If you climb off the D75 bus where the main road swings right to by-pass Grantley, you will see, on the opposite side of the road, beyond the four lanes of the dual carriageway, a narrow lane rising sharply through trees. The trees are largely ancient oak, beech and elm, although there are more recent plantings too, rowans and silver birches, near the roadside verge. These huddled trees have some minor significance in the story I’m here to relate but, for the moment, it is simply necessary to pass them in order to reach three landmarks which play a major part.
The first of these is the old, cliff-top castle, a ruin now but once of some importance in the local area. It rises on a vertiginous sea-cliff cliff and looks over a hundred and eighty degrees of sea before finally resting its eyes on the harbour town of Grantley to the north. The older settlement of Leybury lies out of sight to the south, now no more than a cluster of cottages set, as if posing for a photograph, around a tiny harbour. Around the defensive cluster of tightly packed fishermen’s cottages, a sprawl of modern housing gathers like an invading force. The old village is under siege.
The second is the nineteenth century watch tower, to the north of Leybury, perched on a grassy and heather-strewn cliff, and peering out through slit-windows, over the open sea. Beyond it, the horizon hovers, as if suspended - a tightrope for ships to balance on. Over that first horizon, lies nothing but more sea and more horizons, and a distant ocean of snow and ice.
The third landmark is Leybury Grange, an old house with a disturbing history. Secure behind the protective barrier of oaks and sycamores we passed earlier, it has provided sanctuary to a succession of dubious owners who would have served their communities better by never being born. It has also provided accommodation of various sorts for a number of poor unfortunates who served or were imprisoned there. It is said to be haunted. At present, it is owned by Mr Rupert Fitzwilliam, a man in his mid-forties who retired from public office after a scandal involving the teenage daughter of a minor royal, a footman and a ceremonial carriage.
But more of Rupert Fitzwilliam later.
No-one else will disembark at your chosen stop. The road is dangerous here, and the traffic unremitting. You will wait for several minutes before a brief opportunity presents itself to scuttle to the central reservation, where you will stand, sandwiched between four streams of traffic. Another heart-stopping foray will bring you to the far verge, from where you can cry ‘sanctuary’ to the narrow lane.
When you are fully recovered from the crossing and start to walk, you will notice how quickly the sound of the traffic is left behind. You will have the strange sensation that you are walking not only into the quiet of the countryside but also back into the depths of time.
A chill will ripple though you, which will grow to a tremor as you pass beneath the trees which gather oppressively round the old Grange like suspicious old men. You will be strangely relieved when you emerge from their gloom, and take a path through fields of dairy cattle, before reaching open moorland. There, the cry of gulls and the freshness of the air will announce the proximity of the sea, the cliffs and the ruined castle.
To your left, tucked discretely behind low dunes and adjacent to a sandy beach, lies a holiday caravan park. Halfway between the caravan park and Leybury, the watch tower stands guard.
It is mid-October, when the days are shortening, there are fewer people about, and holidays are less expensive.