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August 4th 2011
Published: August 4th 2011
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We had a Withnail moment today. As we drove through the Yorkshire Dales in heavy rain, we were reminded of his words: "We've come on holiday by mistake."

We'd woken to rain. The BBC website reported flash floods around York. It had been our aim to make a stop in Lincoln for elevenses and a visit to the Gothic cathedral, a favourite of Ruskin's. As we walked through the Minster Yard, the wind hurled cold rain in our faces.

There's a statue of Tennyson and his dog by the cathedral. A notice board claims him as a son of Lincolnshire, but points out ingenuously that he spent all his adult life "elsewhere".

After a brief look at the nave, we retreated to a tea room on Steep Hill. A local paper reported that this very street was competing with Byres Road in Glasgow and Cockburn Street in Edinburgh to be named "Britain's Best Place" by something called the Academy of Urbanism. Given that organisation's name, this presumably doesn't imply any comparison with rural "places". In a shop opposite, we bought loose tea, which the owner measured into tin caddies, and "naturally decaffeinated coffee" ("without the chemicals"). The building, he told us, had been owned about 900 years ago by a Jewish money lender, who helped to finance the King's wars.

We spoke wistfully of our plan for a light lunch outside a pub overlooking the Dales. Instead, we made a short detour into the spa town of Harrogate, but chose to press on rather than risk a drenching in search of food.

By the time we reached Appleby in Westmorland, site of an annual horse fair since 1685, the sky was clearing. In warm sunlight, we walked along Doomgate and up the tree-lined hill of Boroughgate towards the castle, founded in the Twelfth Century. Through padlocked gates, we could glimpse the keep, surrounded by scaffolding and topped by a protective canopy. Affixed to the gates were two laminated cards telling, in gothic script, how English Heritage had blocked plans for a development by the owner which, according to him, was widely supported in the local community and would have created a "major cultural centre". Of course, it tells only his side of the story; but what does seem clear is that, as a result of some kind of stand-off, the castle has been closed to the public since 2004. At the hotel, we heard that the scaffolding had been up for four years. From the picture windows in the lounge, you can see it rising through the trees as you look across the valley.


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