We moved on to Skipton – the name means Sheep Town - where we had booked to stay the night. We’ve been here a few times and always enjoyed it. Skipton High Street has earned the title of Britain’s Best High Street on several occasions and rightly so. It’s a picture perfect market town with cobbled streets, lots of independent shops and various alleys and ginnels leading a visitor to hidden places.
The first time we ever came here we were told (ordered) to buy a pork pie from Stanforth’s butchers shop on Mill Street. ‘Best in the world,’ they said. Of course, this is Yorkshire where boasting is in the regional DNA and anyone with an air of modest reticence would be derided as an ‘out of towner.’
Craven Court is Skipton's Victorian themed shopping arcade and it’s lovely, but apart from the High Street and shopping arcade there are a myriad of narrow side streets and alleys. Skipton’s Market dates back to the (brief) reign of King John. They sell just about everything here and we were lucky to be there on a sunny day. Sheep and cattle aren’t auctioned in the High Street these days, we passed the new site on our way in, so Marigold missed out on the chance to bid for a pet lamb. Or heifer.
We’d been let down by our intended hotel – their feeble excuse of having no staff due to Covid related issues cut no ice with me – so I’d booked a last minute deal in a B and B that came with glowing reviews on Trip Advisor. Yes, I know, lots of five star reviews usually just denotes someone with an extended family, but it was for just one night. What could go wrong?
Quite a lot, as it turned out. Our room was above a pub, not a problem in itself, I mused. Until we pulled onto the car park, Marigold just said, ‘Michael Jackson’ and the recollections came flooding back.
We had once booked an overnight stay way up in Northumberland as we were attending a wedding the next day. On Lindisfarne, Holy Island, whichever you prefer. There was an open mic event going on in the main bar, the theme was ‘Elvis and Michael Jackson,’ a pretty incongruous pairing in our view.
Pub singers, those brave or inebriated enough to sing in public, all imagine they have talent. Very few do, but an audience of folk who’ve been supping beer all night is usually pretty tolerant. We endured a few locals imagining they sang like Elvis. As is often the case, many actually resembled Elvis, but in such cases the resemblance is always, without exception, confined to the ‘Fat Elvis’ era.
At ‘chucking out’ time, nobody moved. Instead of customers leaving there was an influx of a dozen or so refugees from the only other pub on the island. One pub followed licensing hours, the other stayed open. A local custom at that time. No idea if it still applies.
One of the newcomers sat next to Marigold and offered her a pickled egg. There were about ten pickled eggs, grey in colour and immersed in a sinister liquid that looked like turpentine. He told us he’d borrowed them from the bar of the other pub as he left and would settle up with the landlord on the following night. As we showed no interest in sharing, he ate them all, washed down with several pints of dark mild, one after another.
‘We’re just killing time,’ he confided. ‘ Me and that feller over there, we’re off back to sea when the tide turns at about half two.’ I tried to imagine spending the rest of the night on a small fishing boat, on rough seas, in the company of a man with a gallon of beer and numerous pickled eggs in his ample gut. Not for the first time I decided the life of a deep sea fisherman would not be to my taste.
When a morbidly obese man attempted to convince us he was the embodiment of Michael Jackson we headed upstairs to bed. Our room was directly over the speakers and it was noisier there than it had been down in the bar. It did quieten down eventually, but those non existent licensing laws on Holy Island meant it was already daylight when I managed to go to sleep.
‘This is Skipton,’ I said, reassuringly to Marigold. ‘They’re law abiding. It will be quiet here.’ Oh dear. Our room was approached up some rickety stairs, into a room with a ceiling height that was just over Marigold’s head on one side and only about a foot higher on the other. If I had more hair it would have brushed the ceiling which was fairly claustrophobic, but preferable to the concussion hazard that was the rest of the room.
The floors were bare, well worn oak planks which had the attractive patina of age, but were so uneven we felt we were constantly ascending and descending on our walk to inspect the bathroom. We were about to go downstairs and tell our host the advertised en-suite bathroom was absent when Marigold opened the door of a wardrobe and discovered a minuscule bath, tiny sink and an equally small lavatory. I have seen bigger 'facilities' in dolls houses.
Did we go straight down and complain, demand our money back and storm out into the night? Of course we didn’t; we fell about laughing and made a virtue out of misfortune.
‘We’ve stayed in worse,’ Marigold said. Indeed we have, this was a palace compared to some hotels we graced with our presence in Morocco and Algeria. The sink hadn’t fallen off the wall as we opened the door and there weren’t six incontinent parrots already in residence for a start. No, this would be fine. For one night.
The saloon bar below was about to close and we anticipated a lessening of the hubbub shortly. After repeated door slamming the customers departed, only to reassemble in the beer garden immediately below our window. Single glazed window. The noise wasn’t quite deafening, but came pretty close. The crowd below evidently contained half a dozen of Britain’s finest comedians as every sentence provoked raucous bellows of laughter.
‘What’s funny about that?’ Marigold asked of me after one particularly over the top reaction to some banal remark. I shrugged and resolved to take note of the local beer strength.
It was funny for ten minutes, a pain in the bum for another ten and purgatory for the next hour or so. I couldn’t even open the window to request they went elsewhere – this suggests a polite response which was not what I intended at all – as it was firmly stuck. Of course I could have stormed down the hazardous stairs and confronted a mob of inebriated locals, but Marigold thought that may be unwise.* *I wasn’t sure whether she was worried about my safety or concerned that I may join in the merriment and stay there carousing until dawn.
On reflection I have discounted the latter premise.
‘At least there’s a proper Yorkshire breakfast coming up,’ said Marigold as we contorted our bodies in the wardrobe/bathroom the next morning. In the dining area we both thought the pub landlord looked decidedly rough.
'I had a skinful last night,’ he exclaimed, burping loudly. ‘It were a reet good do, tha’ should’ve come down.’ We didn’t bother to explain this hadn’t been necessary as he and his rowdy friends had brought the after hours party to us. ‘You’re not going to forget our breakfasts,’ our host had announced in prescient tone when we checked in. ‘I do my own slaughtering, cure all my own bacon, raise the best laying hens in Yorkshire, you’ll be talking about it for months.’
He wasn’t wrong. Runny eggs, limp bacon, burnt toast, it was vile. We didn’t complain, given the state of him it was a miracle he could even boil water to make coffee. Oh, the coffee was very good.
There were only two other guests. They ordered kippers, to the obvious annoyance of the chef patron, and laughed out loud when they arrived. I don’t imagine they actually ate anything on their plates, but obviously enjoyed the occasion. The woman laughed uproariously at one point and Marigold looked at me with an air of recognition. We’d heard that laugh before. Many times. Most recently at two o’clock this morning.
‘Make sure you get some udder cream from Laycocks, luv,’ the woman called across to Marigold. ‘It’s brilliant stuff.’ Marigold didn’t reply. I don’t imagine anyone has suggested she may benefit from udder cream, at the breakfast table, for quite some time.
We hid items under toast on the plate to disguise how little of the food we’d eaten. As Marigold said, ‘the worst thing about that breakfast was the massive portions.’ We set off again, on foot, in search of a café.
At the top of the High Street was the gatehouse of Skipton Castle. It’s an impressive castle, over 900 years old, dating back to William the Conqueror. ‘That’s in better nick than the bedroom we were in last night,’ said Marigold. We weren’t in the mood for mediaeval castles. It’s not a given!
We found a café, hurrah, and also found Laycock’s udder cream, which is also called udder ointment. It’s a thick lotion used to soothe cows' sore udders. When dairy farmers – or their wives - discovered their own hands looked healthier and felt smoother after using the product, udder cream came to be marketed as a moisturiser for cracked or chapped hands.
‘Hands or feet,’ the woman expounding its virtues pointed out. ‘Dry elbows, all your dry, wrinkly bits, it does the lot really.’
We bought some. Of course we did. Marigold hasn’t recommended it to anyone as far as I know. Despite its undeniable virtues, confessing to using udder cream is a bit of a no-no.
Lest anyone imagine we are obsessed with Yorkshire, on our return journey we diverted to another old favourite, this time in Lancashire. We were last here just before Covid’s arrival and wanted to see if there’d been any changes. I read recently the geographical centre of Great Britain is to be found near Calderstones Hospital just outside Clitheroe. I offer this as an extra bonus fact, as confirmed by those clever scientists who undertake precise measurements on our behalf. I mentioned it to Marigold who failed to show any great interest.
She told me once that she always ignores all forms of ‘lists and measurements’ on principle. This prejudice certainly extends to map reading or any navigational tools.
There was a mist hanging over Pendle Hill, of Pendle witches fame, which ruled out any possibility of us striding to the summit to view great swathes of Lancashire. Mist can be very handy at times.
In 1652, George Fox had a ‘vision’ on top of Pendle Hill which suggested a future in which ‘a great people shall be gathered.’ Fox went on to found the Quakers Movement. If he’d been deterred by a bit of mist, we’d never have heard of James Cadbury or Joseph Rowntree, both eminent Quakers, so the confectionery world would have missed out. I was convinced the late James Dean had also been a follower and a little research confirmed it. The juxtaposition of great philanthropists and a Hollywood legend always struck me as surprising.
On our former visit I parked up between a Maserati and a freshly minted McLaren, being extra careful not to scrape either of them. Today we were in humbler company; the venerable Mini we parked alongside looked ready for the scrap yard and it was my turn to worry about anyone scratching our new car.
The town of Clitheroe actually dates back to Saxon times so by the time the imposing 12th century Norman castle that towers over the town had been built, Clitheroe had already been a community for nearly 1,000 years. That castle, supposedly the smallest Norman castle in England is wonderfully situated, but as yet we haven’t found the energy to climb up to view it at close quarters.
We went to Holmes Mill food hall first of all. Marigold loved it last time we were here and when we saw the old Citroen van was still a fixture I begged Marigold to pose for a photo, as I had done on our last visit. Marigold was far more interested in finding a toilet than posing for pictures and the subsequent photograph shows that all too clearly.
We waved to a woman who was waving at us, just to be polite as we didn’t know her. She came over and said, ‘sorry, it’s Paula, you looked like my cousin, but everyone looks the same now with these masks on don’t they?’ She then said, ‘I can tell it’s not you now,’ at which I didn’t know whether to be relieved or worried.
Paula turned out to be very useful, not only directing Marigold to the ‘Ladies,’ but adding, ‘don’t use the cubicle at the end, even if it’s empty.’ Marigold departed looking slightly concerned.
Paula wasn’t finished with me yet. She wanted to know, my views on ‘why television people think unless it’s a programme about Yorkshire we won’t be interested. The Yorkshire Vet, All Creatures Great and Small and that one about the shepherd woman who’s had about twenty children, what’s wrong with farmers and vets in Lancashire, why does it have to be stuffin’ Yorkshire?’
I shook my head in sympathetic agreement, hoping Marigold would be back soon, but the diatribe continued a fair while longer ending with, ‘don’t get me wrong, I watch ‘em all.’
There’s your answer then, I thought. Marigold returned, didn’t even mention the end cubicle, and insisted we left at once as there was a traffic warden outside.
‘I could see from the way you were standing you needed to get away,’ she explained as we went back to our car, parked in the free for two hours car park and not a traffic warden in sight. Who needs facial expressions with Marigold’s expertise in body language?
Clitheroe town centre is a bit of a throwback to former times with its specialist shops. Lots of them. Byrnes Wine Shop boasts of a vast underground storage cellar containing thousands of wine bottles. At one time this would have been an irresistible attraction, but as I no longer drink wine I didn’t bother. I no longer eat sausages either – another pleasure done away with; there have been so many downsides to plotting a recovery from heart failure – but we pressed our noses against the glass frontage of Cowman’s Sausage Shop with great interest. A placard stated, ‘Our sausages contain no slurry, slurp or goo, just quality meat.’ Well, that’s good to know.