It was a brilliantly fine day and we left Linton and drove along the narrow winding roads leading south along the incredibly rugged coast. We had lunch on a promontory overlooking the hazy blue sea then turned inland and headed for Exeter. When we got there we spent a couple of hours looking around and Linda got her hair cut. Helen and Brian had got themselves into a hotel so Linda and I drove out to the Youth Hostel and checked in there.
In the evening, Brian shouted us tea at a place called Mad Megs weather meals were huge!
Linda and I were up early and cooked a small meal of toast and boiled eggs for breakfast then checked out of the hostel and walked down to the village. It was a beautiful morning, cool and fine, and the haze amongst the hills gave promise a hot day to come.
Our first stop after meeting Helen and Brian was the local slate mining museum. We spent about an hour there looking at the fascinating exhibits of the equipment and techniques used in slate mining, along with the methods and equipment needed to keep the mine going. Along with the working demonstration of slate dressing there was a huge smithy, a foundry, a mould-making factory and a huge water wheel, 50 ft 5 inches in diameter and capable of delivering a massive 80 horsepower when it was operating. Along with the Imperial War Museum in London it was the best museum I’ve seen in England so far.
When we left the village, we drove up to the top of the llanberis Pass where hordes of dickheads were sitting out on the epic climb of the towering 3,240 foot giant Snowdonia. We had a cup of tea halfway down the other side of the pass with a thick haze spoiling the otherwise spectacular views of Snowdon and the surrounding mountains.
A while later we stopped for lunch on a small back road and at about 12:45 we arrived in Blaenau Ffestiniog, a slate-mining town. All around us, the hills had been torn apart by the quest for slate and there were huge piles of waste rock shimmering in the hot afternoon sun.
Linda, Bryan and I descended 400 ft underground for a tour of the huge cabins left by the slate miners last century. It was deathly cold and damp in the labyrinth of passages and caverns but they were a truly amazing sight: a monument which will stand forever to the tenacity of the humans who toiled their lives away in the cold darkness. When we left Blaenau Ffestiniog we drove and drove and drove, making it as far as Abergavenny by 8 PM. We all stayed in a B&B for the night.
SNOWDONIA As we drove further into Wales the hills became higher and more rugged and soon we were following a long u-shaped valley up to a low pass. On the other side of the pass we came to the town of Bethesda, Gareth’s¹ home town, nestled on the side of the valley across from the huge scar left by a slate mine which had destroyed a large part of the valley.
From Bethesda we went to LLANFAIRPWLLGWYLLGOGERYCHWRYNDROBWLLLLANTSILIOGOGOGOCH, the town which, supposedly, has the longest name in the world.
When we reached Bangor, we went to an information centre then drove up the little alpine village of llanberis [pronounced clan-berris] at the foot of Mount Snowdon. We spent a couple of hours riding on a rather boring little railway which ran up one side of the lake and back again. Above the town, the huge scars of the slate quarries are now used as a storage lake for a hydroelectric scheme.
Linda and I stayed the night at the youth hostel.
¹Avid followers of this blog will remember Gareth from our time picking cherries in the Australian town of Young back in October 1988.
On our way out of the Lake District we visited the Stott Park Bobbin Mill, where, for 167 years, people toiled at the laborious job of making cotton reels and bobbins. Then, we hit the road and drove down through Liverpool and into North Wales where we spent the night in a farmhouse B&B.
THE LAKES DISTRICT After a huge breakfast we left Sedbergh and drove the 19 miles over a range of low hills and down to Windermere. It was just as we had expected: crawling with tourists, so we caught a ferry across the lake. We drove along the edge of the lake then over a hill to Hawkshead where we found a YHA for us and a B&B for Helen and Brian.
We spent the day exploring the beautiful hills and lakes around Hawkshead and even though they were as crowded as hell it was still very nice. Helen and Brian took a boat up Coniston water (the lake where speedboat racer Donald Campbell met his end) and Linda and I drove up to the head of the lake to meet them. While we waited we sat on some rocks beside the mirror-calm lake watching the mist slowly descend until it began to rain.
We visited Grassmere briefly but it was pissing with rain by now so we drove back to Hawkshead. That night at the youth hostel some miserable fucker pinched my jandals¹.
¹My jandals (aka flip-flops) had been with me through all of our adventures in Africa, Greece and Turkey only for some cunt in a British YHA to steal them!
We packed up and left Sutton Hall and drove over the beautiful hills of the Dales to a small village called Sedbergh just inside Cumbria. Helen and Brian stayed in a B&B Linda and I stayed in a static caravan in the backyard which was only half the price. We had tea in a pub in the village.
We went and visited the Peacocks¹ in Malton. They have a 400 acre farm where they grow potatoes, wheat, barley, beans and rapeseed. We also visited Castle Howard, a huge stately home where [the TV series] Brideshead Revisited was filmed.
¹Rosa Peacock is a relation of mine on my father’s side. Originally a Tripp from Orari Gorge Station near Geraldine, my hometown in New Zealand, she had married an English farmer from near the town of Malton in Yorkshire.
YORK We got to York, the second oldest city in England, at 10:30 and after we had parked the car we walked up into the centre of town. We went to the information centre and got some info on the city then caught a sightseeing bus for a tour around York.
York has a history as long and as chequered as London. It was founded in the year 71AD by the Romans on the banks of the river they named The Ouse, which means The River of Clear Water. After the Romans left in the 5th century the city was occupied by various Barbarian tribes until the invading Vikings took it and renamed it Jorvik from which the name York is derived. The Normans conquered York just three weeks after they defeated Harold’s forces at Hastings and built a castle there soon after, in 1068. The only part of the original castle that remains is Clifford’s Tower.
The city is surrounded by a large wall much of which is still standing and has 4 gates or bars: Monk Bar (West), Micklegate Bar (South), Bootham Bar (North) and Walmgate Bar (East). Walmgate contains one of only three remaining intact barbicans in Europe and is the only one in England.
York Minster dominates the city. It is the fifth church to stand on the site, the first being a small wooden oratory where the Northumbrian king Edwin was baptised in 627AD. A stone church followed and this was rebuilt in 670 by King Wilfred. This building was destroyed by the fire in 1069 and the Norman Minster was begun in 1070 by Thomas Beyer, the first Norman Archbishop. This building was also damaged by fire and the present building was begun in 1220. It took 250 years to build and is the largest mediaeval cathedral in Britain. It is 524 feet long and 249 feet across the transept.
After lunch we all split up and I walked the circuit of the city walls then we all met at the foot of Clifford’s Tower. The tower stands on a grassy mound thrown up by William the Conqueror in 10 days shortly after the Norman Conquest. Henry II received the surrender of William, King of Scots, there in 1175 and in 1190, 500 persecuted Jews committed suicide there. The present stone tower was begun in 1245 during the reign of Henry III and took 13 years to complete. The tower has a quatrefoil plan (four circles) and is reached by 55 steps leading to a portcullis door. The interior of the tower was destroyed in 1684 when a fire caused a powder magazine to blow up.
Dick Turpin was tried and hanged in York in 1738.
Our last visit in York was to the Jorvik Viking Centre where I struck a pewter coin. The two dies used for the coin were unearthed in the Copper Gate excavation which uncovered the Viking remains under York in 1976. One side of the coin shows the St Peters Penny which was first struck under the Viking Kings of York (AD 910-920) and shows a cross, a sword and the hammer of Thor. The other side comes from a penny of the Anglo-Saxon King Athelstan who drove the Vikings out of Northumberland. He proclaimed himself to be “King of all Britain” and reigned from AD927-938.
HERIOT COUNTRY Northallerton Market proved to be a bit of a letdown. We wanted to go to a stock market but it had been cancelled due to lack of interest as all the farmers were at the Yorkshire Show. So Beat and I just pottered round while Helen and Linda went shopping.
About 12:30 we set off towards the town of Richmond to find the Yorkshire Dales. Richmond is dominated by Richmond Castle, an imposing mediaeval fortress built on a cliff overlooking a bend in the Swale River. The castle was begun in 1071 and over the following 500 years it was owned by numerous families of royal descent. But because it was of little strategic importance, the castle hardly played any part in the momentous events that helped shape England during that period.
Much of the original masonry is still intact and along with the White Tower in the Tower of London and the great tower of Colchester Castle is the only masonry remaining from the first 20 years after the Norman Conquest. We climbed to the very top of the battlements and looked out over Richmond and its surrounding countryside, and explored the extensive remains of the triangular outer curtain wall in which was set many small sally ports, arrow slits and other small openings. Some of the east wall has collapsed and what remains is tilting way out of plumb as the foundations have subsided over the centuries.
When we left Richmond we began following the directions from a leaflet which took us deep into the heart of the Yorkshire Dales to some of the places where All Creatures Great and Small¹ was filmed. Dark and brooding storm clouds covered the land as we drove through some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen. Endless rolling hills were covered in a labyrinth of dry stone walls and everywhere we looked the neatly built walls and farm buildings covered the land.
We followed Swaledale to Gunnerside where we had afternoon tea then followed a steep road up over the tops which were enveloped in a thick mist. We stopped to look at some curious rock formations called the Buttertubs then a bit later on an old lead smelter before dropping down into Wensleydale.
The lovely market town of Askrigg stands in as Darraby in the TV program and a house called Crinkly House is the Skeldale House of the story. The local pub, The King’s arms, doubles as Darraby Drovers Arms and the Wheatsheaf Pub India by capable as we’re James and Helen spent their honeymoon. Further along the valley is Castle Bolton where James proposed to Helen and where, in real life, Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned.
That night, after tea, Linda and I went for a walk through the trees behind Sutton Hall. We met h and b on the street so we went for a drink at t’pub!
¹ The TV series All Creatures Great and Small was based on the books by James Heriot about life as a vet in North Yorkshire. The story was set in the fictional town of Darraby and the filming locations on the moors were part of a popular tourist drive.