It was April 2004 when I first visited the Hambleton Hills in North Yorkshire. I travelled by train with Suzi, from London to York, to meet her parents for the first time. We’d only known each other for about six months, but a weekend away from the city, seemed like going home for both of us.
I grew up in rural Sussex and always felt connected to the countryside. I spent my childhood in the woods, on bikes, and wading across rivers. I have memories of endless summers spent outside, getting too hot, too tired, but loving the freedom. I found joy and inspiration from the landscape and wide-open spaces – and I still do.
So, as we drove away from York station, and the retail parks gave way to the trees and fields, I felt that sense of awe and wonder returning. It’s like the world takes one long breath in, and then lets it out really slowly: the pace of urban life begins to disappear, and order is restored to its natural balance.
The valley that runs from Coxwold to Gilling, east of Thirsk, is one of my favourite places in the UK. The hills roll, the valleys are picture postcards, and the forests that blanket the hillsides have magic within them. There are ancient abbeys, lightly trodden paths, and only a few people absorbed into the beautiful landscape.
The Hambleton Hills were home to Suzi growing up, and since that first trip together in our early twenties, the area has stayed close to my heart. We lived together in London, spent two years working in Dubai, and the first chapter of family life was spent in Cheshire – working in and around Manchester. Each time we visited North Yorkshire for a weekend away, we always returned more grounded, more centred – happier.
Deep down, I think that connection forged in childhood, continued to sit in our subconscious; could we really live in Yorkshire, in that valley, in that place where we felt truly alive? We had played with the idea a few times but never really worked out how it could happen. We had two children in school, a good network of people around us, and lived in a nice part of the country.
But in the middle of 2020, isolation forced us inside, and the anxiety of the pandemic peaked. I suggested we move to the countryside. Faced with fears about what could happen to any of us, we decided it was now or never. Our daughter was due to move from primary school to secondary school, and we were both ready for something to change. Any feelings of being stuck began to be chipped away.
We also thought we could run the business from anywhere. We could travel for recording, interviewing, and meetings, but we could also work with people through the power of technology. Last year proved to everyone what might be possible, with a combination of remote working and thoughtful connection. We could also draw inspiration from new surroundings to help our work, we thought.
As I sit here writing this today, we are staying with Suzi’s parents in a small village in THAT valley. Occasionally, a car will drive past, but all I can hear are birds chatting, and the sound of silence coming through the window. The air smells sweeter, less polluted, and my thoughts are beginning to run more freely. We spent ten years living in the middle of a town, and we won’t be doing that again, anytime soon.
But for now, this is the story of returning to the start; to the place we both love, and to a place that puts fire into our souls. That’s got to count for something, in the adventure of life, and the experiences we would like our children to share with us along the way. This truly is a magical place; and if you believe in the power of nature to show us the way, and to connect, then you might just love it too.
This is the next chapter of our story, and the next chapter for Story Publishing, too.