Most Ryedale villages probably have pretty good church organists but few can boast one of the calibre to be found in Acklam.

For the picturesque village, perched on the side of a hill, is entertained twice-monthly by Dr Francis Jackson, a former Master of Music at York Minster.

Dr Jackson and his wife Priscilla bought their home in Main Street, Acklam, in 1954 to use as a bolt hole. They were living in a Minster house and moved to their cosy present home when Dr Jackson retired in 1982 after 36 years.

"We wanted a place with a view," he explained. "I came from Malton and I used to cycle round here as a child. We scouted around to find a place and luckily we found this. It was in a dreadful state and we have gradually done it up."

As Master of Music in the Minster, Dr Jackson was responsible for training the choir, playing the organ and arranging the music for services. He has given organ recitals at home and abroad, including six tours of the United States and two of Australia.

Although retired, he still does recitals and composes music. He is shortly to give a Masterclass at the Royal Academy of Music in London and still gives recitals in the Minster.

However, he also plays the harmonium in the twice-monthly services held in the church in the village.

The church is, in fact, a converted non-conformist chapel. The original church building was demolished.

Apart from a pub, The Half Moon Inn, which dates back to before 1823, there are no other facilities in the village. The former school is now the village hall, while the post office and shop have long since been closed.

However, just over 60 years ago the village was thriving, boasting joiners, farmers, horse dealers, shopkeepers, a shoemaker, blacksmiths, a tailor and a dressmaker.

The parish clerk, John Stringer and his wife Rachel, moved to the village in 1976 from farming in Bishop Wilton parish. "Acklam's a very small community with only about 200 inhabitants in the whole parish, including children," explained Mr Stringer.

"The Archbishop of York once had a palace here but it was so long ago that no one is really sure where it was," he added. "It was quite a sizeable community in 19th century terms. The parish of Acklam and Leavening were one parish until the end of the 19th century and Acklam was the main one at the time but it has steadily declined and now Leavening is greater."

The former churchyard still remains in the village even though the church itself has gone. It's a haven for wildlife and was recently entered in The Living Churchyard competition, run by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and the Archbishop of York.

There is a Yorkshire Countrywomen's Association branch in Acklam. Its chairman is Mrs Sandy Milton-Barker, who was one of its founder members.

One of the highlights of Acklam's social calendar is what's known as the 'moveable feast'. It's the main fund-raising event for the church and takes place every two years. Tickets are sold to some 150 people, many from outside the parish. The idea is that a glass of sherry is enjoyed at one house and then a starter at the next, the main course is usually served in the village hall, followed by pudding elsewhere and so on.

Another highlight is Acklam Sports which are held in June. It's an old-fashioned sports day with hound-trailing, handicrafts, stalls, a dog show, ferret racing, tug-of-war between Acklam and Leavening and sheaf throwing - tossing a heavy bundle of straw over a bar.

There is also carol singing in the village at Christmas. Each child is given a present and each pensioner gets a basket of fruit. A pie and peas supper is also held alternate years.

Maggie and Dave Tindall moved back to the village in 1977. Maggie has lived in the village nearly all her life apart from a brief spell away after her marriage to Dave, who was originally from Dunnington.

She started childminding 12 years ago and has been fully-booked ever since, so much so, that Dave, who did building repairs and landscaping before having recent open heart surgery, also became registered to help out if ever Maggie needed it.

At present she has some 10 children on her books from the surrounding area.

What's it like having a house full of children all the time?

"I get up early in the morning and vacuum through and then do my jobs at night," smiled Maggie. "When they're not here I'm lost without them. They do say you should not get attached to them but I can't help it."

Colonel James Hamilton and his wife Grizel, moved to the village in 1972 after he retired from the Corps of Royal Engineers at Catterick.

"I retired one day and started a job the next as bursar of Pocklington School and this is where we came to live," he explained. "I was at Pocklington for nearly 17 years until I retired in 1988.

"We're very lucky in this village, it's off the beaten track," he went on. "It's not a through village. You don't have to go through Acklam to anywhere. It's wonderful, it's a non-developmental village at the moment. This means they can only build in-fill so really Acklam, until the rules are changed, is complete.

"I'm thrilled to bits it doesn't have any street lights so I can actually see the stars at night."

Mrs Hamilton is a riding instructor and was on the UK's Riding Club's Committee from 1974-1992. She still teaches, instructs and is a dressage judge.

Roger Mattingly and Ruth Turner live in Rose Cottage, an idyllic spot next to Acklam beck. They moved to the village from London in 1994 when Roger came up to a job with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation before he retired last year.

"It was the situation of the house that attracted us to Acklam," said Roger. "We're very happy here, it's worked well. It's a very friendly village and, because it's a bit isolated, there's lots of things going on. There's a wine club in the village. We have a small dinner club and we go round to people's homes and share a course each. It's nice knowing people. I know many more people here than I ever knew in the London suburbs."

Roger is a member of the village hall committee. Since he retired he has taken on the job of co-ordinating efforts to make something of the village hall. "It's in need of a great deal of attention. A place like Acklam desperately needs a facility like a village hall but because the village is so small, it's difficult to keep it going. The kitchen is too small and damp, the men's toilets are outside, there's no disabled access. People have mixed views about whether it should be made bigger or not."

The whole village is currently being consulted on whether to apply for Lottery funding for the hall and on what facilities it should provide.

Roger said: "Hopefully in April we will have an open evening so people will have another opportunity to say what they think."

Ruth, who works as a social worker for the courts in children's cases, said: "I found it quite intimidating here at first because it was so open and quiet after London but once I got to know people I found them very friendly and supportive. When the electricity went off a while ago I thought I should check to see if a couple of elderly neighbours were okay but before I had a chance, they had telephoned me to see if we were all right. It's like a family."

Arty Duggleby, of Main Street, has lived in the same house in the village all his 70-odd years. He was a farm worker at nearby Buttercrambe and used to cycle to the farm every day, whatever the weather, until fairly recently. "It wasn't so bad going because it was all down hill," he grinned. "It was coming back when it was all up hill that it was worse but I got used to it."

He recalled attending the village school when there were some 50 or 60 pupils, boosted to about 80 when evacuees arrived in the village during the war.

"I left school in the middle of the war," he recalled. "I went straight into farming work at 14."

He is also the local paper boy, having been delivering the Gazette & Herald and York Evening Press for as long as he can remember. "The van drops them off at the house and I take them round," he said. "My mum had the newspapers before me and when she died I had them. I started walking round with them when I was at school and I still do it.

"When you live in a village all your life, you just get used to it. It's a very friendly place."

Dorothy Corner summed up her feelings for the village when she wrote: "Truly, this is where the rainbow ends - a gem, hidden and mainly undisturbed. As ramblers rest on the Jubilee seat, one wonders, do they know of the buried fort, or air-raid shelter, or that stones from the house of a medieval scholar were used to build the cottages?"

Updated: 16:55 Thursday, March 15, 2001