Reeth 1: The team go to the Dales

The squash team began to visit the Dales from 1999 onward. Not that they were a team. They’d been putting kit on most Friday and Saturday evenings since the mid 1980s, but they’d never been much good. Still it was exercise and a few beers and some inconsequential chat. Dave had played too on his visits from Scotland. The Dales got talked about and Dave was renamed Big Dave. But no one on the squash team had ever discussed it with their wives.

‘Erhum, I couldn’t leave Jean,’ said Peter, coughing. He was also good to his mother, children and stray animals.

The following Saturday, it came up in general conversation. ‘It’s nowt to do with me,’ said Jean. ‘You need a break, get off with you. You’ve some time owing.’

Pete looked studious, ‘Well, actually I’ve got to get three days in before the end of the month. What do you think, Dyce?’

‘It’s not a problem for me. I only work two days a week.’

Pete decided ‘I’ll have a go. What about anybody else?’ No takers.

It was out of season, and the Buck at Reeth had a room in their price range.

‘Pete, I’ve managed to get a room with twin beds next Wednesday.’

‘Oh great, I’m there.’

Twenty four hours later the phone went. Was that somebody wheezing? No, whistling tunelessly then? No, it’s Pete, breathing.

‘Sssss …, er, Dyce, Geoff’s thrown a sickie, can you do anything?’

‘What do you want me to do, a home visit? Can’t his own gp do that?’

‘No you daft apath, there’s nowt wrong with him. Ssss … Can you get him a room at th’otel in Reeth?’

Dyce booked the family room.

Parking in Muker, Dyce introduced them to The Corpse Way. The wild flower meadows, the bridge over The Swale, and the long gradual rise up to Crackpot Hall. Kisdon Force and the incessant song of falling water. ‘Wainwright thought they measured time here in centuries,’ said Dyce as they passed the crossroads between The Coast-to-Coast and the Pennine Way. Then early afternoon tea at Iverson’s in Keld. Geoff drank a lager. The guy from Huddersfield sleeping in the next room to Big Dave and Dyce at Iverson’s guest house back in 1987 was renovating yet another cottage.

Down the tarmac road, to the bridleway that was Corpse Way proper back over Kisdon Hill. Dyce couldn’t resist a short lecture on the medieval route to the nearest burial ground in Grinton just beyond Reeth. The path took them over a small stream, a trickle that in the winter rains was a torrent. They heard, faintly at first, whistling and shouting and the anxious bleet of sheep.

‘Somebody’s working dogs,’ said Dyce, ‘Look, up there.’ Three or four fields up to the left, a pair of collies were chasing about, worrying a dozen sheep and a man was waving his arms and a stick, and yelling.

‘Noisy beggar,’ said Geoff. ‘What’s all that about?’

Dyce wasn’t sure. ‘Is he training them and they’re not doing so well?’

They rested against the wall, arms folded along the top stones. Had the shepherd turned toward them he would have seen three curious faces peering back at him, but he had other things on his mind; his world just then was dogs and sheep.

The track went right, away from the racket, and began to climb steeply. Underfoot were stones the size of cobbles, good for walking uphill. The walls either side were mostly intact, off-white and mossy. A stiff climb brought them to a halt near the top, where they looked down for the first time. The patchwork of wall and barn stretched away in minature. They looked over the local fell summits to the distant blue shimmering pennine hulks. A cooling breeze gently gusted across the exposed moor.

Joe had his boots off, ‘How much further is it?’

Dyce tried to sound reassuring, ‘Same as we’ve come.’

‘What, this morning as well?’

‘No, just since Keld.’ Nobody spoke and Dyce felt uneasy.

Pete, who had suffered most on the ascent, was now more comfortable, ‘I’m not built for this. Where are we going?’

‘Over the top to Muker’s picture postcard. We are virtually there. It’s a bit of a descent though.’

The grassy path turned into a track and then a road on the outskirts of the village. The Farmers was shut so they drove back to Reeth.

Outside The Kings Arms they rested and took on some fluid. ‘You enjoy the corpse away then Geoff?’ Geoff turned toward Dyce, and some of his facial muscles worked, but not the ones needed for speech.

‘I’ll take that as a yes.’

Australia played S. Africa in the cricket world cup semi-final at Headingley that day. The Buck didn’t have Sky TV so Dyce to drove to The Bridge at Grinton to catch the finish. He was in luck, the landlord was a cricket nut. Terrific game, evenly matched and competitive, right to the last over of the day as S. Africa gradually overhauled Australia’s total. They needed one to win when Allan Donald and Lance Kleusner ran each other out. It doesn’t come much better. Was there anyone out there wondering where Dyce was? Maybe not. But just in that moment he felt many things, and lucky came out the strongest. Lucky to find a TV, lucky to be up in the Dales and most of all lucky to be fit and well.

They watched the quoits match behind The Buck that evening and were run off by midges. Pete and Geoff had asked about the rules, but it was all far too serious for a tutorial.

Geoff muttered, ‘Not very friendly, are they?’

They wandered over to The Black Bull and drank red wine with their bar meal and then pushed the boat out – another bottle of wine and the cheese course as well. The wine was labelled specially for the village and everybody was drinking it. They strolled back across the green. The night was cold and the wind bit the cheeks, the moon was huge and the stars were everywhere. Quite a day.

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