Special places and the joy of the familiar
With this post Under a Grey Sky reaches the milestone of two hundred articles, all published in just over a year, and featuring the words and pictures from contributors all over the world. It is the variety that has made this such an inspiring project to work on, as people have used the space here to talk about and document the type of the places that inspire them when they take a step out of the front door.
For the two hundredth post, then, I wanted to dwell a little not only the places that are special to me, but also those that have a meaning beyond perhaps an obvious beauty or an exotic location. They are the places related to personal history, to moments in the memory, that may also be special to others but not necessarily so. In his book, “The Wild Places”, Robert Macfarlene discusses this very issue;
“Most of these places, however, were not marked as special on any map. But they became special by personal acquaintance. A bend in a river, the junction of four fields, a climbing tree, a stretch of old hedgerow or a fragment of woodland glimpsed from a road regularly driven along – these might be enough.”
The most obvious of these places for me is that moment on the drive along the north wales coast when Anglesey first appears across the water, or later in the journey the white house at Four Mile Bridge, or the first glimpse of the coastguard station looking down onto the hazardous rocks of Holy Island. Or perhaps later, swinging aside the gate at the bottom of the camping field before walking out across the headland, to sit on Shelly Beach or atop Red Devil Rock…
Thinking about them now, sitting at my desk in Berlin, is by its very nature an exercise in nostalgia. The steps of the Parkinson building in Leeds, and the walk across Woodhouse Moor; the bridge over the Rufford Branch of the Leeds-Liverpool canal and the beer garden of the Ship Inn; catching the first sight of the floodlights of Anfield before a European night, or the list of names engraved on the Hillsborough Memorial. These places maybe only become special on the re-visiting, after an absence or in a new situation, such as a picnic at Llyn Idwal, watching Lotte and her friends paddle in the cool water.
In Germany, I think of the bungalow by the sea on the Fischland-Darß-Zingst peninsula, and the walk through the rapeseed field to the town of Wustrow. The S-Bahn station at Botanischer Garten or the foreshore of Wannsee. The Zionskirche on a frosty winter evening, or a walk along the Panke on a quiet Sunday morning. The first sighting of the television tower rising out of the Brandenburg plains on a return to the city, the first to spot it winning the prize…
And then there are the places lodged in the memory, their specialness relating to a particular time or period in a life. I think of the car park of a restaurant never entered, halfway between two villages on either side of the Pennines. A cricket club in Formby and its sandy astroturfed hockey pitch. A promontory in Cherbourg and a picnic of roasted chicken and smoked sausage from the Hypermarket. Warm beer and a dead railway. Waiting for the tram at Mollstraße, six thirty in the morning and always, in the memory, in the middle of winter. There are plenty more, but perhaps I save them for future articles here on Under a Grey Sky, continuing to mix the familiar and the nostalgic, the joy of the familiar, with the fascination and excitement of discovery.
Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Paul Scraton & Katrin Schönig