Two Days, Two Pams

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I had a great couple of days in Harrogate, which is a lovely town, but doesn't have a lot to draw the RTW traveler. I was there to visit family, and in response to Rob's comment about how I keep talking about visiting family but never talk about the people themselves, I am devoting a chunk of this post to the family I visited, specifically, my grandfather's cousin. That makes her my first cousin twice removed, but for our purposes we shall simply refer to her as Pam which, happily, is her name.

It turns out that cousin Pam is quite fun. (She's the mother of Anne, my steel-nerved driving buddy and hostess in Plymouth.) Being of my grandfather's generation she's somewhere north of 80 years old, and referred to the great-grandmother I called "Nanny", as "Auntie Kit", which was just lovely.

Despite being of advancing years, Pam was happy to drive me all over the area in her tiny silver car, which was quite handy and only occasioned a few very brief rushes of traffic-related adrenalin. The evening I arrived she declared that she didn't feel like cooking and took me out to dinner at a nice country pub, so she was instantly in my good books. Then upon examining the menu she declared that she'd skip the starter (appetizer) to save room for dessert, which fits perfectly with my philosophy of leaving no dessert uneaten. We both had the sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream; it was excellent, and now joins ploughman's lunch and flapjacks on my list of favourites.

After dinner we drove to the neighbouring town of Knaresborough so I could see the ruined castle there, which was really excellent. It was another one of those moments when I was struck with how thickly the history is spread over this tiny island. Here I was in a very small town that seemed quite insignificant in most ways, yet there was a brilliant 14th c. ruined castle sitting there on a high cliff, with a lovely river valley below, and a great stone viaduct that proved to be highly photogenic.

The ruins of Knaresborough CastleThe photogenic viaduct

Ok, perhaps I was hasty in declaring that Harrogate had little to offer the RTW traveler. In fact, it has Bogs Field, whose commemorative plaque reads as follows:

"Behold Bogs Field, a wonder of the natural world where a greater number of unique mineral springs come to the surface than at any other known place on Earth! 36 of Harrogate's 88 mineral wells are found here, of which no two are alike. The waters are Magmatic or Plutonic in origin, having never existed as rain, and have flowed deep beneath the earth for 20,000 years before surfacing through vertical shafts in the strata.... Bogs Field was investigated and developed by the Victorians who piped the mineral waters to the Royal Bath Hospital and to the Pump Rooms and Baths of Low Harrogate."

So it's not enough that there are castles, Roman ruins and manor houses dotting the landscape as thick as empties at a hash run, there has to be a completely unique phenomenon of the natural world hanging around too. Did I mention I really like this country?

We had a turn around the tiny but charming Pump Room Museum, which was diverting and (strangely) had a nice collection of Egyptian antiquities along with the obligatory displays about the weird ways Victorians used the springs in "taking the cure". And of course I had to try a taste of the water from the sulphur spring which was on offer at the reception desk of the museum. It was predictably foul and made me appreciate my pint at the country pub that evening much much more.

On Tuesday I had a nice (hilly) run through Harrogate while Pam was busy having a new radiator installed in the bathroom. I say the run was hilly, but really from now on you should just assume that all runs are hilly unless otherwise noted. In fact I was pleased to discover that the hills seemed less onerous, so I hope that means I'm getting used to them.

In the afternoon we drove to the neighbouring village of Ripon where Pam had an engagement, and so left me to have a wander around on my own which suited me just fine. I visited the Ripon Cathedral which was in danger of being simply "ABC" ("Another Bloody Cathedral"), but redeemed itself by housing a brilliant 7th century crypt that was open to the public. The crypt dates to Norman times (672 AD, to be precise) and is reached by a narrow stone staircase off to the right of the nave, near the crossing (after you've been in one or two cathedrals, the architectural terms get quite familiar: nave, crossing, transept, quire, blah blah blah... ABC). The stairs led to a short, winding stone tunnel, also very narrow, and ended up in a tiny room where a holy relic would once have been displayed. Then another skinny stone corridor, and another steep, narrow stone staircase, and I popped out near the quire. Very neat.

7th c. stone steps. No, really!

Ripon Cathedral's other claim to fame is that one of the seats in the quire (15th c.) has a wood carving on it that may have been the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland". Apparently, Carroll's father was dean of the cathedral for a number of years, and speculation is that young Carroll may have got the "down the rabbit-hole" idea from this carving:

Look closely and you can see one rabbit being hunted by a fearsome winged creature, while another one (on the upper right) is disappearing into a hole, with just his rear end showing.

Ripon Cathedral was another unexpected pleasure.

Supper on Tuesday was eaten in, and accompanied by a nice bottle of red wine that I opened before the meal was quite ready. "But there's no reason we can't get into that right now," said Pam, and I was forced to agree, and drink 3 glasses over the course of the meal. And of course we each had TWO helpings of dessert. Really, I think that cousin Pam is precisely the kind of 80-year-old I hope to become.

So all in all, Harrogate and environs were lovely. It was great to meet Pam, and we had a good time chatting. When I left on Wednesday morning she said something like, "I shall be sad to see you go, it seems like you've been here much longer than two days." I think that was meant in a good way, and not in a "My God, are you still here?" way. Or perhaps she was just glad to have me around because I helped her programs the timer on her new radiator. Either way, it was a good few days.

The Pams

P.S. I've had much more opportunity to upload photos lately, so head over to the Flickr page if you haven't been in a while. I've also divided things into some sets, and am trying to annotate them too.


anne said...

Pam obviously didn't tell you about "Auntie Tit's cablecloth" then!!!!!!!!!!

Karen said...

"I shall be sad to see you go, it seems like you've been here much longer than two days."

I'm pretty sure it means she really enjoyed your company.

Love the comment about empties at a hash run. Such a perfect visual for some of us.

Robert Hamilton said...

Comments on family much appreciated. Keep it up.

Try to find other folks to play with on your adventures. It will greatly enrich your experience.

More pics of you would be good too.

I am off on my trip now too. I will check in periodically while on the road.

Cheers, Rob H.

Anonymous said...

I am loving your blog. Every time I get an e-mail notification I go "yippee"

Carry on...and have a pint or two for me!!

(Jo-Jo from RM)

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