DANBY Wiske is one of four villages – Appleton, Kirby and Newby alphabetically the others – which take the second part of their name from the river which mooches through that part of north North Yorkshire.

Named from the Old English wisca, meaning water meadow, it’s officially 29 miles long before being subsumed by the Swale but, laid out in a line, might barely stretch from here to the end of the street. In former times the river was also known as the Foulbroke, though it’s always seems pleasant enough to me.

The village, when last anyone counted, had 155 dwellings, 366 inhabitants and what Wikipedia calls “a small Buddhist minority.” There’s a grade I-listed church, a vigorous village hall and – right on the Coast-to-Coast Walk but still 66 miles from Robin Hoods Bay – the White Swan, a licensed oasis.

Lauded in the Good Beer Guide – “a warm welcome to walkers and locals alike” – the Swan has a friendly landlord, excellent ale from Three Brothers (actually two brothers and a brother-in-law) at Eaglescliffe and sticking plasters and things for the footsore. Better yet, there being no shop, it has ten copies of The Northern Echo delivered every day for collection by well-read villagers.

Last week it hosted a jungle-jangle evening of folk dancing – morris, longsword, rapper – and that was best of all.

THE morris side was Black Diamond from Darlington, formed just three years ago. It’s fronted by Neil Appleyard, an affable squire, and accompanied on squeeze box by Chris Davison who had an Edward Lear beard – you remember the old man with a beard? – and wore a hat with so magnificent a feather that he might simultaneously have swept the ceiling for cobwebs (had there been any in the first place, of course.)

Chris reckoned himself the oldest. The youngest may barely have been able to get into the pub unaccompanied, a veritable morris minor.

Helen, another Black Diamond, essayed explanation to a pair of visiting Californians, a bit like translating the rules of cricket but without the aid of a tea towel. The Americans looked bewildered, as probably many of their compatriots had done after the last presidential election.

Pull the other one? It has bells on.

Darlington has three morris sides, it transpires, one called Locos in Motion after the No 1 engine on the Stockton and Darlington Railway. Black Diamond was No 3. “I couldn’t remember the No 2 and couldn’t name it after No 5 because that was Chittaprat,” said Neil.

They’d even been on the radio recently, though it seemed an improbable medium for so visual an artform. “It didn’t stop Archie Andrews,” said Chris.

All wore waistcoats, many bedecked with badges like superannuated boy scouts. The lady of this house thought that part of the appeal was that some of the troupe weren’t what she supposed dancer-shaped. It did nothing to impact their energy or their enthusiasm.

The evening was lachrymose, occasionally wet, the dancers obliged to perform indoors, a bit like Superman getting changed in a phone box or a test match played in a semi-detached back garden.

It’s one thing waving outsize handkerchiefs around in so confined a space, of course, quite another half a dozen longswords. It’s essentially English, mildly bonkers and altogether wonderful.

THE Ripon Spur Rappers were dancing for the first time in public, their swords delivered, mint, just that afternoon. The longsword side, the Brompton Scorpers, had been going much longer, led by Vince Rutland – for 15 years chairman of the North-West Yorkshire branch of Camra – and joined by Steve, the pub landlord.

Brompton’s a village near Northallerton, now all but indivisible from it, the locals said historically not to get on with the county townies and to scorp them – it meant scalp, apparently – when victorious in derby matches.

Steve said an old bloke got in who swore that Brompton was formerly known as Scorpton. They could probably have made a film about it all – in Cinema-scorp, of course. Swords into ploughshares, these days they just dance to the martial beat.

So was a gloomy evening greatly enlightened. When all had danced themselves to a standstill, the musicians took over and the jollity continued.

Best of all, so positive a report on village life may impact on sales of the paper. The White Swan may have to up its order to eleven.

LAST week’s column recalled inside stories from the North-East’s prisons, today’s folk dances, the blog – bless it – had cause to mention the nursery rhyme Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. An email from Australia remarkably connects all three.

David Thompson, governor in turn of all three of Durham’s prisons and also No 1 at Wakefield, recalls that the mulberry bush in question grew within Wakefield’s walls – the root given by a nearby stately home.

In former times it was Wakefield Penitentiary, which also held women. “If they went inside their children went with them,” says Dave, now director of a prison down under. “To ensure that the children got daily fresh air, they were taken outside and skipped around the mulberry bush, singing the nursery rhyme.” Local historians confirm the story.

On Dave’s watch the tree became environmentally protected. “We’d tend to it and with the offcuts make little wooden mementoes lie pens, key rings and coasters and sell them for charity. Strangely, efforts to grow from the tree never succeeded.”

ANOTHER musical note, though whether folksy is anyone’s guess. Neil McKay reports that Bishop Auckland railway station now has a piano – as have other stations like Darlington and Newcastle – but the tireless Trish Pemberton, chair of the Friends of the Stockton and Darlington Railway and former mayor of Shildon, mentions in her latest report that a gentleman called Graham from Locomotive Rhythm is developing a fishbelly rail musical instrument. “I’m looking forward to hearing it,” says Trish, and that goes doubtless for us all.

…and finally, locomotive number 63395, built at Darlington exactly a century since, was one of those mucky old workhorses at which we raggy-trousered train spotters would serially and roundly hurl imprecations on the back line through Shildon station. It was a very long time ago.

Last Wednesday, on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway the ugly duckling re-emerged as the most splendid swan, immaculately and impressively restored by the NYMR and the North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group and temporarily returned to its NER class and number.

More music to the ears, NELPG kindly invited the column to the ceremony, to ride behind the dear old thing between Grosmont and Pickering and back and to raise a glass over lunch. Family commitments, alas, made attendance impossible.

It was particularly regrettable partly because Joem, the best little engine in the world, is still “a year or two” away from restoration at NELPG’s workshop in Darlington and partly because to 63395 there seemed a compelling need to apologise.