If you're travelin' in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline...
For all that I’m a northern girl by birth and habit, sometimes the north, like the past, feels like a foreign country. Our first morning in Grassington, we are charmed by vivid blue skies and sunshine but also by an old-fashioned gent who holds open the car door for us as we squeeze out of the narrow space. Only when we’ve thanked him several times and are marching off down the cobbles does he confess self-interest: the gleaming white Mercedes parked next to us is his.
the top corners of the highest window, the glass crusted with accumulated droppings. As we walk, earlier pasts crowd in on us, the ghosts of friends and lovers and children shadowing our progress.
The following morning the bush outside the kitchen window is littered with raindrops which sparkle in the early sunlight – as if someone has sprinkled the leaves with glitter. After yoga in the garden and a leisurely breakfast, we set off along the Hawkswick road, past the larches which dance along the river bank, skirts scooped high, before branching left on the track to Kettlewell. I’ve spotted the track from the road, from where it looks like a gradual ascent on a wide grassy track. Which it is, at least at first. But I’ve forgotten my stick and an emergency replacement we find is too thin and whippy to be much use. Soon the path narrows to an uneven rocky thread with a bit of a drop to our right, sending me into a wobbling mode which I struggle to shake off. The descent is a scramble, steep in places and I’m reduced to sliding down on my bottom or accepting the offer of C’s hand. I’m touched, and a tad surprised though I don’t know why, by her patience. Even so, the two-mile stretch feels more like 22 and the prospect of walking back is daunting, not least as we have to pack up ready for an early start tomorrow before our date with the Queen’s Arms. Nowhere to buy a new walking pole – apparently the outdoor clothing shop closed last year. No buses, no decent coffee shops and the village store is shut, although they open up for us to buy cheese and oatcakes and we manage a surreptitious picnic round the back of an ice cream parlour. On an impulse we decide to hitch a ride. Whether it’s another example of that northern charm, the kindness of strangers or the effect of C’s shorts, we’ve no sooner stuck out our thumbs when a chap pulling out of the car park raises his thumb in reply and we pile in. Turns out he’s driven over from Halifax in nostalgic mood, revisiting the area where he camped as a cub scout. He explains away his generosity as an example of northern hospitality – which of course it is. And which is replicated later in Litton, when we find the table in the window reserved for us, after all.
'The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there' is the opening of L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between, published by Hamish Hamilton in 1953
'Girl from the north country'was written by Bob Dylan, recorded in 1963 and released the same year as the second track on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan