Second Spring

We arrived in England looking for quiet, a place where we would not be not surrounded by crowds of people. We needed a few days ‘down time’, to catch up on laundry, answer e-mail, and let our systems adjust to a more normal diet – one not quite so replete in wine and cheese. At the end of a dirt track in Blacko, Lancashire, in a small stone cottage attached to a working farm, we found such a place.

Or mostly. The cottage had a washing machine, so we did laundry, but no tumble dryer. It poured with rain, so a washing line was not an option. The house rules contained a strict admonition not to hang laundry off radiators or doors. Our solution was to sit in the car in damp clothes and turn the heated seats up high. We did have WiFi, but it was rural slow, and took a while to connect or download. And changing the diet from wine and cheese to meat pies, chips and beer probably didn’t have much overall effect.

It was quiet, though.

On the second day we thought it would be good to hear voices other than our own, so wandered over the hills to Settle. It was market day, and we couldn’t find a parking space. Then we did, but it was a Pay and Display which only took cash, not a card, and which blithely informed us that “overpayments would be accepted but no change given”. Not being willing to trade a five pound note for a 90p tariff, we left Settle and drove off looking for a more accessible pub lunch. We followed the River Ribble up to the stunning viaduct which carries the train line over the valley, then dropped down to a pub which advertised “fresh food daily”. We walked in, finding the barmaid sitting chatting to two older gentlemen. We asked if there was a menu only to be told that the kitchen was closed as “the cook’s away today”. We asked about local alternative eateries, but she didn’t know any, although a pub in the next village might do something, she wasn’t sure. We drove on.

In the next village, Austwick, we saw a pub which offered rooms and food. It’s called the Game Cock Inn, and if you’re ever within 100 miles of Austwick, go there. Lunch was simply one of the best meals I’ve eaten on this trip, and probably the best restaurant food I’ve eaten in England for years. Subsequently I’ve learned that others think so as well, and it has earned all sorts of honours and awards. Well worth a visit!

After our brief respite in the country, with e-mail checked and clothes washed (if not dried), we set off to visit friends around England. Our journey took us across to the Wirral peninsular, under the Mersey (alas, the ferry doesn’t take cars, so that trip is still on the wish list) to Poulton-le-Fylde and the northwest coast, back over the Pennines to Nottingham, and then down to near Paignton in Devon. We covered a lot of miles, and amazingly did so without too many traffic delays along the notoriously crowded motorways. Along the way we saw friends from Papua New Guinea whom we hadn’t seen in years, spending many happy hours recounting stories from the days of old and generally doing what friends do – eating, drinking, and laughing – a lot.

We also had some adventures. A blazingly hot day (in England! In April!) saw us eating ice creams and walking along the sea front at Lytham, admiring the windmill and throwing a ball for the dog to chase. It’s been a while since I last had a 99, which for the uninitiated is a soft ice cream cone with a chocolate flake. In Newark I visited the Civil War Museum, which I hadn’t known existed, and learned a lot more about that period of history than I had thought possible.

Then, in deepest Devon along the banks of the River Dart, we discovered Agatha Christie’s house and at last I found a fellow traveller. It appears that in addition to writing her novels, Ms. Christie was an ardent collector of ‘stuff’. Wandering through the house, with every surface crammed and shelves bowed, it was humbling to realize that I still have a long way to go in the hoarder league! She also had a wonderful garden, crammed full of camelias in full bloom – how I wish they were hardy in Canada.

The camelias and the serried ranks of daffodils along the roads reminded me that this was spring – my second after France. There was a bank of blue, mauve and white which sparkled like an impressionist painting, northern echoes of Giverny. The trees were resplendent with their bright green leaves shimmering in the sunshine. The bluebells were out, and we argued about which were the traditional English ones and which were the sturdier Spanish imports. The roses were in leaf, thick buds starting to swell in the heat. The first early candles of the horse chestnut had started to emerge, and here and there a butterfly or a bumble bee graced us with their presence.

And then Heathrow, and the plane to Montreal, where a five hour lay-over was enhanced by another (and unexplained) delay of an hour, but home eventually just before midnight and fast asleep into the nearly forgotten comforts of our own bed. We had been away for 24 nights. The next morning, I patrolled the garden, and found to my delight that the crocuses were out, and the early daffodils were pushing up through the mulch. It was nearly spring – again.

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