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June 30, 2010

What is it about places? Some of them feel familiar and comfortable, even on a first visit. Others feel alien no matter how much time you spend there.  Occasionally you find a place that you feel that you belong…

I am fascinated by this. Why do I belong to Plymouth? What is it about the city that calls me when I am not here? Why do I feel more complete and more myself when it is home? Why, from the time work took me away did I yearn to be back? I spent almost all of my holidays here, and was continually scanning the vacancies columns for local employment opportunities that I liked the look of.

Yes, I was born and grew up here. As a city it has a lot of memories; I’m not looking through rose tinted spectacles – some of these are good, some are bad. It is also consequently associated with family; though siblings and cousins have moved away without the same sense of belonging. We were all born here, and all have generations before us who were as well (Dad’s family tree research has so far got over 200 years of ancestors on both sides of my family being from Plymouth). I certainly qualify as a Janner!

If not family, is it friends? The quick answer is ‘no’. I’ve lost contact with all my childhood friends (though through social media I have re-acquainted myself with some of them). My strong friendship base is in London; the 3½+ hour journey means that weekends are not often spent together – my spare room is not continually booked up. I’ve got some fab friends in Plymouth – but they are ones I’ve made since I moved back in late 2006.

There is no denying that Plymouth is in a beautiful location. Nestling between rivers, moors and the sea it is surrounded by accessible nature. We grew up walking the moors, spending time on beaches, exploring the countryside. Villages, gardens, county parks, National Trust properties and, as we grew older, country pubs were part of normal life throughout the year. Listed buildings abound, some beautiful, some less so; there is history, art, theatre, good food. But Plymouth is not unique in this; though the particular mix is fairly special!

So what is it about 50° 25′ North, 4° 15′ West? Why that co-ordinate? Why does the sea here feed my soul more than the sea elsewhere? Why does Dartmoor make my heart leap and other moors not? I don’t know – what I do know is that I love Plymouth and belong here.

  1. Chris, this is an absolutely brilliant post. Really interesting, thought-provoking and evocative. I may not have been born in Plymouth but, like you, I feel a tremendous sense of belonging. Like you, my heart leaps when I’m in Dartmoor and the sight of the sea is a balm. Plymouth really is a unique place.

    I’m looking forward to reading your next post with eagerness…

  2. Thanks Ash – isn’t it great when you can find the place you belong, and get to live there too 🙂

  3. Maybe some things just can’t be explained. There are a variety of reasons why you can like an area, but what makes it ‘feel’ like home can’t always be placed into a list. The good thing is that at least you have found your place – some people never find theirs.

    I love being in Plymouth for a variety of reasons – family, friends, surroundings. I think it is a great city and is improving all the time. I would not quite say it feels like home though despite all of these reasons, which is strange because I enjoy almost everyday living here. It’s all coming out now! 😉


    • Thanks Rob – if only we could work out what the magic ‘it’ of belonging is we could help to make the world a happier place!

      And in the meantime it’s good you’re living somewhere you love – better than to be somewhere you don’t like and don’t feel like you belong….

  4. Sarah (@deadlysarsvirus) permalink

    It’s a fascinating question that I often think about having lived in lots of places. I do wonder whether if you live in one place as a child you gain a sense of belonging to that place, despite how much you may move around as an adult. However over time, I wonder if it’s all just a state of mind; I actively relish the thought that anywhere can be home, as long as I am *there* and I mean truly THERE rather than just existing in the surroundings. On the other hand perhaps I can only truly be *there* if I am home. Who knows?

    Just to add, I like the 21 days thing you’ve got going on – perhaps it’s my numbers fetish. I’ve certainly gained a lot from Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project which considers resolutions on a monthly basis. Good luck!

    • Thanks for the comments Sarah. An interesting take on THERE – I wonder… Perhaps it is different for each of us. I suppose we’ll never really know. Now on with the 21 days 🙂

  5. Hmmmm, Born and bred also in Plymouth, lived in 18 different districts by my 18th birthday. Some were for years some only weeks or months! I was an adventurous explorer as a child given lots of responsibility being brought up in family business, independence and freedom. It wasn’t unusual to find me aged 4 in the City Museum alone, or aged 11 in the Belliver woods alone playing with my dolls, or looking for gold in the river at Shaugh Bridge, or on top of the Rock at Yelverton after riding there on my Tomohawk bike…alone! I taught myself to swim aged 10 at Plymouth Lido… I got around, sometimes alone, sometimes with cousins or friends. Childhood plays a big part in who you grow up to be, I’m sure. I love travelling and exploring places, either touring in a campervan or car with tents around Cornwall, or France, even Australia and New Zealand. I’ve been through and to lots of places in a search for somewhere else I might like to settle. Of all the villages, towns and cities I’ve been to, there were only a few where I felt ‘at home’ and they didn’t particularly have any similarities to Plymouth, but maybe there were similarities to some of my favourite childhood places within Plymouth, who knows; maybe restimulated happy feelings of a similar experience. I must have a subconscious cocktail of criteria, maybe ‘we all do’, that automatically gets ticked off in an instant when we go to a place that just ‘feels’ right, ‘feels like we belong’, whether that be a building such as a certain pub or cafe, office building, workplace, person’s home or a town we’re visiting. After travelling to a handful of countries on the continent and down under all in one year, having found a few towns that I ‘felt I belonged’ ‘felt comfortable in’ ‘felt at home in’, I realised, that it’s hard to choose and that I have to ‘live somewhere’ have to have a ‘base’, so it might as well be my home town of Plymouth. I actually feel glad to have been born and bred here! I know that people actively make a choice to relocate here because of all it has to offer and I will defend and promote it to the end! My favourite place in Plymouth is Mount Wise Park, and I’ve only known about it for four years after stumbling upon it whist having to take an urgent temp job (after I was unpaid by a previous employer) for Devonport Regeneration Company located there. I go here time and time again rather than any of my childhood haunts in other areas of Plymouth. When I’m there I tell myself ‘this is what kept me in Plymouth’. Also, I’ve just realised that the good that came from the bad employment experience is that I did discover Mount Wise Park! I can’t imagine not having had that place in my life over the past few years; it has been a life line in all weathers, seasons and times of the day or night! I’ve digressed slightly, haven’t I? Or have I .. hmmm, on a thought roll now … I’m out! :o)

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