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A Cycle on the Celtic Fringe … Part 20

The hostel at Dufton is very attractive, nicely appointed, spotlessly clean and positioned in a perfect location for walkers enjoying the northern fells or cyclists going from north to south or east to west. It should be a near perfect hostel; but it lacks soul. In my day the difference between a good and and bad hostel was only partially to do with buildings and location and greatly to do with the warden or the staff. Hostels beginning with M were a good bet. Marsden, Mankinholes, Malham and Malton were my favourites. All offered a friendly welcome and a good value for money.  Three out of four had fabulous wardens and the other had fabulous assistant wardens and a famous cove. Nothing much has changed

I’ve been quietly writing notes for a couple of hours before the other residents start to emerge. Fortunately I’ve nearly finished, as writing with these people around isn’t easy. Our cyclists are doing Lands End to John O’Groats and they want to tell people this. I’m the only other person up and even though, they have worked out, that I’m not a loquacious fellow, I do have a pulse and they have to tell somebody. One is Scottish and is looking forward to crossing the border later today. The other is English and continuously clears his nasal passages in a rather unpleasant way. They’re university sporting types and seem unaware that blowing snorters down your nose during a game of rugby is one thing but indoors in mixed company is quite another. I decline to give them chance to regale me by fetching my bags and strapping them to my bicycle. It could be considered anti-scocial of me. I prefer to think I helped them avoid being insulted.

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The walkers re-emerge, and the one that looks like an ancient Spencer Tracey indeed appears to have passed over during the night. His face is a shade of grey not often associated with a beating heart. The one who looks like Norman Fowler props his father in a chair and then completely ignores him while he, Norman, devours a hearty breakfast. Of the German couple there isn’t a sign but the little bearded fellow is lurking in the garden with a hand rolled cigarette. I’ve taken exactly what I wanted from the hostel; a fine night’s sleep and the use of their kitchen. I don’t want faux wisdom, stale smoke and a nasal blockage. I leave them to their morning routines and pedal into the gentle lanes of North Westmoreland.

There are two sorts of countrymen in England these days. Those who are born to it, understand it, live it and breathe it. These are difficult to get to know, private and distrusting of strangers with notebooks. They are also the real deal and worth spending time with. They don’t dress particularly as countrymen but will often be in a checked shirt and jeans and may even be wearing a boiler suit.

The other sort are to be avoided at all costs. They will be dressed in tweeds, their shoes will be polished brown brogues, they will be walking a black or chocolate brown labrador and they will know absolutely nothing about anything at all. My old workmate Pete had it summed up. “Apart from people who work outdoors; never trust anybody over thirty in a baseball cap and don’t raise your hopes for anyone under thirty in a tweed cap.”

Within two miles of Dufton I’ve passed two of them. Quite separately walking their dogs along roads; something real country men rarely do. These fools have moved into the very heart of all that is beautiful; have taken a cottage out of the family line of several generations; commute forty miles to Kendal or Lancaster or Teesside; wear a cravat to the pub and walk their waddling, overweight dog half a mile and back along a metalled road when there are ten thousand acres of sheer beauty to walk in. And they spend several hundred pounds on thorn proof trousers and shooting jackets in which to do it. I’m reminded of Uncle Mort’s interjection upon seeing a man in a safari suit: “Dunt ‘e luck a pillock Carter?” And they did.

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There are high fells towering on my right reminding me that I have quietly crossed the Pennines. Way over to my left are the mountains of Cumberland and the Lake District. Westmoreland appears to be a gigantic plain between the two. Stunningly attractive, a web of tiny lanes, each a delight in itself and each all my  very own for much of the morning. I pass grazing herds and new mown hay and different views of the River Eden and villages; Silverband, Knock, Milburn, Blencarn and Skirwith. I see hardly a soul.

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After three days of tired legs and no wind in my chest, I’m getting the first feelings of fitness. The legs whir round, the miles tick away and yellowhammers announce my passing through.

My maps are not a lot of use. I use the landscape and the sun to make most of my navigational decisions and most of them turn out right. I’m heading towards Carlisle by the narrowest, quietest roads I can find. I had originally planned on a detour into Penrith; a town I have never visited, and one with lots of historical and geographical claims; but it doesn’t seem a morning for towns. And, anyway, after Appleby I don’t want another disappointment.

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As I’m standing at a junction with map out and bike resting against me a party of half a dozen primary school pupils pedal past in the company of an elderly couple. She stops, in the manner of the friendly, the helpful and the unfit. She’s Scottish and cannot remember if they have travelled through Hunsanby or not. She calls to her partner who has also stopped and is hovering 5o yards away, trying to look irritated. He comes across and takes command of the situation. She’s obviously used to this and puts up no defence. I’m amused by it and am equally happy for him to take us both in hand.

He seems keener to point out my shortcomings than to actually help me on my way. “Oh dear me no.” he repeats at intervals. “You don’t want Hunsanby. You want to go to Winkshill you do.” He gives his wife a significant look and she returns it with a look that assures both of us menfolk that I’ve been saved a huge burden by this observation. “Hunsanby?” he sighs again to make himself yet more aware of mankind’s folly. “Yes you want Winkshill and you’d be better aiming at the B6412.”

My alarms switch on. I don’t mind the silly old buffer wasting ten minutes of everybody’s time; though I am becoming concerned for the party of youngsters they were accompanying. Well, either concerned or jealous. But, I am always wary of a man who knows his road numbers.

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I give my thanks and am about to make a getaway when he pointedly adds: “You really ought to be wearing a helmet you know and make sure you don’t miss the level crossing at Lazonby. There isn’t another level crossing like that throughout the border and dales region.”

I thank him graciously and mention my concern for the little troop of young pedallers. He laughs knowingly, shakes his head and says, “Oh no; they’re not with us.”

Lucky sods, I think as I pedal quickly away.