I arrive at Ilkley Station and clamber off the train; thick grey clouds are being hurled across the sky and there’s a hint of snow on the hills. I lift my finger up in the time-honoured method beloved by sailors to test the wind direction. One or two people lift their fingers to me in reply, mistaking my intention.
Ah yes, the wind is coming from the East. It’s wandered over from the wastes of Siberia with icicles in its beard, a freezing wind that cuts through you like a rusty bread knife. I pull my woolly hat down lower over my face, hard over my ears. My eyes water involuntarily and I begin to weep, to weather-weep. I pull my hat down so much over my face that it almost becomes a cummerbund. I’d better make good use of the hat, because I won’t be wearing it for long.
I’ve got a plan, you see; a likely Ilkley plan. Like everybody from Yorkshire I’m a huge admirer of our rhapsodically melodic Tyke Anthem ‘Ilkley Moor Baht ’At’ and I sing it at every possible opportunity. I have to admit I’ve never been baht ’at on the moor itself, because whenever I’ve visited it it’s been in the autumn or winter and so I’ve needed a little something to cover my bonce. Well, now, despite the iceberg-breeze, I’m going to clamber up on to the moor and I’m going to take my hat off. More than that, I’m going to take my hat off with a flourish and fling it away. Then, and only then, can I be a true Yorkshireman. I’ll have been on Ilkley Moor Bah’t ’At and I will have passed some kind of test. Sithee. Tha knows.
As I walk through the town I have to confess to a feeling of slight nervousness. Everybody I see, whether they’re from round here or not, is wearing a woolly hat. One man is wearing a balaclava, and his big round face is beaming from within it. One or two of my fellow pavement-striders are making their way, like me, up to the moor, and I bet I’m the only one daft enough to plan to go hatless. The wind is getting colder; I swear that when it hits me it clinks like an ice-cube in a drink. Or I clink like an ice-cube in a drink. I lengthen my stride and walk quickly so as to beat these laggards to the moor. Somehow it seems that the hat-doffing on the moor should be a private moment, almost a holy thing. I walk as fast as I can up the path; several early risers are coming down and as they pass me we nod to each other and I’m pleased to note they’re all wearing hats. “You need your cap on up there,” somebody says to me, and I nod.
I get onto the moor. The wind is whistling a chilly tune round me and I feel myself shivering. I lift my hand to my hat; somebody walks by me. “Hat weather today,” she says and I nod.
She’s gone. I’m alone on Ilkley Moor. This is how Neil Armstrong would have felt when he clambered down onto the surface of the moon: visceral excitement at the thing you’re about to do. I hesitate for a moment then whip the hat off. I’m instantly frozen. I throw the hat away and the wind carries it Otleyward.
I’ve done it. Ilkley Moor Baht ’At. Why are those ducks circling like vultures?