The 1967 pompous headmaster trip to the dales was probably the most memorable of all the school trips I ever partook of, ten years old we all were, 60 of us piled onto two coaches and off to the Yorkshire Dales which was right on the doorstep of our North Leeds primary school, sandwiches and pop packed in a tupperware bowl and a packet of sticky sweets in your (short) trouser pocket, with two shillings to spend if the opportunity arose – hot summers day brewing, and only a few more days until the end of term and the start of the summer holidays – no wonder we were in party mood.
Unusually Mr Holmes the pompous headmaster had joined the two other teachers on this school trip and he was determined to involve education in this day of frivolity, even if we weren’t fookin interested in what he had to say, he was determined to show off his knowledge on the geology and customs of the Yorkshire Dales, we hated him.
It didn’t start very well for him – half an hour into the journey and we were on the narrow roads near Bolton Abbey when he suddenly stood up in the aisle of the bus and commanded the driver to “stop right here, I need to show the children something”, the bus braked to a halt and we could see the driver in his rear view mirror, mouthing something that we kids shouldn’t have heard, both buses pulled off the narrow road onto a grass verge, ploughing up the grass and plants therein, forming a new layby thats probably still not grown back to this day.
We all piled off the bus and stood byt he side of the busy but narrow road where motorists and delivery vans struggled to get past both of the huge buses to much tooting of horns and shouting of obscenities – Mr Holmes was oblivious to all of this, he had education to partake on us.
When all 60 of us were gathered around him, playing “slap” or just flicking the back of the ears of the person in front, he pointed out to us the formation of the two hills beyond the field in front of us and how they were linked by a high ridge, he knew all of the fancy names for this sort of glacially formed geology but frankly none of us gave even a small toss for it and our disinterest could not have been greater if we’d tried, small fights started to break out at the back of the crowd.
Holmes was having none of it, a clip around the ear’ole of two miscreants and we all paid attention again and then to our suprise he climbed over the stone wall in front of us and started striding over the field full of sheep that stood between us and the hills.
“come on everyone, follow me” he bellowed
“but Mr Holmes, the sheep” cried one of the other teachers
“nonsense” he called, his voice growing faint as he put distance between us, “come on, we’ll climb those hills”
And despite the misgivings of the other two teachers and their warnings that we were in fact trespassing on a farmers field, we all clambered over the wall, knocking some of it down in the process, and ran up the hilly field to join Holmesy.
We’d only got halfway across the field, three adults and sixty kids, when a Land Rover trundled down the hill towards us, stopped a few yards in front of our leading group and out popped the most angry farmer that I have ever seen, his head seemed to be much bigger than his body and it was a bright purple colour.
The farmer expained to Mr Holmes in very colourfull terms that we shouldn’t be on his land, we were trespassing, we’d knocked down his stone wall, and most of the sheep in his field were escaping onto the main road and where the fuck did we think we were going anyway.
Holmesy tried to explain the benefits of education but the farmer was having none of it, in even more colourful language involving a liberal use of the word “fuck” he asked us to leave his field. Holmesy tried to ignore him but the farmer was a big bugger and we were unceremoniously marched back down the hill and onto the road again where we could see the farmers sheep disappearing around a corner on the main road, the bus drivers both thought this was hilarious and when we were all seated again our driver asked Holmesy if he’d like him to find a different field while this farmer tried to round his sheep up again.
We eventually found ourselves in Burnsall, a small village which has a proper car park and a proper picnic area by the river so no more trespassing and threats of the police being called then. We all sat and had our picnic by the river Wharfe which flows quite wide and a little deep in the middle and in the carefree way fo the 1960’s the three adults in charge of us considered their risk assesments and all health and safety issues, and gave us all permission to remove our shoes and socks and go for a paddle, all 60 of us, while they sunbathed further up the field.
Small fish were collected and placed in pop bottles to take home, small children slipped and fell in, if you went more than three yards out into the river you were up to your waist and in danger of being dragged away to re-appear somewhere in the Humber 50 miles away – but it was great fun and the sun blazed down on our lazy afternoon by the river while our teachers snoozed fifty yards away.
And then Peter Norwood decided to go for a swim.
Not many of us could swim at 10 years old, swimming was not on the curriculum and our school had only just started to take us to swimming lessons once a week, so to have a friend who could already swim was unusual – we dared him to show us how to get across to the other side of the river, and he accepted.
And he made it, fully clothed he reached the opposite bank and climbed up the bank into the farmers field there. Realising that he was soaking wet he took off his t-shirt and shorts and danced around in the field for a while in his underpants to dry off. It was while he was doing this that he attracted the attention of a rather large horse in the field who came across to see if he had anything worth eating, to our amusement and Peter Norwoods consternation.
Finding nothing edible the horse instead took a liking to Peter Norwoods shorts and removed them from the barbed wire fence where they were drying then ran off across the field with them, Peter Norwood in pursuit, us howling with laughter on the opposite bank. The commotion eventually woke Mr Holmes up and he appeared behind us demanding to know what one of his pupils was doing on the opposite side of the river, almost naked, chasing a horse around which had a pair of shorts in its mouth.
There was nothig more to add, he had summed up the situation perfectly, the only unanswered question was how much of a bollocking would Holmesy give Peter Norwood when he eventually got his shorts back and rejoined us, and how much of a bollacking would Holmesy get from the school governors if they found out that one of his pupils had swum unobserved across the raging river Wharfe to have his shorts stolen by a wierd horse.
Peter Norwood never did get his shorts back, the horse ran away and was not seen again, with the shorts in tow. He had to swim back across the river to us and then go sit on the bus in his underpants for the rest of the day while we all had a guilt ridden geography lesson from Holmesy before returning home in disgrace where a pair of shorts was quickly found in the lost property box and Peter Norwood had to swear never to tell his mother where his original shorts had disappeared to or under what circumstances – I’d have loved to have been in his kitchen as his mother asked why he was wearing a different pair of shorts to the ones he had left home in.