EYAM, England — From Hathersage, in Robin Hood country, you take a hilly road three miles to Eyam (pronounced eem). It's a small village of stone houses. I doubt if anyone takes the detour for sightseeing, but it has a fearful history.
In 1666, with the plague ravaging London, a Londoner sent a package of clothing to his tailor in Eyam. The clothes had a cargo of fleas that carried the plague germ.
Within a few weeks, three-fourths of Eyam's 350 people were dead--and more were dying.
The rector, William Mompesson, and the minister, Thomas Stanley, isolated the parish. They closed the church.
Services for the frightened villagers were held in a woodsy dell they called the "Cucklett Church." They appealed to God to stop the plague curse.
I found a pub where the landlord told me, "None of the other villages would have anything to do with us, you see.
"So the rector and the minister worked out an agreement to get the food they needed from across the creek up the hill there. The people from the other village left the food packages on the bank.
"The Eyam folk left silver money on a flat rock in the middle of the stream. That's how the survivors were fed."
I drove up the little road. It's not a wide stream. I asked a farmer about the rock.
He said vaguely, "It was up hereabouts, but I couldn't tell you exactly."
There was no marker that I could see, and I didn't find one in the village. It's not a young town. The hall where you find the Saxon cross is dated 1676. The cross is much older.
The pub owner said, "Each year the town holds a service in the dell they called 'Cucklett's Church.' It's known in Eyam as 'The Plague Mass,' in memory of those deadly times."
During Roman days this was great lead-mining country. British miners left the country pitted with small potholes, just big enough for one man to work in.
This is a weekend delight for English potholers, people who like to crawl into holes in the ground.
Americans prefer big caves, like Carlsbad Caverns. But there are lots of English who like the creepy, crawly potholes. It would drive me out of my mind, but there are many potholers who find it a relaxing weekend.
This has produced a thriving industry for Eyam. Expert local lads crawl down into potholes and extract potholers who get stuck--pull them out like popping a cork from a bottle.
The pub landlord said, "Eyam makes more money from potholers on weekends--and pulling those out who're stuck--than it does from tourists who come to hear about the Plague Mass."
The North York Moors Coast is wonderful country for hikers and horses. Surf pounds against the cliffs, and there is a pretty fishing village every two miles or so.
Near Whitby is Robin Hood's Bay, where the merry outlaw hid from the high sheriff. There's a youth hostel at Boggle Hole a mile from the bay on the Ravenscar Geological Trail. Mrs. Exley's Beacon Hill Farm Row is a 17th-Century stone farmhouse with rooms priced at $15.
Pony trekking is popular. Horses rent for less than $5 an hour at Farside Riding Centre or Mrs. Brixton's Browside Ponys. Mrs. Brixton provides round-trip transport from Robin Hood's Bay.
Bram Stoker was inspired to write "Dracula" by the skeletal remains of Whitby Abbey. It is lighted at night. Large blackbirds roost in its arched windows.
Legends say that Dracula, transformed into a wolf, disappeared under one of the tombstones in the abbey cemetery. From there, they say, the vampire terrorized Whitby town. Admission to the abbey is 40 pence; half price for students.
The Cod & Lobster Inn at the cliffside village of Staithes is a pleasant pub in the village where Capt. Cook worked for a draper before he ran away to sea.