The final part of the Back Down South trilogy: Home. To Rossendale, that valley in the Lancashire Pennines which will always be home, no matter where we go. It’s where I was born and grew up. It’s the landscape I’m familiar with and where there are memories at every turn: from childhood, adolescence, from Joe being very small. My mum lived here. She worked here. And though she’s been gone for almost five years, there are parts of this valley where she’s part of the story and that won’t ever change.
I saw my friends when we visited. A lot. we caught up with one another and the children played together as though they’d never really been apart. It was good to see my brother too, and my nieces. And to visit my favourite haunts. I went to Hebden Bridge and I got my boots re-heeled at the cobblers’ shop in Rawtenstall after waiting a year.
Some things have changed. A few of the beautiful old horse chestnut trees near Joe’s old school have been felled. We used to collect conkers from there in the evenings as the air started to get chilly, then come home and count them. The greengrocer in Hebden, who sold Christmas wreaths and mistletoe and little spring bulbs in pots, has gone. So has the wonderful toyshop. But my favourite florist in the world is still there and I went in and lost myself for a little while amongst the plants and flowers and beautiful things.
There are always going to be changes when you go back home. Nowhere’s going to stay the same, decade in and decade out. Some of them are sad, like the village pub being pulled down and being turned into houses. But the best change for me, in this particular part of the world, is when summer starts turning to autumn.
It was maybe a bit early in the year for falling leaves and woodsmoke, but we walked a lot and saw the subtle shifts happening. Sometimes I walked alone, sometimes with Jay, sometimes with Joe too. This is a place where I know exactly where certain trees and plants grow, where we can pick the very last of the wild raspberries and where the first toadstools will be appearing.
It was good to wander down along the river, through the woods. There’s a lot of comfort in the familiar.
Of course, we took full advantage of the proximity to shops and the chance to browse, to choose. On Skye we buy our groceries online and you miss the process of touching and smelling, of trying new things. We stocked up on not just food but clothes and shoes for Joe and things for the house, like plants and pots, picture frames and candles. We spent a lot of money.
But I don’t miss the traffic or the parking problems. Oversubscribed schools and impossibly expensive houses. And bustling towns and supermarkets are fine in small doses but not every day. There’s always the temptation to call in somewhere and pick something up for just the sake of it.
What do I miss? Friends. Family. Undulating hills, moors, woodlands, the steam train. The village cafe. The little secondhand bookshop up at the animal sanctuary. Seasonal rituals. Knowing a place like the back of my hand.
Will we ever come back for good? Maybe. Not just yet though…
PS Joe will be adding a new blog post soon. It’s his seventh birthday today too - that came around fast!