Wednesday, August 20th. The morning air was chilly, just a little damp and drippy. Flowers in the borders hung their heads, their petals shabby and tired. Autumn has arrived. It does seem a little previous.
All the more reason to get out and about, before the days really close in. Ripon Ramblers chose to go to Harewood.
You’ll perhaps have seen Harewood House on TV recently, as that’s where the Tour de France really started from this year, after the Départ fictif from Leeds.* Half way between Leeds and Harrogate, it’s a playground for both towns, with its fine Adam-designed stately home, and extensive grounds designed by Capability Brown. At the time, the 1750s, investment in the slave trade brought immense wealth to the Lascelles family. Their descendents, the Earl and Countess of Harewood live in these fine surroundings built two and a half centuries ago. This stately home is regarded as being among the finest in Britain and is for the most part open to the public.
Our walk took us on a circular path that began outside the grounds, over farmland and with views across the Wharfe Valley. The route across the cow pastures was a bit of a puzzle. Weren’t those mango stones beneath our feet? And melon seeds? And even squashed tomatoes? The smell of rotting fruit wasn’t what we looked for on a country walk. Finally a young woman from a nearby stables helped us out. A local supermarket regularly dumps its surplus fruit at this farm for the cattle to enjoy. Four tons of fruit seemed to us to be remarkably poor stock control on the shop’s part, and we couldn’t help wondering what the cows’ insides made of this exotic diet.
Far more enjoyable were the autumn fruits that lined our route for much of the day. We gathered blackberries every time we felt hungry or thirsty. We enjoyed the sight of haws turning red, elderberries turning black, and prickly chestnuts swelling and fattening on the trees.
We completed our upward yomp, and walked along the ridge which offered a fine panorama across to the Crimple Valley and Harrogate beyond, to Almscliffe Crag, and even Ilkley Moor. Clouds in a dramatically cloudy sky were unloosing light rain into the nearby plain, and the breeze soon pushed the showers our way…..
….and then pushed them on again, so that we could enjoy a rain-free lunchtime picnic with all that view before us.
After lunch, we were in the grounds of Harewood. Not the formal grounds near the house itself, but areas of woodland, pasture, lakes, deer park and farmland. And in the distance we spotted a fake Dales village, only built in 1998. This is Emmerdale, used in filming the long-running soap of the same name. No filming that day, so we were soon on our way, hurrying now before the rain, promised for mid-afternoon, settled in to spoil our walk. We made it – just.
* The ‘départ réel’ of the Tour de France from Harewood signified the true beginning of the race. City centre Leeds was no place for cyclists to jockey for position, so riders just tootled out to Harewood on the ‘départ fictif’. Then the action started.
7.00 a.m. Sunday. 22 Ariègeois radios were switched on for the day’s weather forecast. ‘It’ll be an exceptionally sunny and hot day for the time of year, throughout France. Temperatures in the south will reach 23 degrees in some places.’ 22 satisfied listeners, members of the Rando del’Aubo, switched off their radios…. without bothering to listen to the end of the forecast. Instead they turned to the more important business of packing their rucksacks for a rather heavy-duty walk an hour and a half’s drive from Mirepoix, la Forêt d’en Malo.
With a stiff climb of 700 metres in prospect, a 14 km. walk isn’t a stroll in the park. But the payoff as you emerge from the forest is an extraordinary panorama of the Pyrénées, jagged teeth of rock emerging from the thickly forested mountainsides: especially lovely in autumn as the trees turn from yellow, through ochre, to magenta and crimson.
As we drove eastwards, the cloud and mist descended. We parked, we walked, we climbed, we scrambled and we struggled for three hours as the mists became ever damper and more clinging, and an unexpected cold wind whipped across the mountain side. And at the top, this was our view.
We hadn’t listened to the end of the forecast you see. What we should have known that our little patch of south eastern France was a little bad-weather cold spot. There we were bang in the middle of it.
Later, back at home, our smug families recounted how they’d spent the day in shorts and tee shirts. Maybe they’d had a little bike ride, a gentle stroll in the sunshine, a drink on the terrace in the hot sun……