Slow Monday

Getting back home never fails to cheer me up. We have been away for 10 days and no matter how beautiful the holiday was, the cream teas luscious, the pasties tummy enlarging, and the fish and chips oily and sinful, but the comforts of home are matter for verse. Only if I start writing verse, it would veer into nonsense verse.

Monday has been creeping along at a snail’s pace but in an interesting way. What could have happened in the matter of half a day, right?

To start with, I have realised that Northampton postmen are a class apart. I sent a postcard to the lovely Cheila because she started a postcard/letter exchange idea with other bloggers. This was more than a couple of weeks ago, so I have been wondering while even on holiday about why it had not reached her. But it did not – so much so that Cheila even promised to stalk her postman. I certainly hope, dear girl, that it is a matter not acted upon, because when I got back home yesterday evening I had the answer.

The postcard had been posted back to me.

The postman had decided to choose the ‘From’ bit to act upon.

That apart, I had a long chat with the rental agency guy, D, with whom I deposit the car keys every Monday morning after we return home from a holiday. We rent cars, yes. Usually Adi chats with him and I deliver them with no extra chatter. This time however it I who was the chosen one for an insight into his engaging personality. It turns out he has slight Asperger’s syndrome – a lifelong syndrome which affects people by burdening them with overwhelming anxiety about communicating with the world at large. He likes to spend time by himself and shuns women because in the past his girlfriends have had him followed. “Women do not get me,” he said. The heart-felt thoughts of any single man.

Instead he spends his time getting his elbows ripped apart while riding his BMX bikes, fanatically games away his time on the X-box (I have to declare myself a badger-some wife who has managed to part Adi from his, so it lies gently weeping beneath our telly) and deejaying apart from being a cool dad to his two teenage girls. Then we had some more conversation about how we all choose our paths in life, how it is best to do what you want than giving into the paths set out by others and how it is cool to have white hair. I have some cropping up and Adi takes great pride in plucking them out. I have put a stop to his gleeful past-time though.

Random conversations pep up any day for me. Random insights into people and their ways of thinking. Random bits of information. Like how Bournemouth is ‘God’s Waiting Room’ because people like to retire there.

Anyway, as we drove back home yesterday, the skies were festooned with clouds. The cloud chaser in me had a rollicking time. This is how.

2017-04-23 02.35.46 1.jpg
The last stretch of yellow and patterned green fields somewhere in Cornwall
2017-04-23 02.20.33 1.jpg
Tamar Bridge as we left Cornwall behind and entered Devon
2017-04-23 03.25.47 1.jpg
The countryside in Somerset
2017-04-23 03.25.47 2.jpg
Fields of Somerset
2017-04-23 02.20.23 2.jpg
Into Cheddar, a village where cheddar cheese is made. Watch out for Cheddar Gorge, which is the largest natural gorge in Britain, and which I have been wanting to climb for some time. 
2017-04-23 02.20.30 2.jpg
What do we see as we enter the village but a tractor rally.
2017-04-23 02.19.52 1.jpg
Forgive the smudges on the windscreen — the midges had a field day smashing themselves against it. But oh look at the towering cliffs above Cheddar.
2017-04-23 02.19.47 2 (1).jpg
If you are somewhere in Somerset, do not miss out on this.
2017-04-23 02.19.55 1.jpg
Rock climbing 
2017-04-23 02.20.01 1.jpg
While others were exploring the gorges, we decided to return another day because we had a long way to go home. Plus there were no parking spots left for us.
2017-04-23 02.20.29 1.jpg
Colours of the country
2017-04-23 02.35.51 2.jpg
Fields of Wraxall in North Somerset
2017-04-23 03.25.48 1.jpg
Clouds and church spires through the sunroof
2017-04-23 03.25.51 1.jpg
Trees, with leaves sprouting on them, raise their gnarled heads as we chase clouds above the houses of Bristol.
2017-04-24 03.02.05 1.jpg
Wandering into the Cotswolds
2017-04-24 03.02.03 1.jpg
Because Adi had wanted to go into the Kemble Aerodrome for some time now
2017-04-24 03.02.00 1.jpg
A historic airport in Gloucestershire where some aircrafts apart, children and men race bikes 
2017-04-24 03.02.01 1.jpg
A last look at one of the smallest airports in the country

 

Crackpot Hall on the Dales

It got me with its name. How can you possibly ignore a ‘Crackpot Hall’ when it looms up on the map, right? In the Yorkshire Dales, last weekend, we walked 6 miles from the village of Muker to get to it. Even if it be just an abandoned farmhouse, more than half of its roof having given way to the elements, the ruins added drama, perched above the deep winding valleys of Swaledale.

The word ‘hall’ is a misnomer in Crackpot’s case. It necessarily conjures up visions of grandeur, mansions, opulence, right? Only this was an isolated building. Some of its small and dark rooms were still intact under the portion of roof that remained. A big fireplace recreated suggestions of considerable warmth on cold, windy days. Rusted pots and pans were still to be seen stashed away inside the alcove next to the fireplace. And then a rusted metal bath stood on the side of the room. Bracken and weed grew inside.

Walking through the derelict bits of it, I could imagine the shepherds and farmers who lived in it – their constant struggle to eke out a living from a land that was not kind to them. In the early-1900s a pair of women authored a book titled Swaledale.

They wrote: “Once as we sat gazing at the distant view of Keld (the settlement nearby), there was a sudden rush from behind. Our caps and sticks were snatched away and hurled over the wall and a tiny figure clambered over them with a mocking, chuckling laugh. That was Alice with the madness of the moors about her and all their wariness. ‘Ah you are plaguing me,’ she said.”

That bit was reconstructed into a tale of haunting. Poor Alice. She actually lives near Carlisle, is in her 80s, and laughs a lot. I heard a podcast featuring her on BBC in which she reminisced about her years in Crackpot Hall. It made me smile to hear her recollection of her early years atop the hill. She was born in Crackpot Hall with her brothers and sisters and her father was a farmer. He kept cows, sheep, goats and farmed everything possible. She also mentioned the coffee her mum made and brought to the hay fields as being exceptionally flavourful – that you could relish that coffee even if it went cold. This was some time in the 1930s. The children had the freedom of playing in caves and abandoned lead mines and Alice’s favourite companion was her dog Moss. ‘Moss the dog,” she said, “would only work for my daddy.” They eventually moved to a farm near Hawes because it promised better land and earnings for her father. A shepherd did live in Crackpot Hall for some time after they left it. The building was abandoned in the 1950s.

The name Crackpot is considered to be Viking because of the presence of other Old Norse names in the area such as Keld (it means ‘spring’). Crack translated into ‘a crow’ and pot was a ‘crevice/crag’ in Old Norse. It could be thus deciphered as “a deep hole or chasm that is a haunt of crows”. It is said that there was a building there since the 16th century that served as a hunting lodge for a nobleman and baron who was a follower of Henry VIII. Thomas Wharton went to the dales frequently on red deer hunting expeditions.

It was a perfect day of sunshine and blue skies when we set on the walk, which turned out to be an average to easy one, with bits of steep portions thrown into the jumble. We walked past working farm sheds, met curious, frolicking lambs, flocks of poker-faced Swaledale sheep and a handful of other walkers. We did sit down once in a while to stare at the River Swale gushing by the meadows which we were treading. I have to remark upon the narrowness of the stiles and bridges during the walk. I promise you that a person with considerable girth would get wedged between those dry stone walls that ran through the meadows.

My dear husband felt extremely hot after a while and started taking off his hiking shoes and revealed hairy legs as he hiked up the cuffs of his jeans, moaning out, “Why did I not wear shorts? This is your fault”. With that blame on my head, I trudged ahead. My own shoes were not unlike clodhoppers. But once we were skipping down steep descents and hopping across the stones and boulders on the river, I wanted to give them a hug.

unnamed.jpg
Along the walls of working sheds.
2017-03-26 07.30.02 1.jpg
Duh. I challenge you to keep in double file.

Processed with VSCO

2017-03-28 12.05.16 1.jpg

2017-03-26 07.29.02 1.jpg

2017-03-26 07.28.19 1.jpg
River Swale

2017-03-26 07.27.32 1.jpg

2017-03-26 07.26.34 1.jpg
Just as we saw this banner…
2017-03-26 07.26.32 1.jpg
…lo and behold, out popped a pheasant with an iridiscent coat upon him.

2017-03-26 07.27.13 1.jpg

2017-03-26 07.25.31 1.jpg
Crossing the deliciously cold water of the River Swale.
2017-03-27 02.18.01 1.jpg
Adding the appropriate amount of crow to the backdrop in my all-black ensemble.
2017-03-26 07.25.56 1.jpg
That, my friends, is Crackpot Hall.

2017-03-26 07.26.03 1.jpg

2017-03-26 07.26.09 1.jpg
Look at the view that the families who stayed at Crackpot Hall had.
2017-03-26 07.26.07 1_1.jpg
The kitchen with its fireplace, pots and pans.

 

2017-03-26 07.25.43 1.jpg
The valleys of Swaledale, with River Swale winding through it, lie behind me. You can also spot fresh patches of snow on the hills in the backdrop. It had snowed four days ago in the north.
2017-03-28 12.54.09 1.jpg
A snap of Alice with her parents and Moss the Dog. Courtesy: BBC
2017-03-28 12.52.26 1.jpg
Alice and Moss the dog. Courtesy: BBC
Processed with VSCO
Alice’s mother, the star coffeemaker, with their flock of Swaledale sheep and possibly her husband in the backdrop. Courtesy: BBC

Processed with VSCO

How to Get There: Start the walk from the village of Muker or from Keld. The walk from Muker is longer than the route from Keld. But Muker has a tearoom and better eating options, so we had to listen to the call of the gut.

Where to Stay:

At Keld Lodge (www.keldlodge.com), a former shooting lodge, double en-suite rooms are available for £100 a night and breakfast is included within the price.

A double en-suite room on bed & breakfast basis at Bridge House (www.bridgehousemuker.co.uk) is pegged at £90 per night.

Next up, more on the stunningly green Yorkshire dales and the barren isolation of the moors.

Sheep-y Sundays

Albert Einstein was not off the mark when he said that in order to be an immaculate member of a flock of sheep one must above all be a sheep oneself. I had a sheep-like personality in the growing years of my life – till I reached Delhi and the city decided to do me a favour and rip it off. Naturally you would forgive me for thinking that I stood a chance of bonding with those precious bundles of wool.

Now, I have tried to be friends with all shapes and sizes of them. I have talked to them, I have cajoled them to come closer and then I have chased them to be friends with me. In all my time of roving the English countryside, I have to admit sheepishly that I have been an utter failure. Here are some close encounters with the Swaledale sheep that roam around the northern dales of the Yorkshire with their curved horns, healthy frames (they are not fat, they will let you in baa notes) and black faces. I deemed them the J J Ramsbottoms, just because they looked like J J Ramsbottoms.

2017-03-26 11.03.21 1.jpg

 

Processed with VSCO

2017-03-26 11.03.08 1.jpg

 

This is also peak lambing time in the Blighty. Everywhere you look there are tiny lambs in duos and trios, innocence and curiosity in their eyes, and a skip in their steps. A lamb gambolling around green pastures in the wake of a busy ewe (why with chomping on grass which they do even through snow) is one of those sights in life that is bound to put a smile on your face and a spring in your step. But before that you gotta contend with the mother looking around the corner, watching out for her wee ones.

2017-03-26 11.03.02 1.jpg

2017-03-26 11.02.58 1.jpg

2017-03-26 07.30.20 1.jpg

And now I shall sign off my sheep-laden weekend with bitter ales brewed in the Yorkshire dales that we have brought home with us. We never leave bottles of beauty behind. Hic hic.

Church with the Witch’s Hat

It is a gloriously nippy day because we have driven up north to Yorkshire for the weekend. A walk in the green, green dales can only do us good, right? We drove last night for about four hours and passed through Derbyshire. Descending the hilly roads in the county, a crooked spire much like the twisty hat of a witch loomed up ahead. For me, the market town of Chesterfield has become synonymous with its crooked spire.

One Samuel Bromley even wrote a few lines for it in the mid-19th century.

“Its ponderous steeple, pillared in the sky,

    Rises with twist in pyramidal form,

    And threatens danger to the timid eye

    That climbs in wonder.”

I don’t know about ‘danger to the timid eye’ but it certainly challenges the mind to come up with stories or go with legends that come with it. St Mary and All Saints is a late-13th century parish church upon the spire of which Satan is supposed to have landed while flying from Nottingham to Sheffield. He must have been a great sneezer that Satan – because the entire burden of the twisting of the spire is laid upon one sneeze.

There is another story that goes with the church – a stunning bride with great virtue entered the church and inspired the spire to bow. It froze in that posture clearly.

The power of satan or the power of great beauty? Well, the more non-ludicrous and staid reason is probably that the spire built straight could not bear the weight of 32 tonnes of lead tiles placed atop it. The herringbone pattern of the spire cements the twisted look.

2017-03-24 08.57.03 2.jpg

2017-03-24 08.57.00 2.jpg

As we left the lights of these towns behind and made our way through the dark country, we took a few minutes to get off on the grassy knolls, shiver and throw our heads back to stare at an upturned, inky bowl shimmering with stars.

None of the magic of it could but compare with the lardy and wrinkled nude back of an old woman in a hotel room. After midnight, we reached the hotel bleary-eyed, collected the room card, crawled to the room and inserted the card. Adi opened the door and to my astonishment I heard voices issuing out of the room. The telly is on it seems, I thought, and before I could get any further with commenting on the oddness of it, Adi looked scarred and a disgruntled man appeared at the door simultaneously. “But there seems to be a mistake, this is supposed to be our room too,” he said. Since they were comfortably settled in – the lady of the room had even decided to discard this modern inconvenience of clothes – it was only fair that we rushed back to the reception where the gentle, bald man was startled enough that he did not know how to react. It also meant that at that moment when Adi looked appropriately grave and annoyed (the best way to get extra hotel points for occasions when the hotel goofs up), I was shaking and vibrating. You know how it happens when you try and repress peals of laughter. The large desktop computer on the till in front of me was my refuge or so I thought. Adi assured me it was not.

We did get another room (thunk god) whereupon we threw ourselves upon the bed, laughed till our stomachs ached and then just passed out.

How is your weekend going? If you have any nude, old ladies and crooked spires featuring in them, we might be in the same part of town.

Burford & Bourton in the Wolds

If you are in Bibury, you have to find your way to the delightful duo of Burford and Bourton-on-the-Water. I had written a post already on the town and village respectively but here’s a quick one on the knowhow of these two. The shots are of Burford from a year ago when I sported a short hairdo and went through life-without-long-mane-shedding-all-over-the-place moments. At one point, we dreamt of old age in Burford, of a future when we could buy a little cottage and go for long walks in the country followed by coffee and pottering around in the antique stores. It was actually quite wonderful to visualise it in our mind’s eye as my husband and I sat down at The Cotswolds Arms pub in Burford for lunch on a glorious and sunny summer’s day.

2017-03-17 03.41.51 1.jpg
You have to climb to the top of the hill in Burford and look down upon the row of limestone houses that descend in a straggly row.

2017-03-17 03.41.57 1.jpg

2017-03-17 03.42.00 1.jpg

2017-03-17 03.41.55 1.jpg

2017-03-17 04.15.03 1.jpg

2017-03-17 03.41.54 1.jpg

2017-03-17 03.41.58 1.jpg

How to Get There: 

If you are not driving in the Cotswolds, wise up. Hired the car already? Then what are we waiting for. Burford is 20 miles west of Oxford and it sits on the crossroads of the A40 and A361. From London, it takes you about 1.5 hours to get to Burford. Parking is free in Burford, both in the riverside car park (OX18 4SE) and on the streets (though this kinda parking comes with time limitations). For coach and stagecoach services browse www.swanbrook.co.uk and www.stagecoachbus.com/oxfordshire/ for the timetables. Trains (www.nationalrail.co.ukwill bring you only till Oxford or Charlbury from where you have to figure out a coach or a cab to get to Burford. 

Where to Stay:

Traditional coaching inns pair well with the atmosphere of old English towns such as Burford. In the heart of town is Bull at Burford (www.bullatburford.co.uk), a coaching inn and brasserie where a small double room on bed & breakfast basis starts at £79.

If your pockets allow it, you can opt for a boutique country inn experience at The Lamb Inn (book through www.cotswold-inns-hotels.co.uk). A ‘Good Double Room’ ranges between £150-£210. If you book early you can catch a ‘Very Good Double Room’ too for roughly £150. You are also paying here for the experience of staying within the walls of a 15th-century, former weaver’s cottage.

Where to Eat:

The Cotswolds Arms (www.cotswoldarms.co.uk) is one of our comfort lunch spots in Burford. It is a traditional 18th century pub with a good selection of ales and food – they even offer gluten free dining – and rates that will not rip your heart off.

Bull at Burford, the coaching inn from above, does some mean dishes. The rates are a bit more pricey than The Cotswolds Arms, but that said, they won’t leave you gasping either.

Mrs Bumbles (www.mrsbumbles.co.uk) deli for wonderful full-fat ice creams, cheese, chutneys and local Cacklebean eggs.

What to Do:

  • In Burford, look out for a Tudor building held up on stone pillars town’s museum. Medieval wool merchants used to meet up for trade at this spot called The Tolsey. Today it serves as the town museum.
  • The 15th century Parish Church of St John the Baptist is one of the churches built using money from the wool trade. I found a cute anecdote associated with its renovation when William Morris criticised the process and had the vicar responding with the words, “The church Sir is mine, and if I choose to I shall stand on my head in it‘.

  • You are within a half-hour driving distance of charming little villages and towns in the Cotswolds such as Bibury, Bourton-on-the-WaterUpper and Lower Slaughter, Stow-on-the-WoldOxford, Cheltenham and Broadway.

Bourton-on-the-Water

If you are staying at Burford and driving down to Bourton-on-the-Water, I would suggest pottering around the shops and the river Windrush. When you are done with that do not bother with the tourist to-do such as the perfumery or the museums, just head out for walks.

Where to Eat:

The Croft (www.chesterhousehotel.comis a restaurant with a view of the Windrush. You can have a spot of lunch here or just sit back for a relaxing tea-and-cake kinda evening.

Kingsbridge Pub (www.kingsbridgepub.co.uk) on the village green is a reasonable watering hole in the village where you do get a nice range of beers and ales. We always love a seat in its beautiful beer garden with a view of children and dogs splashing about in the shallow beds of the Windrush.

What to do:

  • Walk for 1.5  miles from Bourton-on-the-Water to Lower Slaughter (takes about 40 min). You can walk further up to Upper Slaughter through Lower Slaughter.
  • There’s a 3.5-mile circular walk from Bourton-on-the-Water that takes you through a landscape dotted with river and lakes for roughly 2 hours.

For how to go about them, take a quick peek into www.escapetothecotswolds.org.uk/userfiles/file/walks/jubilee/bourton-on-the-water-and-wyck-rissington.pdf.