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The last holiday, ever

We don’t do cars very well any more. When we sit inside one now the stress levels immediately start to rise. Kate is nervous of my driving and I am the same with hers. Add to this the difficulties of navigating unfamiliar roads, whilst trying to read an inadequate map (1994 vintage) and translate this into road signs and landmarks, all the while checking to see where the next lorry is coming from and worrying about what the idiot driver is behind us trying to do – getting close enough so he can reach out and touch the boot of our car, I think – and very quickly the human has been frazzled out of us and the horns have come out. We reach a compromise of sorts by agreeing not to impinge on the other’s domain – I try not to lean over and map read and Kate has to ignore my driving – and thus we get ourselves along the road to our destination. But for me I was wanting to be elsewhere, anywhere but on the road.
This was a meticulously planned week starting with a train journey north then a day visiting Ursula, Kate’s nun of an aunt, then taking to the road in a tiny hired car so we could drop in on Kate’s niece Jeannie, her brother Andrew, then finally our son Tony in Newcastle. We had special deals booked at motels dotted here and there and to break the tragic monotony of this had arranged two nights in a Youth Hostel at Robin Hoods Bay in Yorkshire where we knew we would be able to walk our legs off no matter what the weather. The plan meant many miles driving through the conurbations of Sheffield and then Manchester, picking our way through countless motorway junctions and sets of traffic lights.
Tuesday and it was Ashton under Lyne (shortened to ‘AUL’ on road lane markings for obvious reasons) where Kate was given a trim by her niece before we dropped in for a cup of tea with her oldest brother who lives nearby. Next day we were driving north again and, arriving too early to meet with Tony, we took to the cold, windswept beach at Tynemouth where we watched long legged curlew sandpipers scuttling across the surfline to our great amusement. They always seem to be playing with the incoming waves, daringly leaving it to the last moment to run away across the sand. I seem to remember doing this as a child, sometimes failing to avoid a rogue wave and ending up with wet shoes.
Somewhere along the way we paid an emotional visit to the very house where Kate spent much of her childhood, a schoolhouse then, now a privately owned property but still stuck out in remote Yorkshire farmland. Snow earlier in the week had melted on most roads but the tiny lane here was almost untouched and a skating rink for our hire car to get to grips with. Fortunately the steep descent from the main road was not matched by a similar ascent otherwise I’m sure we would still be there now. Externally the only change here is that the trees are bigger, so Kate tells me. But then they would be, wouldn’t they. To get to her school she had to travel first to Otley, the nearest substantial town, which boasts an imposing statue of Thomas Chippendale (the cabinet maker, not the exotic dancer) and a cafĂ© which can produce, without effort, what must have been the longest potato chip in the world. Maybe there is a connection of some sort here.

Wednesday found us navigating tiny lanes around Robin Hoods Bay on the North Yorkshire coast, trying to find the Boggle Hole Youth Hostel where we had two nights booked. Lacking basic common sense we were using insight and a rather suspicious looking wooden signpost which very nearly took us up to our wheel arches in a muddy brown river, jokingly referred to as a ford, until a helpful local man pointed us on our way. The hostel was almost deserted, few being crazy enough to brave the cold and snow of recent days to stay there, but we were made welcome and soon had the lie of the land. Eating out in the evening involved a trek up the steep cliff path, a mile walk along the crumbling cliff edge then a hair-raisingly steep descent down wooden steps to the village pub and later, full of good food and ale, a similar passage in total darkness. By the second evening we had this pretty well sorted, however, so even the driving snow failed to deter us.

The curving slabs of rock at the cliff base (this is still referred to as a beach) are a classic feature of the area, and the Jurassic fossils within these sediments attract many hopefuls in search of new discoveries or simply bigger and better examples of what others have discovered already. But venture too near the cliffs and you’ll soon realise how fast the sea is making inroads here. Falls from the tops are happening continuously as more and more soil slips quietly away, Britain disappearing from view to be carried away by the sea. The beach is actually a mixture of bed rock and sand with sea-rounded pebbles in a variety of colours, suggesting great efforts of transportation from far and wide. Lumps of boulder clay, some round shaped by the action of the sea and looking like dinosaur eggs, litter the beach. The clay is topsoil from the cliffs and falls are both regular and frequent so it is wise not to venture too close.

But the bay can also be stunningly beautiful, particularly with the winter sun catching snow on the cliff tops and the wind waterfall whisking to produce a fine mist, like steam on the water.

By one definition, ‘taking a holiday’ presupposes being at work in the first place. Thus on ceasing to work it must no longer be possible to take a ‘holiday’ at all. In a little over six weeks time we will have retired and will need new words to describe what we have just done. Paid work as we now understand it will cease for us both so this week away from home will not be forgotten quickly. Soon our home will move along with us and as we pass the Yorkshire coast again our viewpoint will be different, from seawards to a distant shore.

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