Heathcliff and the Villagers

I called out to Heathcliff, but he wasn’t there. Alone, walking through a pasture, dodging sheep pellets, in northern England, I thought of the famed character who once roamed this part of the world. You see, I was pretending to be Cathy, Heathcliff’s love and obsession, before her tragic demise. I was the beautiful, young Catherine, frolicking in the fields, surrounded by nature…and sheep, lots of sheep. I must admit they were handsome creatures, as in just shampooed and set, fluffy and seemingly clean.

If you remember in last week’s blog, I arrived to the Penrith train station and was whisked away by an eccentric stranger named Ivan, a scholar of culinary history and an advocate of Agnes B.’s patented ice cream machine. He drove me through the rolling, green hills of Cumbria, dazzling me with details of his jelly mold collection and then dropped me off at a desolate house on a large sheep farm. This is the part of the story I didn’t tell you before.


Crake Trees Manor

Crake Trees Manor


I was met by Ruth, the innkeeper, who showed me to my room, chatting away in a language that resembled English, but couldn’t have been. I strained my ears and linguistic ability to understand that she was suggesting I have dinner at the local pub—there was no other place within miles.

“Are you scared to go alone?” Ruth asked.

“No. Should I be?” I replied.

“Here’s a torch then. Head east across the pasture until you see the church steeple. Go now. Don’t dawdle.”

I followed her instructions, looking for Heathcliff along the way. I planned to enter the pub and make fast friends, but when I opened the door and everyone turned to stare, just like the sheep had, I quietly retreated to a corner and a delicous plate of shepard’s pie.


New Friends in Cumbria

New Friends in Cumbria


I returned home in the dark. The torch was dim and the sheep babbled, making me jump in fear. Heathcliff was still nowhere in sight and I had pressing questions; such as do sheep charge innocent girls when no one is watching?

The following day the Victorian cookery ensued. I was happy among my people, churning ice cream, roasting “joints,” and spiddling coal. My infatuation with Ivan was growing stronger, especially when he let my touch his first edition copy of Queen Victoria’s wedding recipes.  If you remember, I was mesmerized by his intellect, his wit, and the way he trimmed puff pastry with an 18th century pastry cutter.


Ivan's mold collection

Ivan’s mold collection


That night, I returned to the pub, determined to partake in village life.

“You were in here last night,” a man pointed out when I stepped up to the bar.

“Yes. I was,” I answered, confidently.

“Ok then,” he replied. He bought me a pint of beer and asked me how I had come to be in the village. When I said I was staying at a neighboring sheep farm, he laughed and said, “Why didn’t you tell us that last night?” I was suddenly accepted and introduced to the chef, the waitress and the neighbors. They had been just as curious about my story, as I was about their’s.

I spent the evening learning about animal husbandry and foot and mouth disease. It started in the area, at a farm down the road. When I asked what it was like, the men told me about their sorrow, their grief at having to put down their herds. It destroyed their way of life at the time. They were sheep farmers, their fathers and grandfathers had been sheep farmers, and then, all of a sudden, there were no sheep. Their stories were heartbreaking. At the center of it had been the pub, the place where they could met and share their pain. At least, there, they knew they were not alone.


Crake Tree Farm

Crake Tree Farm


I said goodbye to the pristine sheep-dotted fields, missing the scenery, but not the smell and returned to London. I met a friend, a hunky Scotsman, who was once my flatmate in Venice (I’m saving that story for the book). When he suggested Indian food, I gladly agreed, but later, when he suggested lamb curry, I said no–chicken. I no longer ate lamb, nor did I believe that Heathcliff was still roaming the moors.


Neighborhood Cows, also Pristine and Seemingly Clean

Neighborhood Cows, also Pristine and Seemingly Clean


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