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June 3, 2002
The North York Moors (Russell)

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Wuthering heights: the North York Moors

On June 3rd, we had a second full day in the York area, and there were several excursion options available to us.  Our first choice was to go to Scarborough (there actually was a fair there, in honor of the Queen's Jubilee).  However, once we hit the ring road around York, the traffic came to an absolute dead stop.  (Yes, this is the exact same place where traffic hit a dead stop on our way into York a couple of days ago.  Apparently, everyone in England constantly wants to go to Scarborough.  Joan, our B&B hostess, later told us that this junction is always like this.)

We made a spontaneous change of plans and decided to visit the North York Moors instead.  We were not tremendous Bronte sisters fans, but we had never seen a moors before and it sounded fascinating.  With Russell driving, Gail navigated us through the numerous backroads and small towns (fortunately, all of the roads run basically north-south, so it's difficult to get completely lost).  Our destination was the town of Danby at the north (opposite) end of the moors, where there would be a visitors centre.  Along the way we passed the tiny town of Stillington, where the townspeople had decorated every house with life-sized dolls in honor of the Queen's Jubilee -- everything from telephone repairmen to gardeners to a girl selling lemonade.  All told, the drive took us a whopping three-and-a-half hours (including the traffic delay outside of York).

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One of the life-sized dolls welcoming visitors to Stillington

The North York Moors National Park covers 554 square miles -- the largest expanse of heather moorland in England.  The area contains beautiful rivers, woodlands, and a spectacular coastline -- we stopped the car constantly just to get out and look at the view.  By the time we pulled into the carpark at The Moors Centre in Danby, the sun was out and people were picnicking all over the meadow.  By the time we bought a book of walking tours and some scones for the trail, it was raining and everyone was running for cover.  We strolled around in the museum until there was a break in the rain, then we set out for a walk (with our heavy coats).

In various parts of the moors, one can see evidence of 6,500-year-old Neolithic man, Medieval farms, and 18th-century coal mines (the area was originally covered in forests until centuries ago, when monks cut down all of the trees and their sheep devoured all of the new tree saplings).  For our walk (and being sensitive to both the time and the overcast sky), we chose a short trail that would take us slightly uphill to Danby Castle, a 14th-century estate that is now used as a farm.  The two-mile loop is estimated to take one hour at an "amble"; we took two hours.  Along the way we stopped several times to talk to the friendly cows (while some would run away at our approach, others would crowd up to the fence to see what was going on).  Cameron and Joss had some success in feeding them grass.  We also stopped at the 14th-century Duck Bridge (rebuilt in the 1700s), a narrow humpbacked stone bridge that carried cars until 1993 when the danger of damage and collapse became too great.

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Feeding the cows
The three men on Duck Bridge

Back at the visitors centre, we grabbed some sandwiches (chicken and stuffing) for dinner during the drive back.  The rain had pretty much held off during our walk, but came down again when we were in the car.  Once we were happily settled back into our rooms at the Cuckoo's Nest Farm, we had a nice, relaxed evening.  After Cameron and Joss went to bed, Russell and Gail snacked on chips and salsa while Russell gave Gail a late birthday present: an episode of "The West Wing" (Gail's favorite television series, which she hasn't been able to see in almost a year), newly-available in the UK -- but not in America -- on DVD.


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