Archive for March, 2023


The plan was to drive to Troutbeck, then climb Wansfell. It’s a modest peak, though steep in the approach, as I recall, and it peters out where the big fells are only just getting going. But I thought it would be plenty for the day, and it would get me back into the Lakes where I have not walked since before the COVID restrictions.

Parking’s a bit tight in Troutbeck so, just in case, plan B was to slip over the Kirkstone Pass to Patterdale and do something from there instead, if Troutbeck let us down. And, sadly, Troutbeck did let us down. The last of the slots on the secret (and free) carpark had all gone by 9:15. So, plan B swung into action, only for us to discover the Kirkstone pass was shut for repairs. There was no plan C.

The last thing I wanted now was to end up in the parallel universe of the central lakes, a place of bottlenecked traffic, and zombie crowds. And I especially didn’t want to end up in Grasmere. But when you’ve no plan C, and you’re trying to make up something on the hoof, strange things happen, and, in the end, Grasmere it was. The parking here is not free, and it’s 50p to pee. It’s nice to see the place has not lost its touch.

It was 2010 when I last walked from Grasmere. I went up Tarn Crag, crossed the head of Far Easedale, then returned along the ridge to Helm Crag. But we’re not up to that today. Instead, a simple walk to Easedale Tarn is more our speed. The sun is shining, the morning is fresh, and there are lots of pretty waterfalls along the way.

Reading back about that walk, I did a lot of moaning. The price of parking, and the contempt with which visitors are treated in the shops particularly vexed me. I even took a picture of my parking ticket – shock horror – but those prices seem quaint today. Yes, I have a difficult relationship with Grasmere, though I suppose all tourist traps are the same. I remember being here when my children were still in nappies, and discovered we’d run out – not a situation a parent wants to find themselves in. So I enquired desperately of the chemist, who found my predicament amusing and explained how so few babies are born in Grasmere it wasn’t worth his while stocking nappies. It was a sad indictment of the Disneyland the place had by then become: plenty of money for some, but losing its authentic soul. Wordsworth’s been a long time dead and though he’s still worshipped daily in St Oswald’s churchyard, by the tour busses, all that he worshipped has surely turned to dust. We drove home fast, and with the windows down.

But that old blog piece also reminds me how I stopped to rest by Little Brownhoe Gill, just before tackling the ridge up Tarn Crag. It was where I finally worked out what that line in William Henry Davies’ poem “Leisure” means: streams full of stars, like skies at night. You’ve only to take a little time to stand and stare, and there they are. In broad daylight.

2010 is a long time ago, and there’s been a lot of water down Brownhoe Gill since then, though it feels like only yesterday. But then every decent walk in the Lakes, the Dales, or anywhere, was only yesterday, though that yesterday might have been forty years ago. The normal rules of the universe don’t apply, we tie our bootlaces, and step off into a timeless place of beauty. For today’s yesterday then, we have a straight forward walk, up the Easedale road, then Easedale beck as it tumbles down the fell in a series of rushing falls.

Sour Milk Ghyll, Grasmere

There’s been a lot of rain over the past few weeks, and the beck is boisterous in the shallows, thundering over the rocks. The deciduous trees are still bare, but the yews are a lush green in the sunlight, and the hollies are glossy, berries red and almost luminous. The most dramatic cascade, and what’s been drawing the crowds up from Grasmere since the Victorian Romantics, is Sourmilk Ghyll. It’s one of two to be so named in the district I know of, the other being in Seathwaite.

We have clear skies today, and it’s warm in the sun. The beck is sparkling, and gin-clear. It’s still only mid-morning, and the footfall on the path is light. It’ll be different by midday. There’s a little waterfall every five minutes that draws us aside to fiddle about with the camera, or just to stand and stare. The water-colourist Heaton Cooper described the essence of the district as rocks and light and running water. It’s a phrase that always comes to mind when I’m here, and for obvious reasons.

Easedale Tarn, and Tarn Crag

Above the falls, Easedale Tarn comes suddenly into view. Here, the roar of water falls away into a vacuum of silence. There’s not a breath of wind, and the tarn is a mirror for the backdrop of fells, their lower flanks all rusty, giving way to runs of scree and frozen free-falls of rock towards the craggy tops. Tarn Crag is beautifully lit by late morning sun, and very tempting. I did once pick a line to the summit from here, but I can’t trace it now and, like my last walk, up Rivington Pike, I’ve still not the puff for it. Instead, we head to the far end, looking to perhaps circumnavigate it, but the faint ways here are overcome by water running down from the fells, swelling the boggy bits, and all the becks are in spate, making crossings difficult. I’m not that attached to the idea, though, just glad to be bumbling about. So, we bumble on up the valley a little for the view of Belle’s Knott.

Belle’s Knott

Beyond Belle’s Knott, and a little jink to the right, lies Coledale Tarn, which I’ve only visited once, and I’m wondering about heading up to it. As an objective, I’ve often felt the Lake District tarns are as worthy as its summit cairns, each with its own character, but I’ve only got five hours on the ticket. Any more than that, and it would have cost me eight quid. And again, I’m really not that attached to anything today. So we sit a while by the beck, listening to the music of it instead. It’s not how I imagined the trip turning out, but I am glad to be here, and to be reminded of just how beautiful, how special this landscape is. The main routes in the Lakes, like this one, have always seen a lot of footfalls, and that can be frustrating, even on a midweek morning, but you’ve only to slip away from them for five minutes to find secret places, and to experience the intimate magic of it.

We make our leisurely descent via Easedale, arriving back at the car with enough time on the ticket for a brew in the sunshine. I’ve brought my own brew in a Thermos. Heaven knows what they charge for a coffee in Grasmere, now, if it’s 50p even to pee. That would have been an easy walk, once, but a tough one today. I can feel myself bone tired, and the feet are sore. It’s true, then, a mild dose of COVID might only knock you out for a few days, but it’ll leave you empty for months.

Just over seven miles and fourteen hundred feet of ascent.

I leave the last word to William Henry Davies, on the subject of seeking beauty:

Cold winds can never freeze, nor thunder sour
The cup of cheer that Beauty draws for me
Out of those Azure heavens and this green earth —
I drink and drink, and thirst the more I see

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The Ravine, Rivington Terraced Gardens

I was determined to get out a bit further afield today. The forecast was poor, but I’d decided on a trip to the Lakes, anyway, so set the alarm for an early start. But then I woke in the small hours, and couldn’t get back to sleep. I’d had this dream about a belligerent copper who’d smelled something bad in my wardrobe, but wouldn’t say what it was. I wanted to know, then I could fix it, but he was rude and stalked off. So I went after him, and caught him being nasty to someone else. He was a right piece of work, so I thought it best to leave him be. I’m lying awake then until I hear the birds, around six. The alarm is set for six thirty, but I knock it off because there’s no way I’m going to be able to get out of bed. So then of course I fall asleep and the next thing I know it’s half past ten.

It’s a bleary-eyed breakfast, and no plan for the day, because there’s no point heading up to the Lakes at this time. I allow myself ten minutes of doom as I scroll the news. There’s a headline about the Metropolitan police being officially declared a bad lot. It breaks the dream, but the associations are too loose to say the latter informed the former, so we’ll let that one go as a coincidence before we claim it as one of those Dunnian dreams. There’s another headline about hundreds of people gone, and going, blind, for want of timely treatment by our struggling health service. By now, it’s eleven thirty.

The best we can do with the day is get our boots on a local hill, just for the exercise. Any hill will do, and the Pike comes to mind, it being a short drive to Rivington. Now, some days I can overlook the tiredness of Rivington, it being somewhat overrun as an amenity, but I suspect today is not one of them. That said, Rivington it is.

We take the big grey car, rather than the little blue one, because it’s raining, and the forecast is for more. The big grey one isn’t as fun to drive but, being more technologically advanced, it allows me to listen to podcasts. I’m listening to one about metaphysical idealism, which describes how everything is basically a mental construct, and we are disassociated alters within a Mind at large. It’s a counterintuitive way of looking at the world, but it makes sense of those areas where Materialism fails. It also seems to have fewer internal inconsistencies, especially when it comes to explaining consciousness.

The inconsistencies of consciousness are proudly on display, when I park up, noting the usual scattering of multicoloured dog bags. Perhaps I should say “self consciousness”, and the lack of it, otherwise no one would for shame treat our environment with such contempt. Today we also have tin cans courtesy of Dr Pepper and Monster Energy, a plethora of wet wipes, and a discarded pair of trousers (I wonder what he/she wore home). It must have been a busy weekend, but then all weekends (and weekdays) are busy at Rivington.

The Ravine, Rivington Terraced Gardens

Photography’s not really the point today, but I carry the camera out of habit, and you never know. We take a direct approach towards the Pike, up through the Pineatum, then the ravine. There was one shot here I thought I’d try, but there are people all over the place, and one guy in particular looking comatose, and clearly not for moving. So we grab a different shot and on we plod. It’s a steep route, and I can tell something’s lacking in me. It’s not post COVID, more likely that sleepless night, and sometimes the mind just tells you you’ve not got it in you, and there’s no way you can convince it otherwise.

Donuts on the lawn

We make it as far as the lawns, the entire route thus far being marked with a breadcrumb trail of detritus from visitors whose minds are trapped in the low bandwidth regions. There’s an occasional glow from the sun, but the overall mood is gloomy. The Terraced Garden Trust did some sterling work up here, clearing the Great lawn, and the Orchestra Lawn from a near century of scrub, and re-laying them. Summertime brings a delightful rejuvenation of festivals, and family picnics to a once derelict ruin, but I note with dismay the trolls have also found their way up, in their cars, and have been doing donuts. It looks like they had great fun, churning it to slime, and ruining all the hard work.

Decision time for the route. I’ve definitely no puff for the Pike today, so we make do with the Pigeon tower, then descend towards the car-park at Lower House. The track here seems to be disappearing into the earth, as it forms an ever deeper ravine. It sees brutal assault from four by four vehicles, and dirt bikes, then the run-off from the moor gets in it and does the rest. There’s wire cutting, too, to allow access off-piste to rogue mountain bikers blazing slime trails through sensitive woodland. The whole scene is a mess.

As the current BBC series by David Attenborough reminds us, the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. A quarter of our mammals are facing extinction, 97% of wildflower meadows have gone, only 13% of the land is forested, and half of that is alien, monocultural plantation, with only a quarter being ancient, native woodland, and most of that in poor condition and under constant threat from rapacious developers. There seems little reason to be optimistic. I suppose the fact of the matter is we’re a small country with a large, and largely ignorant population, who has seriously fouled its nest, and the best it can come up with is to concrete over the nice bits that remain.

Track erosion by 4×4.

The fundamentalist eco warriors would sooner humans were wiped out, then the earth might eventually renew itself and thrive without us, and they have a point, since the earth is as much the rightful home to nature at large, albeit red in tooth and claw, as it is to us. But they’re missing a crucial point, that without us, there is no beauty. Metaphysical idealism to me, amongst other things, implies we are the universe becoming aware of itself, that we are the eyes and the ears of creation. That while the poor old NHS is failing our eyes due to budget cuts inflicted by philistines, we are still the bit of the universe that sees, and is moved by its beauty. Nature cannot do that without us, beautiful though it is. It is we who bear witness, and are moved by nature’s beauty, or horrified by its destruction.

So, as I see it, like it or not, the earth needs us. Without us, there is no point to it, and we have to balance the equation by assuming our proper place in the order of creation, as responsible stewards and witnesses to its glorious unfolding. Poor, tired old Rivington needs us too, or at least enough of us to look around at the despoliation, on days like this, and say oh,… for f*&ks sake.

As we return now to the big grey one, it’s coming on to rain. Three miles, eight hundred and ninety feet of ascent. One hour and twenty-five minutes. Not bad for a bad day with little puff, and we did manage some nice pictures of the ravine after all. But we’re definitely going to the Lakes next time.

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White Coppice

There’s a feel of spring in the air today, as we drive over to White Coppice. It’s been a cold, wet week, and the change is welcome. The plan is to climb Great Hill, with a little deviation to visit what I can only describe as a Neo-Pagan temple. We’re in the little blue car, so we park down by the village green, rather than pressing on up the bumpy track to the cricket field. The last time I tried that, she was almost beached in the deep pots left over from the lock-down days. It adds a mile or so to the route, but all of it is pleasant.

Once home to the rural poor, White Coppice is now a place of desirable residences. It’s looking very pretty this morning, too, with its Wordsworthian daffodils fluttering and dancing in the breeze. The local celebrity here is Alfred Ephraim Eccles, not a poet, but an industrialist, social reformer, and stalwart of the temperance movement.

If White Coppice folk wanted a drink, they had to sneak out of the village. But Eccles had a good view of goings-on from his elevated home, the rather grandly named Albion Villa, and was reputedly stern in his reprimands. He was also the main employer, so not a man to antagonise.

It’s easy to be cynical about the killjoys of the temperance movement, but that would be to take it out of context. In 1872, the Chaplain of the Salford County Gaol claimed 90% of prisoners owed their incarceration to the influence of strong drink. But also, with crippling poverty hitting wives and children especially hard, it wasn’t a bad idea to prevent the publicans from emptying the pockets of men, before they’d even made it home from the mill.

The other famous son is Sir Henry Tate, sugar magnate, and founder of London’s Tate gallery. It’s also home to Big Al, from my story “Winter on the Hill”. I always look out for her when I’m passing her cottage.

The week’s heavy rains are tumbling from the moors, and remind me I’ve still not managed to get my leaky roof fixed. Roofers are an elusive breed in my locale. There are several falls up this way, impressive in the wet, and always worth a photograph.

White Coppice

The route eventually narrows to a couple of sporting options. One of them would take us along a narrow, exposed path, into the intimidating jaws of Black Brook. I’ve never liked the look of that one. The other involves a bit of a scramble onto the moor, to rejoin the main path coming up from White Coppice. We take the latter and head on up to the ruins of Coppice Stile.

Great Hill from Coppice Stile

There’s a beautiful thorn tree here, looking gaunt today. Somewhere among the ruin there’s an OS benchmark from the Victorian period, chiselled into a cheese press of all things, but I’ve yet to find it, and today is no exception. From Coppice Stile, we can see Great Hill, and the usual well-walked route up to the summit, via the ruins of Drinkwaters farm. But, just a little further along from Coppice Stile, we take a detour across open moor to investigate another ruin. I’m not going to name it, but anyone who can read a map will work it out. A substantial ruin, over the years it has been quietly refashioned into a Neo-Pagan temple.

I have seen photographs of it, an old and weighty lintel raised as a central upright, amid a tidy circular space, and decorated with intriguing magickal symbols. Its presence isn’t exactly advertised, but I’ve been thinking it’s inevitable the trolls will find it, and I want to see it before they get to it.

Sadly, I’m too late.


Someone has pushed the central upright over, and the ritual neatness I have seen in photographs, is in disarray. But there’s something odd about it. What’s most curious is the scallop shell at the base of the fallen upright. Needless to say, scallop shells are not a common sight on the moors. There is a symbolism here that’s intriguing, but beyond me. The scallop is associated with Christian pilgrimages, but it also features in the practice of witchcraft, as a protection from the evil eye, or the ritual containment of rogue spirits. Or it can be a symbol of water, from the five elements of the old alchemists. Take your pick.

We touch nothing, and withdraw quietly.

There are no paths here, only sketchy ways. We strike out across the moor, until we hit the track coming up from Brinscall’s Well Lane, then we head for Great Hill, still puzzled and not a little spooked by our encounter. The imagination cannot help but invent stories about it. At first, I have it as the Christian fundamentalists catching wind of Pagans in their midst, and violently shutting them down. But then I have a scene of Crowleyesque magick, raising Pan, and scaring the pants off the participants. They only just manage to contain the horned one, and coax him under that shell, where he remains to this day,…. until disturbed.

Other suggestions gratefully received.


Anyway, we have a more cheery aspect awaiting us at the ruins of Drinkwaters farm, where I usually settle for lunch when I’m up this way. The aspect is gorgeous, with afine views south over the moors. But we’re a bit early today, so press on up the track to Great Hill. At the summit shelter, however, there is the overpowering stench of marijuana, which puts me off my soup. I also note a fellow walker has left his sit mat – perhaps he was too stoned to remember it. I have donated quite a few of these to the moors myself over the years, and seeing it makes me smile. I fold it up and wedge where it won’t blow away. Perhaps he’ll come back for it. Then we head down the side of the hill towards Spitler’s Edge, to find somewhere less malodorous.

By the stile here, I note the wire has been snipped, and curled out of the way. I’ve seen this at several access points on the moor. It’s a troubling phenomenon. The bikers carry wire cutters up here, then they can thunder through without the inconvenience of dismounting, and lifting their bikes over stiles. But the wire is there to keep the sheep in, to stop them wandering off and getting into trouble. I’m all for freedom of access, but come on guys, cutting the wire is not cool, and reflects badly on all of us who use these moors for recreation.

Great Hill

Anyway, the edge is not for us today, tempting though it might be. Instead, we turn for the ruin of Great Hill farm. There are some fine trees on this side of the hill, and we spend a while photographing them. The light is suddenly very bright, but we have clouds moving in. It’s warm, too, and I’m wondering if we might be able to drive home with the top down. But there’s rain forecast for around the time we’ll be getting back to White Coppice, and those clouds are telling me the forecast is going to be spot on.

Great Hill Farm

Probably the loveliest oasis of trees, hereabouts, are those surrounding the ruins of Great Hill Farm. They form the cover art for “Winter on the Hill”, a graceful collection of thorns and sycamores. So, finally, we settle for lunch. No scent of marijuana, and no magickal symbols to raise the hairs on my neck. Boy, am I glad I didn’t touch that shell!

It does indeed come on to a light rain as we make our way down. Passing by the little preschool at White Coppice, I am struck by a couple of inspirational quotes on notices. One of them I quote as best I can from memory: There is no WiFi in the forest, which is why the connection is always better.

Never mind Wordsworth, in Lancashire, everyone is a poet.

Village Green, White Coppice

Around 5 miles, 860 ft of ascent

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I know you think you’ve failed us, mate.
Such big dreams we’ve always had,
and that wide world out there to roam.
Then love!
Man, would we explode in love,
and in love, for sure, the gods
would see us home.

I know, it’s not been like that.
All those circles that we drew?
They seemed so small,
and this old town, now, crumbling,
its walls, they blocked our every turn.

But what better way to shift the gaze?
From the outwards, to the in,
and through the light of imagination
to hear the angels sing.

So, do not lament the loss of ages,
for all the ages melt away,
and the atom splits to emptiness,
to that field where angels play.

Indeed, you’ve brought us far, old man,
you have shown the universe quite small.
You have peered us deep into infinity,
and closed our fist around it all.

First published in Visual Verse, February ’23

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Bank End, Cockerham

They have installed a new parking meter, and spy cameras at Glasson Basin. There are two things to note about that. (1) The price to park has gone up, and (2) I found the meter impossible to understand. But help was on hand from the younger generation, and we muddled through. The important thing is we’re here, the walk having been postponed from February.

It’s good to be in Glasson again, though I was saddened by that parking thing, and the hike in tariffs, as it’s not exactly the Lakes or the Dales. Yes, there is an understated charm about the place, but this new parkomat seems to rather overstate its virtues. It will of course be something of a cash-cow, as the days warm, and the weekend crowds return.

But for now, it’s a cold morning, and there’s a steady breeze off the water, with razor blades in it. There’s an in-and-out sun, but a mostly gloomy sky. The forecast is for dry until mid-afternoon. Then a band of rain and sleet is set to sweep up from the south, but we should be on our way home by then.

There’s a forlorn look to the few barges moored on the canal, as we walk by on this first leg of our journey. Indeed, they puncture any bubble of romance one might have had about living off grid, and on the water. They look rusty, damp and cold. Some vessels have also moved out of the vicinity of the basin and are now moored much further down the canal, as if shunned from the port’s environs. There is trouble afoot here. The sleepy look of Glasson belies recent tensions with the port authority, who appear to be asserting themselves over the local residents, and in ways that aren’t at all popular.

Glasson Basin

From the canal, we take the little lanes south, through the meadows, towards Thursland Hill. In doing so, we pass the Morecambe R/C aeroplane club who are putting their little machines through their paces. There is also the steady drone of a Pilatus as it takes off from the skydiving centre where, for as little as £150, you too can throw yourself from an aeroplane.

The vast meadows around Thursland Hill are dotted with itinerant swans today. They are the biggest of our birds, and so common a sight on our lakes and waterways, we take them for granted. I think they look better on the water than off it. Off it, there is also a lumbering menace about them. Beyond the meadows, beyond the swans, in the far distance, the shaggy Bowland fells are dusted with snow.

Beyond Thursland Hill, the scenery shifts from cultivated plain, to coastal marsh. I’ve said before how the Victorians took the most attractive bit of the Lancashire coast and built the screaming fun metropolis of Blackpool on it. At least that’s Blackpool’s front of house. For the rest, it is the most deprived town in the North. I’m sure there are other towns who can argue they are worse off, but it’s not exactly a competition we should relish, and speaks volumes instead to the times.

This bit of the coast is untamable, and therein lies both its charm and its salvation. However, even here, much of what we see is shaped by sheep, reared for the salt marsh lamb, and for which Bank End farm is famous. As in much of the Lake District, they crop the shaggy grasses and give a fresh mown appearance, which is pleasant, but unnatural. There are a couple of benches by the farm here for weary pilgrims to rest their bones. I choose one for lunch. On the other sits a man with a telescope and a notebook, spotting birds out on the marsh. We exchange greetings. He seems a quiet type, has with him a quiet, companionable dog. I don’t like to disturb them, so we share the view in easy silence.

It’s around noon, and the incoming tide is beginning to fill the vast network of dendritic channels which are patrolled by shrilly piping oystercatchers. There are eagle-eyed cormorants, too, statue-still, waiting for incoming fish. There is a lone egret, and further out, by their thousands, all huddled together, on a slowly vanishing sandbank, there are dunlin. That’s the extent of my knowledge of coastal birds, but I bet the other guy has spotted dozens more. If there is any healthy diversity in the natural world, it is at the liminal zones like these, where human reach is limited. Elsewhere is ruin.

The light is strange, today. I want to say it is gloomy, but there’s an occasional glow to it, like something sunny and revelatory is wanting to press through. The moments are fleeting, and we let the camera make of them what it can. As we walk, I’m worried about Jansen Pool, which is coming up on the latter part of our meander. It’s a tidal channel, through which our path passes, and is sometimes submerged. There is no viable alternative, other than a long back-track, or acrobatics involving a farm gate and slippery planks. I have checked the tides, and we’re looking at five meters today, around mid-afternoon. The problems only arise at the spring tides, and we are several days past the moon’s full. We should be okay then, but I am no Salty Sam, and have been caught out before. That’s for later, but adds a certain spice of anticipation as we make our way up the coastal trail to Cockersands.

The Chapter House, Cockersand Abbey

We try a couple of fresh perspectives here. One is of the Chapter House, the sole remains of the Abbey, and a grade 1 listed building. It’s a perspective I’ve copied by researching other photographers’ takes on it, though we seem to have captured today’s fleeting light and moody sky. Then, turning to face the sea, there is also a striking view of the Plover Scar lighthouse and an altogether different mood. It has a kissing gate at land’s end for foreground interest. The lighthouse looks rusty and ancient, even though it was only recently rebuilt after a ship collided with it. Beyond the light, we have the wide reach of Morecambe Bay, and a snow speckled Black Coombe.

The Plover Scar Light

I check the phone, on which I run the navigation app, to confirm the distance still to go. I have forgotten to turn the data off, so a notification has leaked through and informs me there will be no pundits on Match of the Day, tonight. I’m not a fan of football, and haven’t watched Match of the Day for donkey’s years. But this is about much more than football.

The lead presenter is a popular celebrity, with a huge Twitter-base. He has said something derogatory, but essentially true, about the government’s refugee policies and the BBC have suspended him for his candour. His colleagues have now also withdrawn their labours, quoting “solidarity”. This is not the sort of word one usually hears among the astronomically well paid, but welcome all the same.

It is a serious matter for the BBC who appears to have caved in, and very publicly, to political pressure. It damages their reputation as an impartial public service broadcaster, and is to be regretted. But it is a reputation already in question on account of their chairman being a significant donor to the Conservative party. I don’t see this playing out at all well. But I note also the media fuss is over the man, rather than the policy, which is widely, and internationally condemned.

I fear all of this means the next few years will be a hateful time, as more cultural issues are stoked for their incandescent effects on public opinion. Indeed, we’re going to hear a lot about who we should hate or fear, as a distraction from more pressing issues. Those damned bloggers for a start, perhaps, those bleeding heart amateur hacks, bleating on like they know what they’re talking about. But we should remember that, while the populists claim to be defending us against bogey-persons of their own invention, our futures are being dismantled brick by brick, freedom by freedom, doctor by doctor, nurse by nurse, and ambulance call by ambulance call,…

Tidal flooding at Jansen Pool

Anyway,… Jansen Pool is passable with a mere splash of the boots, unlike in the photo, taken on a previous occasion and which required acrobatics. Then we’re up the final pasture, where the thorn trees make dramatic shapes against a glowering sky. And, finally we return to Glasson, to the shimmering basin, and the simmering discontent of its locals, to its eclectic moorings, and its shiny new parkomat. Here, we call at the Lock-keeper’s rest for chips, and a brew. There’s always a handful of garrulous hairy bikers here, with their thundering machines. It’s a good run out on a bike, or in a little blue car with the top down. But we’re in the big grey one today, anticipating this band of weather, and wary of salty roads for fear they might dissolve the little blue car’s undersides. The big grey one ran well, was powerful and comfortable. It’ll be taking us some distance in the coming year.

As we’re served our chips, the skies darken, and the rain comes on. It’s gentle, just the lightest kiss, but with flecks of sleet in it. In a world of few certainties, it’s comforting to know you can at least still rely on the factual impartiality of the Met office.

Six and a half miles, dead flat.

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If you’re a dog owner, I’m sure you’re very responsible, and your creature is so well-trained you can take it anywhere, without others even knowing it’s there, and you keep it on a tight leash when other, non-doggy people, are around. And I admit, they can be great fun, good company and even cuddlesome. But I’ve gone my length with them today, and hope not to see another for a very long time.

You catch up with me, actually, by the little cascade at Rocky Brook, deep in the woods at Roddlesworth, where I have just been interfered with by a filthy great Labrador. It has thundered through the brook, trailed drool and snot all over my nice new satchel, then stuck its snout in my soup, the scent of which I presume is what piqued its particularly lungeous interest. I had a split second to decide: either save my lunch, or the Nikon, and the Nikon won. Fortunately, I’d eaten most of the soup. Still,..

The owner stood across the brook, shouting uselessly. Dogs, however, like teenagers, are renowned for being selectively deaf. I’m afraid I may have uttered the F word, but the dog was unmoved by it. I got a weak apology from the human, which is more than I usually get, but it was too late. My Zen was worn thin, and I was grumpy, now.

The route around the reservoirs is popular with dogs, whose humans chauffeur them here en-mass to be emptied. I must have passed a hundred of them today, most of them off the lead and jolly, and whilst to bounced at by one friendly doggie might be cute, it’s a cuteness that soon wears off. Indeed, of everyone I saw, only one other guy was like me, sans mutt. And there were faeces, of course, both bagged and not, lurking in the bushes, or more boastfully dumped mid-trail, in spite of water board signs reminding us the reservoirs here are not just for fancy. They hold our drinking water. I try not to think of all this, when I run the tap at home.

But anyway, I needed five miles today, and a bit of up and down, and this round of the reservoirs, through the plantations of Roddlesworth and Tockholes, fit the bill perfectly. The legs are still a bit empty after even a mild dose of COVID, and the pull up to the café at Ryal Fold had me blowing. I’ve also been harbouring a phobia of drinking from a cup I’ve not washed myself, since that’s how I suspect I caught the bug, so I’d planned on a therapeutic brew at what they used to call Vaugn’s café, but more dogs, and their attendant people, were queued out the door, so I gave it a miss.

It’s a mid-week morning, and there are so many people about, and not all of them looking like they’re of an age to be retired. I may have mentioned this observation before. The government has noticed too, and is concerned so many of the middle-aged plus group have quit work, become what they’re euphemistically calling “the economically inactive”. In practical terms, this means there are not enough workers to be abused by bastard bosses, stressed out by bullshit emails, spied upon by activity monitors on work-from-home laptops, and all for toy-town wages.

On the one hand, then, I don’t blame them, and was glad to quit ahead of time myself, but on the other hand, a brew would have been nice. We have thousands of people risking their lives to come here, desperate to study, to work, and to provide service, but if they survive the journey, we lock them up in cheap hotels, in deprived parts of the north, where we invite head-bangers to threaten them with violence, then deport these poor precious souls on the slightest pretext, before turning our backs and speaking sweetly instead to our dogs. The world confuses me, and I try not to engage with it so much these days, for it’s a topsy-turvey place and makes my head spin. Boy, have I got it on me today, though. That soup snaffling dog has a lot to answer for.

But let’s forget all that, now. It’s such a beautiful morning, and with the first hints of warmth in the sun. Tonight’s full moon also promises positive change. We parked on Dole Lane at Abbey Village, then made the loop. I’d decided to walk it the other way round, which always turns the familiar into something completely different. The sunlight was scattering beautifully over the waters of the reservoirs. There were tits bobbing about, and noisy, in the trees – noisy tits also on the trail, but the least said about them the better. I spied a yellow wagtail, and attempted a photograph, but you need a very long lens to do birds justice, and a 140 mm really doesn’t cut it. Then I hear woodpeckers making busy, drilling holes in trees. Things are moving, the season is coming on.

It was mid-November when I last walked this round. Autumn had got under way, and the trees were glorious in copper and gold. Today they’re bare and statuesque, buds greening, many of them mossy and backlit in dramatic style by this low slanting sun. Only the beech saplings are holding onto their leaves from last year. Soon they will discard them and fresh foliage will unfurl, spring green, and a sight for sore eyes. But I’ll be giving it a miss here, unless the council declares dog-free days, but that will only set the libertarians off on GB Radio, and add to the interminable culture wars. So I’ll do my bit to keep the peace, and wend my ways somewhere else, then the dogs can defecate and snaffle soup at will without some grumpy old git like me getting uppity about it.

So, lunch done, or rather half done, we clean the drool from the satchel as best we can. The soup pot will need a damned good scouring, and boiling water, or maybe just throw it away and buy another, as I really don’t fancy it now. For the return leg, we follow Rocky Brook, back towards Abbey. The brook is running well today, is musical and sparkling in the sunlight. There are a few nice perspectives on it that I’ve spotted on previous walks, and home in on again today. I’m hunkered down on the rocks, just off the path, composing a particular shot of splashing water, when I’m interfered with by another dog, at other times cute and friendly, but right now in my face, and I find myself in too dark a place to be nice to it, or even to return the owner’s greeting and the usual: “Ah, he’s harmless, he won’t bother you.”

Already has, mate. Obviously.

Roddlesworth; great if you’re with a dog, but give it a miss if you’re not. Clearly, for my next walk, I need to be where dogs are not. And I suspect I need to meditate.

Five miles though! Getting there.


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What use now, these sorry orphans
from the parlours of our yesterdays?
The elbows of generations once rested
between courses here,
served by stern grandmas
for whom waste and sloth were sin.

How many stories of starched Sundays,
are reflected in this sheen
of rosewood and mahogany?
What lingering scent of roast beef,
and Lord Sheraton?
What echo of the tinkle of China cups
on delicate saucers, rimmed with gold?

Oh, there is a lost symphony here.
It’s all jumbled up now,
but was timed once
to the purposeful beat
of a Smiths Empire clock,
that proud Cyclops on the mantle,
flanked by brass candlesticks,
buffed to pillars of burnished gold.

When sounded then, the last post
of such ephemera as this?
When doused we the fires
of flickering amber cheer,
their bounty roaring,
half-way up the chimney?

We have not the time any more,
for grandpa’s rambling tales,
nor the space to spread our elbows,
nor the coals to burn.
The grate is empty, but for these
few spent cinders of memory,
while the parlours of our yesterdays,
are empty, and cold.

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