In the beginning of this particular story, about seven years ago, my partner Rob and I moved to a little village called Cragg Vale in West Yorkshire. We’d made regular visits to its nearest town, Hebden Bridge, for a couple of years and eventually were seduced by its soggy Pennine beauty and somewhat quirky population. We brought with us a six month old baby and too much stuff.
The house I fell in love with was not a practical house for a young family. Weaver’s cottages built hundreds of years ago aren’t known for their spaciousness or ‘open plan living’. But that little house, nudged up against the wild weedy edges of a woodland, with its thick stone walls and soaring views across a little valley tugged at something inside me. As we left the the house after our first viewing I was aware of a strange ache between my ribs. Only when we were driving away did I realise that it was the call of home.
We bought the house and some time passed during which Rob worked, I stayed home and we had another baby. Those early years were a strange and bewildering mix of joy and despair, loneliness and gratefulness. I’ll admit that I found mothering hard. Exhausting, wrung out, stretched-beyond-my-resources hard. Some days – and here all the mothers of the world will know what I’m talking about – it felt like it could take me hours to get us all standing on the other side of our front door. I still don’t quite understand why time bends and warps so cruelly when we become parents; an hour can feel like a lifetime, a year the blink of an eye.
Through those sometimes challenging years, the place we lived in kept me sane. Whatever parenthood might be throwing at me, I could always take the boys and go walking. Eli and Monty, who are now seven and five respectively, helped me to discover my new home. The moors, pools and wooded valleys of this place are well-trodden by our restless feet. I found there was no better cure for a sleep-deprived brain than sun-dappled woodland. And that the best way to amuse a couple of overly energetic boys was with mud, rope-swings and sticks. When we went outside, we all felt better. School starting age came and went for the boys and we didn’t send them.
Living closer to nature, I became much more aware of the changing of the seasons. I watched buds swell on naked trees even in the heart of winter. I learned about edible leaves that we could pick whilst out walking and grew some vegetables on an allotment nearby. I made lumpy soups and weird-tasting home brew. The boys found out which bits of the river were best for finding the treasure washed down from the Victorian dump and where exactly to go to scoff bilberries in July. We made good friendships and saw familiar faces whenever we were out and about.
Putting down roots in a place nourished us in so many ways. Each year that passes, our connections with the land and people of these valleys has deepened. We talked about never leaving, about having found our forever home, about buying land and keeping chickens.
But sometimes things just don’t quite work out the way you expect them to…