I returned to Matlock Bath, Derbyshire this week.

“It is on the plane of the daydream and not on that of facts that childhood remains alive and poetically useful within us. Through this permanent childhood, we maintain the poetry of the past. To inhabit oneirically [ie. through dreams] the house we were born in means more than to inhabit it in memory; it means living in this house that is gone, the way we used to dream in it.”

p16 ‘the Poetics of Space’, Gaston Bachelard

In my childhood I lived in a village on the hill above it and never in the town itself yet increasingly I inhabit Matlock Bath.

In my mind’s eye the place is poetically alive and I feel connected to it in ways that have increased in complexity and importance as I’ve both moved further away from it and come to know more and more of my families historical connection with it.

***

Someone asked me recently, “…aren’t you that bloke who used to write a blog about an old narrow boat called ‘Eileen’?” Initially I was lost for an answer as, in my mind, I’m still writing a blog about an old boat – in fact in my mind this post for example is about the boat, it’s just that these days the posts are less linear narratives of renovation or physical journeys taken (though they remain  part of the DNA of the blog) and have become more tangential stories.

The boat’s still here though, it’s the beating heart or chug of the blog.

And, the journey the boat has prompted has led me here, to exploring sense of place and sense of self.

[Fear-not, the boat’s batteries are recharge after long Winter hibernation and I’m sure the ‘Adventure of Eileen’ will be returning soon as the boat has summer in her hull.]

***

The photos below were taken on that recent return to Matlock Bath. They show what was once a building housing a petrifying well. This is not the original building. In the 1930’s the ‘attraction’ was owned by my great grandfather.

The building is unassuming, drab even, a non-place, a void so easily dismissed, and inevitably passed unseen by the endless flow of traffic along the relentless, restless A6.

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But when approached from the other direction it’s a different story altogether. To approach the site along the ‘Lover’s Walks’ from ‘Wild Cat Tor’, to cross the river into the water gardens, instils the place with an altogether other character. It’s original function and purpose are more explicit and more exciting.

I’d often wandered how the petrifying well had worked, given they require access to one of the thermal springs that enter the River Derwent at numerous points along the Dale and were the reason for the Matlock ‘Baths’ being developed in the 16th C.

I’m now imagining the building in a new way. The upper storey, at road level, having a small shop – a place to buy ticket for the Royal Cumberland Cavern or samples of local rocks and crystals, and then a descent to a walled terrace, a quieter and more meditative place away from the bustle of the street above. On the terrace two grottos framed with ‘tufa’ stone. The thermal spring cascaded out of the hillside and over objects stacked in the grottos, gradually these objects were turned to stone. The water then continued it’s cascade into the water gardens below – much as it does today.

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A broken shed, breeze blocks and broken glass, hazard tape and shattered walls. Perversely it’d seem that this is the stuff of dreams, and they provide a powerful sense of place, of belonging, perhaps even understanding.

And, just like the boat, such moments and such places form the DNA of this blog.

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