Taking tea on the train

‘Everything stops for tea’.  Not if you take it on the train it doesn’t.  Just imagine.  You and your fellow guests are seated at an elegantly appointed table covered with a damask cloth.  Here are china cups and saucers, heavy cloth napkins, weighty cutlery. Before you, a Proper Cake Stand, prettily stacked with sandwiches (cucumber, of course, but also egg mayonnaise, ham and chutney and so on), two kinds of scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam on the side, and properly English cakes: chocolate cake, sponge cake, cream-filled meringues, tiny eclairs.  Attentive and charming service.  Unlimited pots of tea, of course too .

This was the scene that greeted us as we climbed aboard. The cucumber sandwiches have yet to arrive.

We were on the Wensleydale Railway, at the invitation of Susie and Pete, old friends from France and currently visiting England.

This is a heritage railway, staffed by volunteer enthusiasts, with engines and rolling stock from earlier times.  Our carriage had been built in about 1913, at the behest of the infamous director of the Titanic who dressed himself as a woman in order to make his escape from the sinking vessel in a lifeboat.  Our tea time experience was masterminded by the Institution at Bedale.

Here we are, enjoying our feast

Our tables were ranged down the middle of the carriage, enabling us all to have views of Wensleydale as we sat enjoying our tea.  The train chugged steadily along the track, offering views quite different from those available to us as we travel by road, or walk along country footpaths.  We were in another less hurried age, and enjoyed passing through little stations, past signal boxes pressed into service once more when trains like ours are on the move.

A level crossing, a signal box: just as I remember from childhood.

At Redmire, we had to dismount as the engine chugged away to turn round and pull us back once more to Bedale.  We had time to admire the rolling stock.

This was afternoon tea at its finest: a leisurely experience enabling us to put present worries aside, just for a couple of hours.

A troop of horses and a herd or two of sheep.

Horses in Middleham
Horses in Middleham

Have you ever had a flutter on who might win the Grand National or The Derby?  If you have, there’s a very good chance that the horse you fancied might have trained at Middleham.

Middleham’s a small town in Wensleydale of 800 or so inhabitants. You’ll notice its fine castle (Richard III stayed here) even before you get there.

Middleham Castle

And when you arrive, you’re as likely to see – no, you’re likelier to see – horses rather than pedestrians.  The principal industry of this little place, since about 1730, is training horses.  There are some 15 training establishments in town, and each of them may have up to 150 horses or more, aiming to be among the next generation of racehorses.

Every day clusters of riders take their charges up onto The Gallops to exercise and train them.  We citizens who come to the area to walk and take in the views have to play second fiddle, at least during morning exercises.

the-gallopsWho cares? On Thursday, we were happy to share the views and skyscapes with such magnificent beasts as we strode across the moorland.

Later on, we walked through Coverdale, past Tupgill, upwards through the tiny hamlet of Caldbergh along wild and little-frequented tracks.  Then it was sheep who were obliged to share their pastureland with us.  They were sure we’d have mangel-wurzels to offer them and hurried towards us. We hadn’t.  They were unimpressed.

sheep-at-the-gate

We left them to it. We had a walk to finish, preferably before lunchtime. And we rather hoped for something more appetising to eat than mangel-wurzels.

sheep-in-a-landscape

 

A walk with added history

This was a fine day for a walk, and a fine day to have a few history lessons thrown in

This is what we did.  Here’s our starting point at East Witton, about 15 miles from home. It’s a lovely small village of about 250 people, where most of the houses were built in the early 19th century round the extensive village green.

East Witton
East Witton

We passed through fields with views across the Dales.  We walked along a green lane, through woods, and eventually reached a wooded gorge through which the River Cover runs, and where we crossed over the charming stone bridge known as the Hullo Bridge.  It was quite a climb up the hill on the other side, and we were hoping for glimpses of Braithwaite Hall.  Too many trees in full leaf. We hardly glimpsed it.

It’s built on the site of a grange belonging to Jervaulx Abbey.  After the Dissolution of the Monasteries it continued as a sheep farm, as it had been under the monks.  This is an area where the monks of both Jervaulx and Fountains Abbey extended their influence widely: enormous numbers of sheepall over the region were managed from local granges where the lay brothers who cared for them lived.

The ruins of Middleham Castle.
The ruins of Middleham Castle.

We were nearly in Middleham now.  This is above all a horsey town.  The monks of Jervaulx bred horses, and brought them to the Moor to exercise them.  When the monks eventually went, the horses remained, as did the training tradition .  Middleham these days is home to around 15 racehorse trainers and 500 horses, yet it’s a small town of hardly more than 820 people.  It was too late for us to see the horses out on the Gallops this morning, so instead the first thing we saw was the castle, which dates back to 1190 and was the stronghold of the powerful Neville family from the 14th century.  Richard Plantagenet, later Richard III was sent here as a young man to be trained in arms by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, his cousin.

The earliest known portrait of Richard III (Wikimedia Commons)
The earliest known portrait of Richard III (Wikimedia Commons)

Warwick had the bad habit of changing sides throughout the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485) depending on whether the Yorkists or Lancastrians had the upper hand.  Eventually he came to a bad end when he was killed by the Yorkist King Edward IV and his younger brother Richard.  Edward gave Middleham Castle, and much else to Richard who lived there with his wife, virtually ruling the North of England, for 11 years.  When Edward died, Richard seized the throne and reigned for only 2 years before dying in August 1485 in the final battle of the Wars of the Roses, the Battle of Bosworth in Leicestershire.  And there his body remained for 517 years, before being exhumed from a car park in Leicester in 2012.

For us, Middleham was the site for a rather good picnic, followed by a visit to a teashop for an indifferent cup of tea, and even more indifferent cake.  But the calories were useful.  There were stiles to cross into fields deep in cut grass, waiting to dry off into hay:  a fine walled track Straight Lane – to walk along before reaching the River Cover, languidly passing over bleached white stones on its way to meet the River Ure.  We briefly touched the road once more as we passed Coverbridge Inn.  This dates from 1684, and was owned by the same family – the Towlers – till 1930.  Local legend has it that when the monks of Jervaulx were forced to disband in 1537 at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, they shared their secret recipe for Wensleydale cheese with the Towlers.  We shall never know.

A final walk along woodland paths, open farmland, fields enclosed by characterful drystone walling and we were back in East Witton.  A grand day.

‘Turn left at the last stile’

The walk begins as we leave Carlton.
The walk begins as we leave Carlton.

It was my turn to lead a walk on Tuesday.  I chose Coverdale. Here’s why.

The River Cover, which gives the dale its name, wanders through an isolated corner of Wensleydale. Here you’ll find hamlets with intriguing names like Swineside, Horsehouse and Gammersgill, a few abandoned leadworkings, a great many sheep, and not much else.  The principal settlement, Carlton, has 230 inhabitants and the main – the only – road to it is mainly single track.  This is where we began our walk.

Here were hillsides, close-cropped by sheep.  Here were ancient terraced field patterns showing that the area, even if lightly-populated now, has long been settled by farming communities.  Here were narrow steep-sided gills sheltered by glades of trees.  It offered a walk full of variety.

Sheep with her lambs.
Sheep with her lambs.

We yomped up and across meadows populated by those sheep and their curious, always hungry lambs, enjoying long-distance view across the fells. Curlews called above us.

Curlew - Wikimedia Commons
Curlew – Wikimedia Commons

We climbed over wooden stiles, stone stiles, ladder stiles and through narrow-gap-in-the -stones-stiles.  As we passed though woodland we sniffed the slightly acrid but appetising tang of early wild garlic.

Our coffee-stop view across the valley. Those stone barns are typical of Wensleydale and Coverdale.
Our coffee-stop view across the valley. Those stone barns are typical of Wensleydale and Coverdale.

Soon we could see our half-way point on the other side of the valley.  Horsehouse these days is a tiny collection of isolated homes.  But it gets its name from the days when it was a really important staging post for those making the long journey from the north (even as far away as Edinburgh)  to the south (London?).

And once we’d crossed the River Cover, we were in woodland again.  We found a grassy bank, complete with bluebells, tree trunks to sit on, fat white pebbles for the waters to tumble over: perfect comfort, perfect peace.

We had a young German guest, Felicia, with us for the day. You can see she's 40 years younger than the rest of us. She's climbing trees after the picnic.
We had a young German guest, Felicia, with us for the day. You can see she’s 40 years younger than the rest of us. She’s climbing trees after the picnic.

After lunch, curlews gave place to oystercatchers, with their smart black and white plumage and vivid orange beaks.

Oystercatcher - Wikimedia Commons.
Oystercatcher – Wikimedia Commons.

And then we came to the point in the walk where the instructions read ‘Turn left at the last stile’.  How mystifying.  How can you possibly know which the last stile is till you’ve passed way beyond it and not found another?  Ever-resourceful we found our way anyway, strode through Gammersgill, across a few final fields, and got to journey’s end not long before the day’s sunny warmth gave way to wind and showers.

Slipping through a narrow stile.
Slipping through a narrow stile.

A pretty perfect day really.

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Project Exhaust-a-twin at Easter

Easter holidays.  Time to have those ten-years-old grandsons over.  Time to keep them so busy they don’t have a chance to realise that ours is not a home stuffed with devices.  Not a smart phone in sight.

Let’s get them back to the past straight away, even before we get them back to our house.  Are they too old for an Easter Bunny hunt at Fountains Abbey?  Apparently not.  Not when there’s a chocolate bunny to eat at the end.  Are they too cool for egg and spoon races and egg-rolling down the hill?  Apparently not.

 

 

Would they like to visit ‘Forbidden Corner’?  They agreed they would, even though we failed to provide a description of what to expect.  We couldn’t.  It’s been described as ‘The Strangest Place in the World’.  Perhaps it is.  It’s a folly.  It’s a fantastical collection of follies.  It’s woodlands, walled gardens, mazes, tunnels, grottoes, built in the manner of a topsy-turvy collection of fairy tale castles in enchanted grounds.   Every stone putto is liable to pee on you as you walk past.  Every passage is too narrow, too low, too dark, and may lead nowhere.  You just want to try to get along it anyway, because at the end there may be another secret door, with halls of mirrors, or ever-changing fountains, or grotesque stone gremlins, or stepping-stones ….  And beyond, in every direction, the glorious countryside of North Yorkshire.

 

 

Next day, off to Brimham Rocks.  No child can resist the opportunity to climb and jump among these extraordinary tottering towers of balanced rock formations.  A visit there is a regular fixture for Alex and Ben.

 

 

And finally – yet more rocks.  Underground this time.  Stump Cross Caverns: limestone caves set about with stalactites and stalagmites, tinted in all kinds of shades from the iron and lead seams that also penetrate the area.  Gloomy, dark and mysterious, and guaranteed to fire the imagination.  Photographs courtesy of Ben.

 

 

In the evenings we sat round the kitchen table and played board games.  The London Game brought out everybody’s inner mean streak as we blocked other players in, or despatched them to the end of the line at Wembley Central.  Stone Soup gave us the opportunity to lie and lie again in an effort to get rid of all our cards.  All very satisfactory. A good time was had by all.

But Granny and Grandad would quite like a rest now.  Please.

 

The non-newsworthy walk

The story is – there is no story to tell about our walk near East Witton.

EastWitton28Feb2016 006

It was cold, frosty but bright so we stepped out energetically.  The day went on to be warm, breezy and sunny.  There was only one stile to climb over.  The ground was firm and frosty, but neither icy nor muddy.  Nobody slipped or fell over or got injured.

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The landscape was just right.  The gently undulating farmland of the Yorkshire Dales gave way to moorland whose picturesque bleakness was enhanced by the occasional lonely tree. We’d pause to take in the long-distance views across the Dales.  And as we returned through woodland to East Witton once more, there was a proper English parish church just asking to be photographed.  Nobody was displeased by the views.

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Our two pauses were ideal.  Mid morning, we had picture-postcard moorland views in front of us, and  the solid protection of a sturdy drystone wall behind.  We ate our lunchtime sandwiches in sheltered bosky woodland, with convenient benches in the form of tree trunks.  Nobody got cold, or wet, or lost their sandwiches.

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The energetic uphill stretches were all before lunch.  Our path afterwards returned us gently to the valley floor. So we got back to base after a gently-challenging workout.  Nobody was exhausted or fed up.

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So there’s nothing at all to tell you.

Oh hang on.  This will have to serve as our banner news headline.  ‘Hiker loses gloves on Wensleydale walk’.  That was me.  First one glove vanished, then the other.  But as anyone who knows me will tell you, this is not news at all.  It’s what I do most weeks during the winter.

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From Jervaulx to Jervaulx – in the mud

 

Jervaulx9thFeb2016 072

I first walked from Jervaulx to Jervaulx last April, and wrote about it here.  However, I failed to lead my fellow ramblers along the same route later that month as I’d said I would, because it rained…. and rained.  I’d promised them the walk though, and today was the day: bright, sunny, blustery – a perfect winter hike.  Except for one thing.  Those floods that have dominated British news this winter are still making their presence felt.

The ruins of Jervaulx.
The ruins of Jervaulx.

Our route today didn’t take us through pastureland.  Sheep aren’t very good at being knee-deep in mud. It took us through soggy fields, and past lake after lake after lake: waters that simply were not there last time I took this route.  It was all very pretty.  Less pretty was the scene at stiles.  Look at us skidding and sliding, trying to pick the shallower puddles as we waited out turn to get from one field to another.

We’re British though, always plucky in adversity.  We soldiered on, sometimes a little weary of heaving mud-crusted boots along sticky, sludgy paths.  But nobody fell over, nobody lost their sandwiches in the mud.  Everybody enjoyed those vistas over the Dales, the starkly beautiful skeletal outlines of winter trees, the blue skies, dappled with characterful cloud.  Were we glad to have made the effort?  Well, I was, and I think my steadfast and dependable companions were too.