Corona awakens a need in many to be closer to our family and friends and gives a chance to examine the town that forged us and the roots that claim us.
The welcome to Ripon signs which greet visitors and residents alike, urge us ‘to stay awhile amidst its ancient charms’.
I may be a Riponian ‘born and bred’, but aged 18, I was immune to Ripon’s charm and character. I longed for adventure, experiences and new friendships that my hometown could no longer provide (with the honorable exception of Hell Wath that adventurous rite de passage for many Ripon youths.)
My eyes were blind to all my home town had to offer and I loftily announced that I was ‘done.’
“That’s nice love, maybe Ripon is done with you too… you’ll appreciate it when you’re gone” were my wise Mum’s words.
What was I done with? The Spa Gardens? That bastion of gentility by day with its bandstand, crazy golf and bowling green – metamorphosing into a teenage hook up spot as the sun set and shadows grew. The cathedral? Complete with its indoor grave dedications, memorised by me and friends during long Sunday school sessions. The bustling weekly market? Had I had enough of picnics at Fountains Abbey? The famous 36 bus? Or the sight of day trippers, disgorged weekly behind Morrison’s, to look around the market? The same day trippers who trekked to the nearest tea room for a ‘pot of tea for four with two extra cups.’
The thrills and spills of Lightwater Valley – where else but her,e could a subterranean rollercoaster that payed homage to rats be found? Bronte’s nightclub with its sticky floor. The chippies. To be tired of Ripon was to be tired of life itself.
University beckoned. I embarked down the M1 and wouldn’t look back.
Or would I? What my callow self didn’t understand is that Ripon and my upbringing are a deep part of me. I looked forward to ‘going home’ and discovered this: I loved exploring Ripon afresh and seeing it through the eyes of friends and boyfriends who all ‘loved’ Ripon.
The One-Eyed Rat with its plentiful selection of fruity wines. The walks along the River Skell with its wonderful vantage point of our cathedral, Ripon youths not wearing coats in winter (southern boyfriends were very ‘alarmed’ at this phenomena) The bloody lovely fish and chip shops. New Year’s Eve on the Square.
And especially, the Hornblower, the nightly and come hell or high water 9pm signal, that the town is safe and we can all sleep soundly.
Friends, who had grown up in Milton Keynes or Luton fell open-mouthed with wonder and disbelief that I took this unbroken historical tradition for granted. “You mean”, many would say, “This has happened since Saxon Times. Wow.”
Just like that a career and family arrived anchoring me away. I’d made a good life for myself in the southern shires. The certainty, that one day, I would move back permanently, curled up in hibernation, springing into flower with any return trips home to see my parents, or seeing the occasional mentions of Ripon in the national press. Friends who visited North Yorkshire on their own holidays, sent pictures or gushing reports as to Ripon’s loveliness. I burst with pride as I pointed out other local treasures they may have missed. Oh, you didn’t get to Studley? What a shame. You must visit again.
Social media pages sprang up such as Blow your Horn, Ripon, which allowed exiles like myself to follow Ripon life from a distance. The pictures from amateur local photographers that make you wistful. The occasional moans about boy racers that make you smile in recognition. All so familiar.
Regular trips home, up and down the motorway. There is nothing like seeing the blue direction signs on the M1 proclaiming THE NORTH to awaken that excited childish holidaymaking feeling.
The opposite on returning south. Or course, returning to the threads of any day to day life invoke feelings of mild depression and listlessness in all of us. And yet, as I picked up the day to day threads of my new life. I wondered and I missed.
2020. Corona and lockdown. Time on all our collective hands. My parents and Granny Iris ‘up north’. Corona ensured it isn’t as easy to jump in the car and whizz up the M1 back to Ripon. Throughout the cruelest of Aprils I yearned for the Spa Gardens, the Cathedral, the many beautiful walks and just simply meandering around Ripon Square and seeing familiar faces from my youth and buying a sausage roll from Appleton’s for our dinner.
I miss the 36 bus (truly a local treasure) which provided my first taste of independence as I ventured to Harrogate. There is even a yen for the t’crazy market days, (“Parking, Kay” as my mum used to bark whenever I suggest a Thursday expedition, “the town will be heaving”), the day-trippers and the lamented and long-closed down Sly’s or Bronte’s nightclub.
I miss it all. Most of all I want my mum and dad. Time does go full circle and as I say to my own 18-year-old, who craves adventure, experiences and to chew the marrow out of life. “Your roots will always claim you, no matter how happily you ‘settle’ elsewhere.”
Ripon is not the same town I left. Kirkgate has been transformed from a rat run into a cosmopolitan, pedestrianised zone, with a plethora of restaurants, coffee houses and independent shops and the view of Ripon’s majestic cathedral at the end. Timeless, awesome, peaceful. A constant in our ever-changing world.
And as my mum reminds me. There is even an Aldi now!
Ripon. I love you and as Ed Sheeran sings in Castle on the Hill. I can’t wait to go home.
Pandemic Home Town Blues is the latest Tales From Our Towns which takes a sideways look at lockdown stories. Inspired by Moth storytelling from NYC, we hope to encourage local people and writers to tell their own tales.