The M1 crawls north. Five lanes, yet still there are too many cars.
Hold-ups ahead make the A1M more attractive.
The flatlands stretch in every direction.
The curiosity that is the chain of Pulse and Cocktail Lounges. They’re not seen anywhere but on this particular road. I assume they’re seedy. I dare not research them for fear of what cookies will deliver to my future search.
Every room in Min’s dad’s house is many times bigger than the van.
The luxury of space.
We stretch out.
We wander in awe.
And we eat like kings. Gill’s never empty larder feeds us all that we could wish for.
The Hepworth Wakefield.
A cultural oasis in a challenged town.
Wakefield grew rich on wool, then coal. Fine York stone manor houses dot the surrounding countryside, but since the decline of coal mining the city’s importance has waned.
This red brick town was never pretty. But it was the birthplace of sculptor Barbara Hepworth. The rough moorland all about influenced her work, even after she moved to Cornwall.
In 2011 The Hepworth Wakefield was built to house a collection of her works.
The Chipperfield Architect’s building isn’t immediately easy to love. It sits on a bend of the River Calder in the cloth and grain conservation area. It challenges us with irregular forms, rather like Hepworth’s work may once have done. Where Hepworth used curves, Chipperfield used angles.
Inside it’s a different story. From the inside the precision of the building, its continuous poured concrete floor, its massive windows, all collude to create a sense of calm that renders the rough and ready world outside more interesting, more appealing. The architect understood that. There’s an upholstered bench perfectly placed with its back to the exhibits inviting us to gaze upon the disorder beyond.
To see so many of Hepworth’s works in one place is a joy. Each is its own entity and few were designed to sit alongside others, but nonetheless the whole works well.
Unfortunately the café was closed – I had looked forward to a quiet hour there.
We forge on.
Through County Durham, our own land of Prince Bishops (as Wurzburg last Sunday, but rather cooler).
Into Northumberland. England’s least populated county.
The gentle rolling hills stretch forever. There are many sheep, there’s Britain’s largest forest, some fine country houses, but not a lot else.
We won’t make it to the coast this time, but the beaches of the far north-east are some of the best in the country.
With Rick at The Beresford Arms life continues pretty much as normal, with a little more separation. There’s fine food, good beer, and plenty of chat.
Each of our stops is too short. It takes time to find the rhythm, to overcome the initial rush of catching up, and to settle into more productive conversation.
On both Northumberland nights the temperature outside the van dropped to 4°. On Tuesday morning the show began rolling south.
Angel of the North.
In Romania I stayed awhile in a beautiful artist’s colony, a resting place for angels.
Gateshead is nothing like as calm, but does have the mother of all angels.
Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North spread its 175 foot wings in 1998 to general uproar from the people of the region. The same people who now love and respect their icon.
We have driven past many times.
This time with perfect blue skies to offset its Corten palette we stopped to wonder, and to click off photos. Its scale is indicated by the guy at its feet, and the tower block behind.
The cathedral, built between 1160 and 1547, mostly in the Plain English style has little of the excess displayed in places we have visited lately.
What it has right now though is the Wing and a Prayer exhibition.
During the Covid times 10,000 written dedications to individual key workers across the region have been folded into origami angels, now suspended from on high.
It’s serene. Beautiful. Poignant.
Ripon is where Minty lived for many years, it’s still her sister’s home. The small city has delighted me since my first visit nearly 25 years ago.
I lodged at Rebecca’s while working in York. I could happily live in Yorkshire again.
Rab, Becky, Rebecca. Minty’s sis was a dedicated couch potato until her early 40s when suddenly she found the release of sport. She played Rugby. She ran marathons. She lifted weights. A few years on and she’s the fittest girl I know. So I challenged her to a North Sea swim.
Rab and Dave have a home in Saltburn, the north east coastal town built by Victorian industrialist and brick maker Henry Pease.
With grey skies and in light drizzle we left for the beach on Wednesday morning. On the beach it was dry, but a keen wind was blasting walkers with horizontal sand. Swimming was not on many people’s minds.
After a few miles stanked across the beach, and no mention of our swim, I wondered whether my foolishness had been forgotten. Whether we were to let each other off the hook.
Before we got back to Henry Pease’s pier we stopped on the wet sand, stripped off, and began the long run down to the cool brown murk of the North Sea.
It wasn’t awful.
After the inevitable tangle of getting back into our clothes with wet skin we felt the rush. The rest of the day was destined to be good.
We were rewarded with that most English of delicacies that I have looked forward to on many occasions. Sea front fish and chips. Racing to get them eaten before the bracing wind whipped away all hint of warmth. God they were good.
All our family stays are in twos this time.
After our two nights in Ripon we forged south in glorious autumn sunshine, the trees beginning to turn, the grasses rich in well watered green.
The motorway helped us eat the miles. I’m still delighted to notice UK number plates.
North became Midlands, and now the Midlands too are behind us.
The ancient town of Tewkesbury is best known for its flood scenes. Every few years the nearby rivers Avon and Severn burst over their floodplains and into the town, wreaking havoc through the pretty medieval town.
There’s far more to it than floods though. The town has 350 listed buildings, 30 intriguing little alleyways, a fabulous abbey. There’s a surfeit of pubs many of which looked inviting. There’s a rowing boat ferry to one of them. Tempting, but after 6 nights with Minty’s family a dry night was in order.
There was plenty to photograph, half timbered houses, the river scenes, the pretty sheep, but this morning the rain fell heavily and nothing looked its best.
Much that you learn on a journey is personal, this week I have also learned to love England all over again. The country is in a mess. I’m horrified at the direction that’s planned. Yet still this place is a good place to be.
There’s tremendous value to being somewhere foreign where you’re learning and absorbing all the time. What we get in England that’s so different is the ability to understand nuance, the subtleties of what’s happening around you (even though we might not like it). Conversation is important and it’s only coming home that you realise how exhausting it can be forever trying to translate and generally misunderstanding.
Chatting freely, even with masks, has been fun. We’ll get used to it and stop noticing soon, but I’m holding on to it while I can.
Travel is not about the distance covered. It’s what you learn along the way.
My early trips involved thousands of miles, countries driven through but hardly seen.
When we set off on this odyssey we covered far too many miles as well. That changed dramatically when we arrived in Crete, determined to explore the island over a longer period. The lockdown made it easier. Few residents of Koutsounari (where we were impounded) will have seen as much of the immediate area as we did. When we couldn’t drive we explored by bike and on foot.
I’m sure you learn more travelling alone, but travelling in a couple you have someone to share your discoveries with and to make them real.
A holiday abroad is not travel, but unfortunately that’s all most people have the opportunity to do. If more of us understood our neighbours across the water I’m convinced more of us would wish to embrace them rather than distance ourselves.
A German I met asked if we were heading home. I said yes. He replied that England is getting further away. I wanted to weep.
Well, there are various projects that are all in the air just now.
I plan to blog monthly, incorporating journeys taken with thoughts on Cornish life, I’ll return to highlights of this journey too.
These 30 months on the road, living outside, absorbing Europe in a way that few have the opportunity to do, have been an incredible privilege.
Incredible? Yes, in its true sense. It feels like a different life. Perhaps a parallel life that we were able to step into for a while, rather like stepping through the wardrobe.
We will do it again. It will be different. It will be another stage of life lived to the full.
It has been a delight to receive so many comments (1349 + far more emails) along the way. Committing more than a day a week to writing comes easily most of the time, but when it’s hard it’s the comments that keep me going. Thank you.