We are really excited about this place-related project from our friend and Elsewhere contributor Laura Harker. The Line Between Two Towns is a new zine that explored the Esk Valley line between Middlesborough and Whitby in northern England, bringing together writers, poets, artists and photographers who have all been inspired by the different destinations on the line between the two towns. Here is Laura's introduction to the zine, and you can order your copy online here.
The idea behind this zine came from wanting to explore the differences between Whitby and Middlesbrough, and all the unique nuances and cultures that set them apart from one another. Though there are such stark differences between the two towns, there is still one thing that brings them together: the Esk Valley Railway.
It clocks in at only 36 miles long, but the Middlesbrough and Whitby line was once part of a larger network of railways that covered the area until many lines were closed after Dr. Beeching’s cuts. Thankfully, the line remained open due to its popularity. Originally intended to serve the mines and quarries across the region, the Esk Valley line quickly became a hit with Teessiders who realised that it placed the North Yorkshire seaside just over an hour away.
Over the past few decades, the area’s industry has disappeared, Brits have set their sights on sunny European beaches, and the line is now rarely busy except for Bank Holiday weekends. But it continues to be an important lifeline for many in the villages it passes through, connecting them to Middlesbrough and Whitby.
I was born in Middlesbrough but we moved to Glaisdale, just outside Whitby, when I was 11. Carefully picked up from my urban childhood, I was transplanted to the countryside where most other kids were members of the Young Farmers and thought my Boro accent came from Ireland. Even though my childhood so far had been spent less than 30 miles from Whitby, I realised there was a large gulf between these two locations – industrially, culturally and aesthetically.
This isn’t something that bothered me that much until I moved to Berlin and I was constantly asked the same question: Where are you from? When Germans and other non-Brits asked, the answer was easy – I went with North Yorkshire. But when Brits asked, expecting a more specific pinpoint for their mental map, I couldn’t bring myself to give just one answer.
I couldn’t just say Whitby and ignore Middlesbrough or that would be turning my back on my first decade, family ties, and roots as a Teessider. But I couldn’t simply say Middlesbrough, as I’d spent 15 years on the moors by this point. My Boro accent is long gone and my Middlesbrough geography gets hazy whenever I step off Linthorpe Road in the centre of town – I can’t quite stomach saying I’m a true Teessider. And so I thought about writing a personal essay on this identity crisis and the towns that sparked it, using the Esk Valley Railway to bind it all together. When I realised there was just too much for me to say, I decided to make this zine and open it up to submissions to try and create something of a printed tapestry of the area.
The zine includes works from local writers, poets, artists and photographers, all of which have been inspired by stops along the line. Threading together their work along the context of the Esk Valley Line, I wanted the zine to explore the cultural and landscape shifts that can be found taking this particular train journey, from starting in Middlesbrough surrounded by tired factories and ending in Whitby just steps from the beach. And it might actually help me figure out what to say whenever someone asks me where I’m from.