Spring 2003

A survey in Country Life ranked England’s counties in terms of their quality of life. Devon was first, followed by Gloucestershire and Cornwall. Yorkshire was seventh. Why wasn’t it top, you ask. Well, it obtained virtually full marks in the categories of landscape, historic sites, sport, the arts and its pubs. But it scored badly on crime, education, the quality of its councils and weather. Fair enough, apart from the weather – having lived elsewhere in England, I like Yorkshire’s weather. Anyway, we know that Yorkshire is England’s finest county really. Lancashire was ninth. I know; staggering, isn’t it?

Cottages in Dent

The view of a disinterested party. Commenting on the results of the survey, Simon Jenkins wrote in the Times: 'Yorkshire is the queen of counties’. Whilst acknowledging its downside (and putting Herefordshire top), he continued: ‘Its three Ridings overall have the most top churches and the most great houses in England. It has Harewood and Fountains, York Minster and Castle Howard, Beverley and Patrington. Round it lie the Moors and the Dales. Yorkshire is a nation state, with a population bigger than Norway or New Zealand. It should stake a claim for independence at the United Nations’.

Giles Coren, for the Times, visited the Burlington Restaurant at the Devonshire Arms, Bolton Abbey. It’s not often metropolitan food critics get outside London and the Home Counties and so for him to visit Yorkshire was a great privilege for us. He praised the ‘highly polished Anglo-French food as good as anything you’ll find in Britain’. His description of the meal he enjoyed is a bit precious and clearly he finds it terribly daring to go to Yorkshire at all. The three course set lunch (before drinks) was £55. As he says, ‘people are, after all, notoriously free with their money in these parts’. Ho ho.

Cottages at Bolton Abbey

According to a recent report there are more millionaires in Ilkley than anywhere else in Yorkshire. Bradford used to have more millionaires than anywhere else in England. Ilkley (though don’t emphasise the fact in the town itself) is now part of Bradford MBC. As the French say, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. Down the road, comfortably down the road, in Manningham, according to the local paper, work is to start on the redevelopment of Lister’s Mill. Eventually. If we live that long.

On a cold but sunny Monday in February I went to Aldborough, Boroughbridge and Ripon (see Places). I had never before been to Aldborough and unfortunately the museum with its Roman mosaic pavement and artefacts is closed until April. Not to worry. The snowdrops were out beneath the oaks and yews as were the yellow crocuses – the yellow ones always come first. Then on to Ripon, so well served by its Civic Society who preserve its past and protect its future.

Later this year the Royal Mail is issuing a series of stamps on the theme of pub signs. The Romans displayed vine leaves or a bush outside their tavernae and these are thought to be the origin of the signs. In 1393 Richard II decreed that all pubs in London must display a sign. As most people couldn’t read this was principally a picture. Pub names relate to kings, queens, events, animals, battles – the list is endless. After the Reformation it was considered wise to abandon religious names and many pubs switched to something secular and safer. When James I became King of England (as well as King of Scotland) in 1603 he required the heraldic red lion of Scotland to be displayed on all important public buildings. The Red Lion is still today the commonest pub name in England. Among pub names in Yorkshire are The Arabian Horse (Aberford), The Squinting Cat (Harrogate), The Cat and Bagpipes (Northallerton), The Standard of Freedom (Halifax), The Bonny Bunch of Roses (Silkstone Common), The Babes in the Wood (Dewsbury), The Honest Lawyer (Ilkley) and The Liquorice Bush (Pontefract).


As we did last year, we went to Cambridge at the boys’ half-term. And, as we did last year, we had dinner in the evening at Pembroke College and a few drinks in The Mill by the river. During the day we went to King’s College Chapel, the first time for years I’d been there. And one forgets; it really is one of the wonders of the world. The stonework, the glorious fan-vaulted ceiling and the twenty-six pre-Reformation stained glass windows have to be seen to be believed. You just gasp.

King’s College was founded by Henry VI as was Eton College. Poor Henry VI – the boy king who became the pious, unworldly, scholarly, at times mad king whose unfitness to be a medieval ruler led to the Wars of the Roses and his own murder. The foundation stone of King’s was laid by Henry on Passion Sunday 1441. Edward IV, Richard III and ultimately Henry VII all played a role in its completion.

Today there are 400 undergraduates at King’s, 200 graduates and 100 fellows. What a privilege it is to be an undergraduate at one of our ancient universities whilst one is young and without responsibilities.

Henry VI

It is 160 miles to Cambridge and before the journey I was trying to work out how many counties we would pass through. Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Rutland, Huntingdon and Cambridgeshire. I had forgotten about Rutland, proud brave little Rutland which refused to allow its identity to be suppressed by the administrative reforms of thirty years ago.

Most of the journey is on the Great North Road. I’m old enough (just) to remember queues at places like Newark and Stamford. Now these and other towns and cities are all by-passed. Indeed much of the A1 is now dual carriageway (lovely old-fashioned word) or motorway.

When the traveller on the old Great North Road crossed into Yorkshire the first major place he came to was Doncaster, once the Roman fortress town of Danum. North of that there was a choice. One could go on the Great North Road through York or alternatively head north via Ferrybridge. Coaches to Newcastle or Edinburgh followed the latter route through Wetherby, Boroughbridge and Scotch Corner. The York/Thirsk/Northallerton route and the other route converged at Darlington in County Durham.

A competition in the New Statesman required you to add something to a well-known quotation in such a way as to ruin the original meaning or intention. I liked the following: ‘I am going outside and may be some time. Does anybody want anything?’