I’m sitting in front of my computer, asking myself what could be the worst thing to happen to a travel blogger. For me, it’s the loss of photos. And that’s what’s happened.
Back from a month in England and recovered from jet lag, I can now think over how my trip panned out. The first two days were spent in London. I wanted to use the time exploring many of the places I’d grown up hearing about and had seen on television and in films, especially those I missed last time around: Bloomsbury, Mayfair, Holborn, Soho.
On my second day in Oxford, I was wandering alongside the old city wall when I came upon a set of heavy wooden doors, a smaller door cut out and open, the same as mine at Balliol College. It seemed an odd place for them, surrounded by nothing but high stone walls, and I had to investigate where they could lead. Peering through, I saw a pointed arch, framing an emerald green lawn, turretted buildings rising behind. A sign said Welcome to New College.
While preparing for my upcoming trip to England, my mind wandered back to my first trip in 2011.
I’d always wanted to slip, ‘when I was at Oxford’, into the conversation, and so I booked myself into Balliol College, the oldest university in the city.
The morning after my visit to Skipton, I was having breakfast at Rosebud Cottage, my B&B in Haworth, when my host asked, ‘Have you heard of Wycoller Beck?’ I hadn’t. ‘Wycoller is the village and Beck is the river that runs through it. It’s a beautiful spot and has a Bronte connection, if you’re still looking for those.’ I was. ‘Turn right out of the driveway, then, and just follow the road. You can’t take your car into the village, though. You have to park and walk down the hill.’
Skipton is one of the towns connected by the Leeds Liverpool Canal. The canal was opened in 1816 and, at 127 miles, is Britain’s longest inland waterway. After spending the morning at Skipton Castle, pretending I was in an episode of Robin Hood, I wandered down the steep High Street to the quay.
In September, 2011, I arrived in Manchester, with a view to hiring a car and working my way down to London, but after two days of more-or-less steady rain, I felt like I was still home in a particularly wintry Melbourne. On the third morning, as I was leaving to catch the train to York, I was greeted by another downpour. My runners had dried out from the day before but it was obvious that wasn’t going to last long.
A man pushed past me, squeezing me against my case in the hotel doorway, raised him umbrella, almost poking out one of my eyes and took off into the deluge. I launched myself out as well, crossed the road through manic Monday morning traffic to the cafe opposite the hotel and ordered my first English breakfast, scrambled eggs and bacon on wholegrain toast. Delicious. Over coffee I prayed that the rain would ease just long enough for me to make it to the station. The prayer worked. As I left the cafe it stopped and I reached the station damp, as opposed to dripping.
While in Haworth, I decided to catch the bus to Skipton to visit the castle, seeing I’d missed it on my way through. In 1090, Robert de Romille, a Norman baron, built a fort here, but its timber ramparts were not much help against the frequent raids of rampaging Scots. He replaced it with a more formidable stone castle, setting it on top of a rocky bluff.
My accommodation sat at the bottom of a steep hill, leading up to the historic village of Haworth, where Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, grew up in their father’s parsonage. It was here they wrote their poetry, short stories and novels. At the top of the hill, I crossed the main road, passed under an arched stone-covered alleyway and entered a tiny town square and another era.
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.