Cherry Tree Cottage, while sounding like an Enid Blyton novel (The Children of Cherry Tree Farm, The Farm at Willow Bend … that kind of thing) is in Yorkshire, in the brutal and unforgiving north. Well, we are just outside Yorkshire – in another shire, not sure which one – in a village just outside Leyburn. These tiny villages are humming, people really live in the countryside in England, in ways that I don’t think we do in Australia. Thriving local businesses, bakers and fruit sellers and gift shops and cafes and hardware shops and so on. All with Christmas lights that cheer you through at the dark hour of 4.30pm when you are returning from some kind of adventure.
The north is much more stern than the south. No more amusing and plump thatched roofed cottages all clumped together merrily. These are straight stone houses with slate roofs that frown over the mist. You can see why Austen could write amusing little stories of marriage and mischance, with jokes aplenty in the south, while the Brontes wrote gothic love stories with pain and death and destruction at the core in the north. But how to explain the didactic Hardy with his lessons to be learned in the south. I guess he just didn’t have much of a sense of humour. He is certainly not gothic in the sense that the Brontes are. And Whitby, not far from here, is the inspiration for Dracula so gothic is certainly in the air. As Edinburgh was the model for Stevenson for Jekyll and Hyde (do I remember that correctly?). The north is certainly a place where the imaginings for the dark side of the human experience can fly. The fog and mist that all by reflect light, the cold, the stone houses. Murderous thoughts everywhere. We are all a bit spooked.
We woke late on this day and all stayed in bed (the cold was the inspiration here). I read for ages, and others did too. We didn’t get out of the house until 10am. The house itself (the rather misnamed Cherry Tree Cottage) is quite big. Window seats in the front room to gaze at the gloom, three big bedrooms upstairs. There was some discussion about who was to sleep where. No one was keen to sleep alone. It is that kind of place. We went into York for another look. There was bad blood between Myles and me over a car park. Strange perhaps, but true. It’s the little things. We initially wandered about getting our bearings, and then managed to stumble upon the information hut. From there, we went over to the walls that surround York and walked along them. Some of them are 2000 years old. Those Scots must have been formidable for there to be walls for so many years. At one point in the walls, there is a gate with a door. Apparently, in centuries past, the Scots had to use a large knocker to knock on the gate and ask permission to enter. (‘No, I don’t think so …’) In one of the towers there is a little museum to Richard III. A strange man is single handedly trying to resurrect his reputation. There was a whiteboard at the door with a poll on who killed the Princes in the Tower. Many think it was Richard, but equally many considered George W Bush and Simon Cowell. We walked around a bought playing cards with the kings and queens of England on them. Plus some other stuff. Then we got lost. Not in the museum, but in York. Not that it is particularly big, but we were not paying attention. When we found our way back into town, we were hungry. (Not that old chestnut …) So we made our way to a pub called the Red Lion. It was hard to find the door. Inside it was warm with an open fire and dark with low ceilings and thick wood beams. We ate some of the best food we have yet had and played 500 with the kings and queens of England. Charles II is the 7 of spades which I thought was a little disrespectful, but anyway …
After our repast (yes, very Tudor England), we went to the York Castle Museum (the ‘best day out in York’). It was a kind of musty, experiential museum which we really liked. Old exhibits of ‘a Victorian parlour’ and so on. How people washed in Victorian England (not very well). Kitchens through the ages. A typical Victorian street. Wedding dresses through the ages. And then a whole section on the English Civil War (we lost Paris at the point. He spent ages in the Civil War bit). Through to the fashions area (swimsuits through the ages, some were great). And then the prison and the dungeons. Niccolo opened an alarmed door and was spooked for the rest of the trip. Zelda thought the fashions in the sixties were idiotic (yes, there was, perhaps oddly, a sixties part of this museum). The dungeons were peopled by virtual prisoners who told you their sad stories. Some yelled at you (Niccolo was getting more spooked by the minute) and others just were there to chat. By the time we left, we were quite museumed out.
We then walked up to the castle. It was getting dark by this stage (about 4pm). It was locked, so we couldn’t get in to walk around and see what was inside (it was pretty small too, so perhaps not so much to see). But there was some madman who was running up the castle steps repeatedly (no mean feat, the whole thing was tall and very steep). He annoyed me when he began to run the steps holding his bicycle on his shoulder. Unnecessarily show off.
Another wander about the town. It is beguiling as a place. There was a busker who was signing very Bing Crosby versions of Christmas carols. It was weird. And then back to our palace of cherry trees in the middle of nowhere. Still quite spooked by the place. Not quite as foggy this night, not quite so dark side of the moon.
We watched local TV. There is a great game show, the name of which none of us caught. It pits university nerds against one another and asks questions that are not only obscure but mad. For example, there was a question in which a word was given. The order of the vowels in this word had to be remembered and then you were given definitions of other words and you had to find a word in which the vowel order was the same as the original word. (No kidding). Or there were pictures of graves and you had to give the name of the person buried and the city in which they were buried. Or there were complicated mathematical equations that you had to work out in your head. And the bloke who was the quizmaster kept saying helpful things like ‘Come on, hurry up,’ with ‘you dolt’ as the subtext. Zelda’s favourite question was something like ‘What European country shares its name with a large, yellow turnip?’ The answer was Sweden. Happy days. Manchester University beat Oxford – Christ Church. I think those Oxford scholars might now have lost their places under the arches.
Off to bed at eight. Seriously, the darkness confuses me here.