Kirkby Lonsdale

I really really want a Raspberry Ruffle but I am scared it’s a trap. Above the fireplace of the Royal Hotel are two incongruous jars glistening with foil wrapped chocolates. But are they for the hoi polloi off the street to help themselves to, or for the residents of the hotel only, those stalwart Daily Telegraph reading denizens with cars too young for them and clothes too old for them? Or are they for mere decoration, somewhat at odds with the expensive quirkily tasteful wallpaper, the Country Life magazines, the antique wood, and the designer hand gel in the toilets? (The toilets alone in which I would be more than happy to spend a mini-break in)

The Royal Hotel was a wreck last time we were here-now money has recreated it in to a far more glamorous and tasteful pastiche of its past, where one can feel history but not its rats, poverty and fleas whilst sipping a triple hot chocolate, glass of champagne or whilst delicately nibbling upon a cupcake. I hate cupcakes. So self knowingly kitsch and ‘treaty’, they shriek  ‘ooh, aren’t I naughty!’  All style over substance. Anyway. I loudly yearn for a Raspberry Ruffle then go to the toilet to play with bamboo hand lotion hoping that when I get back my boyfriend will have heroically braved all for me and lolloped up to the sweet jars and retrieved one like the Milk Tray man leaping into the Twin Towers to rescue a coffee crème from the inferno for his PMT struck girlfriend. He hasn’t and I die a little inside.

Indeed Kirkby Lonsdale itself is a glorious pastiche of the past with all the nasty unsanitary bits wiped out. There are independent shops galore selling expensive fanciness, the obtaining of a life style along with your pencil drawing of a dancing hare and some organic truffles. It’s Cath Kidson, pastels, blazers and dogs. Jolly white haired women come here to walk and have nice tea. It’s all very splendid in this bright spring morning. There is not a single eyesore to be seen, not a solitary piece of graffiti about someone being a slag, just grey centuries old stone, daffodils, nice cakes and fancy soaps.

I suspect if I lived here I might hate everybody, they would hate me but we would hate ever so civilly maybe through letters in the local paper and steely gazes. There are placards shouting No! to proposed nasty evil wind turbines outside sweet little cottages which are probably owned by people who reside there thrice a year-I want to cheer the solitary handmade ‘yes to the turbines ‘placard. Then see the flash Landrover outside. I still admire their tenacity though. And love the irony of the fact there is a new nuclear power station being propositioned without much hassle only up the road in less picturesque and far less moneyed Heysham.

In the bakery, an American woman is demanding ‘sticky pudding’. When politely shown the locally famous Cartmel sticky toffee pudding in foil trays behind her, she informs the staff she does not want ‘ in a can’ and repeats her request. We buy cheese and onion pie and cake. It is good.

There is a man playing piano in the Churchmouse cheese shop.  Not even in Bath, do cheese shops feature pianos. I would be lying if I said this was an undiscovered gem of a piano featuring cheese shop and delicatessen- yellowing pages from the Independent and Guardian proclaim its glory-and being given free samples of brie, mint hummus and wine makes me add my tiny voice to its praise. It all creates a wonderful sense of well being, a sense of cosseting, an unreal set of expectations until I realise two days later I really can’t afford crackers featuring dried porcini mushrooms.

Even death comes picturesque and darling here. The graveyard is littered with daffodils, benches, the aforementioned jolly old ladies with white hair (should I be such a age, I would not enjoy visiting graveyards but run screaming from them with a sense of terror ) and informative signs and plaques. The gravestones themselves seem positively whimsical and you have to try really hard on this sunny day to conjure up images of splintered coffins, yellow bones and the agonising deaths and brief lives these dead residents actually suffered with not a organic French brie in sight. -’Ahh look, this person dies of Asiatic cholera, oh look, a butterfly!’ The small cottages they all squeezed in, gave birth in, died in are now Farrow and Balled, minimalist quaint and do not belong to the minimum waged of the village anymore.  I suspect few people here can live on minimum wage; they have all had to leave to find work and a less quaint affordable place to live.

The enticingly named Devils Bridge is sadly also not dark and macabre. Although the toilets are. The English have stripped off in the first hot day of the year and motored here to eat bacon butties and ice-cream and look at nature from the safe confines of near the car. We step into the wild blue yonder (albeit with a map of the walk) and I am smug until terrified by an inquisitive cow. The two and a half mile walk to Whittington is pleasant but be warned that you have to walk through a stream, a quite pleasing sensation unless you realise you are wearing shoes that cost nearly as much as the crackers.

The Dragons Head at Whittington is an actual old fashioned as opposed to a fake old fashioned pub – there is no chalkboard advertising a starter of cheese and redcurrant tart but a haphazard clutter of pub deitrus like bad paintings, old brass and chipboard. It is pretty and quaint without the contents having being bought wholesale from an auction and replaced in the same pub but with stripped pine floorboards and a sense of irony. Soup is two quid a bowl and there is a post office surprisingly crushed in a corner. I like this idea. I could happily queue to pay a cheque in if I could also have a house double.  It is not the friendliest of pubs – they are talking about the purchase of bridles and The Grand National and I dare not ask if the soup of the day is vegetarian.

Walking back to along the Lune riverbank, and the footpath crosses a horseracing track, incongruously alone in the heart of the countryside. We too walk back completely alone; everyone else has come to admire the countryside from afar nestled in the expensive cosiness of Kirkby Lonsdale, the motorbikes drowning out the birdsong.  We go back to the Royal Hotel to wait for our bus and I stare at the Raspberry Ruffles above the fireplace and hopelessly yearn for raspberry flavoured coconut in waxy dark chocolate and for actual real life to really be like this.

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