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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hijacked by Cows in the Yorkshire Dales: Part 1

A passenger's view of the Yorkshire Dales

Driving in England can prove trying for the keen, amateur photographer, as the roads weave more than they run straight.  For American unfamiliar with their road system, the passenger must also aid the driver in following the instructions from TomTom, or whatever satellite navigation system one uses.  But by far, the greatest trial for the passenger who wishes to photograph the surrounding scenery is the sheer fact that the roads have no shoulder areas wide enough for the driver to stop so he can capture that perfect shot.

On our drive west through the Yorkshire Dales National Park, I had wanted to stop in the town of Leyburn.  Unfortunately, we arrived on a market day, and cars crammed into every available foot of curbing.  As the market was set up in the town’s sole parking lot, this meant that we spent precious vacation time crawling through the town, and then, reluctantly continuing on. 

As Alf Wight wrote in James Herriot’s Yorkshire, Leyburn held “a thousand happy associations” for him, but most of them concerned Frank Bingley, whom he immortalized in his books as Ewan Ross.  Not only did the older man (and his wife) show the young veterinarian great kindness, but he learned much from Frank, who “knew the practical as well as the theoretical side of the business, which most of us don’t.”  

In Herriot's books, and in the British TV series "All Creatures Great and Small," Ewan possesses a mystical quality, using little tricks of the trade he spent a lifetime learning, and concoctions he has developed on his own.  He easily accomplishes jobs that usually take a huge amount of effort, single-handedly accomplishes feats that others need muscular assistants for, and arrives at solutions to problems that would defy many vets.  I knew, deep down, that I was unlikely to find any lingering traces of the man’s life.  Still, as Leyburn had not lain too far out of the way, we had charted a course that included the charming, country town.

Alas, that pleasure would be denied us.

A long drive lay ahead of us, as we were traveling from Thirsk to a resort outside Lancaster, which lay south of the Lake District along England’s western coast.  We had planned our route carefully, knowing we couldn’t take in all the locations we wished to visit.  With Leyburn lost to us, we drove onward, the narrow road twisting from left to right, rising, and falling constantly.  

While my wife drove, I kept a watchful gaze on TomTom, and glanced out the side window as much as it and my stomach allowed.  Beautiful vistas swept into view, only to be swallowed up by trees and hedges seconds later.  To make matters worse, the stone fences separating the road from the farms seemed designed especially to spoil a photographer’s day.  They usually rose high enough to allow the eye to take in breath-taking vistas, but prevented the camera lens from capturing more than a thin horizontal slash of green between rocks and sky. 

At one point, TomTom announced that we would be turning left at the next intersection.  As we rolled to a stop, we found a blue BMW had stopped ahead of us.  From its flashing indicator light, it seemed as though it would also be turning left.  Approaching us, from the other side of the intersection, rolled a tractor, followed by a herd of cattle.  

Forced to journey at a cow's pace.

Perhaps the driver of the BMW was as transfixed by the sight as we were, for he lingered at the stop sign far longer than I thought he should have.  Precious seconds passed, and then the tractor turned right at the corner, and his right was our left.  Behind him ambled the cows, each of which might have weighed as much as the BMW ahead of us.  Two farm hands followed the herd, and their shouts, whistles, and the occasional tap kept any lingerers from stringing out the procession.  “Why didn’t the BMW go?” I wondered, amazed that the driver had chosen to wait.  Had he opted to turn, he could have easily sped ahead of the train of ambling beef.  In waiting, he determined not only his fate, but ours as well.

“Great,” I muttered, as we (along with all those who pulled up behind us) followed the BMW at a creeping pace.  We had already missed out on Leyburn.  What else might we miss out on, because the driver of the BMW opted not to speed ahead of the oncoming cattle?

This blog post will conclude tomorrow.

Choking on fumes,
Dragon Dave

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