Archive for the ‘lancashire’ Category


My thanks to fellow blogger Bowland Climber, without whose guides I would never have heard of Brock Bottom. Thanks also to the Copilot navigation app, without which I would never have found it. Brock Bottom lies in a wooded valley, and consists of an ancient bridge, a small carpark and picnic site, all tucked away at the bottom of a steep, narrow lane. Riverside trails and romantic ruins provide the main draw for visitors. Around ten miles north of Preston, on the edge of the Forest of Bowland, there is a sense of deepest rural Lancashire here, and a place out of time. We arrive mid-morning, mid-week, meet no other traffic on the lane, and the car park is almost empty. Notices, warning against parking on the lane, however, suggest weekends might not be the best time to visit.

By the River Brock

I’m feeling a bit off-key, today, a bit muddle headed. I don’t know why. The little blue car is also sulking. She says nothing, but I know it. I got her road tax renewal yesterday, and with it the usual shock, also the feeling there must be a mistake. She’s a 1.6 litre 125 horsepower roadster, so hardly a super-car. But she’s old, and primitive, and carbon heavy by modern standards. I’m guessing they want her off the road, stinging us £365, this time. I know she thinks I’m thinking I should be getting rid of her, and that’s why she’s sulking. But I’m not. Days like this wouldn’t be the same in any other car. Little lanes, sunshine, top down, birdsong, scent of meadows, woodland, fresh air. This is what she was made for, and we will continue to live this particular, dream so long as we are both still able.

The plan is to follow the River Brock upstream. Then a zigzag of quiet lanes and meadow paths will bring us round to the north of Beacon Fell. We’ll return by climbing the fell and dropping down the other side, back to Brock Bottom – a walk of around six and a half miles. Ahead of us are ancient woodland, meadows, pine forest, and stunning views of the Bowland hills.

If you search Brock Bottom, one of the most common comments is: “great place for dog walking”. So I’m expecting a lot of bags hanging from trees, but there are none. Nor is there a speck of litter anywhere. The dog population of the UK exploded during Covid, and you’re the odd one out to be walking without a dog these days. It’s as if you need a canine companion to explain your presence out of doors. Not weird, mate, honest. Just walking the dog.

Downstream, the riverside isn’t especially accessible. It’s also what photographer’s call “a bit messy”. What that means is there’s a riot of shape and colour in which it’s difficult to isolate a particular subject. You can take a dozen pictures and in every one it would be impossible to say what it was you were looking at. Some places are better simply experienced, and defy summing up in a photograph. This bit of the River Brock is one of them. The waters run clear through a tumble of rocks and fallen trees. The banks are thick with vegetation.

Earlier this week I was roughly equidistant, south of Preston, at Birkacre, another wooded valley, one where the ramsons have already finished. But here they’re still in their prime, competing with common mouse ear. And the woodland is thickly carpeted with bluebells. A yellow wagtail keeps pace with us, hopping from rock to rock. Tall, exotic-looking butterburrs crowd the riverbank. There is season, and then there’s climate. And then there is microclimate. Nature is too subtle to obey general rules on the timing of events.

I am not a botanist, but I do enjoy spotting wildflowers, then looking up their names. I’m guessing the more wildflowers you can count in an area is a sign of a healthy environment. If that’s so, then the valley of the River Brock is in good shape.

Everyone knows bluebells. Mayflowers, and stitchwort, though, are less “in your face”. Indeed, I’ve never seen stitchwort before – not at all common in my locale, but growing in profusion here. Its flower is impossibly intricate and beautiful,…


After only a mile or so, I make the first navigational error, ending up on a path heading out of the valley, across meadows, towards a farm where the dog is loose and aggressive. I’m not for turning back, but then I don’t want to end up in A+E either, and this dog looks mean. I can hardly show it the map and say look, this is a public footpath so f$%k you. I guess the attack will come when I cross the line into the farmyard, even though it is a right of way. Is nobody home to call it off? Maybe it’s just bluffing. Or perhaps I’d better turn back after all,… this is not a good start.

The farmer appears at the last minute, calls it off, apologises. I’m not convinced, though, and suspect they want to discourage passers by. Anyway, we pick up our course again, finding our way back down into the river valley. Here, we discover the biggest scouting centre I’ve ever seen. There are tents everywhere and youngsters happy to be separated from their phones. They are playing with canoes and bows and arrows and tomahawks instead. This is proper stuff.

I enjoyed my time as a cub-scout. It seems incredible now, but fixed bladed knives were part of the uniform. I don’t suppose they are now. We wore them in scabbards, razor sharp, and polished up with pride. Mine was a bowie knife. I was especially proud of it, learned how to throw it, and we were generally trusted to behave ourselves. Sticking them in one another was the last thing on our minds. Knives were different then, not weapons, but tools. We’d be arrested now, wearing them on our way to the hut, like we used to do. I wonder what happened, what changed, to make it so.

I don’t know why I went wrong back there – enchanted by the woodland faery, perhaps? The way is clear enough, the paths well-marked, and I’m following a GPS trail on the phone – so no excuses. Anyway, we’re on track now, and we find ourselves climbing up Beacon Fell. This is a modest hill, but quite prominent, rising above meadows, on the edge of Bowland. Its wonderful views make it a popular destination for visitors. Part forested, it boasts many trails, and viewpoints.

Sculpture, Beacon Fell

I’ve met so few people on the route, I don’t want to spoil the sense of peace and isolation, so I avoid the main summit, and pick out a bench in a recently cleared area instead. The day has warmed to a high summer sultriness. We have terrific visibility over the Fylde coast, then north to the Lakes. South, towards my home patch, Lancashire melts into a soft haze, and a shimmer of heat.

Descending from here, the views over the Fylde get better and better. I’m three quarters of the way down, and pause to take it in. Then I get this funny feeling something is amiss. Hard to pin it down,… then, even harder to believe: I’ve left my rucksack on the top of the fell.

I’m guessing it must be on that bench, but I’m tiring now, and baulk at the idea of having to climb back up. I’ve no choice, though. It contains my soup pot, and a decent waterproof jacket. It’s strange, how quickly you can climb, when you’re motivated – tired or not. I reach the bench, and there’s the rucksack, looking at me with an accusatory stare. I’ve left a few sit-mats lying around. That’s an easy thing to do. But, for pity’s sake: your rucksack?

So, we enjoy our second rest at the viewpoint. While we’re at it, we empty the water bottle, as the sweat pours out of us, and the heartbeat settles back to normal. Sometimes my head goes sideways and I enter a different universe. At this rate, I’ll struggle to find my way home, satnav or not, especially with the little blue car sulking at me. But on such a beautiful day as this, it doesn’t matter how short or long the route home. And she’ll come round.

Reunited with our gear, we make the descent again, ticking off country lanes, birdsong, lush meadows, and lone trees. Then we’re back in the shady hollow of Brock Bottom, which is by now steaming as if it’s August, not mid-May. A terrific round, one I will repeat, and hopefully get right next time. About six and a half miles, eight hundred feet of up and down, but that second ascent of Beacon Fell is optional.


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Drybones Dam, River Yarrow, Coppull

We have been to Chorley, to the B+Q emporium, exchanging a length of drainpipe for what we hope is one of the right size this time. Whilst there, we noticed they have opened a new Home Bargains store across the road, and could not resist a mooch. We bought a cheap Chinese lantern for the garden pond. They sell sandwiches, too, so we bought one for lunch. Then we drove the short distance to Coppull, to the Birkacre visitor centre.

So, here we are, back on the old patch, coffee at the Treeface café. It’s a sultry day for the circuit. The big lodge is looking forlorn, only half full, having sprung a leak. Investigations and remediations continue. Built in the later part of the eighteenth century, the lodge was ground zero for the industrial revolution. It’s lasted well, then, and I do hope they manage to fix it up, as it’s a very pleasant stretch of water.

Repairs to Birkacre’s Big Lodge, Coppull

I am reminded it was once in much worse condition. Owned by an Angling club, whose volunteer water baliffs used to chase us off, it went slowly to ruin from the later seventies. Drained and derelict, it became an ugly basin, thick with scrub. We locals, brought up on walks around the lodge, and generally contemptuous of the baliffs, used to dream of its restoration. Then, Chorley Council bought it, and have done wonders. Far from discouraged, now, it welcomes visitors, and they come in their droves. It can be a bit of a doggie heaven, so not suited to all, but we can soon evade the crowds by venturing deeper into the woods.

This piece was to be titled “Springtime and the horseshoe of the Yarrow”, but I am several weeks too late. Only a week ago, in the Dales, spring was at its peak. The starry ramsons, in Foss Wood, were at their most pungent prime. Here, they’ve mostly finished. Their leaves are yellowing, dying back. The wood anemones, too, have finished, and the common mouse ear is taking its place in snowy waves. The bluebells persist, and campion is flourishing in the moist, shady hollows.

I am sorry to have missed the anemones, but a close look in the undergrowth reveals one hanging on against the season.

The last anemone, Drybones Wood, Coppull

This is an ancient way, along the horseshoe of the River Yarrow, from Birkacre to Duxbury. A rare stretch of ancient woodland, its paths can be heavy with mud, at least beyond the falls at Drybones Dam. Today, though, we are able to make way with care. It’s not that long ago the Himalayan balsam ran riot here, smothering all this wonderful diversity of flora. But a concerted effort over the years has restored the richness of habitat, and the depth of colour.

In the deep of the wood, we meet a man with a large bulldog. It’s a jolly creature that seems beside itself with excitement. After chasing its tail for a bit, it splats down in a puddle of mud, then launches itself at its owner. The man is none too pleased to have his trousers ruined. The bulldog lollops around, then goes for the puddle again. The man is telling it not to dare.

“He’s playful,” I comment.

That’s a mistake. The dog is a gregarious sort, and now includes me in the game. The man calls it off just in time, and I am spared its affections, and the washing machine.

Where the meadows of Hall Farm run down to the edge of the wood, the council used to tip refuse, well into the 1960’s. This can’t have been a pretty sight, dustbin wagons spewing their steamy loads. So what has the appearance of grassy hummocks, is actually a trove of tin cans and bottles, now, that once ran like scree slopes, into the woods. As far as I can work out, the older stuff is the furthest to the south. Here you can find fancy bottles from the Victorian, and the early twentieth century.

Bottle, ancient tip, Hall Wood, Coppull

It’s not a place I like to root, it being littered with glass shards. But we were less concerned with such things as children, and were often to be found among the nettles and bumblebees, poking with sticks for treasure. Today we have a cautious mooch for old time’s sake, and turn up a medicine bottle. It is engraved with the name of a London apothecary. It’s broken a bit at the top, so it’s junk, I suppose. Were it complete, later researches reveal it would fetch over twenty quid on eBay.

On we go a little way to where Ellerbrook joins the Yarrow. Ellerbrook emerges from the spoil heaps of the old Ellerbeck colliery, where my father worked until its closure in 1965. The brook used to run a rusty orange, while the heaps gently smouldered, and stank of sulphur. The waters are clear, now, the spoil heaps reclaimed by nature over a half a century. We can be a terrible destroyer of the earth but, given time, Nature can heal the mess. I am told there are even Salmon in the Yarrow, now.

Speaking of collieries, the area is dotted with sinister dimples in the earth, marking the positions of old shafts. The Coal Authority has a list of those that are known. They supply an interactive map to the British Geological Survey. The map is used by developers as a precaution against building over fearful voids, or in areas that might be prone to subsidence. But mining in this area was so feverish down the centuries, not all mines are listed. There is the outline of a shaft-top here cutting part way into the brook. My father pointed it out to me when I was a boy, and so far as I’m aware he was the only one who knew about it. It’s certainly not on the Coal Authorities map.

Outline of shaft, Hall Wood, Coppull

After crossing the meadows that come down from Grundy’s Lane, we enter Duxbury Wood. Then it’s up to the new developments on Burgh Lane, which are always threatening to encroach further, sealing up the green gap between Chorley’s southern suburbs and Coppull. We return to the lodge via Primrose Hill. Such a small corner of the world. It’s far from dramatic, and has suffered the usual threats from development and, before that, scarred by industry. But it’s where I grew up, and where I still return, to measure the seasons by the wax and wane of the wildflowers, and the turn of the leaves of the beech, and the oak, and the sycamore.

Approaching Burgh Lane

Just three miles round, and a couple of hundred feet of gentle up and down. Wild flowers, woodland and water. I hope I managed to get the right drainpipe this time.


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On Cartridge Hill

When the Soviet Union collapsed, footage emerged of Russian motorists travelling deeply potholed roads, even in their major cities. The poor benighted souls, we thought. But our sympathies were edged with more than a hint of smugness. After all, our own infrastructure could never fall into such a parlous state as that. Could it? Fast-forward twenty years, and we can tell we’re entering the environs of Chorley by the sheer violence its roads are doing to our suspension. Thus, we shake, rattle and roll towards the Hartwood roundabout. It’s a beautiful morning, a top-down day, and the little blue car has an excited buzz about her. We’re heading over to Tockholes for a walk up Cartridge Hill, on the edge of the Darwen Moors.

As we make way, I note there is nothing by way of reminder there are local elections on the 4th of May. There are no posters in windows, and I’ve had no leaflets through my door. I suppose they’re always a low-key affair, few punters bothering to turn out. But there seems something almost secret about them this time.

The Labour Party usually retains overall control of the council, here. I don’t expect that will change. It’s not much of a bell-weather for the shifting political tides of the nation, though. That said, I suspect the Greens will do a little better than usual. I read they’re currently attracting disaffected lefties, upset by Labour’s rightwards drift. Disaffected Tories are going the other way, to Reform UK, though they’ve yet to field a candidate here. Thus, we become ever more polarised, and nothing gets any better.

So, we take the Blackburn road towards Brinscall, then Abbey, and the A675 towards Belmont. Chorley is never far from beautiful countryside. Soon, we’re cruising along rural roads, flanked by neatly clipped thorn hedging. We dally with the idea of parking at Ryal Fold, but it’s getting busy there, even of a mid-week. Instead, we settle on the quieter Crookfield Road carpark.

The moors surround us here, pale as straw, and stretching as far as the eye can see. We have a clear blue sky, but a cool wind blowing down from the heights. We step out to the sound of curlew and lark.

Just off a busy turnpike, the carpark is also a favourite with vans and rep-mobiles, guys pulling in for a break between appointments. There’s a boss class Beamer, leaking thump-whack music. Then there’s a beaten up builder’s van bearing the logo of a construction company. He’s listening to Dvorák’s New World, second movement – not heard that in a while. We park closer to the builder’s van, all the better to listen, as I change into my boots. Then we set off to rejoin the curlew and the larks. Unusual that, not the sort of thing you expect to hear coming from a builder’s van. It just goes to show, you can’t always tell the depths of a man’s soul by appearances. So, beware your prejudice.

When the larks are ascending, like they are today, it’s Vaughn Williams that comes more easily to mind. But for our ascent of Cartridge Hill, it’s definitely the New World that worms about in the ear. Composed in the 1890s, and inspired by his time in America, the symphony has great warmth. It conjures up, in my own mind at least, a spirit of optimism, an anticipation of the great adventure.

Considering how the summit of Cartridge Hill must be the least visited of the West Pennine tops – at least judging by the complete lack of detritus – the cairn here takes on a different appearance every time I come by. Although indistinct when viewed from the moor, the hill has a dominant position over the valley. As a viewpoint, it is well worth the effort for a seldom seen perspective.

But now I’m thinking we’ve done this the wrong way round, actually, and climaxed too soon. We’re barely a mile in, and the remaining four have not as much to offer. But that’s just our mood talking. Lunch is chicken soup, and a view to die for. Great Hill, across the way, is dominant. Over its shoulder, I can just about make out the three windmills at Cliff’s Farm, way down on the plain at Mawdesley, near home. Next time I’m there, I’ll have to see if I can make out Cartridge Hill. Thus is it we slot the pieces, one by one, into the map inside our heads. Except now, we rely on the sat-nav and other iron-brained devices to tell us where we are, and perhaps even who we are. And such questions as “what’s that hill over there” no longer have any meaning in the world.

On we go, then, picking up a faint way towards the little moorland oasis of Lyon’s Den. The moor is dust-dry, and sandy in places. The sun is blinding and the wind is keen. I wonder if we’re heading into another of those seasonal droughts that last until July.

Darwen Tower

A huge walking party is coming up from Ryal Fold. They are taking photographs of a distant Darwen Tower with their phones. It looks like they’re heading out that way. They’ll need to hang onto their hats. We leave them to it, and cut down to Ryal Fold. As we reach the lower pastures, dandelion and coltsfoot are in profusion. We’re tempted by a brew and a bacon butty at the Rambler’s Cafe. But they’re queuing out of the doors again, and time is getting on, the long haul up through the plantations still ahead of us.

In Roddlesworth

Mid-afternoon now, and sunlight is filtering through the trees of the plantation. They are mostly bare, and the mosses are luminous. As I’ve written before, the Tockholes and Roddlesworth plantations are a bit of a doggie place. Sure enough, I meet a couple of the new breed of professional dog walker, sleight looking girls with packs of big, bouncy dogs that seem barely in control. They talk to the dogs like they are little people, but can barely manage a passing hello for me.

Roddlesworth and Tockholes are at their best in the autumn. Springtime brings little of interest, none of the carpets of anemones and allium, and bluebells of more ancient woodland. Lone gateposts among the tree trunks mark a long-lost residence, while fragments of drystone wall and fallen tree, thick with moss, speak of a near perpetual winter wet.

The Well House – Hollins Head

It is indeed a long haul from the bridge over Rocky Brook, up past Slipper Lowe, with just a faint respite to the ruins of Hollins Head. A final pull brings us back to the car. Short and sharp. Five miles round and eight hundred feet, according to the Iron Brain. The builder’s van has gone, so has the Beamer. The New World and thump-whack. Each to his own.

There’s a Green candidate putting up in my ward. I’ve had to dig for the information. Should I lend him my vote this time? If there are elections in your area, do turn out, but remember your ID. I know,… it won’t change anything. I fully expect the potholes around Chorley will be even deeper this time next year. So it’s even more important to get out for a walk. Returning from a walk, the world always seems renewed, no matter what mess it appeared to be in before. It is less a path to wrack and ruin, and more another step in the great adventure.


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Morris Minor, Austin 1100. Those are the cars my father owned, and which I remember with affection, others less so, for the troubles they caused him. But of these two, I picture sunshine reflected in the paintwork and chrome, and I hear the polite burble of a Gold Seal engine, as we drive the little road through the Trough of Bowland. This would be in the late 60’s, the early 70’s, when motoring was more of a thing. Mum would pack a picnic, Dad would wear a shirt and tie. He’d check the oil, the water, the pressures of the tyres. Cars were simpler. You could point to the components, and Dad would explain them: distributor, solenoid, spark plugs,…

We’d take the A6 to Galgate, not the motorway. The Morris had a habit of boiling over, so we might need to stop to take on water. Then we’d meander back through The Trough, a narrow, winding road that traverses the picturesque Forest of Bowland. Half way, we’d park by a stream for our picnic, where we’d play. There is a spot where memory serves images of sunlight dappled through scot’s pines. There is a feeling of lazy Sundays, of not wanting the day to end, of paradise and freedom. Then Mum and Dad would call time, and there would be the first hint of the coming school Monday. It was an early lesson that there can be no pleasure without limitation.

I suppose it was that golden era I was hoping to revisit when I bought the little roadster, some nine years ago now. The impracticality of such a car as the Mazda MX5, in terms of its A-to-B-ness, is far outweighed by the simple pleasure of driving it. And come spring, when you can finally get the top down, a run anywhere, even to the shops, is a delight. But what it was made for are runs like this through the Trough of Bowland.

Of course, motoring is different now. Cars are more like appliances to get you from A to B. They will soon be able to drive themselves, surely a marvel of technology, but I fail to see the fun in it. Then, nowadays, five minutes along even the quietest of country lanes and there appears the ubiquitous and predatory white van, filling your rear-view mirror, wanting to do a hundred miles an hour while you amble sedately. You pull over, let him go. Then it’s a Chelsea Tractor, or a boy racer in a pimped ride, or a pack of thundering motor-cycles. Everywhere is so busy, and the pace of it,…

That little spot by the stream, and with the pines, and the dappled sun is still there, and looking pretty much as it always did. I chose a Monday for the run, and the road was fairly quiet. But of course, being retired, there are no more Mondays to spoil days like this. I thank my lucky stars I made it this far. I know the road well, have struck off from it on various hikes over the years, but today was a simple run with my good lady, and with no more of an objective than the drive itself, and coffee at Puddleducks, in Dunsop Bridge.

I have another car, more powerful than the roadster. It has a computer screen, and bleeps fussy warnings at me all the time. At junctions, it turns itself off, so I don’t waste petrol. The little roadster does none of these things. It trusts me to drive. This is not always wise, but it’s nice to be trusted anyway. It’s still a lot more complicated than my father’s Morris Minor, but manages, cleverly, to give the impression it is not.

There were several MX5’s about, enjoying the sunshine. We all waved at one another.

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When I say “dead zone”, I mean this in a good way. We’re in Dunsop Bridge today, and the pay and display meter on the car park is broken. It says we can also scan the code to pay online. That’s novel, I’m thinking, and good job we have a smart-phone. Let’s give it a go, then. So I scan it, and the phone says there’s no Internet. There is no mobile signal, no 4G or whatever “G” we’re up to these days. This must be one of the last bastions of mobile free sanctuary in Lancashire – at least with my provider. So, I’ve done my best, but there’s no way to pay. Now, I’m never sure of the etiquette in these situations. Does that mean I get a freebie? Or shouldn’t I park here at all? I’ll be lucky finding anywhere else in Dunsop Bridge. We assume it’s a freebie, and trust to luck.

The forecast was a bit dodgy. We had a gloomy start following on from heavy rain overnight. But as we cleared the M6, and came up through Longridge, the clouds became fluffy and, further on, as we emerged from the forests around Whitewell, the fells of Bowland began to preen in pools of soft sunshine.

Easter’s a funny time. In the secular sense, to be frank, I see it as an obstacle to the proper enjoyment of spring. Things are just starting to look up, and you’re anxious to get out in the balmy air, after all that cold and wet. Then,… bang! The kids are off for a couple of weeks, everywhere is rammed and, as for the Easter Weekend itself – forget it. Our later years, and especially retirement, make us selfish with our time. The seasons pass so quickly, and there is a growing sense they are numbered, so we resent missing a moment. The kids are off this week as well, pre-Easter, but Dunsop Bridge is mercifully quiet. Then again, lovely a spot as it is, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it busy.

We’re looking for another short walk today, around four and a half miles, around Hodder Bank Fell, and it’s looking like the weather is going to be on our side. The forest of Bowland is Lancashire’s best kept secret, an area of wild beauty you can truly lose yourself in. Most walks I’ve done here, I’ve encountered very few others on the trail. It really doesn’t have a downside, but if I was pushed, I’d say this was tough country, and it’s hard to find a good circular under five miles, and five is what I need right now. I’m expecting a bit of a bog on top, after all that rain last night, but we’ll see how we go.

There was a hoo-hah in the media yesterday about this guy who ended up with a rare form of encephalitis. He’d caught it from a tick bite in Yorkshire. They worked climate change into the story as well, hyped the whole thing up and basically made out all us ramblers were risking life and limb in the great outdoors, and things were only going to get worse. As far as I know, Bowland is not especially troubled by ticks, but I tuck my trousers into my socks anyway, and off we go. I suppose they have a point, but there’s no need to make such a song and dance about it.

From Dunsop, we walk up the tree lined avenue and cross the Hodder by Thorneyholme Hall. Then we turn upstream, following a fairly straight forward, though faint way across meadows. A path eventually gathers confidence and leads us by the lonely house at Mossthwaite, then down to the imposing Knowlmere Manor, with its many chimneys. This place must have burned a lot of coal in its time.

I’m reminded of a snippet of Wilfred Owen’s poem “Miners”.

Comforted years will sit soft-chaired,
In rooms of amber;
The years will stretch their hands, well-cheered
By our life’s ember;

The centuries will burn rich loads
With which we groaned,
Whose warmth shall lull their dreaming lids,
While songs are crooned;
But they will not dream of us poor lads,
Left in the ground.

The path has become the main drive to the house, now. We follow it down to Giddy Bridge, where our way finally parts for the moor. A fingerpost points us confidently up uphill, but the ground appears not to have been walked for years. I lose my way a bit here, double back, check, and gradually bumble my way to the fell gate that leads on to the open moor. Like all things, the way is easy, once you know it. So, having gained an extensive view we settle on a stone for lunch, check for ticks. There are none. Damn the media and its click-baity hysteria.

What day is this? Thursday. Retired now for over two years. I know of colleagues who didn’t last this long before begging to be taken back. Not everyone can find themselves in emptiness, in sitting on a rock, watching sunlight play upon the green. Perhaps there is something wrong with me, but I can’t get enough of it.

Okay, lunch done, we tackle the bit of moor across the flank of Hodder Bank fell, a cold wind coming at us now from the west. There is a good path, not heavily trod but naturally boggy, I think, especially after rains. It does not threaten to swallow us, not yet, and we enjoy its barren nature, and its wonderful views towards Totridge Fell. A series of low rock pillars mark the way. There is more serious bog on the descent of Fielding Clough, requiring careful footwork. Water is pouring from the moor in glistening rivulets and gathering in vast areas of reedy quagmire. At the farm, at Burholme, the plains of the Hodder are glistening with flood, and alive with birds.

We return to Dunsop through the meadows, by the Hodder. This section has become familiar ground now, in recent years, and is always a delight, with its views across to Totridge Fell, and Mellor Knoll. There are flocks of piping Oystercatchers. I have never seen so many together, always thought them solitary birds, but they circle the meadows now, en-masse as tightly packed as coastal dunlin.

Just a couple of hours out, but a good walk and, it being the first time, there’s always a buzz of satisfaction at unpicking the puzzle of it. We come back to Dunsop to find the car unadulterated by a penalty charge, or perhaps they deliver these things by post now, and I shall have to wait and see? No sense fretting, though. The day was worth it. We top it off with coffee at Puddleducks. This is my kind of Dead Zone.


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We park on the Highmoor road, between Hill Dale and Wrightington, just a little further on than the old restaurant. I remember Rolls Royces pulling out of here, once upon a time, and gentlemen in dinner jackets. Boom time, a long time ago. It has been shut for ages. I’ve no idea where the County congregates, now. I would like to think they go about their business less ostentatiously, perhaps self-conscious at their riches, while the rest of Albion lies in tatters, and that they are meditating on the part they played in all of that.

There are a couple of laybys along here, usually occupied, but it’s a gloomy afternoon with a forecast of rain, so we have the place to ourselves. That said, there’s a feeling of spring, a luminosity to the air, aided perhaps by the daffodils and the forsythea, and the greening hawthorns. We are on the cusp of change, and it’s a shame to be indoors.

I was thinking only recently, places like this country lay-by no longer seem littered with those little silver cartridges of nitrous oxide. I’d wondered if the kids had moved on to some other drug du jour, and how funny that would be, to say nothing of ironic, given recent news of the imminent outlawing of its sale by a government determined to appear tough on antisocial behaviours, while continuing to get away with murder themselves. But as I tie my bootlaces, I see something lurking in the grass, and realise they’ve simply moved on to industrial-sized containers. I presume it’s cheaper when you get your laughs supplied in bulk. Heavens! There’s enough N2O in one of these things to take the little blue car to the moon and back.

We’re a bit late getting out, so it’s just a short walk today, a pleasant circuit across land that is mostly part of the Harrock Hall estate. Still a private residence, it’s one of Lancashire’s grand old halls, bits of it dating to 1699. Former seat of the Rigbyes, it was remodelled in the Neo-Gothic style during the Victorian period, then sadly fell into serious disrepair. It’s now home to a branch of the Ainscough family, who have restored it. A working estate, there is everywhere a manicured look to the landscape.

We begin from the entrance on Highmoor Lane. A sign here does its best to frighten us off. Personally, I would have gone for something more classy. I don’t see a public footpath sign, either, which is curious, but there’s definitely a right of way, so here we go. So long as we keep off the grass, we’re perfectly at liberty to walk, and admire the view.

Now that’s a better sign, I think, calmly authoritative, a polite smile in the accompanying daffodils. There are lots of daffodils around the estate. After a couple of hundred yards, we leave the driveway to curl sedately down to the back of the big house, of which we catch only a distant view. It would be nice to see what it looks like, now, but there are hardly any recent pictures of it online, and the best I can do is this scan from an old postcard, which I’m guessing is mid twentieth century.

Anyway, here we branch off along a network of public ways, all narrowly confined by hedgerow and wire. The resulting concentrated footfall has made these paths heavy going. Indeed, at certain times, the way is almost impassible with deep mud, and best avoided. Today we just about manage to keep going, but the boots will need a good cleaning when they’ve dried out. The sky is a persistent moody grey, but we have those bright lanterns of daffodils to light the way, and an audience of lambs watching with innocent curiosity as we pass.

We’re heading for a local landmark, this being the ruined windmill on Harrock Hill. At a little over five hundred feet, Harrock Hill is one of the first upland areas you encounter as you travel eastwards over the plain, from the West Lancashire coast. A mixture of grazing and managed woodland coverts, it offers fine views to the sea. Shooting is a thing here, with at least some of the resulting avian casualties ending up on the menus of the local hostelries.

In spite of the gloomy sky, there is virtually no haze, so a rare clarity to the air, allowing us to see beyond Liverpool to the mountains of Wales. Northwards, there is Black Coombe, rising across Morecambe Bay and the Duddon, on the western edge of the Lake District and, just peeping over the West Pennines, there’s the grand old lady Pendle. I’m reminded my hapless hero, Tom, in search of his lost love, Rachel, finally traces her to a des-res up here. Thus, in a way, and in my imagination at least, the Road from Langholm Avenue leads to High Moor. It’s an area not on the way to anywhere in particular, so it little visited, except for those who live nearby.

The windmill is a peculiar structure, built half underground. Preserved in what appears to be a parlous state, there is still something romantic about it. Known to be operating in the 1660’s, it was already a substantial ruin by the 1830’s, then a fire in 1880 left us with what little we see today. In the summer months, when the woodland is dense with leaf, you can walk by, and not even know it’s there. In the bare season, like this one, you can see its silhouette, beckoning, and it’s well worth a visit.

From the mill, we follow a broad track down towards Cooper’s Lane, but turn off and cross the boggy meadows to pick our way above Wrights Coverts. Here we have views across the vale to Coppull, the West Pennines rising beyond. I’m walking with an older digital OS map on my device, using a trusty application called AlpineQuest, but the map’s antiquity occasionally lets me down. It’s still showing a right of way around the seventeenth century house, at Higher Barn, which I’d been hoping to get a closer look at. But a massive gate, with coded electronic entry, suggests there’s been some gentrification, and a reroute. I also have the official OS mapping app as a back-up, which I don’t think is as good, either for route planning or navigation, but at least the maps are up-to-date, and this confirms the path has been moved. The house is grade 2 listed, beautiful from a distance and oozing with an ancient, romantic charm. It’s currently valued at around six million.

The rerouting takes us along the edge of a pleasant, sheep cropped meadow, more spring lambs gambolling as we pass. Just as we’re getting cocky, it ends in bog, and it’s with some difficulty we rejoin the firmer ground of the estate road. Our boots have had a squelchy hammering today. They used to be leaky, but liberal applications of boot cream over the winter seems to have rescued them, and they’ve kept our feet dry.

So, now we’re back at our starting point, at the little blue car, and those massive canisters of N2O. There’s some weight in them, stainless steel – I’m guessing. They must have some value as scrap. Perhaps the dealers are missing a trick there and should offer a deposit scheme. Apart from those canisters, there’s been a striking absence of litter throughout the walk. And, miracle of miracles, I encountered not one dog-bag.

Three miles round and just three hundred feet of fairly gentle up and down


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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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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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