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Published: July 18th 2015
Walking to the station in Sheffield to catch the 8:22 to Leeds and on to Hebden Bridge. A first. The early morning warm, muggy, faintly-damp air lends itself to the feel of 'after a monsoon' but it is summer in South Yorkshire.
A young man sits opposite me on the Leeds train. He's bright-white shirted with a fold ironed down the sleeves with the neck tightly buttoned and fastened with a small-knot black tie. He reads the local free paper and so do I, or rather I look at the pictures. Somewhere between Sheffield and Wakefield, he takes out a note book and fine-line pen, and starts a line drawing full of architectural detail in a building drawn, not from a book or photograph but, from inside his head. It doesn't take much for me to ask if he is drawing for a reason. The book is full of black fine-line drawings of imaginary towns with exquisite details, set on hillsides tumbling down to the sea or in a row or in a huddle, each drawing full of more scrolls, windows, alleys, roof tops, depth and perspective than the last. He says he's and architect on his way
to Leeds to work on site in a Library refurb. He draws all of his spare time and hopes to start selling them, then he lifts the end of the black tie which was lying under the table, to show 4inches of a town intricately embroidered in the same style as the drawings. 'My wife did this', he says, ' she interpreted my drawing and embroidered this scene for me'. It is gorgeous, made with love and a desire to share the drawing passion of her husband - Signed. Yana. We talk of first trips, like mine to Hebden today and how his sister had a shit last year in London and decided to do a thing a day that scared the shit out of her, and I told him of when I got on a train in Sheffield and got off after many more in South China. These passing, fleeting, conversations and moments are what trips are made of. At Leeds, we wish each other a good day and part.
The train to Hebden Bridge and on to Manchester, is driven by a lady train driver. I'm a little proud of her when she tells me
that she is only 1 of 10 lady drivers out of 180 in this area. I disguise my pride by following her down the aisle and chatting along the way then ask if I can ride in the front with her. By the slight pause before answering, I can tell that she almost agrees but, she laughs and walks on.
At first, there is little to feel or notice but when a journey of a 'first' takes a hold, all sorts of things happen.
Hebden Bridge is a small town that nestles in the Calder Valley, on a canal, encircled by old weaving mills, with a river running through it, tiny cobbled lanes and houses that open on two different streets on steep banks, rows of old weaving cottages and a very steep, cobbled incline to Hepstonstall - the place where Sylvia Plath is buried - A place chosen by Ted Hughes, my destination for today.
On the Butress, the very steep, cobbled, wide-path through a wooded area towards Heptonstall, the air is damp and the smell of wet woodland earth comes to greet me. A faint layer of mist covers
my arms. It is quiet all around. The many hundreds of cobbles have been cleverly laid so that the top part is raised out at an angle. This gives better anchorage to the ground. An old iron railing runs along the wall on the right. Part way up, is an old small graveyard with the inhabitants looking over the valley to Hebden in it basin. The light is through the trees in beams here.
On the approach to Heptonstall, the Church bells can be heard. Throughout my hour or so in the village, the bells never stop. In the shadow of the old church, there is a newer grave yard in a flat, low-walled area and this is where Sylvia rests. I forgot to ask anyone the exact place. There is no-one around to ask. There are possibly 200 graves in this area, or more, so, I give it time and walk up and down the overgrown rows of stones. Some I read then I forget the reason I am here, some I look at the dates because they're more or less, in date order. Quite by surprise, I find her. The plot is quite unassuming. The
stone bears the words:
SYLVIA PLATH HUGHES
1932 - 1963
EVEN AMIDST FIERCE FLAMES
THE GOLDEN LOTUS CAN BE PLANTED
Heptonstall, is an old West Yorkshire weaving village set on a hillside, a few miles from Mytholmroyd, the place where Ted Hughes was born. Sylvia lies alone in a graveyard without a view and, I imagine a far cry from where she was born in Boston, Massachusetts. I find this a little odd.
Before coming on this trip, I decided to read something to Sylvia. I didn't want to read anything by Ted because I thought she might get mad. And I didn't want to read anything by Sylvia herself because I'm not fond of much and I thought that she would be mad at me because my intonation wasn't correct enough. So, I chose to take a book of short stories by Anasi Nin. Sitting on the edge stone of the adjacent grave, I read, 'Saffron' and hope that Sylvia might approve.
Here is the opening paragraph:
Fay had been born in New Orleans. When she was sixteen she was courted by a
man of forty whom she had always liked for his aristocracy and distinction. Fay was poor. Albert's visits were events to her family. For him their poverty was hastily disguised. He came very much like the liberator, talking about a life Fay had never known, at the other end of the city...
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