The friends I met today are old friends - one of them, P, I have known for almost fifty years and it is hard to believe. What is so unusual is that I moved up here with my first husband in 1987 and not long after he and his partner D moved up - albeit to the other side of the country - but not all that far apart so that it is not difficult to meet mid way for lunch - as we often do.
I was thinking as I drove the fifteen or so miles to meet them for lunch today just how lucky I am. Yes, I have now lost two dear husbands, both of them much loved - but we had many happy years together (38 and 23 respectively) and how lucky I now am to live in such a beautiful place, to have my son and his wife nearby (another strange coincidence), and to have a lot of friends to meet, to go out for meals and coffee with, and at the moment to still be able to drive, although for how much longer I don't know.
We met at the Wensleydale Cheese Factory and Restaurant. Wensleydale Cheese - now known throughout the world - has been made in the Dale since at least Medieval times - both on farms and also by the monks in the many monasteries in this area. Then it became centred in the little town of Hawes where Kit Calvert did a lot to establish the early stages of the making. (the restaurant is named after him - The Calvert. Sadly after a number of years it was decided to transfer the business elsewhere and at that stage the local management decided to buy it out - this about twenty five years ago at least, certainly since I have lived up here.
It has since gone from strength to strength and now cheese from the factory is exported all over the world in its many forms. My friends from The Netherlands adore cheese and always want to go to 'the cheese factory' when they come, for there they can walk round the shop counter and sample twenty or so varieties now from Blue Wensleydale to Wensleydale with Cranberries, Wensleydale with Apricots, and many more.
And in addition there is a cafe for snacks, a restaurant for meals, a shop for tourists to buy things to take home as presents and also there is the factory itself where there is a facility for tourists to follow the cheese making process from start to finish. In the days when we had a Dairy Farm (before it was wiped out by Foot and Mouth just after the turn of the century) we sold our milk to the Dairy,as do most of the dairy farms round here.
I had a pleasant couple of hours with my friends, a nice meal, a nice chat and then home again. I have attached some photographs so that you get the feel of the place. Enjoy them and marvel at the hard work and enthusiasm that went into this place rising again almost from the ashes as it were.
The first photograph shows the entrance to the visitor experience where a walk way around the cheese making factory means they can watch how it is made before then seeing a short film.
The second photograph shows the entrance to the shop, the cafe and the restaurant. The third photograph shows the entrance to the offices. Sorry if they are a bit blurred but carrying a handbag, balancing with my stick and taking the photographs with one shaky hand do not make for brilliant shots.