I avoided travel blogs at the time, because I never could seem to relate to the sorts of trips that other people like to take. They never seem to pop up very much when I search for the places I happened to be going to. But I did find out that bluebells were supposed to be out of season by June. That they seem to be found less and less and are at risk of being lost in England. And that there is a walk I could do in Chesterfield that usually has them.
Chesterfield was an easy drive from Barnsley.
Driving in England
It was my first time driving a hybrid. I had not asked for one, since the option wasn’t given in the booking site. But it did please me that the agency gave me one because it would
a) save me fuel cash (not to mention carbon offset trip surcharge), and
b) make me feel less guilty about my driving-heavy trip.
I admit it was weird starting the car with a button, and how quiet it was. But I got used to that very quickly. And I certainly liked it that I drove all day every day for nearly a week,
driving with near-total fuel impunity clocking a tremendous mileage up and down the Peak District hills – on a single tank of fuel. If I remember right, it was easily twice – possibly thrice – the efficiency of my Yaris, which is already a pretty efficient gasoline car.
Driving in England for a Malaysian is so very relaxing. I’m not kidding. Driving in Malaysia is a very exhausting affair, which I never really noticed until all its burdens were removed. You must constantly be watchful of others, because any random motorist or motorcyclist could go in any direction. Signal lights may tell the truth, or may effectively be deceptive decoys. Turnoffs and exits can be so close together in the dense cities and suburbs that you really have to process a lot of information quickly to pick the right one. It really can drain you out.
By contrast, I could drive all day every day in the middle of England and still feel up to more at the end.
Tapton Lock for bluebells
I parked at the limited parking area at Tapton Lock, where the Visitor’s Centre is. It was also fairly close to the part of the Chesterfield Canal that was supposed to have the bluebells.
The footpath hugs the canal itself, and occasionally there would be a footbridge to link the two sides of the canal. It was morning and there were other walkers around, some of whom were walking their dogs. Sometimes, there would be paths that snake around the back of the paved footpath, and these would be more shaded, banked by wildflowers and shrubs.
I brought a printed map of where I wanted to go, and eventually found the marker for the Bluebank Loop.
This path took me to a lovely walk, well shaded in a lot of places, and there’s a stream sort of parallel to the canal that I could approach at some points.
There were many kinds of wildflowers along the way. Many of them were blue, which was gratifying. But there were no longer any bluebells. I could see what could have been bluebells, but they were well on the way to withering for me to be sure.
So I finished the loop and re-emerged onto the sunny main footpath by the canal. It was disappointing.
An inkling of the inexplicable
I’ve wandered and walked about in a lot of places. The places have been widely different from each other, and I’ve felt differently while there. But generally how I’ve felt about myself in relation to the place, has typically been the same. People tend to approach me more or less similarly, to a lesser or greater extent knowing that I’m not from there.
There’s a way that people approach you when they’re expecting you to be foreign, that has nothing to do with whether they like foreigners in general. Subconsciously we all start to operate on how we see ourselves in relation to them. And how we want them to see us in relation to them. Sometimes we talk slower, or use more standard language than we would with a fellow local. Sometimes we become over-friendly, or self-conscious. Or we could become defensive, or apologetic – for no apparent reason.
So, I’m used to being recognised as foreign by sight when outside my own region. It’s not just your face, but things like the way you carry yourself, the kind of fashion you choose for the same clothing item, etc. And I well know the way people speak to you when they’re expecting you need help to understand.
The strange case of the English
As an aside, one of the most remarkable things about the English, is how intensely local-aware they are. I mean, every nation is, but the precision of the English is something else.
Anywhere else I know, you could maybe tell someone is from a certain state or region, from the way they speak the language. Because of regional variations in dialect and speaking style. At best, you can get down to district, if you’re good at this stuff.
But it seems any Englishman can distinguish to the granularity of one village from another – sometimes places within sight of each other – from how someone speaks. This is true even if they have never been to that place, nor perhaps even been outside their own county. Explain this miracle to me. The Englishmen I’ve met have all acknowledged this ability. None of them thought it was anything but normal. But it is so not. End digression.
For reasons I do not fathom, English people – especially abroad and a bit older than me – tend to give me ‘honorary admission’. It is not just because I’m a competent Anglophone, because I do not get this ‘adopted family’ treatment from other English-speaking nations.
But this usually does not apply in England itself, and in more rural parts, where local distinctions are more clearly marked out.
So I was surprised when people on the walk greeted me, asked me for the time, etc. as if I belonged there. Using the local accent, assuming I would know things. I nearly looked for my reflection, just to check that I haven’t transformed. Perhaps it’s not usual for tourists to be wandering Tapton Lock.
It’s refreshing. It gave me a better understanding of why that friend of mine has a rather marked, innocent openness to him, unlike the usually more cynical Britons. Still, post-Brexit I wonder if this would still happen.
The plague village
It was during a day driving around the interesting spots around the Peak District that I found them.
My former friend-colleague who was from here, has a slightly morbid frame of mind. His local stories revolve around that time there was a lady serial killer, and the field she buried the children in that I could go to (I diplomatically demurred), and that time when his train commute ran over a dead body on the tracks. But we suited each other perfectly, since I am very partial to eccentricity.
So it’s no surprise that he suggested I check out Eyam.
It is a small village within the national park. The plague arrived to this part of England, to Eyam, whose villagers then opted to make the sacrifice of isolating themselves. There are good plaques all over this little village, explaining the history and other curious things about the place.
While wandering about this village, I found what I was looking for. Bluebells.
Just a spot of them, in the shade of a stone wall, but still blooming and fresh. I was no longer disappointed.
I thought no more of bluebells after that. I continued with the rest of my itinerary until I got to Chatsworth House, which I saved for last. Even though my friend placed it at the top.
This is the residence of the Duke of Devonshire, even though it is in Derbyshire and nowhere near Devonshire.
He’s really proud of such a magnificent piece of real estate being in his region, and I have to admit I can see why. Although personally I prefer the grounds to the interior of the house. The renowned landscape designer for many of these aristocratic homes, ‘Capability’ Brown, really deserves his nickname.
I can also see why it was used as the location for Pemberley, of Pride & Prejudice fame. The place really can evoke that ‘OMG, Mr. Darcy owns all of this??!??’ surprise reaction.
The glade of bluebells
The day that I chose for Chatsworth was overcast. It was a shame because I belatedly realised that there were so many walks worth doing in its massive grounds, but I only had a day left, and the photos are going to look… er, authentically English.
As I walked I happened to glance across through the trunks of the trees, and realised that there were lush glades beyond them. There seemed to be spots of blue winking from the middle of one of them.
I veered off the path and went into the glade. It was soft and wet. But I was close enough to see the cascade of bells. I stepped carefully in the muddy ground to get closer.
There was a glade of them. Near the end of my week of wandering, I found a glade of bluebells. In the place I had put to last.
Story of my life. All the things I look for, seem to come only at long last. And the things I don’t look for, fall into my hand.