31 July 2017

A Yorkshire Dales' Diary

Forty Shades of Grey

I close my eyes and picture....

Dear Diary, for some reason I imagined Bolton was in Lancashire, but Bolton Abbey is actually in Devonshire.  No, sorry.  It’s in a part of Yorkshire owned by the Duke of Devonshire (who lives at Chatsworth in Derbyshire). 


Read on….

There's one thing that won't change

Dear Diary,

I love the Dales.  My first visit was as an A Level Geography student at Easter 1968.  We stayed, with much hilarity, at The Golden Lion, Horton-in-Ribblesdale, and explored Gordale Scar and Malham Cove, where, if I remember right, no one had ever been before.  Nowadays, of course, it’s all conveyor belts and escalators, and family this and bus party that.  But we serious geographers had the place to our grey selves.

Jim Townsend, Rich Lovesay, Roger Hollis, Mark Standage and Chris Mackay
in The Golden Lion, Horton-in-Ribblesdale, Easter 1968

Return was inevitable, and as an undergraduate at Lancaster University there were times when it would have been rude to refuse.  I remember an occasion when I was taken to a party at the Old Hill Inn near a pothole at Chapel-le-Dale for someone’s twenty-first birthday celebration and said celebrant downed a world record double figures of pints of Theakston’s Old Peculier before being inducted into Valhalla with a green pint (a pint glass filled from all the spirits on optics behind the bar).  Potholing would have been an easy option.

Then, years after, I lived down the road from Ingleborough, at Burton-in-Lonsdale, for a year while taking my MA at Lancaster, and would sometimes set out from home to climb the flat-topped ‘peak’ that beckoned me.

I learned to love the limestone and millstone grit.  Dry stone walls were beautiful.  Bridges over rills and becks were wonderful.  The farms and barns grew out of the landscape as naturally as molehills or bent hawthorns.  Every day I walked somewhere for a few miles.  This day to High Bentham.  That day fording the Lune to Burton-in-Kendal.

We strayed then, and since, to other dales. The slightly twee Dentdale, with its Burberry reek of Prince Charles.  We had days out with the children.  And separately I explored Swaledale with my brother from the Yorkshire Moors.

On this occasion, I am piloting a brand new VW Golf, and miles mean nothing. Arkengarthdale here we come.  Littondale – nothing. I could say this spoils the experience, and I should have walked. But, Hey!  Four wheels good – two legs bad!

We stay at The White Lion, Cray, a recently refurbished traditional stone hostelry which I strongly recommend; Denis and Amelia are very welcoming and it is very comfortable.  But we walk to Hubberholme, to scent the scattered ashes of J B Priestley, who is commemorated on a plaque here, unveiled in 1986 by his widow Jacquetta Hawkes.  It says: Remember J. B. Priestley O.M. 1894-1984 Author and Dramatist, Whose ashes are buried nearby: He loved the Dales and found 'Hubberholme one of the smallest and pleasantest places in the world.’

At the unveiling ceremony Priestley’s son, Tom, said that his father had found here that the landscape was balanced, as well as varied and beautiful. He had travelled all over the world, but Hubberholme remained his favourite spot as he enjoyed its smallness, the great age of its buildings, and its peace. 

We raise glasses to the departed in The George, where Priestley sat and smoked his pipe.  It is indeed a rather fine spot…..  I can still smell the tobacco…..  In 1933, on the road for his English Journey, Priestley wrote that, Before I leave this inn I will add that for lunch they gave us soup, Yorkshire pudding, roast chicken and sausages and two vegetables, fruit pudding, cheese and biscuits, and coffee, all for two and sixpence each.  And that – when they have a mind to – is the way they do it in Yorkshire…..

The weather is what you would expect - Grey. It’s a Brexit summer, so it rains, though, to be fair, not all the time.  We drive up to 1,300 ft at Kidstones Pass, and then slip down into Bishopdale.  The great thing is that the rain keeps the crowds at bay, and stokes the falls, so that the river Ure at Aysgarth is roiling, but unattended in the wet. 

Up the hill, past another Bolton, this time Castle Bolton, closed to the public today for a wedding.....  Momentarily I wonder about the augury of marrying in a ruin where Mary Queen of Scots was once a prisoner.

Then over Redmire and Grinton Moors, reaching 1,500 ft, down into Swaledale, then up Arkengarthdale to the remote Tan Hill Inn, at 1,732 feet above sea level the highest inn in the UK, currently up for sale at £900,000 for the lease.  Grey skies pile over the moors, with only the glint of lorries passing along the A66 to the north as signs of life.

Through Keld, and then Thwaite, and over the Butter Tubs Pass (second of three King of the Mountains climbs in Stage One of the 2014 Tour de France) (some mishtake? Ed).  England’s only truly spectacular road, according to Jeremy Clarkson

Near Hawes, we enter the dragon, or rather make our way through the thirteenth century  Green Dragon Inn to visit the famed Hardraw Force, which, after the rains, is boiling and hissing down its 100ft straight drop, the highest in England.  

The peat-rich water pounds down onto the rocks below and the spectacle is greater than even J M W Turner could imagine.

Hawes is busy, with nowhere to park and the masses avoiding the rain in pursuit of tea and cakes, so we press on over the highest road in North Yorkshire, reaching nearly 2,000ft above Oughtershaw Beck.  

From here we enter Langstrothdale and follow the youthful Wharfe back to Hubberholme.

The upper stretches of Wharfedale, From Buckden to Kettlewell, are gentle and quiet. Grey Arncliffe, in Littondale, is even quieter, 

and the road up through Halton Gill, under Pen-y-ghent, is exposed and raw, until you approach Malham, where the crowds rise up to climb the Cove.  Here, in 1968, I took a picture from the top.  

There was no one to be seen; no eroded path, no flights of steps, nothing but grey stone and water.  Now the valley is dotted by bright cagoules, as families flock to see the three hundred foot cliffs in the drizzle.  

Nearby Malham Tarn is less approachable and lies serene under grey skies, but Gordale Scar, romanticised by William Wordsworth in his sonnet, Gordale (let thy feet repair/To Gordale chasm, terrific as the lair/Where the young lions couch;) is much trafficked, and understandably so.

Reggie Fair and Phil Bailey with some intrepid sixth formers in 1968

Dear Diary, the river Wharfe (the name means winding river) flows nonchalantly by Bolton Priory.  Upstream it courses through the Strid, where a chasm of eroded rock is beautifully set in oak woods.

Henry VIII has many things to answer for, one of which is that he caused Romantic Poetry. Without his dissolution of the monasteries Wordsworth couldn’t have drooled over Tintern Abbey, nor written the following lines:

And, up among the moorlands, see
What sprinklings of blithe company!
Of lasses and of shepherd grooms,
That down the steep hills force their way
Like cattle through the budding brooms;
Path, or no path, what care they?
And thus in joyous mood they hie
To Bolton's mouldering Priory.

William Wordsworth
The White Doe of Rylstone, 1807

So I turn to my history books to look up ‘Enery the Eighth ('Enery the Eighth I am, I am!) and find this….

[His] character was certainly fascinating, threatening, and intensely morbid, as Holbein’s great portrait illustrates to perfection. [His] egoism, self-righteousness, and unlimited capacity to brood over suspected wrongs, or petty slights, sprang from the fatal combination of a relatively able but distinctly second-rate mind and a pronounced inferiority complex…..  

(John Guy in The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain)

Fake News, my friends!  I'm the most successful person to ever run for the presidency, by far!

Dear Diary: I am certainly flattering Donald J Trump by drawing any comparison between him and our very late king, but, although the dissolution of the monasteries gave us some spectacular (and very romantic) ruins, it was an act of vandalism on a par with those of the so-called Islamic State.  As John Guy explains:  Of the unplanned effects of the dissolution, the wholesale destruction of fine Gothic buildings, melting down of medieval metalwork and jewellery, and sacking of libraries were the most extensive acts of licensed vandalism perpetrated in the whole of British history.  

There is of course no parallel with Trump, but consider this: Trump Tower rose up on the site where the Bonwit Teller department store once stood. Trump bought the building and started demolishing it in 1980, after having promised to save the Art Deco grillwork above the entrance and the sculptures above the eighth floor, as long as it did not cost too much. The Metropolitan Museum of Art wanted the pieces from the building.

But without a word, all were destroyed. A spokesman for Trump, who was likely Trump himself, told the New York Times the sculptures "were without artistic merit." As for the grillwork, he said, "We don't know what happened to it." (Spectrum News, 29/9/2016).

The dissolution was also a disastrous economic gambit.  John Guy again:  The bitter irony of the dissolution was that Henry VIII’s colossal military expenditure in the 1540s, together with the laity’s demand for a share of the booty, politically irresistible as that was, would so drastically erode the financial gains as to cancel out the benefits of the entire process….. 

No comparison, of course, with Trump’s intention to vastly increase expenditure on the US military.  And note this from the New York Times in June 2016: 

ATLANTIC CITY — The Trump Plaza Casino and Hotel is now closed, its windows clouded over by sea salt. Only a faint outline of the gold letters spelling out T-R-U-M-P remains visible on the exterior of what was once this city’s premier casino.

Not far away, the long-failing Trump Marina Hotel Casino was sold at a major loss five years ago and is now known as the Golden Nugget.

At the nearly deserted eastern end of the boardwalk, the Trump Taj Mahal, now under new ownership, is all that remains of the casino empire Donald J. Trump assembled here more than a quarter-century ago. Years of neglect show: The carpets are frayed and dust-coated chandeliers dangle above the few customers there to play the penny slot machines…..

AnywayThere's one thing that won't change….

Oh, and The matrimonial adventures of Henry VIII are too familiar to recount again in detail, but, If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, I’d be dating her…..


Dear Diary: I came here for peace and quiet.  I came to escape the nightmares of Brexit and Trump!  Leave me be!

We retire to The Falcon Inn (used as the original location for The Woolpack in the TV series Emmerdale Farm – or so they tell me) in Arncliffe, Littondale, for pork pies and mushy peas, and a jug of local ale.  Away from it all…..

What could be better?  

Let it rain!

Dear Diary: There's one thing that won't change - I shall always worry about Don.....

But most of all I miss a girl

In Hubberholme's sweet town 

And most of all I miss her lips 

As soft as eiderdown 

Again I want to see and do 

The things we've seen and said

Where the breeze is sweet as Langstrothdale 

And there's forty shades of grey

[With apologies to Johnny Cash]

26 July 2017


Following up some Leeds.....

Chris, the landlord of The Head of Steam in Leeds City Centre, is enthusiastic about Leeds.  Originally from Belfast, and lately from Newcastle, he says there is no comparison - Leeds is a great place, and he should know.

If you believe what you read in Wikipedia, too, Leeds has class, notwithstanding local boy Peter O’Toole’s famous quip, I’m not working class: I come from the criminal classes…. [though, for the record, he also said, I did quite enjoy the days when one went for a beer at one’s local in Paris and woke up in Corsica; which is to say one should always take famous quotes with a packet of salted crisps.]

According to Wikipedia Leeds has the most diverse economy of all the UK's main employment centres and has seen the fastest rate of private-sector jobs growth of any UK city and has the highest ratio of public to private sector jobs of all the UK's Core Cities. Leeds has the third-largest jobs total by local authority area with 480,000 in employment and self-employment at the beginning of 2015. Leeds is also ranked as a gamma world city by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network; and is considered the cultural, financial and commercial heart of the West Yorkshire Urban Area.


However, according to Mahmood, the charming taxi driver who delivers us to the station on the way home, there is a lot of unemployment in Leeds, and the economy is largely driven by the 200,000 or so students who throng the city centre on Thursday (?) Friday and Saturday nights, spending loads of money (where do they get it from?).  We pass a cluster of men and women near the Corn Exchange breakfasting on cans of strong lager, and people with grubby sleeping bags in doorways, holding out paper cups for change.

Mahmood has been a taxi driver for ten years.  Before that he worked in an ice cream factory (closed); a textile company (closed); and a metal works (closed).  Now in the summer recess, he says the place is very quiet and there is little work.

Mahmood points to colossal new buildings, saying that the City Council are just creating new apartments everywhere, but doing nothing about the traffic…..

We are passing through. Some fifty years ago I stayed in Armley with my brother, who lived there awhile.  We revisit the house, which, apart from a new front door and a loft conversion, is much the same.  

The Golden Lion, however, at the foot of the hill, has seen better days.

We visit the Leeds Industrial Museum, in the sprawling complex of Armley Mills.

There are eight people here, and three of them are staff.  One of the last operational spinning mules (Platt Brothers & Co. Ltd. of Oldham, 1904) 

is being demonstrated, with a commentary that includes notes on the origin of words and phrases we take for granted, such as knocking on and knocking off (terms for starting up and shutting down the machine) and doffing (as in doffing your cap – coming from the term for removing bobbins).  Among the exhibits within this heroic museum is a complete 1920’s cinema showing clips from Louis Le Prince’s moving pictures, some of the earliest ever shot, on the bridge in Leeds.  But no one is watching.

We walk back into the city centre along the Leeds-Liverpool canal, 

once a vital artery for the wool trade that made Leeds, and Yorkshire, prosperous.  The tow path is now much more active than the water, with cyclists and walkers vying for space, while weeds enjoy the undisturbed shallows of the canal.  

It’s a far cry from John Dyer’s verbal pictures in The Fleece (1757):

And ruddy roofs and chimney-tops appear,
Of busy Leeds, up-wafting to the clouds
The incense of thanksgiving: all is joy;
And trade and business guide the living scene,
Roll the full cars, adown the winding Aire
Load the slow-sailing barges, pile the pack
On the long tinkling train of slow paced steeds…..
Thus all is here in motion, all is life…..

The canal joins the Aire just by the busy central station, with the river channelled under the railway arches, 

and sliding past apartments, hotels, office blocks and bars that rise fitfully towards the sky.  Bridgewater Place, known affectionately (?) as The Dalek, stands proud above Water Lane, subject to much discussion since it transpired that the wrong sealant was used to fix its glass, leading to deaths and injuries in the artificial wind tunnel effect it creates at times.  The reconstituted warehouses of the Calls, the Centenary Bridge (commemorating the centenary of the city’s city status – despite the city’s lack of an Anglican Cathedral; the Diocese of Leeds has three cathedrals: Ripon, Bradford and Wakefield), Brewery Wharf, Clarence Dock (The historic Clarence Dock, also known as Leeds Dock, in the centre of Leeds has undergone redevelopment with retail, leisure and office buildings surrounding the docks as well as the Royal Armouries Museum. The River Aire and the Aire & Calder navigation are seperated [sic] by an island that is accessible by bridge. Other highlights include Leeds Lock with it's [sic] lock keepers [sic] hut, the Leeds Dam weir and water taxis in Clarence Dock) and The Royal Armouries Museum (home to the £42.5 million purpose built national collection of arms and armour that opened in 1996 to relieve pressure on the Tower of London) – are all very fine.

And this speaks of a city that is doing well, though little bears witness to the fact that in 1770 Leeds handled one sixth of the UK’s export trade, and that it was expanding throughout the Victorian era.  Since the terminal decline of manufacturing, the contemporary economy has been shaped by Leeds City Council's vision of building a 24-hour European city and capital of the north. The city has developed to become a telephone banking centre (thirty national and international banks have offices here) connected to the electronic infrastructure of the modern global economy (I hate to say it, but will Brexit change this?) and there has been growth in the corporate (the city is an important centre for equity, venture and risk finance) and legal sectors (there are 150 law firms here, employing nearly 7,000 people). All this increased local affluence has led to an expanding retail sector, with the largest John Lewis store outside London, and numerous shopping malls and arcades which draw delirious shoppers from all over Yorkshire and the north…..

We were in Leeds for around 24 hrs, so I looked at the visitleeds.co.uk website for suggestions.  This is what I found:

Morning: Visitors can soak up the incredible diverse shopping in Leeds, exploring Trinity Leeds, the city’s newest and largest retail destination and home to over 120 high street favourites. Victoria Quarter, housed in beautiful arcades, is the perfect next stop for high-end designers, including Mulberry and Louis Vuitton, where lunch can also be grabbed in the stylish Harvey Nichols CafĂ©.

Afternoon: Grab some culture, heading to the Cultural Quarter, home to a number of museums and galleries just metres from one another. Be sure to visit the Henry Moore Institute, part of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle and home to the largest collection of sculpture in Europe.

Evening: Taking destination dining in Leeds to new heights, Crafthouse is the perfect choice for a special restaurant experience overlooking the skyline of the city. With an incredible menu and its own rooftop garden it’s tough to beat – for post-dinner drinks, simply head upstairs to the glamourous [sic] bar, Angelica for a sophisticated evening of cocktails and conversation.

But I don’t want to shop. (Even the Church of England Diocese of Leeds website includes this statement: Famous for... Leeds Art Gallery, Henry Moore Institute…. and arguably the best shopping outside of London.)

And I don’t want to Grab.

And the Leeds Art Gallery is CLOSED UNTIL LATE 2017.

(And the Henry Moore Institute doesn’t have any works by Henry Moore…..  And I sincerely doubt that it can be the largest collection of sculpture in Europe….  Rather depends on what you mean by large.  How about the Henry Moore Studios & Gardens at Perry Green?)

So we prowl around the city centre, admiring the very fine Corn Exchange 

(designed by Cuthbert Brodrick and erected 1861 – 63 with 59 offices and 170 stands on the trading floor) as well as Graeme Wilson’s nearby mural (Cornucopia),

winner of the Leeds Award for Architecture and the Environment), and Kirkgate Market (voted Britain’s Favourite Market at the ‘Great British Market Awards’ on Thursday 26 January 2017).  Leeds City Council is/are proud of this particular asset.  Their website proclaims Welcome to Leeds Kirkgate Market, one of the largest indoor markets in Europe, Kirkgate is a shopper’s paradise from fresh food, drink and fashion to jewellery, flowers, hardware and haberdashery.

At the heart of the Leeds retail scene since 1857, Leeds Kirkgate Market is home to some of the most characterful traders in the city, with businesses spanning generations and representing a wide range of nationalities including a Polish delicatessen and a Chinese supermarket….. 

I meet one of the characterful traders, a fishmonger with 35 years of experience here.  He notices me taking a photograph of empty boxes and containers stacked against a wall bearing one of many signs which clearly states that This area must be kept clear of boxes, refuse, stock & containers….  Enforcement action will be taken for non compliance…..

Apparently action is lacking.

The oldest part of the market building is a grand example of cast ironwork and glass, and at its heart is the original market stall set up by one Michael Marks, a Russian-born Polish refugee in partnership with Yorkshireman Tom Spencer.  They [sic] are still there, though, despite the claim that this is the largest covered market in Europe with 800 stalls and over 100,000 visitors a week, it don’t beat the Great Market Hall in Budapest (or maybe that isn’t Europe?)

On the outskirts of Leeds the stark remains of Kirkstall Abbey stand in a park by the river.  Constructed in the mid to late twelfth century by Cistercian monks on land acquired by Henry de Lacy, this was one of the finest buildings in the country.  Closed in 1539 as part of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, the place fell into ruin. Over the centuries, stone was removed for other building.  In the late nineteenth century the then owner, Colonel North, a renowned dealer in gunpowder, donated the ruins to Leeds Corporation. 

Nearly fifty years ago, returning to Armley from a trip to Ilkley with my brother, we paused here.  And I took a photograph.

In the early seventies, on a school trip with some of my pupils from Manchester, we paused here.  And I took a photograph.

Time stands still, for a moment.  The blackened stones tell the story of the industrial revolution.  Abbey Mills, Burley Mills, Armley Mills – their chimneys filling the air with soot that snowed down on the people and their homes. 

On a rainy morning last week, I passed by again.  And took a photograph.  Some things don’t change.

Nearly fifty years ago I recall visiting a shebeen in Leeds, by the name of the Shaheen Club.  Upstairs in a crumbling red brick building we knocked at a shabby wooden door.  A small port opened and a dark face cleared our credentials.  Inside we drank bottled beer accompanied by curling cucumber sandwiches.  Rocksteady music issued from somewhere in the dark, and after a while my memories fade.

About the same time a youthful Tony Harrison was chiselling his name on the gravestones of literature, after dalliances with fellow Leeds University students Wole Soyinka and Barry Cryer…..

In Leeds it was never Who or When but Where.
The bridges of the slimy River Aire,
Where Jabez Tunnicliffe, for love of God,
Founded the Band of Hope in eighteen odd,
The cold canal that ran to Liverpool,
Made hot trickles in the knickers cool
As soon as flow.

Tony Harrison – Allotments

I’m not an advocate for the Temperance movement (Jabez Tunnicliffe’s Band of Hope was formed in Leeds in 1847 to promote temperance among young people).  Nor was Tony Harrison when I last saw him…..  In fact my favoured haunts in Leeds today are the remnants of the town’s drinking past.  Places such as The Grove Inn 

or Whitelock’s Ale House 

give me hope that the past is not just a foreign country….  Though it’s also true that some more recent drinking (and eating) hostelries, such as The Reliance and The Head of Steam, are keeping worthy traditions alive.

And long may it last.

My brief return to Leeds may not have done the place justice.  Of course tastes differ, and if shopping is your thing, then so be it.  I may be alone in worrying that an economy based on a combination of 200,000 students partying for three nights a week and some 500,000 souls who work in retail or office employ could lack something in the way of future proofing.  But then there would have been those who thought that the wool trade would last for ever……

The one thing I was impressed by, however, was Chris’s optimism and enthusiasm.  If I do go back, my first call will be at The Head of Steam.

As a footnote, I mentioned Barry Cryer earlier in connection with Tony Harrison.  Barry was born in Leeds, educated at Leeds Grammar School and at Leeds University, where, after one year, he gained a B. A. Eng. Lit. (Failed).  In his own words, this was due to the outbreak of World War II, which, although it had happened sixteen years before, had upset him very deeply.