Great Grandad Slater outside Rutland Cavern

I believe wherever dreams dwell the heart calls it HOME. So may you untangle yourself from the twist of melancholy and let your thoughts carry you back to the birthplace of your truth. Dodinsky, In the Garden of Thought

A battered foolscap envelope called Bub. It’s filled with old photographs. One of my thin Objects.

One photograph shows Walter Slater (1885 – 1972) standing outside the entrance to The Great Rutland Cavern. The Slaters, mum’s side, were long associated with the Chadwick/Sprinthalls, the Aspeys and Norman Haddock (was he really called Captain Haddock?) all  owners of the hill called ‘Heights of Abraham’. I rode on Norman Haddock’s horse of a Great Dane, my feet a long way from the ground. Five generations of Slater worked on the hill part-time as cave guides, odd-job men, waitresses, grounds-men just beyond that cavern door.

The photo, familiar and nostalgic as it is, all roots – connections – whispers, is a slippery signifier and though I remember the man and know the place so well (in the late 1970-early 1980s I guided close on 250,000 people through the cavern) a half lifetime on and I find I can do no more than recognise his suit, and know that there would be a fob watch, and both belt and strong braces. The upright and proper man. Or note that the drystone walls that lead to the cavern are high-packed  ‘deads’ (the limestone waste from cutting the entrance adit) a tight neat face and the batter leaning back into the hillside, a retaining wall of heart stone. I know as well that to his left-hand side, just a few paces ahead of him, in fact close by the snapper’s side, stood the rock shop with canvas awning, selling samples of fluorspar, galena and Blue John. Romantic Rocks in matchboxes.

Yet, how far away from the image I feel.

It’s as if pages are slowly closing on a story. The photo becomes a 20th C stone book, holding in some part of Walter – Royal Artillery gunner, postal cyclist, war medal winner, father (of four), octogenarian, lover of black pudding, and proud wearer of a waxed moustache. And, ‘Marvellous excellent gorgeous glorious wonderful sensational superb’ a list of superlatives he intoned, to our delight, at the start of every meal.

Hiraeth, a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was: the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.

That sans serif sign ‘The Great Rutland’ now only quietly echoes in me.





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