Let's leave Ruth and Friends in the Lakes District and visit the lovely Yorkshire Dales, where Fooh discovers a cool castle...
By 'eck it's a low-vely land, it is!
Thirsk is flattish, moors not dales. This is where ‘James Herriot’ (Alf Wight) had his surgery, Skeldale House. The market place is still cobbled, except for car lanes, and there are great old buildings circling it. A lot of them have storefronts, but we can see how wonderful the houses are behind them. I walk around and take photos of an English-looking deli for Woo, since she is a foody chef, and the old post office and police station and ‘Herriot’s’ surgery, though a small boy keeps running up to the door and away and back again, with his mother yelling, because she sees me with my camera. I’m okay with it. Fooh and I find a Tesco store, to purchase salad, pasta, raspberries and a bag of sweet tangerines. Onward to Askrigg.
Slowly the landscape changes into dales... a rock wall here and there, then it explodes into gorgeous. Unbelievable. I am so lucky to see all of this. I find Bainbridge, and then my inn which I had called from Chatsworth—£30, which sounds like a deal. The back door is dirty, with cigarette butts littering the ground, the hall is shabby...the room smells like gas and dirt and the bed is dumpy. It’s weird how things can look quaint and pretty in photos. I tell her it’s not very clean and not to my taste—and how dare they (I don’t say that, as I imagine a kick from Fooh).
Beryl and John's
We find Askrigg, one mile away. This is where they filmed All Creatures. We walk around the streets, all of three about half a block long, and think there must be more to this. A small B&B, Milton House, says vacancy. They tell me £36 but only one night is available. My ensuite shower room has a twin and double bed and Beryl says to sleep in the twin. It is a very pretty room in burgundies.
I bring in my heavy bag and Fooh suggests I go find another room for tomorrow. A short skip around the corner and here we find Thornsgill House. Jim says we can move in at ten, which is gracious because that is very early for check-in. It is a higher tariff but with ensuite shower and bath. The room is in lovely aqua and cream—bigger and more private.
I have a sense that Askrigg will be a special location and wish we could stay here longer, but time is short and we must get to the lowlands of Scotland. Fooh has heard Beryl on the phone remarking that it’s supposed to be a big week-end for Easter, but this Pollyanna is sure someone will have room for us.
9 April: Lovely breakfast—Bomber Breakfasts, I call them. Too much! I meet Chris and Andy and Jack. Never would have happened if I hadn’t instigated it. ‘Are you two walkers?’ ‘Not really,’ admits Chris, ‘we’ve met our parents here and we’re going to motor with them around the Lakes District.’ She and Andy are newlyweds and invite me to the house around the corner for tea with the folks.
People do mind their business but seem very happy to talk. I had asked Jack to turn down his TV last evening, so he is terse this a.m., til I start asking questions. He relaxes and says, ‘My wife died a year ago. I’m so used to our driving trips, I’ve decided why stop? It was weird this time because she always used to pack our cases...but I like to think she’s having a good time toting around with me.’
Beryl and John have lived here all their lives. She was born in the White Rose Inn a half block away—it used to be their house. He was born around the corner—in this tiny hamlet, everything is just around the corner. They sound like the characters in All Creatures Great and Small...’oh aye, by ‘eck!’
I roll my suitcase around to Thornsgill House. Setting out for Hawes in search of a bank, we go the wrong way and Fooh points to the small sign announcing Bolton Castle. Up the lane, it looks like the old church is still active. From the outside, the castle is quite intact, as a quadrangle with a big rectangular tower at each corner. We enter by the garden door, into the tearoom, which is actually the old guest hall, with large stone fireplace.
Down the medieval corridor is the small Guest Chamber, aka tiny shop, where I pay for entry. This is where the magic begins.
It inspires photos immediately and they are allowed. This place is amazing. Built over the old le Scrope house, it was completed in 1399 by Richard le Scrope (Scroop), first Lord Scrope of Bolton and Chancellor of England to Richard II. The castle was mentioned by William Shakespeare in Henrys IV and V and Richard III. It is still owned by a descendant of le Scrope.
The top room is Lord Scrope’s bedchamber. Below is where they say Mary, Queen of Scots stayed when she was brought to England from Scotland, and kept from July 1568 to February 1569. (Though there are historical notes which claim Henry Scrope gave Mary his chamber.) The castle was clearly built for defense, not comfort. When Mary arrived here from Carlisle Castle, after her defeat at Langside by her wily half-brother James Moray, Henry Scrope had to borrow tapestries, rugs and furniture; pewter vessels were donated, surprisingly out of character, by her cousin Elizabeth...or perhaps not, since they weren’t fine silver. The private apartments conveniently had garderobes (loos) and the large fireplaces had flues which were built as tunnels in the walls. During this time, Mary was unable to prove that her half-brother and friends had attacked her and forged traitorous letters, so Elizabeth decided to keep her
‘safe’ in England.
This is where George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, picked her up to take her to damp, exposed Tutbury Castle, and thus began that down-road to the end of his and Bess Hardwick’s marriage.
Below, under barrel-vaulted ceilings, are the bake house, brewery, old kitchens, buttery, stores, under castle stables and mill room and grinding stone, with threshing floor stones worn to a shine from the horse going round and round.
The center courtyard has five identical portcullis gates, to fool anyone who doesn’t belong here, and the connecting spiral staircases (also worn and slippery) uniquely curve counterclockwise. There are trick steps too: ‘for menacing slimebuckets’, growls my passive young friend.
At the dark bottom of a tower is the dungeon, reached by a trap door above. Here, a long two-foot wide cell, cut in the stone, serves as a latrine for the guard—to the right as I step in, is a urinal receptacle and at the end of the narrow space is a stone toilet. ‘Ah, now fer a rest on the pot an’ some light reading,’ mutters Fooh, who is beginning to exhibit his beary snappy sense of humor.
We climb up to the battlements and up and up to take photos. The wind blows so hard, I can barely hold myself still to work the camera; it is frightening but a great view overlooking the ancient Forest of Wensleydale.
Fooh andI take a walk to clear our brains and see ewes with their baby lambies—one precious black and white curly boy cries the loudest—he still has the umbilical cord hanging, which Fooh has never seen and he gets a bit teary-eyed that the baby is distressed. Walking back to the castle below, the damage to it is more obvious. In the seventeenth century, John Scrope was a Royalist; Cromwell’s roundheads besieged the castle for a year until Scrope was starving. The castle was slighted, leaving the west range and southwest tower still habitable.
The gardens were created on medieval principles. There are two walled gardens with many herbs, a beautiful vineyard, a maze and rose garden. In the castle are pictures of what this looks like in summer and I decide my garden must have purple catmint, pink mallow and globe flowers. What is out in the fields now are lots of daffodils and Fooh is wondering how Wales grabbed them first, as the flower in residence.
The settlement of Castle Bolton is a circle of old houses. It all feels and looks like it must have a thousand years ago, and a mule poses for me in his little dry rock pen.
Hawes looks like Herriot’s town too—tiny cobbled streets. We buy jars of brandy butter and treacle.
Back in Askrigg, we forego meeting with Chris and Andy, et al, for tea at Syke’s Tearoom and B&B, which has another history. Lisa tells me that there used to be a hatch on the far wall, and steps up to it, where, on the other side, people could ride their horses up to the hatch, and the proprietor sold them ale. So, we know the building was here before the 1760s, when the cottage next door was built. During the late 1800s, it was the Temperance Hotel and in keeping with the name, we could have had only tea, coffee or soft drinks.
There are some tiny cards with etchings by artist Piers Brown, which are from his book, Wensleydale: Etchings and Verse, and a very large card with two mules, looking suspiciously like the mule I just took a photo of. I can’t resist and take the lot, because I realize we just saw his etchings in Hawes at Herriots Gallery and they may be worth all of five or six pounds some day...not to mention a possibly famous mule encounter.
Church, where the Mercat Cross signals the market, at the end
of the small main road, with Kings Arms (Drovers Arms) on right.
On the opposite side of the tiny street is the mercat cross that was granted to the village when given market rights in 1587, by Elizabeth I, and just behind is the old church and picturesque graveyard. Now why do I feel I have to say that? Everything here is picturesque and graveyards always are. But you must come here and see this town.
The version of Skeldale House that we all know.
Fooh is misty-rained out, so I walk in it to look at houses and trek the fields; it is too wet and I don’t want to walk to the River Ure now but it beckons from the bottom of the valley and I must. North of Askrigg, behind me, is Swaledale and across from the river in front of me rises Wensleydale. Askrigg is named by the Norse Vikings, as ‘the ridge where ash trees grow’. This river cruises down to join our old friend by Beningbrough and York, the River Ouse. On the way back, I take wet pictures of the old stiles, gates and small paths that crisscross the Dales.
Finally, and surprisingly that it took me so long in this tiny village, I recognize the house where they filmed All Creatures and have crept slowly along the driveway to the back of it to see the yard. Of course, according to the laws of coincidence, a man in a sports car drives in and I have to tell him I just wanted to take a picture—he is gracious, as I am in agonized embarrassment. Fooh later observes that from his short life’s experience in Salisbury, people always appreciate it when you acknowledge you are in the wrong.
I force myself to go out for dinner, as I haven’t seen a store to buy food. In the King’s Arms (The Drover’s Arms in All Creatures...), everyone stares. The only empty table has beer on it, which I believe belongs to the people standing, but no one makes a move and no one says have a seat...as an American woman, it is ingrained in me to be uncomfortable in a bar alone and I make a break for it. As I close the door behind me, I hear a woman go ‘Aww, what’s the matter? Where are ye goin’?’
I go to the White Rose Inn and have to sit in the bar anyway, feeling stupid and out of place. I am definitely not going to meet anyone in these places... ‘especially with this anti-social attitude,’ I can hear Fooh say. I have greens and soup; a child serves me and is very respectful and careful—someone’s boy.
Back ‘home’ at Thornsgill doing books. Spending too much, eating too much. Have become a glutton, which becomes apparent when I reach for the biscuits and Fooh offers a mandarin--again. Ordered less for breakfast tomorrow, before our trip into Scotland, where I plan to lose my clotted cream belly ~
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Excerpted from Crazy American Lady's Adventures Through England and Wales, by A.S. DeWitt MacAngel
Angel (Anjali DeWitt MacAngel)