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Posts Tagged ‘Yorkshire Dales’

It’s only right, when on holiday in the UK, that you experience one or more of the following: rain, lots of it; the odd, joyous day of wall-to-wall sunshine; shonky, styled-in-the-seventies accommodation; ancient monuments; and, of course, random events that remind you that eccentricity is normal round these parts.

Luckily for us, our holiday in the Dales featured all five, from gorgeous, giddy days yomping across hill and dale to a cottage whose shower last worked properly sometime around the decade of my birth. But it’s the things you least expect that are the best. So, one rainy day when we were suffering from cabin fever, we headed into Skipton (or Shipton, as my Mum kept calling it).

We weren’t expecting anything much: we assumed Skipton/Shipton would be a rather dingy North Yorkshire town with little to offer except its proximity to glorious countryside. But as we crawled into town (‘Why is the traffic so bad?’ I thought from the back seat, jiggling toys at an increasingly fractious Milo), we saw beautiful stone houses, a sign for a castle and, explaining our less-than-walking-pace-speed, a poster for a car parade.

We parked up and there, stretching down the high street in polished-chrome-and-sorbet technicolour, was a ribbon of vintage cars. The rain eased off and droplets twinkled suggestively on the curved bonnet of a 1960s Daimler. There, pointed Mum, was the car I learned to drive in. We peered in at its leather bench seat. Over there, pointed Dad, was the car Grandpop used to drive. We turned to look and marvel, Milo thumping my shoulder in excitement. There were ancient buses and trucks and people everywhere, making out like the rain meant nothing to them, eating hot dogs and basking in the light of a hundred obsessive motorists’ pride.

A few days later, when the rain came again, we headed to Skipton Castle. I was slightly peeved to be told I couldn’t take the pushchair inside but soon realised why: Skipton is home to the oldest, most complete and most pushchair-inappropriate medieval castle in Britain. It has walls so thick and stairs so steep that it defended itself from a Roundhead siege for three years. Three years. And when the castle finally capitulated, did the Royalists sheepishly let the bad guys in? Did they heck. The dropped the creaking drawbridge, swung back doors that had resisted all Roundhead attempts to blast their way inside, and moved down the high street in an unrepentant, triumphant procession. The soldiers carried bullets in their mouths and powder in their bags – to show that they weren’t defeated, that they could have kept up the fight if they wanted to.

They passed down the high street with flags and music, and the Roundheads, to their credit, said, ‘fair cop, off you go.’ And they disappeared into the surrounding countryside, leaving their castle behind them and open-mouthed historians in their wake.

See, you’d never get that on the Costa del Sol.

Ratings. Babychanging facilties: none that we could see. Cafe: yes, with highchairs. Buggy-friendly? No, lots of steps and uneven flooring. Buggies not allowed in the castle, though secure buggy park provided. Staff: really lovely. Cost: £5.80 (adults), babies free. Worth it? Absolutely.

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‘That boy can smile, can’t he?’

I’m changing Milo’s nappy and he’s lying on the mat kicking his chubby little legs. He spots the woman behind me and turns on a hi-beam smile.

‘Aye, he’s a charmer.’

This boy’s smile can light up a room. Heck, his smile could light up a muddy field. I don’t quite know how or why Milo is such a cheery, happy baby (‘nothing to do with us,’ said Simon to his childminder last week, ‘both his parents are right grumpy buggers.’). But there he is, giving his mega-watt gummy grin to all and sundry.

Outside, his grandparents sit, sated now that they’ve demolished the giant baked potatoes they ordered for lunch. On the table lie remnants of Milo’s meal: spoons, bib, the rust-coloured smear of pureed vegetables.

The sun is beating down. A river runs past, hills stretch and roll, trees sway gently in the breeze. We’ve clambered over the medieval ruins of a priory, we’ve lit a candle for Milo’s great-Grandma in the adjoining church and I’m about to buy the biggest ice-cream I’ve ever eaten.

And there’s Milo, my boy, smiling. You know, I might go on (and on) about the sleep deprivation but nothing makes me prouder than seeing Milo smile. That he is as happy as he is makes everything worthwhile. I worry about being a good mother; about doing the right thing for him, making sure he has everything he needs so that he can cope with whatever life decides to throw at him. It’s part of the pain and the pleasure of being a parent: this constant, gnawing worry. Will he be OK? Will he be happy? Will he always know how much I love him, how proud I am of him, just for being Milo?

I worry as I walk past picturesque rivers, as I change his nappy, as I take him out on all these day trips and holidays. It’s like a mosquito buzzing in my ear.

‘He could charm the birds off the trees, that one,’ says the woman as she washes her hands.

The birds and the trees, I think, and everything else in between.

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It’s 3.57am and Milo is howling. An electric fan drones, feebly pushing warm air from one corner of the room to the other. Sweat prickles in the small of my back and my usual PJs (a woolly cardigan and trackie bottoms combo – who says you let yourself go when you become a mother) lie crumpled at the foot of the bed. Directly beneath the bedroom is an Aga that heats the whole house; it’s the reason why it’s so very hot in our bedroom at this ungodly hour.

‘Do you need a hand?’ stage whispers Simon.

‘I can’t hear you!’ I whisper back, somewhat savagely.

I am at the end of my tether. This is the third time Milo has woken up and I’ve been doing pick-up-put-down for almost an hour. Which works fine when using the cot at home but with the travel cot – which squats low on the floor – is the equivalent of touching my toes several hundred times an hour. Right now, I think, I really could do with Simon bloody well lending me a hand.

‘I said, do you want a hand?’ says Simon, moving closer to my ear.

What he doesn’t realise is that I have Milo wailing in one ear and a fan buzzing in the other. He could be shouting through a loud hailer into an ear trumpet and I’d still have no idea what he was saying.

‘What?’ I say, and then, unreasonably, ‘and shut up, you’ll disturb the baby!’

Simon shuffles across the bed, ducking his head to avoid an authentic low-hanging oak beam, and takes Milo from me. You’d think I’d be pleased to be released from my backbreaking, calf-killing duties. But no, it’s now 4.01am and I’m absolutely furious (with Milo, obviously, but not with Milo, as that’s not allowed, because that would make me a bad mother and the one thing I really, really don’t want to be is a bad mother).

‘Oh great, the book says you’re not supposed to swap the baby from one parent to the next while in the middle of pick-up-put-down. Now he’s never going to learn to self-settle.’

I storm downstairs, resisting the urge to slam the door, chuck pans across the kitchen and break a few plates. I am so, so tired. Each time Milo woke me was like being ripped from the womb. And each time he woke I couldn’t say what I wanted to say, which was, ‘oh for god’s sake, just go back to sleep.’ So instead I settle for sitting on the sofa, simmering gently. I look for something to read but can only find Mum and Dad’s copy of the Daily Mail. I read something vicious about single mothers, Polish immigrants and Gordon Brown and snort. Suddenly, the wailing stops as Simon persuades Milo to go to sleep.

At 4.23am I climb back into bed. My anger seeped away as soon as the crying stopped. By the time morning comes I’ll be profoundly grateful to Simon for getting Milo back to sleep. I’ll be incredibly understanding of the fact that Milo was freaked out by being in a new place in a new bed and just needed a little reassurance to get to sleep (albeit every two hours). The sun will come out and we’ll walk by a river at Bolton Abbey in countryside so beautiful that it makes me suspicious (it just doesn’t seem natural after being surrounded by the grub and grime of suburban Manchester).

And I will wonder why it is, when the lights go out, that the only monster that creeps out from the shadows is me.

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