It has been a lovely May. On a simply beautiful early summer day I went to York. The air was heavy with the fragrance of may blossom which looked like a light fall of snow on the hedgerows. Lilac, laburnum, montana clematis, wisteria and flowering cherry blossomed against a clear blue sky. Bluebells lined Harewood Avenue and the cow parsley stood as high as an elephant’s eye. Boston Spa looked as pretty as any Cotswold village. York looked spectacular.
I always find going to York rather special. It’s exciting just to be there. I feel the same about Edinburgh and, to a lesser extent, London. York nowadays is thoroughly geared up for the tourist industry, Stonegate and the Shambles particularly so. There is every type of place to eat and drink. There are still plenty of up-market shops like Mulberry Hall and Droopy & Brown as well as the usual Gaps, Nexts and Borders. Of course there are some tacky gift shops though surprisingly few. Some interesting independents selling a whole range of unusual items and collectors’ memorabilia exist. At the top of Stonegate, literally in the shadow of the Minster - it still takes my breath away - a shop selling an extensive range of second-hand books and antique prints survives. Though on what the agents would describe as a prime retail site, its prices are not noticeably inflated. On Micklegate, which remains cobbled, is another second-hand bookshop which still has a coal fire burning in the shop itself when it is cold.
On the way back I went to find the battlefield at Towton, never having been before. Towton is south of Tadcaster, itself between Leeds and York, in rich agricultural land. Here the forces of the House of York met those of the House of Lancaster on Palm Sunday in 1461. By the road, behind a holly tree and surrounded by nettles, is an old memorial to the battle. What I didn’t expect to find at the foot of this memorial were wreaths of white roses, red roses and poppies. I wonder who left them there. Who, after all these centuries, cares enough to remember in this way the 28,000 men who died in what is always described as the bloodiest battle on English soil?
The English football League season came to an end. Bradford City was, not unexpectedly, relegated from the Premier League so the only Yorkshire clubs still in it are Leeds United and Middlesbrough. Leeds finished fourth and reached the semi-final of the European Champions Cup but, as you know, you get nowt for coming second – let alone fourth. Middlesbrough had a season they would rather forget. Rotherham was promoted to the First Division. There are four south Yorkshire clubs in it now – Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Barnsley and Rotherham. Surely one of them can make it to the Premier sometime soon. Huddersfield Town is now in the Second Division after a cruel last day of the season. Hull City nearly folded. Halifax Town was almost thrown out of Division Three. Shall we say it hasn’t been a vintage year for Yorkshire football?
Not everyone is able easily to visit the place in which they grew up. I am fortunate that I can. When I do re-visit Halifax, as I did recently, and ‘go into town’, I always enjoy seeing the things and places which haven’t changed. Like the bike shop in New Road. In the Borough Market is that same smell – a strange mixture of meat, fruit and flowers and vegetables, baking, cheese, human sweat, disinfectant and age old dust. Blindfold I’d know where I was. My father hates it but for me it is a memory of childhood, a link with the past. At Wade’s – or Fred Wade Ltd, as the bags grandly say – in Rawson Street I swear that little has changed since I first went there forty years ago. The shop fittings are the same, stock is still in exactly the same place and the sales assistants look to be the same people. The lady who served me last week did use a calculator to add up my bill; I was disappointed because I was hoping she’d have a pencil behind her ear. Leaving Halifax I even saw a bus in the old green and cream and orange livery of Halifax Corporation.
Foot and mouth disease continues to cause misery to farmers in the Dales though the Government says it’s under control. No one believes them. Settle is like a garrison town. There are riots of racial groups in Bradford and Leeds but the Government pretends it isn’t happening. The main party leaders ended their General Election campaigns in Castleford and Scarborough using arguments and slogans which had a subtlety which would disgrace an infants’ school playground. On a happier note, a friend at the Princess is getting married at the weekend. Then they are going to live in Denver, Colorado. That global village again. We have, of course, bought them a picture of Yorkshire to take with them.
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