P. S. Gifford
Copyright 2005 by P. S. Gifford
On September 26th 1998 I got married. A date I shall never forget, in fact a date I am terrified to forget if truth be known. Not that I ever would, as it was simply, unquestioningly the single best day of my life.
As money was a concern we had decided to get married in Las Vegas, at the Monte Carlo to be precise. Now, I know that the image of Vegas weddings in most people’s minds is cheesy. Drive through wedding chapels with preachers dressed in Elvis clothing comes to mind. This however was not the case with us. It was a rather elegant affair in the chapel. We had thirty friends and family there, which on Vegas standards is a large wedding…My wife Sarah, looked astounding. Not just beautiful, the word barely describes the vision that stood before me. She was an Angelic presence to my eyes. (And still is…)
There was much rejoicing after the wedding. Now, I confess that the reception was not exactly traditional. It was actually held at a brewery. Yet, it was fitting for us and indeed our friends and family. It was low key and genuine. The food was delicious, the beer tasty, and the company fantastic. People still talk about how much fun they had years later. I wouldn’t have changed one single thing that day. It was magical and perfect.
Due to commitments at our jobs it was two weeks later before we were able to set off on our honeymoon. I was born and raised in England, and it seemed fitting as most of my family were unable to make it over for the ceremony that we would come to them.
At this point in my life I had not been home for about five years. I was desperately homesick. I could not wait to see my friends and family, and show off my new wife. I was curious as to what they were going to think of my new American bride..
I shall never forget admiring Sarah’s animated eyes as we proceeded to land at Heathrow. She had never been out of the country before; this was all a completely new experience. As the plane descended, I listened as she remarked at how green everything was. It was a brisk October afternoon, it showed evidence that it had been raining, and now everything glistened in the afternoon light. All of this green countryside was in sharp contrast to leaving Los Angeles ten hours previous, as there nothing but freeways overflowing with cars are to be seen. I held her hand tightly in mine. Yes, this was going to be the trip of a life time…
As we disembarked the plane I was still looking at her reactions. The sights and sounds, all a contrast to what she had ever seen before. When we came to immigration, I reluctantly needed to leave Sarah as her passport still retained her old name. It is always nice arriving back in England, and showing my British passport as I always get greeted with a friendly “Welcome home”.
I watched as my wife snaked through the line. I saw her pointing at me when she was at the desk. I watched as the immigration officer nodded and smiled as I waved. After she had been cleared she came and gave me a big hug, I asked why she had pointed at me.
“They asked what business I had here…” she whispered…
“I told them I just married an Englishman, and he’s over there waiting for me…Eager to start our honeymoon!”
An hour later we were driving off the rental car lot. Now the thing is, despite England being my home, I am lousy with directions. My sense of bearing is woefully useless. I even have a tendency to get lost driving about my home town. As anyone who has ever traveled to London can testify the roads can be confusing, to say the least. In California the roads are based on a grid system. Most main roads simply run North-South or East -West, it is relatively easy to get about. But not in London. Oh no. The roads curve, weave, and, I swear, sometimes even back track. At this point it was half passed three on a Thursday afternoon. I knew that if we weren’t on the motorway heading north to Birmingham soon, traffic was going to be grid locked. I was getting anxious so I did what any respectable man would do; I drove to a petrol (gas) station and sent my wife in for directions.
“They’ll give you idiot proof directions as you are an American” I proclaimed as I gently coaxed her out of the car. My wife was not amused. I watched as there seemed to be some commotion in the kiosk. Within a couple of minutes there was a whole flock of men, pointing and scribbling down directions. Another couple of minutes passed and she emerged. Looking more confused than ever.
“I could hardly understand a bloody word…and what for Pete’s sake is a ‘slip road?’” She spoke agitatedly, but she did have a hand written map and we eventually found our way.
We made it to the motorway in good time. As it started to rain again, I sped along back to the place of my birth, back to Birmingham…I was bursting with excitement. The fact that I had been up for thirty hours straight at this point could not dampen my energy. My wife though despite her best efforts to absorb all she could of the “foreign” scenery fell into a deep sleep.
Two hours later I was pulling into the old driveway, anxiously waking Sarah up. My father and I had left for California in a feat of desperation in the early eighties. The house has remained, virtually untouched, and not lived in ever since. Apart from occasional visits and monthly house cleaning and gardening the house has just sat. It was left as an anchor as my father and I braved the new world and our new life’s here in California. If the house remained, we could easily come home…It is now an eerie reminder to how things once were almost a museum to our past. Clothes, books and various items of my teenage years still sit there.
As I placed the key in the lock, my eager wife at my side, I was about to transport her back to my youth with a turn of a key…
That night was a sublime experience. It might seem odd to most but thirty minutes after getting home and enjoying a cup of tea, I wanted to go grocery shopping. We hopped back into our rental car, and drove the mile or so to ASDA (A superstore that sells everything, from groceries, to clothes to electronics.) I eagerly filled the trolley (cart) with the foods of my childhood- Sausages, smoked bacon, ginger marmalade, and a variety of chesses to name a few. My wife looked on in amazement; she was discovering a whole new side to me.
That first evening we spent it quietly at a local pub. We shared great conversation as we consumed fish and chips with mushy peas, and some real ale. After the second pint, I was feeling that I had never left England.. Sarah too was beginning to enjoy the more relaxed pace.
We had an early night, and fell asleep in each others arms, dreaming of the adventures that we had planned for the rest of the vacation.
At seven o’clock the next morning, I brought my wife a steaming hot cup of tea to our bed, and gently woke her up. I informed her that breakfast was going to be ready in a few minutes. When she came down the stairs a short while later, she watched on as I was preparing an English style breakfast. I had poached eggs simmering away in one pot. In a skillet I had bacon and sausage frying away. In yet another pan there was black pudding and tomatoes sizzling away nicely, and bread was in the toaster. This was going to be good!
My wife seemed please by the tantalizing smells, and within a few moments a full plate was placed in front of her. As we ate and chatted about our plans for the day the mood was perfect. It was a cold morning as we sat there in the kitchen. I delighted at the bounty of wild life that the back garden attracted. As it was rarely disturbed, many birds had found sanctuary there. One bird caught my particular attention, a glorious magpie.
I noticed that my wife was eating the black pudding…
“This is good what is it?” she asked smiling away as she ate.
“It is black pudding I told her, it is sometimes called blood sausage.”
As the expression changed from Sarah’s face, I realized that perhaps I had told her too much. That was the last time she ever ate black pudding.
An hour later we were packed and ready to set out again. The breakfast scraps I tossed onto the back lawn, and watched as my new feathery friends greedily ate. Then we were off!
I had prepared an agenda for this trip. With only limited time, and so many things we wanted to do, we needed some organization. Today as my agenda proudly spelled out, we were heading north…To York, and on to the Yorkshire Dales.
For those of you not familiar with the Yorkshire dales, you are missing out. They are situated in the North of England. If you have read Bronte or James Herriot you will have discovered how glorious this part of England truly is .The Yorkshire Dales has been described in many different ways; as wild, expansive, peaceful and at times breathtaking and bleak. It is one of my secret places, a place where time has seemingly at times stopped still, a place that I could not wait to share with the love of my life….
Despite my organization of this trip, we had no reservations anywhere in the Dales. We knew that there are numerous of wonderful bed and breakfasts hotels to be discovered.
The scenery was, as I remembered it, breathtaking. My wife was simply overwhelmed by the beauty of it. As the main roads, changed to smaller roads, and then smaller still we finally got into the heart of the dales. The roads were now narrow, and despite them being intended for two way traffic, they were barely wide enough to accommodate two cars. The gentle slopes adorning both sides of the road were neatly contained in stone walls. Walls that have stood there for hundreds of years. Sheep were everywhere, and it is hard not to smile at their antics as they skipped and frolicked within those grass fields.
Eventually we spied it, ‘The Palmer Flatt hotel” , in Leyburn in Wensledale. It had everything we were looking for. That old world quality and inviting warmth to it. We park and enter.
We were greeted in a few moments by a cheerful face.
“ ‘Ello folks, are yous looking for a place to stay” Her Yorkshire accent was rich and melodious.
I explained that we were on our honeymoon.
She winked at me as she spoke… “I recommend room number 11 then, right at the top and at the back; it’ll be perfick for you both.”
With that she handed us a key. Not an electric key card like most modern hotels the keys were very old fashioned and rather long and heavy.
“Just print your name here” She told us “And dinner is served six till eight.”
With that she scurried off.
Sarah looked at me and grinned.
‘She asked for no identification, no credit card or anything.” She chirped filled with wonder “I like this place”
We climbed the creaking stairway to the third floor. Each step seemed to have its only particular and distinctive groan, as if complaining as we placed our weight upon them. The carpets were red, and well worn, yet, exuded an abundant charm.
We finally reached the top of the stairs and excitedly placed the key into the lock. The door opened to reveal a gorgeous four poster bed. As we eagerly explored our room, we discovered the room’s best feature-the view. Green lolloping hills met our intent stare as we gazed out of the window overwhelmed with wonder. Half mile ahead of us we could make out the splendid Aysgarth falls. Yes, this will do nicely. Very nicely indeed.
After dinner that night, which was all charged to the room. We proceeded to the bar at the far side of the building and ordered drinks. A glorious fire was roaring in the oversized slate fireplace at the far side of the room. October in the dales is not the warmest place in the world, and we soon discovered ourselves snuggled in an oversized couch next to the roaring fire. We were relaxed and content. The same smiling face that had welcomed us earlier came over and offered a handshake.
“Me name is Sue, I own this place I do…How is your room, is it to yous likin’”
“Absolutely” my wife piped jubilantly. “Perfectly splendid!”
“So” my wife queried… “Bet there are a lot of stories with this old building…Do you have any ghosts?”
On the mention of ghosts our hostess’s eyes opened wide intently.
“Ghosts you say” Gazing at the both of us “You asked are there any ghosts here…” She laughs under her breath and continues.
“As far back as the Crusades a hospice stood on this very site that is where the name Palmer Flatt came from the pilgrims who returned bearing palm-branches from the Holy Land…During that time the black plague was rampant. Killed half of Yorkshire off it did.
This is where the church brought people who were dying. Now the thing is like this, when they died, they did not want to carry the bodies through the street to the graveyard…So here’s what they did. They built a tunnel.”
Sarah and I were listening intently to every word. Our minds filled with gruesome imagery.
Sue, noting this, continued.
“Now the thing is…some of those dead died in misery. And on certain nights, you can often hear them still crying and wailing…Even the tunnel itself is still there. We have a basement behind the kitchen. It’s part of the original structure. Our dog, refuses to go down there!”
With that she got up.
“Nice meeting you both…See you for breakfast…sweet dreams!” She ledt us with one of her winks again.
That night Sarah and I wanted to take a late night stroll. We wrapped up in hat and gloves and set out into the darkness. Street lamps are rare in this corner of the world. We wanted to explore, the best we could the small town. In a few moments we found ourselves walking by the old church that Sue had spoke off, just on the over side of the street. In the moonlight the graveyard had an eerie feel about it. Ancient looking headstones long battered by the weather and overgrown were scattered about. We shivered and walked briskly past.
It was almost twelve when our night walk came to a close. Now, the thing is that drinking laws at this time in England did not permit drinking after eleven o clock.
We noticed that the bar, not only was still open, but active. As I was feeling a little thirsty my wife and I tried the front door to the bar. It was locked. Yet there were distinct clues people were still inside …Drinking. We went through the front of the hotel and through the side door into the bar. As soon as we walked in the entire place fell silent and stared at us.
I smiled and casually walked over to the bar. The barmaid acted suspicious until we ordered a pint of Black sheep ale and a Baileys. Instantly the laughing and chatter of the local farmers started up again…
The next morning after a good night’s sleep and an incredible breakfast we reluctantly checked out of the Palmer Flatt hotel. It was with some sadness, and since has become a regular place for us to stay. In fact we always reserve the very same room.
I t was almost ten when we pulled out of the parking lot and head out on our way once more.. We had a delightful romp through the dales. We had lunch at the Wensleydale creamery (Highly recommended…) At this point we realized that we were going to have to find another room for the night. We started off with high hopes after all there were several small towns showing on our road map. Surely we could find something comparable to where we had just stayed.
After five towns, and dozens of “No vacancy” signs… We were starting to get discouraged and desperate. We came to one particularly small town, which looked to be a small haven for hikers. Alas there was no vacancy here also. We were just about to give up, and drive the forty miles back to the Palmer Flatt. (This because of the winding roads would have taken almost two hours.) We spied a hand drawn sign pointing up a road off the main street. “B&B 1 mile ahead”. So off we went. Now the road started off as tarmac but after a quarter of a mile became nothing more than a dirt track. Yet, at this point I was stressed and tired, and wanted to find a place to sleep, have a nice dinner and a couple of pints. Then we saw it. An old farm styled house. I parked the vehicle and quickly with my wife at my side firmly knocked on the door. Nothing. I knocked again, a little more assertively. Then finally a man wearing a well worn suit opens the door and peers over a chain.
“Can I help you” he scowls.
“Erm…The sign said Bed and breakfast” I countered hopefully.
“We are on our honeymoon…” I added trying to sweeten his sourness. “I see” he said. “We are closed for the week. Did you try the big hotel in town?”
“We did’ my wife answered… “It’s full”.
Suddenly he says. “Well, you had better come in and chat…” The heavy old door sprung open and we were ushered inside.
“I am Bob, and this is the missus Barb” He spoke and pointed to an overly made up woman in her early fifties.
“Ado” Barb said, in a surprisingly friendly tone.
“Hi” my wife replied.
“Is she American” Bob questioned. “We don’t take much to foreigners around these parts you knows…” He squinted at Sarah.
I explained the situation.
After much interrogation and as my wife and I were starting to sweat under the mounting pressure he suddenly goes silent and rolls his head back
“According to these here passports you have different last names. We only rent the double room to folks with the same last name we do …This is a respectable place, for respectable people…”
After much assurance that we were married. He gave us the key to the room.
“Right then, here you go…You’ll be the only ones staying here mind.”
His face brightens up as he continues.
“We are going out tonight you sees…This is our thirtieth wedding anniversary…But seeing that you have just gotten married it seems kinda fitting like..”
The next morning after we had enjoyed a great meal and a couple of drinks in town, we were getting dressed in the spotlessly clean room when a sharp knock came on the room’s door.
“Breakfas’ in ten minute chucks” Barbara hollered.
Ten minutes later we were being treated to a slap up breakfast. All the fixings, accept my wife declined on the black pudding.
Barb looked at me and smiled.
“Bob is asleep still in bed… I will go up in a minute with a mug of tea…Yes; he always starts his day with a cough, a cuppa and a fag…”
My wife’s eyes opened wide. I could tell she was attempting to contain herself. But from what?
After Barb had gone upstairs she questioned me… “Didn’t you hear what she just said she cried!”
After much giggling it turns out that with our hostess’s thick Yorkshire accent she didn’t hear the word as fag (Slang for a cigarette…) she heard a word that rhymes with duck.
The rest of the honeymoon was a relaxing experience. I got to see many old friends and family members. We were only in England for eight days and they simply flew by. Yet, as I look back and think of the trip, in my mind the two most memorable days had to be, unquestioningly those first two nights in Yorkshire.
Just before we left the house in Birmingham, to drive
back to Heathrow airport I looked out of the window, and spied my new
friend, the Magpie. Yet this time he was not alone, he was chirping
and being playful with a mate. Appears to me that we might have been
the only ones enjoying a honeymoon. I could not help but smile.
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