Posted: 5/11/2008


      My friend BESSIE is 47 years old and has a couple of older sisters, DOROTHY and EDITH, both 59 ,and all find it difficult to get up hills as fast as they used to. Yesterday I spent the day in the Yorkshire Dales, up to my favourite Dale, Wensleydale, with Bessie.

      Bessie is green, and is a bus, one of three in the Wensleydale Vintage Tour Bus Company, lovingly looked after by Chris Bulmer from his garage near Ripon. Bessie is a 1961 Bristol MW 208 YVK lime green 45 seat bus saved from the scrap yard after a life with Eastern National with a Gardner 5HLW engine and a 5 speed manual box. Dorothy is bright red and a 1949 Bristol L5G formerly with United, and Edith, the same age, is a twin bus, ex Lincolnshire Transport, and also green.

     I sat up front across from Chris, the driver, on a one hour drive through the Dales, past dry-stone walls, fields of bright yellow rape seed flowers, green fields of winter wheat, heather covered grouse moors, hundreds of flocks of sheep, Wensleydale, with their soft, lustrous wool, and other types, Guernsey, Hereford and Dexter cows and many pheasants and a multitude of other birds, up and down dales and over narrow bridges and rivers such as the Ure, to Leyburn, main town of Mid Wensleydale. I then walked a mile or so past the tiny train station for the Wensleydale Railway to the little village of HARMBY, and the Spennithorne and Harmby Sports Association football field and pavilion. FERRAND PARK is cut into the hill with natural banks on two sides.

   It was a glorious sunny day and the site of the finals of four age groups of the Wensleydale Junior Football League.  These Dales villages are not very big, so they play 7 a side, with a squad of 11 or so lads. I had missed the U10 boys final in which Catterick had beaten Spennithorne 3-1, to see the most exciting final U 16's, in which purple jerseyed  Middleham won 3-2 over Catterick. The winners had 2 goals from Johnothon Wilkinson (he spelt it), and the other from Ryan Gaze.  On the bank the mums were selling refreshments-a cup of tea for 50p, a bacon butty for one pound, hot dogs, ice cream, crisps. Behind them are a couple ancient games patches. Some old guys were playing Quoits, like horse shoes, and there was a French style Boules or Pentaque area. Across the field a couple sheep were munching, oblivious to the action, and lots of wild flowers, including buttercups and daisies, and a narrow babbling brook.

    Bob Fairborough is the enthusiastic live-wire behind Cup Final Day, assisted by Gary Acton and Mike Russell. The other 2 finals had Catterick beating Spennithorne 3-1 in Under 12's and Spennithorne, who had made it to all 4 finals, winning 1-0 over Hawes in U 14's boys final. The league and cup are sponsored by Gilsan Sports who have sports shops in nearby Leyburn, and in Richmond.

   "There wasn't much for local kids to do so we keep improving the league. Before they just used to play friendly matches, and we have started 2 new girls leagues." said Bob, between his duties of giving speeches, presenting cups, trophies and medals.  There aren't that many flat places to build a football field in the villages. The Catterick manager told me they had received a $500,000 grant from government and Football Foundation sources to improve and level their field for the future.

    I went back up the hill to Leyburn, a very busy tourist haven,with its 3 cobbled stoned squares, and popped into the Kings Head, ordered a pint of ice cold Bulmer's cider and sat down with a room full of Manchester United supporters to watch the first half of the EPL title decider Wigan vs United from the JJB stadium. I chatted with MU fan Roland Terry and watched Ronaldo take the lead with a penalty before half-time, when I had to walk to the Market Square and catch Bessie for the ride back to Ripon.

    " A lot of us support Middlesborough, Darlington (the nearest league club), Leeds United, but recently Man United have been 'our team'.   One of the U14 Spennithorne cup winning boys showed up in his red replica jersey, along with his dad.  Earlier I watched the last few minutes of Hull City and their 2-0 first leg victory at  Watford. One of the Hull City players' brothers was with his mates in the bar and pleased about that away win, and The Tigers chances in the return at the KC Stadium in a few days, and a trip to Wembley for The Championship play-off final.