English road trip through Yorkshire dales

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Things are moving quickly apace in Edinburgh, so once I teed up a new and very groovy apartment there it was time to move out of Canary Wharf and somehow get my rapidly expanding collection of personal crap (effects) up to Scotland. If only it all still fit in the backpack I would have been fine!

Because from all the voicemail messages and quote-request emails I sent, all of which went unanswered, that was looking like a very hard thing to do. No one was interested in my business - because it's either high relocation season or, more likely, I'm not attempting to move a mansion's worth of furniture and fittings to Timbuctu - meaning the job wasn't big enough for any removalist to get out of bed (like supermodels, I hear the only do so for around $10k these days). I was going to have to find another way.

Now the hire car option does seem pretty obvious, but my memories of a road trip out to Bath 10 or so years ago had me thinking twice. Mega traffic snarls and then viewing three separate (and quite gruesome) fatal accidents within one hour's driving were what I remembered most about that little adventure. However it would be excess baggage or pack-muling it otherwise so the hire car it ended up being.

And I'm so glad I did drive in the end. I'd never really been north of Oxford/Cambridge (or south of Edinburgh) before so the road trip opened up a new world for me that weekend - a most excellent adventure indeed.

First stop was for an eye-opener coffee at Cambridge. After shrooming through the first of many speed cameras just a little too fast, I parked up beside the Cam (river) to watch a forlorn single punter cruising its peaceful waters. Obviously this is a much bigger attraction in the summer months when many a student and tourist kicks back and enjoys a ride in these flat bottom boats, as they have done since the early 1900s. Good on them - after five minutes I was out of there.

Nottinghamshire was next on the cards and I couldn't resist a stop when I saw a sign for Sherwood forest. The main northern road skirts the northern tip of this famous tract so I just jammed on the breaks, put the hazard lights on (all very safely of course) and wandered off into another world. Ruptured conkers carpet the lightly covered woodland floor and even though unseen critters rustle a little disconcertingly in the greenery nearby it all makes for a quiet and peaceful scene. I'm surprised such areas have survived the development being so close to London over the centuries and I can understand why Robin Hood and his merry men made it their home. All very pleasant and cosy looking in an ancient kind of way.

From there I had to detour to pick up some golf clubs purchased on eBay, so I skirted around the western side of Leeds and up through Halifax on the way to Skipton. The weather was closing in by then but fortunately I was beyond the built up areas of a cluster of midland towns, which made the driving a little easier. I couldn't help a stop to chat with some of the local 'wildlife' in the west Yorkshire fields, but it had been a long day of driving, night was coming and I still had to find a B&B.

Skipton was too large for my liking so I gambled a little and continued north towards the Yorkshire Dales National Park. I was starting to regret assuming that it would be 'out of season' up here, as the first two places I pulled into told me they were full and that it was 50/50 whether there would be any accommodation available in Grassington - the last substantial stop before the National Park. However if there was one thing I learned on my recent adventures, it's that eventually you will find somewhere to sleep - so onwards I went.

The tiny town of Threshfield ended up welcoming me in. The Old Inn was the only place in town and thankfully it had one room left. The staff were friendly, the bar lively, and the lamb shank dinner divine. Rounded off with a bitter or two and I was sleeping pretty in this tidy little village that Saturday night.

Next morning and I had to pinch myself to believe my luck. The inn, the farms and their rock-walled fields around were bathed in a beautiful and warming autumnal sunshine that pretty-well glowed. Plump brown pheasants ferreted in the grass amongst frisky and bleating black-faced sheep whilst the sleepy village rose for a new day. I was invigorated as this was to be the interesting part of the drive and mother nature had laid it all out in front of me. Bring it on!

Northwards into the Yorkshire Dales National Park I went, past quaint old barns and manor houses, through rolling fields, shallow valleys and under the occasional towering cliff. I was driving on a B road which ended up being a little annoying as there was enough traffic coming up behind to make appreciating the scenery a little difficult. Again is was time to gamble and again it came up trumps.

To get away from the madding crowds (and in theory save some time by going a more direct route) I headed up a minor 'C' road and hoped for the best. Just as the road atlas promised, it was less than 4 metres wide, enough for a single car and most definitely un-lined - but it was absolutely deserted (except for the occasional cow or sheep) and a really beautiful and enjoyable drive. I'd certainly be doing that again later in the day if the opportunity arose.

The short cut got me to Richmond, where a famous castle built by William the Conquerer still partially stands at the strategic crossroads on the natural route to Scotland. There are numerous ruined castles around this area but Richmond was pretty much the first, built only 5 years after the Norman conquest. It is also one of the largest and most complete so it was the best bet on the day.

A hugely imposing keep was built a couple of centuries later by the unfortunately named Conan the Little, who probably had some sort of complex related to his name which resulted in a tendency to build large phallic structures. It was also used by the British military in more recent times - to house conscientious objectors during the World War I. It's history also included a stint of residence by Lord Baden Powell - the Scouty guy who set up the organisation of that name. All nice but ultimately unsatisfying so it was time to move on...

Through more beautiful countryside and along a string of generally deserted B and C roads, I eventually bumped into one of the largest constructions in the UK - Hadrian's Wall. If you're not familiar with this amazing piece of Roman engineering it basically formed one of the northern frontiers of their empire, stretching across the narrowest part of England (about 120km) and which attempted to protect Britannia from the troublesome northern tribes who had a habit of raiding from up that way.

It was built after a visit by Emperor Hadrian in 122 AD, and since it has stood the test of time (like so many other Roman ruins) there are still large sections of the wall remaining. I managed to bump into the section at Housesteads which consists of a nice section of 4 foot thick wall and a large oblong shaped fort built right onto the wall's edge. So large in fact that it acted as a base for up to 1,000 auxillary troops who patrolled neighbouring sections of the wall.

Although it isn't really evident in the accompanying pictures, when you stand on a section like this you see how effective the wall probably was. There are often steep inclines leading up to the base of the wall, which then stands a uniform 6 feet or so in height on top. This would have been very difficult to move significant numbers of troops or horse over it at any one time, especially with the Romans menacing you from above.

As it was the first day of winter standard time, by 3pm I was starting to run out of daylight and I still had quite a way to go. A little north of the wall and I was finally crossing the English-Scottish border, at which I probably should have stopped to fully appreciate the large move I'm making, whilst admiring an expansive view. However I continued on through Pringle border country (and through yet another vast array of speed cameras), toward Jedburgh and its ruined abbey. Fortunately I arrived just before it closed.

It's pretty touristy but a spectacle all the same and no doubt would have been a masterpiece of religious building in its heydey. Founded in 1138 and quite well preseved it's well worth the quick look I took in the end, but as I was also getting pretty tired it was time to make a last mad dash to Edinburgh as the sun began to set.

I made it in the end and even got the car back to the hire company full of gas and spot on time. Now I sit in my comfy abode with new horizons and the means to reach them. But the road-trip itself was a fantastic experience of driving through the British heartland and I'm looking forward to further adventures in northern England, as it is extremely beautiful countryside. The Yorkshire Dales was the highlight of my weekend so if you're ever in the neighbourhood, grab an AA Road Atlas, find some of those ancient, rock wall-lined minor 'C' roads and just cruise. Just watch out for all the speed cameras getting there and back!
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