Monday, February 28, 2011

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills

As I drove over the hills of Mid-Wales yesterday morning on my way to and from church, I found myself pondering the psalmist’s words and realising that this is something I’ve been doing all my life. From my childhood in Lancashire onwards, hills have been the backdrop to my life and I have rarely lived out of sight of them.

I was born in a straggling east Lancashire cotton town in a steep-sided river valley

and spent my childhood in a small village scattered across the fringe of the West Pennine Moors.

These aren’t the high, bleak Pennines, as immortalised by Emily Brontë in her Wuthering Heights, but lower, rolling moors, bare of trees, but covered in tussocky heather and cotton-grass and peat-bog and almost always windswept.

Moving from this wide, austere landscape with its smoke-stained millstone grit buildings to the soft, gentle greenness of Oxfordshire and the honey-coloured stones of Oxford itself

was the first really big change in the physical and mental landscape of my life. It was the first time since I was six that I had lived for any time surrounded by buildings and I missed the moors. Occasionally, in open spaces, I caught sight of the low hills to the west of the city, but they are so small and tree-covered, that I hardly recognised them as such.

It was only when I returned to the area for the last three years of my working life that I really came to appreciate the understated charm of Oxfordshire’s hills.

After university I moved north with my brand-new husband to settle in Cumberland within sight of the westernmost Lakeland fells. Here we bought our first house, a neglected but typical Cumberland farmhouse, and it was here that DH got his first job and our two children were born. At weekends we would sometimes drive to Wastwater

or Ennerdale Water

to walk or picnic alongside the lake and soak in the very different beauty of the towering and often precipitously steep slopes of the fells and the wide expanses of water. Being on the very edge of the Lake District, these less well-known lakes were off the beaten tourist tracks and we frequently had their splendours almost entirely to ourselves. Here my love of wide, empty spaces intensified and has probably coloured my life ever since.

Four years later we moved area for the last time as a family and came to Mid-Wales. After a year on the coast near Aberystwyth (but within sight of the Cambrian Mountains) while I was at library school,

we took a final hop over those same mountains and came to rest in the wonderfully varied hills among which we still live nearly forty years later.

We knew when we moved here that we wanted to live in the countryside, but we had a very tight budget, so our choice was limited to just two houses.  The first was in the valley and had potential, but was uninhabitable without major work, and we had to move quickly, as I was about to start my first job. Following the agent’s directions we went to view the second and found ourselves climbing up and up a steep hill, between high banks and overgrown hedgerows, until we emerged at a cross-roads on the crest of the hill at about 1000’.

We turned left and then left again down a rutted track to a house which was invisible from the road. It was a decrepit old farmhouse (we seemed to go in for those) but it was inhabitable (just about) and the views from the upstairs windows were breath-taking.

We gulped, bought it and have been here ever since. 


  1. I see you've beaten Blogger into submission and posted photographs...lovely!

  2. It was a titanic struggle, but I got there in the end, Fly :-) There'll be no holding me now....

  3. Lovely photos!

    I have always been drawn to hills, mountains and wide open spaces which I guess is why I love Turkey so much. When we moved to our current home almost two years ago I had spent 6 weeks in England for the birth of my first grandson and Mr A had moved all our stuff here ready for my return. I hadn't even seen the house, but when I arrived I took one look at the view and knew that even if I had to live in a tent, to wake up to this every morning, it would be worth it.

  4. Lovely pictures. The moors and empty hills are too bleak for me. As we drove south through France it was the hills/valleys/yellow south of Perigeux that did it for me and I still find it breathtakingly beautiful often.

  5. sorry yellow stone houses

  6. Ayak, the view from your house is to die for. Absolutely wonderful! I can see why you love it so much.

    Rosie, I think a lot of people would agree with you. The scenery you love is on a more human scale, welcoming rather than awe-inspiring, like that of Oxfordshire. I guess I grew up with high, wide, empty spaces all around me and the love of them is in my blood.

  7. Funny how our childhood has left you with a penchant for solitude within vast spaces and archingb skies, when you have younger sisters who either won't leave the city or (me) so far likes nothing better or more than being on the perimeter of a small market town.

    But I want to have a good go at spending at least part of our lives by the sea when we retire. I'll report back which I really like the best when we've had chance to test the teory full...

  8. Perhaps I'm a changeling :-) Living partly by the sea sounds wonderful - another roving retirement in the family?

  9. I love the photos. Looking out on to my tiny urban garden I can at this time of the year look through the leafless branches of a nearby tree and glimpse the edge of the Cotswold Escarpment. Go up there and I can see views over the Severn Valley that remind me of our views down the valley to the coast from our childhood home

  10. Thanks, PolkaDot, glad you like them. I think views are often like music in the way they can instantly and effortlessly conjure up memories of the past.

  11. Beautiful photos.
    I also love that verse "I shall lift up mine eyes to the hills from whence cometh my strength. My strength is in the Lord" and remember hearing it read in church right back in childhood. I am glad that I live in a semi rural area with some beautiful countryside around. I still love to walk and think the beauty of nature does speak to something very personal that can't quite be put into words.

  12. Thanks, Sue. Interesting that it's the childhood learning of the Authorised Version which sticks with us lifelong for some verses.

    Trying to put into words what is virtually inexpressible is a challenge, which is where photos are so helpful. We can look and wonder and leave words behind for a while.

  13. A lovely post. I, too, need hills and have always loved Psalm 121 in the AV. My brother-in-law, a composer, wrote a beautiful version of it for our wedding day.

    I remember my first week at Oxford, feeling very unsettled and uprooted until, one evening, I realised that I could just spot a small green hill in the distance from the window of my new room. After that I knew everything would be fine! But I still needed to get back to the proper hills of the West Highlands every summer.

  14. Thanks, Dancing Beastie. I had to learn Psalm 121 off by heart at my church primary school and it's there for ever. How lovely to have your own setting of it!

    You were very lucky to be able to see a hill from your window in Oxford. None visble at LMH to my knowledge, but we did have wonderful gardens and I could see a magnificent copper beech from my window.

  15. Oh Perpetua! The landscape, the beauty! I am so glad you shared this link with me and I'm going to back and read all the associated posts. My great-grandparents were Welsh and my grandmother born and raised in Scotland...all to say, I think it is in my DNA to fully appreciate. I'm just chuckling at how different our landscapes are, but isn't it fun to be able to share! I also wonder sometimes if I would do as well as I think I would with so much open space. I yearn for it, yet have NEVER lived with it, so maybe I'd be anxious! Ha! Debra

  16. So glad you enjoyed it, Debra. Yes, Britain is very beautiful and considering how very small it is, compared to the vastness of the US, it manages to have a lot of wide-open spaces. The emptiest part of all is the Highlands of Scotland, which is why we love them so much. But you're right - we have to get used to open spaces if we've grown up without them.


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