Rediscovering Yorkshire – The longest way round is the shortest way home.

Two things happened yesterday. Probably a lot more to be fair but two things to prompt this article, which is handy when you need daily content for a ridiculous writing challenge!

The first was that I took dad out for a drive, he’s been getting cabin fever and, given that I’d been raving about the sunset over Calderdale, the day before and that yet again it was one of those perfect crystal clear, cold winter days, with brilliant blue skies, a sprinkling of snow around we decided to hit the road and chance our luck over Holme Moss. We are fortunate enough to live in a part of Yorkshire where the countryside is never more than a few minutes’ drive away.

A Wintery Holme Moss

I love these drives out with dad. You see, I left Yorkshire some 30 odd years ago, at eighteen I went to college in that there London, then figured I’d experience a ski season which was such fun I stayed on to do another five, then it was more of that there London, before heading to India on a six month sabbatical in 2006 which lasted until Dec 2018. However, you can take the girl out of Yorkshire, but you can never take Yorkshire out of the girl. I’ve always been fiercely proud to be from Yorkshire, we all are, we Tykes, it’s something that’s inherent. A wonderful quote by Adrian Braddy sums this up,

‘Never ask an English person where they are from, if they are from Yorkshire, they’ll tell you, if not, it’s not fair to embarrass them.’

We know that Yorkshire is the best county, a simple statement of fact, no defence or argument required.  I’ll give you one more example. When writing ‘Walking With Vikings’ a few days ago, I put a question on my dad’s Rotary Whatsapp group, ‘Does anyone know why the biggest Viking population ended up in Yorkshire?’ I got a barrage of responses but all basically saying the same thing, “They had sense!’’ I don’t think any other county quite has a pride, or obstinacy, quite like it.  In my years away, when people asked where I was from, I would never say, England, everyone just assumes you’re from London if you do, but no, I would declare, proudly, ‘Yorkshire!’ which also stood me in good stead in India given that Geoffrey Boycott is their 300,001st god.

Being back in Yorkshire now, despite Covid not quite giving me the opportunity to discovery it as fully as I would like, I am still managing to discover more of the county, it’s and my heritage, the extraordinary beauty and characterful people, really for the first time. I don’t think I paid much attention in my formative years, school, ponies, boys, they pretty much saw me through until I was 18, I don’t think Yorkshire per se actually got a look in. So now, when I head out with dad, he’ll make a remark about somewhere we are passing, or I’ll spot something and ask a question and then a whole can of worms erupts.

Everyone assumes that I must be chomping at the bit to hit the road again, grounded as we all have been for almost a year now, but it’s not the case.  I do not have itchy feet at all, I have the whole of Yorkshire on my doorstep, I am going through a journey of  discovery, discovering my backyard, my heritage and all that Yorkshire has to offer and there is more than enough to keep me occupied here for the next few years at least. But one thing that I have realised, is travel isn’t in the transport that’s available to us, it’s in the curiosity that we have.  The desire to discover, the willingness to wonder and wander at our surroundings, no matter how near or far. Oh, I’m not talking about bucket list tickers and Instagram profiles proudly declaring 100+ countries, but the interest in and fascination for where we are in that moment in time.

On yesterday’s sojourn with dad, I kept spying a tower at a vantage point over Huddersfield way. I asked him what it was, he didn’t know, but he did tell me that it was on the opening credits of our local news channel, BBC Look North. Now, also on the opening credits are York Minster and The Piece Hall. York Minster is an extraordinary and exquisite piece of architecture and history, The Piece Hall, which somehow I didn’t know about until around 12 months ago, and how that could possibly have happened it beyond me,  is also a pretty darn impressive landmark of Yorkshire. This meant that the tower must, by association, also be quite significant.  And that is all it takes for me. I was itching to get home, to start researching, just what was this monument and its significance?

Dad’s guess was that it could be something to do with the Napoleonic or Crimean Wars, we do have other monuments specific to those, but no, it transpires that the site is called Castle Hill and the present tower, often mistakenly called the Jubilee Tower, which is now a Grade II listed building, was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897. It’s actual name is, Victoria Tower. However, the site and its history dates back much further than that. It is thought that the first occupation began some 4000 years ago when the surroundings would have been covered in woodland. The site was then developed as an Iron Age hill fort, surrounded by defensive ditches and ramparts and which is thought to have been a stronghold of a powerful tribe until a mysterious fire just over 2,600 years ago. The present name of Castle Hill, comes from a castle that was built in the 1140s by the powerful De Laci family. Given that it provides spectacular views over five counties, it easy to see why the site was significant in ancient times.  It also apparently contains a diverse mosaic of wildlife habitats and is a designated local Nature Reserve though I haven’t been able to find out any more information about that as of now.

I sat back, now I knew, mystery solved. To be honest, it wasn’t the most exciting of discoveries and so my brain started to do what it does, and head off at a tangent. Something was niggling, Queen Victoria, could there be random connection?  You see, when I went to decipher Agra and discover what it has to offer beyond the Taj Mahal, I had just read the excellent book, Victoria and Abdul by Shrabani Basu, about Queen Victoria’s relationship with her Indian teacher, who hailed from Agra. I figured I’d spend some time discovering more about him and where he lived but drew blanks at every turn, no one in Agra was interested in anything other than the Taj Mahal. It took all the tenacity that I possess to complete my travel research, but still I drew blanks with Abdul Karim. I appreciate that this is a tenuous link at best, but still I pondered, could Queen Victoria’s teacher from my least favourite destination Agra famed for the Taj Mahal, have visited her commemorative tower or anywhere else in Yorkshire?  It’s the way my mind works, finding stories and links and fascinations with the seemingly obscure. I drew a blank again, I even went so far as to write to Shrabani Basu who had been privy to his diaries and who was kind enough to reply immediately. No, there was nothing in his diaries to indicate that he had ever visited Yorkshire. As a native I had to let it lie there, there’s no way he could have visited these parts and not written about it!

Now, you see, I had taken dad out for a drive to cure him of his cabin fever, it worked, we marvelled at some spectacular views and discovered something new along the way. But I think what entertained him far more was my excitement when we returned, researching and shouting out every new discovery at a high pitched squeal followed by frantic typing as I tried to get it down.  This has been a regular occurrence over the last few months. I’ve been discovering handloom weaving and the rag trade that is my heritage, the Viking influence on our language, the sights and national parks and wildlife and stately homes and more.  It’s all here, on my doorstep and I never knew! The passion I have felt for India over the last 22 years has been transposed, Yorkshire has become my target and now I feel as if I may never leave again.

Which brings me to the second thing that happened yesterday to prompt this missive. In the evening, we were watching Adrian Dunbar on Channel 5, exploring Ireland. His closing comment was a phrase his Granny used to quote, which  I discovered is actually a quote by James Joyce, ‘’Longest way round is the shortest way home.” And which he translated to mean that it doesn’t mean which way round you go, or how far you roam, there really is no place like home.  Dad looked at me when he said that and said, ‘I think that’s a sentiment that you can relate to.’ I agreed wholeheartedly.

There’s a picture above the fireplace at dad’s,  it is a photograph of me aged 2/3yrs and in it, I am wearing red shoes, a colour of shoe I still love to wear now, even with my pyjamas during lockdown, shhh, that’s a secret, I glanced at the picture and smiled. I guess it’s true, whether its Ulyses, James Joyce, Dorothy or me, I can safely say, ‘There’s no place like home,’ Well, if you’re a Tyke that is.

For more on The Piece Hall:

To discover Agra beyond the Taj Mahal:


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