May brings sunshine and blossom to Derbyshire. And cyclists. You can’t move at the moment for straining buttocks, heaving thighs and bulging calves bent on gaining a summit without getting off and milking it.
Middle-aged men in Lycra love our hilly landscape. One MAMIL I know has some spectacular bicycling outfits including a Union Jack in clinging Lycra. He sported it when the Queen last came to Derbyshire and what she made of it is anyone’s guess. My brother is also cycling-mad and in six years has gone from being plump with a reasonable head of hair to skinny and completely bald. Perhaps it’s the helmets.
I had little thought of joining these nyloned knights of the road until the last school holidays. They were so long that one day, in desperation, I found myself marching the children down to the local bike shop and blowing a fortune on a couple of the latest models complete with some of the trimmings (one can never get them all, they are infinite).
In the back of my mind were memories of my own childhood in West Yorkshire. My brother and I spent vacations cycling round Sowerby Bridge and Luddendenfoot to visit our grandmother. Besides teaching us self-reliance and familiarising us with amazing place names, our exertions had the much more important advantage, from the parental point of view, of making us exhausted and keen to go to bed early.
Needless to say, my mother and father never cycled with us. But that was not an option for me. The end of our drive emerges on to a steep bend and the children have limited road sense. I brushed the cobwebs from my mountain bike, pumped up my tyres and struggled after them up Thigh-Buster Hill, bitterly regretting the whole enterprise.
But then we found ourselves on the moortop in the sunshine, along with ospreys, larks and an enormous buzzard. Then came the long, glorious descent into Beeley, followed by the run along the flat and through deer-studded Chatsworth park. While I’m ruling out Union Jack Lycra, I might get into this cycling thing after all.
My husband grew up in a tiny West Country village and as we were passing near recently we decided to drop in. The string of houses along a lane was, in Jon’s day, a pretty, if unexceptional place. No-one – apart from the exciting Seventies author who lived in the manor and drove Morgans – was rich. Otherwise there was little financial or social difference between the village’s private dwellings and those in the ‘council houses’.
The heart of the village was and is the thatched pub into which we had booked ourselves for the night. Jon and his brothers, when small boys, used to nip down here and buy sweets through a hatch.
Here, too, it was that my father-in-law, a Scot with an eye for a bargain, bought some Jersey cow’s livers from a local farmer as food for the family Labrador. A sack of slimy offal duly arrived, which Jon was forced to spend several hot summer days cooking in a borrowed boiler. The pigment turned the dog bright orange and my husband has hated liver ever since.
Following this high point in its existence the pub closed and for some years went to rack and ruin. It was recently rescued by a collective of locals who have restored it to some distance beyond its former glory. What used to be spit and sawdust is now a sage-and-beige gastropub.
As we entered, a fearful front-of-house blonde, boho-chic to the fingertips in her Sweaty Betty trackpants, looked at us over her power-glasses as if we were something nasty on her Converses.
“Shut the door!” she barked before resuming a conversation with an old lady so grand she made the late Queen Mother look common. Only after she had swept out did Sweaty Betty take us to our expensive, tasteful rooms and hector us on the complex key protocol. It was all rather terrifying.
Nor was it an isolated incident. Our walk through the village next morning was accompanied by the Ocado van seeking out the locale’s Waitrose Onliners. A plutocrat in a shiny car turned into the drive of an under-construction oligarch mansion. By way of contrast, the formerly neat ‘council houses’ seemed to have become exaggeratedly scruffy, as if in defiance as well as acknowledgement of a yawning social gap. Things had changed.
And nowhere more so than at my husband’s former home along the lane. The house, formerly ‘High Croft’, was now something else altogether. The shiny new sign stood by the garden entrance; hidden in the rubble at its base were two broken, rotting bits of wood. Jon saw painted letters and recognised the ‘HI’ and ‘FT’ of the old house name. It was like the ‘Rosebud’ moment in Citizen Kane.
P S Hope you enjoy the new images of the garden in spring, in uncharacteristic Derbyshire full sunshine. The little figures are in my greenhouse, my centre of operations as the moment apart from my writing hut.