by P.S.Gifford 2006
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 springs to mind. This however was not the case with us as the service was a rather elegant affair in the hotel’s chapel. We were pleasantly surprised that thirty friends and family members journeyed to join us for the occasion -which on Vegas standards is considered a large wedding.
My wife, Sarah, looked astounding as she stood beside me and we shared the sacred vows. Not just beautiful mind you, as that 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 nearby brewery. Yet, it was fitting for our lifestyle and everyone had a wonderful time. The whole evening was low key but very genuine. The food was delicious, the beer fresh and tasty, and the company fantastic and I could not have asked for more. 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 two weeks passed 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 and 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 so 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, where nothing but freeways overflowing with cars, and tall nondescript grey buildings are to be seen. I held her hand tightly in mine. ‘Yes, this was going to be the trip of a life time.’ I contently considered.
As we disembarked the plane I was still observing al of her reactions. The sights and sounds were all a contrast to what she had experienced before. When we came to immigration, I reluctantly needed to leave Sarah as her passport still retained her old name. It is always a delight arriving back in England, and proudly presenting my British passport as I always get greeted with a warm and friendly “welcome home.”
I watched as my wife snaked through the line. I saw her pointing at me when she arrived at the desk. I then watched as the immigration officer nodded as she spoke .He then looked up at me as my wife pointed, instinctively I smiled and waved, and he nodded and I saw him grin. When we were reunited, moments later, 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 and eager to start our honeymoon!”
An hour later we were in a rental car driving out of the lot. Now the thing is, despite England being the place of my birth, I am completely lousy when it comes to directions. Yes, I hereby confess that my sense of bearing is woefully useless. I even have a tendency to get completely lost driving about my current home town. Now, as anyone who has ever traveled to London can attest to the roads there can be confusing, to say the least. You see, 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 navigate about. But not in London, oh no, the roads curve, weave, and, I am quite convinced sometimes even back track. At this point in our journey 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 gathered about my wife, all pointing, arguing and scribbling down directions. Another couple of minutes passed and she finally emerged.-looking more confused than ever.
“I could hardly understand a darn word they said…and what for goodness sake is a ‘slip road?’” She spoke in a strained tone, but she did have a hand written map and we eventually found our way.
In the end we made it to the motorway in good time and just as it began to do, what it so often does in this part of the world, pour with rain. I contently sped along back to the place of my birth, Birmingham. I was bursting with excitement and no amount of rain was going to dampen my elated spirit. By then my wife and I had been awake for thirty hours and I must have been running on pure Adrenalin. My wife though, despite her best efforts to absorb all she could of the foreign scenery, promptly fell into a deep contented sleep.
Two hours later I pulled up into the old driveway, and anxiously, but softly, awakened Sarah. My father and I had left for California after he was offered a remarkable position on the early 1980s. The house remained, virtually untouched, and at that time not lived in since. Apart from occasional visits and monthly house cleaning and gardening the house had 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, you see we could easily return. It is an eerie reminder to how things once were -almost a museum to our past.
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 simple turn of a key…
That night was a sublime experience. It might seem odd to most but thirty minutes after getting home and enjoying n invigorating cup of tea, I wanted to go grocery shopping. So we hopped back into our rental car, and drove the mile back down the main road that the house sits on, to ASDA (A superstore that sells everything, from groceries, to clothes to electronics.) I eagerly raced about ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘ah-ing ‘as I went and filled the trolley (cart) with the foods of my childhood; sausages, smoked bacon, ginger marmalade, sausage rolls, pork pies and a variety of cheeses to name just a few. My wife watched 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 with a friend I had known since I was eleven, as we consumed fish and chips with mushy peas, and drank some real ale. After the second pint, I was feeling as if I had never left England… Sarah too was beginning to enjoy the more relaxed pace.
We had an early night, it was after all our honeymoon, but as soon as we got into bed we fell asleep in each others arms, dreaming of the adventures that we had planned for the rest of the trip.
At seven o’clock the next morning, I presented my wife a steaming hot cup of tea to our bed, and gently woke her up. I proudly 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, bemused as I prepared an English style breakfast. I had poached eggs simmering away in one pot. In a skillet I had bacon and sausage, and in yet another pan black pudding and tomatoes sizzled away nicely, and bread was in the toaster. ‘This was going to be good!’ I thought.
My wife seemed pleased by the tantalizing smells, and within a few minutes I placed a full plate in front of her. As we ate and chatted about our plans for the day the mood was perfect. I gazed into our back garden and noted with delight the bounty of wild life. I suppose as it was rarely disturbed, many birds had found sanctuary there. One bird caught my particular attention; a glorious magpie, there was something majestic in the way he pranced about. It was then I noticed that my wife was beginning to eat the black pudding.
“This is good what is it?” she asked smiling.
“It is black pudding,” I informed her, it is sometimes referred to as blood sausage.”
As the expression dramatically changed from her face, I realized that perhaps I had divulged too much.
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 then 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 ever read Bronte or James Herriot you will perhaps have an appreciation of just 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 long been 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, and we assumed it would be n easy process to find one that strikes our fancy.
The scenery was, as I remembered it, stunning and my wife was simply overwhelmed by the natural beauty of it. As the main roads, changed to smaller roads, and then smaller still, we finally journeyed 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 it. The gentle slopes adorning both sides of the road were neatly contained in stone walls- Walls that have stood for hundreds of years. Sheep were all over the place and it was hard not to smile at their antics as they skipped and frolicked within those grass pastures.
Eventually a building further engaged our imagination- ‘The Palmer Flatt hotel, situated in Leyburn, Wensledale. It had everything we had hoped to find, an old world quality and inviting warmth to it, with not even a hint of pretentiousness. As we saw it, we both new at once, this is where we wanted to spend the night so we parked and entered the lobby.
We were greeted in a few moments by the cheerful face of a woman in her early fifties.
“ ‘Ello folks, are yous looking for a place to stay.” Her Yorkshire accent was rich and melodious.
“Yes, we are on our honeymoon,” I said.
“I see,” she said with a wink, “In that case I recommend room number 11 then, right at the top and at the back; it’ll be perfick for you both.” She pointed the way to go, then reached under the desk and handed us a key. Not an electric key card mind you, this key was evidently old and well used and was rather long and heavy.
“Just print your name here,” she told us, “and dinner is served six till eight.”
With that she nodded and scurried off into a back room.
Sarah looked at me and grinned.
“She asked for no identification, no credit card or anything,” she chirped her voice 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, still managed to exude an abundance of charm.
Finally we reached the top of the stairs and excitedly placed the key into the lock. I opened the door to reveal a gorgeous queen sized four poster bed right in the middle of the room.. As we eagerly explored our room, delighting in in our luck and finding this place 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, we thought as our hands once more grasped each other. ‘very nicely indeed.’
After a delicious dinner that night, we proceeded to the bar at the far side of the building and ordered drinks. A glorious fire was roaring in the immense 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 over-sized couch next to the roaring flames 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 …How is your room, is it to yous likin’?”
“Absolutely” my wife piped jubilantly, “perfectly splendid!” she paused before adding, “so,I 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 in turn.” You asked are there any ghosts here…” She laughed under her breath and continued.
“As far back as the Crusades a hospice stood on this very site that is where the name Palmer Flatt came from. You see that the pilgrims who returned bore palm-branches from the Holy Land and 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 when they died, they did not want to carry the bodies through the street to the graveyard. afraid of spreading the disease even further…So 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 in torment…Even the tunnel itself is still there. We have a basement behind the kitchen. It’s part of the original structure. And our dog refuses to go down there!” (Off course I am paraphrasing, but you grasp the picture I hope)
With that she got up.
“Nice meeting you both I will see you for breakfast.Oh and sweet dreams!” She giggled and then left us with one of her winks again.
That night Sarah and I took a late night stroll. We wrapped ourselves up in our warmest coat, hat and gloves and set out into the darkness. Street lamps are rare in this corner of the world. Yet. we were determined and wanted to explore, the best we could. In a few moments we found ourselves walking by the old church that Sue had spoke off, just on the far side of the narrow street. In the moonlight the graveyard had an eerie feel about it. My wife and I sat and huddled together as we looked at well weathered headstones now overgrown and seemingly forgotten. We shivered and continued our walk. It was then that it happened…The bells in the church tower began to chime twelve times.
It was five minutes later when we arrived back at the hotel, after running the entire way back. 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 parched after our nerve-racking experience so my wife and I tried the front door to the bar, but alas it It was locked. Yet we could still hear people laughing and singing inside. Determined to investigate 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 barmaid who eyed us suspiciously. She looked at me, and I looked back at her.
“Yes?” she said with a distinct air of caution in her tone.
“Give me a pint of your best cask bitter and a Bailey’s coffee,” I said confidently.
I could have sworn I heard a choir of sighing behind me, and immediately the chatting and singing 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 even quite 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 with renewed hope off we set. The road started off as tarmacked 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 and ill fitting suit opened the door and peered over a chain.
“Can I help you?” he scowled.
“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, “but I am ‘fraid that we’re closed for the week. Did you try the big hotel in the heart of town?”
“We did,’ my wife answered, “it’s full.”
Suddenly he gave what I suppose might be a smile and said. “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,” As he spoke he pointed to a wellmade up woman dressed in a long floral dress, over coat and hat probably in her early fifties. “Ado,” Barb said, in a surprisingly friendly tone.
“Hi,” my wife replied.
“Is she American?” Bob questioned noticing my wife’s accent. “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 began to sweat under the mounting pressure he suddenly went silent and rolled 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 indeed married, and after giving him complete addresses, copies of our driving licenses and a credit card number he gave us the key to the room.
“Right then, here you go…You’ll be the only ones staying here mind, so when we’re gone you can make as much noise as you like.” He winked cheekily at Sarah, who instantaneously turned bright red.
His face brightened up as he continued.
“We are going out tonight you sees as this is our thirtieth wedding anniversary…But seeing that you have just gotten married it seems kinda fitting like, having you stay ‘ere an’all.”
That evening we enjoyed a great meal and a couple of drinks in town, returned to the spotlessly clean bed, and almost immediately fell into a deep peaceful sleep. Our slumber was disturbed by a sudden pounding on the door to the room, I reluctantly opened my eyes and tried to focus on the clock; 7:00.
“Breakfas’ in thirty minute chucks,” Barbara hollered.
Half an hour later we had quickly showered and dressed and 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 and 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 left us alone to tend to her husband u she questioned me. “Didn’t you hear what she just said!” she whispered.
After much giggling it turned 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 the time simply flew by. Yet, as I look back and think of the trip, the two most memorable days had to be, unquestioningly those first two nights in Yorkshire.
Oh and just before we left the house in Birmingham, to drive back to Heathrow airport I perchance looked out the kitchen window again, and could not help but smile as my new friend the Magpie was there again, proudly strutting his stuff, as he had done previously, only this time he was not alone, he was chirping and being playful with a mate. It appeared to me that we might have been the only ones enjoying a honeymoon…