Saturday, 2 July 2011

In which the Wiebes travel through Yorkshire

On Friday morning I woke everyone up and we hit the road. I was feeling really nervous about the driving as there are just enough differences over here to make things complicated. The lack of road signs and the profusion of roundabouts are enough to drive anyone batty! We did not have a GPS so we had to rely on google map printouts and, eventually, a road atlas. Fortunately I've been in and out of Cambridge often enough that I could get us onto the highway. After that it was a series of skill, mishaps, happy accidents, and good fortune.

Being adventurous North Americans, we went North. We had booked ourselves into an old spa hotel in Ripon, North Yorkshire, for the night. I'm not sure how many miles the drive was, but with our sightseeing detours we got there about 11 hours after we left Cambridge (I think it's a four or five hour drive). Sightseeing along the way was great fun. At first it was a bit of a dull drive for me, because I've been in the Cambridge countryside often enough. Then came some subtle changes, and then the next thing we knew we were surrounded by the rolling hills of Yorkshire, all the fields separated by stone fences. We stopped for lunch at a country pub, and were pleased to see wedding coverage on a flat screen and a group of mellow, bank-holiday enjoying locals. After some nourishing homemade soup and meatloaf sandwiches it was back on the road, stopping every now and then to enjoy the view and trying, mostly without success, to take pictures of the rapeseed fields from the car. 

John & I with a pile of kegs outside a Yorkshire pub
We then drove to the parsonage where the Brontë sisters lived. Dad and I spent a magical hour touring the house and grounds and enjoying all things Brontë. The museum staff were not very friendly but it didn't matter. I got shivers when I saw the room where the sisters wrote their novels. It was incredible. I even managed to pick up a lovely print of the parsonage in the gift shop.

The church beside the parsonage

Rolling Yorkshire hills--"just like in a James Herriot book"
From West Yorkshire we drove to North Yorkshire, and I led my family into a detour in order to see medieval Selby Abbey. We parked at a pub and it seemed that the whole town was there, celebrating the wedding bank holiday. The wedding highlights were being played and so we finally got to see our first glimpse of the Duchess of Cambridge's wedding gown (beautiful). Then we toured the outside of the abbey. I loved all the gargoyles that peered down on us from all angles, while John seemed to really enjoy reading the old tombstones. Leaving Selby, we continued north to the great city of York itself.

York certainly compares, if not exceeds, Cambridge in beauty. We parked by a castle ruin and from the minute I saw the ruin I fell in love with the city. It was so beautiful. So we explored the castle first and then wandered into town in search of yorkshire puddings. We managed to find a carvery where we got to pick the meat of our choice, help ourselves buffet-style to all the trimmings, and eat delicious homemade yorkshire puddings. John and I tried bread-sauce for the first time and deemed it delicious. Eventually we dragged ourselves away from the restaurant and set off in search of York Minster Cathedral. It was too late in the day to go inside, but we were able to wander around the outside of it and marvel at its size and beauty. As we wandered we came upon surprise after surprise. First, there was a statue commemorating the occasion (and spot) of where Constantine was proclaimed Emperor. Next, there was an old Roman column raised to the sky. Then there were various bits of Christian lore commemorating on plaques around the Minster and surrounding buildings, telling of things that were at least quite meaningful to dad. We also saw the church where Guy Fawkes was baptised. 

Me, Dad, & Constantine
From York we drove north west to the smallish town of Ripon. It was dark when we arrived, we took a wrong turn, John hopped out to find a city map to guide us back, and then the next thing we knew we were heading the wrong way down a one way street, the lights of an oncoming car coming towards us. Out of the gloom appeared a boisterous Yorkshireman, who (with many shouts of encouragement to "mind the bollards") guided us back to safety and towards our hotel.

The hotel was a lovely old spa hotel, with high ceilings and quaint rooms. John and I had a spacious room with two twin beds, and because of this my parents decided to make it base camp. We spent the evening watching Royal Wedding highlights, drinking hot cocoa, and eating shortbread. The next morning we set hit the road again. After our harrowing trip down the wrong street in Ripon the night before, I was not particularly pro "lets drive around and find a pub for breakfast". My instincts were rather justified in this case, but only because the only pub we managed to find serving breakfast the morning after a bank holiday was a seedy little place offering suspiciously inexpensive full English breakfasts. As the woman behind the counter impressed upon us many times, it was her "first day" and she seemed to also be doing the cooking, and would we not mind waiting, etc. We said an anxious prayer to ward off food poisoning when our meals finally did arrive, and a slight queasiness (caused by the black pudding, no doubt) was the only ill effect I experienced. The others had been wise and avoided the pudding.

From Ripon we drove to Thirsk, the home of James Herriot. John, who has never read the books, took a long nap in the car whilst I toured "The World of James Herriot" with my parents. Seeing them in the homes of one of their favourite authors was like watching two kids loose in a candy store. They scampered about the rooms, clamouring over each other in order to point out various pieces they recognised from the books. When we went into the garden, where his car was parked, dad practically ran over to it shouting all the while "this is his car! this is HIS CAR!!! JUST LIKE IN THE BOOKS!" and regaling me with stories of the car. I felt I got my money's worth just by watching the two of them. 

They both were really excited about the sampler on the wall.
From Thirsk we headed West, in search of Hadrian's Wall. We drove for a good long time trying to find the wall, with no success. We saw a lot of stone walls, but they seemed to belong to Yorkshire famers. Every once in awhile we would stumble across a parking lot with a sign proclaiming that something Roman was there, but still no wall. We thought we saw it once, but there was nowhere to pull over. We stopped at a pub to regroup and, looking at our trusty road atlas, saw that there was one more Roman sounding attraction off our road before we reached the turn to Scotland. We decided to try that last attraction, and as we drove up the road we saw IT. Hadrian's Wall, complete with an old Roman gatehouse foundation. Mum was now used to the UK habit of pulling over wherever and abandoning the car, so we did just that. Then, hey presto, the four of us were clambering through some farmer's field and heading towards the wall. To stand where the Romans stood was a very moving experience for me, almost religious in feeling.

Standing on some gatehouse ruins at the wall
 We left John to scale a Yorkshire hill whilst we turned the car around, and then we picked him up and drove on toward Scotland. En route we stopped at an incredible pub for supper. It was just off the highway but they served the most amazing, home cooked meals. One of the gems of this trip was locating fantastic eateries while driving. Much different from our trip to America.

As we drove into Scotland we noticed that the sun refused to set. It was well after ten o'clock before we were driving in darkness. As it happened, we drove and drove in darkness for at least an hour, because our map led us astray and even though we could see it from the highway we were unable to find an exit off the highway and into our hotel. This was the most frustrating part of the trip. I was exhausted, it was dark, and we could see our hotel without being able to get into it. Finally mum took a chance exit off a roundabout and the next thing we knew we were parked at the Travelodge Falkirk. Further disappointment followed as my eyes adjusted to the minimalist decor after the glories of our spa hotel, and to top it off the bathroom light flickered like we were in a disco. The guy behind the front desk seemed to live to lecture, and the only saving grace of the whole evening was that my cell phone was working and I could call David. Actually, another saving grace is that my brother is a good sport and took the horrible little sofa bed, leaving me a double bed all to myself.

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