Sunday, November 18, 2007

All dressed up with somewhere to go

I've been out of town for a few days with Ros, who was acting as guest speaker for the North West Parliamentary Dining Circle in a hotel near Kirkby Lonsdale, where the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire touch.

As Ros was in Manchester on business anyway, we decided to make a mini-weekend of it, hire a rental car, and drive up via Todmorden and Pendle (Kirkby Lonsdale is pretty remote by public transport), do the event on the Friday evening, and pop over to the Lake District to marvel at the scenery the next morning.

And, to our shared delight, that's how it worked out. Todmorden is a lovely little town, with one of those wonderful town halls that the North does so well, a market, and an amazing railway viaduct that soars over the town. We stopped for tea and a general potter around (you young people, you don't know you're alive!), before getting back into the car and heading for Nelson.

Curiously, on arrival we found no signs leading to the shrine of the sainted Greaves, nor any of his followers, dressed in their traditional robes of day-glo orange. However, it was a nice enough town and I'm sure that they were all out delivering leaflets in Colne, anyway.

Next, over the moors to Clapham, an achingly pretty little village just off the A65. As we pulled into its centre, we were met by a flock of sheep being herded past us by a sheepdog and his master, the latter riding one of those four-wheel off-road buggies. I deeply suspect that they're in the pay of the tourism authorities ("Seth, a strange car's turned off of the A65. They must be tourists so get those sheep moving, lad!").

We got to our hotel in good time, and had the opportunity to get some rest before the evening’s gathering before changing into out outfits for the evening. The dress code had been advised as ‘relaxed black tie’, so I’d brought one of my more flamboyant waistcoats out of retirement for the occasion and, if I say so myself, I didn’t look bad.

The evening’s host was Paul Rowen, the Liberal Democrat MP for Rochdale, who graciously welcomed Ros before we started the meal. I had already eaten far too much earlier in the day, but the game terrine and roast lamb were too much to resist before Ros spoke on her work in the Lords, and the likely impact of the recent Local Government Act on the work of councils and councillors. The audience seemed to receive it well, and a lively question and answer session followed. A very enjoyable evening all round, I thought.

The next morning, we got a leisurely start, had a decent breakfast and set off via Kendal to Coniston. I’ve never been to the Lake District, and was impressed to find that it was every bit as lovely as Ros had promised. We did a bit more pottering about but, sadly, had to curtail our revelry to head back to Manchester.

On the off chance, we took a short detour to find lunch, ending up in the charmingly genteel resort of Grange over Sands. It isn’t big, the sea is an awfully long way away (there were sheep grazing between the promenade and the water), but it was rather cosy, despite the cold and the rain. The subsequent drive back to Manchester went easily enough, and provided a fairly pain-free end to a really lovely weekend.

I sometimes think that we don’t really appreciate the countryside that we have within easy reach in this country. As a pretty hardened traveller in exotic parts, I’ve never really found the time to explore the English countryside, although not having a car has made it so much more complex to do so. Yet in the short period of time that I’ve been with Ros, I’ve seen a little of the villages of Suffolk, the Shropshire hills, and some of the best bits of the North and North West. And my carbon footprint is reduced somewhat, making me feel a little better, at least in moral terms.

Perhaps more of us should think about taking short breaks in the United Kingdom, rather than jetting off to the continent at the slightest provocation. I know that I will from now on…

No comments: