Be these physical, geographical or emotional, boundaries can be a very powerful thing to have and to cross. Some boundaries may be restrictive, whereas others may liberate. A boundary isn’t any one thing with any singular meaning.
As many of you who read regularly will know, nearly three years ago I moved myself and Rose from my home county of North Yorkshire to the county of Monmouthshire (or Gwent) in Wales. The move happened for a number of practical reasons which I won’t go into now, but has also meant some changes in the way we live our lives. When we made the move, it was a case of crossing the border from England into Wales, and means that every time I want to visit my family I cross that border back again from Wales to England. In fact, crossing the border happens quite a lot. Even if we just pop to Hereford which is 40 minutes away I like to exclaim “Welcome to England!” or “Welcome to Wales!” each time we see the appropriate sign.
Crossing this boundary has meant my life has changed. I moved from a small village on the outskirts of York, to the centre of a busy market town. The people here are welcoming and there is a great sense of community that I didn’t feel in the last village I lived in. The move was a push on my own boundaries as it meant I was no longer down the road from my family and friends and I had to put myself out there to make new friends.
Before I made the move I hadn’t really thought about what crossing that border would mean in a cultural sense. I would always refer to myself as British and not English. Referring to oneself as English always conjures images of nationalists with xenophobic ideals, and besides, England is a vast place with a big North/South divide. If I was going to identify as anything other than British it would be as a Yorkshirewoman.
I still feel this way, however since moving here I am far more aware of my Englishness. The Welsh are on the whole proud to be so. There’s a strong sense of patriotism and though there is a North/South divide it’s different to the one in England. The patriotism isn’t typically borne from fear of what’s beyond the borders though, it is rooted in tradition and pride.
It’s clear that I’m an English person here, however that doesn’t mean I’m not welcome. On the contrary, it makes for some friendly verbal sparring with friends who are Welsh, English (Southerners!), Polish, Russian, Italian and many more… I actually feel happier now to say “I’m English” in any casual conversation than I would have before, because it’s just a matter of fact. It’s all most shorthand for saying “I’ve not lived here all my life”. We’re all choosing this place to be our home and that is wonderful.
Wales has many traditions of it’s own. Saint David’s Day has just been, where children often dress up in traditional Welsh outfits and the schools usually put on an Eisteddfod in the Spring, which is a celebration of literature, arts and performance. There is also a National Eisteddfod which Abergavenny was lucky enough to host in 2016. Traditional Welsh names prevail here, some easier to pronounce than others and everything on road signs is written bilingually. My eldest daughter learns Welsh in school, and my youngest daughter was born here, so despite having English parents, she is Welsh and has a Welsh name! Her middle name, Fern, is also a nod to the foliage that adorns the beautiful Brecon Beacons that sit just to the east of us, as well as my the rugged Yorkshire Moors.
Wales, of course, has a devolved government and therefore seems to have a stronger sense of identity than England does. I couldn’t name many English traditions which I have partaken in whilst living there but I can think of plenty of Welsh ones that I have been a part of here.
Then there is the rugby, but that’s a whole different matter, so I shan’t go into that…
I suppose, what I’m getting at here is that I crossed this boundary and while I did it I didn’t even think anything of it at the time – nothing more than crossing a county border – it turns out it has been more significant and fantastic than I could have imagined. I love this country and the life I can enjoy here. It may not seem like a big shift, but it has taught me a lot, and I am proud to call this place my home.
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