The majority of my time visiting England throughout the years has been enjoyed in London - a city that I, surprisingly, love and never tire of. It’s difficult to fly into Heathrow and resist the city leering you in, asking you to come join in the millions of others bustling about. I usually detest city traveling; there is no greenery to look at, no natural beauty to help your neurons rise. Tourists are flocking about, not taking the time to meet the people that live in the city and make the city breathe its life. I want to be a good tourist, if that is possible, and show my appreciation, which I don’t feel like I am capable of doing in cities like Rome and New York. Maybe I just like things at a slower place. London, to me though, is a city I can always take in slowly. It is never overly crowded where you feel like you can’t meet anyone and it is never overly rushed where you feel like you can’t go at your own pace.
After my third visit to London, I decided to post up my Oyster card and search for the rolling countryside of England that I have always dreamed of. I bought a train ticket and headed up north, to the sleepy hillside towns of Northern England (I kept calling this area “central England” because it looks quite central to me on the map, but I am immediately corrected each time). On the train, I pressed my face to the glass, beaming with felicity as I watched the city disappear behind me. My first stop was Hebden Bridge, the town famous for its all independently owned shops and its reawakening from an industrial area into the hippy, quirky place-to-be within Yorkshire. Sylvia Plath is buried here (her tombstone is constantly being scratched at by her fans, marking out her married name, "Hughes"), Ted Hughes' poet retreat overlooks the dale where she is buried, and the home of the Bronte sisters is nearby.
When arriving at the train station, you're still greeted with Victorian scrolled lettering on the signs, stating things like "Lamp Room" and "Parcels Office". I had met some lovely English ladies from Hebden while in Morocco a couple of months prior and had to come visit them while I was so near. Hannah, Suzi, and Sarah are all brilliant artists - they share a studio and workspace, Hannah creating handmade lamps and wallpapers, Suzi and Sarah creating portraits and videos. Their houses are charming in the way you would expect artists’ houses to be, little trinkets and decorations that all were bought for a purpose, memorabilia from trips and friends, an appreciation for the artistry of others.
I was given the grand tour of Hebden, which is a 10 minute walk around the cobblestoned streets, stopping every so often for someone to greet Hannah and ask how the rebuilding of her shop since the flooding had been going (I visited in January 2016, a couple of weeks after the Boxing Day floods). Hannah and I took a short, but fairly taxing hike to the top of one of the hills Hebden Bridge sits between to watch the sun go down. The sunsets in England aren’t striking and bold; the sunsets here are muted and subtle, soothing like an impressionist painting, yet still inspiring the wild dreams that sunsets give rise to.
We went to the local picture house and decided to take a chance on the one picture playing that night, an independent Scottish film. And no, we didn’t luck out with our chance…the film we saw might be vying for one of the worst films ever created. But, we decided that visiting the cinema was a contribution to the community - the downstairs was wiped out, so we had to sit in the balcony with warnings of dire cold. The cinema provided us with blankets and hot chocolate and tea served in ceramic mugs. The movie might have been horrible, but at least it provided us with laughs afterwards for wondering what in the world was going on. The next day involved more hiking, a favorite of mine; I always prefer the peripatetic approach to discovering a new area, I feel as though I can see more details and relish my time more that way. We followed in the footsteps of literary giants such as Sylvia Plath, Tommy Hughes, and the Bronte sisters.
I didn’t get to spend any time window shopping at these widely talked about shops, because the local shops were still be rebuilt by their owners, but the feeling of community was sempiternal; everyone in the town was bustling about, helping their neighbor, sharing what was left of their food supply. The beauty of the rolling hills surrounding the valley, and the beauty of seeing a community join together with no intentions other than to help their neighbor, made Hebden Bridge gain a cherished spot in my heart.