Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Dovedale: who needs Switzerland?

In Pride and Prejudice, though Elizabeth Bennett’s visit to Derbyshire ultimately leads to far more, her initial aim is to see some of the beauty spots, such as Dovedale. And having just been there myself, I can vouch for its being worth the trip.

England doesn’t really do deep gorges encased in cliffs, but if you’re happy with gentle green slopes, woodland alternating with grassy banks and a river dancing down the middle, then Dovedale’s charm is for you.

The rich green that is the hallmark of the English countryside comes at a price, and we paid that price during our visit: it didn’t rain constantly but it did rain repeatedly. And when we got up on to the tops of the hills, it wasn’t just the view that was breathtaking but also the gale.

Still, the place is worth a little physical discomfort, and it’s easy enough to dress for the weather.

Janka wrapped up warm like the rest of us

A plaque at the entrance to the valley points out that Byron claimed, ‘I can assure you there are things in Derbyshire as noble as Greece or Switzerland’. As it happens, the river Dove is the border of Derbyshire, so half of Dovedale is in Staffordshire. But, as we were told in the nearby pub where we had lunch, the best bits of Derbyshire are in Staffordshire.

The pub, by the way, was just as impressive as the dale. It served outstandingly good home cooking, nothing out of a packet or a tin, nothing out of a microwave. Delicate, sophisticated. Far better that most pubs. And a great place to take our French visitors, demonstrating that you can, despite the increasingly discredited myth, eat well in England.

So who needs Swizterland? Dovedale has it all. Except perhaps the Alps. And the skiing. And Lakes Geneva, Thun, Zurich or Lucerne. Or the cities of Geneva, Zurich, Thun, Lucerne, to say nothing of Basel. Or the compliant banking system. Or the pharmaceutical industry. Or fondue or Rösti or perch fillets. Or the decent weather.

Postscript that’s only vaguely related: Misty’s misfortune

Before we set out for Dovedale, I let Misty out and then forgot to get him back in, so he spent the whole day outside. That wouldn’t have been so bad except for the fireworks. There’ve been a lot of them recently.

Sensible countries have their firework days in the summer: the US on the fourth of July, the French on the fourteenth, the Swiss on the first of August. In England, our fireworks celebrate the moment when we tortured to death Guy Fawkes for having tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament, an offence for which most people today would probably have let him off with a caution. As he was arrested on the fifth of November, we have the party when it’s cold, generally wet and miserable.

Because they’re so close, there’s a tendency to conflate Guy Fawkes day with Halloween, so we have fireworks on the 31st of October too. What’s more, people buy their fireworks early and, having bought them, can’t resist the temptation of letting some of them off immediately. So we get firework explosions pretty well every night for two weeks from late October.

I don’t mind, but the cat and the dog hate it. They cower in a corner behind the furniture when they’re indoors. But poor old Misty wasn’t even able to do that. He was out there in the dark, the cold, the rain with no protection from the bangs.

My wife Danielle looked at me as though I was something that Misty might have dragged in, had he been in at all.

We periodically went outside, calling ‘Misty! Pss, pss, pss. Come on Misty!’ He does come when called, usually – all of Danielle’s cats have responded to their names, but with Misty it’s more hit and miss than with the others. He didn’t show up.

By about ten at night, with a crescendo in the firework noise, Danielle decided to head out looking for him. Her demeanour towards me was that of someone who is very deliberately not saying what is on her mind about people who leave cats outside when they should be indoors. She took Janka to help with the search, although when you say ‘Where’s Misty?’ to Janka all she really does is rush around barking, without actually finding him, unless he’s right under her nose.

Danielle had been gone only a few minutes when there was a mew at the back door. When we opened it, Misty shot in and immediately demanded food. Once fed, he headed upstairs to find a bed that met his demanding standards of a place to rest from the day’s exertions. Cool as cucumber. Bold as brass.

Misty relaxes

Meanwhile Danielle was out there frantically searching. However, I had no more success standing on the doorstep and calling ‘Danielle! Pss, pss, pss. Come on Danielle!’ than when I tried it with Misty.

But of course there was a happy ending. Danielle and Janka came back eventually and anxiety was replaced by relief, frowns by smiles. And I stored away a valuable lesson: make sure the cat’s indoors before setting off for the joys of England’s answer to Switzerland.

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