At school holiday time there is always the threat of an extended visit from the grandchildren which can be a stressful experience as they spend a week dismantling the house and trashing the garden.
Since 2011 I have lived in the east coast town of Grimsby and every so when they visit it is my job to arrange entertainment. This can be a challenge because to be honest there isn’t a great deal to do in Grimsby
I like the town but it has to be said that it is an odd place. It is a community in decline. On the south bank of the Humber Estuary it is so far east that the only place to go after this is the North Sea and there aren’t any ferries to Europe as there are in Hull on the north side of the river. It is a dead end. It is a place that you only go to by choice. No one visits Grimsby by accident. You cannot stumble upon it while taking a leisurely drive along the coast as say in Northumberland or East Anglia. It can never be an unexpected discovery.
This year I decided to rent a holiday cottage elsewhere and let them trash someone else’s place instead. I chose a cottage in the village of Thornton Stewart in North Yorkshire and drove there one busy Friday afternoon along the A1 – The Great North Road, which many people claim is the only good thing that comes out of London.
The A1 route used to be a real chore with inevitable traffic jams and frequent hold-ups but recent investment has seen it upgraded to a three lane motorway which in theory should make it much easier to drive. Unfortunately, what happens when a road is improved like this is that lots of extra traffic decides to use it so after a very short time the original problem is back again and so it was on this particular day and the journey took far longer than anticipated.
The village of Thornton Stewart is in Wensleydale (one of only a few Yorkshire Dales not currently named after its principal river) and it was immediately obvious that it was rather remote with no local facilities so it was lucky that I had had the foresight to pack food provisions and a few bottles of wine. And it was severely challenged when it came to communications as well with no Wifi and no useable telephone signal either. Only forty miles from Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle and no phone signal!
Never mind, we unpacked, picked our bedrooms, Sally and the children rearranged their room in the way that they like it – rather like Belgium after the German Panzer division had passed through on the way to France in 1939 and then we explored the garden and settled down for the evening.
The next morning we planned to drive a route along Wensleydale as far as Hawes in the west and set off early and stopped first at Aysgarth Falls about half way along the route. Aysgarth Falls is a natural beauty spot where thousands of gallons of water in the River Ure tumble, leap and cascade over a series of boulders and broad limestone steps. It was featured as the location for the fight between Robin Hood and Little John in the film ‘Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves’ and in 2005 it was included in a BBC television list of seven best natural places in Northern England. The other six were The Lake District, River Wear, Whin Sill, River Tees, Holy Island and Morecambe Bay.
I had visited Aysgarth Falls before, around about twenty years ago with my children…
And now I was back with my grandchildren…
After Aysgarth we continued to Hawes which was swarming with visitors, too many visitors to make it a comfortable experience and unable to find a parking spot we just carried on to the Hawes creamery factory which is the only place in Wensleydale that continues to make the famous Yorkshire cheese. A few years ago the owners tried to close it down and move production to next door Lancashire but no self respecting Yorkshire man or woman would allow that to happen – make Yorkshire cheese in Lancashire, whatever next! – so after a management buy-out the staff resumed production for themselves.
For a modest fee it was possible to visit the factory and a small museum and an inevitable shop where we overspent on dairy products described sometime before by T S Eliot as the “Mozart of Cheeses”, with a variety of unlikely ingredients – ginger, pineapple, blueberries etc.
On account of just how busy it was we declined to stop in Hawes and drove back instead to Castle Bolton where there is a magnificent castle where Mary Queen of Scots was once imprisoned with tall walls, crenulated battlements and expansive views over the Dales but admission was quite expensive and not certain that the children would appreciate the visit we decided against it and after we had gate-crashed the gardens without a ticket we drove back to the cottage stopping briefly in the town of Leyburn for some grocery supplies.
I had visited Castle Bolton before, around about twenty years ago with my children…
And now I was back with my grandchildren…