Extract from YORKSHIRE mores - Richard Askwith in the British Airways Magazine "High Life" October 2008
Richard Askwith visited Mytholmroyd in June. His brief - to write a travel feature for British Airways Magazine, 'High Life', about Yorkshire's literary heritage. He came to Mytholmroyd because of it's association with Ted Hughes to see what the legacy meant to local people. The extract from the article is reproduced below.
Hughes grew up about seven miles south of Haworth, in Mytholmroyd. The former mill town has only recently begun to boast of the connection and, in the past few years, a concerted effort has been made to celebrate the fact that the poet not only lived in Mytholmroyd until he was eight, and spent part of his teens in nearby Heptonstall, but also found much of his deepest inspiration there.
Now Mytholmroyd railway station is festooned with extracts from The Iron Man, with illustrations supplied by the nearby infants' school. Calder High School, the local comprehensive, has just built an impressive new Ted Hughes Theatre, which will be used by the whole community. In June, Hughes's childhood home - an end-of-terrace house at 1 Aspinall Street - was opened to the public. Refurbished in the 1930s style of his childhood, it will henceforth be used principally as a holiday let (ideally to writers) but will also be open sometimes for more casual visits (see elmettrust.com for details).
Next month sees a week-long Ted Hughes festival (22-28 October), marking the tenth anniversary of the poet's death. Visitors to Mytholmroyd can enjoy poetry readings and competitions, plays, films, concerts, an opera, exhibitions and guest appearances. Best of all, in my opinion, they should have the chance to explore the streets and hillsides on three waymarked walks that identify specific spots as the inspiration for several poems by Hughes. The walks are largely the creation of Donald Crossley, a local artist who was one of Hughes's closest childhood friends and who has spent much of the past decade researching the relationship between the poet's childhood and his work. I spent an exhausting but exhilarating afternoon being shown around by Donald, as he unlocked the secrets of poem after poem from the underrated 1979 collection, Remains of Elmet. Here, just opposite Hughes's bedroom window, was the former site of the Mount Zion chapel (the 'building blocking the moon' described in Mount Zion); here was the 'slime-brink' under the bridge where Donald and Teddy (as he then was) used to fish (The Canal's Drowning Black). Here was the spot where they used to throw stones at the '500 glass skylights' of the old foundry ('Under the World's Wide Rims'); and here, on the steep green fellside behind the town, was where Teddy shot his first rat, where he saw his first hawk, where he and his brother Gerald first smoked out weasels ('The Weasels We Smoke out of the Bank').
'This is where it all began,' said Donald, eyes bright with excitement. This was nature as a little boy comes at it.'
Striding towards the windy hilltop, he explained how Gerald - ten years older than Ted and now living in Australia - used to take young Teddy up this same rough path and 'learn him how to fish, how to light fires'. The brothers often used to camp out, and it was on one such adventure - just over the hill at Crimsworth Dene - that Hughes later claimed to have had 'the dream that later turned into all my writing.' I don't suppose many literary tourists are energetic enough to follow Donald's itinerary to the letter. But the very fact that such guidance exists marks a significant step forward not just for Mytholmroyd but for our understanding of Ted Hughes. It may be a few years yet before Mytholmroyd becomes a place of literary pilgrimage to rival Howarth, but the town's growing Hughes cult can only be good: for the townspeople, for tourists, and for Yorkshire - England's richest literary county.Photograph David Crookes
Richard Askwith's The Lost Village: In Search of a Forgotten Rural England is out now (£17.99, Ebury Press).