Canada has been put on the green list for the UK and travel across the pond is possible again. I’m off as soon as I can get organized.
As a southern Englishman, brought up in London, with ancestors who hailed from Sussex and Somerset, I was always suspicious of the North. Rumour had it that the North started at the Watford Gap, but until I went to boarding school in Northamptonshire in the Midlands, I’d never ventured far uphill from the Thames. Holidays were always along the south coast, from Carbis Bay in Cornwall, near St. Ives to Camber Sands on the Sussex/Kent border in the shelter of Dungeness.
A few years ago, my beloved inherited a small cottage from her late mum where the borders of South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire touch. Using that as a base we can explore the beauty of the surrounding counties at leisure. The countryside changes dramatically every few miles and with every season. Just a few miles South lie the great estates of The Dukeries, where long ago aristos snatched up Sherwood Forest for their own use. Most of that is still green. Once past the massive bulk of Sheffield to the West, the hills and dales of Derbyshire lead to the wild country of the Peak District. Due East the land becomes flatter into the wetlands of Lincolnshire and finally the fishing towns of the coast. In Grimsby, we have outstanding fish and chips, of which I have written.
North-East we are in All Creatures Great and Small country. According to a survey in The Sunday Times, the county’s capital of York is the safest city or town in England and Wales, although Bradford, also in Yorkshire, is among the most dangerous. Using the historic city of York as a base we have explored the Yorkshire Dales and the coast around Whitby, famous as the home of explorer Captain James Cook and jet jewellery. North-West we enjoy visits to Harrogate, where my beloved was a student at the Ladies’ College. Outside the sheltered valleys the landscape is wild and barren, with a purple haze of heather in the autumn and the white dots of sheep everywhere. When we stop the car to take in the view, we can hear birdsong and the hum of bees. Occasionally, I spot a skylark and if we’re lucky we hear their lovely musical song. More often we see hawks sitting on fence posts patiently waiting for prey or hovering menacingly over the moors.
Another survey lists our village of Thorpe Salvin as one of the “best villages in South Yorkshire.” A DNA test has shown that my blonde beloved is at least 75 per cent Viking, for the land was long ruled by the Norsemen, based in Jorvik, as York was called at the time, so it’s entirely appropriate that she grew up around here. The name Thorpe comes from a Norse word for an outlying farmstead, while Salvin refers to 13th Century Ralph Salvain, lord of the manor. The church has a little bit of 11th Century, a lot of 12th Century and some “new” bits added in the 15th Century. It is a truly quaint old building and in the spring the churchyard is filled with snowdrops, with their white bells peeking through a mass of green. Close by only the frontage of the great Thorpe Hall, built in 1570 and partially demolished in the 1820s, remains. History surrounds us.
Around the cottage we are enveloped by bucolic countryside, farmers’ fields bright with yellow canola, golden with hay or green with grass where contented ewes and their lambs graze. Amongst this solid palette of colours, crocuses burst through the lawn in spring. Daffodils follow shortly along the roadsides, masses of tulips in the garden and then the trees burst into bud, first with bright lime green and then with every shade as summer develops.
For a while in the spring, blossoms are everywhere and scent the air, now clean from the long-gone coal mines and steel industries. Summers of memory were always long and hot, with the threat of bans on lawn watering. The reality is that often storms crash across the Pennines and fat drops beat on the living room windows. They blow through quickly and the reward is a rainbow, sometimes a double, as the rain veers off to the coast. Under the arc of colour, we look to the horizon with not a building in sight. The land is green and fertile.
With a tightly knit spirit of community, our neighbours have banded together to line our road with matching tubs of flowers. The village has won the national best floral display competition at least four times. Someone in the pub tells me the village has been asked to step down from Britain in Bloom to let others have a chance.
In the autumn scarlet poppies fill the fields and the leaves start to turn. Native species don’t provide the spectacular fall array of Canada’s forests, but occasionally an interloper lifts the grey autumnal landscape with a patch of colour.
Driving West to see my daughter, who lives in the Cotswolds, another area of outstanding natural beauty (officially designated as an AONB) we gladly skirt former industrial towns before we begin to drive through villages marked by ancient honey-coloured stone buildings, before arriving at her cottage on the grounds of a converted Victorian woolen mill. Sitting on her quiet flag-stoned patio, having a proper cup of restorative tea, after our journey, it feels as though the clock has been turned back centuries. The rippling millstream chuckles as it passes close by.
And everywhere we look there are stately homes to visit, so we can see how the aristos of old used to live. At nearby Chatsworth, the Duke of Devonshire is still in residence and owns all the countryside, villages and pubs for miles around. At Blenheim Palace, seat of the Dukes of Marlborough and Winston Churchill’s birthplace, I plan to stock up on their excellent whisky marmalade.
Once jetlag has been overcome, I will beetle around the countryside in my little English car, visiting some of these marvellous places, to see if my memories of them still hold up. And when I’m done, I will call a few friends of old and meet with them in ancient pubs to reminisce and tell tall tales of our youth. As I settle into my reverie, I come to the conclusion that I would be very happy living back here in England’s green and pleasant land.
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This is Nigel’s 316th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories.