We had a general election in May. Yorkshire voted as usual. The East Riding and the North Riding voted Conservative; the towns and cities voted Labour. Sheffield Hallam, Harrogate and Leeds North-west returned a Liberal Democrat MP. The county’s big beasts were returned – David Davis in Howden, William Hague in Richmond and John Prescott in Hull. My favourite moment was when the Prime Minister visited a school and, irreverently, the children sang, ‘Mr Blair, we don’t care, you’re wearing Cherie’s underwear’. Aides acted hurriedly to move the great man along.
During the election campaign Greenpeace protestors climbed onto the roof of John Prescott’s house in Hull to publicise the need for more environmentally friendly energy policies. They occupied the turrets on each side of the house. Yes, the turrets. Clearly Mr Prescott’s house is generously proportioned. As, of course, is Mr Prescott.
Middlesbrough Football Club has quietly had a successful season. Remember, bless them, they are Yorkshire’s only club in the Premiership. Next year there will be seven – seven – Lancashire clubs there. Yes, I know, it’s disgraceful. Thank you for keeping the white rose flying, Middlesbrough. Anyway, they finished a very respectable seventh and next year will see UEFA matches at the Riverside. Well done, Middlesbrough.
There is a new book out called Boll***s to Alton Towers (Michael Joseph 2005). As the title implies, there’s more to days out than Alton Towers or Lightwater Valley and the book celebrates some of Britain’s more obscure tourist attractions. Like the British Lawnmower Museum and, in our part of Cornwall, the Porteath Bee Centre. Morpeth Bagpipe Museum is there (what, you’ve never been?) and the House of Marbles. Mother Shipton’s Cave and Dripping Well in Knaresborough is featured. I first went there as a child and took the boys when they were young. What struck me on both occasions is how disappointing it is. It really is uninteresting. Petrifyingly dull you might say. Still, it’s a nice walk by the Nidd. And you’d need to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the sight of Debbie McGee’s toy rabbit. But then Paul Daniels used to be the joint owner. Of the cave, not the rabbit.
Boll***s to Alton Towers Book
A house on Denholme Road, Oxenhope was put up for sale at £15,000. It has stunning views, a stone flag floor and an iron fire and oven. It has been a communal wash house, a pie shop and a toll house. It claims to be the smallest house in England being 13 foot 6 inches by 10 foot 6 inches. No doubt the estate agents used expressions like ‘deceptively spacious’, ‘compact’ and ‘suit a small family’.
Increasingly I go to my employer’s Hull office. The M62 east of Leeds is relatively quiet and there are, of course, big skies as the area is relatively flat. The modern road rises over the Ouse, the boundary between the West and East Ridings. Goole, to one’s right, is the West Riding’s only tidal port, though it is rarely thought of as the West Riding nowadays. The Humber Bridge is a spectacular landmark linking what was once Southumbria with Northumbria. Until it was built it was a long way from Grimsby to Hull. In Hull I park in a car park next to a gold statue known locally as King Billy. I got some strange looks when I first asked which King William it was. No one had any idea. It is, I found, William III and the statue refers to him as Our Great Deliverer. Not much knowledge nowadays, I’m afraid, of the Glorious Revolution or the campaign against Louis XIV.
Our office is in what Hull people call the Old Town next to St Mary’s parish church in Lowgate. Services have been held at St Mary’s since 1333 and the Wilberforce family worshipped here. It has wonderful bells and local bell-ringers maintain the tradition of ringing the bells daily. Last time I was there they rang Oranges and Lemons. At present the church is being extensively restored I’m pleased to say. Let us hope it witnesses another seven centuries of changes.
The Pennine Way celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. It was opened in a ceremony at Malham in 1965. The Pennine Way is 264 miles long and starts in Derbyhire taking in the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland to just over the Scottish border. Its highest point is Cross Fell at 2400 feet. It should be walked from south to north starting at the Nag’s Head in Edale; the reason for this is that the prevailing wind is south-westerly. Wainwright, he of the Pictorial Guides, left cash at the Border Hotel at Yetholm 30 years ago to provide a free half pint for those who completed the walk. Each year about 3,500 do, and another 150,000 are thought to tackle at least one of its 19 sections.
Ian Botham presented a petition asking for St George’s Day, 23 April, to be made a national holiday in England. The English of course celebrate their national day in a typically English way – they largely ignore it. I have a lot of sympathy with IB but the fact is that we already have enough bank holidays at that time of the year. Far better, if we are to have another bank holiday, to have one in the autumn. There is no holiday between August and Christmas. So, on the 200th anniversary this year, what about Trafalgar Day, 21 October? Or Agincourt, 25 October? And if the French don’t like that, well, so much the better.
Channel 4’s Time Team went to Castleford to look for evidence of its Roman origin. It was Legiolum, a major camp and town where the road north, Ermine Street, crossed the river. There have been some fascinating archaeological finds over the years despite the fact that Castleford’s subsequent industrial development has wiped out most Roman remains. A Roman milestone marks the distance to York (Eboracum) as 20 miles and an altar has an inscription which includes the word Brigantes, the pre-Roman tribe of the area.
An old rhyme says:
Castleford lasses must be fair
They bathe in Calder and wash in Aire.
I hardly need say that for the last 200 years if the maidens of Castleford had done that they’d smell of ammonia and old socks.
Country Life is searching for this country’s favourite market town. That’s difficult given places as diverse and lovely as Ludlow, Chipping Camden, Wells, Totnes and Stamford. The Times has Yorkshire contenders as Beverley, Bedale, Hawes, Helmsley, Malton, Masham, Ripon, Stokesley and Yarm. I’m sure not long ago I saw Easingwold named as England’s most unspoilt market town.
Houses in Easingwold
The Sunday Telegraph completed its search for the perfect pub. The Star near Newmarket won the award. Among the runners-up was, quite rightly, the Angel Inn at Hetton near Skipton. It was described as ‘modern British food at its near-perfect best’…beer which is ‘God’s gift as most comes from local Yorkshire brewers Black Sheep and Timothy Taylor’ and ‘standards that most other pubs do not even aspire to’. The Angel is below Cracoe Fell off the B6265. Meals are pricey in the restaurant but there is also a brasserie.
An article in the paper was entitled ‘Men like me aren’t cut out for holidays’. Oh, at last. It’s not just me. There are others. It took me a long time to articulate it because in the modern world we are all supposed to love holidays. Just as we’re all expected to like hot weather. For me a holiday is best spent at home with the weather fine but a lot less than hot. Too hot and you can’t sleep at night and you’re never comfortable during the day. Well, I’m not. Anyway back to holidays. Now don’t misunderstand me; I love Cornwall and the Lake District, But so much trouble – I don’t like packing, I don’t like travelling, I don’t like hot weather, I don’t like insects. I like having my things to hand. I like reading an English paper, preferably a broadsheet. My sympathies are with Kingsley Amis who said that holidays are fine as long as you get back the same day. I like holidays – but at home. There I’ve said it.
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