Storyline - 12: Sorry! Only Just Missed Your Chimney! (Winter, 1963)
White-out on the Moors
Can't see much in this - it's all white everywhere!
I've been following this road for ages now. It seems like hours since I last saw a car going the other way! As far as my appointments diary goes, I should have been in Whitby two hours ago. It's about eleven now, and I'm nowhere in sight even of the roundabout where the Sleights road turns off downhill. All I seem to be doing is trying to stay on the road, dodging road signs in this deep snow... Where am I?
'Everywhere you look it's white, Bob. Are you still going ahead with this? I don't reckon anybody will be selling much today - nor for a while yet', Eddie, my passenger, is understandably worried.
He's a sewing machine engineer, come with me today to clinch a deal with a wholesaler in Whitby town, but we're still searching for a landmark we'd recognise - that anybody would recognise, for that matter. We left Guisborough on the A171, came past Charltons and up the bank. That was tough enough, getting to the top was the biggest test. Still, going down a couple of gears at the top enabled me to reach the head of the bank and over. We slid at the top, almost into a gritter lorry. The driver gave me a look that could have split the atom! - Probably wondering what I was doing sliding across the road like that, but the wheels gripped at the right time and my Austin Cambridge veered away from a side-on collision. Phew - I was sweating waterfalls by then.
'I wonder if the snackbar's open at the top here', Eddie pointed to our left. He's been coming along this road for donkey's years, knows it like the back of his hand. He also knows where the stop-offs are, where mechanics and drivers stop off for a cuppa on the way to the coast. He tugged at my coat sleeve, 'Aye, he's there. Pull in'.
There's a big car park at the top of the hill, right at the point where you can look across country to Lingdale and Moorsholm one way, but you can't see much the other way for the hill and the trees along the reservoir.
'Let's have a cup of tea then', I pulled up alongside a couple of delivery vans and grinned sheepishly back as the drivers wound down their windows and grinned up at us on our short trudge across the mixture of slush, new snow and ice to the tea van.
'You're bloody lucky, you are!' Mick told Eddie, and nodded at me behind him. 'I wasn't going to come this morning, what with this lot!'
He pointed up at the sky and we understood full well. I could see this mass of mid-grey coming over the moor and flakes drifted onto my head as he spoke, Eddie was as happy-go-lucky as ever. He laughed off our woes and joked,
'You need the cash, that's why you came. Get yourself a cheaper girlfriend! Two teas please, Mick'.
'I heard that!' Brenda stuck her head up from where she stood, almost hidden from view where she was finishing off making sandwiches or whatever for a customer in the car park. Brenda is Mick's wife. She's got a good sense of humour and needs it with some of the customers they get.
'Pushing off again already?' Mick called out, not that he expected an answer. He gave a weary wave as we lumbered over the snow-slush to my car.
We waved back at him through the part-open window on Eddie's side, hoping for the fresh air to clear the mist from the windscreen as we sped left out of the car park. The old banger hurtled on past the reservoir at Stanghow. Nothing but white as far as the eye could see on the ground, and the sort of grey above that looked like more snow.
The rest, as they say, was history. Now we're on the road to nowhere and the snow's coming down again, just the few flakes for now but we all know what after that. We passed 'The Grapes' at Scaling. There were lights inside, but no-one stirred outside. Even the filling station a bit further along on the other side of the road seemed deserted. In the summer time they use Scaling reservoir for sailing and water sports, but there was no sign of boats or anything - just iron grey ice where the water was, and white around it with iron grey in the sky.
The road snakes about on the moors, bending this way and that in loops that defy logic. There are plans to straighten it, but I can't see that happening in the foreseeable future. Ernie Marples is more interested in building motorways these days. The North Riding isn't on his maps, I don't think. We self-employed salesmen don't figure on his radar, either, not the ones that have to put up with snakey A-roads. The A171 to Whitby does carry a lot of traffic, but not much that's industrial. Its just farm and business deliveries, commercial travellers, private motorists, insane bikers. Definitely also kamikaze cyclists on their days off... And gritters in winter.
Eddie must be reading my thoughts. Without taking his eyes off the road - not a good idea at the best of times on this stretch - he growls above the engine noise,,
'This flaming road needs straightening out, Bob, and that's no understatement!'
'Where's the money coming from?' I ask, shrugging. 'Ernie won't stump it up'.
'Watch out - there's something sticking up there - look!' Eddie pushes my elbow upward and we narrowly avoid what looks like rocks. Rocks, here - since when?
'What?!' I swerve and nearly overturn on the other road bank. Being out of sight there we'd have come a cropper if anything bigger had come around the bend.
I stop in a sweat. Dazed and amazed we're still in one piece.
'What was that in the road?' I ask.
'I thought it was rocks, maybe. I don't know. Funny place for rocks, though. Want me to look?' Eddie opens the door and is across the road, back where we passed, before I can say 'Don't bother'.
He's standing brushing snow off something with his gloved hands when I reach him.
'Good flaming God, Bob - it's only a chimney!' Eddie brushes faster, then slips back a bit on the slope we're both standing on. He kicks something and it moves under the snow.
'It's a roof slate!' I bend down and wipe the snow away from something else that's grey - and realise we're on someone's roof.
'Where in God's name are we?' Eddie asks, stands back and slips a little. 'Whoa!'
Someone's trying to raise a skylight window from under him.
A deep man's voice from below demands to know,
'Hey, who's up there playing football on my roof? D'you mind, I'm trying to get some kip!''
' What, at three in the afternoon? Sorry!' Eddie looks into the face of a man we can't see the body of below chest height. He might be six-foot-six for all we know, and ex-Marines.
'I should bloody well hope so! What are you doing here, anyway? I thought they'd closed the road!'
'Maybe they should have done', Eddie has pulled off one glove and scratches his head. 'Where are we, anyway?'
'This is 'The Jolly Sailors' public house, mate', the man tells us, 'and I'm the licensee, Harry Franks. Right now I feel like Harry Houdini! I wish I was, then I'd be able to get away from here!''
'The Jolly Sailors - ' Eddie repeats, and gapes at Mister Franks.
'Aye. The wife and daughter went to Newcastle days ago to get presents for my birthday. That was yesterday', Harry Franks tells us. 'Toasted myself with a tumbler-full of Bell's. Then I went to sleep - next thing I know you're clambering about on my roof'.
'What, they went a day ago and it's got this bad already?!' Eddie's a master of understatement.
'No, they went three days ago and my birthday was yesterday'. Mister Franks looks at me and asks, 'Where did you get him from?'
'Oh, he works with me', I calmly answer and suck in my cheeks.
'Better come inside and get warm', we're invited.
'Hadn't I better get the car out of the way?' I ask, pointing at the Austin Cambridge across the way.
'Go on then, I'll keep the skylight open. I can't open any doors, as they're all snowed up. Solid walls of ice and snow down below. Can't see that much even out of the upstairs windows, either'.
Thus said he and Eddie disappear down through the skylight. I meanwhile struggle to steer the car out of the way. Finally I feel it's parked out of harm's way, and slip and slide back over the road. There won't be much traffic anyway - I hope. I also hope there'll be a snowplough soon!
Downstairs Harry points to a glass on the bar,
'That's yours, Bob'.
When I look questioningly at Eddie, he tells me we've been introduced in my absence,
'As he told us his name, i thought it only right I should tell him ours. Drink up, Bob, this malt's good - what's the brand?'
Back to normal again... for the time being
Based on fact
This story is based on a real adventure related to me by a friend of the family, a sewing machine salesman whose daily routine revolved around travel between Teesside and the surrounding districts. Often he had to cross the eastern edge of the North Yorkshire Moors to Whitby to follow up sales - this was the early days of after sales service. This winter (1962-63) showed how far after sales might entail going.
Get around the North Yorkshire Moors the easy way, even easier. Look around, know where to go, how to go and where to stay. It might seem small to a Texan or someone from, say Oklahoma but you can still get lost - easily. This book will keep you from losing your way in unfamiliar surroundings. Enjoy!
© 2011 Alan R Lancaster