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Stinking Yorkshire

by  James Graham

Posted: Monday, March 25, 2013
Word Count: 1563
Summary: Something to hopefully get the group off the ground. I suppose it would fit some kind of Travel category.

Stinking Yorkshire

I always seem to be in Yorkshire at the wrong time of year. You turn off the A1 (M) and start following a leafy lane, but before you've time to relax properly you find you're entering the stink zone. As they do elsewhere, but - so it seems - on a far larger scale, Yorkshire farmers spread a malodorous gunge, giving off a heavy miasmic vapour which settles over the land like poison gas on the Western Front. No doubt this stuff leaches into the soil and nourishes the coming year's crops of barley or swedes or whatever fine produce Dalesmen coax from the rich earth. But in early October, especially on a still, fiery day, it's hard to bear.

Fortunately the Lodge at Leeming Bar, where my wife and I were booked in for a short-break holiday, was far enough from the epicentre to be virtually odourless. This is a place I can recommend. Located where it is, ten miles south of Scotch Corner, in an A1 service area beside a filling station and a McDonald's, you'd expect it to be just another roadside doss-house. But it's much, much better than that. The rooms are roomier and more comfortable than those of the average lodge, but two other things make me want to recommend it to all travellers northbound or southbound. The food in the not too in-your-face themed restaurant (the Market Square) is excellent; I can specifically vouch for Breaded Supreme of Chicken filled with Mushroom and Thyme with a Rich Tomato Sauce (£8.95) and Leg of Lamb Steak with Mustard and Vanilla Mash and Redcurrant Jus (£9.95). The other recommendation is that the staff - all of them that we came into contact with - were friendly. There are degrees of friendly, but occasionally hotel staff do such a cracking impression of genuine friendliness, helpfulness and hospitality that it's indistinguishable from the real thing. Friendly as in the Lodge at Leeming Bar, I heartily recommend.

On the second day I asked at reception if they could recommend a nice country pub where we could eat one evening for a change. The receptionist asked the office girl, 'Where was that place the wedding was you were at? Was that the Fox and Hounds?' They told us enthusiastically how good the Fox and Hounds was - and it turned out they were right. That's the Fox and Hounds at Carthorpe near Bedale, another wayside hostelry I’m happy to recommend - Half Roasted Gressingham Duckling with Orange Sauce, Parsley and Thyme Stuffing (£14.95) is one reason why. Next morning our receptionist asked us how we’d liked the Fox and Hounds, and was delighted to hear we’d enjoyed it, but sorry to hear I’d taken a couple of wrong turnings trying to get to Carthorpe. That's hospitality.

We packed as much sightseeing as we could into the three days, driving fearlessly through the stink zone to all points of the compass. I have to say we didn't take in any of Yorkshire's museums of ill-gotten gains, otherwise known as stately homes. No offence to Yorkshire – we didn’t visit any when we were in Perthshire or the West Country or Ireland or Spain or Germany either. Instead, on our first day we took the Scarborough road, climbed the steep, tortuous gradient of Sutton Bank into the sweet upper air of the North York Moors National Park. We pulled in at the visitor centre, walked out to a viewpoint, and admired the Vale of York from a great height. Having done the scenery bit, we returned to the car and headed for the place where we planned to spend the rest of the day - a prisoner-of-war camp.

In fact, Eden Camp is quite a big tourist attraction, which has deservedly won several awards. The hut complex, which housed German and Italian prisoners until 1948, has been turned into a high quality museum of World War Two. You start at Hut 1 and work your way through to Hut 29, with the Prisoners’ Canteen (Hut 16) and the Officers’ Mess (Hut 17) handily placed for a welcome break.

Some of the huts deal with the broad historical background, the rise of Hitler and political and military aspects of the war, but the most memorable displays highlight what is called ‘the People’s War’: the Home Guard, the Bevin Boys, Land Girls, evacuees, rationing, domestic life and more. The range of authentic period objects is impressive – very fine craft work, for example, shoes, toys and brushes made by prisoners.

There are patriotic make-the-best-of-it recipes for such delicacies as sausage casserole with sultanas, and more carrot dishes than you would have thought possible – ‘Clara Carrot is a quick-change artist with a hundred and one disguises, each more amusing than the last. If you’ve only met her plain and boiled you’ve no idea how delightful she can be in other modes’.

There’s an excellent display of wartime cartoons: a sour-faced Hitler sits in his open car, while the ghost of Napoleon on horseback looks down at him disdainfully, saying, ‘At least I took Moscow’. The advertisements are almost as good as the cartoons. ‘Ovaltine, the cup that cheers, strengthens and sustains.’ The Izal War Service toilet roll: ‘Safe from hidden danger’. Products that had disappeared during wartime were still advertised, to let customers know that Quick Quaker Oats or Hornby trains would be back just as soon as the war was over.

They have those creakily animated tableaux which seem so old-fashioned in the age of movie special effects. A pale, expressionless family sits round the radio, an oil lamp on the dark oak table. Father reaches stiffly forward to turn up the volume. It is Chamberlain announcing that Britain is at war with Germany. In spite of the waxiness of the figures, though, this tableau does capture the moment, as does the tableau of a bombed street, with its remnants of shop signs and pervasive smell of cordite.

Next day, having driven twice round Ripon city centre without spotting a single parking space, we put Plan B into operation: country places only. Another detail of urban Yorkshire that failed to impress was something we noticed in several places where we stopped (or tried to stop) to do a little shopping: car park signs in red, warning all whom it might concern that holders of disability blue badges were not exempt from paying charges.

'Country places only' was a good decision, not least because it led through leafy lanes to the other highlight of our Yorkshire visit: the Thorp Perrow arboretum. Here are 85 acres of splendid woodland, containing nearly 1800 taxa (i.e. groups, such as oaks, limes, maples - with many varieties within each group).

It's all too easy to become a tree nerd, one who knows the difference between a red oak (Quercus rubra) and a scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea). Out of consideration for non-members of the Tree Anoraks Club, I'll make this short and sweet. I'll content myself with mentioning only three more of the 21 varieties of oak found at Thorp Perrow - Pyrenean Oak, Lebanon Oak, and Oregon Oak (all three rare though not endangered) - and add, a little less nerdily, that to stand in front of a fine specimen English Oak (Quercus robur) is breathtaking. Or, upstaging it just a little, an elegant, dark-limbed, dark-leaved Cedar of Lebanon, the tree I would choose to worship if tree-worship were in fashion. If you are genuinely interested in identifying trees, almost every tree at Thorp has a metal tag fixed to it somewhere, bearing a code number which you can find in the catalogue. But it's just as easy to put all that aside and simply enjoy walking along the avenue of limes or through a walnut grove.

On the last day, over the moors and down to the sea, to Whitby. The town seemed in a time-warp, an Edwardian seaside resort still jollying along. You could queue up for tickets to visit the sailing ship Grand Turk; elderly Yorkshire folk sat ruddy and animated on the many public benches. We gave money to a busker who sang old-fashioned songs while working the strings of his puppet accompanist, Professor Stringfellow.

If I haven’t been perfectly polite about some aspects of the Yorkshire scene - especially the Great Stink - I have an excuse. Half my family came from Yorkshire. They say only Jews are permitted to tell Jewish jokes. By the same token, as a half-Yorkshireman I’ve made a meal (if that’s an apt expression) of the effluvia of the Yorkshire countryside. Really, my only serious criticism is of the meanness of charging disabled people to use car parks. It lays Yorkshire open to a charge that the Scotch half of me knows only too well. Apart from that, Yorkshire is cool.

But so are many other places at home and abroad. It hardly matters where you go, so long as you're in a different place, looking at different landscapes. Staying in a hotel, even a good one, isn't very congenial; there's always just a hint of open prison about it, I feel. But it's part of what we mean when we say, 'I need a break' - we need to have our attention turned to something different for a few days. Different landscapes, different food, a new stink zone.