GUNNERSIDE’S glorious, galleried Methodist church – now the only chapel in a dale which once had a dozen – may best be known for its services marking mid-summer and mid-winter days.

Last Thursday begins like the former, continues incorrigibly like the latter and never really gets over itself.

“Beware of lambs,” says a roadside notice at Low Row, heading westwards – as in lambs to the slaughter, presumably.

It’s the Swaledale Festival, running until this Saturday, last Thursday’s little gig to celebrate the dale’s concertina playing heritage and in particular the memory of Kit White and Sam Fawcett.

As always in Methodism they’ve baked; as always it’s manna.

No matter that there are those of us who can’t hear the concertina without thinking of Captain Pugwash, or see a square dance without being transported back to Christmas Eve at Old Mr Fezziwig’s, we no less incorrigibly squeeze it in.

Malcolm Creese, the festival’s artistic director, tells the gathering that it’s the most important date of all – “it’s a celebration of this place” – and that the notion had been born over a pint. “It seems to be a pattern, really,” he adds.

Kit White, 1894-1964, spent much of his life in Thwaite, nearby, still a picture of him with Muker Silver Band on the wall of the Farmers Arms. Sam Fawcett (1878-1960) began in Swaledale, moved north of the Tees to Baldersdale, said (perhaps unchivalrously) to have been farmer by day and poacher by night.

Even in the 1930s, the BBC had asked him to Newcastle to record his playing, an excitement which prompted the family to buy Baldersdale’s first wireless and the rest of the scattered dale to gather round it.

His son Sep’s still in Frosterley, now 91 and still playing the concertina – “no finer player than Sep,” they say – might still sometimes be heard on a Sunday teatime, giving it what fettle at the Cowshill Hotel.

Others of the family are now gamekeepers in Weardale – “head lads to’t Arabs,” it’s said in North Yorkshire.

The morning’s presented by Harry Scurfield, Alex Wade and Joey Oliver, the latter man and wife. Alex recalls that the English concertina was invented in 1829. “The hope was that it would wipe out the violin,” she adds.

They play, reminisce, call dances in which most agelessly, unselfconsciously and indefatigably join. None’s in a hurry to go home. “Eeeh,” says another dale voice, “that were grand.”

JACKIE MCCARTNEY tends the verge outside the Methodist chapel, fragrant with all manner of herbs. Soon there’ll be signs encouraging passers by to pick what they want – “proper local food,” says Jackie – without charge.

It’s part of an initiative called Incredible Edible, begun in Todmorden in 2008 and growing (as it were) across the land.

Already there are groups in Bishop and in Barnard Castle – where they’re called Veg Out – in Middlesbrough and in Newcastle. Many others are planned, the aim as much social as horticultural.

Well fed within, we forego the lovely little herb garden, but will pass that way again.

SWALEDALE Festival’s a success story, ticket sales likely to break all records, several performances adding what the bus companies used to call a duplicate in order to accommodate the overflow.

After Gunnerside we head to St Mary’s church in Arkengarthdale, next north, where a sell-out 4pm gig by a German baroque music quintet is supplemented by another at two.

They’ve driven 18 hours from Freiburg, though the harpsichord’s come no further than from Leeds.

The concert starts a little late; they’ve to tune their instruments. At risk of loss in the translation, it seems a bit unnecessary: if it ain't baroque, don’t fix it.

AS indomitable as he is incorrigible, these columns’ old friend Peter Freitag – long-time politician, community champion and name-dropper, more recently appointed MBE – has been celebrating his 90th birthday with a six-week trip to Japan and Hawaii.

“The Japanese were wonderful, the Americans ghastly. You can quote me,” he says.

He and his wife Valerie, nine years his junior, moved to the North-East in 1964. He worked at the Ernest and Henry button factory in St Helen’s Auckland before starting an estate agency in Darlington.

Back then he was given to fast cars and fast driving. “Jaguar 3.8, Darlington to Baldock, 200 miles in two hours – and in those days they had roundabouts,” he recalls.

He was twice LibDem parliamentary candidate for Darlington, a councillor into his 80s, much involved with inter-faith groups and with the mental health charity Mind.

These days he’s slowed down a bit, no longer drives or plays tennis, but still keeps his eye firmly on the ball. “I’m still president of quite a few things,” says Peter. “You get made president when you’re old.”

The birthday treat was organised by his son Matthew, a Hawaii-based airline pilot, Valerie propelling him in a wheelchair until resultant ligament damage compelled her to sit alongside.

So we sit and reminisce for an hour, Peter recalling meetings with everyone from Keegan to Kissinger (“in the end we had to agree to disagree”) and from Princess Margaret (“very sexy”) to Stanley Matthews, who probably had his moments, too.

The MBE came when he was 87, awarded for work in the community. The Echo’s report that he’d been a councillor since 1941 may have been a little adrift, however.

They live near South Park in Darlington, recently subscribed a bench there. “Thank you for this piece of heaven on our doorstep,” said the little plaque, though it omitted to add the honoured suffix which Peter’s name now proudly carries. He sent it back.

On a lovely evening, it offered excuse for a walk in the park, a reminder of how blessed is Darlington to have so magnificent a facility – and so smashing a couple as Peter and Valerie Freitag.

TIM SUTTON, who has died aged 79, was an acquaintance since the 1960s when as a young solicitor he’d defend the sometimes indefensible at Bishop Auckland magistrates court and I’d cough reports from the single, carcinogenic, call box.

He became a good friend to these columns, particularly on anything to do with the Spennymoor area – from Whitworth Races, their course long run, to the neighbourhood’s former licensed premises.

Few might otherwise have known that the village of Hett once had a pub called the Gold Mine, though probably it wasn’t.

Tim also liked to recall his younger days, from Young Conservative gatherings at The George in Piercebridge – he won the rock and roll competition – to the evening when a group of young solicitors had attended a bankers’ dinner in Darlington.

Bored and in danger of losing their balance, they fled – still in dinner suits – to the ill-fated La Bamba night club where their late night line-up was enthusiastically applauded.

“I think they thought we were the Five Smith Brothers or someone,” said Tim. “We quietly informed them that we were humble members of the legal profession.”

He was also a contributor to Hear All Sides, often on football – his grandfather had been chairman of Spennymoor United, though Tim shared allegiance with Sunderland.

With his devoted wife Marjorie he lived latterly in Byers Green, where recently we enjoyed a very good lunch. Tim’s funeral was at St Paul’s church, Spennymoor, on May 28.