The last vestiges of autumn’s glory still clings to the trees, pale gold and copper against the damp-blackened bark and vivid green of the English countryside. The stone-built cottages, many of them still roofed with ancient slabs of sandstone, or the dark grey slate that echoes November skies, look warm and cosy with their lights casting an orange glow to soften the shadows.
There is something reassuring solid about these homes that have seen so many people pass through their doorways over the centuries. Their chimneypots vary from the purely prosaic to the fanciful, creating a landscape all of their own high above the village streets. Even the ruined castle on the hillside has a permanency about it, though after nearly a thousand years it is a mere shell of its former self.
It is no wonder that so many people come here on holiday in the summer, when even the stone is golden in the sunlight. We, however, were just passing through on our way to the Silent Eye’s monthly meeting. We were not going on holiday… at least, not until the next morning. And not for long. Just a 350 mile round trip for a night in the north. Our proper holidays had been cancelled by my house move and the need to finish the script for the workshop in spring. We were due a bit of a jaunt and we would be meeting a friend too. This time, what could possibly go wrong?
Well okay, we hadn’t bargained for snow in November. That was a bit of a blow. That, and the fact that the main reason for our trip was jetting off unexpectedly to Asia to handle a crisis, leaving us with a heartfelt plea to post no photographs…none at all… As if that was going to happen. Being best known by his avatar of a polar bear, he should like the arctic conditions… it would be such a shame not to post pictures. Especially given where we were going.
Well, where we were intending to go. The weather was looking less than promising for a trip to the hills of the Lake District and a wander through the Yorkshire Dales… both more northerly and risky than the Peak District town of Castleton, where we were already surrounded by snow. Still, it didn’t look too bad… and we never get real snow this early after all. There was blue sky above and the roads were pretty clear. It would probably be gone by morning.
We woke to a grey day and set off early, taking the back roads. The motorways would have been a quicker and more sensible route perhaps, but as our friend would not now be waiting for us, we were in no hurry. Why take the motorways when you can meander over the high hills of the Pennines and down through the dales, traversing the beautiful landscape of Yorkshire and Lancashire to get to Cumbria?
We hadn’t gone all that far, climbing up onto the Pennines, before we met the blizzard. A proper snowfall that, judging by the amount of snow already on the ground, had been going on for some time. But the roads had been gritted and were busy enough to be clear. We had no idea what we would find further north though.
The distant hills were white and the sunlight lit them… a white world, so beautiful it took your breath away. As we drove further into Yorkshire, into a landscape so familiar it has me by the heart, a smile spread across my face and my breath became little more than an ‘Oooh’….
“You’re squeaking again,” said my companion, resigned and accustomed to the way these places get to me. We both knew it was only going to get worse where we were going…