Tuesday, 3 August 2010

England's Last Wilderness - Rookhope and the land beyond


When the newspapers start up about the top end of Weardale over to  Alston they call it 'England's Last Wilderness'.  I quite like the idea, it reeks of romance and screaming warriors. There is a wonderful book by John Marsden, photography ( breathtaking ) by Nic Barlow, called The Illustrated Border Ballads and in it a ballad called  The Rookhope Ryde.

The book is all about the raids made along the borders when the reivers would come down and steal cattle. It is a huge and complicated history. Rookhope was very often on the receiving end of such raids and by other Englishmen too and the ballad tells the story of one particular raid, it's told in verse and I wish I could hear it sung or recited.

My family on my mother's side is from that area, I had cousins who lived in Rookhope and I can remember going to see them when we were small children. My uncle ran a haulage business from there. The story was that when he was a young man some relative died and left him a small amount of money, less than £40 and he started up a business. Of course forty pounds was worth more then but even before the second world war it wasn't that much but he managed.

He had a fleet of lorries which ran up and down the dale. They were green and were ERFs. My uncle always wore an ERF badge in his lapel.

My dad had lorries but only two and they didn't have his name on them. We were mortified that my uncle's lorries did and my dad's didn't.  One of my earliest memories is of travelling with one of my dad's lorry drivers. He was called Albert Golightly and his family came from Eastgate. I used to go with him when he took the lorry out on deliveries on Saturday mornings. I can remember being lifted into the cab and when I was bigger scrambling up the wheel arch on to the high seat. You can see everything from a lorry. It makes you feel powerful and the warm rumbling noise of the engine is bliss.

Some time ago I wrote a book about cars - well, actually about people and their relationships but the cars figured big time. I love cars, wagons, buses, motorbikes - anything which has an engine and takes to the road. My book was about the man who invented a family car, and the other man who rallied the car and about the girl they both cared for. It was a novel which was very dear to me because all my life we have been involved in cars. My dad used to work for the Ford Motor Company in Dagenham, my mother, my sister, my daughter and myself all had sports cars. I still have a little black Mazda MX5 and tear about with the hood down even on the coldest days.

I love motor racing, I used to go to Oliver's Mount in Yorkshire and watch the motorbikes when I was young. Agostini used to wear white leathers and Barry Sheene did wheelies coming up the final stretch and the smell of Castrol GTX, it means more to me than chocolate!


  1. Great post, Liz. Castrol better than chocolate though....

  2. Yes, Jan, I think I was a bit quick off the mark there.