When I first came to north east Wales, Wrexham specifically, I did so for nothing less than love. I'd been a bit of a nomad. Born and bred in South Yorkshire, into a family of mostly coal miners in Sheffield and Rotherham collieries, we'd eventually found ourselves in Somerset. Thing is, thinking back on it, I don't remember Yorkshire for just the coal and the steel - I remember it for the things that still interest me - the outdoors, the castles and the abbies. I remember my dad getting miffed when someone suggested South Yorkshire was all pit heads and slag heaps. I'd had a teacher in junior school who had fired my historical interest - we made a scale model Viking long boat in class, if you can believe that, it were about 10 feet long, if I remember rightly (and I do).
And Somerset was beautiful. I had all the abbies, cathedrals, castles, hillforts that you could wish for - Glastonbury was on my doorstep. And we did it all. My working class parents took me and my siblings to all these places - we saw it all, and we did it all and it is fair to say that I never looked back. History is in my blood, and it is in large part because as a family we wandered and I wondered. That's what parents do for their children, right? That's their job - amongst other things, of course. It's not just the things you buy your kids, it's the things you put in their heads - it all adds up, when they finally decide on who they are and where they want to go. Their independence and individuality is built on what they have seen and experienced amongst those they care for - fill them with anger and hate, and they'll be angry and hateful. Fill their heads with wonders and they'll wonder and be all the better for it.
I'll tell you a curious thing though. I never really settled in Somerset. As beautiful as it was, it wasn't me. The people were different - different to what? It's strange, because thanks to my parents, the education I got and the experiences I have had, led to me building a career that meant I rarely had to wash my hands after a day's work - but I remember my Dad scrubbing himself down with sand and swarfega for all the coal dust in his skin, I remember the 'knocker-upper' banging on our door at some God awful time in the night to wake my Dad up for his shift down Maltby Main. I'm still part of that, even if my career is in a classroom. And for all the beauty of Somerset, of Dorset and the like, that kind of industial past is different to South Somerset. Don't get me wrong - the people of Somerset were good people, and bloody hard working people, but not coal and steel (though, I remember being taken aback by seeing the coal related heritage of Pensford and the northern Somerset Coalfield).
But when I first moved to north east Wales...I was home. This was South Yorkshire with a different accent. And I mean that. The people were the same, almost everything was the same. Coal and steel with agriculture thrown in. I'm not a nationalist, you might have gathered that. I know who I am, and it has little to do with a nationality. What I am, is the product of an industrial past, of a people steeped in hard physical labour and the lifestyle that comes with that - honesty, pragmatism, a straight forward nature and a sense of humour to accompany it. Tell me that isn't also north east Wales. But, I'm also the product of a family that allowed my mind to break free from those industrial boundaries, and in South Yorkshire there were places to do that, and Lord knows there's plenty of them in north east Wales. I still remember Roche Abbey as if I were there, looking up at the broken, snapped toothed walls that loomed over me.
I was at Castell Dinas Bran yesterday. I must have stood by the D-Shaped tower there and looked over Llangollen a hundred times, in all weathers and moods. Awe inspiring. It's beauty produces a physical response, a punch in the gut - as all true beauty does. North east Wales - South Yorkshire - coal and steel...and the beauty of an historical past.