29th September 1944: Whitby - Edinburgh

Terrible storm all night long, pouring rain, and howling, shrieking wind.  Still raining hard at 8 o’clock, but cleared up so that at 10 I could make a start.  Set off to go to Guisborough, with affectionate farewells.  Poor old Aunt Kit said: “Don’t be so long before you come again, or we shan't be here, you know.”  Sounded so sad.

Got up onto the moorland, and found the wind almost full against me, and great dark clouds and trailing streams of rain over the Cleveland Hills.  Saw a sign-post pointing to Sleights, where grandfather was born, and looked back to a tremendous view of the Abbey and the old church, bathed in sunshine, clouds rushing overhead, the town quite invisible in the deep valley.

A man came out of a farmyard leading a red-heifer on a long rope, while a tall blonde girl in blue dungarees drove the animal from behind.  At almost every farm gate along the road there were milk churns waiting to be collected.  Away to the right one could sometimes see glimpses of the blue sea, wrinkled with white wave-crests.  Lovely rolling country, the hill-tops covered with bracken, and the lower slopes planted with potatoes or sugar beet.  Quite a lot of corn standing traved.  Had it not been for the fearful gale it would have been a delightful day.

Near a side turning to Ughthorpe saw a very early railway carriage in a garden, used as a shed.  The place names on the sign posts seemed very Scandinavian – Ugthorpe, Newholm, Glaisdale, (where they say there are several Rusdales living) and Lealholm.  Here and there the mounds of tumuli rose up among the bracken.

As I battled on up to the top of the Moors, a Fordson tractor belonging to the North Riding War Agricultural Committee came along hauling a fuel-trailer.  The driver stopped as soon as he saw me, and offered me a lift to the top, so off we went, cycle on the front of the trailer, self perched on top, with a wonderful view of the rolling moors, little farms set far back from the road, with rough winding tracks leading to them.  In some of the fields potato spinners were at work, with gangs of Land Girls.  The driver kept on shouting back to me, pointing out the features of various farms that we were passing, but what with the wind, the noise of the tractor, and his Yorkshire accent I did not understand much of what he said, so we ate apples instead.

I had to leave near Danby Low Moor, as he was turning off to Lealholm, and now found the wind so violent that it was almost impossible to walk, much less cycle.  Began to feel very ill.  Struggled on past Scaling Dam, with nothing but a lonely inn here and there, and the lattice towers of a radio-location station over towards the left.  No traffic except an occasional car or lorry every five miles or so.  Came upon a steam-roller, with a trailer and a water-cart, by holding onto the back of which I managed to get a tow up to the top of Freeborough Hill, while a long convoy of Bren-gun carriers suddenly appeared and roared past.  Saw a War Agricultural Committee combine harvester, the crew of men and girls sitting under the lea eating their dinners.  Found a sheltered stack and ate my own sandwiches, but had nothing to drink.

At last, after swooping down a long, steep, winding hill, came in sight of Guisborough, with the great, grey arches of the abbey rearing among the trees just outside the town.  Passed several young miners, wearing pit helmets.  Saw very little of the town, except the one wide main street, as I found there was a train leaving at 2 o’clock, in less than half-an-hour.  Felt very ill.  Quite unable to make up my mind whether to go to Middlesborough and then to Durham, see the Wall and go back to Colchester on Sunday night, or whether to cut and run to Edinburgh.  After all, I could travel back on Sunday night, and still be in time for the meeting.

Guisborough Station is rather like a miniature edition of Paddington, with a high bow roof, but there is only one platform, forming a terminus.  Trains coming in from Whitby have to back in from a junction half a mile away.

The train was a little late, but we got away at 2.15 through the flat meadows to Middlesborough, dirty, dilapidated town.  Hour and a half to wait there.  Station roof was half off, and there were ruined buildings nearby.  This was done in a daylight raid, 2 years ago, when a Newcastle train was caught standing in the station and a lot of people killed.  Middlesborough claims to be the first town in England to be bombed, in July 1940.

Decided to write a card to Maidstone, warning him that I was “delayed” on the Yorkshire Moors and would very likely be unable to get to the meeting on Monday.  Bought a picture post-card at the bookstall, and went outside into the dirty, granite paved streets to post it.  At once felt a sense of relief.  Had a cup of tea, very strong, no sugar, cost 3d.

Train left about 4, and dragged its way slowly up the coast of Durham, through Hartlepool, where some remote great uncle of mine was Lord Mayor so many years ago.  Glimpses here and there of the grey North Sea, beating wildly on the cliffs, clouds of sea birds rising and falling.  Went through Seaham Harbour, a horrible looking little town.  Saw several bomb holes alongside the line, and wretched buildings here and there.  Next, Sunderland, miles of dirty houses and dockside cranes high above them.  Fog coming in from the sea.  The voices of the people on the stations becoming harsher and more foreign.  Impossible to understand what the porters are saying.

Then Gateshead, over the Tyne, and into Newcastle at 5 o’clock.  Changed here, and another hour to wait.  Went out to get some tea, across a wide granite paved street, full of trams, buses and railway horses.  Had a cup of tea and a small paste sandwich for 9d.

Considerable trouble finding from which platform the Edinburgh train would leave.  Walked up and down for a while, and saw the Stephenson Locomotive.  What a pity we have no national railway museum where all these things could be properly housed – the trains at Barrow-in-Furness, for example.  The Railway Museum at York, (which is at present shut), is really only for the old North Eastern Railway.  There is of course a lot of stuff in the Science Museum, but the subject deserves a better exhibition than that, considering that the British were the first inventors of passenger railways.

Edinburgh train at last came in half an hour late.  Plenty of room, and got a seat in a carriage with three women schoolteachers and an RAF man, all going home to Berwick.  The teachers were talking about the noise of firing late last night, which I heard at Whitby, and one of them said: “Well, I expected the sirens to go any minute, and so did my sister.  She said to me, ‘I’m going into the Anderson, to be ready,’ but I wouldn’t.  Of course, it’s worse for her, with the children.”  And so even here, where there have never been serious raids, and where there has been hardly an alarm for a year, fear is never absent.

The train went on further and further north, with the sun sinking behind some low tree capped hills.  Endless acres of potatoes.  Still a few fields of traved corn, and one or two not yet cut.

Although the black out restrictions have been so much eased, and signposts were replaced nine months ago, the railway stations here are still black as hell and quite nameless, so that it is impossible to tell where the train is, and equally impossible to understand the shouts of the porters.

It was quite dark by the time we crossed the Tweed and ran into Berwick yards.  The three school-teachers and the RAF man became quite excited, crying “Here we are in Scotland!  Home at last!”  Apparently as far as they were concerned, the town and country of Berwick upon Tweed ranks as being within the Kingdom of Scotland.

Our train now became to all intents a Scottish “local”, and stopped at every station, people getting in and out continually.  Could understand practically nothing of the conversations.  After some time, seeing a lot of lights nearby, I asked a fat man sitting near me, speaking (I thought) very distinctly: “Are we running into Edinburgh?”, but was rather disconcerted when he pulled his watch from his pocket and simply remarked: “It wants three minutes to half past 9,” apparently under the impression that I had asked him the time.

At last we did reach Edinburgh, at quarter to 10, running past great blocks of tenements, with their windows glowing, and rows of bright street lamps stretching away into the distance.  No one would imagine that the German airforce was only 500 miles away.  Waverley Station was a seething mass of every nationality, full of the noise of engines, the roar of thousands of voices, and the train announcer shouting her instructions above it all.  Noticed a very early railway carriage, about 1840, on one of the platforms, another exhibit for a National Railway Museum.

Cycled slowly down Prince’s Street, under the brilliant lights, the trams clanging past, taxis hooting, a few horse-drawn lorries going back to the railway stables.  And so up the Lothian Road, pavements full of drunks, hundreds of Americans on leave, pretty Scottish girls shrieking and laughing.  At last to Bruntisfield Links, and there was Glengyle Terrace.  Dragged myself up the steep stone stairs, almost on the point of collapse, and found a warm welcome from the dear Misses Biggams.  Hot supper, hot bath, and then bed, in complete luxury.  Not a sound of a ‘plane to be heard, nothing but the noise of the trams going up to the Braids.  To sleep, very happy to think that I am a good 300 miles from the nearest flying bomb.

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