Reflections on Living in the Peak District and the Definition of ‘Home’
2021 marked the 70th Anniversary of the designation of the Peak District as Britain’s first ever National Park. There are now 15 of them up and down the length of this land, the most recent being The South Downs, designated in 2010. I feel privileged to have enjoyed living in both the oldest and the youngest one, at the appropriate ends of my life: I grew up on the South Downs, I am growing old in the Peak District. Isn’t there a certain serendipitous circularity to that?
So from the softly rounded chalk hills of the South Downs, forming a splendid 87-mile band from Winchester to Beachy Head and separating rolling green-gold pastures from the grey-green waters of the English Channel, I moved north in mid-life to the harsher, darker crags of the Peak District: from the soft, salty air of the south wafting hints and lures of the continent, to the biting winds of the north swirling menacingly around our chimney stacks bringing rains and snow on their angry breath, mine has been an English life of two halves.
When I started this blog, 14 long years ago, I was a different person to the one who writes today, superficially at least. For one’s heart and soul doesn’t really change, does it? It grows and develops, for sure, as that is the purpose of life’s journey, but I do believe your essence remains the same. The essence of the energy of that life form that emerges from your mother’s womb - that is YOU. Some of us start strong and become weaker; some start weak and become stronger. It depends what life throws at you. I was in the former camp at the point where I was required to move north, against my will, for my husband’s career, in 2003. My younger years had been notable for my self-confidence and happiness, but somewhere along the way I had lost my purpose, my direction and my self-esteem. By my 40th birthday, instead of being in the prime of my life, I had lost all sense of self and I had grown weak. Very weak.
It took me four years to work my way into my new unexpected life up here, despite the fact I loved the house and garden we had found and which I worked so hard at making ‘home’. But when an already weak plant has been uprooted and re-planted in unfamiliar soil, it takes a while to adapt. Much nurture and careful attention is required to nurse it back into healthy life. And so that was my task for the first four years of life in the Peak District. We were a band of five, trying to make an unfamiliar place familiar. My husband had his career to focus on and that brought with it a ready-made sense of belonging. For me it was so much harder. Being left alone at the beginning of every day with three little girls under the age of four with all my support network - my parents, my friends, my routines and basic services of doctor, dentist and hairdresser - removed from my life, was not easy. Especially when I couldn’t even look after myself at that point. My spirit at that time was broken, my mental and emotional world in chaos, my health was suffering. So yes, it was a difficult period, especially when I had moved to a small village community which was rooted in its landscape, traditions and family and which daily taunted me with how ‘separate’ I felt. Somehow making a life abroad - as I had done in both France and Italy - had been far easier than making a life in a different part of my own country of birth. Abroad is abroad. Home is home. But this wasn’t my home. My home was down south. This was everyone else’s home but mine, it seemed, as I met people at the school gates talking in my own language about places and things I’d never heard of or experienced or could even envisage. I don’t think I have ever felt more like a fish out of water. Or such utter loneliness.
But time heals. Bit by bit I became stronger in myself again once my chronic depression had been diagnosed and I worked my way through drugs and therapies. As the children’s routines became embedded in their school lives, so my own grew new roots too. Things started to feel familiar. I started to feel part of the fabric of this place. Eventually, even heading north from the south coast of England finally felt like ‘coming home’.
18 years down the line, it is hard to imagine home as anywhere else. Home is where the memories have been made. Home is where my children have been brought up. Home is where you feel safe and warm. This handsome old house that we live in has done that and so much more. She has enveloped us in her thick stone walls and allowed us to gaze on glorious nature from her mullioned windows. She has stood here on this earth so much longer than us. She has lived through an ever-changing world. She has been home to so many before us, absorbing the details and emotions of their lives over the centuries, but the view from here never changes. It is timeless. It is raw. It is beautiful. And it will be here way beyond us.
I posed two questions when I started my blog in 2007: ‘Does a southerner become a northerner, do you ever go back south? And do you rebel from a life in the wake of a husband’s career, or do you stick with it for better or worse?’ Well, it seems that I am still here, even with my children’s schooling finished and my husband’s career ended. Knowing the north as I now do, I would never presume to call myself a northerner, but I am not quite a southerner these days either! I have been shown new perspectives on my own country and my fellow countrymen and I love and respect all that I have learned. As with a good marriage, you ride the highs and the lows and hopefully come out stronger. The last 18 years haven’t always been easy, but the lessons I’ve learned along the way have brought me back to a place of inner strength. The backdrop to that journey has been these ancient hills, ever present, ever stoic. The healing power of Nature. For that, I will be forever grateful.
It seems only fitting to end these musings with some images of my last walk of 2021 in the majestic, immutable landscape that has become, without question, ‘Home’.
Happy New Year to you all.