Friday, April 25, 2014

April 24 - To "the North"

The four of us left Ellis Fields at the civilized hour of 10am or thereabouts, driving up the A1 (M) in light traffic. Our progress was soon impeded when we got caught in a back up (“queues likely”) as northbound traffic crawled to and through a roundabout. After a 15- or 20-minute hiatus we were at last moving at normal speed. But that was not to last.

We found ourselves stopped once more, the holdup being an accident involving a truck (they say “lorry” here and I have no idea why). The occasionally frustrating side of highway travel notwithstanding, before long we started seeing signs indicating that we were going in the direction of "The North"; not just "North," or "north" or any old north, but "The North." This seemed serious.

The further we drove into "The North" the more could get a true sense of the quintessential English countryside: the rolling hills and lush greens and yellows reminded us of parts of Italy, particularly Tuscany. The mile after mile of rape seed fields, a luminescent yellow sometimes stretching as far as the eye could see was nothing short of stunning.

The other unique aspect of the North country was the sheep. No matter which way you looked, no matter which direction we turned, there were hundreds and hundreds of them, lolling around in one field after another, mostly ewes with their spring lambs gamboling about (I believe the word gambol was probably coiled just for lambs)

We stopped for lunch in Oakham, which gave Richard an opportunity to show us around the small village where he lived for eight years while attending boarding school. After a delicious light meal at Baker’s Yard in the village we strolled past the village church (setting up for a funeral), paid a short visit to the “castle” and heard Richard’s tales of growing up in this small corner of England.

most villages had the good English common sense to provide the public with "conveniences"

Bakers Yard for lunch

Bakers Yard courtyard

Oakham "Castle"

Susan admiring the horseshoes. . . 

Once back on the road we continued our trek into “The North” eventually sopping in Richmond for tea. (One of the more civilized aspects of traveling with Richard and Pauline is pulling far off the major roadways for coffee, lunch, or tea or all of the above. I found this made traveling long distances much more tolerable and indeed, we got to see far more of the countryside than we might have had we just stuck to the super highways.)

We were soon disappointed, however, when we discovered that although it wasn't 5pm, the three tearooms on the town square were already closed. We had little choice but to stop at Costa (England’s singularly unique competitor to Starbucks apparently).  Costa’s coffee was not bad — but I can’t speak to the tea, of course. Anyway, Richard thought the idea that the tearooms closed so early rather absurd and he’s a man who should know about proper timing for tea to be sure.

the central square in Richmond -- the monument had absolutely no marker or inscription on it
We found our way back out of town in what passed for local rush hour traffic and pushed on to Hexham, our final destination. Around dusk we made our way into Hexham, getting turned around a couple of times and promptly getting lost attempting to find the bed and breakfast, which, as it turned out was located not in Hexham at all but in the tiny hamlet of Low Gate, about two miles outside of town. Even though we knew we were very close, at one point we had to call our host for last minute directions since we just couldn’t find the it.

Eventually we found our way into the small car park at the Fairshaw Rigg, a Bed & Breakfast that is also home to some 15 alpacas and numerous chickens, the latter conveniently providing with incredibly tasty eggs for breakfasts to come.

Our hostess Kathryn Shrimpton came out to meet us and showed us our two rooms (there are only three). The spaces were cozy, well-appointed and it soon became clear that a great deal of thought had gone into providing an environment that was both welcoming and comfortable, a place to call home however temporary it may be.

Pauline and Susan making each other smile

two of the 15 alpacas raised at Fairshaw

As soon as we unpacked we inquired about the best place for dinner, someplace nearby. Kathryn strongly recommended the Carts Bog Inn, barely 6 miles into the hills, in a lonely place called Langley. She said the food was good and the service even better (two of her three children had worked or were working there). So off we went.

All agreed that the food was indeed delectable: the girls had the Bog Burger ("a succulent Handmade burger Topped with Smoked Cheddar, Sweet Red Onion Chutney and Mixed Leafs on a Soughdough Bun"), Richard ordered the Bog Pie, an incredible concoction of "Braised Local Beef & Mushrooms in a Herb Suet Pastry, served with a Rich Gravy" with sides of veggies and chips. I had the Northumberland sausage on a bed of mashed potatoes in a rich, deep dark brown sauce; all the beef comes from the inn's own farm.   

Northumberland sausage on mashed potatoes

Bog pie

Bog burger
The five-mile drive back to Fairshaw through the hills was cold in a pitch black night that somehow seemed more appealing than it sounds. We were in the North now, lands full of ancient memories and still haunted by dreams of past glories. And we were on the hunt for finding a few of those ourselves. It was thrilling.

No comments: