One of the reasons for my excursion to the North was my complete ignorance of the natural beauty this part of the world has to offer and this despite of its population density and its industrial heritage. Whenever I had a few days time to go hiking, I usually drove to Wales in the West, to the South Coast or I caught a flight to a mountain area on the Continent.
Leaving the farm early in the morning, my first stop for an al fresco breakfast was the limestone cliff of Malham Cove within the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
Sitting on this left over of the last ice age with a mug of (admittedly not Yorkshire) tea and some fresh croissants was a perfect start of the day. After covering a few miles in glorious sun shine, I decided though to return to my Bavarian carriage as both the carpark and the countryside was starting to fill with day trippers.
My next point of call was Ingleborough, a bit further North and one of the Three Yorkshire Peaks , but with a still somewhat manageable elevation of 723m or – as my English hiking friends would say – more than 2000 feet….
Here the land was more exposed and reaching higher ground there was no further agricultural use other than the occasional grazing sheep and a fair number of lambs enjoying themselves. Thankfully the weather continued to be fine, but one could imagine that this would be not a very hospitable place in rain and high winds.
Leaving the hills behind me, it was time to finally pay my respect to a man who to some extend was responsible for my own and for a lot of my peers’ choice of profession: on the other side of the Yorkshire Dales was the town of Thirsk with the practice of Alf Wight, better known under his pseudonym “James Herriot”.
I remember growing up with the television program of his semi-fictional characters and I even re-read his books just last year, being surprised at times how similar and then again how different the day to day work of a veterinarian was in the 21st century. Veterinary surgeons appeared to work 24/7 throughout the year with hardly a day off when Alf started working, but both he as well as a lot of his colleagues suffered from depression and both alcoholism and suicide were – and still are – common problems associated with our profession.
I missed the opportunity of meeting the great man in person before he passed away in 1995, but standing in front of his practice, with his plate still next to the entrance door,
looking at the traditional cottages on the other side of the road and at St.Mary’s Church with its gothic architecture right at the end of the street,
I thought that this for many years must have been the view that was greeting him when he left his surgery – as I did – at the end of evening consultations. After venturing over the town square and strolling through some of the side streets, with a lot of small shops, restaurants and cafes, I thought however that there must have been worse places on Earth to be a local vet than in Thirsk……
It even crossed my mind to consider to apply for one of my next locums here……well, watch this space……..
It wouldn’t be right though to finish this episode without a mention of another stunning National Park in the North – the Peak District.
Wedged between Manchester in the West and Sheffield in the East, this peaceful place was another white spot on my personal map and I decided to make a stop their on my way home. Following the advice of my host to include the church of Saint Mary and All Saints in Chesterfield with its certainly bizarre looking spire on my itinerary,
I then aimed for the town of Grindleford , partially because of the likeness of its name to the village of Grindelwald in the Bernese Alps, which was made famous as the setting for the final encounter of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty in “The Final Problem”.
No Reichenbach Falls here though, but a spectacular ridge walk with great views over the valley below, if heading South towards Baslow. The rock formations made for some atmospheric photos and the moors on the plateau reminded me of the Swedish Fjäll which I had visited last summer.
With no accommodation allowed to open at the moment, I had to pitch my lightweight mountain tent close to a small stream as the sun was setting. But soon I became painfully aware that it had been a while since my last outdoor over night stay……
Within just a few minutes the gas cartridge of my cooker let me down and with the spare left in the car, this resulted in a half cooked dinner and no hot tea to follow it up with. I then realized that choosing the two-season sleeping bag over the readily available four season one had also been a bit overambitious and three layers of clothing in addition to a recently purchased biwak bag made the night only marginally more comfortable……
Only when the first rays of the sun started to work on the layer of ice that was covering the canvas of the tent and the landscape around me in the morning, I finally found some decent sleep.
This comfortable state of existence lasted nearly until 9 o’clock when Jon, the friendly local ranger, was carefully inquiring if “someone was at home”….In the most kind and nearly apologetic terms he explained to me that strictly seen wild camping wasn’t allowed in the National Park, but that the rangers wouldn’t mind as long as tents were taken down by 9 AM….
This – I have to admit – I knew and I was wondering if anywhere else in the world the law would be enforced in such a polite and friendly way as here in the North of England.