For the long Easter weekend, S decided that instead of celebrating in time-honoured fashion (lounging around eating chocolate eggs whilst watching Mary Poppins for the 27th time), he wanted to go up to Yorkshire and the Lake District for some mountain biking. And as I couldn’t bear the thought of three days by myself – everyone I knew was out of town – I decided to tag along.
I hadn’t been to Yorkshire for years – unless you count a whistle stop there for a wedding last year, which I don’t – and I’d never been to the Lake District either. They are a long way from the West Country, at least in terms of British distances. It quickly developed into an Epic Trip of Twelve Counties (and that’s not including Unitary Authorities).
While S was pounding down muddy mountains, I was left to prowl around various scenic spots over the two days he spent cycling. My first stop was Thornton le Dale which, although very pretty and full to the brim of picture-postcard cottages, doesn’t really have a lot to do in. I looked at the baby ducks in the pond for a bit and tried to ignore the drizzle, but after a while was forced to admit defeat and head into an Authentic Tourist Teashop, the sort with mob-topped pots of jam on pine dressers and lots of “ye olde” about the place. Despite its manky coffee, the teashop served up something that I have always been curious about – fruitcake with cheese. Yes, my piece of moist, delicious cake came covered with a slab of Wensleydale. And I do mean slab, a proper paving-style. It was huge.
The experience did not disappoint – the combination of rich fruit with crumbly, slightly bland cheese is an excellent one. It’s just a shame it’s limited to a small corner of the country – although I could start doing it at home with some Cheddar…
I felt the need to burn off all those carbs so embarked on a long walk on our next stop, in Hamsterley Forest. This nearly ended in disaster, however, as I started off blithely walking down a marked path but quickly ended up wandering slightly lost in the middle of a strange place. Signage definitely isn’t the Forest Commission’s strong point – there was a distinct lack of arrows and route markers, which in turn led me down some disturbingly gloomy tracks that didn’t seem to be part of any defined route. Not another soul was in sight for miles and I started to get very reminded of Deliverance – I fully expected some banjo music to start up and a man to pop out from behind a tree, wearing denim dungarees and a scary smile. Luckily I made it out but not without heavily cursing the FC and my non-foresight (nearsight?) in not putting on proper walking boots.
In fact, averting disaster was a bit of a predominant theme, as S had an extremely near-miss with a duck and our car wheels. She appeared from nowhere on a country track and despite judicious application of the brakes, I thought her number was up. Luckily, apart from losing a few feathers, she seemed OK. I think S was more shaken by the incident than the duck, as his appetite was distinctly quelled at dinner that night, whereas I happily tucked into a 10oz steak. Greedy, yes, especially with the 4″ diameter onion rings, but hey, I’d done a lot of exercise that day, trying to find my way out of the forest before the car park closed at 5pm and locked me in there for the night.
The next day brought more walks in FC territory and even more rubbish signage, but I was pleased to complete two walks in 45 minutes each, despite them both being graded at 90 minutes. S was happy as he found some excellent singletrack, and I was happy because there was a cafe in the visitors centre that had a balcony overlooking the forest, where I sipped earl grey tea in the sun and read Glamour. It was a nice contrast to my walking boots and combat trousers.
The trip also yielded sights of some fantastic place names. We made a special trip to see Toronto after I spotted it on the map. All I can say is, it’s a lot smaller than Toronto, ON. And there’s definitely no CN Tower or Chinatown.
And then, finally fulfilling a long-held dream, I got to visit the best place name in the country – wait for it – Thornton le Beans!
Yes, it does exist, and no, I have no idea why it is called that. All I know is that ever since I’d read in this that it was Bill Bryson’s favourite British place moniker, I’ve wanted to go there to see it for myself. S was happy to indulge my whim and take a photo to prove I’d been there. So there’s another ambition ticked off the list.