Sunday Serial #2

lawn mower
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In 2018 I decided to follow a well established tradition from the nineteenth century and serialise some of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray. As you know, if you’ve visited my blog before, Michael is my husband but he’s also the author of “Leefdale” and other novels including the one-time best selling detective novel, “A Single To Filey”. My self-appointed task is awareness raising as planet Kindle is huge and the likelihood of you stumbling across “Leefdale” isn’t great. With the holiday season starting to feel more like a new reality, readers will be stocking up their Kindles and now seems like a good time to say, “Hey, you might like to try this!” So, I’m going to run Sunday Serial again and introduce “Leefdale” to a whole new audience.

If you want to start at the beginning use the Look Inside feature here.

Or just dive in!

The Newsletter of The Leefdale Parish Council
April 2001
Pages 3-4
In the Garden with “The Major”

I was chatting to one of our new neighbours the other day, when he said, “Come on, Major. You’ve gardened in this chalky soil around here long enough to know a thing or two. Tell me, which shrubs do best in it?”

I made one or two suggestions and then we moved on to other topics. But his question set me thinking. Over the past twelve months we’ve welcomed several new residents to our little community here in Leefdale. (And standards of horticulture have certainly not declined as a consequence, let me say that at once!) But if we are to surpass ourselves yet again and win the Magnificent Britain Gardening Competition for an unprecedented fifth year running, then it is essential that all newcomers should be made aware of the plants that really thrive in our chalk soil; particularly those which are at their best in late July when the Magnificent Britain contest is judged.

Roses are an obvious example. Of course, people say that roses do not like alkaline soils, especially chalk. But I say not so! I have found that if the ground is properly prepared with plenty of humous and the plants are carefully nurtured, there are many roses that will grow well in chalk. If anyone is in doubt, take a look at my own front garden.

By contrast, Buddleia Davidii requires no attention at all, save some hard autumnal pruning, and is happiest in well drained soils, which, of course, makes it ideal for chalk. An added bonus of the buddleia is its attractiveness to butterflies. Indeed, colloquially speaking, it is known as the butterfly bush.

Another shrub which is irresistible to insects is Lavatera Olbia. It will grow up to five feet high in a single season and displays its deep pink flowers month after month. Lavatera is found in abundance in the gardens of our lovely village and bees love it.

Hypericum Hidcote (St John’s Wort) also adapts well to our soil and from July to October never fails to delight us with its large, golden flowers. Try too Abelia Grandiflora which eventually reaches six feet high and also flowers in July.

Other suggestions for plants that succeed well on chalk: Spiraea Anthony Waterer and Cistus Silver Pink. Finally, don’t forget lavender, one of our most popular shrubs — my own favourite — is Lavandula Hidcote.

Of course, there are some plants, just like some people, who never thrive when planted here and never become established. It is often stoutly maintained that one such species is the hydrangea. Certainly, it is very hard to grow certain hydrangeas on chalk and high pH soils but with nurturing and perseverance it can be done. (A moral there, I think!)

Well, happy planting everyone. Next month I shall be suggesting suitable climbing plants.
The Major.
(Howard Roberts)


Howard was on the ride-on mower cutting remarkably straight stripes in The Old Rectory’s front lawn. He looked up, his eye arrested by a movement opposite in the drive of his own house, Rooks Nest. Isobel was passing through the front gate and was carrying a large mug of something that he assumed must be tea. She crossed Church Lane, which separated the two houses, and strode towards him across the rectory’s lawn. Howard continued on until he’d completed the stripe then cut the mower’s engine. He stayed sitting on the machine watching her approach, all the while noting the pinched, anxious look she’d acquired of late.

She handed him the mug. He was pleased to see that it did, in fact, contain tea.


Isobel nodded at the ground. ‘Finished?’

‘Not quite. I need to dig out those borders.’

‘What on earth for?’

‘Because I want to!’

‘Oh, for heaven’s sake!’

‘It won’t take a moment.’

‘Can’t you leave the bloody place alone for a minute?’

‘It can’t be neglected. Particularly with the competition coming up.’

‘Oh yes. The competition!’

He raked a hand through his greying, sandy coloured hair. ‘What’s wrong now?’

‘Nothing. Absolutely nothing!’ She started to go then turned back. ‘If you’re not ready in half an hour I’m leaving without you. This is so unfair. You know how I hate to be late. You’re such a selfish bastard!’

He watched her retreating back and felt a profound despair. Recently it seemed every small difference of opinion between them was inflated by her into a major incident.

Every conversation became an engagement with the enemy. For heaven’s sake, where had her kindness gone? She’d once had such immense capacity for kindness. It was kindness, more than anything, he needed now.

He switched on the mower and began cutting the next stripe.


Sharon had no appointments that morning so it was convenient for her to take the motorcyclist, whose name she’d now learnt was Dylan Bourne, to view The Old Rectory.

They left Parker and Lund’s office together and stood next to Dylan’s motorcycle. It had a distinctive red petrol tank and no passenger seat. Even Sharon, who knew nothing about motorbikes, could see that it was something special.

‘That’s an unusual bike,’ she said.

‘Yes. It’s an Ariel Red Hunter.’

‘It looks old.’

‘It was built in 1939.’



Her shrewd hazel eyes seemed to be inviting an explanation.

‘I’ve a passion for collecting antique bikes. I’ve inherited it from my father.’

‘You inherited the bike from your dad?’

He held her eyes in a long, penetrating look. ‘No, not the bike, my passion.’

Sharon blushed.

Dylan eased himself astride the Ariel. ‘Sorry I can’t offer you a lift to Leefdale but as you can see it’s only built for one.’

‘That’s all right. I hate motor bikes anyway.’


‘I don’t know. I always have.’

His gaze became slightly solicitous. ‘You know, sometimes, if you draw a picture of the thing you’re afraid of it can make it less terrifying.’

Oh God, she thought. How disappointing. He’s one of those.

Dylan wondered how old she was. Twenty seven? Twenty eight?

‘Leefdale’s about ten miles away,’ said Sharon, slightly unnerved by his stare. ‘Directions to the property are in the details. Or you can follow me, but I must warn you, I don’t do more than fifty.’

‘That’s OK.’

‘All right, let’s go.’

Dylan hesitated. The Ariel Red Hunter suddenly seemed a poor consolation for the loss of Sharon’s presence.

‘Hang on,’ he said, smoothly sliding off the bike. ‘On second thoughts I’ll go with you.’

Now why’s he done that? Sharon wondered.

‘You can fill me in on the property as we go along,’ he said, removing his crash helmet.


‘Presumably you’re not a first-time buyer,’ said Sharon.

Dylan stole a discreet glance at her knees as she changed up to fifth. They had left Luffield well behind now and the road was running between the green slopes of a secluded valley dotted with sheep.

‘No. I’m not a first-time buyer.’

‘We have our own mortgage advisor back at the office. Would you like a word with her afterwards?’

‘It’s not necessary, I’ll be paying cash.’

‘I see.’

Dylan had the impression that Sharon was looking at him approvingly; and so she was: she was working out her commission. The new dining room suite was becoming a feasibility.

Her eyes returned to the road. ‘So there’s no chain?’ she said, mentally listing all the other £500,000 plus properties on Parker and Lund’s books she could recommend should The Old Rectory fail to interest him.

‘Chain? No.’

‘Have you just sold a property?’

‘No, I’m renting at the moment.’

She slowed for a cattle grid. Strange. He hadn’t sold anything and didn’t need a mortgage so where had he got £500,000? ‘I see. Are you looking for a second home or are you intending to re-locate?’

‘At the moment I live in London but I thought the country might be a pleasanter place to work. I’m an artist.’

An artist! Sharon, whose brain had been made dizzy with speculations about the source of his income, was re-assured. So that’s why he’d suggested she should draw pictures of motorbikes!

‘Well, you’re in luck. We have lots of excellent rural properties.’

‘So I saw. But I’m hoping The Old Rectory will be OK.’

‘It’s certainly a beautiful house.’

The next question was obvious. But Sharon had never been deterred by the obvious.

‘You said you’re an artist. Are you famous?’

Dylan laughed and looked thoughtful. ‘If I were, you wouldn’t have to ask.’

She affected a faux cringe. ‘Sorry, I’m completely ignorant about Art. I’ve heard of Van Gogh and Picasso, of course. What I mean is, are you well known in the art world?’

‘I have a certain reputation.’

‘What sort of things do you paint?’

‘All sorts.’

‘Oh. Do you do modern art?’

‘That description’s as good as any.’

‘Do you throw paint around and that sort of thing? Chuck a load of junk together and call it something?’

‘Neither, I hope. Ever heard of a painter called Mondrian?’


‘Some of my work is a bit like his.’




A magnificent Grade II listed property built in 1780, lovingly restored, full of character and charm, yet offering all the benefits associated with modern day living and set in the lovely village of Leefdale, in the heart of the Yorkshire Wolds. The coastal towns of Sandleton and Scarborough are less than twenty miles distant. The cities of York and Hull are easily commutable.

The property offers an oil central heating system and accommodation comprising entrance hall, drawing room, dining room, study, sitting room, shower room, dining-kitchen, utility room, cellar, conservatory, seven bedrooms and a bathroom/wc.
The property has extensive gardens to the front and rear occupying an area of approximately one and a half acres.


From Luffield follow the Malton road for approximately eight miles then turn left onto the single track, passing place road towards Oxenholme for approximately two miles. On your left you will see a sign for Leefdale. Follow the road for another half a mile and you will come to the village. As you enter Leefdale, take the first right into Church Lane. The Old Rectory is set back from the road on the left.

The property offers a wide road frontage to Church Lane, enjoying a slightly elevated location close to the village church. The property is fronted by a north facing garden area of approximately half an acre which is extensively lawned, hedged with privet and contains a number of mature shrubs and trees. There is a front boundary wall together with a gated drive access. Contained within this front garden area is the brick and tile garaging 27′ 3″ x 14′ 6″ with optional remote controlled electric garage door, two exposed roof trusses and with power supply connected. In addition, there is convenient parking in the gravelled courtyard area adjacent to the main front door.

To the rear of the property is a south facing garden area of approximately one acre, extensively laid to lawn. The rear boundary is hedged with privet and there are a number of mature shrubs and trees including flowering cherries, plum trees, apple trees, ash, silver birch and willows. The superb gardens which have been lovingly tended by the present owners have helped Leefdale secure first prize for four consecutive years in the Magnificent Britain Gardening Competition.

All measurements are approximate.
Staircase to the first floor accommodation with under stairs storage cupboard. Parquet flooring, radiator and doors leading into:
23′ 4″ x 21′ 6″ max
Open fire period fireplace with basket grate set within a Palladian style marble fire surround, parquet flooring, wooden panelling, moulded ceiling with centre ceiling rose and cornice frieze, two radiators, windows to the front elevation.
23′ 4″ x 21′ 6″ max
Open fire period fireplace with basket grate set within a Palladian style marble fire surround, fitted shelving to recess, dado rail, moulded ceiling with centre ceiling rose and cornice frieze, two radiators, windows to the front elevation.
21′ 6″ x 15′ max
Open fire set within an Adam style wooden fire surround, wooden panelling, moulded ceiling with centre ceiling rose and cornice frieze, two radiators. Window to side elevation.
16′ 6″ x 15′ max
Open fire set within an Adam style wooden fire surround, moulded ceiling with centre ceiling rose and cornice frieze, single radiator. Window to side elevation. Built in bookcases.
39′ 6″ x 15′ 3″
This spacious kitchen is partially tiled and fitted with a range of solid wood wall and base units incorporating drawers, wine rack and preparation surfaces. Inset sink unit, tiled splash backs, integrated dishwasher. Aga with tiled surround, tiled flooring and window to the rear elevation. Doors giving access to the shower room, utility room and conservatory.
Comprising shower cubicle, housing Mira power shower, pedestal wash basin, bidet,
w/c, extractor fan, radiator, tiled flooring and window to the side elevation.
The partially tiled utility is fitted with a range of solid wood wall and base units incorporating drawers and work surfaces and plumbed for an automatic washing machine. Belfast sink, tiled flooring and window to the rear elevation. Grandee central heating boiler. A trap door is set into the floor giving access to the cellar.
CELLAR 21′ 6″ x 12′ 7″
Tiled throughout and fitted with a range of built-in storage units.
20′ 2″ x 15′ 5″
Radiator, tiled flooring and double doors giving access to the rear garden.
Split level landing with staircase to the second floor, airing cupboard containing cylinder immersion heater, radiator, windows to the front and rear elevation and doors off passage leading into
20′ 6″ x 20′ max
Built in wardrobe, built in cupboard providing storage, radiator, windows to the front elevation.

Dylan’s eyes glazed over at the prospect of reading the description of the six remaining bedrooms. He folded the property details, placed them on his lap and turned his attention to Sharon’s lovely presence beside him. Much more diverting.

That’s all for today! As you’re still here, I guess you’re intrigued. You can continue reading Leefdale with the Look Inside feature at

Michael Murray is a superb story-teller. His descriptions are luscious and his characters totally believable. Even the least attractive elicits some sympathy, whilst the favourites are allowed to have flaws and double standards. The staff of the inclusion unit exercise their responsibilities with excellent care and insight – even Major Roberts’ gardening tips could prove useful to any amateur gardener. “Leefdale” is well-researched and beautifully balanced, often leaving the reader not quite sure what to expect next. A very good companion volume to “Magnificent Britain”. Can’t wait for his next book!

Amazon review

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