The Rochdale Cowboy Mike Harding's fly-fishing book (with audio)
PUBLISHED: 10:23 31 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:28 20 February 2013
Comedian and folk singer Mike Harding, who has lived in the Yorkshire Dales since the 70s, is sharing a secret vice – the one he uses to tie trout flies. <br/>He talks to Roger Borrell
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For people of a certain age, Lancastrian Mike Harding will always be the Rochdale Cowboy seen on Top of the Pops in 1975 astride a stuffed Alsatian. For those of a nervous disposition or a younger generation, I should make it clear this was a dog, not someone from the French region of Alsace. And I dont think it was a real dog.
Its tempting to say that Mike has come a long way since then, but the reality is hes just up the road. He was born in 1944 and spent a pretty tough childhood in Crumpsall, not Rochdale, and today he lives less than 50 miles away at Settle in the glorious Yorkshire Dales.
I set up a trading post over the border selling beads and shiny mirrors to the natives, he chuckles. They seem to like that sort of stuff.
Hes been there since 1971. When I was 14, I cycled up here from Manchester. I saw Ribblesdale and fell in love with it. When I had children, I didnt want them to be brought up in the city, I wanted them to breathe fresh air.
He has two daughters - Emma is a GP in Bentham, north east of Lancaster, and Sarah has been teaching in the USA. Shes coming back home and Mikes grandsons, Toby and Felix, are delighted. Theyve said they dont want to be Americans, they want to be north country boys, he said. Those lads have been well brought up - they love steam trains and old buildings.
One of them said the Beetham Tower in Manchester was the ugliest thing hed ever seen. You can only hope the architect wasnt too badly injured when he tripped over his guide dog.
His move into the great outdoor came while he was working the folk club circuit so it didnt really matter where he lived so long as it was near a motorway. I bought an old railway cottage by the Carlisle to Settle line and Im still there.
Many of the 750,000 or so people who listen to his acclaimed folk programme on BBC Radio 2 will visualise him sweating over a microphone in the bowels of Broadcasting House.
Hes actually in that cottage, using an ISDN line in his study. I hardly ever have to go to that horrible place called London and, when I do, I tie a ball of string to my front door knocker so I can get back as quickly as possible.
Whether its Yorkshire or Lancashire, its pretty much the same to Mike. He likes the west country and hes even fond of the Welsh, but the north is his comfort zone and you couldnt imagine him ever leaving it.
I dont see any point standing in a wine bar talking b******* when I could be standing on a riverbank fishing.
Over the years, Mike has put his particular passions to good use. He loves walking and, as a result, spent three years as president of The Ramblers and is its life vice-president. My first love was hill walking, all around Todmorden, Blackstone Edge, Saddleworth and Pendle and up into the Yorkshire Dales.
His campaigning on environmental and ecological issues resulted in him becoming a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. And his keen interest in architecture, led to eight books on beautiful English churches. That started when I was touring.
Once the roadies had done what they had to do, they went on the booze
but I couldnt do that before going on stage so I found other pursuits.
Im particularly fond of the churches at Ribchester and Great Mitton.
Now, his love of fly-fishing has produced a beautifully illustrated book on northern trout flies - yes, even our flies are different up here.
My fishing started in Lancashire thanks to my Uncle Bobby, he added.
His father was killed returning from a wartime bombing raid just four weeks before Mike was born and life was far from easy for the Hardings. Im always grateful to my uncle. He gave his time effortlessly, he was kind and he didnt talk to me as if I was an idiot but as a young adult. Bobby McLoughlin was just an ordinary working class bloke who was a tailor by trade and he meant a lot to me, said Mike.
We really need more grandfathers and uncles like Uncle Bobby, who was kind enough and patient enough to take a small boy fishing. All this news about paedophilia makes men frightened of any contact with the children, but the influence of adults, the kindness of grown ups is essential for kids to develop and grow.
I used to fish on the Bury and Rochdale canals on my own as an eleven-year-old. There were no worries about being out late. I had my fishing rod over my shoulder, a bag of sandwiches and a flask of tea. My mother always said she knew I was heading home because she could hear me whistling as I came up from the bus stop.
Nowadays, Mike doesnt need a bus. Hes within walking distance of the Ribble and can usually be found there when his work is done.
People asked me if I thought up my comedy routines while walking or fishing. The simple answer is no. When you are fishing your mind is in another place, one occupied by kingfishers and otters and peace and quiet.
Despite the peace and quiet, hes thinking of going back on the road in the spring. I lived out of a suitcase for years and while it was hugely enjoyable, Id had enough, he said. But just recently Ive done a few charity events, telling stories and singing songs and it has gone down well so perhaps its time to get out the old clowns nose once more.