A brand of English black tea, blended in Yorkshire
"...we do have a few tea bushes growing in our tropical greenhouse here in Harrogate..."
- Taylors' website
It's not tea-growing country, Yorkshire, that's for certain. The average tea bush requires warmer climes, although the four feet of water it needs every year could be satisfied there dead easy. It's more than a little chilly when that lazy wind comes down from the moor. They call it "lazy wind" because it's too idle to go around, so it goes through you, and when it blows the rain down your neck, you know what it is to be chilled to the marrow. In short, it's bloody cold.
But the tea! Made properly it's a dark amber, with a sturdy quality that marks it as different from the crowd, somehow. It's still my favourite.
"Right now we're twenty-five miles from Harrogate as t'crow flies, nearly 40 by road. That's where they mek Yorkshire Tea, tha knows. Been there since 1886, Taylors. Old family business, and still going. Old-fashioned, like. But they only buy direct from growers, in Africa, Ceylon and India. Fair and square."
Let me set the scene. It's actually one of my favourite Yorkshire walks - it has the best of all the scenery the county has to offer. My companion agrees, and he lives only a few miles away in Ilkley. This is easily half a day's walk, starting from the campsite south of Gordale Scar, up the pretty little valley, skirting the scree at the foot of the slopes, then scramble up the skinny waterfall to the top, and look out over the limestone pavement as you brush the mud and slime from your clothing. Now it's a rough walk over the rocky terrain, bleak and hard underfoot, the landscape fractured by tiny faults in the rock, widened by how many tens of tousands of years of rain, widening them into the clints and grykes, the slabs and gaps of the "pavement". Care is needed, I've seen more sprained ankles here than a few, and one broken. None of them, thankfully, were mine.
Keep the wind in your left eye, up the Scar. Some of the rock has been stripped now, it's not all the rough country it once was. Instead that stone decorates suburban gardens and the poolsides of the decadent, too idle to come and see it for themselves, in its own landscape. I say a silent prayer for each piece lifted and imprisoned in Esher, or Ealing or Epsom.
West, the scarp rises away from the path, prickled with heather on the tops, and the odd, lost Coke can, neglected in the stones. The track carries you up toward the Seaty Hill Tumulus, and if you turn to the road, and East you'll be in the Roman camp, foursquare and flat in the chaos of rock and grass. Our call is West, brave souls as we are, tramping now the sheep paths and scratchy pads that climb, to merge finally with the road. My ploy was always to turn to the southwest, pick up a second track across the top of the hill, and run parallel to the original course. Not that this country can be run - each step is a careful one, each yard hard-fought underfoot.
"They mek three brews, one is regular, in red packets, one in green boxes, blended specially for if you 'ave 'ard water", and the special, Gold. That's in gold packets. Same if you buy the loose tea or teabags. Course, we use bags nowadays.
Now we course north again, to tread the famous Pennine Way, walking in the footsteps of a million ramblers as we approach Malham Tarn. Nestled in its cwm, grey and grim autumn sky reflected in a thousand waves, the icy water never tempting even the bravest soul to break its chill surface.
This hollow, scooped from the rock millions of years ago by glaciers, can suck the wind in from the northwest and around, chilling the blood. If you can find a spot out of the wind, it's a great place to stop for a cuppa, especially as it's decision time again. The water in the beck is cold and clear and tasty, perfect for the tea. Carry on north to the road and the Visitor's Centre, with its shop and cafe and picture postcards ("Yorkshire Moooors" was one, with displaced cow, and "Grim Ooop North" the other, chosen for the Londoner). The alternative is to backtrack slightly and head south, if you want to see the glories of Malham Cove, because you read in the guidebook about its "frozen waterfall". Aye, that's where we go, treading warily, tired from the autumn winds.
"It's a grand cuppa, strong and old-fashioned. Ah've not drunk owt else since I left 'om to marry our Gwen. There's folk all over't world as still buys it, still thinks it's the best. PG Tips can't owd a candle to it."
The water used to run to here formimg a glorious waterfall, but now it drops into the land, down sinkholes and deep underground, winding who-knows-where until surfacing again at the foot of the Cove. We'll meet the stream again soon, but for now, we're headed for the top of Malham Cove itself. We pass by some Bronze Age ruins, remains really - a type of roundhouse with a central post to support the roof. Maybe whoever lived here farmed in the fields below - there are the outlines of an ancient field system to be seen there. But onward - the lip of the Cove calls.
This was the waterfall at the head of Malhamdale, in years past probably the tallest waterfall in England. As you approach the edge, you see the countryside open up and drop away beneath you - if you've no head for heights, hold onto someone you trust. There's two hundred feet of air between you and the bottom, where the stream gushes out at the foot of the cliff. You can stand on the edge here and look about you, admire the distant hills and dale, or the curving drop of the Cove itself. "Breathtaking" is the word most people use, and who am I to argue? It's no Grand Canyon, but it's good enough for Yorkshire.
Now we head South toward the road, and back into the village. Look out to your left, and follow the river and the valley. This is where those field markings are, that I mentioned earlier. Come into the village down that hill, hard wind blowing the rain into your ear and down your neck and up your sleeves.
The Buck Inn
"Tha' could use a warm-up about now, lad. Set thee down and let me mek thee a good cup of tea. Yorkshire folk blend the best in't world. Taylors and Tetley. Though of course, I prefer the Taylors."
Pretty village, Malham. Stay in the Youth Hostel for cheapness. The Buck Inn is the first pub you'll see as you come down the hill. I remember another autumn afternoon, whipped by the wind and rain, cold and dreary and miserable, my walking companion nursing a twisted ankle and a bad temper. Cold and tired and hungry, eager for food and shelter. The Hiker's Bar just looked so inviting after all that grey sky - warm light in the windows, and smell of an open fire. As we walked down, we talked about whether we'd have beer, or tea, and couldn't make our minds up.
The pub is still there, across from the bridge over the river that helped inspire Charles Kingsley to write The Water Babies. The pub itself is an old coaching inn, with two long rooms. The Hiker's Bar wasn't posh, but it was warm that day, and there was a settle by the fire, and a place to gently set boots where they'd not dry out too quickly, and perish. The landlord may still be there, and he may still offer to bring you homemade steak and kidney pie and mushy peas, and he may not give you the choice, but draw two pints of good beer and bring them to you anyway. But you also know he'll make a good cup of tea too, if you ask nicely. After all, this is Yorkshire.
"Well, lad, now you're done here, go and get dry and pop ower to Harrogate and get thissen to Betty's Tea Rooms - it's the Taylor family as owns that too, and guess what? They serve this very same tea there as well."
I still drink Yorkshire Tea when I can get it - the last lot I bought we left in Port Townsend with my sister-in-law after Christmas. It's a fine cup of tea, strong and rich.
The walk is factual, and accurate as best I can remember, too. I suspect I've brewed more cups of tea over tiny camping stoves on that walk than any other. It's possibly my favourite walk ever. Oh, and apologies for the Yorkshire accent. Not all tykes talk like that.
Fine, fond memories