After they flattened the pit in Ackworth, the village where I was born, it never felt the same. In particular after they built 200 identical houses clad with honey coloured stone that would never be blackened with soot. There would be no soot from these new houses because they had no chimneys! I think in retrospect that the developer must have thought, 'Let's make a clean break with all the dirt and grime that used to be here. No one wants to burn dirty old coal, everyone wants North Sea Gas or Electricity'. It was cleaner but it felt that bit less like 'home'.
These memories came back to me when deep in conversation with Dave Padley, the Countryside Officer for the area, and a local resident in the Coach and Horses, Bolton by Bowland, last Friday. We had just been in the Village Hall where we had got local people's views on 'What look's right in Bolton by Bowland?' (which will contribute towards a Design Guide for the AONB). I was shouting above the uproarious laughter of the crowd, 'What makes a village like this and this pub so vibrant and so happy?' 'There's no one thing', said the young woman who had been born there and had aunts, uncles, cousins and nieces all over the Ribble Valley. When she planned to move away from the valley, a local sage had prophesied, 'You'll be back; you'll go away but you'll always come back' and true enough, she had returned. She said that the secret of the village was, 'a good pub, a shop, the school, the church, having your family scattered around the local villages, your children playing in cricket teams, football teams, even taking gates off their hinges (and then returning them) at Halloween and pinching peas from peoples gardens and getting into trouble.'
On Saturday there was a Festival Bowland event at Slaidburn. It was billed as a walk around wildflower meadows with a couple of experts – Jon Hickling of Natural England and Geoff Morries, former county ecologist. Slaidburn was heaving with crowds of people milling around the steam fair and we quickly moved out of the village into the woods and meadows. We left the fairground organ music fading away and it was replaced by the noise of a softly bubbling stream and bird song. As time passed we made our way along the footpaths uncovering an increasing variety of flowers and grasses that have been there for thousands of years. They never went anywhere; but they have gone from almost all the other meadows and hedgerows round about. As we walked, Jon and Geoff talked about so much more than flowers and their names. It was quite simply a celebration of all that was best about the English countryside in June.
And another memory comes back to me of a conversation I had a couple of years ago with Wilf Blezard, former worker at HJ Berrys and landlord of the Talbot Hotel and Sun Inn at Chipping. A member of the Boddington family quietly asked Wilf one afternoon after observing the lunchtime surge of pints and pies and good humoured banter delivered by Wilf and Marie at the Talbot that once sold more beer than any other Boddington's pub, 'What makes this pub so good, Wilf? Is it our beer, is it Chipping village or is it you?' Perhaps it was all three.