We’ve been home from our sojourn in England and Scotland now for around a month. I planned to write more about Richmond, North Yorkshire, as soon as I got home and had more time to organize my thoughts rather than write on the fly as I often did in the midst of sightseeing, communing with nature, trekking by foot to distance sites, hiking, boarding trains and cars, and having pots and pots of glorious tea. I wanted to take more time with Richmond because we have memories there and at Catterick Garrison, where we lived a couple of kilometers down the road more than thirty years ago. Still, I waited a while to get on with this writing about Richmond. I’m not certain why. Perhaps I’ve been afraid I would not do it justice or that I might offend someone with a couple of my comments. If I do, I apologize ahead of time. I loved Yorkshire. It’s a magical area with nature that is paradoxically wild and gentle, with towns and villages that are sleepy and bustling, and with an ambiance that is charmingly old-fashioned as well as perversely modern.
James Herriot (aka James Alfred Wight) of All Creatures Great and Small fame once said that Richmond in his estimation is “just about the most romantic and charming town in the country.” (James Herriot’s Yorkshire, p. 70.) Now, admittedly, England has numerous romantic and charming towns and villages, but I, personally, would be hard pressed to disagree with him. The town of Richmond curls and curves and winds around hills and along the Swale River in the appropriately named Swaledale. After thirty-plus years, Richmond had changed but not so much physically. It still had cobbled streets, steep winding roads, numerous wynds, ancient churches, old stone buildings sporting numerous shops, groceries, tea rooms, pubs, hotels, galleries of one sort or other, and, of course, the requisite castle—in Richmond’s case an old Norman one (The Norman Inquisition) built in 1086. No, the change rather than physical was one of attitude, even of ambiance, and was, to me, quite positive. While streets and buildings and countryside looked much the same the townspeople, shopkeepers, and British tourists seemed much livelier than I remembered—with sunnier attitudes; I might say—almost friendly. I am not intending to criticize the English shopkeepers and natives of thirty years ago; it’s only that the English outlook and disposition was—as I remember it—much reserved, intent on giving others their privacy, and rather averse to accommodating anyone unexpectedly—Doc Martin (British TV) comes to mind. I sensed, then, what could be called an air of sluggishness among the general public. I must add, though, those whom we came to know well were warm, charming, and fun.
Now, this was the interpretations of an American and a Texan, in particular, who had grown accustomed at home to overly verbose strangers and to waiters and pizzeria owners who practically ushered one into their establishments with little less than a ticker-tape parade. Being a bit private myself, I did not find this aloofness entirely negative. It could be most restful, in fact. Yet, on this trip, people smiled a lot in teashops and pubs, gave good service (somewhat unusual thirty years ago), and even occasionally chatted. A shy young man (maybe 19 or so) who waited on my daughter-in-law and me at one of the groceries, carried on a light conversation. He had been to New York once, he said, but his dream was to visit America for longer and to drive all across the country—Travels with Charley style. I’m not certain he quite grasped the size of our country, but we both hoped he would. The next day he stopped on the pavement (sidewalk), where I was perusing a menu posted outside a hotel, to give me dining advice. It was lovely, as the British are fond of saying. I had never experienced that in England. I believe they may well have reached a great compromise between Americans’ irritating over-familiarity and the English’s cold stiffness. See, now, I’ve offended everyone.
Herriot, James. James Herriot’s Yorkshire. London: Michael Joseph Ltd., c. 1979.