A belated farewell to Hillside View

Posted: September 11, 2014 in Notes from Hebden Bridge, Random wifflings
Tags: ,
October 027

Benny and Magnus in the garden of 15 Hillside View, October 2009.

I’ve been meaning to write about leaving Somerset for the last couple of months, but what with one thing and another I’ve been terribly lax. First the packing got in the way, then moving, then writing… Unforgivable. But here goes.

Emma and I first moved to Bath in 1997, when I started work on SFX magazine. I was the tender age of 23. We lived in the area for six and a half years, before leaving for Nottingham for three where I worked on White Dwarf. We returned in 2007 when I got the job on Death Ray. All in all, we spent fifteen years in Somerset. The majority of my adult life. The first stint there we lived in several places, but for the entirety of our second time we lived in a village called Peasedown St. John six miles outside of Bath, in a place called Hillside View.

Hillside View is three rows of red brick terrace houses in six ranks marching up a steep hill. It faces north, but is sunny enough. Once upon a time the houses were the cutting edge of social housing, built by the coalboard for miners working in the Somerset coalfield. They are surprisingly spacious, each provided with a long, if narrow, garden for the growing of vegetables.

There were two mines at the bottom of the hill and a railway that had superseded an earlier canal. It was on this railway that the film The Titfield Thunderbolt was shot, shortly after the railway was closed. All this went in the 1950s, transforming the landscape from soot-clad industrialisation to one of deeply rural character. There is barely any sign of the extensive mine buildings, the slag heaps are covered in forest. Here and there are fences anchored by ancient railway sleepers or humpback brick bridges, half buried where the track cutting underneath was filled in. In a field a few miles from my old house are an incongruous set of docks, isolated from any water course, and a few long ponds. These are all that is left of the canal. Depressions filled with trees in the hillsides tell of long dead mines. Deer frolic over pitheads. Buzzards soar over woods where coal carts used to clank. That sort of thing. It is a lovely area.

Hillside View was a curious place, filling up as we were there with urban refugees, alternative lifestylers and young-ish professionals like me who could not afford to live in Bath. These outsiders rubbed shoulders with people who had lived there for decades, giving the place an unusual mixture of social classes. The sense of community was profound and inclusive. There were hippies, writers, eco-warriors, office workers, builders, plumbers, engineers and musicians. English, French, Ethiopians, Swedes, half-Swedes, Poles, half-Poles, Germans, Welsh and Scots. Down the road a friend of mine ran a pharmacological orchard (never call her the village witch, she’s a proper herbalist). I did pig farming with the man next door to the orchard who rehabilitated “naughty boys”. A little further on lived someone who had won the Oscar for the wigs in The Lord of The Rings films. The sun shone half the time, it rained very hard when it did not. Both types of weather came in long runs lasting months, rarely together. We rebuilt a house top to bottom, gained a dog and lost two cats. We fell out with our immediate neighbours (why, I’m still not entirely sure) and made friends with all the rest. We became parents and I a writer.

Mildly bad things happened as they do everywhere but they were outweighed many times over by the good. The ups were far higher than the downs.

But the pull of the north was always strong. The drive home became longer and longer. I felt isolated from my family. We were always going to leave. When time came to go, I realised we were deeply embedded in the local community. Being on a street full of friends is not a thing to be given up lightly, and it was not. Before the very end, my resolve weakened. Were we doing the right thing?

We were, of course. There is very rarely a totally wrong thing to do in matters such as this. New chapters open up, is all. Hebden Bridge is unique, a little like Hillside writ very large. My family is here. Moving back to where I grew up means no feelings of dislocation one encounters on arriving at a new place. I love Yorkshire, I especially love Calderdale. I feel I have finally come home.

But… Hillside. It was a good time of our lives that lasted longer than we ever expected, and was better for it. We will remember it as long as we live. To Mark and Sarah (I’ll never forget the demob happy “Dogshit Saturday”, or loudly debating the existence or otherwise of god at the Church fete. Or those weird kids’ parties), Jess and Dan, George and Sarah, Jan-Erik and Inga, Zoe and Spencer, Ross and Emily, Bo, Joe, the chaps at my gaming club, all the kids (Benny still misses Oscar) and all the many other awesome people we knew and whose company we enjoyed, thank you so very much. Thanks to you a little bit (a tiny little bit) of me will remain forever in the south.

  1. redfox4242 says:

    That sounds like a great community to have been a part of.

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