Adventures in England Complete
Fountains Abbey North Yorkshire
Water Garden and Temple of Piety Studley Royal Landscape Garden North Yorkshire
The Royal Geographical Society Fellows Lecture on Polish landscapes and associated ecological issues delivered on May 18th. went particularly well with an audience of around 750 at the headquarters in Kensington Gore, London. It was a particularly busy day at the Society with various dinners and meetings which rather distracted specialist attention from my lecture - thank goodness. The Polish gorale wedding music was particularly successful, as were the musical elements from the great Hungarian pianist Andras Schiff playing Chopin mazurkas and the extract from Andrzej Wajda's wonderful nostalgic film Pan Tadeusz which concluded the lecture. The listeners seemed particularly surprised at the beauty of the Polish countryside despite so much of it being flat. As usual at these events a surprisingly small number of copies of A Country in the Moon were sold - about 20 I think. "There are always books at these events which we are supposed to buy!" moaned one Fellow. Ah well....most commented to me later that it was 'a more beautiful and aesthetic lecture' than usual at the RGS.
The drive in the 1949 MG TC through the Yorkshire Dales was absolutely fantastic. But the car was not quite ready and there was some drama on collection - oil leaks remained (but where from as the notorious rear crankshaft seal had been replaced - eventually tracked down to a microscopic hole in an oil line). The new high ratio differential is excellent for faster and more comfortable touring. The car badly needed tuning. Half the front number plate fell off in peak hour traffic in Shipley which made a dragging sound on the tarmac fit to raise the dead, much to the delight of the inhabitants driving home from work in their Euroboxes. Lost in the lanes I managed to reverse into a rock and completely stuffed the exhaust system.
All this palaver meant hovering in my farmhouse B&B for two days as the rain bucketed down and car was properly sorted. Classic car buffs are masochists all in order the better to celebrate the aesthetics of the golden days of motoring. To the village of Austwick on the edge of the Dales where there was a Cuckoo Festival. I arrived in the middle of a Morris Dancing display in the street outside the pub called 'The Game Cock' and upstaged the dancers somewhat on arrival. Much interst in the car. Stayed at superb Austwick Hall where the accommodation, food and service were impeccable. Drove across the switchback roads of the Dales to Hawes with the windscreen folded flat - wind tearing at my cap and singing in my ears.
A couple of days later strapped the case to the luggage rack and on to Settle, Skipton, Grassington, Pateley Bridge and finally idyllic Lawrence House in the village of Studley Roger adjacent to Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal landscaped garden. A magnificent and very demanding drive with many 14% gradients and wild wind whipping the moorland. Cuddly spring lambs everywhere. Spent two full days wandering in this enchanted spot. Mist and rain the first day with scarcely a soul about gave the Cistercian Abbey and gardens a metaphysical and mysterious atmosphere. Sunshine on day two revealed one of the finest and most refined eighteenth century 'green' landscape gardens in England - and I have visited most of them over 30 years. One could have been wandering in a painting by Nicholas Poussin. The architect of the notorious South Sea Bubble (some things never change) John Aislabie laid it out in consolation for his disgraced retirement.
Having now tested the car for a week on demanding roads it is back in the garage Shipley for a few more final tweaks. However I have decided not to drive the car back to Warsaw. This mad idea in modern fast-moving traffic was born of overwhelming nostalgia for my youthful escapades in my original TC while at university in Australia. Will decide what to do after the Goodwood Revival classic car event in September.
At the end of June two weeks exploring Lithuania to complete my picture of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. First from Warsaw to Palanga and Nida on the Baltic Shore, actually the Curonian Spit which extends from Lithuania to Kaliningrad. It is an amazing UNESCO World Heritage site of extensive and breath-taking sand dunes, famous in ancient history as the beginning the Amber Road trading route to Venice and Byzantium. My interest in amber was fired by the excellent display of superb examples of the resin at the Museum of the Earth in Warsaw - captions notably in Polish and English. The Teutonic Knights benefited from the profitable trade in this beautiful material even having a Bernsteinmeister (Amber Master) who lived in the castle of Lochstadt near Konigsberg (present-day Kalinigrad). I found this witty epigram by the Latin poet Martial in Book VI of his Epigrams:
A drop of amber from the weeping plantFell unexpected and embalmed an antThe little insect we so much condemnIs, from a worthless ant, become a gem
This tour of the Baltic shore will be followed by a visit to Kaunas and the capital Vilnius concluding in the spa town of Druskininkai near the Polish and Belarusian frontiers. This trip in the Peugeot 307 CC (the elegant first series before the current guppy mouth ruined its looks) for all sorts of practical reasons.