As I last mentioned over four years ago in the early days of this blog, the part of the UK that I live in is FLAT!
That is to say, to the east of the City of Peterborough in which I reside it is not uncommon for the horizon to seem to be (and there’s only one way to put this)……. below the horizon! I know that doesn’t make sense, or rather it doesn’t make sense if you’ve never experienced a clear sunny day in The Fens when what I think of as “the dome of the sky” appears to be much more than a mere hemisphere.
There is also sometimes the disconcerting realisation when driving along fenland roads that the high embankment towering 10 to 20 feet above you is the outer bank of a river or drain! Such is the sunken state of the land around that “sea level” is actually quite high up. And those slopes that do exist are very gradual and virtually unnoticeable after nearly 20 years of familiarity with them.
So, you can imagine the shock to our “fen legs” when our younger daughter decided to do her “higher” (pun intended) education in Lancashire and then, to make matters worse, took jobs initially in Carlisle and then transferred to the office in Kendall in the Lake District. For the benefit of those not familiar with the geography of the British Isles I should point out here that while there are indeed some very flat lakes in that area they are set amid the tallest mountains that the English part of the UK possesses.
Consequently, whenever we visited her in any of those places we had to contend with driving or walking up or down these strange things called HILLS!
And as a result it was very seldom that I returned from weekend visits in “The North” to the nigh on two dimensional environment of home without aching calf muscles that felt, for a week or so, like bars of iron.
Not every part of East Anglia is completely flat – the bit that I was born and brought up in had quite a few gently rolling hills; just nothing very high or craggy. The town of Ipswich that I come from was founded in a river valley and its subsequent development has meant that to leave the centre for the outer, residential suburbs one always has to negotiate a (sometimes quite steep) hill. These were quite a struggle when I used to cycle everywhere and even proved to be hard work for my first, small motorbike. There was even, as I recall one residential road (It may have been Devonshire Road – I’m sure one former Ipswich resident will put me right if it wasn’t!) that was SO steep and short that no-one dared cycle down it for fear of ending up in the front room of a house in the street that ran across the end of it!
None of those hills prepared me in any way for the Lancastrian or Cumbrian versions – especially the additional skills required for driving a car up there. While my normal experience can be summed up as going “along” and “side to side”, my northern driving mindset had to factor in “up and down” as well – often at the same time as the other two.
This “3D” driving gave me some problems until I learned to think of it as similar to flying an aeroplane (something I always wanted to do) and after that I rather enjoyed it.
I still don’t much relish the aching calf muscles though and was rather relieved when the daughter in question got a new job in Essex!
At school (and this is not quite the complete change of tack that it might appear to be – bear with me) we did not do much in the way of creative poetry and I don’t actually recall spending all that much time reading or analysing it either. I was, however, moved by the very subject of this piece to pen a short verse – probably the only thing of this sort, outside of dirty limericks, that I have ever attempted – for the Visitors’ Book at a holiday cottage that we stayed at in Cumbria in 2009.
It was actually the same accommodation that inspired this article four years ago https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2009/06/25/ but it was the height of the landscape rather than the door frames that inspired this particular literary classic. That plus the aforementioned aching calf muscles, of course!
So, for the first time in “proper” print I offer you the following tribute to the lands that Hadrian built so spectacularly on:
From Anglo-Saxon lands we came;
from Broads and Fens and Eastern chills,
to where the Romans held in might,
their wall along the hills.
We do the normal tourist things,
we stare in awe, we drink and sup;
and ask the “flatland” question –
about why everywhere seems UP!
And now I have to try to think of something else because I’ve been trying for almost exactly four years to find a way of getting those useless verses into print!