Back, at the weekend, from a two day visit to the old home ground (on the outskirts of Manchester), partly business, partly catching up with friends now not seen nearly as often as I’d like, and I’m struck by how much, in just two and a half years, I’ve absorbed this Cumbrian lifestyle.
Take the flies. (Please, somebody take the flies! And the moths!)
‘Eww! You’re not selling it to us,’ chorus friends who haven’t yet travelled to this Land Far, Far Away to experience its many finer points, as I detail our new-found addiction to fly paper.
I get the impression that flies are very much a thing of the past in Worsley, much as they are in Countryfile columnist Sara Maitland‘s kitchen in Dumfries and Galloway.
Yet, flies and moths and battles with builders notwithstanding, I’ll take my life up here (and not just because I share it with the climbing gremlin). Off the top of my head, here’s a few reasons why.
One. I can breathe! The air might be heady with ‘eau de ferme’ and heavy with the no longer quite so gentle Lake District rain but, pitched against the daily outpourings of a million exhaust pipes, battling the M60 car park, and all its choked-up arteries, it’s pretty sweet.
Two. I might no longer have John Lewis or Ikea on my doorstep but I do have the most eclectic, uniquely quirky, mix of independent shops – all within a very short stride of each other – and, incidentally, the friendliest retailers and supermarket cashiers I think I’ve ever met. Home-grown meat, exotic fresh-caught fish, proper bread and proper cheese (and a fine selection of recommended wines, including our favourite gin – distilled right here in Cumbria – to wash it all down with). Buttons and beads, Farrow and Ball AND Annie Sloan. Gifts and trinkets, pencils and paints and pastels. Books and cards and toys (toys!!). And bicycles. Fancy beachwear and even fancier knickers, bridal gowns and aqua shoes. Reconditioned gardening tools so lovingly oiled and polished you’ll just want to keep them for ‘best’, locally-crafted genuine brass taps and good old-fashioned enamel bakeware. And flowers. Amazing flowers. All this and no MacDonalds!
Three. I swear you’re never more than three feet from a hot beverage of choice and a big juicy slice of home-made cake…
The trouble with planning…
Comforting to learn my former neighbours are suffering the same frustrations with avaricious developers and box-ticking planners. By the time I left, the area had already been stuffed to the gunnels with ‘new builds’. Twenty-odd years of creeping concrete, ‘tastefully designed’ doll’s houses packed ever tighter, open-plan gardens and unfeasibly narrow roads which doubtless looked stunning on paper but leave little room for house upon house of four-car families. Yet no new schools, doctors and dentists at a premium and every which way a snarl of stop-start traffic. (Sound familiar?)
Don’t get me wrong, I lived in one of those new-builds – bought it off plan, where its thoughtfully landscaped avenues and closes did indeed look enticing – and it served me well for twenty years. But I guess I was lucky. Mine was one of the first. I had the luxury of a garden, a corner plot, a beautiful mature tree, proper wooden windows, a double garage and a drive sufficiently wide to accommodate several cars (should I ever have needed it). And, working from home, I didn’t have to join that stop-start ‘dash’ for the M60 every morning (or the weary crawl back home), just to earn a living.
I still had green fields just across the canal. The occasional sound of cows lowing, horses clopping past. I have no idea whether horses still clop by or whether their homes too have been eaten up by the planners but it’s not the place it was. And in so short a time.
Driving through the old estate at the weekend was a challenge in itself, just negotiating ‘parked’ cars and the laughingly unnecessary ‘traffic calming measures’. And there, at the end of the road, where once lay open fields, lanes and hedgerows rich with wildlife (including the occasional kestrel) – where people walked their dogs and rested their busy brains – sits yet another site office, yet another show house (doubtless beautifully appointed but spectacularly lacking in storage space). Alongside, building plots crowd in ever tighter. Green a thing of the past.
And all along the approach roads to that site office – in homes whose very existence helped create the pickle they’re now in – every garden bristling with placards: ‘Say no to Phase 2’, ‘Don’t buy here if you want a dentist… or a doctor… or want to get you children educated…’ ‘Say no to traffic’.
(And yes, I do see the irony. I too helped create the pickle. But where does it end? How many more people and cars can you pile into one place, feeding into one already-struggling road system, before it implodes?)
In fact, I’m so intrigued I check out the marketing bumf. It’s ‘a rural location,’ apparently, ‘with great connections to transport links’, which puts a whole new spin on the term ‘rural’ – and, whilst you might physically be connected to any number of transport links, actually negotiating your way through them on a busy day – any day – is stress in a bottle. In January, Barbara Keeley, the local MP for Worsley, described these very same transport links as being ‘at breaking point’. But when did that ever stop the planners?
There’s so many messages here, on so many levels, I’m not sure where to start. So I’ll just leave it with you.
Suffice to say, it was good to get away, past the ‘Welcome to Cumbria’ sign, through the always-uplifting Lune Valley, and back to the green and the trees and the ‘eau de ferme’. And the views of the mountains. While they last.