It is actually winter I think, 4th December…winter, right? It’s winter in Manchester. It snowed and everything. I take the train south and time moves backwards to an earlier season.
Autumn is one of my favourites. Crisp air and blue skies with a hint of gold, the glow of changing leaves. Ashton court was beautiful. Open space, I desperately needed open space. Ancient oaks. Deer. It was warm enough tucked into the back of the golden stones collecting the sun to enjoy an ice cream.
We walked home across Clifton bridge, down through town. We passed hundreds of bikers dressed as santas (and elves, and reindeer and assorted holiday characters) driving jubilant and loud through the streets.
A lovely, warm, sunshiney weekend everyone said, so off we went like the magical, spontaneous creatures we are. Minimal extras, as the spontaneous non-car life demands (but more about that later). A quick search of places not too far, well suited for country walks, with a train station and a reasonable room for two nights. Not the easiest of combinations to find, but Skipton was brilliant.
The land orginally belonged to Earl Edwin, son of Leofwine and brother to Leofric of Mercia according to an 1873 history of Skipton. This is mostly a rather boring account about lords and ladies, has some interesting lists of goods and lands taxed and the meaning of wealth. But I love this description of the castle’s founding:
After the forfeiture of Earl Edwin, the first grantee of his lands in Craven was Robert. de Romille, a Norman adventurer of ancient family. In his choice of a situation for the seat of his barony, Romille had nothing but the face of Nature to direct him. There had, unquestionably, been a Saxon manse at Bolton, for the occasional residence of the lord; but it was now dilapidated; and though the sequestration of that favoured place would have attracted a monk, and its beauties a man of taste, yet it wanted two of the first ingredients in the residence of an ancient baron—elevation and natural strength. These Romille found. on the brink of a perpendicular rock at Skipton, which furnished an impregnable barrier to the north; while a moderate declivity to the south, equally rocky, and therefore incapable of being undermined, afforded sufficient room for the enclosure of a spacious “bailley,” the ramparts of which would command the plain beneath.
The erection of this castle elevated the place at once from a poor dependent village to a respectable town. In times of turbulence and disorder, the inhabitants of the adjoining country would crowd for protection under its walls. Many privileges also would be granted by the lords, many advantageous offices enjoyed by their immediate dependents…
— An extract from the History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven in the County of York by Thomas Dunham Whitaker, 3rd Edition Published in 1878
Skipton Castle is splendid, increasingly well-fortified over the years to defend against incursions by the Scots by the Clifford family, whose principal family seat it served until 1676. Of Lady Margaret Russell (1560-1616), who married George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland in 1577, the website states: ‘deeply interested in alchemy she discovered many excellent medicines‘. Looking her up I didn’t find much more about that, but she was also the patron of Emilia Lanier, first woman to style herself a professional poet (and possibly Shakespeare’s dark lady). She enjoyed being a mistress more than a wife. I would know more of them. Lady Russell’s daughter Anne is most celebrated in the placards around the castle itself, and planted the lovely old yew that stands in the castle courtyard in 1659. They grow so slowly.
Our first day, a lovely bright summer day. We were so very lucky with the weather. Not so lucky in other ways maybe. This would have been so much better split into two, not least because we found out at the end that the trains have been on strike every Sunday and we had a last three miles to walk (16 miles…my poor partner). The loop up from Newtonmore was the best and I wish we had started there to walk further up the Glen, though Gynack Burn out of Kingussie is quite lovely.
Gynack Burn is, of course, the falling water that the Duke of Gordon planned to harness to his industrialising schemes, powering factories for flour, wool and linen. One mill still stands — now The Cross, a most lovely, delicious (and expensive) restaurant that I recommend highly. But up the burn you can see worked walls of stone that once served as dams, attempts to wrest power from the water.
Geese everywhere. Big. Mean. Angry. The collective noun is supposed to be a gaggle, in flight it is a skein a team a wedge a plump. None of these terms capture the absolute terror of geese protecting their young on a narrow canal path. Hissing bastards. Look at its tongue, my god:
We got past these but not the next. Four hissing adults square in the middle, a bunch of heedless goslings along the far edge. Maybe if we still had some of our pies left, but no. We beat a retreat. Less than a mile to go around, and we didn’t mind that the older gent and his young grandson we warned about them on our way back got past without a problem (the geese had obviously taken to the water, or they are as afraid of small boys as we are). I got this picture though, probably didn’t mean much to Mark, but it was a win for me. I love these contrasts of Victorian/Edwardian industrial architecture.
We took the train to Disley, and from there walked over to Lyme and back again. A glorious walk, highly recommended.
Lyme is, of course, the house used as the outside of Pemberley. Pemberley! The home of not just any Mr Darcy but of Colin Firth playing Mr Darcy in the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Oh my days.
I saw Pride and Prejudice for the first time in 1998. I lived in LA, alone, just off Sunset, in a tiny studio in a back second floor of an old apartment building. The front faced Los Globos (Los Globos! Cabron, que lugar but still not as bad as the bar just across sunset with its incredibly large women in incredibly little clothing who were playing pool and killed me with their eyes the one time I walked in one Sunday afternoon trying to find somewhere to watch the World Cup).
This particular night a woman was off her meds or on the wrong ones or enjoying some kind of crazy cocktail in the dirt parking area, started screaming and screaming at someone in the building. Started throwing rocks. I looked out just to see it was just her, if she was all right (I mean, as all right as she could be) and she seemed to be so I didn’t think there was much to do. But she saw me looking and then started screaming at me. Awful. I debated getting the manager but thought surely someone else had already tried. A huge rock came through the window, almost hit me, scattered glass across the bed. Still screaming but the shattering glass must have got through to her she needed to leave. Good thing, because the manager made me call the police for the insurance on the window. They took hours to arrive of course, she had plenty of time to get away, and did nothing but fill out the report.
About 6 weeks ago I got a text from my GP saying I could make THE appointment and I was surprised knowing it was early but so happy, not least because my GPs were administering the vaccine themselves ten minutes walk away. Brilliant. Within hours a number of other texts arrived from another number saying cancel that appointment immediately, there is no vaccine for you.
I’d just seen the news about vaccine shortages, the hold put on the roll out.
A real fall after something of a high. Of course I knew full well the vaccine roll out hadn’t even (hasn’t even) started in some other countries. Even disappointment carries its privilege. So many here means so few there. Things beyond my control but that I hold in my heart.
I finally did get to go get my vaccination last Thursday — freedom day. Of a limited kind still I know, but still. Sadly, the closest available location was Etihad stadium, home of Man City. I cannot afford to get there to see football of course, very sad indeed. Knowing it was a stadium I also knew the whole experience would be a little bit of a fuck you to pedestrians. My theory was the newer the stadium, the more of a fuck you. I was not wrong.
Another escape onto the moors as lockdown eases. Still glorious. Today was an effort to do better than our last attempt at these particular moors, walking from the station Buxton. That was a grim, cold walk and no mistake, and a closed pub at the end of it. I almost cried.
This was a beautiful sunny day, we sat on a wall eating pasties and taking in a view of the now-open Crescent Hotel (I rather fancy staying there when things open again), bought ice cream as we walked through the Pavilion Gardens. My last memory of it I was tired, hungry and bedraggled. And there were mummers. I never know what I think about them. But no mummers today.
This was lovely, a bit long to get out of Buxton maybe, but then a swift climb up hill, over an old rail line, and up where you feel on top of the world. Across the hills in sun and shadow. A brief encounter with a geezer in a tweed waistcoat, awesome. The lovely blue waters of the reservoir. The ruins of Errwood hall and a brief wish we’d arrived a little later to see the hillside of rhododendrons in full bloom. Exhausted stumble into Whaley Bridge. Home.
We always go home to Arizona for Christmas, eat all the wonderful things my mother and I (but mostly my mother) bake, enjoy sun and home and Mexican food and friends and family. This year my brother Dan married the most lovely Jessica the day after Christmas. I have two nieces I have not met yet, nephews I no longer know, yet we could not see family of any kind, spend any time at all with friends or strangers. I feel so very lucky that the rules, as far as they can be understood, allowed us some time in self-catering accommodation in Cumbria, where we could actually go for lovely walks and see things and be outside. Alone, but outside. We cannot tell you anything of pubs or food. So strange. Yet I feel lucky we could afford to go, we had time from work, we could stay safe.
We ended up in Wetheral, which was beautiful. There is an extensive early description of it in The Stranger’s Grave, published anonymously in 1823 but finally attributed with some confidence to Thomas de Quincey. It seems fairly convincing he lived here briefly with his brother Richard de Quincey in 1814-5, if this is the correct de Quincy who bought Eden Croft and lived there for a few years. This very house just opposite the church:
The stranger stays at the Wheel, which must be based on what was the Fish Inn. You can see the building at the end of the road there. Closed in 1906 due to ‘ill conduct, drunkenness and bad situation concealed by the churchyard’, it was repurposed as a residence called the Ferry Hill House in 1907 (94). I read about a third of it. I rather loved the awkward framing of it as submitted manuscript, and this final paragraph of the ‘advertisement’ that tells of its sexegenarian author in particular:
…old age has at length damped his ardour for travelling, by depriving him of sufficient strength of body to endure its fatigues. But his mind is still active. If, therefore, the following specimen of his discoveries be favourably received by the public, he will not fail, provided life be spared to him, to lay others, from time to time, before it. If otherwise, his papers shall be committed to the flames and he and they shall perish together, leaving no trace behind them that they ever existed. – London, Oct. 1823.
I think they were better off left to the flames. So long as the stranger remains mysterious it remains interesting, but I was reminded just how little I care for de Quincey once the annoying incestuous love affair between two horribly spoiled children really gets going. I stopped reading, a rare thing for me but almost 200 more pages of such nonsense seemed too great a sacrifice.
Still, there is a brilliant description of the village in the early 1800s, before the railway, the arrival of Carlisle’s industrial magnates and their large mansions, the building of Corby Castle’s grand folly down the hillside. I quote at length, unable to do much better.
THERE are few situations, even in the romantic county of Cumberland, more strikingly picturesque and beautiful than that in which the village of Wetheral stands. It is built along the side of a hill, from the summit of which a fine and extensive prospect of hill and valley, wood and water, meets the eye; but being itself somewhat beneath the ridge, he who looks forth from amidst its white-washed and unassuming cottages, finds his gaze is compressed within much narrower limits. At the base of this hill, along a channel which seems as if it had been formed by some sudden convulsion of nature, runs the river Eden; not smoothly and quietly like the rivers of the south, but chafing and roaring from pool to pool, or dashing over the broken ledges of rock, which at innumerable intervals arise to interrupt its progress. The bank upon which Wetheral hangs, is comparatively bare of foliage. Somewhat higher up the stream, indeed, the woods thicken on this side as well as on the other; but it is upon the opposite bank, overshadowed with the tall trees for which the grounds of Corby Castle are remarkable, that the eye of the spectator is irresistibly enchained.
The bank upon which Corby Castle stands, rises, like that of Wetheral, to a considerable height above the stream. Here art and nature seem to have done their · utmost to produce a scene of unrivalled beauty, and it must be confessed that they have not laboured in vain. The whole face of the hill is covered with the most luxuriant wood, through which are cut narrow winding footpaths, intercepted ever and anon by some tall red rock, or ending in the. mouth of a cave hewn out in the side of the cliff…
Like other mountain streams, the river Eden is winding in its course. At this place the curve is such as to place the lowermost cottages of Wetheral within a perfect amphitheatre of hills; the high banks closing in both to the right and left, so rapidly as to reduce the whole compass of the prospect within the space of perhaps a mile in length, and little more than a bowshot in breadth. But to the real lover of nature, a scene like this can hardly be too confined.
We stayed at Geltsdale, from long after de Quincey’s time there. Originally called Wansdales, it was built for Christopher Ling, corn merchant and one-time mayor of Carlisle. The house was requisitioned by the RAF in WWII and briefly housed a duplicate communications centre for the delivery of aircraft from maintenance to operational units. Before the end of the war, this work was transferred elsewhere and the house became a hostel for the Women’s Land Army. There are some lovely pictures from this time, and how some lives remained intertwined with those in the village. After the war, it was briefly the County Council orphanage, then West Cumberland Farmers took over, and then private developers to return it to a private residence. We were left the local history of Wetheral and Great Corby by Perriam and Ramshaw — all page numbers here reference quotes from this. My favourite might just have been the one below:
‘The emininent architectural historian, Howard Colvin (later knighted) was on a visit to Wetheral about 1965 when he noticed amongst the rubble of the monuments cleared from the churchyard the sculptured arm of an early cross. Anglo-Saxon lettering was inscribed on the reverse of the stone. He realised the importance of the find but for some reason took it back to Oxford and did not make the find generally known. (5)
I think there are other words for taking things home with you without saying anything about it. I found a little more about the Roman history of the area but nothing much further about the Anglo-Saxon. There is a well here, St Cuthbert’s well, whose sign informs you that
According to legend, St Cuthbert’s Well was built long before Norman times when Wetheral Priory was founded. The exact date is not known, but St Cuthbert is thought to have visited Carlisle in 683 and 687.
The most extensive information comes from just after the Norman conquest, but I might add that to another post. The village, though, is lovely as is Great Corby across the viaduct, which is splendid. You can walk alongside it on a walkway that once required a toll.
With a splendid view along the Eden and down over the mill.
And a few more views from these frosty frosty days.
Just communities. Just cities. Just connections between country and city. Also, the weird and wonderful.