Yorkshire, like the past, is a foreign country. That's what I've decided. We just got back from five glorious days there and while sitting in the cosy lounge of our gorgeous little hotel on the edge of the North York Moors, taking afternoon tea, I overheard someone quizzing his son-in-law about his new life in the dangerous metropolis of York. "So," he said, "what's it like in York then? Do you have parks and that to go walking in?"
York! If you've ever been to York, my lovely home town, and even if you haven't, you'll probably know that despite being officially named a city, York is a compact and quaint little place compared to London. You can walk right round the centre in half an hour, that is if you don't find yourself lured into one of the cosy tea shops up one of the cobbled lanes first. Gritty urban sprawl it is not. So the idea that someone might regard it as such, from the distance of some 20 miles away, living as he does, it turned out, in the beauty of the surrounding Howardian Hills, is rather extraordinary.
But Yorkshire folk can be like that, so blessed are they by the stunning countryside around them they can't fathom why anyone would want to live anywhere else, even in one of their own county's most picturesque and comfortable cities. So it struck me that the man who was doing the questioning, a GP, I later found out, wouldn't think much of where we live in south London if he thinks York a bit too big and built-up for his liking. Urban sprawl just about sums up the geography around here, interspersed with the odd park or common, which is why it's so important to escape from it from time to time. And it is important.
I know this because for some reason or other we haven't escaped London for a break of any sort for five long months, which must be something of a record, and not one I want to repeat in a hurry. So when Middle One complained that he didn't want to go away over half-term and why did I want to leave our lovely home now I have a wonderful new kitchen? I had my answer ready: because I want to see the sky, because I want to see the land of my birth stretching away to the horizon on every side, because I am beginning to crave views like a glutton craves cream cakes. I want to stuff my eyes with scenes of spiky trees against empty fields, virgin woodland, crystal streams, unsullied moorland devoid of road or house or pylon. I need to see it and I need to be in it, and come to think of it there might be another reason I need it so badly after so long in the big smoke: because it's in my blood.
What was the first thing I saw as a baby, aside from the inside of my home and my parents' doting faces? Trees. Three massive beech trees, which dominated our back garden. And what else? A river, it ran at the bottom of the garden there. And when I got bigger, what did I do then? Played with my brother in that garden for hours and hours, and when I was bigger still I walked out of that garden and out of our cul-de-sac, turning right down the lane to the pond and the medieval church at the bottom of the hill and scared myself silly creeping around the desolate grave stones by myself, once finding a hedgehog there and running home to get a neighbouring older boy, Gregory, to come and catch it for me and put it in a cardboard box (it escaped). And then when I was grown still more I jumped on my gold-coloured Raleigh bike and peddled the lanes around the village for miles by myself, occasionally stopping and propping that bike against a fence post and venturing into a newly-ploughed field and steeling myself to go into an old abandoned barn and explore…
Those sorts of childhood adventure have all but disappeared for this generation of British children, and probably every generation to come, and I am too old now to ride bikes alone down country lanes, but something from that experience does remain, apart from the memories: the landscape. It's still there. The ponds and churches and lanes and fields and enormous skies of my childhood. So I go back as often as I can and walk in it and drink it in, trying to fill something that has emptied in the weeks and months away. Is it my soul I am filling? My memory bank? I don't know, but for the last few days I have had a dose of it again which should keep me going for a while, until the next time I visit that foreign land of Yorkshire and my past. I hope it's soon.
Love E x
As you can see from the photographs we were incredibly lucky with the weather. We stayed with my parents for two nights and then left the boys with them to stay at The Pheasant in Harome again and go walking. We ate there and at The Star Inn 2 minutes away.
View of the village pond from our hotel window.
The lounge at The Pheasant.
The Star Inn at Harome at night.