There is a great deal of wickedness....

Trip Start Mar 01, 2011
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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Monday, March 21, 2011

"There is a great deal of wickedness in village life" Miss Marple, The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie

Part One

Lucky for us we discovered none of the wickedness frequently encountered by Miss Marple in our time in the English Countryside though that is not to say it was dull. The landscape was absolutely beautiful and the weather amazing, with the sun shining every day and little need for the heavy coats we'd become accustomed to. Our aim upon arriving was to see a true English country landscape (and in my case to see a badger and a hedgehog). Our first full day was spent firstly driving through the village of Holm and then taking a scenic walk around the Digley Reservoir with our hosts (relatives from the Best side of the family) covering approximately 6 miles and seeing many sheep, birds, cows, dogs and even a hairy caterpillar...unfortunately for me we did not see a single badger or hedgehog, so his quest continues.

After our walk we headed to a little English pub (name unfortunately forgotten) where I was pleasantly surprised that his lunch of tuna sandwiches came accompanied by coleslaw, salad and a small bowl of crisps. The beer is hand pulled and cellared which means while it's colder than room temperature it is by no means cold. This is something I have adjusted to easily though Beezel am finding it a struggle. What can I say, she is an Aussie and she likes her beer cold.

The next day we set out to visit the Coal Miners Museum which appears to be a compulsory activity if visiting this part of the world and worth every minute of the hour or so it takes. Included in your free entry is the museum itself, visits to the stables to meet the ex pit ponies and the main attraction, the underground pit tour. Now Beezel is not a girly girl by any means but she is a female and therefore did not expect to find an hour long tour underground in a coal mine thrilling. How wrong she was! Firstly our guide Don was excellent. All the tour guides are volunteers who are miners or ex miners so naturally they are a little rough around the edges and very cheeky. Making jokes about cables breaking on the lift while 19 of us are heading down 140 metres was just the start. We had been warned by family members who had been before that the accent of the guides was often hard to understand. In general we had no problem understanding Don, that is until he started talking to another ex miner. At that point, the conversation sounded like a mixture of Hindi and Swahili.

Once we were down in the mine with our hard hats and lights on we were guided through the process of coal mining from the beginning to the more contemporary machines of today. At one point we all turned our little lights off in order to experience what it was like for an average family (father, mother and child) in the 1850’s who would have worked in one of the tunnels in the mine. The light of only one candle (the cost of which was taken out of their paypacket) was all they had inside the tunnel with the parents and the child in pitch darkness surrounded by rats waiting to open the door to the tunnel for his parents. Luckily we only saw one rat and it was a fake, a prop used by our guide to scare a teenage girl on the tour with us once the lights were turned back on.

This girl and her group of friends were a source of comedy for the rest of us and in particular Don and another guide who was also conducting a tour. Each time (and it was frequent) one of the girls loudly proclaimed "Oh My God" it was steadfastly mimicked by Don with the other guide then responding with the abbreviated "OMG". To be fair the girls were annoying, commenting about their clothes getting dirty (for some reason they were wearing white) and professing to be afraid of the dark. My question to them is why would you go on an underground coal mine tour? I won't run through the specifics of the tour as I will undoubtedly make a mistake and it is really something to see for yourself as it was definitely one of the highlights of the week.

Part Two

After the tour of the coalmine, we were heading off towards Bradford to meet our hosts' daughter and her partner. Now, unbeknownst to us, there is apparently an ongoing feud between Bradford and Birmingham as to which city makes the best curry in the UK. So naturally, we were going to a curry house for dinner. But it wouldn't be dinner in the UK if one did not stop off at the pub before eating. So we availed ourselves to a 'real' pub (i.e. one that is not part of a chain) called Jacob's Well. I partook in the drinking of a pint of real English beer. Beezel, who is a touch soft partook in the drinking of a half pint of Carlsberg, which is neither English nor real. Hmm.

The curry house proved itself to be the three things I admire most in a restaurant:

1. Cheap
2. Tasty
3. Plentiful

Mains cost about 7 (Aussie ~$11) and included rice and naan bread. The servings were more than enough to satisfy. And as far as the feud between Bradford and Birmingham, although I am yet to visit Birmingham, Bradford has scored my vote. Dessert was out of the question, unless either of us was happy to roll out of the restaurant rather than walk.

After dinner, it was then suggested that we visit another local pub called The Fighting Cock. As a sidenote, Bradford city has seen better days and was already in decline before the GFC hit, now it is in freefall. So walking to the pub we went past a number of deserted buildings in different stages of disrepair. The overall spookiness was heightened when it was casually mentioned that the area used to be a kind of red light district and that Peter Sutcliffe (aka The Yorkshire Ripper) used to haunt the streets looking for his prey.

However, do not let this macabre setting of the scene steal away from the pub. It was a splendid, traditional pub with numerous real beers on tap. On this occasion Beezel did partake in a real beverage, albeit a small one (she is only small after all). We had a merry old time with our lovely hosts. On that note, one of the great things about real English pubs is that if there is been music played, it is not so loud that you have to shout at the person sitting next to you.

By and large there had been far too much merriment, so we returned home and retired for the night.

Our final full day in the Yorkshire countryside was to be spent at York, which, funnily enough is where Yorkshire gets it's name from. But before we get onto that, I have to mention the next door neighbour's dog, Sam. Now, as you can see in the photos, our hosts house is surrounded by undeveloped, open fields and woodlands. Sam the dog likes to go for a run in the morning, whilst Sam's owner likes to think that he has control over his dog. So Beezel and I are having breakfast and watching through the kitchen window as Sam runs around and his owner continues to call his name and whistle. 

Sam does not appear particularly inclined to listen, and continues to run further and further away. Eventually, Sam turns arounds and starts to come back towards the neighbour's house. We could see his owner smiling at this point. Sam got close to the house, then abrubtly turned around and ran off in the other direction, whilst his owner started yelling louder. From this we can deduce three probabilities:

a) Sam is deaf.
b) Sam is stupid.
c) Sam is a mixture of a & b.
d) Sam enjoys being a 'free range' dog.

I think the answer is d. We watched Sam run between the hedge, up across the field, and then a few minutes later saw him cross the top of a hill some distance away. His owner had by this time given and gone back inside his house, his smile strangely absent.

After the Sam and owner spectacle, we all jumped in the car and made our merry way to York, which is about an hour drive away. Now York is a very old, walled city, one of the oldest in the UK in fact. In it's history it has previously been a Roman, Viking, Norman and Anglo Saxon settlement. And funnily enough, there are remnants of all of those civilsations apparent.

Now one cannot visit York without visiting the York Minster. A minster is an enormous church, basically a catherdral, and York is one of the largest in Europe. Built between 1220 and 1470, the structure is, whether you are religious or not, a truly awe inspiring piece of architecture. Entry to the Minster is not free, and there is an additional cost if you want to climb the tower (all ~300 stairs to the top). However, after you buy a ticket, it is valid for 12 months. We took a free tour by a man who was not particularly exciting, he looked visibly pained if someone asked him a question or made a joke. I checked the back of him but could not find the stick that was stuck up his arse, otherwise I would have dislodged it. The Minster is also has the largest example of medieval stained glass in Europe. Unfortunately it is currently being restored so the real thing is not on display. Restoration work will take a total of ten years and cost 23,000,000! (~Aussie $38m) I hope it's pretty glass . . . .

The town of York is actually quite small, and all of it is superbly historical. We're talking cobble streets, Roman walls and 15th century buildings. It may seem strange that York was so important as to have featured all this great stuff, but back in the day York was England's second city, bettered only by London. We visited the Jorvik centre (not free, but definitely worth checking out), which is sited on an actual archaelogical dig completed in the late 1970s on a viking settlement. At the centre, one can take a ride that takes you through a reconstruction of the viking city with people, houses etc. It is pretty high tech, the place even smells authentic. There is also a museum attached which has numerous displays of all the artifacts from the dig. 

The highlight was: All the awesome sh*t on display.
The lowlight was: The fact that one of the displays actually was a piece of sh*t.

That's right folks, one of the displays was a turd. And the summary next to it said it was a semi fossilised Viking turd, and that they had been able to discover what the vikings had eaten by studying said turd. I'm pretty sure that if I showed up at the natural history museum with my leavings for study, they would quickly turn me away. By if you're a viking, apparently it's ok.

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