|Junior walking stick from Hawes|
I grew up in the North East of England at a time when family holidays seldom amounted to more than one week a year. We spent ours at towns and resorts which today would seem little further away than a day trip destination. One year we travelled to Whitby, another to Edinburgh, and once to Berwick on Tweed. There was a trip to Keswick too, which my father, in one of his bouts of depression, refused at the last minute to go on— my Mum took me and my brothers regardless, travelling by bus and train, then walking up hills every day to tire us out.
In some ways it's not surprising that my father didn't come, because mostly he hated holidays—only later in the Seventies when he could lie on a beach in the Spanish sun that he was ever happy to leave home. Whether that was because of his depression or his inherent demeanour I don't know, but I do remember the rows just to get him to go for a picnic. When my mother learned to drive, she at last found the freedom that would convince her to leave for good.
But the exception to this rather gloomy beginning for a blog post were our visits to Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales. My father had been an evacuee there—arriving as a family unit with his brother and my grandmother; presumably, my grandfather was enlisted at the time. They lodged in a manor on the edge of the town and at some point moved to a farm across the fields from what later became the Wensleydale Creamery.
On our first visit my father took us to the 'large house', and I remember we were all peering over the wall into a bramble filled garden when a voice shrieked. 'Are you looking at my wilderness!' Leaning out of the upstairs window was what I took to be a witch with long ragged hair, tattered clothes and boney arms—very much the 'lady in the attic' look. Which turned out to be not so far off the mark...
After explanations and introductions, we were invited in for tea. The present owner was, to use a phrase of the time, completely barking! The house was a ramshackle ruin of peeling paper, broken china, and musty chairs. She claimed to keep her husband upstairs in a cupboard, which I was later told not to take too literally, but never quite shook the suspicion of its truth. Whenever we passed by my father would tell stories of the times he'd spent there and in the area.
Looking back, there were few places that my father enthused over as much as the Yorkshire Dales. I sometimes wonder if the reason for this was that his own father was away for the time he was there? My grandfather was a uniquely wonderful man, but I'm under no illusion that he wasn't always the best or most present of dads. There was a bond between my father and his mother that I sense came from those years and was associated in his mind to the places they'd stayed.
He took us often to the nearby village of Gayle and a brook he called Belia Banks which I can't find on the map and may be spelling incorrectly, but it's where we went looking for—and caught—crayfish. We also went to Aysgarth Falls and the Buttertubs Pass and the cheese factory; in the town we visited a ropemaker and nearby a chap who made clogs, from whom my mother bought a miniature pair which sat for years on our hearth at home...
And somewhere in all of this, I acquired a walking stick, of the size suitable for an eight-year-old boy.
That stick is the second oldest object I have from my childhood. Beating it by a few years is a French faience bowl, but as that has sat in the china cupboard and storage boxes for much of the last fifty years it doesn't carry the same store of memories. In truth, because it's so small I've not been able to use the stick for most of those years either— but always I treasured it, and my sons have played with it and somehow it's never not been 'around'. Currently it lives in an umbrella stand by the coat rack.
Before writing this post I took the time to look at it again, examining the knots and burrs, the careful bending of the wood to shape the handle. It's probably made from hazel or ash and has a brass ferrule that rattles because the shaft has shrunk—there's a tiny split near the base of the cane which I hope can be repaired. At one time it was varnished, but only remnants remain, the years of wear and rough play removing all but a few flecks here and there.
But you know, there's only much you can say about a stick—or indeed, that needs to be said. Because it's not so much the thing in and of itself that's important. It's the connection it holds to those holidays: to the times we stayed at the farm B&B and drank goat's milk, and chased the geese over the field each morning, me waving my stick to drive them.. and to the names and places that are with me still, and to the memory of my father for once not hating it quite so much.
It has just occurred to me now that when our first son was born, Jane and I took him with us to Hawes for a holiday that summer. We carried him in a backpack on our walks: to Gayle and the Buttertubs Pass, to Aysgarth Falls and the ropemaker in town... I'm sure we must have been to a stick maker too... and certainly, we bought some cheese from the creamery, and looked for the large house and saw the fields of geese...
Oh, how life—and our lives—turn in circles...
Nicely written and full of your memories. There are still some odd creatures rather like your witch around but then I suppose that is true of any quite remote country area. I remember going to stay in a holiday cottage in Wales when my son was a boy fifty years ago and asking an old man leaning over his front gate how to get to the cotta/ge Pointing with his stick (it was late evening and we were lost) he said 'go up to the moon and turn left.ReplyDelete
It is funny how the smallest details stay with us for all of our days, isn't it? I am grateful for mine. I sense the same in this post.ReplyDelete
I know Hawes well as I spent my teenage years living in Bainbridge in the Yorkshire Dales. Saturday nights at the Market Hall dancing to local bands Mother's Lament and Orange Glass - what a racket!ReplyDelete
The first two paragraphs struck such a chord with me that I barely read on. I went through the same thing with my partner for all our time together, and have always been ridden with guilt, and still am, that I was in some ways to blame for how he was. We have only recently split up and he is still the monkey on my back. It is only when I read such as what you have shared here, that I feel I am not alone, not that that helps anyone really but does gives me a little bit of solace. Thank you for sharing it.ReplyDelete
Thank you - a heartening comment - for always I want my writing to be 'not just about me' - but rather, for it to be more universal through a shared resonance.Delete
I was born at the end of WWII and grew up in Torquay. My mother said it was the best seaside resort in the country and that we didn't need to "go away on holiday" - which was partly true - but I think we just didn't have money after the war to go anywhere, no car, and my parents worked every hour God sent to make ends meet! The Devon countryside and beaches were my playground and were wonderful, no child could wish for more and my memories are always such a pleasure.ReplyDelete
At 19 I left England for what was just to be a year working in Washington, D.C. . . . . and am still here. I never did see very much of my own country until I came back 'on holiday' over the past 58 years. All I've seen has been beautiful - I still want/hope to see more.
Your story was a good read - perhaps you should mount your walking stick on the wall over your fireplace - it would be a great talking point when times change an we can actually entertain in our homes again!
People pass on and places change. At least we can write down our childhood holiday memories. I enjoyed reading this post very much. Thanks.ReplyDelete
I have fond memories of Hawes, especially the cheese... and we have a piece of rope in the kitchen that we made at the rope makers.ReplyDelete
I left off commenting on this post because it made me think a bit. Living on an NZ sheep farm in the 1970's (when all subsidies were removed and we had to adapt) family holidays never existed. A day off to go fishing in the Waitaki River, a camping weekend at Omarama for the fishing in Lake Benmore; that was about it. When NZ education system was set up, school holidays were scheduled to coincide with seasons of high labour demand on farms - haymaking and shearing in summer, potato harvest in May, and lambing in August. So you can imagine why holidays weren't family holidays for us (even though spud picking had been largely mechanized by then). We didn't feel cheated, we were privileged. We had 1000 acres, the sea on one side, and endless scope for imagination. I loved my childhood. If I had to pick a memory thing - it might be Dad's greenheart cane fly fishing rod (I think it had been his grandfathers) or the thing we called the Thermette (I believe they are 'Kelly kettles' in UK). Setting that thing upon the stones of the braided Waitaki riverbed and finding enough bits of stick to burn to make cups of tea was one of our great delights as kids. Sorry that was so long - you kicked something off.ReplyDelete
What a lovely comment - I'm glad it triggered such memoriesDelete
We had summer vacations and when my mother wasn't working at summer school we returned to the US to see family every few years. The earlier ones saw us going and coming by ship and were my favorite. When stepfather came on the scene we were able to travel more extensively and that opened horizons for me for which I remain grateful.ReplyDelete