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martindale

Martindale

Martindale was restless under a pale sun, animated by patchy clouds driven by a stiffening breeze. Meanwhile the head of the dale was spilling over with a snowy cap which hid something darker, something boiling and possibly nasty. Rampsgill head! It’s not a place for the faint hearted in bad weather; but I only say this because it scared the pants off me last time I was up there. I recall the wind tore my map in two – a shrieking banshee, blowing a horizontal rain with tracers of hail, like machine gun fire. The tops were just a few degrees above freezing that day, while at Side Farm, tucked away safe in the sunshine of the Patterdale valley, they wore tee shirts and shorts and sucked ice-creams.

on the beda fell ridge

Hallin Fell from the Beda Fell ridge

I chose Beda Fell instead, thinking it the lighter option. I’d spent an hour the night before at Kung Fu practise, punching a bag and leaping about with a broadsword, and calculated, correctly, my physical reserves were still somewhat depleted. Beda Fell therefore did not fall easily and the ascent was interrupted frequently with pauses to admire the northward aspect towards Hallin Fell and Ullswater, and to take photographs. Wainwright was correct when he said the fells demand a high standard of fitness. To walk here you have to train here, and I’ve been a stranger to the tops lately.

Anyway, I took the line of that lovely ridge to where it meets the path coming up from Dale Head farm, then cut back down to the car, a short circular walk of some two hours but one that left me aching and wobbly. By now the stuff pouring over Rampsgill had turned the dale grey and cold, and not a bit spitty. I saw no one on the fells at all.

We can be a bit a blind in our wanderings, us fell walkers, our heads always turned towards the next objective so we often fail to see what’s under our feet. The flora of the lakes seems often to me quite dull – just sedges, and fern and they only survive because the sheep won’t eat them. I presume they don’t like common butterwort either as I managed to find a tidy colony of it hiding by the side of a beck. I should add the butterwort is carniverous, but only to creepy crawlies.

Common Butterwort, Martindale. Carniverous, but only to creepy crawlies.

Common Butterwort, Martindale (UK). Carniverous, but only to creepy crawlies.

The weather held sufficiently for me to risk driving out of  Martindale with the top down. I’m sure it seems a childish fascination to other drivers, or the non drivers among you, I mean this topless motoring I have only recently discovered. But driving like that you feel the world, you hear the stirring of the trees, feel the tug of the wind on your neck, feel the turn of the day in the air. It’s good to notice these things, and not take them for granted.

The weather caught up with us at Glenridding, so I had to stop there to put the top up. Also it was about time for that coffee and cake I’d promised myself. The carpark here is one of those that reads your number plate as you drive on and you can pay by debit card, because no one carries that much loose change any more. However, my experience of such technological marvels is that they don’t always manage to read your plate when it’s raining, and the card readers aren’t reliable either. This serves only to add frustration to the expense, so it’s wise to have that shrapnel handy anyway. Or if you’re lucky you can park an hour for free at the roadside. I was lucky, tucked the Mazda into a spare slot and fastened down the top just as the rain came on in earnest.

martindale farmI bought coffee at Kilners, part of the old Glenridding Hotel, and sat out under the awning as the rain poured in fine silver threads. It was refreshing, and as I sipped the coffee I rose on a swell of satisfaction at the way the day had gone. My sense of smell even put in a rare return so I was able to smell and taste the coffee, and it was the finest thing, this completion of my senses, adding a sharpness to my observations.

I note several whining “Tripadvisor” pundits berate Kilners for poor service and poor coffee. But the young lady who served me could not have been sweeter, nor more helpful, and the coffee was just grand. It did cost me a fiver, and it was a very small piece of cake – two mouthfulls I’d say – but this is the Lakes, and you must be prepared for that – it’s right up there with Switzerland.

I’ve sat in this place, and its various past incarnations, on many such occasions after walking – coffee, and fine rain in Glenridding – though the occasions be interspersed years apart and spanning decades, but somehow each feeling the same, and timeless in the moment. Only when I rise and continue my journey do I feel the passage of time in the changes of my life.

When I returned to the car I found the rain beading all over it, little glass pebbles that would suddenly form little rivulets, which slid off in pearly splashes, the paintwork a deep blue lustre underneath. She looked small, tucked in between a couple of generic four by fours, but she can certainly move and climbed those zig-zags into Martindale like a rat going up a drainpipe. She’s a sparky old lady for sure.

In that instant the day crystallised into a perfect memory, frozen into the time-zero of all my days in the Lakes: a long drive to a lost valley; visiting the grave of a forgotten Victorian Orientalist; puzzling over the enigma of a man who puzzled even those who knew him; a hike up a sharp hill, one that left me blowing and wobbly; good coffee; avoiding the National Trust car park, twice; and the rain beading on the old girl’s admittedly overwaxed paintwork.

It’s hard to explain what any of this means, all of it ephemeral, but we’ve each felt it in our own ways, and through our own experience, from time to time, and I know you know what I mean. We are all of us, essentially nobodies, going nowhere. At first pass it sounds a depressing concept, but really it’s not. We are more than dust, and it is not the form of the thing that’s important, not the doing, not the seeing of the thing in itself, but more being granted the trick of insight to glimpse the magic beneath the fabric of the world, and to touch something “other” in the seemingly mundane, like,… I don’t know,… the beading of rain on the paintwork of an old car.

Then the door opens to the possibility of touching something other, touching it with our hearts, rather than just our hands.

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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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