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Stateside with Rosalea: Up north (With Pics)

From Dublin I flew to Manchester, where a security alert meant that we were all put onto a bus on the tarmac and whizzed through immigration without so much as a stamp in our passports. I took a train directly from the airport to Leeds. Trains in England are now operated by many different companies, so you have to be aware of which one uses which platform, and also check the destination on the carriage window, because sometimes trains split up once they get to a hub. Most lines have food and drinks service coming through the carriages, confirming my initial observation in Dublin that - in contrast to the USA - the customer service sector is alive and flourishing in the British Isles.

Leeds was in the midst of a heatwave, so after suffering another night in an expensive un-airconditioned chain hotel I hired a car and took off for points north, stopping at the first place that took my fancy. Which was the Yorkshire Lass, a pub and b and b in Knaresborough, opposite the attraction that claims to be the oldest tourist spot in England - Mother Shipton's cave. For the next four days I stayed in similar establishments, which charge between 20 and 30 pound a night and offer hearty breakfasts, including black pudding in Yorkshire and haggis up in Scotland, and invariably convivial hosts.

The next day I headed for Durham and then followed the route of Hadrian's Wall. All over Britain you should look out for the brown signposts that indicate a tourist attraction of some sort - or make notes from the copious leaflets that are put together for each region and in every hotel room. Nearly every tourist attraction charges an entrance fee, but many of the spots along the Wall are in farmers' paddocks and you can walk to them from the road. The Roman fort at Carrawburgh and its temple of Mithra where the officers worshipped the sun, is one such example. Seeing a grassy knoll being grazed by cows and their calves, where once an outpost of empire stood, made me think that perhaps the 17 New York acres where the twin towers were should be turned into a farm in the city to remind people of what actually matters and what ultimately endures.

I spent the next night at New Abbey on Scotland's holiday coast on the Solway Firth. The abbey is called the Sweetheart Abbey on account of how the benefactress of it had her husband's heart removed from his body when he died and then preserved it as a memento of all that was good and sweet about him. It's a lovely wee town and a bit further west is the birthplace of John Paul Jones, who became known as the father of the American navy despite being accused variously of murder and rape. His father was gardener at the adjoining estate, which used to be open to the public but has recently been bought by absentee landlords - an architect and interior designer from London - who are doing up the house and refuse to open the gardens to the public.

Heading back towards the western Yorkshire dales the next day I stopped in Richmond, which has a church that is now the office headquarters and army museum of the Green Howards - who are now based in Northern Ireland - and a castle which, conversely, has an exhibition and garden dedicated to conscientious objectors. In particular, the Richmond 16, who refused to fight in the First World War and were imprisoned in the castle, then taken to an army camp in northern France so that they were technically on active service where refusal to obey orderse was punishable by death. When the news leaked out, it triggered questions in Parliament and intense national debate.

My exciting trip through the western Yorkshire dales along one-way roads - which all seemed to lead to a town ominously named 'Dent' - started at Kirkby Lonsdale, where I stopped at the Devil's Bridge for a snack from the pie cart that parks there along with an ice cream truck. Nearby was a scene that is quintessential England - signposts for public walks and a common green where people had come with their deckchairs and picnics to enjoy the sun. When so many people live in terrace houses, these public spaces are vital to the community and I was pleased to see that they're still well looked-after and well-used, rather than people being frightened away from them because of crime.

England's world cup cruncher eve was spent in another Kirkby - Kirkby Stephen - where I was awoken at 7:25 am by a male voice somewhere in the town singing 'God Save the Queen' at the top of his lungs. The sombre faces out on the street later told me all I needed to know about the results. I headed back to the Yorkshire Lass for the evening and then returned the car to Leeds the next morning - having to turn on the windshield wipers for the first time since I'd been on the big island, and then only for a couple of minutes. My Great North Eastern train to London had been held up by a derailment further up the line, so I was put on Virgin instead and sent north to York to catch the next GNE train going to London on a route that hadn't been blocked.

And so it was that I arrived at Kings Cross, took the tube to Bayswater and found myself in London.

Lea Barker
Bayswater, London
Thursday, June 27 2002

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