Philip Larkin, the celebrated poet (1922-85) dedicated The Less Deceived (1955) to Monica Jones, with whom he spent many holidays in the flat she owned at 1A Ratcliffe Road in Haydon Bridge. Monica's mother came from St John's Chapel in Weardale, and as Monica approached Haydon Bridge by rail from Newcastle (she didn't drive) she always felt she was coming home. She had bought the cottage in 1961, and when Larkin visited in April of the following year, he wrote:
'I thought your little house seemed... distinguished and exciting and beautiful... it looks splendid and it can never be ordinary with the Tyne going by outside... You have a great English river drifting under your window...'
When Monica bought the house, this view could be seen from the living-room. The cottage has since been altered.
The place always cheered them both up. 'As always, the place worked its spell', wrote Larkin. From here they journeyed to the Lake District and elsewhere. They visited Hadrian's Wall, Langley Castle, Allendale and Allenheads. They certainly crossed into Scotland at Carter Bar. The pair occasionally dined out with friends at the Lord Crewe arms in Blanchland,
Larkin's notable poem 'Show Saturday' is a description of the 1973 Bellingham show. He refers to Haydon Bridge and its California Gardens allotments in the poem:
Back now to private addresses, gates and lamps
In high stone one-street villages, empty at dusk,
And side roads of small towns (sports finals stuck
In front doors, allotments reaching down to the railway);
Back now to autumn, leaving the ended husk
Of summer that brought them here for Show Saturday.
In 1982, Monica retired to live in Haydon Bridge. Larkin called her 'Bun', a Beatrix Potter allusion, and both called 1A Ratcliffe Road her 'Rabbit Hole'. Larkin was fond of animals, particularly rabbits; they were also Monica's favourite animal. She often asked to see the pet rabbits of the Willis family next door. When Merlin, the cat at the General Havelock pub, was locked in Monica's cottage, Larkin drove her to Haydon Bridge (from Hull) to let it out.
Monica finally left the cottage in 1984, when ill-health prevented her living alone. She continued to enquire about it, however, asking Mrs Willis by phone: 'How is my little house?' 'How is my river, is it high?' A prospective buyer recalls that Monica talked about Haydon Bridge as if it were paradise; she was still desperately reluctant to sell the property and even nurtured thoughts of an eventual return.