|West Bexington, Dorset|
I was recently in Halifax. I'd not been before. And I was eating out. Something I rarely do.
The front of house staff seemed all to be university students and I wondered how far they'd had to travel to get to work. But the young man assigned to our table was still (surprisingly) at school - and assiduous in making sure we were happy with our food and happily chatty. We asked him what it's like to live in Halifax. It didn't sound wildly exciting - simply a pleasant place to live. We asked about town centre violence. He didn't seem to think there was any; though it sometimes gets a bit crowded, he said, outside the only late-opening chip shop.
|Looking down on Chideock, Dorset|
He asked about Dorset.
Well, we had to admit, you need to be careful when you go into Weymouth. There are fights. There are knives. There are drugs. It's a great seaside town; a popular holiday destination. But people get drunk when it's dark. (And earlier.) They can be noisy and querulous.
|Looking across ploughed fields in shadow on the way up to Golden Cap, Dorset|
But apart from that . . . Well, it's stereotypical English countryside only more dramatic: huge hills with soft grass; green valleys, sheep, cows, thatched roofs, cottages, cliffs and the sea.
Rural England has other stereotypes; calendar images of Essex, Sussex and Kent: village ponds and windmills and interesting Churches. They are all accurate. As are half timbered walls, bricks and flint. Then there's Stone Henge in Wiltshire. (But the plains of England are largely ignored.)
And there's London. Hm. London. London is London. It's not exactly 'England'.
|Path and Cliffs from Golden Cap, Dorset|
Talking with our waiter, I was a little embarrassed. Yorkshire covers a huge huge area of England. It's a strapping great band going from almost-the-sea in the West to the North Sea in the East. In the North and West there are tremendous hills, almost un-scalable. And plains which seem to go on for ever in the East. But for all that, I don't think these are the areas people in other parts of the world will first think of when they hear the word 'England'. It's odd. Because when we sing 'Jerusalem' (oh so very 'English'!) it's the hills and mills of places like Yorkshire we have in mind.
|View East from the top of Golden Cap - the tallest cliff on the South Coast of England. Dorset|
In Halifax there are the skeletons of massive mills, a tangle of motorway style bridges and roundabouts, but no thatched cottages. I'm used to looking out over great expanses of water. Halifax has reservoirs dotted around its outskirts but it doesn't have the sea. It doesn't even have a river.
If you are keen on water . . . In Todmorden (only a few miles west of Halifax) a woman told me it's not so much that you need to like rain to live there but that you have to enjoy swimming through air. And as last winter's floods showed - sometimes you'll find yourself wading up streets.
I like Halifax. Though I took no photos. (Another time!) Halifax has masses that our part of Dorset lacks. But being asked what Dorset is like . . . I thought of the sea and the rivers and the cliffs and the hills . . . and for all that there's no-where like Yorkshire . . . there's no-where like Dorset either. And the thing about Dorset, as I've said before, hardly anyone knows it's here.