“I’ll just set it back to zero.”
It’s not what you’d expect in the middle of England. But then, the middle of England’s probably not where you’d think it might be.
According to its inhabitants, the tiny village of Dunsop Bridge, Lancashire, is England’s middle. It has a Post Office-cum-café and a picturesque bridge. Under the bridge a shallow river burbles over rocks and stones, ducks quack – and on this sunny April Sunday we’re trying to buy ten pounds-worth of unleaded petrol.
It’s worth paying a little over the odds in return for the experience.
A man leaves his shop, stocked with excess household goods masquerading as curios. Takes the front off the petrol pump and, using his thumb, sets each counter back to zero. Pushes a lever, sets the fuel gurgling through the nozzle.
Quarter of a tank for now – and a glimpse of a long-lost world to last us until next time.
We’re heading back from an outing that’s been a spring clean for our spirits.
For six weeks (I can drive again now, hooray) my long-suffering chauffeur has also been doing the shopping and cooking and washing and cleaning for both of us. So I’ve been loath to make selfish suggestions for drives out into the countryside.
Today I suggested art. In Liverpool. Which went down well.
As noon arrived, temporary chauffeur changed his mind.
‘I’d rather go to the Trough of Bowland’.
It was like a piece of Swiss milk chocolate when I’d been promised a boiled sweet.
The sun of Sunday morning was already retreating behind a grey coastal blanket by the time we set off. As we neared the end of the worst bit of the journey – the motorway – a light rain even toyed with us. But I wasn’t fooled, there was enough blue sky up ahead to make a fine pair of sailor’s britches.
We took a new – for us – road into Lancashire’s semi-secret paradise. It wound its way past a swanky country inn we once stayed at for a birthday treat. Already swanky then – our room had an open fire, a large bathroom and overlooked the river – now, at £198 per night, it’s become swanky in the extreme, by northern English standards.
So we squeezed past the in-your-face, shiny black Range Rovers, the Jaguars, Mercedes and Porsches lining the narrow lane – and drove on by.
Our goal was a place that’s been special to me for as long as I’ve been a conscious being. A lay-by off the side of a road that’s so narrow, in places, with such a steep drop off the side, that it scares me witless.
The special place nestles at the bottom of a hill where it’s traditional to see a few gleaming motor bikes parked, along with some family cars.
There should be the sound of a very few, well-behaved children and dogs splashing in the stream.
But, most important of all, the tea wagon must be there, its flag waving hello as we coast down the hill.
And it was all just so.
Secure in the knowledge that a big mug of tea would reward us when we get back, we walked through the avenue of trees to the water intake.
It’s a catchment area for a local water utility. Dating back to 1871, it channels clear water from the hills to a stone-built works. And the original engineer gave the place a very special guardian.
She’s elusive, Miranda. Even if you know she’s there (they’ve put up an ‘interpretation’ board since last we were here) she’s hard to spy.
But there she was, her naked back and bare bottom turned coyly on passing walkers and their dogs.
On we trod. Skylarks twittering high above, dippers dipping in the stream, a little way off the mellifluous warbling of – what? – a curlew?
The chortle of the water as it frolicked over the rocks was almost hypnotic. I stood on a big rock – one crutch clutched tightly for safety – transfixed.
Hills, sky, birds and the restless stream – almost too much to bear.
Back at the tea wagon was a small disappointment – no Chorley cakes. But there were scones.
A biker with a Dumbledore beard, skinny in leathers, stepped up to the counter.
‘’Ow you doin’, then?’ the cheery chap making our brew greeted the biker.
‘Not so bad, could do wi’ getting’ a bit younger.’
As we supped our mighty brew and wolfed down scones, a small dog fetched a large log from the stream – again – and again – and again.
Two girls, still in puppy fat, wobbled on jagged rocks mid-stream – but somehow stayed upright.
Back on the road, we puttered along past gambolling new-born lambs, in spring-green fields spattered with bright yellow celandines.
Returning to urban world.
To a leg of lamb (oh dear) slow-cooked in milk. Seasoned with bay leaves and clove-studded onion, with thyme, orange peel and garlic.
To mashed red potatoes and tasty chopped carrots. To pink local rhubarb, sweet with Welsh honey.
To gorse in bloom and to trees in bud.
To robins nesting – and wood pigeons mating.
Sunday in springtime.
What more could you want, even in urban world?
Very nostalgic ,we’ll be there in July !! Liz
Beautifully written.Lovely to get out and find some soul food and evidence of a sensitive engineer. Glad that walking is getting more possible,hip wise.
……I’ve never tried cooking roast lamb in milk….hmmm.Now on my list of things to do later.
Hi Judy, here’s the link to the recipe I used, one of the ’10 best’ from the weekend paper – as I said to Elladee, next time I would make sure I reduced the milk to a sauce (I did wonder about putting rice in it too since it looked so milky-pudding) and also reduce it for the size of leg I used – but it was so tender mmm. Love lamb! http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/apr/18/lamb-recipes-shawarma-cassoulet-turkish-lahmacun-10-best
I may not have opportunity to venture to the Trough of Bowland and encounter Miranda the intake nymph but I’m looking forward to replicating your lovely dinner. You’re the second person this week to mention rhubarb, so I’m taking that as a sign!
Hi Elladee – I always make up my rhubarab recipe on the hoof – I especially like it stewed with orange zest and juice or with strawberries in season, but honey and ginger is close 2nd. As for the lamb, I made the recipe in this ’10 best’ list for lamb in milk and didn’t leave enough time to reduce the sauce (and didn’t reduce the quantity for a much smaller leg as I was worried about going out and leaving it for 4 hours) but would next time – it looked and smelt like a savoury rice pudding mmmm. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/apr/18/lamb-recipes-shawarma-cassoulet-turkish-lahmacun-10-best
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I’m sure I saw the lamb article but mustn’t have scrolled far enough down. Yum. Thank you.
If you make it let me know how it goes 🙂
I thought I added a comment yesterday but it’s not here. Inadequate adaptation to the modern world I suppose. My comment was: Thank you very much Mary for the walk and the photos. But does the curlew “warble”? That wild, lonely moorland cry? I add now: here in the last ten days we’ve heard the first cuckoo, seen the first swallows and heard the first nightingales, those inconspicuous little brown birds that lurk in the bushy bits of the woods and who we’ll be hearing day and night for the next several months. Also, bluebells now out in the woods.
I think warble (I’ve just read a definition to be sure) is probably just about justified, though perhaps there is an implication of more cheerfulness than you’d expect 😉 and indeed it may not have been a curlew – or just a happy curlew on such a sunny Sunday! I struggle to find the right words for birdsong, there never seem to be enough and I don’t know enough about birds (hence the question marks). 😉
Lucky you to have nightingales and hear a cuckoo. I always think of a Shakespeare song we learnt at my junior school in Bradford ‘When daisies pied and violets blue And lady-smocks all silver-white And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue Do paint the meadows with delight, The cuckoo then, on every tree, Mocks married men; for thus sings he: “Cuckoo; Cuckoo, cuckoo!” O, word of fear, Unpleasing to a married ear!
The last time I heard a cuckoo was in a rural sewage treatment works in the Vale of Pewsey. Sewage treament works are greta places for wildlife.
The leaves are taking their time here but the recent sun is helping. Thank you for reading – and commenting twice – John.