There are a couple of scenes in A Very Private Murder that have the villagers up to no good in an apparently ancient stone circle in the grounds of Curzon House. And at midnight, too. The circle is not Neolithic, as first suspected, but probably early Victorian. In other words, it is a folly. The one in the photo (left) is much grander but is also a folly. Situated just outside Masham, it is worth a visit to anyone interested in such things but be warned: it is the very devil to find.
In The Judas Sheep Charlie drives over the Humber Bridge a couple of times. When built it was the biggest single-span bridge in the world, a title it held for 16 years. It now stands at number 5 but is still the largest bridge you are allowed to walk or ride a bicycle over. One fine summer’s day we decided to have a ride on the BMW to check it out, as we say. From where we lived it was a straight blast on the newly opened M62 extension. This is a motorway which goes nowhere, (well, Hull,) built to garner a few votes for the sitting MP, one Barbara Castle. It’s a toll bridge and Doreen, on the pillion, paid with a £10 note. When I saw the man hand her the change I set off at a sedate pace, taking in the view as much as possible. As soon as we reached the other side Doreen thumped me in the back and gestured for me to stop. She was holding her glove between her teeth and the change from the tenner in her ungloved hand. When she was more properly attired we came home at highly illegal speed on the deserted motorway. Bridge details: 2,220 metres single span suspension; opened to traffic 24 July 1981; saves a 50 mile round trip. The bike was a blue and silver 980cc BMW R100RS. Mrs Castle was re-elected.
This is the famous Ribblehead viaduct, on the spectacular Settle to Carlisle railway line. The viaduct features in Book III (“The Judas Sheep”) of Charlie’s adventures, although I changed the name to Batty Moss, which is the name of the moor, because I felt it had a more “Yorkshire” feel to it. The fellside just visible at the left-hand edge is the shoulder of Whernside, highest of the Yorkshire Three Peaks but not the highest point in the county. Back in 2005 I slipped on a patch of ice near the summit and broke my ankle. John helped me limp to the Hill Inn three miles away (and closed) while brave Dave hot-footed it to Ribblehead to fetch the car. Having my leg in plaster for six weeks proved to be a highly productive period in my literary career. It’s an ill wind and all that.
Here we have the main street in Heptonstall. The village had a brief brush with fame in the Sixties when it became a centre of attraction for the peace and love movement. P.J.Proby was one of the more famous inhabitants. Their first winter had them retreating to lower climes.
Doreen's great grandad Acroyd was the village bobby at Heptonstall, near Hebden Bridge, back in the early nineteenth century and is seen here on the right. (And no, Dennis, that's not me on the left.) The village boasts a cemetery with two churches overlooking it (one in ruins)and a Methodist chapel which is the oldest chapel in continuous use anywhere in the world. John Wesley preached there. Residents in the graveyard include the notorious coiners (a gang of gold coin fraudsters who were hanged at the York Knavesmire) and Sylvia Plath (poet and wife of ex-Poet Laureate Ted Hughes). It's a fascinating place which I used as a backdrop to a scene in "Limestone Cowboy".
In “Over the Edge” one of the story lines concerns the illegal trade in something called shahtoosh. It’s a vile trade and I was happy to put on my campaigning hat to help expose it in a small way. A number of readers emailed me to say they’d never heard of shahtoosh and I was beginning to wonder if I’d fallen for an April fool prank. Then, whilst in Turkey recently, I saw this stall in the market in Kusadasi. They are obviously counterfeit but this is in a bazaar which openly advertises “genuine fake” watches, etc. If you would like more info on shahtoosh may I recommend you read “Over the Edge”.
This is one of my favourite photographs. John encouraged me to start scrambling and thus began the most fun-filled part of my life. He is the most enthusiastic enthusiast I have ever known and was still competing on two wheels into his sixties. He and wife Marjory emigrated to Western Australia and started a new life there, heavily involved, of course , in the bike scene. Sometimes, on cold winter mornings, I wish I'd gone with them. We look unchacteristically solemn in this picture for some reason, but I guarantee it didn't last long. It looks like a dusty day, and we we were more used to mud. Ride safe, big fellow.
Where are we? God knows. However, Clive was on hand with his collection of gizmos and would soon have us pinned down to three decimal places. This was taken by Dave during the Elders' annual trudge around various high spots in the Lake District. Shorts appear to have been the order of the day, which is a pleasant change.
This shows a cosy corner in a typical English country pub. More and more are closing, for a variety of reasons (the economy, the smoking ban, the price of a pint) but the Elders are doing their patriotic duty to keep a few open. Here we have the full editorial team with me in the foreground looking rather pale. I can only surmise that it was my round. The other members have asked me not to name them, for security reasons. That's Social Security, but I know them as (from L to R) Phil, John, Dave, Clive and Dennis.
I gave up athletics, at which I was regarded as promising, and took up motorbike scrambling, at which I was fairly hopeless. But it was a lot more fun and didn't involve pushing ones self to the edge of exhaustion in training every night. Here I am at Surprise View, Otley, airborne but under perfect control. Sadly, I was probably lying last.
This is the view from Greenway, looking downstream towards Dartmouth.
In "Last Reminder" Charlie takes his then girlfriend, Annabelle, to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield, and later the story comes to a dramatic moonlit conclusion amongst the exhibits. The photo shows a little girl admiring a huge Henry Moore, worth about a million pounds. Or perhaps she's looking for bullet holes? (Photos by DPP)
In March (2010) we rented a flat for a week in Kingswear, Devon, overlooking the town towards the Dartmouth naval college on the other side of the valley. A few miles upstream in the village of Galmpton is Greenway, a fascinating house once owned by none other than Agatha Christie. It's all rather impressive; more so when you learn that this was only her summer residence. The grounds are spectacular, with a woodland walk that passes some of the biggest trees I've ever seen. We were there out of season but traffic waiting for the ferries is no doubt horrendous during holiday periods.
Local lad makes good. Here's one of Henry's, called "Spindle Piece". Mr Moore was born in nearby Castleford, more famous for its rugby players than its sculptors. We visited the park on a cold but bright day and had a memorable day out. Works by Barbara Hepworth and other, less well-known sculptors are on show and the whole park is a photographer's paradise.
Towards the end of January Dave, John and I decided it was a bit too cold to go walking so we took a train ride instead, to Saltaire, the model village founded by Sir Titus Salt and home of the 1853 Gallery.The gallery houses a collection of David Hockney's works and is a super place to spend an hour or three. One of the exhibits (not by Hockney) that caught my eye was this school desk. It is just like the one I sat at when I attended Cockburn High School, south Leeds, back in the fifties.Cockburn is more famous for the people who failed the entrance exam than it is for those who made it through. Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall didn't make it but Richard Hoggart (Author of "The Uses of Literacy" and father of Simon) did and is probably the school's principle alumnus. The old Edwardian building was demolished in the early seventies and I made a special trip to dance on the rubble. (Photo by DM)
In one of the earlier books (I think it is "Last Reminder") Charlie goes hareing off to Bridlington in search of an old lag who may be able to help him. Here's a photo from the archives. Can you remember where you were on the day Prince Charles married Diana? I can. We were given a day off work, so I organised an office fishing trip to Bridlington. It looks as if we had a good day, although I'm probably holding the photographer's catch as well as my own. Freshly caught cod = delicious.
John and Clive on Castle Rigg in the Lake District, June 2008. Charlie used to bring athlete Sonia Thornton up here as part of her training regime. Allegedly.
Isn't she a beauty! When Charlie Priest was part-formed in my head one possibility was that his main mode of transport would be a 1952 Vincent HRD motorcycle. I eventually decided to take a more popular route and gave him an E-type Jaguar. He's not an enthusiast - he inherited the car and quickly sold it - but the story ("The Picasso Scam")- demanded that he drove a desirable and recognisable vehicle, so the E-type it had to be. As soon as I saw that Morse drove a Jag I ditched it, although Morse's was "only" a MkII. On 11th August 1999 there was a total eclipse of the Sun, which would have been visible from much of England if it hadn't been for the ten-tenths cloud cover. Doreen and I ventured down to Cornwall in the hope of experiencing totality, but all we saw was a pale disk with a big bite taken out of it, and that for only a few seconds. However, we did see this E-type, and Doreen grabbed a couple of photos.
On Boxing Day I met up with Mick Pawson and Keith Harrison at Leeds Athletic Club's Christmas Handicap, held over two and a half miles in Harehills Park. In "Over the Edge" Charlie befriends an international runner called Sonia Thornton. My older brother, Ken, was a useful middle-distance runner and represented Great Britain in a couple of international marathons. I tried to follow in his footsteps, and was considered promising, but they were wrong. However, I did retain an interest in the sport and used this in the book. The photo shows a youthful me chasing the formation running duo of Arthur Cockroft and Bernard Gomersal in about 1956. Arthur was recently awarded an honorary degree for services to athletics. Bernard moved up a gear and started competing in ultra-marathons (over 50 miles), winning the prestigious Comrades' Marathon in South Africa in record time. It was good to see them all again.
Here we see Dennis and John demonstrating the standard mountaineer's pose, or SMP, with me in the foreground demonstrating the early stages of exhaustion.
This is from a couple of winters ago, after we'd had some freak weather conditions. It was freezing cold for a few days, without a breath of a breeze, and every branch, twig and leaf throughout the county became encased in a thick layer of frost, known as rime. The result was magical. We were on the Harewood estate, between Leeds and Harrogate. [Pronunciation note: The Royal Family, the BBC and posh locals pronounce it "Har-wood", but the rest of us say "Hair-wood".] Ornithologists please note that this is a great place for observing the red kite. (Photo by DM)
This was the perfect day. The Elders, augmented by Phil, did a cushy autumn walk near Kirkham Priory, in East Yorkshire. The bridge shown takes the road over the River Derwent at Kirkham. I remember from school geography that the Derwent rises relatively near the coast and then flows inland for twenty or thirty miles before tuning back seawards again. About two miles downstream from here is a weir and an old mill under restoration, but instead of a paddle wheel power is generated by a huge Archimedes screw. We were told that it can produce up to 30 kilowatts of electricity, which makes the mill self sufficient, with a bit left over to sell to the national grid. Afterwards we enjoyed a post prandial tipple in the local hostelry - the Stone Trough - which was very pleasant. (Photo by JC)
This is one from my youth, growing up in Middleton, Leeds, with Bluey, my pet pigeon. My parents couldn't afford a parrot for me so I had to make do with Bluey, although dad assured me he had some parrot blood in him. (That's Bluey, not dad.) At this age my ambitions were quite simple: leave school as soon as possible; own a pigeon loft with racing pigeons; become a speedway rider. I failed on all counts, but a character in one of the stories is a gold-smuggling speedway rider.
There's a scene in "Over The Edge" where Charlie is called to Nine Standards Rigg, in the northern-most corner of the Dales National Park, to rendezvous with a jogger who comes looming out of the rain and mist. I couldn't find a photo of the actual Rigg, but this was taken not too far away on Wild Boar Fell, Mallerstang Common. (Great names - wish I'd thought of them.) The riggs are presumably the piles of stones and these are similar, if smaller, than the ones at Nine Standards. Their origins are lost in antiquity and some believe they were built by the Romans, but that's probably fanciful. It's an atmospheric place, and, as Charlie says, there are ghosts up there.
Stoodley Pike features briefly in "Limestone Cowboy". The obelisk was originally built in 1814-15 to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon's armies at Leipzig and Waterloo. It fell down in 1856 but was promptly rebuilt, presumably using better cement. The base section is hollow, and a spiral staircase leads to a viewing platform about a quarter of the way up. There's very little natural light inside, and a few steps have to be taken in total darkness. It's worth the effort, though, for the extensive views across Calderdale, which is why Charlie was up there, with a telescope. (Photo by DM)
In February 1948 a Boeing B29 Superfortress en route from Scampton to Burtonwood failed to clear Bleaklow Hill in Derbyshire, killing all 13 crew. The photo shows the Elders at the debris field. It's a sad place, and well-named. I haven't asked him but I feel fairly sure that this is where Steve Booth found the inspiration for his excellent "Blood on the Tongue". Legend has it that since aviation began these modest hills have taken a toll of about 50 planes. (Photo by DM)
Dennis keeping a weather eye on me as I struggle up Robinson during an Elders' weekend in the Lakes in 2008. We then pressed on to Dale Head and I found it all rather tiring. The hills are definitely growing steeper and higher. I blame metrication. (photo by DM)
Enjoying a Singapore sling in the Writers' Bar, Raffles' Hotel. It's the only drink to have, even if it does cost an arm and a leg. Sadly, I wasn't struck by inspiration, only a mild hangover, but it was fun. (photo by DPP)
A scene in Book 13 takes place at Bempton Cliffs, on the Yorkshire coast, 3 miles north of Flamborough Head. As usual, I wrote the piece before I did the research. We set off to Bempton in fine spring sunshine but as we drove up Garrowby Hill the weather changed and we ran into a bank of fog. This lasted all the way to the coast and just about obliterated the cliffs. They are 400 feet high, but after about 30 feet they vanished into the gloom. The birds didn't mind, though. There were thousands of them, swooping and gliding into view and out again. Gannets were plentiful but we didn't see any puffins.
In October 2007 the Pontefract Astronomical Society pulled off a coup by persuading Al Bean, fourth man to walk on the Moon, to visit them and deliver a lecture. Al was a delightful speaker and happily signed my copy of Andrew Smith's wonderful 'Moondust'. [No offers, thank you.] In March 2008 the Society topped this by persuading none other than Buzz Aldrin, number two on the Moon, to address them. I could not afford Buzz's autograph but he shook hands for free and Doreen grabbed a couple of photographs.
I receive more queries about the tortoises' welfare than I do about my own. The photo shows them tucking in to a Waldorf salad. There's more about them elsewhere
On 24th April 2009 I had the pleasure of appearing at the Scarborough Literary Festival. I was in conversation with Simon Kernick, under the skilled chairmanship of Peter Guttridge, and it was a fun experience. We had what looked like a sell-out audience who laughed in all the right places, and at the book-signing afterwards I had a modest queue, which was a first. The weather was spring-like and Scarborough was at its best, making it a memorable weekend. The Festival was in its third year and it is a welcome addition to the festival scene. Highly recommended. http://www.scarboroughliteraturefestival.co.uk
The Elders Full Team: Dave Mason, Dennis Marshall, SP, John Crawford and Clive Kingswood. Several newly-retired friends have asked if they can join the Elders, but we politely point out that five is just a car full and suggest they put their names on the waiting list for the next vacancy... In case you are wondering, the Elders are the East Leeds Drinking, Eating and Rambling Society.
Posing infront of one of Charlie's early works, done in the style of Jackson Pollock. Paintings like this earn Charlie the good-natured derision of his colleagues, but does he care? No way.