Late Summer 2003

Candida Lycett Green’s book ‘Over the Hills and Far Away; An English Odyssey’ is now in paperback (Black Swan). She is the daughter of John Betjeman and, having successfully fought breast cancer, set off in August 2000 to travel on horseback 200 miles through Yorkshire, County Durham and Northumberland. The book describes the journey through what she would call ‘unwrecked England’ and much more – her childhood, growing up, what life is about. According to the Glasgow Sunday Herald, ‘it’s an eccentric blend of Swallows and Amazons, Cold Comfort Farm and Brideshead Revisited’. A flavour of it:

‘Even on a summer Monday morning Bolton Abbey is full of visitors wandering down the village street and along the paths through the hanging beech woods on the banks high above the river, where the wood anemones and garlic in spring and early summer look like light falls of snow. There is a log fire burning in the second-hand bookshop, holly tress clipped into lollipops along the front garden hedges, Welsh rarebit and cream teas offered on the menu outside the tea-rooms, as well as brilliant bedding in diamond-shaped flower beds and a wooden bench called the ‘Devonshire seat’ from which you can look down on the sylvan ruins of the Priory’.

Bookshop at Bolton Abbey

Tom Cox wrote in the Daily Telegraph about a survey among young people being carried out by The Idler, ‘a quarterly magazine for the indolent’, to find Britain’s most loathed towns. Voting is taking place at present and ‘Crap Towns’ will be published in the autumn. There is no shortage of entries – Avonmouth, ‘even the dogs have lost the will to woof’; Merthyr Tydfil, ‘like East Germany – without the tanks’; Sunderland, ‘not so much a town as a mortuary’; Nottingham, described as the European City of Vomit and Salisbury – ‘imagine a city designed by the Daily Mail’. The winner, I am sorry to report, is expected to be Hull where, we are told, one is liable to be beaten up by teenage girls.

Just as I like regularly to visit places I’m fond of in Yorkshire – Fountains Abbey, the Limestone Dales, York, Halifax Borough Market – so it is good to re-visit ‘friends’ outside the county. This summer I’ve been able to get to Scotland, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Oxford, the Cotswolds and Polzeath in Cornwall. In Polzeath, where we last went three years ago, reassuringly little had changed apart from the fact that houses now have London prices and the locals cannot afford them.


And it’s not just fashionable parts of Cornwall. An estate agent in Wensleydale says in the paper that 75% of the properties now sold there are sold to outsiders. Of these, one-third are buying a second home, a third are acquiring a retirement home and the remainder are buying as a result of job relocation. Of course the result is that prices have been driven up and it is very difficult for local people to afford to buy property. It is indeed a familiar story. The same has happened in the Lakes and the Cotswolds. And I know you can’t buck the market and shouldn’t try, but it is a shame.

Chipping Campden

Another social change was very evident in Port Isaac, Cornwall. Since we were last there three years ago, the grocer has closed, so has the newsagent, the chemist and the wet fish shop. Instead they are now gift shops catering for the tourists. Port Isaac has just about completed its transformation from a fishing village to a place of second homes, art and gift shops and eating places. Many other villages have experienced a similar metamorphosis. One understands the rise in Cornish nationalism. And the same trend is evident in the Dales.

Seen at the Eden Project:

‘Time flies like an arrow,
Fruit flies like a banana’.

I recently saw advertised for sale shillings and halfcrowns from the reign of Charles I (1625-1649 when, of course, he was executed and for a short time we became a republic). They are from a hoard of 5000 coins found at Middleham, Yorkshire, in 1993 and auctioned in 1995. They are thought to have been sent from Charles’s wife Henrietta Maria, then in the Netherlands, to help finance the Royalist cause during the Civil War. They were hammered which means struck by hand. Many are of irregular shape and are not well struck. Well, there was a war going on and there was hardly time to produce perfect coins of the realm. Isn’t it wonderful that, if you can afford, you can buy something like that (see coincraft.com).

In an article about Yorkshire Day (1st August) in Yorkshire Life was a list of ‘Yorkshire’s names of fame’ – famous Yorkshiremen and women – the Brontes, Delius, Thomas Chippendale, Captain James Cook, William Wilberforce, Amy Johnson. OK, one could add to that – JB Priestley, Thomas Fairfax, Len Hutton etc– but it’s not a very impressive list, is it? Given the fact that there are five million people in Yorkshire, the same sort of number as in Scotland and as in Ireland, then really Yorkshire is kicking below its weight in terms of famous people. Imagine a list of famous Scots.

York Minster is to start charging visitors for admission. It has an annual deficit of £600,000. The government manages effortlessly to spend more than 40% of GDP each year and yet will not find the money to maintain our spiritual and architectural heritage. York Minster is one of the finest buildings in Christendom. And the money the government wastes. What Philistines rule us. £600,000. Houses in Cragg Wood change hands for more than that.

York Minster

Another serviceman from Yorkshire has died in Iraq. Together with five other military policemen, Ben Hyde was murdered by an Iraqi mob. He was 23. He was buried on a perfect English summer day in Northallerton, the county town of the North Riding. Thousands lined the streets for the funeral procession. The market cross was covered with flowers. Ben left a note for his parents in the event of his death. It was unbearable to read it. Let’s get our service personnel – and the young Americans – out of there as soon as we possibly can. Always young men. With their lives ahead of them.

Police in August had reports, and some complaints, about a naked man walking during the heatwave through the Dales. Well, not quite naked, he had on a hat, boots and a backpack. He had been seen in Lothersdale, East Marton, Gargrave, Littondale, Airton and Gayle and appeared to be following roughly the Pennine Way. Being the silly season it made the national press. Anyway, for once the police got to, ahem, the bottom of it and a man was cautioned and offered counselling.

An old favourite I heard again on the radio recently:

‘You can always tell a man from Yorkshire, but you can’t tell him much’.