Yorkshire benches with fantastic views
PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 June 2020
Paul Griffiths is batty about benches, and he’s not the only one. Thousands of people across the globe share his love for a restful view, as Angela Walton discovers.
Is there anything more satisfying than a well-positioned bench just at that moment when you need one? Where you can stop to rest weary legs and just sit, chat, read or ponder?
It’s 26 years since Forrest Gump famously regaled strangers with tales of American history and boxes of chocolates on a Savannah park bench. Movie makers know only too well how people across the world can relate to the humble park bench; it’s hard to make it through a classic flick without seeing the characters sit, dance, argue, laugh or cry on one.
And maybe it’s not until we really think about it, we realise just how much of a starring role these simple seats play in our own lives.
Whether it’s eating fish and chips, holding meetings, remembering loved ones, watching children play, or just relaxing on a warm, hazy day - benches are grounded and constant. Unlike a box of chocolates, we all know what we’re getting with a trusty, reliable bench.
Paul Griffiths – creator of hit microblog, My Favourite Bench, goes much further with his appreciation and when I hear him say ‘some benches just know they’re good’ I might have wondered if he needed to get out more…
Not so. In normal – non-lockdown times – you simply can’t keep this family man in, for his life has become wonderfully consumed with finding and sharing the most perfectly positioned, iconic benches in the land.
What started as a Twitter feed four years ago, has now become a global appreciation society with almost 10,000 dedicated contributors all connected by their love of a special place to park themselves up for a while.
For Paul, it’s a love affair that started more than 20 years ago, on a bench in the magical little Dales town of Hawes: ‘We’ve been spending time in Hawes since the kids were little,’ he says. ‘We have a cottage in Thirsk and we’d head over there to walk and let the kids run free – we’d always have fish and chips at the same bench every time,’ he recalls.
‘It has these marvellous views to the hills and I used to say to my wife, ‘One day I’m going to do this thing called My Favourite Bench’ because other people must love their benches too?’.
‘Of course I didn’t know then what it would involve, I hadn’t a clue about websites and social media wasn’t even around then,’ he chuckles. ‘But I always wanted to do something because I loved that bench, its wonderful views and the times we’ve spent there as a family.
‘We’ve been there to celebrate all our happy times, when the kids got married and things like that – and of course we’ve been for sad times too – my wife, Janet lost her mum a few years ago and I just lost my dad the day before New Year’s Eve,’ he’s choked as he explains. ‘It’s hard but it’s important to say, we always go to raise a glass, these benches aren’t just there for the good times.’
He tells me the bench in Hawes now has road signs obscuring the view, but when I ask him to name his absolute all time favourite, he doesn’t travel far for the answer: ‘My two favourite benches in the whole world are just ten metres apart!’ he roars with laughter – something he does a lot. ‘They’re just further up the road there on The Shawl.’
He’s referring to well-known walk, The Leyburn Shawl – so called because when Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in Bolton Castle, she escaped and fled towards Leyburn but dropped her shawl in the undergrowth along the way. Ever since, the place she was arrested has been known as Queen’s Gap and the entire wooded hill through which she tried to gain freedom has since been called The Shawl or Leyburn Shawl.
It’s clear these two seats are symbolic for Paul and he talks of them like they’re very much part of the family. ‘They are totally a part of all of us because of the memories they hold,” he says, passionately.
Paul recently posted a photograph of a bench that stands in the grounds of St Mary’s Church in Whitby: ‘I’ve always liked this bench because of its views across the harbour and out to the North Sea – what I didn’t know when I shared it is this is also a favourite of a lady called Janet Bullimore who lives down in the south,’ he says.
‘Janet had seen the post and messaged me to say her husband had recently died and during his last hours they had talked about this bench. She said they’d sat on it many times during the last 40 years, planned their life, shared their life, lived their life. She said now he is gone she will return to it alone, with him in her heart,’ he says, clearly moved again by the impact his blog is having on so many people: ‘I’m just so glad I posted about that favourite bench in Whitby and I replied to her to say I would be happy to meet up when she makes the trip up.’
Paul’s blog has featured in The Times, on Radio 2 and has appeared in media as far away as China and India. Having hit on such a connecting subject for people all over the world, what’s the plan for My Favourite Bench and its ever-growing audience, I ask?
‘There isn’t one!” he laughs, ‘I’ve never had an agenda, I never will. It’s fun and it will stay that way. I reply to every single message and picture, and I follow everyone that follows me.’
That must be one busy news feed? ‘Yes, it is. But it’s never a chore, I love it,’ he replies in earnest. ‘This was always meant to be fun and for the love of benches and that’s the way it will stay. I won’t get into politics, I won’t get into opinions, I just stay in the appreciation of lovely benches and what they mean to people.
‘It’s funny, every time I mention that I’ve got this thing called My Favourite Bench people laugh and make fun of me, then moments later, they’ll say “mind you, I’ve actually got a favourite bench” and then they send me them!
‘It’s brilliant, I love it and when I come off a 12-hour shift at work in a chemical plant, I sometimes have 30 or 40 messages – sometimes it take me two hours to get through them, they’re from people all over the world who send me pictures.
‘I’ve had them from the top of Everest, New Zealand, Australia, India and everywhere. My brother goes to Disney World more than Mickey Mouse and he sends me his favourite bench from there, it’s just fun for people, they’re stopping and appreciating these places more than ever. Everyone that comes across it says it gets under their skin.’ We suspect he’s right.