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Life in a Northern Town
26 Aug 2013

I can't recall the name of the band that sang a song of that name back in the 80s.

Six months ago I moved to a northern town. To some that might seem guaranteed to generate a culture shock for a namby-pamby southerner, but I had an advantage: I lived in this area 30 years ago so I knew it well, and also knew that the north-south divide, while still existing in economic terms, is an artificial concept in relation to the things that matter to me most - cultural activity and visual appeal. It was probably invented by southerners who imagine the north as a frozen, desolate (to quote Lord Frack-Off) wasteland where a spade is a spade.

I moved here from East Devon, where I lived for the previous five years. When I tell people where I moved from, they say "Why on earth did you want to leave Devon?" The answer is simple: East Devon is a desolate wasteland. People say Devon is pretty. Parts of it are indeed very beautiful, especially the area around Dartmouth and Salcombe. But the 'forgotten' part of Devon to the east of Exeter is pretty only in the sense that it's not ugly. Mile after mile of fields and hedges, and nondescript seaside towns overflowing with motorised buggies, are not for me. And as for finding an art gallery, or an international concert hall, or even a vibrant, multi-cultural city, forget it. Exeter is small and cute but certainly not vibrant.

By contrast, my new home in Sowerby Bridge has everything I could possibly want. It's a town with an industrial history evidenced by the many buildings (including my own house) still with their blackened stone walls, but it lives alongside some of the loveliest coutryside in the land. And it's interesting, varied countryside, not just hedges and fields. It has two major cities (Leeds and Manchester) about 20 miles in either direction, with good transport links to both. A day trip to London is easy and not expensive. My local town, Halifax is within walking distance and has a wealth of shops plus all the major supermarkets - compare this with my home in Devon which was 6 miles from a Tesco and 25 miles from a Sainsburys, and a bus ran every couple of hours.

The icing on the cake was the discovery that property in this area is incredibly good value. On a very limited budget I have a home in a quiet road beside a lake, views across the valley and the hillside opposite, sun all day through the south-facing windows, and less than 5 minutes walk from the shops. A similar-sized house in a featureless and characterless town in Devon would have cost at least twice as much and the location would not have been as appealing.

I remembered from my previous sojourn in these parts that people generally are open, friendly and enthusiastic. It hasn't changed. After many years of living in cultural wastelands, tiny rural communities or foreign countries, I started finding like-minded people all around for the first time in ages (thanks in part to Facebook), and it wasn't very long before I got myself involved with a group planning to create an arts festival for Sowerby Bridge. It's tremendously exciting and would never have happened in a million years in East Devon.

So... my life in a northern town looks very promising, and I am really glad I moved back to this area after so long.