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!

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