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Posts Tagged ‘hubberholme’

I’m in Hubberholme today, in Upper Wharfedale, by the church of St Michael and All Angels. There’s an old, stone bridge over the river, here, and beyond that, a whitewashed pub called the George. So,… church, pub, bridge. That’s Hubberholme. That’s always been Hubberholme. If it wasn’t for the few cars dotted about, and the farmer roaring by on his quad, there’d be nothing to date this idyllic little corner of England much beyond the middle of the last century.

Perhaps that’s why its easy to imagine I’m also seeing this guy standing on the bridge looking down into the river while he chews morosely on an unlit cigar. I picture him wearing a forties suit and, even though he’s clearly at his leisure, he wears a tie and a hat, like they always did, or at least like they did in the movies, in my grandfather’s day.

We’ll have a chat with him in a minute, but only in passing, because I already know his story. He’s a Canadian engineer by the name of Lindfield, come over to supervise the building of a machine his company has commissioned from a firm in Blackley. Blackley’s a made up name. It spares the blushes of a Blackburn, or a Barnsley, or some other generic post-war manufacturing town up north, a place where it rains all the time and the lights burn dim.

In case you were wondering, we’ve walked into the opening of a short story called The Other Place, by J B Priestly. Hubberholme, though a fine setting for our opening scene, isn’t actually the “other place”, but a place very much like it. Lindfield found himself magicked there once, and briefly, but through his own impatience, he blew his chance and he’s been searching for a way back ever since. And if we enter more fully into that story, we’ll take pity on Lindfield, throw a paternal arm around his shoulders, and we’ll walk him back to the little village of Kettlewell, downstream, where we both happen to be staying. Then, after buying him dinner, we’ll settle into a cosy nook over drinks, and there, amid manly clouds of aromatic tobacco, we’ll have him tell us that story.

Its a story about the world we’re building, and the pressures we put ourselves under, such that we no longer know how to relate to one another properly. And if only there was “another place”, a rural idyll, where time had stopped and the sun always shone, and the air was clean, we could relax with one another, open up and realise at last the rapture of simply “being”. Or could we? Would we not carry something into that other place, a poison that would have us turn it all to dust and return us to the bleak environs of our Blackley – poor Blackley – where it’s always raining, and its always winter, no matter what the calendar says to the contrary?

I’m fond of Priestly, and have long identified with his more metaphysical musings, though his fiction does read a little dated now, its dialogue especially. The idioms, the “I say, old chaps” and “Look here’s”, are very much of their time, but not without their charm. There may even be accusations of corniness, especially from the avant guard reader, or even, dare I say, something inappropriate, in his concern for the plight of the character of “Englishness”.

But Priestly saw something emerge in the post war years, something devilish in its nature, coming initially out of America, but swiftly enveloping the whole of the western world. It was a culture of materialism, consumerism, automation and mass advertising. He called it Admass. He didn’t like what it was doing to the soul, he saw it displacing the mood of cooperation and common purpose, that had held England together throughout the war years, and he wrote against it.

In that sense then, this guy standing on the bridge, staring morosely into the chattering waters of the river is Priestly himself, with the history of the twentieth, and now the early decades of the twenty first century, with its free for all, free market culture weighing on his mind. He’s thinking the other place is further away from us than it ever was, that his vision of Englishness, something along the lines of a compassionate, humanist socialism, is doomed.

Speaking of which, the long awaited Sue Gray report finally broke as I was setting out this morning – such as it turned out to be. It revealed a culture of jolly, boozy parties, and quiz nights in which all and sundry affected to act silly, in order to fit in with the higher ups – this in the highest office of the land, in mid pandemic, while the rest of us were confined to barracks on pain of eye watering fines. It speaks of staff drunk to the point of vomiting, and altercation, and sounds more like the back street pubs of Blackley at chucking out time, on a Saturday night – places to which only the lowest sort of empty headed buffoon, would ever be drawn.

But it speaks also perhaps to the emotionally suppressed nature of the English that it takes a bit of alcohol before we start to feel normal. Hence the reverence with which we regard the public house, as much as we once regarded the church, and without which no place, no matter how perfect, including Hubberholme, can be said to exist at all. So lets all get a drink and be merry, but woe betide any Englishman who cannot hold his drink – and it strikes me few of us can – for therein shall lie his reputation.

In those first few sips of frothy beer, in the summer-shimmering gardens of the Olde Oakes, the Queens Heads, and the George Inns, we might imagine we catch glimpses of the Other Place, but it’s an illusion. By the second pint it spits us out, like it spat out poor Lindfield, back to the hung-over dawn of Blackley on a bad day, and to the bald truth that the devils have had their way and we let all our collective post-war good intentions slip through our fingers.

So I’m tempted to say to the England, as depicted in the Sue Gray report, stay the hell away from Hubberholme, and thereby allow me, this moment at least, the illusion of an England still worth half the candle. Let me fool myself, while I’m here, the Other Place Priestly wrote about isn’t so far away as it seems.

As for the guy on the bridge, poor Lindfield, I’ll not say to him: “Look here, old chap, why so glum?” because, really, I get the picture. I’ll just bid him a polite good morning, and be on my way.

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mazzy interior

The weather turned cool and showery by week’s end, making for a wet and windy drive up Wharfedale. Mazzy did not enjoy it as much as her first trip here, back in July. That day the sun shone and the air shimmered with a high-summery heat, and the moors had about them a sluggish, humid quiet. With the top down one could smell the hedgerows and meet the gaze of passers by – share greetings with them as we motored leisurely on. Now though, great curtains of rain pressed in on either side of the valley, spilling over the fells. It had me fumbling for the wipers I’ve not used all year, and of course the top was up, so the world passed remote to all but my visual senses.

We were delayed near Kilnsey by a collision between a camper van and a road sweeper. The camper was a terrible mess, its side torn open and the remains of some poor souls’ holiday spilled all over the road. The queue inched by as best it could while policemen jabbed fingers in ad hoc traffic control. They must have to deal with many such incidents on this stretch, and I don’t envy them the task. The road along the valley of the Wharfe is as narrow and twisty as it’s always been, but the vehicles we’re driving are getting noticeably bigger. Mazzy’s a low slung, narrow slip of a thing, perfect for threading her way up and down country like this, but she and I are moving against the tide which insists what country like this needs is a pumped up four-by-four with the assertive beam of snowplough.

I stopped off for a brew at Buckden, then made pilgrimage to Hubberholme – pronounced “Ubberam”. Hubberholm is a tiny hamlet in upper Wharfedale, beloved of generations of walkers, also home to St Michaels and All Angels, one of the loveliest of our Norman churches. Though the increasing secularisation of society has led to the diminution of moderate religious congregations everywhere, England’s churches retain their potential as foci for binding communities, and in a more prosaic way provide a statutory and timeless continuity with their records of births, marriages and deaths. The church at Hubberhome dates to the 12th century, and has the look of a place that was not actually built at all but rather that it grew organically from the soft earth, here on the banks of the Wharfe. Its pews bear the distinctive adze marks and the unique rodent-motif of the celebrated Mouseman. It has about it the scent of old churches everywhere, and rests in the profound silence that pervades these remote valleys, a silence reinforced for me that morning, stepping out of an old roadster after seventy miles in the pouring rain.

hubberholme church

Saint Michaels and All Angels – Hubberholme

St Michaels and All Angels is the resting place of J.B.Priestly, native of Bradford, novelist and playwright, known to me through his work on the relationship of man with time. I think a lot about the nature of time, and more recently have tied myself in knots with it almost to the point of despair in wrestling with my current work in progress – a work that takes only halting steps forwards these days. For my trip I had packed my toothbrush, but left my laptop behind, thinking to let the story rest for a bit. In making pilgrimage to Hubberholme and JBP, I wasn’t expecting a synchronistic finger pointing to the way out of my literary cul-de-sac; it was more a case of stoking the boiler of imagination, and hoping something would emerge in the fullness of “time”. All the same, my pilgrimage bore fruit, I think, or at least I came away feeling more philosophical about the dilemma. I self-publish to a small audience, for nothing; I write novels like I used to do Origami, for the personal satisfaction of completing a puzzle, rather than labouring for coin. In my current game, as with Origami, there are no deadlines – only pleasure in the folding and unfolding of lines, hopefully winding up with something self-standing at the end of it, and all from a blank sheet of paper. I sometimes forget this, but the timeless peace at Hubberholme, proved a timely reminder that time has no existence other than in its relation to man, and that all deadlines are ultimately defeating of the self.

aysgarth upper falls

Aysgarth upper falls

I stayed the night in Wensleydale, in the pretty little market town of Leyburn, passed a pleasant evening in the Golden Lion and woke on Saturday to a brighter morning. Then I drove to Aysgarth, to the falls. At Aysgarth, the River Ure is rent by a series of dramatic steps over which the waters thunder, all peaty brown, like stewed tea. There is an upper, a middle and a lower falls, spread over a kilometre length of the river, and all accessible by well maintained walkways and viewing points. The National Trust have set up camp here, providing decent car-parking and a visitor centre. It costs £2.50 for a couple of hours, which I didn’t think was too bad, and the falls of course are worth it. Then it was on to Hawes, and from there the long, bleakly spectacular run of the B6255, to Ribblehead. We managed this bit of the run with the top down, Mazzy’s humour lifting enormously, making her roar with the pleasure of it, and lending to the sun-splashed, blue-skied scene, at last, a moving connection that brought a lump to my throat.

It was a weekend of thoughts then, about the nature of time, about writing, and even of Origami. It was also a weekend of waterfalls and old churches. And it was a weekend of roads, the best in England, roads that make driving still a pleasure, a pleasure I had largely forgotten on account of long decades spent behind the wheel of a car merely commuting. But as that accident near Kilnsey reminds us, these roads can also exact a terrible price for a moment’s distraction. They are beloved of many, but struggling now to accommodate the sheer variety of transport they nowadays carry. Along the way I encountered vast lumbering peletons of MAMILS; I came upon huge farm vehicles hauling skyscrapers of hay; then there were the wide-beamed Chelsea tractors, the caravans, the motorhomes; and there were entire squadrons of ton-up motorcycles, a half glimpsed minuscule dot in one’s rear view mirror, then roaring past your ear like a jet fighter barely a second later,…

Even in remoteness these roads can at times feel terribly crowded. Now and then though the way simply opens, and it’s just you, and the freedom of the Dales.

That’s the magic of it.

Footage: Mazzy’s  dashcam. (Mr Happy was along for the ride)

Drive carefully.

Graeme out.

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