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on smearsett scar

On Smearset Scar

There’s this soft wintry light, and a mostly clear sky, tending to a tobacco haze around the full sweep of the horizon. The sun is past the meridian now, the short day already maturing to shades of buttery mistiness. The hills and valleys are rendered in dynamic sweeps of luminous green and yellow-ochre as the light plays upon them, and all the crags and the long runs of dry-stone wall are etched in sharp relief by that pale, low slanting sun.

We can only be in the Yorkshire Dales, on top of Smearsett Scar to be precise. This is a fine hill, tucked away from casual view, though not far from the little market-town of Settle and I’m surprised it isn’t better known. We’ve seen no one on the trail since leaving the car an hour ago. I’m sure it’s well loved by Dalesmen hereabouts, but I suspect the day-tripping peak bagger is more likely to be on the hunt for bigger fish. Sure, they’ve been tearing up the Ribble to Horton since before dawn, in search of the three peaks, and that well worn circuit of the damned on which I’ve been casually bowled aside on more than one occasion. Meanwhile glorious Smearset here gets barely a look in, but I’m not complaining.

Adjoining Smearsett, to the west, we have Pot scar, its summit pricking the tranquil skyline with an inviting cairn, and between the two a precipitous escarpment falling away to the south. Thus far the climb has rewarded us with exquisite views and a sense of exhilaration out of all proportion to the relatively modest altitude and effort required to get here. We’ve left the car in Stainforth, and in a bit I’ll be taking you across the fell, to that cairn on Pot Scar, then down to the little hamlet of Feizor for a brew in the cafe there, then finally back along the valley. It’s an outing of between six and eight miles, depending on our choice of return, and already on its way to becoming one of the finest walks I’ve done in the Dales – apart from all the others of course.

Although there are good paths running either side of the hill, there was little on the map to actually guide us to the top – no well worn routes on the ground either, but on a fine day like this all became clear, and it was fairly easy to pick our way. We did the right thing, I think, tackling it from the north where that track runs up from Little Stainforth and gave us a good start on the day, plus spring-boarding a less precipitous approach to the summit. Our first glimpse of Smearsett from the Ribble was quite intimidating, but on closer acquaintance the ground proved easy enough and just a short detour to the trig-point at 363 meters.

And what a summit! What a fine sweep of the Dales! But don’t let that sunshine deceive you, this is December, closing down on the Solstice now, and not much heat in it. So don’t worry, I’m not for lingering any longer than the time it takes to grab a quick photograph or two. But in Summer this will be a grand place to settle down in the grass, to feel the  sun’s caress, and listen to the high twittering rapture of skylarks.

towards pot scar

Pot scar from Smearsett

So,… it’s an airy walk westwards now at an easy pace along the undulating escarpment, a route that seems little used, but we’re granted the courtesy of good stiles built into the various drystone walls to aid our passage, and to join the dots between vague twists of path. Pot Scar ends in precipitous crags above Feizor and a stout, bounding wall that tells us we must have missed a more obvious way off. But an easy detour north brings us back onto that track running up from Little Stainforth, and leads us safely into Feizor, amid the most spectacular rolling hills and limestone crags.

There’s a splendid little teashop here, and I know I’ve been promising you a pot of tea and a toastie all the while, but sadly on arrival we find there’s not a table to be had. It seems there are visitors a plenty in the Dales today, just none on the fell. So we must press on – a long but easy track now, south and east through pastures and valleys, in the first gatherings of twilight and deepening shadow, down to Stackhouse, and the weir on the Ribble.

heron at stackhouse

The weir at Stackhouse, on the River Ribble

There’s a Heron, fishing at Stackhouse. It looks ever so stately and aloof while I pause to admire its ungainly grace and to chance a photograph. It grants me the courtesy of a lingering pose, the epitome of patience, though I’d be less inclined to be so admiring if this turned out to be same Heron that took all my goldfish in the summer. Such is life. It’s all about context, I suppose.

We finish the walk with an easy stroll upstream to the falls at Stainforth, and a sudden prospect that’s like something from an old master’s painting – the thundering rapids and the sweep of the river above them running ponderously black, spanned by an ancient and slender stone arch of a bridge. There’s just one last slice of amber warming up the far bank as the day winds down to dusk now, the scene mostly deserted, but I imagine come summer this will be a popular little spot.

stainforth falls

The falls at Stainforth

I’m not sure how a walk earns the title “Classic” but this one has to be a contender. I know, I always say that. At the very least it’s been a grand day out, and just a pity we didn’t manage to crown it with that brew in Feizor. But no bother, let’s burn up that last half mile to the car, then we can get our boots off and cool our feet. We’ll call at the Naked Man Cafe in Settle on the way home. I’ll treat you to a brew there instead, and a toasted teacake as darkness comes on and the old town lights itself up for Christmas, all twinkly and magical!

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It was not the best day to be visiting Malham. There was a hill-run or something and every parking place was taken. Runners, brightly attired jogged off up the fells and officials with their hi-vis jackets and windmill arms directed traffic. Thus my humble plans for a walk around the fabled cove were scuppered for having nowhere to ditch the car.

Malham’s the sort of place you don’t arrive at in passing. It’s a long drive in, and a long drive out to anywhere else, so walking from another venue looked like it was off the menu as well. But the sun was shining, I was in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales on the first warm day of the year, and I had the top down on the little blue car, so there was no way this could be described as unfortunate. I simply needed a fresh plan for the day and I decided on a drive.

I know, I’d already driven about sixty miles to get to Malham, most of that along the arterial A59. But driving like that’s hardly a pleasure – more of an A to B kind of thing, and not altogether healthy in an open-topped car. I’ve seen the A59 from altitude during a winter-time inversion, the length of it overhung with a sickly brown haze, which is why nowadays I keep the top on as far as Gisburn.

No, what I meant was a different kind of drive.

I took the little road from Malham across the tops to Arncliffe. Initially tortuous as you climb from the village, the road settles to a smooth narrow ribbon snaking through a fine, scenic wilderness, one where roadside parking is prohibited. The narrow upland routes, and the little passes of the Yorkshire Dales provide some of the finest driving you can imagine – single track roads threading across spectacular dun coloured tops, bristling with limestone outcrops bright white in the sun. It’s almost a lost concept, the pleasure of a drive, I mean as our roads clog up and everything becomes urbanised as the built world squeezes out the green, and that brown haze spreads to overhang and poison more and more of everything.

Imagine if you can, simply enjoying the feel of a vehicle in motion, the white noise of tyres over rough tarmac, snicking up and down the gears to catch her on the hairpins, the sweet vibrato note of the exhaust echoing from drystone walls, then the sudden cut to silence as you rattle over the cattle grid and emerge into an open wilderness. And there’s the scent of it – clean air, hills, grasslands, rocks, running water.

It is a poetic experience, and you can still find it here.

The little blue car is an old MX5, with 85k on the clock, a cheap roadster, picked up second or third hand. We’re embarking on our fourth season together now, seasons of ease and smiles. The little road made me smile, the purr of the car as it took the hills made me smile, her tenacious grip on the bends made me smile, the sunlight glinting off Malham tarn made me smile, the deep, sublime cut of Yew Cogar Scar near Arncliffe made me smile. There was a lightness to my being as I drove, having quite forgotten I’d set out that morning with the intention of walking, and had failed.

I paused at Linton, sitting in warm sunshine on the banks of the Wharfe, by the falls. There I ate lunch, lingered by the ancient stepping stones, lulled into a meditative calm by the wash of the river. A guy was fly-fishing in the midst of a mirror-black pool where the river swings wide and into shade. Then I drove home,… and it struck me again, coming back once more to the roar of the arterial A59, the unwholesome, diesel stench of it, and the contrast with the peace and the unhindered clarity of the Dales. It emphasised at what dreadful cost the built world turns.

Along the urban byways and highways, everywhere we look we see the imposition of our thoughts in our shaping of the environment. There are attempts at beauty in architecture, but too often also a waste of graffitied despair, overhung by this brown haze as hope dissolves to premature corruption. Only where the A roads do not yet penetrate, where the way remains narrow, can we still squeeze through, slip back into an earlier time, and to an England where the land lies less marked, less troubled by our troubled thinking.

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catrigg foss waterfallI chose Langcliffe for the start of the walk because the parking was free. Well, it was not exactly free; there is a donation box and I did donate, but the money I saved by not parking in Settle would pay for coffee later. This is austerity in personal terms, and rather petty I admit. Those truly struggling under austerity, and there are many now, would not have driven to the Dales in the first place because £20 worth of petrol goes a long way towards groceries.

It struck me recently we’ve been under the cosh of austerity since 2008. This tells me two things. One, it’s been a long time. And two, the ideology that’s driving it has either self evidently failed, or it’s driving us in another direction, that in fact it has not failed at all but succeeded in bringing about a state of political and social affairs that has basically reordered society into one that is less equal.

What this means in practical terms is penny pinching on a scale so grand our ears are filled daily with the sound of gears grinding as our machine runs down. There is a shrinking back to the Gradgrind-glory years of the Victorian era, an age when we sent little orphan boys up chimneys and down the mines to work the narrow seams, because they were cheap and expendable. We did not value life. We are being taught again only to value our own, that a person drowned in the Med is not a person, but something less than that.

Anyway, Langcliffe. This is a walk I’ve done before, many times: Catrigg force, the Attermire Scars and the Warrendale Knots. I wrote about it here. My return was on account of a free day and insufficient time to plan anything new. But with a familiar route, freed from the responsibility of navigation, the mind can turn to other things. The weather was promising, the morning peeling open after overnight rains to a mixture of sunshine and humidity.

Someone tried to get my email logins by phishing. I was sufficiently webwise not to succumb. Meanwhile the BBC tells me of a woman who was targeted by phone scammers, tricked into thinking her bank account was under attack and so sought to transfer funds to safety. She lost it all to the scammers. This leaves a sour taste.

This and Austerity. But are the two things not the same?

2008.

A long time.

Hitler was defeated in five.

This economic crisis is taking longer.

Unless it is not a crisis,

But a change of paradigm.

 

Some have grown fat from austerity, but most have grown lean. Then some have sought to join the ranks of the fat by foul and ingenious means, by preying on the poor and the lean and the hungry, because like in Victorian times the poor are once more cheap and expendable, and easily vilified into a thing less than human. Into perhaps a scrounger? Nobody cares about the poor.

But the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales managed to work a little of its magic on my soul. At Catrigg though, I felt unwell, my vision whiting out as I descended the shady sylvan dell, after strong sunshine on the open moor above. I don’t know what this was about but I didn’t panic. Were I to have expired alone at Catrigg, I can think of no finer setting.

He was at peace, they said.

As it was I sat only a while with a sandwich and fruit and quiet thoughts as the water roared through the narrow slit. Then, feeling better, I carried on.

It’s possible something has happened this summer. Many feel the way I do; fearful; alarmed by an ideology that seems unshakable in its grip, and which has razed the familiar ground, so there is no path now for my children to follow. Instead, they must follow the directions of the suited man with his slick coiffure and oily smile, and take their place in the minimum wage economy, regardless of whether they have a university educations or not.

It may fizzle out in a few weeks time, this thing, or it may lead on to a kind of rebellion. Not just here, but across the West and wherever the suited man sits fat. Men are appearing, dishevelled, articulate. Yesterday’s men, the suits tell us, but then they would. The dishevelled men fill assembly halls and football stadiums. They speak a language that is nostalgic to the old, yet new to the young. It will collapse of course, but not before it brings about a change in the other direction – I hope.

The walk is more up and down than I remember, more of a pull on the leg muscles, though I comfort myself this is probably on account of the stretching I did at Kung Fu the night before. In April you will find the early Purple Orchid sprouting in profusion along the base of the Attermire Scars. Today I found the delicate Hare bell, and other blooms so small one would need a glass to see them properly.

It was cold on the tops, a cold wind icifying the sweat on my back whenever I stopped, so I kept moving, munching a Kit-kat as I went. Dark chocolate and bright white limestone. The world could be going to hell in a handcart, quite possibly is so far as I can tell, but so long as I get my Kit-Kat of a morning, I can find it within me to remain magnanimous.

In the pastures by the Warrendale knots there were long haired cattle, reddish brown. Calves sat easy, nudged udders. One cow stood aside, silent and serene in expectation, as wide as she was tall, her calf still basking in the warm hinterland of the womb. A lone white bull moved among them. The path took me through the herd. I made delicate adjustments, startled none. A hundred tons of beef, but not aggressive. Had they the intelligence to be cognisant of their fate, would they have been so easy in my company? Had we been cognisant of ours in 2008, would we have been so easy too?

I return to Langcliffe, hill-achy and bone tingling tired. The church is having a sale of books and CD’s. I am searching for a copy of Belladonna. Stevie Nicks. 1981-ish. I could buy it online for about a fiver, but am holding off, thinking to discover it in a charity shop for £2.00. I have been searching for years.

Why so selective? I spend £20 on petrol for a walk in the Dales, but I won’t spend a fiver on an old CD that I tell myself I really want. Or is it that I resist the siren call of Stevie Nicks. Stevie is nostalgia.

My moods are mysterious.

I did not go into the church. I peeled my boots off, sat a while, let my feet cool, changed my shirt, then dropped the top and took the car across the moor to Malham.

There are moments of happiness. They come suddenly. Unexpected. It’s a rough old road to Malham from Lancliffe – quite a climb up the zigzags into a lonely wonderland of limestone country. The car’s done 80,000 now, still drives like new and with a punch on the climbs that delights and surprises. And then there are these moments, when we’re rattling along, I swear the tyres dissolve and we’re flying, and the land is not the land at all but clouds on which the scenery has been painted. Then the heart opens and I am smiling at the lightness of my being.

I stop for coffee at Malham, having joined some dots on the map. But it’s a strange country opening before us now. And 2008 is a very long time ago.

Anyway, let’s keep that drive

in mind.

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man strolling in a wooded landscape - detail - A A MillsAmazing, how quickly the cosy glow of one’s holidays fades, isn’t it? Mid morning, first morning back at the day job and there you are, things settling upon you once more, a million crabs nipping and nagging at you, something slithering over your skin – that all too familiar cold slime of responsibility. Then it’s out into the near stagnant commute, arriving home some indeterminate time later, brain-fried and grumpy, then bed by ten, waking at six thirty a.m. feeling totally unrefreshed, and getting up and doing it all again.

But we would be much worse off if we didn’t get that two week break, if like in the olden golden times of arch Conservatism, the labouring masses got no holidays at all, but for Christmas day, and we worked a six and a half day, sixty five hour week until we dropped dead, never having climbed a step from poverty – a regime we’re heading back to if our young are to have any hope of living off the wages that are paid in these enlightened, tightened times, these times of grim austerity.

I can’t believe I am still hearing that word.

Surely austerity was for the nineteen fifties, after the world was nearly ruined in a storm of war that lasted five years – not this, this financial crisis, this money game, this accounting fraud that has already lasted much longer than a world at war, laying waste to the less fortunate of nations as surely as if they had been invaded by tanks and guns.

The black tide of Nazism was defeated in less time than this. And the only strategy against the tyranny of the money game that the money captains can come up with is to convince us there is no alternative to an eternal free fall into a future of less and less, into an austerity of eternal midnight.

Alas, it is the banishment of all hope, all ye who enter here.

But for a weeks I flew. I climbed the little road from Malham in a lovely old car with the top down. I flew all the way to Leyburn, I left the bustling market square at Masham early one Saturday morning beneath a deep summer blue sky and with the birds singing, and I flew all the way to Scarborough. There, I walked the long front from north to south bays and back, explored the steep and narrow of the old town, and breathed a different air. And the gulls were not the killer gulls of the bonkers press. They were the snow white fisher-birds I have always known, and there were only ink-dirty fingers pointing blame where blame there was none, creating a story, where story there was none, while steadfastly ignoring the real story of our times.

In the creed of Nowness, the past is unimportant, but the recent memory of a positive experience can sustain us, at least for a little while, as we nudge ourselves back into the material reality of our dayjobs. It creates a bit of space. The darkness of the first week back after one’s holidays can then be punctured by a gentle reflection. But I fear in my case, after thirty seven years of nine to five, I am already growing out of work, my mind turning far too soon to other things. I would as soon eschew the looming golden watch, escape instead, travel the length and breadth of my United Kingdom in that little roadster with a light bag and a box of books, and a little tapping pad on which to muse and write of what I find along the way.

Sigh.

It’ll be a while before I can realistically do that, but there it is:

The dream of flight.

Of escape.

But what if what we are trying to escape from is a state of mind? one that constructs cages for itself, and the cage is on castors, so we cannot help but take it wherever we go? What if it cannot be escaped by running? To be sure the snares of the material world are myriad, and the thing with snares is the rabbit strangles itself by thinking it can get away, by resisting, by struggling. But by resisting, the noose only tightens all the more. It is the evil efficiency of the snare, that it uses one’s own energy to bring about our destruction.

Thus it is the creed of Nowness teaches us the art of escape through stillness, by creating space within ourselves so we slip through unharmed, like a slippery seed, clean through the arsehole of the world, to bloom elsewhere, upon another plane. And so, even amid the nine to five, we walk a kind of inner freedom, and we do not mind the world as it is any more. Even the bumbling blather of austerity talk and money tyranny melt into the background, into a meaningless Muzak.

Or so the theory goes.

It troubles me only in that all of this sounds a little defeatist. Surely if we are trapped we should fight with all our might, and at the very least do something? Seeking instead our escape within we might as well be wishing an early grave, for both things are liberating in a sense, but hardly what one might call living. I suppose it’s just this feeling I have done my time at the work face, my nose pressed against the dirt for too long, and would leave the struggle to others now, to those who still can – struggle on. For as the saying goes, those who can do, while those who cannot do teach, and those who are not for doing any more, and cannot teach, can only write.

I don’t know if I’ve returned, post trip, with a straighter head or not. It feels a bit wobbly to me. Do you think?

Graeme out.

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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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peasholme park 1A very poor night in Masham. Music throbbing up from the restaurant until 1:00 am, rendering sleep impossible. Instead I play Survivalcraft on the ‘droid, rather than struggle with a sweaty pillow. There is nothing like lack of sleep for making me irrationally ratty. When the music is finally cut, I manage to sleep about five hours. It starts up again at seven.

I do not stay for breakfast, (which is charged extra) but check out and load up the car. Did I enjoy my stay, asks the girl? Am I honest? No; she was but eighteen and I had not the heart to be honest to her sweet face. I am such a coward, and would sooner leave complaining to others.

Anyway, the Bordar Cafe restores Masham to my good books with tea and nicely poached eggs. It’s also market day, and the square presents now a more colourful scene than it did yesterday. I resist the urge to buy a Fedora hat – it’d momentarily tempting but they are not ideal for open top motoring, and make me look ridiculous. Anyway, I remind myself I am saving money for nice vintage wristwatch off Ebay to tinker with when I get back. Meanwhile, the offending hotel preens at my departure, all glitter in the morning sunlight, but I know it intimately, and know it possesses very little by way of charm or substance.

I will not be staying there again, and will be laughing for years to come at its privations. Do you remember that night when we?….

I drive off with the room key in my pocket – lack of sleep makes me forgetful.

It is sixty miles of good, fast road to Scarborough, and a sunny day so the top is down all the way. There is a terrible jam of slow moving traffic crawling up Sutton Bank. It’s bottom gear all the way up this notoriously severe incline. Heavy traffic which includes heavy vehicles makes things worse, at time dangerously so. The Mazda would normally have no trouble if the road were clear and we could get a run at it, but in a convoy for which the speed is only just above stalling, it adds spice. I catch her on the clutch a few times, finding even bottom gear at half a mile per hour is insufficient. This is a car that revels in the hill climb challenge and must take today’s insult on the chin. The cause of the jam is a tractor hauling an unbelievably big trailer of hay. They have such low gears they can crawl at half a mile per hour all day. Motor cars cannot.

I make a brief stop for lunch at Thornton Le Dale’s lovely Lavender Tearooms, where my ‘Droid cause confusion by actually ringing. (My ‘phone rarely rings). It is the hotel at Masham enquiring about the key. Searches confirm my being still in possession of it. Their rationing does not run to keeping a spare, though they are frantically searching for it. Am I far away? I am by now forty miles, I am tired and headachy on account of their small-hours entertainment so do not offer to drive back with it. I purchase a Jiffy bag from the post office and a stamp. I tell them they shall have it Monday.

Then it’s on to Scarborough and the Park. I use the ubiquitous ‘Droid to negotiate the last bit of the journey through the centre of Scarborough, but it gives up, overheating under a full sun with the top down, abandons me in heavy traffic, and with various petulant warnings, leaving me to my own devices. After a flutter of panic, and amid curses, the old senses revive sufficiently to bumble my way across town in roughly the right direction. A few ups and down through improbable residential side streets, and the Park is revealed in all its glory.

It is crisp white, seventies style on the outside, fresh and modern on the inside. It is spacious and chilled. I will be all right here, I think.

A quick breather on the bed and I take a walk down through Peasholme park, find Chinese dragon boats on the lake, then take a look at the promenade at North Bay. I’m tired after last nights lack of sleep and a longish drive across nearly the whole of Yorkshire, but the sea revives me. This is a far cry from the profound stillness of Malham, or indeed the gentle bustle of Leyburn or Masham. Scarborough is, well, Scarborough, a throbbing, thriving seaside town, pavements packed, fast food, ice cream,…

**Voyo Crashes**

…, squealing kids and screaming gulls.

I note the front pages of several newspapers today tell us we are to be afraid of gulls. They are becoming aggressive with people – shades of Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. It must be a slow news day. Gulls are gulls. And yes, sometimes aggressive. The Mazda has already survived several dive bombing attacks. But the risk with gulls as with buying newspapers is merely poop.

Anyway, against my better judgement I find myself in a fast food fish and chippy on the sea-front, ordering a huge cod and chips, mug of tea and a mountain of bread and butter. Traditional fayre in both Yorkshire and my native Lancashire. I am expecting nothing here but indigestion, but discover at once the chips are good, the fish well cooked and exquisitely battered. And the woman who serves me, a tattooed Goth, calls me “darling” and wins me over at a stroke because I know a daemon when I see one, or rather when I’m projecting one, and she takes her place at once in my story, mistress of the Sea View Cafe, muse to Finn.

It is the briefest of encounters and certainly not enough to know this woman in any real sense, but sufficient to give a nudge to my story. I have no name for her yet (Briony? Hermione?). And I have only her opening line, her greeting when Finn walks in to the coffee shop, her words as she spoke them to me this afternoon:

“So, what can I get you, darlin’?”

It is my first time in Scarborough. I find the town centre traffic a little intimidating, a little overwhelming, as with all big and unfamiliar towns, especially in a little open top roadster, but having found my bearings  now, I venture to cruise the marine drive, taking in both the North and South bays. The south is clearly the more commercialised with one arm bandit halls and casinos, but it also possesses a charm, courtesy of the Georgian architecture which still dominates. North bay, I suspect was once the quieter but there has been recent development here with beach side apartments.

Scarborough has been likened ungenerously to Blackpool. But I know Blackpool, and Blackpool this is not. There is still an austere grandeur to Scarborough that Blackpool long ago abandoned. And the landscape still dominates, cliffs soaring and occasionally tipping a hotel into the sea. Scarborough has real charm, and I am already in love with it.

Quick snooze on the bed before visiting the old town this evening, threading the Mazda along narrow streets. The ‘Droid has recovered sufficiently now to navigate me to St Mary’s parish church and the grave of Anne Bronte. The original headstone, arranged by Charlotte, is now badly eroded, and a more modern stone preserves the details. There are fresh roses on her grave. A family of Italian tourists have made the long climb up from the old town to pay their lingering respects also.

Last tasks: I book dinner at the hotel for tomorrow night, then post my room key back to Masham.

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Mazda MalhamBreakfast is slow at the Buck, the dining room dominated by one overlarge group of family and friends who manage to monopolise, confuse, and run ragged our genial host while the rest of us wait our turn. It is irritating to me, this proximity to the assertiveness and the voluble presence of others,  and I wonder what part of my shadow I am revealing by it. That I am not assertive enough in establishing my own presence in the world perhaps? I don’t know, but at least this observation of human nature, in the wild so to speak, provides rich mining for the writer.

So,… checked out, bags dragged to the car, which has survived the night unscathed. Slept well, comfortable bed. The morning tastes fresh.

It is 10:00 am and a cold start to the day for July. Grey clouds. I wear a coat and drop the top for the sporting run to Kettlewell, across the bleakest of moors, a long and lonely road. Change comes but slowly here. A photograph taken in the 1940’s would look no different to one taken today. I recall I have driven this road before, long ago, did it in an underpowered Mark 4 Cortina, but recall nothing of this narrowness, this zig-zagginess, this up and downness. I meet only two cars, going in the opposite direction. Both are fat four by fours, in the middle of the road, and going too fast. My how we moderns like to armour ourselves against the world, and in particular against the wild.

A topless roadster renders us more vulnerable, and appreciative. The sound of birds as I drive is as memorable as the dynamic, buttery light illuminating both the near and far distance.

Kettlewell is a coffee stop, the coffee not worth a mention beyond the odorous, Lycra clad cyclist with whom I share the tearoom. My anosmia can pick the most inconvenient windows into the world of scent.


kettlewell church glassKettlewell is also the Parish church, St Marys, which is definitely worth a mention, and a visit if you should be passing. Original construction is around 1120, but nothing of that founding Norman architecture remains, the whole of it being flattened in 1820. The whole of it was flattened again, excepting the tower, and rebuilt in 1883. Most striking about this church are the stained glass windows, by William Morris (but not that William Morris). Both Morris’s were good at stained glass. One achieved celebrity, the other did not.

After Kettlewell it’s the long run up the higher Wharfe, over the tops and down into Wensleydale, and finally Leyburn. Leyburn is the charity shop for books – a Paulo Coelho for 50p! Then the ubiquitous Cooperative store for this evening’s dinner, and finally a welcome return to the welcoming Grove for tonight’s bed, and tomorrow’s breakfast.

Leyburn is looking festive this afternoon, making preparations for its 1940’s weekend. I’ll be in Scarborough by then, and wish I’d timed my visit a little better.

The Voyo crashes within a few minutes of settling down to write. I am definitely auto saving every minute now, so lose nothing. I tickle through the Queen of Carrickbar (not sure about that title now) while overlooking the market square. Also, I recount the day in the journal, comb it for impression and meaning: lonely farms, quiet lives, a lonely land toured by armoured cars for the insulated rich to eat the roads.

I note the picture illustrating the Times (2) supplement is of a well heeled, nicely suited gent (with six figure salary) and his squeeze, a dauntingly posh looking woman in a figure hugging dress (who has a PhD and her own company). It’s a feature on an upper class dating site. They are posed to exude an air of aloofness. “You want to be like us”, they say, “but you aren’t affluent enough, darling”. I wonder if they are in love; undoubtedly they present a sexy aura, but I wonder if their lovemaking is as premeditated and utilitarian as their search for a suitably dynamic and wealthy match. We know the foolishness in this but we just can’t help ourselves indulging in it. Perhaps Ouspenski is right and we are indeed doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over. Is it because most of us are in life for what we can get out of it, rather than for what we can give?

So, day 2, and a spectacular drive, top down all the way, ending in a sunny Leyburn, a pretty little market town that is fast becoming my second home.

I retire early, and write.

The house was up the hill he supposed; he’d not bothered to seek it out yet, and would not be bothering unless his mood improved in the next half hour. Instead he had pulled in here by the promenade where he remembered being raised upon his father’s shoulders, on the evening of the last day of their holiday.

“We’ll come again, Finn? Eh boy? We’ll come again next year.”

Finn could hear him now, the enthusiasm in his voice, something durable, heroic even, and the firm feel of his father’s shoulders beneath him, and the certainty the man would not let him fall.

“They say you can see all the way to Ireland from here, Finn. Well, do you see it boy?”

And Finn replied that he could see it clearly, and that they must come again. But they did not return; his father was dead by winter, taken by a sickness that must already have been eating him hollow, even as Finn sat tall upon his shoulders, and it was just a myth that you could see all the way to Ireland from here. Words were just words and mostly empty. And on a day like this, you could see no distance at all.

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