Keld: The first rugby world cup

‘Now then, bonny lad, what yer’aving?’ Marvellous. Dave sat across two chairs to the left of the fire. No one else in. ‘Beer’ said Dyce, ‘please.’ He pulled a chair round to take in the heat and flame. From a York meeting, tight and wound up. Twilight finish and instead of making for the A64, he’d turned right to Thirsk. Night fell as he’d arrived in Richmond. Couldn’t relax up Swaledale as he drove into a storm. The roads got narrower and the pitch darkness got blacker and the wind seemed to blow off the scale. Dyce had a mini automatic, a bequest from an uncle. Reverse was him getting out and pushing backwards, forever barking his shins when his shoes slipped. Permanent graze and scabs. The handbrake was a halfbrick. Not the most reassuring of cars in a storm, the small headlights picking out the route through swirling trees and fallen branches. The lights in Muker and The Farmer’s Arms were more than welcome. Bare oak beams, wooden benches and tables standing on smooth, worn, uneven stone flags. Unplastered walls carried photographs of the “Silver Band” and the epic snowfall of 1947.

Dave had come down from Edinburgh. Still with BT he played for Linlithgow RUFC and had qualified as a Scottish RU coach. Joan lectured nursing at Napier University and played the Scottish harp. They’d joined the local Scottish country dancing society. So getting Scottish by the minute, and Dave had been seduced by the big remote Scottish mountains.

They thought they would have a change from the tent and Dave had a contact for a cottage in Keld. It wasn’t available that night and Joan had booked them into Mrs Iverson’s bed and breakfast across the square. She had two doubles and one was occupied. A first for Dyce to sleep in the same bed as a bloke, particularly the size of Dave. The two in the next door bedroom were a jobbing builder from Huddersfield, renovating Dales cottages, and the landlady’s daughter from Tan Hill, that remote hilltop pub at the head of the dale. Surprisingly refreshed the following morning. No sudden snoring shocks, just take care turning over. Mrs Iverson didn’t serve fried eggs for breakfast. Another first. Dyce was used to building his breakfast around fried eggs. And no cheques.

Mid morning they moved twenty yards up the road, unpacked and stoked the fire. Nothing planned between then and the early evening rugby on TV which was going to be mostly about the forthcoming first Rugby Union World Cup down under.

‘We need to shop for food, Dave. Mrs Iverson’s taken my cash.’

‘Same here. We’ll have to go to Leyburn?’

The Dales was not the place for cash points or supermarkets. We finished up in Leyburn.

‘Which paper do you want, Dave?’

‘Have they got The Scotsman? If not, I’ll have The Times.’ Dyce bought The Telegraph.

‘What beer shall we buy?’

‘Have they any Boddies? Get plenty.’

‘Oo, lets have some of that pie.’ Spuds, sausages, mince, tins of this and that and so on and so forth. A car full at least and not yet lunch time. So what did they do the rest of that day? Put some more coal on, turned a page or two, made a bit of tea, drank beer and watched rugby. A wonderful lazy meandering day – a guilt-free-day-like-when-you-were-a-student-in-flat day.

They walked the usual suspects. Hard Level Ghyll, Semerwater and The Corpse Way over Kisdon Hill. Paths familiar from their days in Northallerton. The ‘Old Gang’ abandoned lead mine workings have always been popular. But how many knew the man who extracted barium from the lead mine spoil heaps? He said he sold it to the north sea oil industry, as a lubricant for drilling. Working alone up in the deserted moonscape above Gunnerside Ghyll, using a dumper truck to get the spoil, he’d tip it all onto the top deck of a converted double decker bus. The rubble then went through a series of water tanks that jigged back and forward and some dark mucky stuff came out the bottom, gradually filling a pool where nothing appeared to live. He said he was forever in bother with the water board. Spent most of his day reading the Daily Mirror in the cab.

They sat having lunch under the bridge at the top of the ghyll when they heard voices. No big deal, except they seemed to be getting louder rather quickly. Then a scatter of pebbles and rocks as well as shouting.

‘Shit, they’ll crash into the gate.’ Dave’s up and onto the path in a trice – can he shift for a big lad? Mountain bikers with no sense, but they’re grateful.

High Blean and its abandoned peaceful churchyard sit in Raydale, overlooking Semerwater. It’s was a quiet place, except for cackling water fowl.

The Corpse Way was the place to capture the picture postcard view of Muker. Best done in good weather, preferably sunny. In mist you see nothing, feeling as miserable as those from previous centuries who carried the dead weight of wicker baskets on their shoulders. Whatever the conditions however, you have it to do, just in case.

While they walked, they talked, and listened. About work, children, wives, the next meal, where were they going for a drink, and the absurdities of the twentieth century.

After two days, Dave asked, ‘Are you here yet?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘You’re not speakable to when you get here. It takes you two or three days to wind down.’

‘Oh, really?’ Dyce had no idea.

‘Yes, really.’

Strangely enough, there was always a pub at the finish, but timing was everything. They weren’t all open all day. Apart from the Punch Bowl at Low Row. This was the drinker’s delight, easy to reach, and not a policeman in sight. After the Hard Level Ghyll day, they skirted Gunnerside and kept on the hillside before dropping to Low Row. An Indian September evening, sat out on the front patio, intensely green grass smelling as if newly cut, barns and walls casting deep dark shadows, smoke rising almost vertically from cottage chimneys, and the sun setting behind Great Shunner Fell.

We dropped into the King’s Arms at Askrigg on the way back from Semerwater. After a few pints Dyce would talk to most people. Dave talks to anybody any time. When Dyce went to the loo, he returned and find Dave deep in conversation with the bloke on the next table. If he was a child you’d tell him off for talking to strangers. Dave was expressing surprise, ‘Oh, have you not done that? You’ve got to do that. The way we go …’ and he was off describing the route which no one could follow, unless you kept an ordnance survey map neately folded in your frontal lobes. Dyce drifted for a few minutes.

‘You’ve got to do the big ones.’ said Dave. The poor bloke nodded sagely and Dyce realised that Dave had moved on to talk about Monros. Dyce made an educated guess that he would have to do the big ones too.

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