Woodsmoke and Conversation
Two nights in a tiny village near Eyam. Just long enough for a first, brief taste of the Derbyshire Peak District, and a welcome chance to catch up with Colin Greenland, whom I hadn’t seen for over four years.
The Wednesday morning was grey when I left Shrewsbury, and the train was filled with noisy families off to Manchester for the day. But after changing at Stockport I had a much more peaceful run to Buxton, with the sun finally breaking through the grey cloud and shining into steep wooded valleys, the tree colours all golds and rust against the grey of the rocks and the buildings.
I had plenty of time for a wander around Buxton, and a quick lunch before catching the bus to my destination. I found the Pavillion Gardens – an old-fashioned park with a miniature train chugging around and a Victorian hothouse complete with palm trees and a goldfish pond. The camera was kept busy.
The bus took me through more steep, wooded valleys, through neat stone-built villages and across high land divided into long, narrow fields by grey drystone walls. Colin was waiting outside the village pub, and took me to the cottage, which is as comfortable and cosy as you could wish, tucked away from the road. A perfect home for two writers, although Susanna Clarke was down in Cambridge while I was there, so I only had Colin’s company. After a cup of tea, we went across the fields to Great Hucklow: a good few stone stiles and squeezes to negotiate, but an easy walk. While Colin fed a friend’s gerbils, I tried to catch the colour in the trees before the light went. Mostly stands of beeches here: it’s high, well-drained, limestone country. Wells and springs, rather than rivers, dictate the settlements – as did the mining industry, now all gone. Even more than Shropshire, the area relies on the tourists – mostly walkers.
Back to the cottage, to a fine lamb casserole, and out to see a film at Eyam Mechanics’ Institute with some of Colin’s friends. The Age of Stupid is a clever presentation of the urgent need to take action on climate change. It makes its most profound points by simply showing the lives of a few people who we get to know as it progresses. Complex lives, real people, true stories, no clear-cut ‘goodies and baddies’. Around and among this excellent documentary series are some graphical depictions of facts and figures and the film’s weakest part, Pete Postelthwaite as a supposed archivist looking back from the ruined future, calling up the clips on his computer. Much food for thought, managing to make its point without being too ‘preachy’. We discussed it in the car home and then until bedtime, in front of Colin and Susanna’s wood-burning stove.
An early start the next morning, as Colin had to go to Bakewell for a class. Angela, the friend who had driven us to Eyam was giving him a lift and I was happy to tag along. I had ample time to walk up to the parish church which overlooks the town and take more pictures. There was a layer of mist in the valley, which gradually cleared to a fine morning. After the class was over, we had coffee with Angela and a couple of other ladies.
I enjoyed visiting the farmer’s market with Colin, who was shopping. We had an excellent lunch in a restaurant above a bakery which claimed to be the home of the original Bakewell Pudding — not much like the Bakewell tart met in other places, this is more of an egg-custard in a pastry case. (No room for that after the main course, so I bought one to take home to Shropshire with me. I can report it very pleasant, if a little sweet for my taste.) A quick browse in a secondhand bookshop, and then a circuitous bus journey passing through many little villages, the first part of it on a double-decker bus. A very good way to see the countryside.
We ended up dining at The Bull’s Head in Foolow, which served us good food. The landlord and barmaid were very friendly and welcoming. We sat in two former theatre seats, at a table near to the bar, where we could watch all that was going on and join in the banter occasionally. Back, eventually, to the cottage, to attempt to light a fire that refused to do more than smoke, to listen to an interesting selection of music and to talk about books, life and people until nearly midnight.
And then it was morning and we took the bus to Buxton. Colin to do some shopping and I to wait for a train home. The train journey was less fraught than the outward one, and I was home by the middle of Friday afternoon.
Many thanks to Colin for his excellent hospitality and to Angela for driving us about. For such a short break, it was incredibly refreshing and relaxing. I came home with memories of golden trees in grey valleys, snug stone houses, friendly, intelligent people, a comfortable place, good fresh food, sunlight, woodsmoke and conversation.