We left Beeley a fair bit later than intended. The bus had been held up all over the place, though the slow journey had given me chance to get a good look at the crowded magnificence of Chatsworth. It felt good to be out in the fresh air and chasing down lost stones. We set off through the village as the first spots of rain began to fall, duly booted and waterproofed and armed with the remainder of the Eccles Cakes. I’d eaten the last of the jelly babies and we’d once again forgotten the water…
“It’s not far,” he assured me as we rested by a gate after the first long climb.
“It can’t be much further…” he said as we sat panting on a rock after a steep climb through a beautiful beechwood.
“I don’t remember it being this far…” he said as I stripped off the warm coat, sweltering. “There was an ice cream van last time…”
We reached the road and continued to climb. Road? We could have driven here? Still… we had decided to walk the length of the moor, retracing a path he had taken some years earlier in search of a standing stone, so the car was not an option. And it wasn’t more than a mile or two, he said…
Sure enough, there was the ice-cream van… a battered, rusting contraption with faded stickers and a wonky, handwritten price list.
“You’re the first folk to come up the road in three months.” The tiny, wrinkled old lady who slid open the glass door looked at us curiously as she filled the cones, inserted chocolate flakes, and brandished a squeezy bottle. “Strawberry, raspberry or chocolate?” Her smile was amazing.
“Are you sure?” Her gaze direct, piercing… it seemed like a challenge… a test of some kind. In fact, the whole scenario seemed distinctly odd. An ice-cream van that barely seemed fit to move, let alone climb hills in the middle of nowhere… And manned… or womaned… by one of the Old Ones… or so it seemed to my overheated imagination. “It spoils the taste.” We gave in and chose raspberry instead. There was a loud bang, enough to knock the rickety price list over. “Did you see that?” Two blank faces were turned in her direction. I’d seen it alright. But I was saying nothing; I must have imagined the black-winged thing that flew the few feet through the van. Inside the van. And disappeared. She handed us the ice cream, discussed my jumper and we went our way.
Laughing, my companion bemoaned the forbidden chocolate sauce and the strangeness of the little old lady.
“She’s not just a little old lady…”
There was no answer as we looked at the gate onto the moor from which a picture of a curlew, beak curved like an ibis, looked back at us.