An axe and a hammer – by Horatio Clare

Horatio Clare’s essays are published in The FT, Daily Telegraph and Condé Nast Traveller, where he is a Contributing Editor. Horatio’s BBC radio work includes ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ and annual Christmas Sound Walks. His books include ‘Running for the Hills’, which won the Somerset Maugham Award, and ‘Down to the Sea in Ships’, which won the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year. His book for children, ‘Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot’, won the Branford Boase Award for best debut children’s book.

“I remember your father” said John Webb. Webb’s of Crickhowell, a pretty town in the Black Mountains of Wales, sells everything a home needs. It has done since my father first shopped there in 1971. “He bought an axe and a sledge hammer. I could see he was serious. He was the first.” Now, John says, Londoners with second homes in our part of South Wales come to him for many precious things. ‘A man bought a set of garden furniture, asked if I delivered, and ordered an identical set for his place in the Bahamas.’ Second homes remain contentious in Wales, but although my parents meant our house on the mountain to be theirs, Mum fell in love with sheep farming, and out of love with Dad.

He returned to London. She raised us on the hill. With our home-made haircuts (we saved money on hairdressers) and English accents (we were born in Hammersmith) my brother and I were immigrants who stood out at school. It took years to work out that because home was a mountain farm in Wales, I must be Welsh. I became a travel writer, falling in love with the world professionally. So although our hill and the rumpled treasury of valleys around Crickhowell are home in a fundamental sense, home is also hotels and places which thump in the heart on first sight. Aberdaron. Algiers. Makoua, a village in Congo-Brazzaville. Marseille. Palermo, where I lived, and Verona, where our son was born.

‘What are you doing?’ asked the Hull customs officer. I was driving an old Italian Fiat, overloaded. ‘Moving from Verona to Hebden Bridge,’ I said. ‘Why?’ he asked. ‘For the weather,’ I said. ‘You’d better come in,’ he grinned. Actually it was for extended-family reasons, and so for the last nine years this Yorkshire town has been home. I retain my southern accent and my name, which make me feel less at home in the North than almost anywhere. But watching our son grow and shape himself here, among Hebden’s children and their families, has shown me how a deep home is made. Hebden has welcomed us, as it does all comers. In Wales Mum still has the axe and the hammer. One day I hope to move back there, take them up, and put my labour into a home for future generations. The farm is Elizabethan. It should grow families for centuries yet.