Yorkshire villages


I’m not a fan of ‘dark’ tales, of Gothic literature (not even Bram Stoker or Mary Shelley) though I did have a teenage period when I was crazy about Dennis Wheatley‘s occult novels (anyone remember The Devil Rides Out, his first, and the first I read?) – not quite the same thing but certainly scary. (The film ‘The Exorcist‘ cured me of that, sometime in the ’70s I think, and I’ve never watched or read the like since). However, as the meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, was a few days before 31 October we were set to write a ‘Halloween story’. I dislike what ‘Halloween’ has become too so I said I’d prefer to write around a real English tradition, a November 5th story.

Last year I did attempt a ‘dark’ story so I asked one of our newer members (Jo Campbell) to read it and give an opinion as she’s a fan of Gothic literature and writes ghoulish tales. As she is a relative newcomer to blogging I was delighted that about a week ago she extended her sparse blog to include things like her story (not ‘dark’ at all) for our ‘performance’ at the Ilkley Literature Festival, which has to be my favourite from the night. Her blog is here.

As she liked my tale from last year (suggesting one amendment, which I’ve made) I decided to try another. This is below. Last year’s, Hallow’morrow, is under the ‘Short stories’ menu.


Guy was puzzled. Forks in the road, with signposts clearly indicating the way to his destination, never seemed to get him there. In fact, it was just one fork and the third time he’d arrived at it. He was feeling ever more cold though wearing warm cycling gear and it was not yet winter, being only the beginning of November, the 5th of November to be precise.

He’d set off from his flat in Gillygate in York, close to where St. Peter’s School had been when attended by the best remembered gunpowder plot conspirator, with the idea of visiting the abandoned medieval village of Wharram Percy; there was a ruined church, parts of which were medieval, and really old gravestones, which were particularly interesting to him.

He didn’t take his road bike as he’d decided to take a cross-country route from the still populated village of Wharram le Street rather than the usual advertised walk from the English Heritage car park. However, the gear change on his off-road bike had been playing up recently so he decided not to go directly via Malton but to make a detour to Easingwold and call in on bikeWright to see if they could fix the gear problem. 

The Easingwold shop had repaired the gear change but it took far longer than he’d planned. By the time he arrived in Malton the light was already fading and a typical November mist was thickening. He debated with himself whether it might be better to go directly home from Malton but he had excellent lights on the bike, chosen for riding off road in the dark, and a powerful flashlight in his backpack so, thinking a tour of the ruined church with no-one else around might be fun, he continued. He set off down the B1248 and was soon in Wharram le Street. Having taken Station Road as he remembered from the map, it was not long before he’d reached the fork with a signpost to Wharram Percy, though he almost missed it in the deepening gloom.

When he first set off down the narrow lane signposted to Wharram Percy there was still a little light so he was surprised when he seemed to arrive back at the fork. He had not seen any turning, signposted or not, since leaving the spot. “I must have missed it in the gloom,” he muttered and set off again.

On the second visit to the fork he recalled catching a glimpse of a billboard announcing that Catesby Estates had acquired a field near the fork for a new estate. “Many people would be scared to go out at night in such an isolated place,” he thought, “Strange how the notice has disappeared – maybe it was further back than I remember, maybe it’s just the mist is a lot thicker now.”

He began down the lane for a second time, cycling very slowly, looking carefully to left and right. Finally he come to a fork with a sign post to Wharram Percy.

But it was the same fork. Of that he was sure.

Was someone or something trying to tell him he shouldn’t go there? Should he give up and carry straight on, to Stamford Bridge then home to York?

“Damned if I will,” he said aloud. “”I’ll give it one more go!”

He set off again. There was little light now but enough, he thought, to make finding the church worthwhile. The lane soon became something he did not recognise, trees on either side making it ever darker but the broad beam of his headlight picked out ruts and large stones to be avoided. “This isn’t bad,” he thought, “if only it were not getting so damned cold.” He shivered, despite the effort required on the rough track.

A large dark mass emerged out of the gloom without warning; it took him a moment to realise he was only a few yards from the church, the broken tower reaching out to a moon filtered by mist, a few dark clouds recalling scenes from a Hammer horror film. Spooky.

Then he saw them, a small group of figures, men.

“Damn!” he exclaimed softly. He had hoped to be alone.

“Must be some kind of event, or rehearsal for one,” he thought, noticing now that the figures were in cloaks, pointed hats and carrying flaming rush torches, not flashlights.

Laying his bike down he approached them but before he could say a word one of the group said loudly “Thither he is. Alloweth not him receiveth hence.”

The group surged forward, one grabbing his arms, another swiftly tying his wrists behind his back.

“Hey, I don’t know who the hell you think I am but I’m not part of your play or whatever it is. I just came to see the church.”

“Thou art Guy aren’t thee?” The question came from the man who seemed to be leader of the group.

“Yes but –“. His answer was cut off with a glare and a slap in the face, a hard slap. “Bid us, bid us, who is’t they wast.” He didn’t understand and the accent was one he didn’t recognise.

He must have been slapped very hard as the faces in front of him kept fading in and out, even disappearing for a few seconds. “He’ll not bid, Sir William;” said one. “Rack him!” shouted another.

He felt himself being bundled forwards, then up stone steps in the tower, his increasingly desperate protests: “This is crazy! I’m not who you think, I’m just a visitor, and it’s bloody dangerous to climb up here,” were ignored.

The group ceased pushing him upwards. There was now only a glimmer of light. He strained to refocus on what was directly in front. Some rope, a loop of rope. A hangman’s noose. Instinctively he took a step to the side to avoid putting his head in it.

A dog walker (Wharram Percy is a favourite place for dog walkers early morning) found him at the base of the church tower. He clearly had a broken neck. “The idiot must have tried to climb the tower in the dark,” the dog walker said to himself as he pulled out his mobile phone.


Wharram Percy is probably the best known deserted medieval village in Europe as a result of all the excavation and research which has been done there. It’s now an English Heritage site.

Did you pick up the clues ‘hidden’ in the story? Not difficult. A bit of self-indulgent fun on my part. Guy Fawkes avoided the hangman’s noose for his part in the 1605 plot to blow up the House of Lords, with the king, either by jumping or falling from the scaffold (it is not known which) and breaking his neck.

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My post of a few days ago was about wandering a little further up the Wharfe Valley than where we live. The final picture in the gallery in that post showed Otley Chevin, at the foot of which nestles our village – Menston. Sunday turned out to be a surprisingly lovely day, fairly cold and a brisk breeze but good for a walk though rather muddy.

Just below the summit, but on the other (east) side is our local airport, the highest in England, in fact I believe the highest in the UK (though there are certainly higher airfields) – Leeds Bradford International Airport. So a walk on the Chevin means you are often ‘buzzed’ by aircraft, more usually landing. You are now often ‘buzzed’ too by that magnificent bird, the Red Kite, though yesterday he didn’t come close enough for a good picture (first pic in gallery). We often see a pair, circling over the village, from our kitchen or sitting room windows.

We often climb up half way on ‘our side’ to the Chevin Inn but yesterday we chose to take the car to the top (5 minutes or so) and walk from there. Not a very long walk, but we were out for about two hours. The final picture is on the road descending to our village, always a welcome sight when I was working in York as I was just a few minutes from home.

Paul Hudson, for those not in the BBC ‘Look North’ tv area, is the much maligned weather forecaster. The stone probably is more reliable!

Yesterday (Tuesday) was one of those wonderful Yorkshire days which hauled itself out of the gloom of the majority of days here this winter to show a part of Yorkshire at its beautiful best. I’m lucky enough to live in the Wharfe Valley but beautiful as it is where we live a day like that cries out for a wander further afield, heading towards Upper Wharfedale.

We didn’t go far, lingering a while in the village of Appletreewick, passing Bolton Abbey, crossing the River Wharfe by the side of the Barden Tower to arrive in this wonderful traditional Yorkshire village. It has two pubs, one of which is not open so often but the other, the Craven Arms, a historic inn, has always been open when we visited and no exception today.

Excellent beer and, new to me, Appletreewick cider, brewed in the village I understand. Cider is Petronela’s usual drink so if she says it’s good it’s good. I had a taste and can back that up but I couldn’t resist one of my favourite Yorkshire beers – Theakston’s ‘Old Peculier’, a really tasty dark beer but very strong so only 1 pint if you’re driving. The food is good too and we’d usually have a soup but as the soup of the day was something with goats’ cheese, Petronela will not eat anything with goat or lamb, we passed on that this time. We had brought food with us – schnitel (chicken breast) and pork pie so no problem.

I’ve tried to put the gallery in order of time from leaving home till arriving back, taking a circular tour around part of the River Wharfe, through Ilkley to Barden, crossing the river to the north side there and traversing Appletreewick to reach Burnsall then crossing back across the river at that pretty village to return on the south side to Barden again then up over Barden moor, descending towards Skipton in Airedale before turning again to pick up the Wharfe again at Bolton Abbey till home in our village of Menston.

Bleachmill house with St George’s and Yorkshire flags flying

Bleachmill house

A perfect day to meander down to Bleachmill House, our favourite short walk from our village, Menston in the Wharfe Valley, one of Yorkshire’s beautiful dales. ‘Icing on the cake’ is a mug of tea with extraordinary friends Sue and Simon in their ‘farmhouse kitchen’ and the crazy “very free-range” chickens, picking up some “very free-range eggs” before we left.

Having baked Yorkshire teacakes earlier Sue was just about to make a lemon drizzle cake. So too early – dammit; it’s one of my favourites! No cake but the usual laughs which will last me at least a week.

No need for more words. I hope the pictures, all taken on iPad except for Petronela’s pic of me delighting in a robin singing his heart out high in a tree, say enough.

The sun was so bright it chopped a slice of my head off; I think this is the first ever ‘selfie’ of the two of us, in the deserted pub.

Today is Petronela’s and my 17th wedding anniversary. Why the 17th is ‘special’ I won’t bore you with except to say that in Romania we lived at number 17, we bought our present home before we knew it would be number 17 (it didn’t exist when we reserved it) and there are a few other occurences of the number too.

On our anniversaries we usually do something ‘special’ – eg, go somewhere more exotic to eat or to stay. This being a more than usually ‘special’ day we decided to do nothing ‘special’, and so it became special.

The more so because the pub we chose to visit, just for a drink, on the other side of the valley, usually crowded on a Sunday lunchtime, was deserted. We were the only people in it (other than the barman). That was pretty special.

Then, having been warned of “Arctic conditions” by the weather forecasters it turned out to be a beautiful day, one of the best of the year. We reckon mother nature turned on her magic just for us.

 

High above Malham Cove on the way home – definitely ‘God’s own country’!

A beautiful day for the final day of the half-term holiday, with “Arctic” weather threatened for the weekend by forecasters. Where to go? We decided on Malham, about 25 miles from home, with an energetic walk from the village to the cove. The days when I would climb it have long gone. Back in Malham village a sandwich and tea (coffee for Petronela), in the delighful ‘Stream side cafe‘, with an equally delightful young Hungarian receptionist/waitress, went down a treat. Seemed a pity to go directly home so we climbed the long twisting single track road then descended into Settle before turning east to go home.

A lovely day.

As you see, I took a camera but all the pictures other than Petronela’s of me are on the iPad.

Petronela the chicken

Petronela. An extraordinary attire but I don’t like that look in her eye!

Sunday 15 October

An extraordinarily warm mid October day prompted a complete mind shift from yesterday. Then a spot of baking pushed out any stage nerves before ‘performing’ at the Ilkley Literature Festival ‘Fringe’ (in fact I arrogantly don’t have any – I never have been frightened of making a fool of myself and it gets worse with age – readers of this blog may well have deduced that 😜).

Favourite short walk

Today walking with Petronela on our favourite short local walk, intent on having a chat with another Petronela – a chicken, one of those who lays our eggs. I really wanted to get a picture of Petronela holding her namesake but we couldn’t find her (the chicken). Every one of the ladies has a name and Sue, who with Simon provides a home for these ladies who lay our “very free range eggs”, knows each one of them by name. I had to settle for the dog for my photo.

She was here earlier,” said Sue, “she was eating like a pig.” Looking at the Petronela who can polish off a plate of spaghetti bolognaise in little more time than it takes me to grate some Parmesan on mine, I held my tongue. Who cares? They both remain beautiful, as you can see. The picture of chicken Petronela is one taken on an earlier visit (by Petronela –  confusing isn’t it?).

A large group of walkers arrived just before us which prevented Sue helping us locate Petronela. Clearly most of them had not been there before so seeing the discomfort of one, as a very free range lady tried to nick his slice of Sue’s exceedingly good homemade cake, made my day.

Charity

Sue and Simon are an extraordinary, lovely couple. They sell the eggs, with an ‘honour’ system of payment, and serve homemade cakes and drinks to passing walkers if they are home, but all the proceeds go to a charity supporting teenagers with cancer. Once a year they have a charity day to support one local young person disadvantaged in some way. P and I have a money box into which change of 10p and under goes throughout the year to hand over on that day.

When I despair of the world in which we now live I think of Sue and Simon and how lucky we are to have that walk to chat with them.

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