Posts Tagged ‘touring’

Mazda3It is with regret I leave Scarborough and the North Sea coast, but not before a surprise awakening in the night! On the first occasion, it is the amorous couple across the landing, again. It’s going up for midnight and it’s taking a while for their indiscreet coitus to get going. I regret to say I attempt to quench their ardour by rolling groggily from bed and flushing my toilet, since I presume this will be as audible in their room as theirs is in mine. My intervention is purely on account of the lady’s predilection for talking dirty, which has never been my thing really – perhaps there is too much of the grey tweed Englishman in me. I am not a prude, but I find it vulgar and embarrassing. Also there are young children on the same landing and I would not like them to be disturbed by it. I underestimate the couple’s determination however and the voluble, aggressive, foul mouthed coupling continues.

It is the fire alarm that comes to our rescue eventually. Unfortunately this also necessitates evacuation into the cold and rain of the small hours to await the Fire Brigade. Fortunately the alarm is false.

You never know someone properly until you have seen them in their pyjamas and I venture to suggest guests found the event, chatting casually in the small hours and rather less formally clothed than at dinner, a good ice breaker. I regret to say I did not follow evacuation instructions to the letter, being guilty of pausing to pull on jeans and jacket over my PJs, but I was still out in under a minute. I note I had also unconsciously rescued wallet, carkeys and spectacles. Luggage and, interestingly, the journal (on the Voyo) were left to burn.

Anyway, the morning of my departure is wet, and it’s a long, steamy drive west, pausing for coffee in the beautiful market town of Helmsley. I suspect the weather is broken now, and we will not be cruising home at any point in style with the top down. The rain comes on more in earnest now and I browse Helmsley with the aid of an umbrella. In the bookshop I discover to my delight Niall Williams’ latest novel, History of the Rain.  I read the opening paragraph, my heart fills and I take it at once to the till. I shall lock myself away next week and savour it. Williams I’m sure is part born of the Faery folk, for none other could cast such a spell with mere words.

I make another stop at Ripon for more coffee and to purchase picnic tea from Sainsbury’s, also a brief visit to the deer park at Studley to relive memories of past summers there with my children – now too old to want to holiday with eccentric parents. I find it is too expensive to leave the car for even an hour by the lake, so I press on to my final lodgings, the Half Moon Inn.

In “By Fall of Night”, the Half Moon Inn does not exist, at least not in the physical world, but rather in the shared dreamspace of the main protagonists, Tim and Rebecca. In other parlance it is an Ibbetson space, a term so far as I can discern first coined by Robert Moss, teacher of dreaming, author and latter day shaman. It is so called after the Georges du Maurier novel Peter Ibbetson, an highly accomplished story which explores the idea of shared lucid dreaming. I am half expecting to have similarly imagined the physical existence of the Half Moon, but come upon it suddenly as I usually do, while pasting it along the road to Pateley Bridge. It is by now mid afternoon and still raining.

I seal myself up in a cosy annexe for the remainder of the afternoon and early evening, with picnic tea, books, and recalcitrant Voyo, then venture briefly to the bar for a modest nightcap where I make the acquaintance of the sweet natured Billy the dog. The bar is quiet, some locals passing through, some tourists, both native and foreign. All are friendly.

Moss is dismissive of Ibbetson spaces, not because he questions their existence, but more because of their limited potential for personal development. Like my creation of the Half Moon Inn, an Ibbetson space exists only in the shared imagination of two people. Others cannot discover it, they cannot trespass. The broader spaces and collective constructs of the Dreaming are different in being discoverable by anyone, and not relying upon the continuing existence of a particular individual for their persistence. This is said to be true ground of being, of the psyche. Intellectually there is much to explore here. I do not believe or disbelieve in the existence of such things. They are for now beyond proof,  but I enjoy the thought experiments they permit.

Of course I have explored these ideas in many of my past novels, but now, in The Queen of Carrickbar, or whatever I end up calling it, I seek once more the firmer ground of a purely material existence. Materiality is a very testing environment for a human being. A number of tragedies have befallen friends this year, and they have left me shaken, they have left me taking nothing in life for granted for I see how easily all might be lost. I see how easily a man might suddenly find himself in late middle years with everything he has built – family, friends, even wealth – swept away, and there he is once more, naked as a babe, facing the blank wall of an apparently pointless universe. How can anything that comes next not be seen as futile? How does one carry on?

If there is anything more to life, or behind life, then its traces can be discerned in the more peculiar faculties of the mind, that the mind, can sometimes see around corners, that we are in part at least capable of some kind of psychical existence beyond the limitations of space and time (Jung). But the search for anything definitive along such lines can never be anything more than a thought experiment, at best tantalisingly suggestive of something remarkable hidden beneath the fabric of existence, but impossible to state with any more certainty than in fictional works like Du Maurier’s Ibbetson, or my own stories.

But find it we must if tragedy is not to break us. The spiritual function must be allowed its freedom to transform the psyche, or we become more vulnerable to the trials of material existence. And the worst we can do is lose ourselves completely in materiality, believing it is all there is to life.

So,… as I bid goodnight to Billy the dog, the last leg of my journey unfolds in my imagination. Tomorrow we rejoin the valley of the Wharfe, travel south to Burnsall Bridge and Bolton Abbey. Then it’s the endless roaring ribbon of the A59, back across the border to Lancashire, and home.

This has been an immensely satisfying tour of Yorkshire. For its success, and its welcome I would like to thank:

The Buck Inn, Malham,
The Grove House Guest House, Leyburn,
The Park Manor, Scarborough,
The Half Moon Inn, (nr) Pateley Bridge

Also, the people of Yorkshire encountered enroute, friendly to a man, and woman, and reassuring of the nature of all human beings. And if not then let all human beings take note of the nature of Yorkshiremen.

And finally I would like to thank the designers and engineers of the Mazda Motor Company, of Hiroshima, Japan. I know I’ve droned on about the beauty of the MX5 elsewhere, but this trip quite simply would not have been the same without this old girl.


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malham cove

A short hop to Malham; M6, then the A59 to Gisburn where we slip across the border into God’s own county, then Hellifield, Otterburn, and finally Malham. Rain most of the way rendering pointless yesterday’s wash down and chamois finish. Pulling onto the carpark of the Buck the Mazda already looks like it’s been parked a week next to a concrete factory. However, the afternoon dries up sufficiently to take a stroll into the Cove. There are falcons soaring, and dippers exploring the beck, and there are men making ready to climb the seemingly impregnable face of the limestone precipice.

Then it’s back to the Buck for a doze on the four poster. I’m travelling with the Voyo, a 7″ Windows 8 tablet, made in China. It was cheap as chips, packs into a modest man-bag, but has the habit of randomly crashing. I use Jarte for my jottings, set autosave to once a minute and learn to live with surprises.

As I wait to go down to dinner I run through the early part of my new story, which I’m calling Carrickbar at the moment, or maybe the Queen of Carrickbar sounds better. The Voyo tips me out after a couple of paragraphs, and discards the changes because I mistook the one minute autosave option for the ten minute. I discover I can live with it. As writers we should never become too attached to anything we have written. What we think sounds just perfect, the moment before we are about to lose it, would rarely rest without change the next day.

malham cove 2It’s a tentative opening sketch, this first chapter, setting the scene and seeing what runs. Thus far it is rather a bleak story, one I’m not sure I can live with for the next couple of years in the writing of it, and I’ll be needing more of a reason to carry on. The characters are forming though, moving into the wings, looking to see if they can fit in, to see if they can help. Then there’s always that certain someone, the increasingly eccentric muse, and I suspect she’s waiting for us up at the Sea View Cafe.

The Mazda felt a little stiff on the run over, but that was me. I’m holding on to tension from somewhere and can’t seem to let it go, still fearful of the clutch failing. I need to lighten up; we have three hundred miles ahead of us, some tough hill climbing and some fast roads.

Dinner was lamb roast and very good too, no alcohol as I wanted a run out afterwards. The evening clears to sunshine and a straw coloured light, so I take the top down and drive the circuit up by Malham Tarn, then back down to the village. This is an exceptionally beautiful drive, both the Mazda and I relaxing at last into the curves of the road as if somehow enchanted. The Dales have never looked better to me than this evening. It is open and golden. I left my camera in my room at the Buck, but remind myself we are mistaken in believing we can somehow hold onto these things, that we can somehow capture them. But it’s impossible to capture them because the faculty of imagination is lacking in the photograph, present only in the nowness of the moment as we experience it. It is, I’m afraid something I cannot fully share with anyone.

Buck Inn MalhamI return to the carpark of the Buck and begin my usual nannying about, nervous of parking slots that are too narrow. The Mazda is getting on in years but miraculously preserved and my nightmare is that she will get side swiped by a carelessly opened door. I also avoid parking next to cars with kiddie seats – or worse the detritus that indicates the presence of older children. The alternative spot is under a pine tree, but that won’t do either as it is dripping sap and leaving sticky speckles on the screen and paint. In the end I settle for a tight spot and no evidence of kiddies. I really must learn to be more accepting of the risks; it’s bound to happen one day.

So, day one and a successful start. Some rain, but clearing to a beautiful evening. I retire to write:

He was a child when he last saw Carrickbar. That would have been ’67 or 68; he couldn’t say for sure exactly when but what Finn did remember was how the summer had glowed cosily that year in the orange of the sunsets, how it had blazed joyously in the yellow of the afternoon sands and shimmered with a delirious bliss in the perfect crayon blue of sea and sky. Remarkably though, he was not conscious of having carried this memory with him, and had indeed passed the whole of his life in ignorance of it. Until now.

Remarkably it was amid the ruin of forty years, he had fallen asleep, and had dreamed of Carrickbar. He had dreamed of the colour, and of the heat and of the wide smiling sea, and on waking the memories had risen from the depths perfectly preserved. It was as if the Gods had taken pity and cast him a line back into the living colour of the world, and in the morning all he could think of was a place he had not thought of since he was a boy.

But winter was not the best time to be seeing Carrickbar. Indeed it was to him, this afternoon, after a three hour drive, and through the murky lens of his road weariness, a cold, grey place, all the colour bled from it, frozen as his heart, pale as the ocean before him. And the ocean, he thought, as he gazed out at it, was just one more thing reflective of the lack of pity in the world. It was at this moment as if even his childhood had died and left him penniless, and the Gods were laughing.

It’s a start.

I think we’ll run with it.

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Mazzy at BuckdenI wanted to give the car a decent run this weekend, so drove the little road from Bolton Abbey all the way up Wharfedale, then on to Leyburn for the night. It was the weekend after the hugely successful Grand Depart, when the opening stage of Le Tour De France set off from Yorkshire. The aftermath had left all the dales villages still trimmed up and looking very festive with their bunting and yellow bicycles. It had also left the roads in various places scrawled with some very distracting graffiti.

I’d set myself the challenge of completing my own little tour de Yorkshire with the top down. I’m doing well so far, only having had the top up on a couple of journeys, and one of those was because I preferred the imagined security, and a bit of soundproofing, when I took to the motorway. On this occasion though I braved a bit of the M6 from Bamber Bridge to Tickled Trout and then the long stretch of the A59 from Tickled Trout to Bolton Abbey – all of it topless, so to speak – but it was an unnerving experience. I think if we all had to drive this way, we’d be driving a lot slower, and much more carefully.

First stop was the Abbey Tea rooms for coffee and to gather my addled wits. Sixty miles an hour in an old MX5 feels like ninety, and there’s always someone tailgating you. White vans were a particular hazard on that stretch of the A59, having taken over from the usual Beamers and Audis and flourescent Ford Focuses, familiar from the back lanes around home. One had bullied me from the Cross Keys, all the way past Skipton seemingly intent on bulldozing me into the ditch. It may be that I’m used to a quieter, smoother car, but sixty in Mazzy is my limit for now, and plenty fast enough for even the faster sections of the A59. Not fast enough for white van man though. I had fitted a dashcam for the journey but quickly realised it was pointing the wrong way. Instead of pointing out the front, recording potential head-ons, it would have been better pointing backwards. I’m not sure if there’s a You Tube channel called Mad Tailgaters, but I’m thinking of starting one.

Bolton Abbey marks the beginning of the run up the Wharfe, and it’s a great place to refresh yourself. I was too early for scones, so made do with a stiff Americano and some deep breaths. But already the day was shaping up for the better. There were old English roadsters on the car park here – Morris, Alvis, MG – all from the thirties and the forties, a much more civilised era for motoring, an era when the brakes were rubbish, there were no airbags and petrol was sixpence a gallon. I wondered how they’d managed the A59, and the tailgaters. The owners, rather well groomed, silver haired gentlemen – tweed jacket and cap types with clipped accents – looked calm and unruffled as they took their refreshment. Maybe I just don’t have the Spitfire spirit, and needed to buck up a bit.

Bolton Abbey is a popular tourist destination, but not the sort of place to visit if you’re touring. Part of a private estate, the entrance fee is now over £8 per person. That said, there are a lot of grounds to enjoy, a beautiful section of the river, and then there’s the Strid, where the Wharfe is squished down to a narrow passage between crags that you can (almost) leap, and most likely drown when you miss. But you need a full day to do justice to the visit, and the admission fee. On this occasion, I was not tempted. This trip was all about the drive – and a bit of walking. The price of a cup coffee was the only thing Bolton Abbey got out of me.

The road up the Wharfe was a delight, the car coming alive once more on the tight bends and through the rises and hollows. An overcast start to the day dissolved here into blue skies and sunburn, and by the time I reached Burnsall Bridge, both the car and my heart were singing with the joy of it.

You can’t go fast here – too many cyclists and horses, but thirty feels like fifty in Mazzy so you don’t need to be racing to feel like you’re flying. Burnsall is another popular tourist destination, a pretty village and a fine old bridge spanning the river, also partly the setting for my timeslip short story, Katie’s Rescue. It’s a good spot for picnics or for commencing a walk, but I was heading up to Buckden, at the top of the dale, so passed on without haemorrhaging shrapnel on the carpark.

The price of tourist parking tends to discourage touring. You can see most of these places in an hour before moving on to the next, but at the prices charged you want to settle in and make the most of them, which is perhaps not a bad thing. The National Trust finally got me at Buckden, charging me £4.20 to leave my car while I had a walk up the Pike. As an illustrative aside, a few hours later I was in Aysgarth, wondering about visiting the falls, but I didn’t because it hardly seemed worth the price of parking the car again, for what would have amounted to no more than an hour’s visit. It would have been good to see the falls, but I’ve seen them before, and you don’t need to pay money to experience the sublime. If you’ve not been to Aysgarth, ignore my tight-wad example here and pay up – the falls are spectacular and worth every penny. But remember the sublime is in you. You can find it anywhere, not just where the National Trust or English Heritage set up camp and tell you to.

waterfall buckdenThere’s a beautiful little waterfall in Buckden that’s not even marked on the map. It was by the side of the footpath that descends the Pike and must be known to many a walker, to say nothing of Buckden’s few residents. As I came upon it, the sun was hitting it just right and the colours exploding as if were something not quite real. My photograph here doesn’t do it justice at all. It may not be Aysgarth falls, but has its own water sprites who’s siren call lured me over to spend a grateful break with them.

Buckden was also decked out for the Tour de France, and takes my personal award for the most festive effort. I met a lady the following day who was looking for a supermarket, as she’d taken a cottage in Buckden for the week. We laughed, agreeing that there wasn’t a lot in Buckden, and it’s true, you’ll struggle to find a supermarket there, but there’s a whole lot more besides and, apart from that carpark, it won’t cost you anything. Buckden without doubt is my favourite Dales village – apart from all the others of course.

Finally it was on to Wensleydale, to Leyburn and a homely B+B for the night. It was my first time in Leyburn, a small, historic market town. I’d made a reconnaissance trip on Google Streetview the night before, and thought the place looked a bit dour, but nothing could have been further from the truth. They had the bunting up here as well – the Tour de France seems to have visited every town and village in Yorkshire! Leyburn’s a good stopping off place for a tour, with plenty of pubs and restaurants around the main square.

One’s always a bit self conscious, travelling alone and walking on spec into the first pub that takes your fancy, but I was at my ease in minutes, the landlady calling me “My Love” like I was a regular and settling me down to a fine, flavoursome Steak and Ale pie. I’ve visited many a UK town where the lone traveller’s self consciousness was not assuaged, and where the locals proved to be standoffish and downright queer. Leyburn is definitely not one of them. Both Mazzy and I received a warm welcome, and we’ll be coming again.

It was altogether the best day of the Summer thus far, to be bettered only by the day that followed it.

If there’s a heaven, I’d like it to be the Yorkshire Dales, and an old blue car to explore it in.

Topless, of course.

le grand depart buckden


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