Thursday, 3 March 2011

Chapel, Venice of the High Peak

It was on this day, March 3rd, last year that I wrote this piece but never published it. I thought I would give it an airing now, but please do not judge me by it. I love where I live and I would never seek to bad-mouth it. These are just observations of ennui in two places of extraordinary difference yet managing to engender similar feelings.

Chapel, Venice of the High Peak

Chapel-en-le-frith and Venice are the same: spend too much time in either of them and you go a bit peculiar. But that's probably where the comparisons should end. While Chapel may lay claim to being the 'Capital of the Peak' and 'Home of Ferodo brake linings' (the smell of burning rubber suffuses the town), I think it fair to say that Venice has bigger things to shout about (food, architecture, art, music and culture to mention just a few). Having said that, I did notice The Chapel Playhouse for the first time today after six years of driving past it and not. It's a reasonably imposing stone building (though clearly not that imposing if it's taken me over half a decade to spot it), but it hardly matches the Baroque splendour of Il Teatro La Fenice, home of Italian opera in Venice. But beggars cannot be choosers.

So, why on earth was I thinking of Venice as I was going about my mundane business in Chapel this morning? It's not an obvious connection, I admit. All I can say is that, having spent a morning at the dentist (worse, hygienist), the chemist, the dry-cleaners, the one-horse vets, the lightless Londis, the humourless newsagents (paying paper bill), the kids exchange shop, Morrisons (and the horrors of the passport photo booth), the flower shop and the handy hardware shop (duck tape, bird seed, light bulbs, baskets and ribbon) I was pretty well ready to shoot myself. Ok, I exaggerate. But I had certainly been plunged into mental 'weird world'. I find it a little hard to explain this as, over the seven years since I moved up from the south, Chapel has slowly but surely become part of the fabric of my home - yet the same sort of feeling swept across me that I often got in Venice in the days when we lived just down the Brenta Canal and I was a frequent visitor to this most stunning and extraordinary of cities. Chapel is certainly extraordinary in terms of the number of pubs that line its High Street and has secured its place in history thanks to Oliver Cromwell paying a visit here in the 17th century - but I think most would agree that 'stunning' it is not. Good grief, I hear you ask, where is she going with this? I'm not sure I know myself, but maybe it's something about extremes...

Venice is at one extreme of civilisation - and Chapel at the other. The former dazzles with it's uniqueness and beauty, a place whose former prosperity was rooted in both the arts and its trading prowess; the latter hits you with its utter ordinariness and plainess, and the solidity of its grey granite and working roots. A quick trip into Venice made you heave heavy sighs of delight at every corner; a quick trip into Chapel makes you think 'it's not a bad place really'. But remain just a little too long and the impressions morph strangely into sighs of a different kind. In Venice I always found that the thrill soon turned to melancholy; in Chapel, the gentle pleasure of an unremarkable small local town, albeit surrounded by great natural beauty, turns swiftly to alarming feelings of mild depression. Especially on a dull, damp, murky day. I loved Venice in winter, without the crowds of tourists clogging the bridges and alleyways and swarming all over St Mark's Square as abundantly and oppressively as the pigeons. But before long the milky mists, the damp smells of the grey-green canal water seeped through your nostrils and began to leave a gloomy, suffocating impression on your brain. What is this splendid city? Who lives here? Is it real or is it a stage set? At a certain point you just want to run away, back to a familiar world of real streets and real shops and real people living real lives. Get back to a place like Chapel. Or maybe not. For stay too long in Chapel and I develop an equally urgent need to escape the solemn granite and functional shops - to return swiftly to my green and oh-so-pleasant haven: my village, my house, my garden, my view, my breathing space, my sanctuary. A place that seems worlds apart from the small grey town just down the lane. And both are a world away from Venice.


Mark said...

Many towns in Wales are like this; they have certain 'down at heel-ness' that is endearing and they feel real, more than a film set - they feel rooted. But it is to some extent a romantic notion, for they all (to greater or lesser extent) have depravation, decay and a loss and lack of culture too.

I rather like Chapel, and also many towns to the north of the Peak and South of the Dales - Otley, for example.

mountainear said...

Be very careful about what you wish for....I think Chapel (my late FIL's home 'town') may well be twinned with Welshpool.

Mark, above, describes the feel of it well. Uninspirational, melancholy and home to the planning decisions of doom -yet proud to be 'a gateway to Wales'. sigh.

commoncents said...

HA HA Great Post!

I'm glad I found your blog!!

Common Cents

Cait O'Connor said...

I have never been to Chapel but I think like Mark that some towns in Wales have the same feel. I know how you feel too. As my SIL wisely says, nothing is perfect.

Nutty Gnome said...

Well you certainly described the Chapel that I know ....except for the shop where you can exchange kids, I never spotted that one!!!

Thanks so much for spotting my Big Bud Mite - I've just spent the last 4+ hours digging all the blackcurrant bushes up because you were dead right!

Plantaliscious said...

Chapel sounds rather like Holyhead. When I lived on Anglesey I'd occasionally have to go there and generally left feeling rather grey. Sometimes I would spot the trendy new bridge to the station and smile, or enjoy the antics of the escaped Scousers, but always be glad to return to the wildness of Rhoscolyn. Good job you have a lovely village and garden to return too!

Not sure why I'm here said...

As a Buxtonian I have fond memories of spending my first wage on a picture from a shop in Chapel (where I worked many moons ago in 1985!!)

I would have to say that for me now the best thing about Chapel is Blythe House and the pub on the A6 on the way out towards Whaley Bridge (name escapes me but food cheap and cheerful and good value honest home cooking).

Alas my visits to the Peak District are no longer, my Mum recently moved to be near us in North Yorkshire!

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