Sunday, 17 April 2011

Blue Pigs

Big and small are relative terms, as anyone who has read Gulliver's Travels will tell you. But even in England, the countryside is big. Very big. Londoners like me feel their eyeball muscles exercising in unaccustomed ways as they focus on massive distant hills for the first time in months. Also, the countryside contains much fewer things. In the city, you are bombarded every second with logos, signs, warnings, adverts, dangers and enticements, whereas in the countryside all you will see for miles will be a hill, a dry-stone wall, some trees and a lot of sky.

We were walking from Long Preston to Settle, a journey of about 4 miles along the south-western edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Passing near a couple of farms, the footpath needed some navigation. I was showing off, as usual, making myself out to be far more adept with a map and compass than I really am. At one point, we clearly missed the right route, as we found ourselves deposited at the edge of a muddy field. We tiptoed across it, knowing we'd gone wrong, and headed over the gate at the far corner.

In the next field we had clearly come to a dead end, as the gate was tied firmly shut. An enclosure in the corner held a dozen or so pigs with distinctive white bands around their middles. We admired the pigs for a few minutes, before we noticed the farmer come riding up on his quadbike. 'You two look like you need help.' he said. He was a magnificent Yorkshireman, in full regalia: cloth cap, waterproof parka over tweed jacket, and a barely comprehensible accent. And he put the word 't', meaning 'the', in places where you wouldn't expect to find it.

'See that t'oak up at t'top? The t'path leads up just above t'there. Y'can't see it from where we are, but there's t'a wall, leads across round t'neighbours. There's a t'blue clapperboard barn, aim for that.'
'I knew we'd gone wrong when we got to that ploughed field.'
'Ploughed? That's pigs.'

Of course it was pigs. They don't grow crops in this part of the world, and even if they did the field wouldn't be ploughed at this time of year. What an idiotic thing to say. Oh, just shoot me, I thought. I clearly have such a lamentably poor understanding of country life, that my trespassing over your land can only be reckless and damaging. No wonder farmers hate ramblers. Just pull out your shotgun and shoot the trespasser. You have every right. I know you have a shotgun.

At that point, three boys aged between about eight and twelve came scampering down the hill from the farmhouse, all wearing enormous wellies.

'My boys'll show you.' And he kindly (but without smiling) let us climb over his gate to take a short-cut across his back lawn. We made our way tentatively onwards, having only understood 50 per cent of his directions, but congratulating ourselves on having discovered an Authentic Yorkshireman, which we ticked off our List of Things to See in Yorkshire.

We'd actually only been about 100 yards away from where we needed to be, but we'd been lost. In London, if you are 100 yards from where you need to be, you are not lost. But in the countryside a mistake of that magnitude means potentially back-tracking for the best part of a mile. The scale of the landscape gives you the false impression that you can be approximate in your navigation, that, for example, so long as you carry on in a reasonably straight line along a particular valley you will reach the town at the end. Not so. You need to pay very close attention to every feature along the way, particularly the gradient, to ensure you're on the right path. Realising this made the ultra-assiduous documentation of the hills by walkers like Wainwright and others more understandable. The importance of taking note of little details against a vast and unchanging backdrop produces one of those disparities of scale that forces the mind in two different directions at once. That's what is inspiring.

We had a bite of lunch in Settle, then did the slightly arduous but rewarding walk over Attermire Scar to Malham. At The Lister Arms in Malham, looking for the number of a cab company to take us back to Long Preston, we found a flyer advertising the Blue Pig Company. There's a pretty good value restaurant in Settle, called simply Ravenous. We'd eaten there the previous evening, and seen 'Yorkshire Blue Pig Black Pudding' on the menu as a starter. It was Dani who made the connection. We'd assumed at the time that 'Blue Pig' was the name of the breed, but now it was obvious that it was the name of the company based at Mearbeck Farm. The pigs we'd seen earlier in the day when we got lost had a blueish tint to them, but they weren't just the same breed of pigs as were for sale in black pudding form. They were exactly the same pigs from the same place: a cross, according to the website, between a Gloucester Old Spot and a Saddle Back. And there also on the website was a photo of Anthony Bradley, the Yorkshireman who helped us on our way, the latest in five generations of Bradleys farming at Mearbeck, and his sons may be the sixth. Small world.

We put in an online order for some pork belly, black pudding and sausages from him, by way of a thank you.

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