THE MOORS The day dawned cold, overcast and windy but patches of sunlight were occasionally breaking through to brighten and warm the land. We left the hall at 12:30 after having drinks in the main lounge of Sutton Hall with the other, mostly snobbish guests¹. We drove up the steep gradient of Sutton Bank and had a look through the information centre at the top.
Eager to explore the Yorkshire Moors we headed off through the rolling, windswept wheatfields, slowly climbing higher until the farmland gave way to the bleak moorland. En route we spent an hour or so looking at the impressive ruins of Rievaulx Abbey. The Abbey was founded in 1131 by Cistercian Monks from Clairvaux in France. The Abbey prospered for several centuries, but overspending by the monks on building a huge cathedral put the Abbey into debt which it never recovered from and by the time of the Dissolution only 28 monks remained of the 200 to 300 which once lived in the Abbey at its height.
Up on the moors it was cold but very very beautiful. The endless expanse of heather was reddish brown with patches of purple flowers to break the monotony. Amongst the heather grazed scraggly blackface ewes, their long coarse wool giving them ample protection from the harsh wind.
The road led down off the moors through small wooded gullies in most of which a small neat village nestled. It twisted and wound in and out of small valleys, crossing and recrossing small creeks and finally it led us back to Sutton Hall.
¹Sutton Hall is an 18th century manor house which had been converted into eight timeshare apartments.
We got up at 8 and packed up then walked down to Waterloo after saying goodbye and thanks to Lucy who was still in bed, and Alex who was an hour late for work. Over at Helen and Brian’s hotel we waited while they checked out and then we caught a black cab around to South Kensington where we picked up their hire car – a Volkswagen Jetta – from the AA hire car department.
It was reasonably easy to find our way from South Kensington through Knightsbridge and onto the Edgeware Road which led to the M1 motorway. There was a lot of traffic and we had to sit amongst a couple of tailbacks so when we got as far north as Leicester we turned off and took some of the A-roads¹ leading North through endless rolling feels of cereal crops to the Humber River. Across the huge Humber Bridge we drove into the rolling hill country of South Yorkshire. It was raining and cold but still the countryside was very pretty and soon we turned off the A19 at Thirsk and drove the last 4 miles to the village of Sutton-under-Whitestonecliffe.
The huge 17th century mansion of Sutton Hall was like a palace to Linda and I after our adventures of the last 2 years. Helen and Brian’s suite contained two bedrooms, a huge lounge, kitchen and bathroom and the place was full of comfortable furniture and Nouveau antiques. As we settled in we couldn’t believe our luck!!
¹Roads in Britain are designated M for motorways, A for main roads and B for secondary or back roads.
We met Lyd, Jen and Megan Francis for breakfast at the pub when Lyd and Jen work in Mayfair. We had a great couple of hours laughing and talking there. Then we walked up to Piccadilly Circus and met H&B in the London Pavilion. First of all we took them up to the top of NZ House for a look at London then walked up Whitehall and had lunch at a restaurant by Westminster Bridge.
After lunch we sent them off on a cruise down the Thames and we sat in Parliament square for a couple of hours until they got back. It was 4:30 by then so we walked up to Westminster Abbey and got there just in time to be let in for Evensong. We sat in the front pews of the great Cathedral next to the altar where’ for a thousand years, kings and queens have been married, crowned and buried, and listened to the exquisite voices of the choir echo around the church.
When we left the Abbey, we caught a bus over to Oxford Circus and went to Break for the Border for dinner. Later, back at the nurse’s hostel we watched music videos that went to bed.
Colin arrived to pick us up at 10:30 as arranged and we drove over to Hammersmith to pick up his mate John from a flat there. It took about half an hour to get clear of London and outside Heathrow Airport I took over the driving as Colin was buggered after a weekend on the piss!
At 85mph it didn’t take long to cross the Southwest of England on the M4 Motorway and we crossed the severn Bridge and into Wales at about 1:30. After following a maze of road signs we eventually found Griffithstown at the bottom of one of the small valleys that run down towards Newport. We went to a pub to collect our thoughts and have a beer then found Coed-y-Gric road and Number 17¹.
Colin and John headed back to Bristol and Janice and Brian came out to meet us. They are really nice people and live in a comfortable, untidy house with their daughter Rachel and their 12 year old dog Topsy. Their son David is out in NZ for a year. After we had settled in they took us for a drive around the area. We first went to a lookout above town where we could get the lie of the land and in all directions, green rolling hills led up to barren windswept tops above. As we drove from one valley to the next we passed through many tiny villages, their terraced rows of houses clinging to the steep valley walls. Once, all of these villages would have serviced a colliery but nowadays the mines have all closed and hard times have come to the valleys.
The landscape of South Wales is honeycombed with old mine workings and massive piles of tailings tower overhead. Sheep grazed green fields between the villages. Back at the house we had a cup of tea then went on one of the Maurice family’s nightly pub crawls ending up back at home at about 10:30…pissed!
¹ My cousin Janice (a New Zealander) and her husband Brian lived on this street in the town of Pontypool.
We worked and it was hot and boring. The only redeeming feature of the day was when Colin (one of the regular drinkers at The Red Lion) and offered us a lift to Newport, in Wales, for tomorrow. If that plan works out (Colin is very hard to motivate) it will save us a good few pennies in train fares!
I had a severe headache after last night’s effort so was slow to get going this morning. We did a bit of shopping down the street then at about 12:30 we took Harry’s and Jim’s bikes and cycled over to St. James’ Park where we lay in the shade amongst a sea of white Pommy bodies in various stages of undress!
We made our way over to Hyde Park and I left Linda in a shady spot while I went and bought KFC which we ate while watching the sunshiny activity going on around us.
By the time we had cycled back to the pub we were tired and sweaty so we both had cold showers then set to work packing our stuff, which involved another ruthless session of throwing things away.
About 9:30 we went downstairs for a few drinks then then walked up to the phone-box where Linda rand home and talked to her mother. We settled some details with her about their forthcoming trip to the UK (Linda’s parents were coming from New Zealand to visit in July) and she gave me one of her usual lectures about being careful while we were travelling in Greece and Turkey!
After work Linda and I wandered down to the river and walked downstream to a pub called the Founder’s Arms built right on the riverbank. We spent a couple of hours there rubbing shoulders with all the yuppies and one smelly and quite mad old dosser!
We took our time walking back as it was a gorgeous evening with the sun creating a dazzling light show on the walls of the NatWest Tower away over behind the gold-topped spire of St. Paul’s.
Brian gave me the morning off to make up for working all day on Sunday so I took Jim’s bike again and headed off at 8:00 into the hot and hazy morning. I rode over to the Embankment and turned left downstream to Tower Bridge. The traffic on the roads was really heavy but on a bike I could nip in and out of the rows of cars.
After I had crossed Tower Bridge the first place I stopped to explore was St Katherine’s Docks, one of the first of the old Thames docks to be re-built. What was once a seedy and atmospheric old shipping dock is now a haven for the yachts of the rich surrounded by sterile apartment buildings but it was quite picturesque so I took a few photos then moved on, parallel with the river through rows of renovated warehouses on cobbled streets.
After a mile or so I came across the Prospect of Whitby pub, the oldest riverside pub in London and the place where, in times long gone, sailors would go to look for work on the ships of the English Merchant Navy.
Another few miles brought me to the Isle of Dogs where the huge monstrosity of the Canary Wharf development is going on. I didn’t linger long amongst the noise and traffic there and left the towering cranes behind to go and find the river again. Eventually, after traipsing around a series of bland dead-end streets I found a park with the river on the opposite side of it. I stopped for a rest here and decided that this would be the furthest downstream I would go on this trip.
It took about 3/4 of an hour to get back to Tower Bridge as I explored some of the leafy backstreets of Wapping en route. I left the river at the Tower of London and pushed my bike up the hill to St. Paul’s and pottered about in that area for a while, gradually working my way back to Parliament Square and back to the pub via Lambeth Bridge.
After work I borrowed Jim’s bike and cycled over to the Greek Tourist Agency on Lower Regent Street and picked up our flight tickets then biked back to the pub. Louie [a former barmaid and our friend] rang up at 5:30 and suggested that we meet her and Jenny [another former Red Lion barmaid] at Break for the Border on Tottenham Court Road, so we caught a bus over to Trafalgar Square and walked up Charing Cross Road to the restaurant near Oxford Street. We had a good laugh there drinking sangria and eating spicy Mexican food while listening to a shit-kicking rock and roll band.
From Break For the Border we walked to the pub where Jenny works called The White Hart on Drury Lane and had a few drinks there.