Reason to be Cheerful: The Yorkshire Dales
They say you should NEVER go back, but I think they’re wrong. You should definitely go back—if the “back” in question is a shockingly beautiful and totally unexpected road you had to bomb along under a time restriction and didn’t have time to stop and explore. You should always go back to somewhere you think is stunningly beautiful. That surprises you. That calls you back.
Taking the time to explore
This time last year I was racing from the Lake District across to the A1 when I drove along a route into the Yorkshire Dales so stunning I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen or heard about it. I pulled out of a town called Sedbergh with a huge hill towering over it and took a sharp right turn, following the old road sign pointing to Hawes.
What looked like one of those lovely tiny windy roads with canopies of trees suddenly opened into an amazingly wide and impressive valley. It was tailor-made for soaking in the Dales or hosting a motorbike race. The raised road that bumped up and down along the bottom of the valley felt in parts like the TT track on the Isle of Man. We were through it and into Hawes in 20 minutes, but the impression was so lasting that when my 12-year-old son recently asked if we could go and climb some mountains, I knew we wouldn’t have to go as far as the Lakes. Sedbergh would be our destination.
I don’t know about you, but as I’ve got older I’ve developed a fear of not knowing where I’m going to stay at night. Maybe it’s because I’m a parent; maybe it’s because I just don’t want any unpredictability any more. I like to know I’ve got a destination, otherwise I’ll get to a place and my inability to choose will mean I’ll spend an afternoon worrying and wondering which place to book.
I solved this by booking a little b&b called The Blue Pig in Kirkby Lonsdale. I figured if they’d gone to the effort of calling it something like that, they’d probably also care about how much you’d like it when you got there. I wasn’t disappointed.
Something else that struck me was how many bags I feel the need to pack nowadays, compared with when I was 18. I used to set off in the clothes I stood up in and disappear on tour with a band for a few days to sell my fanzines. Back then, it would be one bag full of magazines, a thumb out by the side of the motorway, or a spot in the back of a van with the guitars. Now it’s four bags—wet weather, cold weather, warm weather all catered for—a big car and a b&b with a nice couple looking after us.
We moved on to Sedbergh, stocked up with bags of old-fashioned sweets, and after scouring a few of the town’s second-hand bookshops set off up the hill to the fell behind the town. I’m not sure of its name, but it’s about 1,700 feet high and I felt every one of them. Ten minutes in, I was lying on my back sunbathing while my son thankfully went and photographed a waterfall. It didn’t matter how many Sports Mixture sweets I ate, I didn’t feel any fitter.
“The first quarter is the hardest,” explained my son Marlais. “That’s when your body’s getting used to it.” I don’t think he can comprehend the difference between my 48-year-old body and his.
When we’d finally reached the top we could see the Three Peaks, the Lakes and the sea in Morecambe Bay. I tried to explain to my son that all the years you spend planning things or putting things off probably aren’t worth it, and every minute in your life is your life.
“It doesn’t get much better than this,” I simplified, but he pursued me as 12-year-olds do. “Yes, there are more exciting times, but your life is what you live as you live it, not what might happen in the future.” I probably need to get a Dennis the Menace annual where he explains Buddhism to get my point across properly.
Staying in Simonstone Hall
We took the car and went back down the road. I’d booked into a place called Simonstone Hall by Hawes, not only because it looked nice but because the man who answered the phone had said, “Excuse me, I’m just talking to myself.” I knew exactly how he felt. The other night, my girlfriend came down at 1am and asked me who I was talking to in the kitchen. I looked around and said, “Me, I was trying to work something out.”
When we got to Simonstone Hall, the man I’d spoken to on the phone showed me some lovely rooms and his boss agreed to give me a discount on the best one. I didn’t need it, but I felt I had to show Marlais that those negotiation tasks we’d watched on The Apprentice hadn’t gone unheeded.
And that’s where we are now. Dinner was great—posh fish ’n’ chips with tempura batter. Next morning we see that the view from the room looks out over the garden, the fields to Hawes and beyond—up Yorkshire hill and down dale. There are 18 tall trees in the garden, but the robin has chosen to sit on an old moss-covered knee-high statue of a lady. In the field, lambs are bouncing around. Hawes, home of Wensleydale cheese and location for the filming of the James Herriot TV series All Creatures Great and Small, anchors the view. It’s not going anywhere. It’s solid grey stone, surrounded by green fields with walls that look like badly drawn felt-tipped squares. It’s one of the most beautiful views in the Yorkshire National Park, and that’s saying something.
You should always go back. In fact, maybe you should stay!
Illustration: Tom Plant
James Brown, founder of Loaded magazine now edits Sabotage Times—an online magazine with the motto: "We can't concentrate, why should you?" Since November 2010 James has written over 50 of his popular monthly Reasons To Be Cheerful column in Reader’s Digest, you can read more by clicking here.