Thursday, May 19, 2016

Farewell to Dad on Syd's Island

For many years Mum and Dad spent their holidays up in North Yorkshire, driving up and down the dales and across the wild and bleak moors. I had been up there also a few times and there's something about this place that just steals your heart and becomes a little piece of you, embedded deep. I'd covered all of The Dales in my visits by hiking or driving through them, and grew to love them as dearly as my parents. Of all the photos I brought with me to America, my memories in England, North Yorkshire claims the largest portion. There is little commercialism up there and everything modern is made to blend in with its surroundings, you won't find a golden arch in any of the tiny villages or a large retail store, and really after spending some time up there, you begin to wonder if you actually want to see those any more. It becomes apparent that those things you thought you needed weren't actually necessities at all. The tiny villages have all that's required for a life of content, peace and quiet, a village store, a community comradery and the all important local pub. And if you're really lucky, you'll have a fish and chip shop. But for anything else, then you have to travel to a larger town, and these visits are few and far between.
And so it was this little piece of heaven that Dad had decided on being the place where his ashes would be scattered. Mum had been hanging on to his urn but during a phone conversation a few months ago she'd asked if we could go to the Dales to fulfill Dad's final wish. So with small bags packed we set off on the 6.5 hour drive with Mum feeding me boiled fruit sweets as I drove. We both grew excited as we left the busy towns behind us and entered the beautiful world of the Yorkshire Dales where you won't see any brick, only local stone used in all the buildings, walls or any construction.
 I fell in love with a little town called Richmond as soon as we drove through it. A small tourist town with one of the largest cobbled market places in England, it has been used for filming All Creatures Great and Small and also A Woman of Substance.
 The castle on the hill top used to have a keep with high walls built in 1932 that surrounded the market place and kept out the marauding Scots led by Robert the Bruce. The beautiful Gothic bridge, designed by Robert Stephenson, was uniquely built by York & Newcastle Railway to actually carry a road into the town. I loved the narrow alleys with steep hills, twisting corners and the community. The locals all saying, 'hello' to one another, a gentleman whistling as he walked by, and down at the bottom of the hill where I took the photo of the Mercury Bridge, a walking stick was leaning against a handrail to help someone up the steep hill to the market place, and then left against the handrail again on the way back down.
The gorse on the moors as we headed over to Leyburn.
Mum with Ann Calvert, the lady who used to rent us the holiday cottages. She had been renting to Mum and Dad until about 8 years ago. The last time I was here was about 30 years ago. She recognized Mum immediately but no longer rents the cottages as holiday homes but instead rents them long term to the locals. I listened to them reminiscing, Ann telling us, "Everyone's got a story." A lovely comment that I dwelled on for some time afterwards, and wondered if I would ever be remembered in someone's story.
We walked around the town, checking out the local stores, most of which hadn't changed since I was last here, and then we stopped for a drink in the local pub, The Sandpiper, where time was made for a friendly chinwag in front of the fire.
Then it was time for me and Mum to head out to complete the promise she'd made my Dad. We drove up on to the moors and towards Dad's special place.
I  scared the lives out of these two poor sheeps. They both had their heads down deep in the clumps of grass so I snuck up and managed to get pretty close until one of them saw me and nearly jumped out of his skin. These are my favorite sheep in the whole world with their curly horns and straggly wool. They seemed to forgive me and posed for a portrait at a distance that was more comfortable for them. Then back in the car. The Yorkshire Dales are always changing. Today they were wild and windswept, moody and dark during these colder months but the spring brings the daffodils, splashing color along the emerald verges of the valleys while golden gorse clings to the moors. We crested the top of a hill and looked down to a little bridge on the bend of a road, we were here.
Over the crest of a little hillock, a narrow trail leads down to a tiny island with a stream running each side of it. Dad had found this place and stood in the middle, thrusting his arms in the air, with a declaration of, "I call this place Syd's Island!" And this is where he wanted to be, where his ashes would become part of his favorite place on earth.. As we left the car and walked down the tiny path, sleet started to fall and the wind picked up.
Mum scattered some of the ashes but the container was heavy and I helped her. The wind blew past us down the island and as the sleet swept past it seemed to collect the ashes and carry them down to the grass, the two blending together. It really was a surreal experience. The wind was so strong but neither Mum or I got any of the ashes on us, and the sleet also turned to snow yet it doesn't show in any of the photos except where it's landed on the ground around the edges of the island. I had got a brick engraved and there was just one hole in the grass, as though previously prepared for us, and that's where the brick was placed with a few river stones added. I picked up some stones from the tiny beaches and put them in my pocket.
Mum and I sat in the warm car afterwards, the sleet still falling, but not so thickly as before, and we were filled with wonder, relief and a satisfying sense of completion. I didn't mention it to Mum but I also felt a twinge of sadness that we were leaving Dad in such a desolate place, but then I remembered how he had loved this area, the moment we had just experienced, and the natural clean beauty of these Dales, and how they'll always remain the same. Dad was in the perfect place.
In remembrance of Dad we decided to go to Muker where there was a little tearoom that had been a favorite of Dad's, and where he had found the best ever Welsh Rarebit. We were sent on a detour rather than the direct route and spent the next 45 minutes or so traveling along the narrowest and prettiest of lanes from Reeth to Muker.
The sleet turned to rain as we descended into the valley and every now and then we'd see a decorated bicycle on a wall, on a roof, on a tree or a few of them lined up along the road. These were all in recognition of the Tour de Yorkshire which was being ridden at the same time that we were in Yorkshire.
And so we arrived in Muker, very delighted to see the Tea Room was open, and we had it all to ourselves.
We sat in the tiny room with a crackling coal fire and as we waited for our pot of tea to arrive I daydreamed, remembering my coal fire in my bedroom in Holtye Crescent, Maidstone, and how once a boyfriend and I had ridden our motorbikes in the rain down to the lighthouse at Dungeness and then back again, just because we could. Then we'd sat in front of my coal fire with mugs of hot steaming tea while we toasted slices of bread on toasting forks. I can still taste that toast.
Our Welsh Rarebit arrived and was absolutely delicious. The 'new' owners had been there about 10 years but the previous owners had handed down the recipes, so it was the same that Dad had favored so much, loaded with blended Wensleydale cheeses on thick local bread and served with salad and a homemade relish. I was bitterly disappointed when it was all gone. But there was lots of tea and we drank it all, along with the extra hot water poured into the pot. Because I was paying with my bank card I had to leave the tea shop and walk round to the little store next door where they had the VISA machine. So quaint! We said our farewells and walked back to the car, the sleet still falling but not settling here in the valley.
But as we drove along we could look up and see the tops of the moors coated with white. It was an incredible sight, seeing the lush green down below contrasting with the bright white above. The white tops made me think of the icing on Belgium buns.
We chugged up higher onto the moors and into a magical land. The sleet had turned to snow and it looked to be about 2" deep in places. We could see down into the green valleys but up here it was winter again. The sky was heavy and hazy with clouds almost dropping down on to the peaks. The colors of the landscape were unbelievable, all I wanted to do was just stand and stare, and relish this amazing freak weather.
 I took a tiny video as we drove along the edge of what seemed like a canyon to Mum. A gorge dropped immediately below us and the views were jaw dropping. Click here.
 At one moment it seemed we were in the depths of the tundra...
 ...and then just a few seconds later when the sun emerged, the landscape changed before our eyes. It was magically breathtaking. Poor Mum wasn't keen on the height and the desolation up here with the winds blowing fiercely so we kept driving to get down in the valley. But I could have sat here all day...
And so we made it to the bottom and back into the green valley, where if you didn't look up into the hills, you'd never believe what we had just driven down from. Our last stop, since it was on the way back to the hotel, was Aysgarth Falls, a triple set of falls on the River Ure. Ruskin, Turner and Wordsworth have all been influenced by this beauty. The name means 'open space in the oak trees' in old Norse.
The path down to the bridge was lined with bluebells, how perfect, and I snapped a few quick shots.
 We were the only ones here and I did notice that the temperature was dropping so it was just a few quick photos and then I ran to get the car and drive back to Mum who I had herded over to the mill to wait for me where it was warmer.
Yet another place that hasn't changed even slightly in the 30 years since my last visit, this natural beauty looked resplendent after the rain. I trust it won't change until my next visit which will most definitely be before another 30 years passes. I found this interesting page on the mill, seen below to the right with Mum standing outside the front, and there's also information on the church at the top of the hill, which Mum told me was  beautiful building; she'd been chatting to a local while waiting for me to turn up with the car. We glimpsed it as we passed a few moments later driving up the hill, but all we wanted to do now was get back to the hotel and relax
We left Aysgarth and trundled back to our hotel through pretty little villages and past little fields with stone walls. The skies were still very dark but the sun was bursting through, and then suddenly we saw a rainbow. The icing on the cake of our day. Dad had always been such a staunch atheist but after our day of spectacular weather I kind of wondered if he'd changed his mind.

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