Hebden Bridge

Even Amidst Fierce Flames

Sometimes you can be out and about looking for something when you fall upon something completely unexpected and unconnected.  So it was, that I found myself in Hebden Bridge, renowned as an epicentre for Bohemian and artistic types.  I knew that former Poet Laureate, the late Ted Hughes had originated from here.  I first came across Ted Hughes when I studied his bleak and brutal poetry collection Crow, for my English ‘A’ level.  A mature student, I was also heavily pregnant at the time with my youngest daughter.  And for some completely random and circuitous reasoning, we had arrived in Hebden Bridge to plan her wedding.  Life had apparently come full circle.

Heptonstall Gothic ruinAfter all the arrangements had been discussed and the deposit paid for the reception, we decided to stretch our legs and found ourselves heading up the steep sides of the Calder Valley, where terraced houses clung by their finger nails and patches of grass and bits of shrubbery resembled The Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Late afternoon, we arrived on the top of the broody Pennines in a village called Heptonstall with cobbled streets and the huge gothic ruins of an ancient church and tombstones, so atmospheric in the dying winter sun.  And over the dry stoned walls, still soot-stained from generations of industry lay the remote moors and inspiration for the Bronte Sisters.

Heptonstall Gothic ruins

Sylvia Plath GraveAcross the other side of the present parish church was another burial ground; it was there that we came upon the grave of Sylvia Plath, poet, writer of The Bell Jar and wife of Ted Hughes.

The headstone itself was unremarkable, smaller that others even, but it stood out with its tributes of gaudy flowers, shells and bright plastic pens strewn over the grave, incongrous against the gloom and decay around it.

I wondered, had I been prepared in advance, what would I have brought to honour such an esteemed writer whose life was so tragically cut short by suicide aged just 30 years?

After some deliberation, I considered that I would bring a notebook and a pen.  And I would sit down in the proximity of Sylvia’s grave and take time to reflect, to observe the pilgrims as they make their way to her shrine and to contemplate the shifting sands that make up the complexity of life. Perhaps a few fragments may come to me that I could shape.

And I realise that I would not in fact wish to leave anything, but rather that I would take so much away.

Even amidst fierce flames

The golden lotus can be planted