I never would have believed I would return here.
As a teenager, all I wanted to do was escape. It seemed I was surrounded by an entire community with no future, motivation or enthusiasm for life. The energy drained out of them by the demise of the Steel Works that I had never seen, never knew, the heart of the town they called it.
The moment I had the chance to leave, I did. Travelled the world, getting as far away as I could, eventually landing in Cornwall, golden beaches, rugged coastline, ancient monuments and craggy moorland, but as much as I pretended, it never truly felt like home.
After twenty years I fled again, dragged my family five hundred miles to leave the past behind. To go to the place we said we would never return to.
The town has changed, Middle street, charity shops and cheap stores, a shell of what it used to be. Where WoolWorths once stood proudly on Front street, the councils one stop shop. A Wetherspoons’ now takes pride of place on the crossroads, where the market used to be. The other pubs are the same, some of the names changed, but otherwise the same sticky carpets and dirty glasses. The Freemasons Arms is identical, even the dirty, flaking paint appears to be original. I remember being asked for ID in there on my twenty first birthday as fifteen year old girls plastered in make up strolled past.
On the outskirts a retail park grows daily, draining the town of business or encouraging growth depending on your point of view. The new Tesco superstore pretends to blend in to the surrounding countryside, its quickly fading timber cladding doing little to camouflage the two foot tall red letters, two acres of tarmac car park and petrol station. A KFC, a Macdonalds, a B&Q and rumour has it a Primark soon.
At the edge of town is an embankment. Twenty years ago it was covered in iron slag and crushed concrete, the remains of The Consett Iron Company. Now its an inadequate strip of grass and trees preventing new build housing estates from merging into each other. Littered with dog mess and beer cans, its not the greatest place to walk, but up on the side of the hill, you can see over the new houses, far beyond the superstore, across the valley to the rolling hills of Northumberland.
In the other direction, houses new and old nestle like a smile along the valley, flanked on either side by green fields and hills, solar panels and satellite dishes glint in the sunlight like gold teeth. Moorside and Castleside romantic names for unromantic housing estates that spill into the green, virtually unchanged in twenty years. Old post war prefabs have been torn down and in their place ugly red Barrett homes, but otherwise compared to a hundred other places in Britain, Consett has remained relatively untouched by the spreading plague of new houses.
Beyond the houses to Rowley and Waskerley in the distance, hill silhouetted against hill, more fields and countryside all the way across the Pennines and nothing but a handful of wonderful old villages until Penrith.
A few miles from the house I live in, amongst the valleys and moors scattered with the remnants of forgotten industries, freedom on a mountain bike. Down tracks and cycle paths, across the bare black scars cut into meadows edge and down loose gravel hills, through streams and mud and lines of pine trees, the possibility of continuing for fifty miles without meeting another soul a reality. Pausing in remote solitude, to watch clouds undulating over the patchwork of stonewall separated colours. It never fails to impress me, to inspire me, to fill me with awe. This is the place I call my home.