Mr Litlove and I make surprisingly good time up the motorway to Yorkshire. In fact we cover 160 of the 170 miles in a couple of hours. We then spend another hour on the final ten miles, which are of course in the blazing sun as we crawl through two small towns where the traffic is monumentally held up by nothing more than red lights on crossroads. When we reach Ilkley, we have a classic marital moment: the directions to the holiday house, despite being prominently placed on top of all the luggage, have somehow ended up in the boot of the car. I want to stop and fetch them, whilst Mr Litlove is determined that his all-singing all-dancing smart phone will navigate for us and is trying to key the necessary information in while driving. In the end we get so hopelessly lost that we are forced to stop. I instantly leap from the car and scoot around the back, while Mr Litlove is typing as fast as his thumbs will let him. In consequence he drives to the cottage with the directions coming at him in stereo.
The road up to the tiny hamlet where we are staying is incredible – long, very narrow, one car width only with the occasional passing place, and then we start to climb. The last half mile is up the sort of incline that makes you feel that car might just grind to a halt then start to roll backwards, and it winds between the paint-scraping stone walls of the houses clinging to the hill. I am thinking we will get up here and possibly never get out again. The cottage when we arrive is adorable, however, and the view across the valley breathtaking.
That first expansive day of holiday spreads out before us and it is crackingly hot. We spend most of the day hopping out onto the patio (the slabs are almost too hot to walk on) and sitting under the parasol with our books, before deciding we are simply too hot even in the shade and retreating back within the thick stone walls of the cottage. It is so long since we had a heatwave in Britain that I had forgotten that odd feeling of being overcooked and breathless.
I spend the day finishing off a book I was already reading, the last in the series of John Dunning novels about his antiquarian book dealer, Cliff Janeway. I could see why it was the last – what a flaccid, overpadded excuse for a novel. The early ones in this series were great; lots of interesting information about the book world and sharp stories, even if Janeway was always a bit of a pain in the backside. The title of this final one is: The Bookwoman’s Last Fling. I tell you so you can avoid it.
In the early evening we venture out at last, although it doesn’t seem to have cooled down any. But food is necessary and so we visit the supermarket recommended by our hosts, which is called Booth’s. It’s a small chain, only available in the north of the country, and it’s utterly gorgeous. The fact that I have fallen instantly in love with a supermarket is almost as disturbing as the fact that Mr Litlove and I keep finding ourselves discussing the garden. Note to self: I really need to get out more and have some adventures; maybe I should take a toy boy lover or mastermind a small criminal network?
After having been so slovenly yesterday we decide to get up bright and early(ish) and go for a walk. This is a new thing with me, going for walks. I have historically never been very gifted at enjoying them. But I am determined to exercise more and walking is so very good for you, and here we are on holiday with a new location to explore.
We start out walking around the hamlet, which business is concluded in two minutes. A parliament of neighbours has gathered to chat in the steep street and so we ask which way we should go. Much debate ensues. Eventually we set off on a countryside path that leads us inevitably into a field. The thing that bothers me about walking through fields is that it takes an awfully long time for the view to change. Not that I can look around much, in any case, not if I want to avoid the sheep dung and cow pats and goodness only knows what other kinds of fecal matter that are liberally spread across the path. When we swap the grazing field for an arable one, things are different but not exactly better. I am wearing sandals and mown hay has a cheeky habit of poking through the straps and needling a person’s bare feet. The best that can be said for the environment is that it is blessed by a fresh wind – of the kind that is almost a raging gale.
We cross the stile and take a different path, and this leads us happily to a road. Except of course it is the road where the helpful neighbours are still standing around chatting. Unsurprisingly, as we have managed to complete their course in about ten minutes. ‘What do we do?’ whispers Mr Litlove. ‘Won’t it be embarrassing to have to walk past them?’ I vote that we brazen it out, given the only alternative is to retreat to the fields again. So we stroll past, trying to look friendly and grateful while the neighbours assure us it is quite delightful on the top of the moor (no thank you) and then we are once again heading down the one in three gradient that makes me feel like I am about to kick the backs of my own legs. We take a different road at the bottom and find it unexpectedly busy with cyclists whizzing past every few minutes, clad in lycra that gleams in the sun. I eye the banks of monster nettles on either side of the road with some alarm, as I can see myself having to leap out of the way for safety at any moment and do not like the look of my options.
But the road is blessed with houses, and these I find infinitely more interesting to look at. They are good houses, too, every one different and stylish and intriguing. It’s fun to ponder how much they all cost, and to try to spy in their windows and courtyards without getting caught. But still, you know, we’re running out of houses, and small country lanes bordered with big banks of nettles hold only so much interest.
‘You know what would make this perfect right now?’ I ask Mr Litlove.
‘If we rounded that corner and came upon a bookshop.’
He shakes his head, though he’s smiling. ‘You are hopeless.’
I know! It’s true! I only really like walking to a bookshop and around a bookshop and home again with my books. It’s no good; I can take or leave the fields and the lanes and the rest of it. We walk back up towards the hamlet and sit for a bit in the shelter built for the poor postman who used to make twice daily deliveries in the surrounding area. The man must have been a saint – and a very, very fit one. The shelter is a nice thought, but I expect he might have preferred to be parachuted in at the top of the hill and then given a lift home at the bottom.
To Be Continued!