Thursday, July 28, 2005

2d Week in July, Part 4

Warplanes and Punts

I bravely or foolishly gave the Eye map another go this morning in the foggy wee hours. This time I found that one footpath simply was not there, apparently obliterated by new (post-1998) housing. I got a few suspicious glances from folks leaving for school or work, but persisted and finally located a track heading off along some parsley fields. I noticed a number of folks off in the fog in the middle of the field; they were either birders or perhaps panther stalkers. The footpath petered out after a half mile or so, or -- more precisely -- suddenly did not match the map, and rather than duplicate yesterday's wild goose chase I wisely turned around. An older gent with an aged golden retriever that resembled a polar bear were out for a walk and waylaid me for a few moments. For some odd reason (I guess I felt suspicious myself being out that early) I fibbed about where I was from and assumed what, I suspect, struck him as a weird amalgam of BBC English, Scouse, and Irish brogue, with not a small measure of American, but I escaped back to our cottage ready for the day's adventures.

After our typical cholesterol-heavy breakfast we walked up to the weekly farmers' market in the spacious, tall-ceilinged main room of the Town Hall, arriving on schedule but, according to some of the ladies there, after many of the best produce had already been snatched up by early comers. Some were selling baked goods, some greeting cards made with pressed flowers, some home-made children's clothes, and many fruits and vegetables; we bought some coffee cake, potatoes, and cards, and chatted with the ladies who of course were curious about of holiday.

We then drove an hour or so southwest, past Cambridge, to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford -- essentially was an airport. You could charter rides in vintage aircraft, but these were all reserved today by school field-trips.

So we wandered the various hangars looking at Spitfires, Mustangs, and other WWII planes from both sides of the conflict, in various states of repair, plus a number of modern aircraft, helicopters, and boats, including a small submarine. The American collection featured an entire B52 suspended from the ceiling, a Blackbird, Harrier, U2, and other impressive death machines. We skipped the tank exhibit. It was boiling hot. The cafeteria, deluged by students, was out of sandwiches and pop. It was refreshing to stand in the intense backwash of a biplane on the runway. After a quick walk through a Concorde, a rather unsatisfactory lunch at another cafe, and a spin through the gift shop, we headed back to Cambridge.

It took quite a bit of back and forth to find our way to the town center (dang ring roads and unclear signage!) but finally pulled into a parking garage just as an absolute torrential downpour unexpectedly hit.

We stood looking out at it for several minutes, watching hapless pedestrians skittering by on the sidewalk below, or huddling under the plane trees, totally drenched, but it soon had returned to a hot, dry afternoon and we walked the high street a few blocks to the river. There we were accosted by warring punting vendors, but I opted to stay on foot, making a brief circle following a map I'd copied off the Web, which led us to "the second oldest church in Cambridge" and a few pubs which frustratingly were closed for the afternoon. The boys were getting a bit tired and we plumped down at a coffee bar's damp table, beside the river; then since Nick was feeling contrary we simply returned to the car. It was mid-afternoon and I knew it would be pushing things to either take a punt or walk any further in the burning sun.

Leaving Cambridge was even more fruitless than entering it since we got caught in rush-hour traffic, but we finally crawled to a roundabout that led us home, although we'd wound up traveling in exactly the wrong direction (again, without signage) for 20 minutes (my fault, I should have been using the sun for directions!). Unfortunately we then ran into a terrible jam on the M11 due to an accident, and we couldn't get off; it was about an hour of stop-and-go creeping until I finally reached a Services and we pulled off for dinner at a Little Chef. By the time we left the traffic had thinned out. It looked like the accident had happened right at the spot where the Services slip road rejoined the motorway. We didn't get back to the cottage until about 8 PM, about two hours later than I'd planned.

Monday, July 25, 2005

2d Week in July, Part 3

The Beast of Scole

I went for a morning walk while the boys slept. We were scheduled to take the train to Colchester at 10, but there seemed to be plenty of time. En route I picked up some apple sausages and pork burgers at the town butcher: it's best to get your groceries early, before they're all sold! Following the cool hand-drawn area map I'd purchased in Diss, I located the trailhead at Park Road beyond the river. My aim was to follow the footpaths on the map to yet another bridge and then loop back to town. The path was there but was simply tamped-down grass bordered with the requisite nettles. Nonetheless I proceeded. A lot of wildlife was about in the still morning: Canada geese, rabbits, and a huge number of birs (starlings?) on the telephone wires -- not counting livestock.

After awhile not only did the promised bridge not materialize but I found that the path was not following the configuration the map showed. I sort of crawled under some barbwire (still following the path, mind you) into a field of huge cows, who began slowly but determinedly approaching me. I hastened on to the next stile and found myself in a field of wheat, or something like it -- the footpath was literally just a slash through the crop; at one point two such paths met to form a cross in the middle of the vast field.

Meanwhile thoughts of the Beast of Scole crossed my mind. (One of the first things I'd read in the local newspaper, while awating our first night's Chinese take-away, was that a local woman had spotted what appeared to be a large black panther crossing a field near her home in Scole. I later checked the map: Scole was about three miles up the road! This beast seemed to have been following me -- there have been, over the years, reports of a similar creature in other places we've visited, such as Evesham and the Forest of Dean.) No one knew where I was this morning. I was glad I at least had a bag of sausage I could distract the panther with, unless I had to eat it myself first to stave off starvation.

It being the point of no return timewise, I continued on, finally finding an actual footpath marker on a fence post, and I followed more of these to a "lane " (a tractor path) which finally arrived at a paved road. Both the lane and road could be construed to be those portrayed on the map, but how I could have arrived there was suspicious. At any rate I flagged down a car. "Excuse me," I said, "I seem to following a somewhat flawed map. Could you please tell me where I am on it?"

Sure enough, I had gone far south and west from where I was trying to go or thought I was going. I was nearly to Yaxley. Fortunately it was a clear, if lengthy, way back to Eye, so I started up the road at a speed-walker's pace. It was now about 8.40 and I'd hoped to be back at the cottage by 9. This I amazingly enough managed, give or take a couple of minutes, even with my stopping for some eggs ("Help Yourself!") at a little hutch outside a farmhouse. They were so fresh they still had grass sticking to them.

Back to Boudica

We made it on time to the electric commuter train at the Diss station -- the parking lot was overflowing.

We had a picturesque hour's ride south through fields and past estuaries to the city of Colchester, where we were met by poet Estill Pollock, with whom I'd corresponded after reading a book of his and accepting several pieces for Fine Madness magazine. A tall American who's lived in England 25 years or so, he drove us through the roundabouts and to his home island on the edge of the North Sea, West Mersea, population surprisingly 7000. We walked along the road beside the seafront, past many old liveaboard boats of all sizes, on blocks in the sandflats, which at high tide you accessed via rickety wooden walkways; the tide was quite far out at the moment. The island itself, in fact, is only accessible when the tide is not high -- otherwise the causeway road itself can be under as much as a couple of feet of water and you must queue up and wait for the tide to turn in order to enter or leave. Estill always carries a tide table.

We took in the lovely old black-and-white houses and the working waterfront -- fishing boats, seafood stands, and chandlers, etc., descended the "Monkey Steps" to check out "St. Peter's Well," of ancient origin, just steps from the sea, and spent some time on the beach itself. After dropping by his house briefly, we drove to The Peldon Rose pub for a fine meal outside by a pond. Skate, tuna, cod, and Guinness! We chatted about publishing, poetry, and weirdly the recent reports of a black panther around Colchester.

Then back into the city for a tour through Colchester Castle, basically an empty shell like Clifford's Tower, only larger, which has been reconstructed inside to accommodate a quite good museum featuring items from Colchester's Roman and pre-Roman past. Especially mind-blowing were burnt plum pits dating from the destruction of the Roman temple by the forces of Boudica (Boadicea) which took place on the site of the castle two thousand years ago (30,000 Romans were killed).

After a short walk in the gardens behind the castle and through St. Botolph's, a ruined priory where the local drunks now like to spend the night, Estill returned us to the train station. We spent the whole trip standing in the breezeway between cars as the air conditioning in the carriages was not working.


Sunday, July 24, 2005

2d Week in July, Part 2

The Flintstones

The nights in Eye were marked by the hourly chiming of the Town Hall clock about a hundred yards up the street. Naturally the midnight chime was the most alarming but I slept fairly well till about three. Then (until I got used to it) I took hourly naps between then and six, when I dragged myself out of bed.

July 11 after the typical resuscitory sausage-egg-and-toast breakfast we motored up to Diss and took advantage of the newspaper office's Internet connection to check e-mail and post a couple of these blog entries. The boys sent a couple of messages too, but mostly wandered the town eating jam doughnuts until I emerged, at which point we set out for Thetford and the inaptly but intriguingly named Grimes' Graves.

The center of town, as with many in England, has been pedestrianized, and it was bustling, the kids having finally been released from school last Friday. We walked through town looking for a likely spot to eat, spotting several buildings that featured liberal use of flint, including a medieval church. Also spotted a statue of Thomas Paine, oddly. We finally spotted and dove into Marvella's, a humble sidestreet cafe that, as Ben remarked, was "the cheapest place we've eaten so far," which is to say the prices were within human comprehension. And it was delicious; for example, I had potato-leek soup and a BLT. By the time we'd finished, the sun was blazing. We returned to the car by way of the motorcycle dealer, which the boys had shown interest in visiting, and we spent a few minutes ogling the high-priced powerbikes and trying to interpret the thick accent of the friendly attendant, whose main gist was that the boys should really start out with a dirt bike first because it was smaller, cheaper, safer, and didn't require a license.

Getting out of Thetford was sort of like a kitten trying to get out of a sock, but we finally managed to retrace our steps and headed for the Iceni (think Boudica) flint-mine site, Grimes' Graves, which was named much later by people who didn't know the purpose of the hundreds of grassy pockmarks in a huge pasture. First off we donned hard hats (again!) and descended an iron ladder 90 feet or so into one of the mines. Basically it was a circular pit with small (I mean small) tunnels running off in several directions from the central shaft. The temperature was about 50 degrees. There were lights and you could see, if you got on hands and knees, that the tunnels led off into the distance. The whole thing (and this was just a single example) had been dug with picks made from deer antler.

After a bit we climbed back up to the sunlight and heat, and spent a short while exploring the hummocks and concavities (filled-up mine shafts) of the area, the wildflowers and shrubs, the crickets and birds.

Rich and Infamous

Jumping ahead a couple thousand years and going from the literally dirt-poor to the filthy rich, we next travelled through Bury St. Edmunds, which reportedly is a delightful town, though all we really saw of it were huge factories, to Ickford House, ancestral home of the Hervey (pronounced Harvey) family. Unfortunately we got there late enough that we only had less than an hour to tour the house, and we never made it to the gardens. We walked silently though the enormous semicircular building, being very careful not to touch any of the gorgeous furniture for fear of the ancient National Trust docents accosting us. There were a couple however who were relaxed enough to share some of the sordid Hervey history (illegitimacy, wantoness, doomed military careers etc.) with us and talk about the countless ancient books the Herveys had collected. One of the most interesting features was the fan collection of one of the ladies; the fans were pretty enough in themselves but I had not known that there was "a secret language of fans" by which a lady who was by custom not allowed to speak to male visitors could communicate by movements of the fan and the way she held it; these were documented and I unfortunately forgot to get a copy, in our rush to be gone by closing time.

We returned home and cooked dinner, and took an evening walk around town past the St. Peter and Paul Church to another portion of the Dove River, where the boys discovered a rope swing. This and the game of tossing pinecones occupied us until dark, Nick and Ben hurtling high out over the slow-moving water, over a plump bed of nettles. On the way home we gratifyingly saw a herd of rabbits in the grounds of The Old Abbey. (Forgot to mention that on our previous evening walk we'd discovered the town fen, which was a nettle-infested ferny swamp beyond the soccer field; the town seemed to be rather proud of it.)

Sunday, July 17, 2005

2d Week in July, Part 1

To the South

The drive from Oakworth, Yorkshire, to Eye, Suffolk, for the second installment of our hejirah, took longer than expected, but I have no one to blame but myself -- I wanted to cram in two last stops before leaving the dales:  Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall.

The drive over the moors to Hebden Bridge was spectacular: we seemed to be at the top of the world, with views across the sunny moor-top and down into a series of valleys, festooned with sheep and cottages. We spiraled down into town and walked to the canal. Alas, the boats were only rentable for extended cruises; a large number of dodderers were shakily boarding one narrowboat. We stopped in at a cafe for coffee, cocoa, and pastries, and I dodged across the street to a bookstore, where I scored several good books by English poets and confirmed that indeed, Sylvia Plath's grave was in nearby Heptonstall.

It was only about a quarter mile away but getting there involved overshooting the turnoff and performing a U-turn in a specially provided lane, in order to negotiate an impossible hairpin turn, and then heading straight up a 50-degree incline to the village. We walked around the ancient churchyard to no avail, but it was lovely; also checked out another one, again fruitlessly, but glimpsed a fellow clopping along heartily in an old horse-drawn gig. I thought of asking the folks in the Heptonstall Museum, but despite the fact that the sign said Open, and it was the right time of day acording to the hours posted, and I'd seen someone just moments before, the door was locked and no one answered my knocks. So we gave it up and retraced our steps, getting stuck in Hebden Bridge rush hour -- the place being overrun by tourists, bikers, hikers, etc.

The ensuing few hours were spent on a series of boring but speedy motorways, speedy yet interesting A roads, and slow, exceptionally interesting B roads, spinning through countless roundabouts, and finally arriving about 6 PM in the burgeoning metropolis (aka 'ancient market town' -- the subtitle of every town in Suffolk) of Eye, "twinned with Pouzages, France," which I imagine must be quite a throbbing city as well.

Our home was dubbed the Town Clerk's Cottage, again a 16th century or earlier whitewashed half-timber house with nary a right angle in the place. Our landlady, who lived next door, was a Mrs. Ridger, a rather brittle old thing but friendly enough. Our house was full of watercolors and oil painting she (apparently) had done some decades back. There was a cozy (of course) sitting room, stocked with an eclectic selection of books, separated from a dining area by a see-through fireplace (electric), and a large kitchen. Upstairs were a master bedroom, a smaller bedroom, and a large bathroom, into which you typically fell at length, there being an unexpected sill at the doorway. Next door was an Indian restaurant which Mrs. Ridger said had mysteriously been closed for some time.

We explored what there was of the town (which is not only small but the streets roll up at 6 on a Saturday), settling on the New Happy House Chinese Take-Away. We should have been suspicious when it became clear that there were no Asian people anywhere for miles. Well, the boys liked it. After dinner we explored more and discovered a bridge over the River Dove (more like the Slough of Despond). (More on that later.)

Exploring Eye and Beyond

July 10, I and Ben rose pretty early so he could phone home, and then we walkied around the waking town, notably locating the 19th-century (yet ancient-looking) Eye Castle and the 15th-century (yet modern-looking) Sts. Peter and Paul Church.  We noticed that the Town Hall, flag flying at half mast, was interestingly decorated with what we later discovered was flint, in geometric patterns amongst the bricks.  After returning and having breakfast we brought Nick back to these locations, and also discovered another bridge over the river, this time running at a better clip and supplied with a rope swing, from which I could not pry the boys for an hour.

After lunch, we checked out Thornham Walks (Thornham Magna, not Thornham Parva -- it seems from the map that the majority of towns in East Anglia -- made up of Norfolk in the North and Suffolk in the South (get it?) -- come in pairs. I don't have the map at hand to give examples, but trust me. We walked, anyway, through blazing heat to a 'bird hide' in the woods, from which the boys watched birds (and mostly squirrels) feed from hanging feeders, and then to a Victorian walled garden and a pet cemetery belonging to the one-time estate.

After the requisite ice cream and a prowl through the shop, which featured third-world-made items (concurrent with the "G8" conference which in part probably inspired the London bombings) we then whizzed up the road to Diss for dinner (since we knew that Eye was out of the question -- only one pub (reportedly there used to be 14!) and one very expensive (though tempting) restaurant, plus the Chinese take-away and a chippie that looked pretty dicey as well.

Diss proved pretty cool, a good-sized town with a large lake in the middle, a playground to one side, and a lot of interesting shops, all of which were of course closed. We did however risk (ultimately successfully) another Chinese take-away, primarily because it was actually run by Chinese, and we dined on a bench by the lake, followed by an evening of playground shenanigans.  And so to bed!

Friday, July 15, 2005

First Week in July, Part 4

Terror at a Distance

Writing this a week after the fact -- Thursday July 7 as we headed north to Ingleborough Cave we heard the BBC News report of multiple bomb blasts across London, including King's Cross train station, Russell Square tube station, and a bus in Tavistock Square, all near our hotel-to-be.  By now they seem to have identified the bombers:  one from Luton (we drove through it yesterday due to an error in navigation by Nick) -- because of roadworks were forced to detour through the Muslim part of town, which had been featured on the news the night before; one from Leeds, near where our friends' architectural office and former home are located; and one from Dewsbury, through which we'd driven only days before en route to Haworth -- I recall seeing several Muslim women walking about veiled and black-robed.  One of the bombers was a primary-school teacher with a young family.  The brain reels.
Anyway, we kept on driving through the dales to what we thought was the town of Clapham, which turned out to be just a small collection of shops and a cafe or two.  From there we walked an easy half a mile uphill through the woods to "England's greatest show cave."  A hardhatted young woman led us diffidently down the tunnel past a colorful collection of stalactites, stalagmites, and other bizarre formations, all given names such as Queen Victoria's Bloomers, Grandpa's Teeth, The Elephant's Legs and Tail, etc., based on their appearance.  We had to duckwalk in a couple of places to avoid cracking our noggins on the ceiling. All along the path there ran a stream, which reportedly contained cave shrimp, but we didn't see any; at one point the water poured down a "gill," or hole, in the floor of the cave, only to reappear somewhere down the mountain. The air temperature was about 50 degrees, the water colder, which was refreshing since the weather was pretty warm.
Upon returning topside, we walked a ways up a sheep-prowled trail to Trow Gill, through a narrow passage between the limestone cliffs. The kids blazed a trail up the hillside and thistles; from the top we got a stunning view of the hilltops and valleys, dotted with sheep and chunks of broken limestone.  No sound except for baas and a few bird calls.  Then we walked, thankfully downhill, to the car and a lunch at a homey cafe in town (hot rhubard 'pud' for dessert), chatted with a woman in the local wool shop, and drove home listening to BBC updates.

Not content with wearing the kids' legs off in the afternoon, I persuaded them to walk after dinner to Damems Station, across the Worth River, and up the other side of the valley, at dusk.  This exposure to nature was to counter the effects of Friday's daylong excursion to decidely unnatural...
at which we arrived after a not-too-long drive through Lancashire.  Thanks to Mrs Brunskill we had a 2-for-1 coupon for the Pleasure Beach, so a mere $60 bought a whole day's worth of rides for Nick and Bentley.  I left them to it in two-hour chunks while I explored the town, from the goofy to the seedy, plus  needless to say, the beachy.  I lunched in a very simple little cafe with a charming gran-type for a waitress, and a view of the street, where colorful daytrippers and not any less colorful native Blackpoolers walked. At one point there was an awful racket and a large tank clattered up the road. This had nothing to do with bombings, just the army putting on a jolly show for the tourists.   The promenade was lined with hotels, as were all the side streets -- an amazing amount of lodging available -- as well as fortune tellers and pubs.

There were three piers filled with arcades and kiddie rides, as well as more adult entertainment, if you know what I mean, and scarier rides such as 90-foot-tall bungree jumps.  I refrained from paying 12 pounds to ascend the Blackpool Tower, but I did break down and take one very tame ride with the boys and visit the ever grimly fascinating Ripley's.  We dined in a large, clean and rather Americanized fish-and-chips restaurant. Upon return to our cottage we were exhausted but packed up for our imminent departure for Suffolk.


Monday, July 11, 2005

First Week in July, Part 3

Mad Swan Disease
We had the inestimable pleassure of being chased down the Leeds-Liverpool Canal by an insane swan.  We were in a tiny motorboat roaring along at about 3 knots, which we hired in Skipton.  At the time, Ben was at the wheel, returning us to the quay, Nick having piloted us up the canal for about half an hour.  Apparently we were getting too close to the birds clutch of cygnets, but even while we were retreating at a distance of several hundred feet, the swan came running down the canal, neck outstretced, wings aflap, honking like a fire engine, and attempted to bite us.  As Roy Scheider might have said, we needed a bigger boat.  Adding insult to injury, the rain then suddenly poured down, which lasted until we got to shore.  Nick's umbrella only served as a sail in the gusts of wind, so we all got pretty soaked.
However by the time we arrived in the town of Masham we were dry enough and enjoyed a fabulous lunch in the Suncatcher Cafe, which was every bit as Eugenean as its name implies, complete with brightly colored walls, funky glassware, and Nitin Sawhney music.  In fact the ponytailed owner had been in Eugene. 
The boys especially liked digging around in the antique store next door -- a treasure trove of junk and presided over by the father-in-law of the cafe owner, who explained many of the arcane items to the kids, such as a baby's gas mask from WWII, which was like a midget deep-sea diving suit you strapped the child into.
We continued through the dales to Leyburn, arriving just in time for the boys to control some toy cars and canal boats at the Beech End model village.  On the way home we stopped impulsively at Jervaulx Abbey, which I'd not heard of, but it rivaled Fountains Abbey in size and coolness -- many ruined rooms and passages in a beautiful sheep meadow.

First Week in July, Part 2

Lost in the Dales

July 4th was perhaps the best I've ever had, if only for the reason there were no fireworks.  It was fairly rainy, but this we ignored as we headed to Skipton, about 20 miles from our cottage. First we prowled the flea market, stalls lined up along the high street, at which we bought cheese and umbrellas -- two indispensible Yorkshire amenties.


Then we toured the quite intact but bare-bones 15th-century Skipton Castle, which was laid out a bit like a maze on three floors -- Nick led us through with a map. I was especially impressed with the "grotto" constructed of coral liberally embedded with mother-of-pearl oyster shells.  We stopped for lunch (with a slight detour to a shop boasting 450 types of single-malt whiskey) and then toured the small Craven Museum (Craven being the name of a local historical bigwig, but it is tempting to read it as an adjective when it is appended to nearly everything, such as Craven Insurance). A swap meet was taking place in the museum but we especially relished the archeological items on display upstairs, including msyterious ancient clay "tablets" like dice. 


From Skipton we went to Bolton Abbey (the name of the town -- actually it's a priory, not an abbey).


The rain had cleared and the boys spent a long time crossing the brown river on wobbly stepping stones, watching ducklings, and pursuing cows. The priory was picturesque in its grassy glade.  We took a wrong turn on the way back and wound up going north into the moors on one-track roads. Got totally lost and finally found someone to ask directions from, but now I can say we've seen the hamlet of Appletreewick.


We got back in time for the boys to fire off some party poppers in lieu of fireworks, sending paper and foil confetti over the front lawn.  Mr. Brunswick looked on bemusedly and confirmed that, as in Barnsley, real fireworks have been outlawed except for holidays, since they were being used regularly by drug dealers to signal when their new shipments had arrived.

Locks and Art

We visited the 3-rise and 5-rise locks in Bingley, walking through intermittent rain along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, which permits brightly colored 'narrow boats' to move up and down the steep hills of the Pennines. The site had changed since I last saw it in 1995 -- a new motorway has been put through!  We got fairly wet despite our bumbershoots but dried off in the Salts Mill art gallery/bookshop/cafe in the nearby 19th-century company town of Saltaire.  An extremely expensive lunch but we (at least I) enjoyed the bookshop and the David Hockney drawings and paintings.  Also saw a stunning Italian sportscar in the carpark -- a Tuscan TVR; the boys are in heaven with all the Aston-Martins, etc., plus antique MGs, Jaguars, etc. We even saw a fantastic old Alvin the other day.  The boys were bushed so I left them to watch "The Mouse That Roared" on TV while I drove across the moors to Wycoller, via Stanbury.  Stopped at the Ponden Mill shop and bought a much-needed rain jacket to replace my Irish one recently lost in Bellevue. However, I again got thoroughly lost in the one-track lanes, which were bordered by stone walls -- at one point I could see over them and found I was in a literal maze of walled pastures.

Upon return I fixed dinner and we watched "Ladettes to Ladies" on TV, a reality show about several rude Cockney girls at a finishing school. The winner not only managed to "improve" her posture, her accent, her clothes, her manners, and her looks, and learn to cook a really unappetizing-looking dessert, but drove off in a new red MG.




First Week of July, Part 1

Bronte Country
I'm writing after a week's delay from Diss, in East Anglia. We have been without Internet access since we left Barnsley.
July 2, we drove over hill and down dale (such as Airedale and Wensleydale [Gromit!] and Calderdale) to the village of Haworth. We lunched at a shady table outside the Black Bull pub (one of many across this part of Yorkshire, but in this case the one frequented by Charlotte "Wuthering Heights" Bronte's sot of a brother, Branwell) and explored the steep main street and the park, where there were several heated lawn bowling matches taking place. The boys were attracted to a model shop, so we stopped in; I mentioned that we were to be staying in nearby Oakworth and it turned out that the proprietor knew our landlord, who had been his mailman, and pointed us to our cottage on a map.
Oakworth is only a mile away, on the other side of the Worth River (HaWORTH, OakWORTH, get it?) at the other end of a quite narow, twisty road by one of the defunct woollen mills in the area.  At one point, around a hairpin blind corner, someone has spraypainted "HOOT" on the wall to let oncoming traffic know you're approaching. Our cottage, rather rudely but accurately named "Bottom Cottage," is at the end (the bottom) of a lane that starts out disappointngly with modern houses - but was built in the 1500s and had a sweeping view of the valley, with the city of Keighley (pronounced "Keithly") and the Ilkley Moor in the distance.  Our landlady, Mrs. Brunskill, was pottering in the large flower/veg garden when we arrived;  tubby and middle-aged, with a halo of fuzzy grey hair, she was very friendly; she lives next door -- there are three cottages together. She and her husband spent 18 months restoring the buildings and have done a great job.

The boys spent much of the next week petting Prince, the horse next door, who would stick his brown bearded head over the stone wall, and there were several cats about as well.

A Day on the Trains
We walked down the hill to the smallest working train station in England, Damems Station, and took the steam train (!) down the line past Haworth to Oxenhope, a journey of perhaps 20 minutes.  There were several working-class commuters as well as a tourist or two.  We were lucky enough on this Sunday to catch the annual Straw Race, for which the whole town turned out.  This involved pairs of men, often in costuime (such as fully accoutered knights, and memorably a couple of grossly overweight tattooed guys naked except for undershorts, with large stuffed penises, complete with fuzzy brown hair, strapped to them [quite a roar of approval from the crowd]) running from pub to pub drinking pints while carrying a bale of hay, in their preferred method, up a nearby hill in the blazing sun.  A brass band played fairly badly while sitting in an open truck trailer in the Bay Horse pub's parking lot..
How to top that? We trained back to Haworth and had lunch in the Wharenui (odd name), walked through the fields in search of another deserted mill, watched the steam trains for awhile (great hoots, puff of hissing steam, and clouds of foul coal smoke) and trained to the Oakworth station.  Then we walked across the fields (black-and-white cows, tan goats, black-faced sheep) to our cottage in Goose Cote Lane. Whew!

Friday, July 01, 2005

Adventures in Yorkshire Pt. 2

The boys and I each did something we wanted yesterday -- they extensively prowled the sunny streets of Barnsley in search of sweet things to eat and things that made noise -- and I got lost in the moors. 
We did manage to discover an old lane in town (narrow cobbled pavement bordered by quaint shops, nicely claustrophobic) and I introduced them to "The Pinfold," where (as explained by a book of poetry I bought about the town's historical spots) stray critters from the market were rounded up -- rather like the dog pound), and we visited Cook's Gallery, which featured both contemporary art (such a pair of glasses and glasses-case labeled "The Artist's Glasses," complete with long and unbelievable justification, and a pair of dental retainers mounted to the wall like butterflies, complete with extracted molars for bodies -- which Bentley enjoyed, being the proud wearer of such a device) and a back room containing 18th/19th century works by artists I'd never heard of, with the exception of a Henry Moore drawing.
Then, rather famished, we got what might loosely be termed lunch at an off-license shop before I allowed the boys to vegetate at the house while I continued on my way to the legendary Mam Tor ("shivering peak" -- so-named because it is in a continual state of landslide). This involved wending my way across several miles of woodland, past reservoirs, until reaching the attractive town of Castleton, named for Peveril Castle, a ruined 12th century stone structure overlooking the town. It was overrun by schoolchildren and by blackfaced sheep whose redolent droppings festooned the well-chewed grass. Below the castle was an enormous cave, nestled between two sheer tree-draped cliffs populated by a circling bevy of rooks whose mewls echoed off the limestone walls.  I opted not to take a tour of the cave, which is billed as "The Devil's Arse."
Rain began to set in over the peaks at this point so I headed back to try to locate the metroplis of Wigtwizzle.  No, that is not a typo.  It was clearly marked on the map but as a twisted and turned up and down the one-lane tracks across the moors, no such place appeared, unless it was the name of one of the small farms sprinkled among the hills.  Aside from traversing these "roads" for about an hour I also had missed one crucial turn and gotten stuck in traffic for about an hour (!) heading into Sheffield. I felt like sausage meat might, being forced into its skin, but I finally was able to extricate myself.
After the crushing Wigtwizzle defeat I continued meandering in the general direction of Barnsley, stopping briefly at Bolsterstone, a refreshingly civilized, though very small, farming village atop a hill, where I got out to stretch my legs in the old cemetery with its forest of wafer-like moss-covered headstones. (I parked beside the town stocks. I kid you not.)  I was chagrined to discover an actual funeral just dispersing, so I made myself scarce among the dead until the mourners had left.
I careered downhill to the steel-town of Stocksbridge, which was quite large and butt-ugly, at least what I saw of it, an assessment I rarely make about English towns, being an incurable romantic even about industrial sites. But there you have it. And I returned to home base around 6, two hours later than estimated.  After dinner I took my favorite walk across the park, up the stonewalled lane, down through a fallow field (drenched in vermilion light from the 9:30 sunset), looping back up the road past horses and cows to the house.
And so to bed.