I really needed to try and get my soaked boots dry by morning and considered my options. Reeth’s shop had finally closed forever so I’d not been able to buy anything. The map showed two pubs. One further than I fancied squelching in bare feet and sandals, so I splashed along the road to the nearest one instead. Saw a sign I’m still thinking about today.
Village pubs seem to fall into categories these days. Some thrive as they always did or anew with thrusting, hardworking owners. Others seem to hang on to a handful of dispossessed, lost souls. People who had been something, somewhere once, and now seem unable to give up their mantle. And now sit alone in pubs talking to uneasy young staff.
This pub was a bit like that, early that evening, at least. The arrangement of chairs, tables and one particularly oversized customer meant you couldn’t actually get to the bar and if you somehow did, you couldn’t really get back out. The superb food made up for it though.
A young barman seemed particularly uncomfortable to be there. He was even more awkward about serving food and tried to take mine off me twice before I’d finished, despite me being one of only a handful of customers.
“Was that alright?” he asked as he tried to take it away (again).
“It was so good I’d like another”.
“Well, you can’t. Kitchen’s closed”.
“Oh, I thought it closed in an hour?”
“No”, he looked over at the bar, (and a new customer I guessed was the chef) “it’s closed now”.
People judge the hospitality business constantly. Make themselves momentarily, minutely important by resorting to bitter online reviews about the most trivial things. I find poor service nostalgic rather than annoying. I’ve always left cash tips provided they don’t go to the owner (a legacy of my job as a waiter for the Haworth cutthroats), and only don’t when they’re bafflingly bad, like this lad. Time for an early night.
The bike centre (it really is an excellent place) had laid on enough free wi-fi to call my wife and let her know I’d dried out. Check my plans for tomorrow.
I woke to a morning chorus of cheerful, competitive farting from Barf End. A lively gang were next door and had been to the other pub for a great time and a late night. Whilst taking turns with the shower they bloke-ily asked if I’d “had a woman in with me last night”.
“Oh no, a facetime call to the wife. Great to find a signal round here!” I said.
“Don’t go telling anyone that…loose lips sink ships! Our families think we can’t be reached when we’re here” they confided, nudged and winked. “We didn’t see you in the pub?”
“I went to the Bridge. Bit like that grumpy café in Gunnerside, isn’t it?”
“Oh!!” they all shouted “Oh!! He’s only gone and done the Dales Double! Ha Ha Ha!!!”
By luck or design I’d found the two least hospitable, hospitality businesses in the Dales. The cyclists had a reet good laugh about that. “You should’ve gone to the Buck! It’s great there”.
They recounted their experiences of Dales cycling and their run-ins at that particular café. One of them noticed my Autistic Society t-shirt and as the latest wave of laughter died down said, “actually, you know what. Seeing that shirt makes me think there’s something more going on with the chap in that café.”
Everyone became a bit more thoughtful at that, myself included. It’s hard to tell when you walk in on an argument, as I’d done at the café. Perhaps something entirely different had been at work, there.
They’d been to the Bridge Inn too, just for last orders to buy the infamously glum young lad a pint on his last-ever shift. I wondered if there’d been something else going on there with the lad too. It’s easy to misjudge miscommunication as a deliberate thing. But some people find it exceptionally difficult. Tricky to negotiate for other reasons.
I have very little experience of autism and Asperger’s. Chris Packham made an exceptionally good TV documentary about it recently. Before then, I’d once spent a morning trying to guide an autistic person through the idea of appropriate and inappropriate topics of workplace discussion.
We talked about respect for others, discrimination, sensitivity, equal opportunities and intolerance. They assured me they understood my many points and added much to the conversation. As I stood to leave, saying I had to get back for a hair appointment I used one of my mum’s phrases “I can’t be late for the barber’s or I’ll look like the wild man of Borneo!”.
My colleague laughed loudly and said “Yes! Complete with a penis gourd!”.
I paused, still only halfway up from my chair. Sat back down, realising our discussion hadn’t really worked. I’d been naive to think it might. I explained that the ‘wildman of Borneo’ is an old name for orang-utan, which happened to match my childhood hair colour and curls. Not an actual person. They weren’t to have automatically known this, I realised. It was my fault for saying it. “But I can’t see any problem, I’m only complimenting your virility” they replied.
Oh, heck. “Err, yeah, right. Errrm. OK. I think we now better talk about that as well…” I’d said.
The weather was due to be worse today. I retraced my steps back to Reeth and uphill past the pub I ‘should’ve gone to, ha-ha-ha’, to an old school that sits unusually high, outside the village on the actual Coast to Coast route itself.
As I waited for the class to file in to assembly, I saw their copy of The Lost Words, gifted by Yorkshire campaigners Amy & Paddy. Nice touch with a bookplate. I might need one of them, if I managed to pull this off. I looked for some of the children from the farm I’d stayed at two days ago, but I wasn’t sure which might be here.
Sidney was right, they do switch schools daily round there maybe to help with reducing the distance to schools, and to best serve their communities. He’d been here yesterday but was back over there today so I never did get a chance to talk to him again after all.
As I walked slowly back to the village centre, a movement caught my eye. A fledgling warbler of some sort, hiding in the wall. I knew the feeling. I wasn’t relishing the prospect of another day overflowing with rain.
In the village centre, a brightly coloured goretex caterpillar began to assemble. The reluctant Coast to Coast conga of walkers, who timed their morning departure with the arrival of their luggage-carrying ‘Sherpavan’.
I’d had my backpack on for the school, but most of my luggage was drying back at the cycle cafe, so I diplomatically sped past them, back to the cycle café. I really wasn’t keen on walking with a random group but loved meeting other walkers by chance, like sheep that pass in the night.
I saw the worst of today’s rain would continue until late morning so decided to stay as long as possible. I could hear the manager, Stuart on the phone politely asking the Environment Agency if they realised their complicated system of confusing alerts and warning levels were gradually destroying his business and village. People were ringing to ask if we were OK, expecting all the roads to be closed and lives at risk. “It’s just rainy!” he protested. I suspect not for the first time.
I strung out an excellent breakfast, eavesdropping on the happy band of cyclists in a room filled with racing colours and the most impressive cakes, I’d seen in over fifty miles.
They explained they met there regularly, to cycle loops from there whatever the weather, on and off road. As they left, I decided to stay longer comforted by a gorgeous cake served by an equally sweet woman. The café filled up slowly, until an old chap came in and asked if he could share my table.
He’d come to read the bike magazines and talk cycling. I’d stopped watching all that when Abdoujaparov crashed on the Champs Elysees sprint in 1991. So I didn’t know what Froom had just been up to. I assumed it was drugs. Usually is, with competitive men’s cycling now.
He told me how he’d raced decades ago, back when aggression was more important than exercise. He was known as ‘The Bull’, charging past or through his competitors. He was retired now and drove a delivery truck, although he said he was partly blind. Which made me think. Nice to meet a local legend. And great company for avoiding the rain that bit longer.
As I got up to leave, the woman with the scrumptious cakes stopped me to tip out what she had in her purse, into my hand. She also worked in schools too. Said she’d loved hearing me tell ‘The Bull’ what I was up to. I don’t know her name, so when I logged her donation, I just called her The Cake Angel.
The fields of fewer colours had made livestock the most interesting things to see. As I switched to a back lane and approached some trees I was suddenly buzzed by 10, 12, 15 swallows, darting under the boughs and around me at head height, catching their insect lunches. I stood there and watched for ages, failing miserably to capture their speed, swerves and skills on film. I stood so still they flew straight at my face, around me, just above my head. Lifting my spirits with their energy.
Found a bench that reminded me to share my news online that Jackie Morris’s gilded riverstone and I had both made it to Yorkshire. On a better, longer day, Marrick Priory was a place I’d have liked to visit but in this rain, I climbed the Nuns’ steps (was there really 375?) through dripping trees.
Unlike yesterday’s stepping stones, these were all treacherous underfoot and I soon lost count, due to repeatedly swearing. No nuns were within earshot – King Henry VIII evicted them five hundred years ago.
When I’d planned my walk, I’d assumed I’d rest or catch up at weekends when schools were shut. I’d never been to Richmond before so it seemed a good place to stay, and suggested my wife came to join me there. A nice idea until we saw the local prices…
The Air B&B website had rescued us, providing somewhere for the first night then somewhere we could move into for our weekend. I wondered if Bea would be driving past me at some stage as I weaved between woodland, field and roadsides.
As I dropped down to a road junction, it felt like time to stop. A cool, marble and stone shelter had been built by a former owner of Marske Hall. I’ve very few photos as my waterproof phone was finally waterlogged. The sign gave me good advice – ‘time to tarry awhile’ sitting half in/half out of the rain.
I found an unexpected Lost Word for June – a conker cached in the limestone junction marker.
A nearby placename made me consider the question “what’s a raven’s worth?”. There’d been a ridiculous request to cull ravens, thrown out by the Scottish government a month before I set off.
A remarkable scientist called Ruth Tingay and the Scottish Raptor Study Group had scored a genuine victory for wildlife through legal action and perseverance. If you’d like to know more take a look at this blog (it also contains the best close-up photo of a Raven, ever).
I thought about all this as I walked deeper into the shooters’ domain.
My mind turned to some of the more recent wildlife crimes committed by gamekeepers and others. And the spurious spin by those who try to hide behind curlews, including aristocratic MPs like terrible car parker Richard Grosvenor-Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax to ex-England cricketer and now all-round alpha-fool Ian Botham. People who like to kill birds (temporarily) classed as wildlife, for fun.
There’s something deeply rotten with where traditional rural pastimes have ended up. The old scenes once worth immortalising in oils, of a day spent stalking something for the pot, have been swapped for a real-life shoot ‘em up video game.
Instead of teenagers in bedrooms blasting endless zombies, people with more money than they deserve, chase ‘high scores’ by shooting all they can, (once someone’s been paid to drive them there and put a loaded gun in their liver-spotted hands. And some others paid to help scare the unknowing targets towards them).
The lust for high scores has seen war waged on anything that might get in the way of what they want to kill. From mountain hares to short-eared owls, and from legal to illegal activity, there are some awful sideshows around some of the shooting scene nowadays. And an awful lot of blind eyes being turned.
I felt cold for the first time in over a week now. As I set off, I passed a secluded church. I should have tarried there instead.
A sign promised all kinds of bargain treats, from fruit juices and blister creams, fairtrade chocolates and all kinds of goodies, this kind congregation in Marske had really pulled out all the stops for their passers-by. Light shone through those dark thoughts I’d been having…
Soon a magnificent wooded valley view opened up. The first landscape worth stopping to look at properly that day, even in pouring rain, just within the edges of the national park. A fine balance of trees and fields, hedges and rocks. I’m not from round there, but it felt almost like home. Despite getting steadily wetter I was getting steadily more cheerful too.
I walked through woodland towards the edge of Richmond. Saw the biggest pheasant feeders I’ve ever seen. Looked in one and found a hospital-visit sized bottle of Lucozade. It was all a bit odd. I won’t dwell on pheasants. It’s too weird, but then, these barrels of birdseed brought them up. So…
Tens of millions of pheasants and game birds are imported from abroad each year, with similar numbers reared intensively in the UK, to be shot by people with varying levels of skill. Each winter fly-tipped sacks of dead pheasants are found on roadsides, as there’s now so very little interest or money in their lead-riddled meat.
There’s a point in the year when the biomass (living weight) of pheasants is more than all the other birds in the country added together. Just think about that once more. We introduce a non-native, captive bird by the million, reclassify it temporarily as ‘wildlife’, shoot some by scattering lead, and leave the rest to starve, or compete with native wildlife for any food left in their fields and woodlands. Slightly less than half of the thirty five million pheasants released are officially shot.
This horror-show has never been properly assessed for its environmental impacts. The abandoned birds become carrion, sustaining far higher numbers of corvids and foxes, cascading problems elsewhere in the foodchain. This leads to requests from those affected by this, and most ironically, those responsible for this, to ask about trapping and shooting these creatures too.
The millions of pheasants eat reptiles, amphibians, insects and seed which could sustain other life and would have had a part to play in the wild web of life. And every now and then, they leap in front of cars causing accidents, damage and even death. What are they thinking? (Not the pheasants. The shooters). Over a million pheasants live (for a while, anyway) in just one North Yorkshire postcode (YO61, since you’ve asked).
But as I said, I won’t dwell on this. Those huge barrels in the woods started this. (I didn’t take photos but here’s an example of a much smaller barrel near Keld, currently ruining the view of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, from the high level option of the Coast to Coast route).
An equally sullen man walked towards me, the only person I’d seen for hours. His boots identified him as a gamekeeper. We had nothing to share or say to one another.
I saw a bizarre sign which compounded my feeling of being unwelcome. A weird banner about some kind of mindful retreat being marketed at people with so much money, they needed rescuing from their burdensome wealth.
The plaque marking the town boundary also had some splendid words from Wainwright, about the walk and the place. The presence of a planter of pansies baffled me, but kept some volunteers in bloom, I guessed. The promise of an awesome panorama was only available if you climbed up on the bench and stood on tip toes, but the weather had stolen what remained of the view that day…
I took a short cut through a field littered with animal skulls then a cemetery (probably also littered with skulls, now I think about it). Walking into the first big town since visiting the bootshop at Keswick was disorienting.
I grabbed a petrol station pasty mainly due to lack patience (and imagination) and mooched through the town past one, two, three, four schools. Naturally, in keeping with custom, I’d just realised my room for the night was on the very far side of town, another mile or so than I really wanted to go…
New housing on the outskirts redefined modern gardens as the places where wildlife and dreams go to die. A pasture-fed butchers shop was a sight for sore eyes. Pasture-fed meat is so much healthier than the cheap stuff that only helps fatten us all up for hospital. (Eat less, better meat. Here endeth the lesson).
I saw the father and son I’d met near Kisdon Force a couple of days ago. Glad they’d made it along that scary path I’d suggested. The tables had been turned and they now looked very smart and fit and quite sorry for me, soaked to the skin, my face dusted with flakes of a tasteless pasty.
I walked past a cornershop of schoolkids (hadn’t known cigarettes were still a teen rebel thing) and into an estate of sixties boxes. I couldn’t feel more like an alien in this strange yet familiar land. As I rounded the final corner I saw a car I recognised, with the boot lid up.
I walked around the side of the car. Said “hello, love”. I’d walked ten miles of great contrast that day, of light and of dark in all senses, yet had somehow arrived within a minute of Bea, who’d driven over fifty winding miles to meet me.
Telepathy? Timing? Terrific.
We still talk about that moment of meeting as one of the best we’ve had in our 25 years.