5 National Parks
‘This is the land of people with deep pockets and short arms. In short: economical,’ grins Bernie McLinden, park ranger of the North Nork Moors National Park, who takes us on a walk along the coast. ‘At least, that is what they say in the south. Fact is, this part of England has always been a bit less fortunate economically, so there might be an element of truth.’
North York Moors NP
Taking the piss
‘They used urine for that, among other things. A fine solvent, making for more vivid colours. Someone went door to door collecting urine in the morning. Did you know that’s where taking the piss comes from?’
Uh, no, actually I didn’t.
“Did you know that this is where taking the piss comes from?”
While we are having a cup of tea in the Cod and Lobster, with views of the small harbour, Bernie says: ‘Young James worked in a store, Sanderson’s, right next door. Of course, he continuously heard the seamen’s stories, so no wonder he wanted to go out onto the sea one day himself. Sanderson’s, unfortunately, doesn’t exist any longer. The house was blown away by a storm years ago.’
After tea, we stroll through the harbour and talk to John, a fisherman who just returned with a crate filled with lobster.
‘A lousy catch today’, he grumbles. ‘There are only about 50 in total. Normally, I catch twice to three times as much. Most are for export to France and Spain, but local restaurants take a few of my hands every day as well.’
John is 69 and thinks about retiring soon. ‘I am beyond my prime and so are the lobsters. I catch them between March and October, but there’s less to catch nowadays. In the winter, I switch to whitefish, but my quota for that is way too small, it’s exhausted after only a week.’
“I am a bit past my prime and so are the lobsters. I catch them between March and October, but there’s less to catch nowadays”
James Cook went to the naval academy of Whitby, and other famous explorers like Drake and Nelson learned the trade here too
‘There is no reason to believe that Robin Hood, if he ever existed, has been to this place. But this was a true smugglers’ paradise. In the eighteenth century, literally every citizen here was a smuggler, from fishermen to farmers, from the local teacher to the pastor. They all hid their contraband in secret caves and deep tunnels, and not all of them have been discovered today. So, who knows…’
Robin Hood’s Bay attracts a lot of hikers as well. The village is the final destination of the 309-kilometre-long Coast to Coast path described in 1973 by Alfred Wainwright in a now-famous hiking guide. Bay Hotel, located on the beach, bears a sign in memory of the hiker, author and illustrator, and the hotel’s bar is named after Wainwright.
But what do the idiots decide? To march in northern direction as long as possible until they run into a troop of wild Scotsmen, build a wall to keep them out, and sit in their fort waiting for a lost bagpipe to blow their way.
Those are my thoughts when I walk through the remainders of the Roman fort Housesteads. It is part of Hadrian’s Wall, the wall emperor Hadrianus started building in the year 122, serving as the northern border of the Roman Empire on the British isle.
Hadrian’s Wall is 117 kilometer long, and runs for the most part through spectacular landscapes
You can discover Hadrian’s Wall in one or two days by car: there is a convenient road parallel to the wall. Hiking, as the Romans themselves did as well, is another possibility, which of course allows you to see a lot more. It takes about eleven days to cover the 117 kilometres, frequently running through stunning landscapes. Hikers used to walk on the wall itself before, but nowadays that is an absolute no-no.
The atmosphere of these long-lost times comes to life through the signs with drawings: look, there you see three legionnaires, each above their own hole, chatting excitingly about bread and games. Each of them holds a stick with a cotton ball at the top. For cleaning their behinds later on. It is obvious a lot has changed over the course of 2000 years when I want to use the restroom in the town of Chollerfold. ‘Restrooms are for customers only. Please don’t embarrass us by asking’, it says on the door of a store that also serves as a tearoom.
‘Can I have a bottle of water please?’ I ask. ‘And the toilet surely is in the back there?’
The lady behind the counter blushes and goes into a terrible coughing fit. I should be ashamed.
Large parts of Northern England are property by aristocratic landowners: dukes, earls and lords who inherited the land from their ancestors, farm it out to farmers and – very trendy – allow overseas hunters to hunt on their territory. Mostly birds: partridges in the woods and black grouse on the moors. Especially hunting black grouse appears to be a very posh affair.
‘You won’t believe the amount of money involved in a day of hunting bird’, a waiter tells me during lunch in a local pub. ‘Thousands of pounds! I don’t like it one bit, but it does create employment. When a Croesus goes hunting, he is usually headed by an entire company of beaters: people who wave flags and make a lot of noise to scare the birds. That way, they fly up into the air. There are people who continuously provide the hunters with freshly loaded guns. And of course, there are gamekeepers, who keep the hunting area intact.’
‘Well’, I say, contemplating, ‘work is worth something, right?’
‘It sure is’, the waiter says. ‘I will bring out your partridge in a minute.’
‘Uh… I ordered a Ploughman’s lunch. Cheese, bread and pickle.’
Popular but unspoiled
The French Revolution (1898-1899) brought that to a temporary halt. And wouldn’t you know: at that time, painter John Constable and poet William Wordsworth were paying tribute in their own way to the beauty of the English Lake District. Wordsworth even wrote a guide on it – Guide to the lakes (1810) – in which he praised the lake area as being Great Britain’s national property, which everybody in their right mind had to visit.
All hilltops higher than 900 metres in England can be found in this area, among which Scafell Pike is the highest with 978 metres. In between those peeks – a great opportunity for an enthusiastic hiker – sixteen lakes can be found, mostly elliptical, being formed in the ice age by glaciers.
Weather-wise, the Lake District is absolutely trustworthy: you can set your clock for a fresh dose of rain. In the wettest areas, there is four times more rain than you will get in the Netherlands.
At all times during the trip, the weather alternates between glorious and gloomy. I choose a glorious afternoon for a walk in the hills near Derwent Water and a gloomy morning for a visit to the birthplace of Wordsworth.
During his entire lifetime, Wordsworth praised the simple country life and the beauty of nature, and he lived in a cottage in the countryside with his sister Dorothy for many years. But he was born in the town of Cockermouth, as the son of a lawyer. His birthplace is, not surprisingly, fancier than you would expect from him, but he lived a happy childhood there. What helped: the house had an amazing garden. It still has by the way, even though National Trust and its many volunteers have got their hands full with flooding. Floods giving the town wet feet in the winters of 2009 and 2014 caused considerable damage.
And when your life is then made into a movie with Renée Zellweger playing the lead, you know you did quite well for yourself, right?
Pies with the Quaker
The great thing about the hike to Cautley Spout is that you have an excellent excuse afterwards to have dinner in the White Cross Temperance Inn. The good thing about that is (a) they serve excellent pies and (b) Alan Clower rules the joint. He is Quaker, and doesn’t serve alcohol, but serves amazing stories instead.
‘Ha, you are Dutch? Good, I love cloggies. I think you are the same type as we Englishmen. I run a charity in South Africa, and your fellow countrymen of the Leiden University raised 5000 pounds for it.
Alan Clower rules the White Cross Temperance Inn.
joint. He is a Quaker, and doesn’t serve alcohol, but serves amazing stories instead
Now way in his seventies, he entertains every one of his guests with a story. Only once it is finished, can the guests move from the cosy parlour to the dining room, which is just as cosy, to eat a pie or another traditional treat.
In the Dales Country Museum in Hawes we are to meet park ranger Matt Neale. While enjoying a cup of coffee, he explains that the territory of the British National Parks is not, as it is in the US, state property. ‘This means we have to compromise with the sheep breeders in the hills and the grass growers in the valleys.
Just as his colleague Bernie, Matt doesn’t particularly like the hunting of the partridge and black grouse. ‘I don’t see that as a sport, where for example deer stalking is a sport in Scotland, where you sometimes chase a sick deer for an entire day.’
He tells us about his love for drystone walls, that are much more expensive in maintenance than regular fences, but so much more beautiful and characteristic. ‘But my true love remains the red squirrel.’
‘And what does your girlfriend think about you calling her that?’ Frits asks seemingly concerned.
The threat also comes from a virus carried by the grey squirrel that doesn’t kill it but is lethal for its red colleague. The red squirrel retreats to the pine forests nowadays, where Matt and his colleagues arranged an area to protect the animal as well as they can: Snaizeholme.
Of course, we visit that area as well. The little rascals are incredibly lively and show a praiseworthy interest in Frits’ photo equipment. When one of them crawls over his long-focus lens and tries to push her nose against that of the photographer, Matt and I are certain: Frits is the one with a red squirrel as a girlfriend!
Peak District NP
Right of Passage
‘Well, sit yourself down, because this is elementary knowledge, gentlemen.’
So, there we are, in the old train station of Hassop which was transformed into a catering facility. Sally Wheal and Janette Sykes, park ranger and guide respectively, cannot wait to fill this painful gap in our knowledge.
Sally starts: ‘When you wanted to go for a nice hike back in the day, you would always get into trouble with landowners who didn’t want you to cross their terrain. In protest of this, 400 people came together in Kinder Scout in 1932: a moorland plateau not far from here. They had warned the press, so when the landowners warned the police and the protest leaders were arrested, it gave them a lot of publicity.’
Sally: ‘With the Peak District National Park as its first!’
Jeanette: ‘So much for your education, gentlemen. Get up, grab your backpack and take a hike.’
How do you do the Peak District the most justice? We decide on a combination of driving around and hiking. This way, we get the chance to see the majestic mansion Chatsworth Estate, continue to have the viewpoints of Surprise Corner, Stanage Edge, Monsal Head and Winnats Pass fight their own competition in being pretty, and end up visiting extremely cosy villages like Ashford and Bakewell.
On top of that, we get to know the two personalities that coexist in the Peak District. In the North, you have the Dark Peaks, where heather-covered hills consist mainly out of granite. This is where Charlotte Brontë placed her rough character, Mr Rochester. In the south, the landscape is a little more charming. The valleys are green and the hills made of limestone: the White Peaks.
The next day, we take on Jeanette’s advice of ‘get up and take a hike’: we get up at six to watch the sunrise from the top of a hill in the area near the Dove River. Because after a gloomy day, we are now promised a glorious day full of sun.
‘No’, Frits decides. ‘It is probably a photographer who spent the night here to be able to catch the first light. We will probably run into him later.’
Half an hour later, it seems he was right. A man with a tripod and a photo case comes downhill. He looks as unruly and rough as the Northern English landscape. And of course, he rocks a three-day beard