This year I visited Greece for the first time to take part in a week-long yoga retreat. Anyone who has watched me try to touch my toes will understand why Continue reading
Four years of student living and several periods of fruitless job searching have taught me that sometimes travel, even local travel, can be pretty darn expensive. In these situations, I choose to explore a new place from the comfort of an armchair in my bedroom by turning to books. In my experience, the setting of a novel can play such an important role that it feels as if it is a character in itself. A landscape, a city or even a single building can become so intrinsic to the atmosphere of a novel that it feels as if I am actually there and consequently the book becomes a window into a new place. It also has the advantage of being considerably cheaper than a train ticket. In this spirit, I have trawled the literary landscape and I begin my journey with a partial and completely biased overview of some of my favourite and most evocative English novels.
The Wild and Windswept North
If you are looking for beaches and breezy romance then Yorkshire’s most famous literary exports, the Brontë sisters, are probably not for you. Their tragic lives and enclosed rural upbringing are reflected in their stories and Wuthering Heights by middle sister Emily is arguably the novel most rooted in the landscape. It relies heavily on the ‘perfect misanthropist’s Heaven’ of the exposed, turbulent North York Moors to provide a fitting backdrop for Cathy and Heathcliff. Children of the moors, they are just as untameable and destructive as the land they inhabit. As I sit in my cosy bedroom reading Brontë’s description of the ‘bleak winds and bitter, northern skies,’ I imagine the characters at the mercy of their emotions on the desolate heath below, screaming insults, throwing punches and hurling crockery.
Meanwhile the remote settings in eldest sister Charlotte’s Jane Eyre are not quite the same as the jungles of South America or the food markets of Asia, but they perfectly reflect the young governess’s coming of age. The depressing Lowood school squats on a frozen hill and emphasises her physical and spiritual deprivation. I can picture her: a drab, friendless little sparrow, yet she refuses to be cowed and eventually becomes as resolute and unyielding as the ‘grey and battlemented’ Thornfield Hall. After developing a crush on her rather morose employer, she proves to be more than a match for him and after some stirring prose, a big misunderstanding and the death of a conveniently rich relative, everything works out for the best.
Alternatively, for a more cheerful view of the pastoral north, try Frances Hodgson-Burnett’s classic children’s story The Secret Garden, where the spoilt Mary Lennox discovers the hidden beauty in a severe landscape and learns some manners along the way. Then there’s the James Herriot series All Creatures Great and Small, the true tales of a country vet who spent years wandering over hill and dale, meeting strange folk and spending far too much time with his hand up a cow’s backside. More recently, in 2012, Andy Seed produced All Teachers Great and Small, which has a similar premise and records his first year at a rural primary school and the various mishaps he encounters trying to assimilate into the local village. These books explore a placid way of life, perhaps more meaningful to me because they portray a landscape I am familiar with. They may not depict the most glamorous or adrenaline-fuelled side of travel, but the dry stone walls, unpredictable weather and hordes of marauding sheep are spot on.
My first skiing experience was not a positive one. I spent a week at the end of the season in France being underfed, falling over and getting lost; the whole expensive ordeal rather put me off. However, when my cousins kindly invited me on their annual ski trip and emphasised the beauty of the views and the quality of the food, I decided to give the French Alps another chance. At least I would eat well this time.
We ended up a large group of eleven, connected by a complicated family tree of cousins, second cousins and family friends. We all squeezed into the beautiful Chalet d’Or in Le Grand Bornand, which came complete with a hot tub, fairy tale truckle beds and a live-in Golden Retriever. I spent a day sliding around on the green run (the easiest of the piste levels) next to the chalet before beginning a series of hour-long morning lessons with my aunt and a flirty Frenchman called Guillaume, who lived up to all appropriate cultural stereotypes. Bearded, throaty and chain-smoking on the ski lifts, he actually used the phrase ‘I currently live in Paris, ze city of lurve.’ He also skied in front of us wiggling his bum to demonstrate how to relax our hips and ended our education by winking and remarking that I could progress pretty quickly if I learned to behave.
I have no discernible accent. A combination of my parents being from Cornwall and Bath, with an upbringing in Northumberland and Yorkshire, resulted not in linguistic chaos, as one might expect, but in almost complete neutrality. As a child, my introduction to dialectal differences began when I moved from near Newcastle to near Leeds, with a corresponding change from being referred to as ‘pet’, to ‘chuck’. I was baffled. Attendance at a small town primary school and then a high school with strong links to Leeds did nothing to dispel any verbal confusion.
Yet it was not until I moved to Norwich to attend university that I realised how idiosyncratic each county’s dialect can be. I am informed that the look on my face was hilarious as it was explained that a ‘bishy-barnaby’ was Norfolk slang for a ladybird. It probably mirrored the look on my southern friends’ faces as I tried to explain why my brother and his cricket buddies were casually referring to each other as ‘cock’. In their honour, I have put together a few of my favourite Yorkshire words and phrases from over the years to guide my friends and any fellow travellers through God’s Own Country.
On Ilkla Moor Baht’at
Translates literally as ‘On Ilkley Moor without a hat’ and celebrates Yorkshire weather, young love and cannibal-based philosophy. The unofficial anthem of the county, it tells the tale of a hatless young man courting his young lady, Mary Jane, on Ilkley Moor. It warns that without his hat, the young man will most likely die from exposure as a result of the unrelenting weather, whereby the worms will devour his body. The ducks will then eat the worms, the singers will eat the ducks and therefore the singers will implicitly eat the young man. How lovely.
Not, as I originally assumed, a reference to one’s back passage, but slang for an alley or passageway between buildings.
An affectionate term often used by men for their male friends. ‘Alright cock?’ is a phrase I have heard many times and, though it becomes less funny the more often you hear it, the euphemistic implications are all part of the fun.
Welcome to Yorkshire, the land of flat caps and flat vowels. The county is well known for its beautiful countryside, fierce local pride and inhabitants who speak their mind. Touristic highlights include the Dales, historic York and the beautiful spa town of Harrogate, not to mention the shopping in Leeds and the windswept Moors. However, there are several more unusual events and destinations which an intrepid explorer will find intriguing.
The Forbidden Corner, Middleham
Tucked in a valley of the Yorkshire Dales, The Forbidden Corner claims to be ‘the strangest place on earth’. Hidden among country lanes and endless flocks of sheep, it originated as a collection of trees intended as a wind break for Tupgill Park stables. A small bower was constructed in 1989 to provide a view down the Coverdale Valley, followed by a grotto, and eventually plans snowballed into the creation of a truly unique garden. Opened and kept open as a result of public demand, The Forbidden Corner is a Wonderland-esque celebration of the unexpected and the unusual.
Once they have stepped through the gaping stone mouth/entrance, visitors must find their own way through a labyrinth of secret tunnels, hidden follies and an enormous glass pyramid. There are several different paths and trails through this quirky garden-cum-labyrinth, meaning that each experience is different and repeat visits are necessary in order to discover every secret. Such diversity of experience makes this horticultural oddity perfect for youngsters and adult-sized children alike and to top it all off, the café is pretty darn good too. Keep an eye out for spectacular views over the Dales, possible booby-traps and the occasional talking statue. (Note: entrance is by pre-booked tickets only and best enjoyed in dry weather, although as this is the North, keep a raincoat handy just in case).