In Search Of Ted And Sylvia

I decided to go on a little adventure with G today. It was so warm and sunny I thought a bit of outdoor swimming might be in order, so I packed up our kit and an OS map, and drove off in the direction of Lumb Falls near Hebden Bridge, which is about half an hour away.

I'd heard it was a popular picnic spot but wasn't entirely sure how to get there. After a bit of driving around on a deserted lane I parked up near what looked like a promising footpath, put G into her back carrier, and clambered off in what the map told me was the right way. Happily it wasn't long before I first heard and then saw the falls. As you can see, we had the place to ourselves.

If you've heard of Lumb Falls it's because of a poem written about it by Ted Hughes, who was from Mytholmroyd, which is the next village along. The poem's not actually about the beauty spot, but about a photo of six men taken there who were later killed in the First World War. These days, there's a plaque to mark it, and you can read more about it, including the poem itself, here.

G is already well-used to swimming pools, but this was the first time I'd taken her for a dip outdoors. I got us changed into our kit and scrambled down the rocks to the side of the stream, just overlooking the waterfall and the main pool, which looked far too far away to reach while carrying a baby.

So I decided the best thing would be to just go for a little paddle. G put her feet in and immediately looked unhappy. Even though it was a sunny day, it is still May, and the water was definitely on the chilly side. After the initial shock of the cold had worn off, G was a bit happier.

Perched on the rock, G started to try out some of her crawling moves. Soon she was contemplating a dive into the water.

In truth, the water was too cold for G, and she wouldn't have enjoyed a proper swim very much. So I took her back to the bank and got us both dried off, before clambering back up the hill to the car with her on my back. She'd managed to lose her red sunhat on the way down, but some friendly person had picked it up and left it on a fence post, so I was able to reunite G with it before the next bit of our journey.

A mile or two from Hebden Bridge is Heptonstall, a lovely little village where it doesn't look like much has changed recently. Greedily, it's got one churchyard but two churches, the original one fell out of use in the 19th century and is now a ruin.

And here's the other one, which was built to replace it.

The main reason anyone goes to Heptonstall isn't to marvel at the twin churches. It's to visit a distant corner of the churchyard to see the grave of Sylvia Plath, author, poet and estranged wife of Ted Hughes, who committed suicide in 1963. I left G in her pram in the shade as I walked around the deserted yard. It took a while to locate it, and I was actually about to leave when I eventually spotted it.

The scuffing around the Hughes part of her name is a result of fans, who blame Hughes and his affair with Assia Wevill for her death, scratching it out. I don't think many people come by to see the grave these days, and there are many others in the yard which seem better kept, but one floral tribute had apparently been left fairly recently. There's also a collection of pens. If you want to read more about Sylvia Plath, her Wikipedia entry is a decent enough place to start.

At this point it was well past G's naptime, so I pushed her back to the car and she was soon asleep on the drive home. Learning about all those dead poets had clearly taken it out of her.


The Dotterel said...

Fascinating post! I've never actually been to Mytholmroyd, or Heptonstall (in spite of being brought up in Wakefield) and only came to the Hughes/Plath story later, but I'm well aware of the regular defacing of the gravestone and general bitterness towards Hughes.

But to change the literary subject for a moment, as an outdoor swimmer you must (if you haven't already) read Roger Deakin's 'Waterlog'. It's a masterpiece.

Kath@Parklover said...

Can I recommend Hathersage Outdoor Pool?
It's brilliant and, crucially, heated!

Richard said...

The Dotterel - Thanks for the recommendation, will do!

Kath - That's going on the list for the next day trip, thanks.