has a slightly different character. I’ve seen a pair of jays here, an owl once, endless squirrels, and because of that maybe, it’s a foxes paradise. Lucy Newlyn’s poem Bandstand is here next to the remains of the old Victorian bandstand. At one end you’re almost at Sheepscar, easy distance to the town centre. At the other you can slip across Grove Lane in Headingley and stay on foot paths out to Golden Acre Park. I’ve walked dogs here in frosty Winter, dug Hannah’s allotment in Spring, recorded birds at dawn in Summer, walked back one dark night in a storm from Wheatfields hospice at Halloween. It’s always the same and it’s never the same. When I read The Wisdom of Wilderness, the book Quaker psychiatrist Gerald May wrote just before he died, I was convinced by his argument that we all need a bit of wilderness to keep us sane. This is the nearest I get to it in my daily life. Terry