Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Literary Tour: Day 15

Day 15: North Yorkshire Moors (Evelyn Waugh, St.Ailred of Rievaulx)

Today we are taking a short drive east from Thirsk - a short drive, but a steep climb up Sutton Bank, which marks the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. When we last visited this area a few years ago we found a pub just beyond the top of Sutton Bank where we had a memorably good lunch of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Today, though, we are going to stop in the pretty little town of Helmsley at Hunter's delicatessen to buy a picnic lunch. Whatever else we choose, it has to include another of my Yorkshire favourites, curd tart - a kind of cheesecake made from the curd part of Little Miss Muffet's "curds and whey", mixed with eggs, sugar, butter and currants and cooked in a pastry case. I have never found it anywhere but Yorkshire, leaving me in a state of semi-permanent deprivation!

From Helmsley it is a short hop to the ruined Rievaulx Abbey (yes, that's right, Henry VIII again. Grrrr!!!). Rievaulx was one of the great Cistercian Abbeys of medieval Yorkshire and the home of one of medieval England's more endearing saints, Ailred of Rievaulx. It merits a place in a literary tour as Ailred's treatise on friendship is a spiritual classic (unfortunately another of the many books I intend to read one day but haven't got to yet). The picture here doesn't do justice to the beauty of the site. It is at the bottom of a wooded valley with a stunning view on the approach.

After Rievaulx we are going to take an unashamedly unliterary tour just to appreciate the beauty of the moors. The photo below shows Bilsdale, where generations of my mother's family were tenant farmers in the nineteenth century. They were something of a genealogist's nightmare, with three successive generations of Isaac Holmes's, all married to wives named Elizabeth.

After our moorland drive, we will take a short detour to St.Gregory's Minster, Kirkdale, where my mother was baptised. A rare surviving Anglo-Saxon Church, it sits in splendid isolation in a small valley with a stream flowing past the churchyard. The grass is kept down by grazing sheep ... probably not a good idea to put flowers on graves! One of the most peaceful places imaginable, this is somewhere to sit quietly and let the connection with England's long Christian history wash over us.

Back on the literary trail again, our next stop is the magnificent Castle Howard, home of the Howard family for three hundred years. Castle Howard was the location used by the BBC when filming a dramatisation of Evelyn Waugh's Catholic classic, Brideshead Revisited. Somehow I managed to miss out on 'Brideshead' until I finally read the book a couple of years ago. I recommend it. On one level it is a tale of dissolution and adultery, but it has a redemptive Catholic twist that lifts it onto a different level. After visiting the house and grounds, we will have earned a trip to the tea room for a substantial afternoon tea.