As a sequel (or a second series) goes, I’m not sure many studios would have given this one a green light. A long time overdue and much anticipated, if only in my mind, I have finally returned to the North; but it’s a more understated derivative effort this time around.
In the intervening three years there have been few opportunities to get away again. As the kids grew (grow) up, school holidays devour precious stock of annual leave. House moves, job moves, life gets in the way. But there was always unfinished business with The Trip. In truth, there always will be. I think my affection for this part of the country as well as the concept of a “kind of a tour, tour of the north, restaurant tour, really good restaurants”, is embedded. And yes, while there were original elements that we didn’t include in the 2016 effort, truthfully they are just spurs rather than the raison d’être for coming back.
As an aside, one of the developments in my life since the last tour is my having resurrected my interest in cycling. A few months ago I caught wind of a near-perfect cycling-based trip to the same region. Unfortunately the timing wasn’t ideal and so I had to pass up the opportunity but Broleur’s epic Tour of the Roses is something that I hope gets a rerun and that I will be able to roll out on. Watching the UCI World Championships and the focus on Harrogate and the Yorkshire countryside did a good job of further piquing my interest.
Anyway, back to my Trip. And it’s very much mine this year. Sadly my brother wasn’t able to join me and I couldn’t imagine doing the tour with anyone else so I’ve come away alone. That of course changes the feel, the atmosphere. Obviously a big part of the Trip is the dynamic between the protagonists. From an objective viewpoint, to entertain is necessarily a two-man job (perhaps take that as a your cue, if you’re expecting gags).
However on some level it opened the door for me to get away on a more ad hoc basis. Just book and go. But where? I knew I wanted to tick off at least a few of the missing parts from the first outing. So I plotted Malham Cove and Bolton Abbey. Hipping Hall was a mere flypast last time and there was the Yorke Arms too. On the face of it that should all be do-able. Just stick to the Yorkshire Dales National Park. However that meant eschewing the Lakes and I couldn’t do that.
With the driving logistics also getting a look in, given I had merely 3 snatched days from London, I settled on a route that took me back to the Inn at Whitewell. Partly because we never made it for lunch the first time around but also because I love the spot. From there I knew I could get across to Malhamdale, find a spot there for the night and get that walk in. Bolton Abbey and the Yorke Arms would take me too far East so I chose to head back North and West into the Lakes and hole up in a hotel on the shores of Grasmere that recalls family holidays 30 years go. From there I could get in another walk in the fells before the drive back.
And so on Friday morning, after the school run almost 3 years to the day, I pointed the Jeep, my other veteran from the last Trip, once again at the M3, M25, M40 and M6. Determined to make Whitewell for lunch I fixated on the Waze ETA like Luke Skywalker on his targeting computer. The traffic gods were kind and 3 hours later I turned out of the moribund suburban landscape of Longridge, accompanied by a rather epic soundtrack as I caught sight of the jutting hills of the Forest of Bowland. Before long I was back there, back on the proper rural roads. A different route in to 3 years ago, forgoing Steve’s directions via Ribchester, but no less picturesque. I was up against the clock so again failed to stop for photos. The autumn colours and the deep forest hues of the Whitewell Estate (part of the Duchy of Lancaster I hear) will have to stay in the memory bank.
As before the Inn suddenly appears through the trees. And all is familiar. I made it in time and fortuitously found a seat by the window (alas not that seat). Fish pie and chips accompanied the wonderful view. The lunchtime crowd that familiar chattering collection of fleece and jeans Baby Boomers. The same background Steve and Rob punctuated with Pacino and Caine. It felt great to be back there. A familiar stranger. I wandered outside briefly for a few photos and to take in the air before I planned to leave. Until I noticed the chairs by the log fire were recently vacated. So I settled in, with the paper and luxuriated a while longer. In hindsight I should have ordered a coffee, but there was no room for sticky toffee pudding.
Eventually I had to leave, nagged by the clock. The drive ahead of me took me part of the way along our previous route on the morning of day 2. Up to Dunsop Bridge before heading East across the exposed hillsides towards Yorkshire and the Dales. A lot brighter this time around I eventually crossed into the National Park and wound my way through the impossibly atmospheric lanes towards Malhamdale.
Cycling around the AONB of the Surrey Hills as I have done with weekly regularity this past 12 months (and having grown up in a similar AONB on the Kent Downs), I have a bucolic and nostalgic sense of the countryside. But there’s something different about these places up North. They ooze a history (albeit one that is, in my ignorance, imagined) and a no-nonsense agrarian atmosphere that I don’t feel in the same way down south however pretty it may be. Perhaps it’s the harshness of the landscape. Buildings, walls, gnarled trees and gnarly livestock all braced pre-emptively against the inevitable weather. Roads that roll and dip and dive in and out of valleys, for miles, cascading waterfalls and mossy fern gullies. Even to a southern country boy it’s other-worldly at times.
And so I pull into the achingly pretty Malham village. I’m staying at the Listers Arms. For something booked on scant research a few weeks ago, it’s a great serendipitous choice. As the afternoon is well-advanced but with beautiful autumnal light I gird myself to get out into my surroundings and tick off the Malham Cove walk. In Episode 5, Steve climbs up onto the limestone pavement above Malham Cove (but he goes via Gordale Scar, a scramble and a 2 hour yomp). As I’m here overnight I elected to do the pavement via Malham Cove today and resolve to do the Scar route tomorrow. One of the advantages in arriving comparatively late in the day is that I have the place largely to myself. The Cove is a lovely spot, the recent rain had swollen the stream (river?) that it feeds and all is damp and lush. I scrambled to the top of the cliff and after a couple of false starts, eventually find myself standing, mercifully undisturbed, looking out over the Dale, watching the sun dip behind the hills and the lights in the village slowly beginning to light up the gloaming.
It’s upsetting on the way up to the cliff’s edge to be punctuated by signs for the Samaritans. But I can understand it. Part of my motivation to come here this weekend, alone, has been a growing feeling of stress and the building pressures of work and domestic life. I can only say that to stand there, on a evening like that, it felt more like alleviating therapy than an invitation to anything darker. I only hope everyone who heads up there feels the same.