January 2017

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Monday 30th January - A Sunny Sunday Out (continued)

Invigorated by an hour's stroll around Shibden Park (see below), we pressed on to our destination: Heptonstall, an ancient settlement, long famous as a well-preserved Jacobean town with many stunning period buildings (see pic below left), and more recently due to its connections with the late Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, and his equally renowned poet wife, Sylvia Plath (buried in its churchyard, see right). So we aimed to kill several birds with one stone: a nice hike with spectacular scenery; chance to collect images of iconic places like Hardcastle Crags for my new presentation on Plath and Hughes; and chance to pay our respects to Sylvia as the 54th anniversary of her death (11th February 1963) approaches.

Unfortunately, half way up the steep, winding approach road, the car conked out! Fortunately, the AA gave us priority because we were stranded on a dangerous bend, and fixed the problem in no time (phew!). But the delay meant that it was too late to embark on the long walk we planned, so we just explored Heptonstall – and there’s plenty to see.

First port of call was the church – or churches! Heptonstall is unique in having two parish churches next-door to each other. The first, (above left) founded c. 1260 and dedicated to St Thomas a Becket, was so badly storm-damaged in 1847 that it was abandoned and a new one, St Thomas the Apostle, constructed alongside.

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The grave of Sylvia Plath: 'Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted'

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The churchyard is very striking in its extreme fullness; in some areas the grave slabs are so close together that it’s impossible to avoid walking on them. After a poke about in the ruins, we crossed to the cemetery extension, added in 1911 when the old churchyard could accommodate no more. There are so many graves that we couldn’t find Sylvia Plath’s until a local gave us directions and a fellow literary pilgrim finally spotted it: well-tended, covered in offerings of coins and pens, and marked by her restored headstone (replaced after being repeatedly vandalised) bearing her full name and the famous quote from the Bhagavad Gita.

We then moved on to explore the town, found a lovely old pub where we could lunch, and set off afterwards on the short walk to Heptonstall Crags. The scenery was breathtaking, albeit rather too misty to make for decent photos; so after simply enjoying the views and the bracing fresh air, we headed back to the community centre where we'd parked our car. Endearingly, this car-park is free to use (elsewhere in Heptonstall there are stringent parking restrictions owing to the narrowness of the streets) - there's just a polite request for donations and a slot in the door to post your money through. So although we still haven't done the walk we've been planning since last summer, we had a grand day out (apart from the breakdown!), and have a good excuse to come back again in the near future.