Our last trip’s to Gunnerside, just the squash team. We still call it the squash team, but I for one have called it a day; chronic tennis elbow, otherwise known as intolerance of ritual humiliation. I’ve already been here two days when they arrive, early evening. I put Peter in the double and he doesn’t complain. Geoff and I share the twin. The King’s Head does us a mixed grill. It’s not on the menu, but Geoff persists, reading off the blackboard, ‘Well you’ve got cumberland sausage, gammon, fried eggs, chips, lamb chops. Have you got any steak?’


‘We’ll have a mixed grill then.’ And we do, and pay through the nose for it, or was that for the Chilean Cabernet? Geoffrey fancies the dumpy barmaid. I’m in love with the thin tall one but I think she’s rather friendly with the landlord who could do a round or two with Mike Tyson.

Just the one walk is planned – Hard Level Ghyll from Gunnerside. They like Blakethwaite Smelt Mill but not the moonscape. It’s clear and sunny, windy and cold, so we don’t linger around the lead mine ruins. The grassy bank overlooking Surrender Bridge is warm and sheltered. We sit and admire a young mum as she prepares her kids’ picnic. We realise there’s going to be a party when another mum and her gang drive up. As she turns off the road, we note that the whole of Lower Swaledale is available for parking. She drives five yards onto the grass, stops and turns off her engine. Her children disembark, shouting excitedly and rush over to the river. Mum locks up and joins them. Her motor has blocked the access to Lower Swaledale.  Maybe a pushbike could’ve got round her. A queue does not build up. Geoff shakes his head, and looks at Pete.

The walk was designed to finish at The Punch Bowl, but since the afternoon drinking team have left, it’s lost its magic for me. The pub is deserted today, apart from a temporary barmaid who cannot answer our questions, and a group of Geordies, on there way to somewhere.

‘I wonder where they’re off to?”

‘Golf probably.’

‘Yes, right.’ We didn’t ask.

The window just above the patio where we are sitting, is open. A girl smokes a cigarette sat on the sill, looking up the dale. She’s distracted and turns back to the room. We cannot fail to hear the high spirited conversation that then takes place. Certain words of emphasis can sound ugly when spoken by a young girl. Pete’s brow furrows,

‘Ssss . . .  Erhum . . .  Ssss’

Another design feature is catching the bus back to Gunnerside, but pleasant enough as it is, we wonder if we really want to wait. Isn’t it odd how one drink can lead to another. So we get ready to catch the bus back. I’m across the road, taking photographs. I see the bus coming and in my anxiety, I wave to it. Something to do with the beer I guess. It is a particularly pointless gesture when Geoff and Pete are already stood at the bus stop. A van I hadn’t noticed slows and comes to a halt. The bus has to stop too and it’s a traffic jam. A farmer and his dog occupy the van I’ve flagged down. They turn their faces, one black and white, the other red and veiny, to look at me quizzically. Was I wanting a lift, or to ask the way? Just what did this tottery tripper want? I haven’t a clue what’s going on except I’m going to miss the bus.

We sit out in the sun at The Kings Head. A woman with a long walking stick arrives and drags dumpy out onto the street.

‘There’s two lambs lost without their mother, up on the fell.’ Dumpy looks non-plussed but is too polite to ask what it has to do with her. She mutters something about trying to get in touch with the farmer, and gives us an old fashioned look.

We get washed and changed, make the tea, bung it in the oven and go back to resume our love lives. The thin one smiles when she can’t weigh up whether the Black Sheep is on or whether its the Squares. They’re both on, says dumpy. Geoff and I are happy. The pub’s full, well there’s half a dozen fellas, playing darts and checking their diaries as to when they will be next at their cottages. It’s Easter and the boys from Darlington and Leeds are in town. At six o’clock it empties. Only I don’t take much notice, until I happen to look out the window. Mayhem over the bridge, or no, it was a queue, twenty deep at least. Ramsay’s mobile fish and chip shop had arrived.

Even within the short time we have visited, things have changed. New landlords, drinking team, butcher, Dr. Baume. The differential flotation man has gone, along with his bus. His dried out mucky pool has a little grass and heather growing. It’s quad bikes now and even the collies get a lift. There’s one thing they can’t automate and that’s dry stone walling.

The villages are so quiet in the winter –  are they normally like that or is it that they are empty, house owners tucked up in Darlington, Hartlepool and Leeds.

Old Gang is a listed building now.


We’ve been pals ever since.

Large, ham sandwich at Beamish, crisps etc Thwaite

Can’t say no

Gregarious, ex-army

Like the naked children, dancing around the farm with the windmill and

immediacy now how deep are relationships.  How deep do you want things or is it hassle-free space that you need?

One thing that retirement does give you is time to move away from base a bit more.  Not just weekends visiting friends and relatives, or package deals in European cities, but that genuine slowing down when nothing needs to get done.  Its amazing the tasks we set ourselves at home.  Everyone has their favourite bolt hole, and mine is The Yorkshire Dales.

The other thing about going to The Dales is its mostly with my pals rather than the child bride and the children.  Its broadened out as a result.  In 1997 I took the plunge and went to Nepal on my own and subsequently, ‘Big Dave’ introduced me to Scotland – The Tay Valley and Wester Ross.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s