Throughout our four-day stay, I thought about the plague afflicting the Dales. The radio and newspapers were bristling with arguments seeking to pin down cause and blame, and with distressed musings about whether animal farming could recover. I work at UC Davis, home of California's agriculture studies and research. I teach writing, not science, but I have a deeply felt attachment to this field, and I share the pride in agriculture's place in California. I dared not think "What if ... "
Before returning to London we sealed our boots in a black garbage bag, even though we had stayed on paved roads. In London we laundered the clothes we had worn in the countryside.
At the San Francisco airport, we handed over our boots and shoes to the Department of Agriculture inspection agents to be disinfected while we waited. An agent warned us to stay away from cows, sheep and pigs for five days. I promised her we'd wash all our vacation clothes again to eliminate any chance of the virus slipping through.
Back at home, I was confident that I had taken all possible precautions against transmitting the disease short of staying away, but I still had a sense of foreboding. If sheep farming ends, it will take only a year or two in England's damp climate for bracken and scrub to crowd out the pasturelands' grasses and flowers, and maybe 10 years for trees to start growing up. The landscape, the inspiration for the poets and painters who shaped England's culture, would be lost forever.
I felt lucky to have seen it.
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Guidebook: In the Yorkshire Dales
* Getting there: From LAX there's nonstop service to London on American, United, British, Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic. Starting June 16, restricted round-trip fares begin at $955. We took the train from King's Cross Station in London to Skipton ($66 per person round trip), where our friends picked us up. The five-hour trip required a change in Leeds, where car rentals can be arranged. It's about 25 miles from Leeds to Skipton, at the southern boundary of Yorkshire Dales National Park. A drive from London to Skipton takes five hours, traffic permitting.
* Where to stay: My friends recommend the Queen's Arms in the village of Litton, about 10 miles from Grassington. It's a cozy country pub in a 17th century stone building. Rooms, all with bath, are about $82. Queen's Arms, Litton, Skipton, North Yorkshire BD23 5QJ; telephone/fax 011-44-1756-770-208, Internet http://www.yorkshire dales.net/stayat/queensarms /index.htm.
They also like Ashfield House in Grassington, a no-smoking hotel where all rooms have private baths. Rates: about $47 per person, with breakfast. Ashfield House, Summers Fold, Grassington, North Yorkshire BD23 5AE; tel./fax 011-44-1756-752-584, http://www.ashfieldhouse.co.uk.
Many other hotels and tourism listings can be found at http://www.yorkshirenet.co.uk.
* Where to eat: My favorite meal was trout baked in a Stilton cheese-walnut crust at Kilnsey Park and Trout Farm, in Kilnsey on B6160; open only for lunch. Local tel. 1756-752-150. http://www.yorkshirenet.co.uk/visit/kilnsey/index.htm.
We had a fine dinner at the 16th century Red Lion Inn on the River Wharfe in Burnsall, also on the B6160. Tel. 1756-720-204, http://www.redlion.co.uk.
* For more information: British Tourist Authority, 551 Fifth Ave., Suite 701, New York, NY 10176-0799; tel. (800) GO-2-BRITAIN (462-2748), http://www.btausa.com.
For information on areas affected by foot-and-mouth disease, see the Yorkshire Dales National Park Web site, http://www.yorkshiredales.org.uk.