Cumberland is a county of sloping hillsides, mines and farmsteads, with the wind blowing in great gusts across the miles of bare earth. The village of Aspatria, surrounded by fields of barley and potatoes, lies in a hollow within five miles of the sea, the mountains nearby. Fences, back-to-back houses, strips of land divided into allotments and a long tape of a road leading from the woods on the outskirts up past the gas-works to the cemetery and the market square or Beacon Hill as it is known locally. In this village I was born
When I was a child, the industrial collieries around Aspatria, with their chimneys, winding houses and slag-heaps all huddled together, were still functioning. The inhabitants of the little rows of dwellings worked either in the mines or on the land. The life of the village was punctuated, day after day, by the ritual going to or coming from work. I can remember watching the miners strung out along the road or crouching on Walter Wilson's corner with bait boxes, shivering against the morning cold. Farm carts, ricketing past the house, full of hay or turnips, and cows threading their way from milking sheds to grazing fields; and then in the soft black evenings, when one by one the lights would glow from the windows of the houses, the next lot of men would turn out for the night-shift, everything silent except perhaps for the moaning of the wind blowing from the sea across to the mountains and the stirring of cattle in the barns. The trees near our house would sough all night and often I would hear the warning cry of a bird. I used to lie in
bed, feeling tremendously secure, thinking that I wasn't that poor night-bird being chased by its terrifying enemy.