I have spent the last week or so re-reading some of both Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath’s work, and as I want my blogging exploits to try to capture something of the two places I live, I decided to indulge myself with a Calder Valley/ mills/ chapels/ dry stone walls/crows and ravens sort of post.
Driving along the valley road from Hebden Bridge into Mytholmroyd you cannot miss the recently erected monument to Ted Hughes, Poet Laureate, born in Mytholmroyd.
Hebden Bridge’s two bookshops periodically have Ted Hughes displays....lots of “Crows”, the occasional “ Iron Man” and references to the “Remains of Elmet” ( Elmet was the last British Celtic kingdom to fall to the Angles, and refers to exactly this bit of Yorkshire, near Halifax ).
Local newspapers also run features, enhanced by memories of people who remember him, pointing out the exact spots in the valley which provided his inspiration.
Hughes described how the architecture of the valley, borne of industrial revolution and of chapel and mill building from the 1800s, began to collapse from the 1930s onwards, as the industry and religion of the area did. He called it a“spectacular desolation....a grim sort of beauty.”
This is the Calder valley that I know, and have now lived in for nearly 15 years, first in Mankinholes and now in Hebden Bridge.
Stubbing Wharfe“This gloomy memorial of a valley.
The fallen-in grave of its history,A gorge of ruined mills and abandoned chapels,
The fouled nest of the Industrial Revolution
That has flown.”
It is about an occasion when he and Sylvia were sitting in what I presume was the Stubbing Wharfe pub, making decisions about their life together. He recognised their different understanding and hopes and dreams, and knew that Sylvia had no realistic idea about this part of the country, where he had his roots. Her impressions were clearly decidedly grim.“You......,sat weeping,
Homesick, exhausted, disappointed, pregnant.”
“If this was the glamour of the English pub, it was horrible”
It was not a good night, and Sylvia's depression was not helped by“....The shut in
Sodden dreariness of the whole valley”
“......you saw only blackness,
Solid blackness, the face of nothingness,”
There was some light by the end of their evening, brought about by some locals entering the pub, causing the two depressed souls to smile even though, as we know, their story turned out to be every bit as poignant and sad as Hughes imagined.The Stubbing Wharfe is our local. It is 200 yards from our house, underneath the hillside leading to Heptonstall, where Sylvia Plath is buried.
It is a lovely place, perched on the canal bank, with its cobbled humpback bridge crossing the river, providing access to the valley road, just as Hughes described. However, now there are annual cider festivals, poetry & story telling nights, open mike nights, lunch time canal trips, good quality food, lots of good guest beers and an excellent wine list.
The upgrading in actual decor it has undergone is minimal, in that the well worn floor boards remain bare, and I suspect the bar is pretty similar to when Ted supped his Guinness. (We do not learn what Sylvia drank on that dismal evening).
It has an upstairs function room. We held my father-in law’s funeral tea there, as well as my husband’s 60th birthday party. It is not horrible at all...... Sorry Ted, you either got it wrong, or the mood you both were in that night spoiled your evening. I do like the fact that the poem ends with some snippet of hope though....maybe, even then, he realised it was them rather than the place that was depressed and depressing
“ I had to smile. You had to smile. The futureSeemed to ease open a fraction”
So, how grim is our valley ?Hughes refers to a grim sort of beauty. In the rain, when the buildings look as if they are dripping down the hillsides, when the rubble left from derelict mills, has moss growing over it, so that it looks natural..... there is a grim beauty. Being an in-comer..... told by a Mankinholes resident on moving into the village, that she lived there to get away from people like me.....I sometime feel I should n’t make judgements about this place. However, as I love it so much, I feel entitled to a view.
It is beautiful, sometimes stark, always beautiful rather than pretty, but it is powerful and strong as well. The Mankinholes resident moaning about me as her new neighbour was actually bringing over a welcome message (in her own way) and an invite to join her for a sherry. Her garden became a bolt hole for my daughter when she wanted to escape her mother’s prying eyes. A few years later my daughter walked arm in arm with that neighbour, behind the hearse that took the neighbour’s husband to the local chapel and to the graveyard.
Strong dry stone walls, strong dry humoured people, and spectacular landscapes.......
“Hill-Stone was Content”To be cut, to be carted
And fixed in its new place
It let itself be conscripted
Into mills. And it stayed in position
Defending this slavery against all.
It forgot its wild roots
Its earth song
In cement and the drum song of looms.
And inside the mills mankind
With bodies that came and went
Stayed in position, fixed like the stones
Trembling in the song of the looms.
And they too became four-cornered, stony
In their long, darkening, dwindling stand
Against the guerrilla patience
Of the soft hill-water
So, yes .... a grim and powerful beauty, and a special place to live.