26 May 2014

A Sense of Self

This isn't the blog I intended to write today. No, I planned to post a story about the four days I just spent walking in the Scottish Borders. Either that, or our week away at the Ride2stride Walking Festival, or maybe my new project to walk A Dales High Way on alternate Saturdays with a group from Nidderdale or.... 

Well you get the idea. I've got plenty going on, most of it involving walking and all of it taking me away from home. And that's where the problem lies.

Last night I had a visit from the secretary of our allotment association, a dear friend of mine, who wondered on behalf of t'committee, whether I was actually going to plant anything on my plot this year. She offered me 3 alternatives - give it up, share with someone from the waiting list or commit to cultivating. I tried to convince her that there was a 4th option - leave me and my weeds to our own devices but no - I have to make my mind up.

My plot looks like this ...
...when it should look like this
Our allotments are stunning, tucked away behind the church in Saltaire and bordered by the Leeds Liverpool canal. I've spent some of my happiest hours there. Me, the dog, a flask and a sunny afternoon. But with a long waiting list and most plots shared by 2 or 3 families already it's really not fair that I hang on to mine.
The canal flows along the bottom of the site
So with a heavy heart I've been down this morning, picked my last rhubarb, collected my tools and handed back the key to the taps. I know it's the right decision. I don't have the time, I'm not at home enough and every time the sun shines there's an almighty tussle between the walking boots and the gardening gloves. It might even be a relief to be rid of it, one less thing to worry about in an already overcrowded life, but I'm heartbroken all the same

It's not just that I'll miss the gardening, I have a garden at home, I can neglect that instead. It's not the company - I enjoy a chinwag with my allotment neighbours but I see most of them around the village anyway. It's not even losing the peace and quiet although one of the things I love most is that feeling of being away from phones and emails and domestic responsibilities for an hour or two. 

No, I think I'm saddest about giving up the notion of myself as someone who has an allotment. It's who I think I am - walker, gardener, writer, cook - and giving up the allotment feels like I've lost a part of myself.
Last year's apple and redcurrant jelly

14 May 2014

Town v Country

I usually tell people I live in Saltaire. It's not strictly true because Saltaire proper is the World Heritage mill village built by Titus Salt in the 1850's to house his workforce.

I live one street away on an estate built by Shipley Corporation in the 1930's, also to house the local workforce.

Our view
No matter. Either way it's a beautiful place to live. Surrounded by woods and fields with the Leeds Liverpool canal and the river Aire running through the valley bottom you'd never think we are just a few miles from Bradford and Leeds. Our little station is crowded each morning with commuters travelling the 20 minutes or so into the cities by train and in the evenings with people setting off for nights out.
Trinity Arcade, Leeds
The other day I popped into Leeds for a pizza with a friend and we got talking about where we live, would like to live or might live in the future. I'm a country girl and  I've often  fantasised about moving to the back of beyond and living the rural dream. Recreating my childhood in fact. Work and friends and family prevented such a move for many years and now I'm in the position I could actually consider it I've changed my mind. An isolated life on a Dales farm is fantastic for kids. We had an idyllic childhood. It's not so great when you get older. Lack of public transport and shops and services that are increasingly located away from the villages mean that you are always dependant on a car. 

What happens when your income, your health or your inclination means you want to stop driving? How do you get your prescription or buy a pair of shoes or visit the bank without asking for lifts? How do you continue a social or cultural life when a night at the theatre involves a round trip of 50 miles and most importantly how do you retain your independence into old age?

All these things struck me as I left our lovely green valley with its woods and its fields and its waterways and jumped on a train to enjoy a glass of wine amid the buzz of the big city. I think I'll stay put.

9 May 2014

Should I, Would I, Could I?

Last week we hired a cottage in Settle and stayed there for the Ride2stride Walking Festival. The town was full, with walkers staying in cottages, pubs, B&Bs, tents and caravans. Our cottage was lovely. Converted from a garage attached to the owner's own house it had a small living room/kitchen that opened straight off the street with a bedroom and ensuite above. Charming and quite big enough for 2 people on a walking holiday but certainly not big enough for a full time residence.

I've always had very mixed feelings about holiday cottages. I'm from Dent where 20% of the houses are holiday or second homes. When my mum and dad retired they had to leave the farm, the house went with Dad's job. 

Our farm
Second home ownership had pushed up the prices of cottages beyond anything a retired shepherd and his wife could afford. It was an anxious time. They were lucky - a housing association was building homes in the village and they lived out the rest of their lives in the Dale that they both loved. Young people are not so lucky.They often end up moving away from the villages they've grown up in. In Dentdale over half of the residents have lived there for less than 10 years and 40% are retired. 

So, should we buy second homes? Holiday cottages in towns like Settle and villages like Dent that we can go to for weekends and holidays and let out to family and friends. It's tempting isn't it, especially for those of us who live our real lives in large towns and cities? Or should we stay in pubs and on campsites and hope that the pints we buy and the chocolate bars and the fish and chips do something to help keep small businesses alive in our towns and villages? What do you think?