STAYING AWAY

Thereís something exciting about staying away from home, especially if you do it on the cheap as I tend to.

After a day on the wild and windy moors, I drove through narrow lanes over the crest of the Pennines and descended towards Lancashire. Whereas the Lake District peaks are familiar friends, here the mountains are bleak and bland and lack personality. Itís a lonely place, and I looked forward to the warm welcome of bed and breakfast when we reached a farmhouse miles from anywhere.

There was a skull nailed onto the wooden gate. I think it was a sheep. It certainly didnít look like anyone I knew. No bell or knocker on the front door, so I used a fist, and a youngish woman appeared wearing a skirt like an army blanket, and the thickest pair of long socks Iíve ever seen. Had the sheep whose head graced the gate given its entire fleece to knit those socks? Our hostess, the only person to appear in the time we were there, was on guard, suspicious as though sheíd heard bad things about people who come from London. Come to that, so have I, so I canít blame her, and a night in the freezing stone of that farmhouse showed she was right about the socks too.

What a contrast at the guest house in Portsmouth, where we stayed before an early morning ferry. In a tall narrow townhouse, moving from bed to bathroom was an exercise work-out in itself. I would never speak ill of my wife, but she does frequently encounter difficulty with anything involving switches, knobs and controls. I recognised her plaintive calls from two floors away and descended to turn on the shower for her. Breakfast was do-it-yourself, and I should have checked the settings of the toaster before using it. The flames were only small, but the smoke did set off the fire alarm. This caused the hurried arrival of the proprietor who does not, I can tell you, wear pyjamas. In what appeared a well-rehearsed routine, he rolled his substantial figure into the cupboard under the stairs and turned off the alarm. Remind me not to tease my wife about setting switches and controls.

And so to a recent visit to the wonderful city of Bath, where I booked the cheapest possible room. Too mean to pay for an en-suite, I was the only person in Bath without one. I expected to find the hotel was a dingy modern building miles from the centre, but no: it was a terrace designed by Bathís greatest Georgian architect, John Wood the Elder, two minutes walk from the Abbey and the Roman Baths.

Many of the rooms gave a view over the honey coloured town, and of the River Avon spanned by Robert Adamís graceful Pulteney Bridge. Many of the rooms, but not mine. You know those elegant triangular pediments set atop the centre of Georgian terraces? Well, my dormer window looked out at the back of this one. I could reach to touch the red lettered sign forbidding me to climb on the roof. Perhaps, if Iíd pushed the two hundred and fifty year old wall, I might have gained a view. Or perhaps, next time I stay away, Iíll pay just that little bit more.