Monday, 5 November 2012

Ee Bah Gum

This is so beautiful, I think to myself, as we bowl along narrow country lanes in my dad’s sporty Honda Prelude, the poor old car straining noisily up the more vertiginous gradients, seeming to have adopted a personality to match this raw no-nonsense countryside, why don’t we live here?

This is north Yorkshire, land of my birth, where husband and I have escaped for two nights to stay in a country hotel in a sweet little village, which is, rather improbably, renowned for its gastronomy. The hotel is opposite the village pond, small and cosy, low ceilings and roaring fires, with staff who could not be more friendly and solicitous, and yes, simply wonderful food.

I collapse back on the generous bed, legs on the floor, staring up at the ceiling, the events of the last few days still whirring like the wheels of a hurriedly discarded bicycle – moaning teenagers, meals, meetings, sick child, Youngest returning after a week away with all his attendant needs, not to mention washing, a birthday, a totally unexpected article to write thrown in for good measure with a 48 hour deadline, an unhappy parent, unpacking, re-packing, taxi, train, car... 

I listen. No sirens, no children, no doors slamming, no demands or questions, only occasional bird song and the slow dank drip of the fading afternoon outside. It’s remarkable.

Next morning after breakfast we relay our plan to walk in Rosedale to a chatty local, it's a sleepy little picture postcard valley steeped in nostalgia for me - we used to rent a cottage there, years ago - but the local warns us off. “It’ll be right muddy up there,” she says, “I wouldn’t if I were you, best stay in Hutton-le-Hole and potter about and have lunch.”

Obviously she thinks we’re a couple of lightweights. My Orla Keily scarf and red padded jacket combo, both from Uniqlo, are steering her all wrong. We’ve come here to walk, as well as to eat and to talk and... other things, all of them important maintenance for a marriage that, like all marriages, is the bedrock of our little family, upon whose happiness three other souls depend. (That’s our excuse anyway and we’re sticking to it.)

We ignore her and drive up through Hutton-Le-Hole and from there to the moor where it’s wild and empty and the views are breathtaking: it’s the roof of the world, I think. We used to come here for walks and whenever we had visitors when I was a child.

The car strains down Chimney Bank, not named so for nothing, into the valley where we park at Thorgill, near the cottage where I studied for my A levels as my dad wrote one of his books and where I brought friends to celebrate after those A levels, and later a girlfriend after we’d graduated from university.

Unfortunately that time it turned out the girlfriend wasn’t a walker (Londoner), and so I roamed the valley alone - rather nervously. I remember getting slightly lost in high bracken and eventually stumbling out of it up on the moor, so relieved, and finding the isolated 16th century Red Lion Inn where all the locals turned to stare as I creaked open the heavy door – very American Werewolf in London.

And the local lady is right – it is wet. Within minutes husband’s feet disappear deep into the cold sludge on the hill path in front of me and I’m required to nimbly skirt each bog and puddle to keep my own feet dry (which I do). We startle pale, wide-eyed goats and disturb grouse that fly up from the gorse in noisy alarm and finally make it to the top, the disused railway line, to look back down into the valley.

That’s it! Mentally I’ve moved here for good. I’ve bought one of these isolated cottages facing the opposite hill, I’m walking here every day, writing books, stoking fires, making cakes, drinking tea, passing the time of day with the farmers. Maybe I’ll even get a dog for company?  Yes! I’ll walk the dog up here each morning, we’ll do it all after the boys have gone…

And then we reach the middle of our walk, the White Horse Farm Inn, at just a little after two o’clock and settle with a drink in the corner of the snug. There’s nobody here, another reason north Yorkshire seems so appealing compared to the hustle and bustle of London.

Husband goes up to the bar to order: “Oh no,” I hear the landlady say, “we’re not serving lunch now.” I call across, “what time did you finish?”  “Two” she says, and I look at my watch: eight minutes past.

And now I recall why, apart from the cold and the isolation and the lack of social life and culture and diversity and stimulation, all the things we love about London, I don’t want to live in north Yorkshire after all. Because there are still pubs here where they won’t serve lunch at eight minutes past two when you are the only customers for miles in every direction. And I remember something else as well - I don’t even like dogs.

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