The trouble with a brand new rental car is that there are no scratches already on it and so any I added couldn’t be blamed on the last person. I would have been happier with a ‘bomb’, as long as it kept going. Still, driving that Toyota Hybrid was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. It floated. There was not a bump or rattle, none of the normal sensations, certainly those associated with the cars I’m used to. I glided through the suburbs of Harrogate and out the other side.
The view I’d had of Skipton, from photos on the web, was of a quaint market village, and I thought how lucky it was that I was passing through on a Saturday when the market was operating. I’d forgotten this was the 21st century, and so the High Street was packed with cars, delivery trucks and vans. With market stalls taking up a large part of the roadway, bringing it down to one lane, it was more ‘manic’ than ‘quaint’. I manoeuvred back the way I came, passing Skipton Castle on the way out.
I missed the signs to Haworth, if they were there, and ended up two miles out, on a narrow roadway flanked by tiny stone cottages. I was in an ancient village by the name of Embsay, set in undulating green hills, reminding me I was now in the Yorkshire Dales.
I pulled into a car park next to Elm Tree Inn, a rectangular, two-storey building of light brown stone, white lace curtains at its windows. Gleaming brass railings surrounded the polished timber of the bar and deep red velvet covered the dining chairs and bar stools.
‘I was looking for some lunch,’ I said to a surprisingly exotic-looking young woman, not at all what I expected in a tiny village in Yorkshire, though I have no idea why.
‘Have a seat,’ she said. ‘Would you like a drink?’ Now that I was in a pub I considered a wine but on my first day in a brand new car belonging to someone else, I made the excellent decision to forgo it.
I sat next to a window, looking through the curtains to the cottages climbing their way up the street. An elderly gentleman sat on his own at a table in the corner to the left of me and another, also alone, at a table to my right. Two plump, elderly women in matching beige woollen coats, their grey hair enclosed in brown and beige, hand-knitted beanies, entered.
‘Come on, Reg,’ said one. The man to my right stood and moved to a different table. He’d had the cheek to sit in their spot and had been suitably chastised for it. They didn’t seem surprised and he wasn’t upset. Maybe he does it every day.
I decided to go native and order a chicken and leek pie. It arrived, steaming, inside a high-sided, round ceramic dish. It was absolutely delicious.
Tables gradually filled and laughter and cheerful chatter bounced around the room. Men came and went, joining each other at the bar for a drink then leaving. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. No-one took any notice of me so I was able to sit back, watch, and take it all in, though the Yorkshire accent was so broad I had great trouble understanding a lot of what was being said.
The man in the corner sat the whole time impassively silent. I wondered if I should speak to him. I looked at him and he held my gaze.
‘Is this where you come for lunch every day?’ My flat Australian accent grated against the more rounded ones about me but, again, no-one noticed.
‘Not for loonch,’ he said, raising his glass.
‘Oh, right.’ He came here to drink. He told me about a beautiful walk up the hill at the side of the pub to the reservoir.
‘Thanks,’ I said, ‘I will.’ I’d been waiting for a chance to walk in the English countryside.
I took a last look around to keep my first, hopefully of many English country inns, in my memory. Outside, three men sat at a table under an umbrella, two middle-aged, one younger, drinking beer. There was a wonderful sense of relaxation, as if nothing was important enough to hurry for and everything would get done in its time. It was a breath of fresh air after starting my trip in cities with their non-stop traffic and everyone going somewhere. These people were not going anywhere; they were already there.
I grabbed my gloves and scarf from the car – it was cool and the wind was biting – and headed up the hill. Trees bordered the road, meeting in the centre, creating an avenue of green. A stream rippled in the shadows, its banks a mass of vines, ferns and grasses. I felt like I was in an ancient forest, even though there were stone houses running up the hill beside me.
The trees opened out to fields, separated by fences made of flat stones. Geese and ducks puttered in the long grass. A horse lifted its head to look at me, became quickly bored and turned away. The large rock formation of Embsay Crag stood sentinel in the distance.
This is an extract from, Is This the Road to Stratford?, the third book in my travel series, Planning to the ‘Nth’. The first, The Edge of the World, is now published as an Ebook through Amazon. To download a free sample or to buy the book, click here.