There is a busy road running through a small village in West Yorkshire. As I drive through the village I look around at the buildings. Some of them look pretty shabby, but the older buildings are solidly built from old millstone grit. The village has nothing of the quaintness that one imagines of a country village. Thatched roofs and chocolate box scenes belong down south, or even perhaps in North Yorkshire. But none of that in West Yorkshire. These are old mill towns and their surrounding villages.
We are almost through the village when we see a track to the right. On the map it is described as a lane. It is a public road, or at least a right of way. But in reality it is merely a long farm track, and we could easily drive on past without noticing it. In fact, the first time we came that’s exactly what we did. However, this time we turn down it and enter the farm. The track is rough with grassy bits growing in the middle, and we have to drive slowly down it to protect our car from potential damage from ruts or holes.
I slow to a halt for a moment. I often do this, and never tire of the view. I gaze to the left of straight ahead, across the valley at the viaduct in the distance. I don’t know what it is, but there is something perfect about hills sloping down into valleys with a viaduct running across the top.
Today Charlie, the present owner, is slowly making his way up the track with a large tank of weedkiller on his back. He tells us it’s the responsibility of the owners to keep the weeds by the side of the track at bay, and seems almost gleeful as he teases us about our up and coming responsibilities.
We park outside the house that will soon be ours. It is old and delapidated, empty and derelict. It still contains many of Charlie’s brother’s belongings. The old man’s interest in horses is told by the many pieces of old horse tack lying around the rooms, and hanging from hooks by the door. The carpets are still in place in the upstairs rooms, but they’re full of years of damp and mould.
As I look up at the front of the house, I feel its loneliness. Many of the windows have long since gone and rough boards have been nailed in their places. The wooden frames are rotten, and some of the mullions are missing. If eyes are the window to the soul, I think windows must be the eyes of the house. The eyes of this house are dark and empty. It has stood for over three hundred years looking out over the West Yorkshire valleys and hills. Its history is borne in the scars we see if we really look. It has known ruin from fire, and rebuildings over many years. What was once two cottages was made into three, then into two again.
But now the house stands empty, and I can almost hear it groan for the old days when there were families making it a home; when children ran in and out of rooms giggling, and labourers got up for an early breakfast before walking off for their daily work on the farm. Soon, I whisper, you will be loved again. We will make you our home. We will do you up till you look beautiful again. We’ll put up some trellis, and then the rose that’s running on the ground can climb up your face, and also the honeysuckle. You will be so beautiful.
My husband goes into the house and lights the fire. He is testing the chimney. The fire crackles brightly, and the house feels happier already. But it isn’t only the chimney that smokes. The smoke coming through the surrounding roof tells of cracks in the flues. They will need repairing, but there is already so much to do that it seems to make little difference.
I have seedlings to plant in the big vegetable garden out the front. I spend a busy few hours digging the ground over and planting. It is a walled garden, very large, and with much still to explore. Whenever I am here I cannot help but feel my surroundings. I come from a busy city. No matter what my activities are, I am surrounded by traffic and people hurrying around their hectic lives. Here, in this garden in the middle of a farm, I am surrounded by countryside stretching as far as the eye can see. The country is perfect. One hill after another rolls out before me, sloping away into valleys. Not for me the flats and low undulations. My breath is almost taken away by the drama of the hills. My heart feels joy when I think that soon I will own this house and garden. Soon I will look on this view every day and never tire of it. It will never cease to fascinate, and I will always truly see and feel the peacefulness of it.
If I could go anywhere, I would go here where my future lies.