Places, Loved Ones
By Philip Larkin (1954)
No, I have never found
The place where I could say
This is my proper ground,
Here I shall stay;
Nor met that special one
Who has an instant claim
On everything I own
Down to my name;
To find such seems to prove
You want no choice in where
To build, or whom to love;
You ask them to bear
You off irrevocably,
So that it’s not your fault
Should the town turn dreary,
The girl a dolt.
Yet, having missed them, you’re
Bound, none the less, to act
As if what you settled for
Mashed you, in fact;
And wiser to keep away
From thinking you still might trace
Uncalled-for to this day
Your person, your place.
Yesterday, on the way home from a weekend in Manchester, I went to what is possibly my favourite place in the whole wide world: Edale in the Peak District. I got to know this beautiful spot in the Hope Valley, Derbyshire, when I lived in Sheffield for quite a few years. The little stopping train cuts a line in between the hills that prevent Sheffield and Manchester merging into one and becoming a giant northern connobation. Getting off at Edale makes me catch my breath. It is SO QUIET!
It was a rainy, misty day when I went this time, so my photos may not do its beauty justice. But the beauty of Edale with the valley between the two hulking peaks of Kinder Scout and Mam Tor is better because it is imperfect. If it is muddy or cold or dark or raining it just adds to the atmosphere and the sense of nature at its finest and most raw.
I walked up to Kinder Scout on the brow of a hill to the side of it. Many of the pathways in the High Peak are reinforced with slabs of stone, brought down via helicopter. The stone pavings help preserve the ground and the hillsides from all the thousands of walkers who tread it. As well as the ancient history of the rock, Kinder Scout has a more recent history. It is the site of a Mass Tresspass in 1932, when local people had had enough of the landowners’ restrictions on their access to the area of natural beauty, and they marched up the hill en masse, which led to the more ‘open access’ we have to the countryside today.
Halfway up the hill I stopped and looked back over the valley to Mam Tor. I thought of my stepdad, who died 18 months ago, and how much he enjoyed walking in the countryside. It is a mixture of emotions, grief, not all of them sad as such. I felt very lucky to still be here to do this walk myself.
Kinder Scout itself, is a peak which forms part of a long ridge, that you can walk along in a horseshoe shape, bringing you round and back where you started in Edale Village. The day I went it was awe-inspiring, as the rocks at the top loomed out of the mist and rain. It felt moon-like.
Edale is so special to me because it is somewhere I feel truly calm. I try and carry that feeling with me when I get back to city life and all my preoccupations. Currently I have a lot on my mind, and the power and stillness of that amazing spot in the middle of our island was just what I needed.
Like Philip Larkin says in the poem above, I don’t have a particular place (or person) that I would say is meant for me. One of the things I love so much about Edale is that it is always there for me to visit, and to be newly overwhelmed. If I did actually live there I expect the magic might fade. And so it has been for me with people too, especially in romantic relationships. It seems kind of crazy to me, to tie yourself to one single individual and expect them to provide you with everything you need, emotionally and sexually for your whole life.
So as with people, I am happy to share Edale with whoever else wants it. And I do go to other places and enjoy them just as – almost as – much.
To get the train back home I walked from Edale to Hope station. A friend of mine and I, when we used to meet in the Peak District (she came from Manchester me from Sheffield) used to joke wryly about how we’d like to ‘live in hope’.
In one of those little coincidences that echo through our lives, my favourite band (in the same, non-possessive, open-relationship way that Edale is my favourite place!) Low, have an album called ‘I Could Live In Hope’.
And suddenly, after getting back from my trip and listening to Low, I realised they remind me a bit of how I feel when I am in Edale. Their music is incredibly atmospheric, ethereal, and, like those rocks in the mist at the top of Kinder Scout, sometimes it seems like it comes from another world.
This song, ‘Words’ is particularly resonant to me today. Back in the city and online, where I deal in words and not much else, I am remembering that quiet and stillness of where I have just been. And I am at peace.