I was pleased to learn that several parishes in Nidderdale, one of North Yorkshire's loveliest dales, are considering the reinstatement of lengthmen as a means of maintaining their roads and verges.

There is nothing new in this idea, for lengthmen were essential workers on our rural roads until some ten or 20 years ago.

The precise time of their demise varied from place to place, but our village was fortunate because it retained the services of a very dedicated lengthman until he retired within a decade or so ago - responsibility for his former work then rested upon the council.

The change was evident from that stage - drains did not get cleared, rubbish gathered in the hedgerows, footpaths and verges became overgrown, pot-holes developed without being repaired, vulnerable parts of the roads were not gritted when ice was present or cleared of snow, and in some places excess water from the land stood on the road surface because it could not drain away.

Certainly, the council came along eventually to deal with such matters, but their attention was spasmodic, sometimes dependent upon being summoned by the parish council to deal with a particular nuisance, and sometimes as part of their routine maintenance.

A good lengthman was a treasure because he had the interests of the village at heart. His daily stint would ensure that drains were always kept clear, which in turn meant flood water and heavy rain was channelled into a safe escape route.

He cleared away litter from the highway, its verges and hedgerows. This was important, not only due to the unsightliness, but also because litter can be dangerous to domestic livestock and wild animals, with broken bottles threatening risk to humans as well as creating a danger from fire.

He noticed problems with road surfaces and arranged the necessary repairs, he spotted dangerous overhanging branches and had them lopped and he knew the danger stretches when blizzards raged or wet surfaces froze.

If this initiative proceeds, the modern lengthmen might differ considerably from their predecessors because responsibility for highway maintenance would remain with the county council.

But the new lengthmen would probably be expected to maintain and improve rights of way, deal with litter, clear vegetation, plant trees and carry out landscaping.

I am sure they would also look out for problems on the highway, such as blocked drains, broken road surfaces and so forth and then initiate the necessary action to have any defects remedied.

Such officials already exist in parts of Lancashire, where they work for 15 hours a week, and they earn extra if they are trained in health and safety matters, first aid and tool maintenance.

I am sure this proposal will be watched with keen interest, but much of the detail has yet to be finalised, not forgetting the mode of payments, pay scales, number of hours to be worked and whether or not such persons would be paid contractors of, say, the parish or county council, or whether they should be volunteers.

There is much research yet to be done as to the precise nature of the responsibilities of a modern lengthman, but for those of us who work and live in the countryside, and for those whose business or pleasure embraces rural areas, it is a very welcome development.

For a month which is so close to the end of the year, November contains surprisingly little weather lore.

There are snippets such as "thunder in November, a fertile year to come" or "ice in November brings mud in December" and even "if flowers bloom late in the autumn, it indicates a hard winter."

The general theme of the month's prognostications seems to be that a cold and frosty November will be followed by a mild December or even a long period of mildness throughout the entire winter.

Conversely, a mild and damp November will result in a tough winter, some believing that the weather in November will match that of the following March.

There is one day in November, however, which does produce a wealth of its own weather lore and it arrives next Monday, November 11. It is, of course, the feast day of St Martin of Tours, widely known as Martinmas Day.

Martin was a French bishop who served the district around Tours for more than 50 years and he died in AD 397. His body was escorted by 2,000 monks to a small chapel and St Perpetua later built a splendid church on the site.

On July 4, AD 470, the remains of St Martin was buried beneath the high altar. This became a shrine to his honour, but it was destroyed by the French Protestants in the sixteenth century and they burnt his relics.

Nonetheless, his feast day continues to be celebrated around the world by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike.

In some parts of England, it is mistakenly celebrated on November 23 due to changes in the calendar which occurred in 1752, but it was always a highly important date in rural England - rents were paid, accounts settled and new tenancy agreements made.

Hiring fairs were held too, when labourers and domestic servants trekked into the nearby towns to seek employment for the coming year, and the occasion was one of feasting, drinking, dancing and general amusement. For many of these people, the annual hiring fair was the only holiday they were allowed.

Among the weather lore for Monday, therefore, is a belief that if Martinmas is fair, dry and cold then the winter will not last very long. It is also said that if the geese stand on ice on Martinmas Day, then they will walk in mud at Christmas.

Some areas of the country believe that a north-west wind at Martinmas heralds a severe winter, while a south-west wind blowing at Martinmas will remain until Candlemas Day (February 2), thus guaranteeing a mild winter.

In France, the country eventually adopted by St Martin as his home (he was born in southern Hungary), it is believed his feast day marks the beginning of the winter.

People whose livelihood depends on the long-distance weather situation will be keeping a close eye upon the conditions which prevail on Monday, although it must be said that modern forecasting techniques are probably more reliable.

Mark Reid is a northern author whose books are establishing him as a leader in his specialised subject.

He writes about walking, and his earlier titles include walks in the Yorkshire Dales, the North York Moors and the Lake District. In all cases, he describes long distance routes with halts at local inns, a wonderful combination.

Not surprisingly, therefore, those books bear the title Inn Way and form part of the Inn Way series of guide books.

All Reid's books are noted for the depth of research, their good writing, the interest they generate and the accuracy of the routes depicted.

In addition, he believes passionately in what he calls "sustainable tourism". He wants people to enjoy the countryside while respecting it and the people who live there, and he wants people to discover more about the landscape through which they pass.

When the foot-and-mouth crisis hit the countryside, however, it meant he could not then walk and research the routes of further books he had planned and so he turned his attention to local towns.

His first such title, published last year, was Town Trails - North Yorkshire and I have friends who have bought a copy. They are now completing every town walk within its pages - and discovering more about places they thought they knew very well.

Mark Reid has now turned his attention to Northumbria and the result is Town Trails - Northumbria (InnWay Publications, £5.95).

This includes walks around 21 towns and cities in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and County Durham, highlighting their history, architecture and legends, along with points of interest along the way as well as any very localised stories.

Darlington, Barnard Castle, Bishop Auckland, Durham and Middleton in Teesdale are among those featured and Mark Reid will be visiting Ottakar's bookshop in Darlington on Saturday, November 30 (2-4pm) to sign copies of this latest title.