Why has the annual Easter Egg hunt become such a trial to me? Is it because with each succeeding year I become stronger, fitter, better read and more chillingly orientated? I think this must be so. I remember the Easter Egg hunts of my childhood, which seldom involved more than rooting around a flower bed or worming beneath my parents’ bed, to emerge, dust devils like crazy battle honours on my woolly, the foiled goods melting in my hot little hands. But nowadays the hunt can last for days, cross entire counties and involve me in feats of close reasoning that make a chess game between Big Blue and Kasparov look like a very facile Suduko indeed.
This year’s extravaganza began in the early hours of March 24. My first clue, delivered to me in London, said simply: “I’m off the Wall but not under the fog.” I realised after some hours of examining maps and gazetteers that this could only refer to Hexham, Northumberland so I hied me to that beautiful town as fast as GNER could carry me. But where in Hexham was the next clue to be found? I needn’t have worried; it was served to me in a kipper in the breakfast room of my hotel at 7am the following day, and said: “A hut is a great place for a debate.”
Nobody’s fool, I, so I almost immediately grasped that this meant the fell walkers’ hut on the northern flank of the Cheviot, on the saddle between that majestic 800m peak and the queer eminence known as the Schill. I engaged a sturdy minicabman, Mr Roberts, and he drove me north up the roller-coaster of the A68, then into the fells beyond Otterburn.
The long valleys leading up to the eponymous Windy Gyle were sun-dappled and sheltered, but when I reached the long distance path itself the wind became bitter. Christ! It was a cold and lonely walk, besides which I developed a vicious head cold, and had to pause every few yards and eject a great stream of infective matter from one nostril or the other. By the time I reached the hut I was feeling very sick indeed. In the walkers’ log I found the following entry: “Alice et Tomas Lapin, Rue de Montaigne, Paris VII.”
Three hours later, in Kirk Yetholm, at the end of the Pennine Way, I prevailed upon the lady running the B&B to let me use her computer and began searching the net for chocolatiers in Paris. Dawn the next day saw me en route by minicab to Berwick-upon-Tweed. “I don’t believe in mobile phones,” said Mr McAllum, the dour highlander who was driving me. “I can assure you,” I replied, “they really do exist.”
Train to King’s Cross, tube across town, Eurostar to the Gare du Nord. March 28 saw me beating the boulevards, knocking up confectioner after confectioner, searching for the elusive Tomas. I understood full well that the “Alice” was only a blind referring to her own, fictional pursuit of the white rabbit. I found him at last, cowering in caf? in Montmartre. He didn’t want to spill the beans, but instead gave me a small piece of rice paper upon which was written the single word “Unashamedly”.
A less ruminative fellow than myself might have been stymied by this â€“ but not I. So it was back to the Gare du Nord, back to Waterloo, back across London to King’s Cross and back up the east coast line. On the train I mused on the “Unashamedly”. Clearly, it was part of the phrase: “Unashamedly White Rose”, so beloved of Yorkshire folk, and it asked me to consider what was the psychological and geographic epicentre of this, the queen of English counties.
I spent the next 10 days wandering from the dunes of Spurn Head to the crags above Swaledale. I left no stone unturned and spared no opportunity to speak with anyone who didn’t cross the road to avoid me. The morning of Easter Day found me pursuing a ghastly chimera up the rocky watercourse of the River Nidd. It was half old photo of Gracie Fields, half giant rabbit, and as it lolloped along it taunted me in a broad Yorkshire accent: “Thou aren’t no puzzler, lad, thou art a bloody fool.”
Eventually I cornered the ghastly thing under the huge retaining wall of the Scar House Reservoir and advanced on it, menacingly. Only to have it advance menacingly on me, and with fervent paws peel off first my hair and then my scalp, before biting into the hard white shell of my skull â€¦
I awoke, screaming, in the small hours of Bank Holiday Monday. I’d done it again: spent too long hill walking in the north, then eaten far too much chocolate while looking at Ralph Steadman pictures. Only nightmares could ensue.