I’ve been thinking of writing this for a while but have never been able to figure out how to put it into words … maybe it’s time to just make the leap and write it.
Before I first came to Kirkby Stephen I knew of my family’s links to the area. My grandparents, Margery & Henry Bayfield (known as Harry to all but his immediate family), lived in Nateby for a number of years after living in the home counties, I’m guessing it would be the mid 50’s. It was certainly before Westmorland disappeared and became part of Cumbria … my Nana & Grandad never let me forget that!
My Mother (Elaine) was born in Middlesex I believe, but she went to school at Kirkby Stephen Grammar School and did plenty of growing up in and around the area. I remember stories of her visits to Stenkrith and even of how one of her school friends fell to her death from the bridge (again, I have no idea if this is true, who knows?).
Travel forward another 20 years or so and we come to my first visit. I’d guess it was the early 70’s so I’d be somewhere between 6 & 8 years old. I was brought by my Nana and we stayed with an Auntie who was most definitely not my Auntie, in fact I’m pretty sure she wasn’t even family … she was a lovely lady though. I have never found out who she was but I know she lived in one of the 3 story stone houses in Victoria Square. I have no way of knowing which house it was now but I’m going for number 3 …
I remember well, taking frequent journeys from the house, along Mellbecks, down to Frank’s Bridge over the River Eden where I took my little plastic bucket & net and went fishing for tiddlers, paddling in the river with my shoes & socks off (no need to roll up my trouser legs as it was shorts all the way back then!). Over on the nearby slopes I made my first attempt at flying a kite and failed quite miserably … though it didn’t feel like a failure back then.
There was the big house on Mellbecks, owned by a single, elderly woman at the time I think, that would have the window of the top right bedroom permanently left open allowing bats to roost … I saw them flying in and out so I lie not!
One of the most enduring images is of the River Eden bursting its banks over night. One day I’m paddling and fishing for tiddlers … the next the clear waters have been churned to a muddy brown and the arches beneath Frank’s Bridge are barely visible. Cameras weren’t as prevalent back then, not in our family at least, so the following (modern) images will hopefully suffice to illustrate the extremes of nature …
I guess I visited on 2, maybe 3, occasions and they soon paled into insignificance as I moved into my double digit years and on into my teens. Until, that is, my mid 20’s when I was working as a service engineer and making site visits throughout England & Wales. I didn’t realise before my first journey to the North East but to travel from Cheshire, where I live, to the North East of the country involved the A66 and Scotch Corner. More importantly, to get to the A66 from the M6 necessitated travelling the A685 … and guess what? The A685 just happens to be the main road through Kirkby Stephen … starting as South Road, becoming Victoria Square (remember that?) then Market Street through the town’s heart until finally North Road on it’s way out to Brough Sowerby & Church Brough before reaching its junction with the A66. I remember my first drive through Kirkby Stephen … my brain was making the links to my childhood as I reached the town centre. I recognised the houses on Victoria Square, the Market Square with it’s red sandstone portico entrance to the church and the side streets that I knew at a gut level led down to the river and Frank’s Bridge. And then it was gone … I’d driven straight through a part of my history in little more than a blink of an eye. I made myself a promise in that moment, that I would return and revisit what had been a glorious moment in my childhood.
And so we come up to date! As an aside, yet also an integral part of this story, I’ve a history of mental health issues dating back to my late teens, with anxiety and depression being the main ‘black dogs’ in my life. I can cope quite well with both for most of the year but the period between end of year and early the following year are difficult ones for me. One of my go to pastimes to help me keep an even keel all year round (as well as being good for physical health, handy for practising photography and bloody enjoyable to boot!) is hiking and in 2017 I decided a long weekend away in November, with opportunities for walks, would be a good way to keep my mental health strong … and where better to visit than Kirkby Stephen?
I was going to keep this info under my hat for fear of losing my secret getaway but I though what the hell (not that it’s that secret … see a little later!). After a few hours of Googling I came across Black Bull Barn which has become my base for the last 3 years and will hopefully be the same for a good few years to come. Rented out by Gillian & Steve it’s got every comfort you need and is a fantastic base for walking in the area. The visitors are truly international (should you ever stay see the visitor’s book for proof, European, American, Canadian, et al) and many stop over whilst walking in Wainwright’s footsteps along the Coast to Coast walk. Gillian and Steve also provide B&B accommodation at Fletcher House. One last name check, should it even be needed after all the images I’ve posted in my Kirkby Stephen based walking posts, is for the Black Bull Hotel … I can’t comment on their accommodation but their bar has become my Kirkby Stephen local.
So there you have it, around 45 years of my life in a single blog post! Thanks for sticking with it and hopefully I’ve conveyed why Kirkby Stephen has become an important part of my life. May you all find your own, personal Kirkby Stephen x
P.S. Scroll back to the top of the post… the banner that’s on every page is another of my Stenkrith photographs. I can brag as I own the rights 😀