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Archive for the ‘lancashire’ Category

Darwen Tower

You can see Darwen tower from a long way off, and from various directions, all over Lancashire. Built in 1898, it’s been under repair for some time now, embedded in an exoskeleton of scaffolding. It was also wrapped in pale green polythene to prevent the workmen from freezing to death, in such an exposed spot, and this also made it even easier to pick out from the most improbable of distances. I noticed recently, though, the scaffolding had come down, so decided to head over for a walk, and to get some shots of the renovated structure.

I was thinking I might also be able to coax myself up it, though the very top of the tower can make my legs wobble. It commemorates two notable events, one being the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Vic, the other being the opening of the moors to the public after a series of successful mass trespasses that wrestled them from the grip of local toffs. But whatever the reason, Darwen is proud of its tower, and rightly so. In these straightened times, it’s good to see it being looked after.

A friend and I once drank a toast from the top, in birthday remembrance of a friend who was recently departed. That was mid-winter, with gale force winds and pouring rain. We could not even see the bottom of the tower, and it felt like being in the basket of a hot air balloon in the middle of a cloud. We used delicate, diamond cut glasses, and sherry poured from a pewter hip-flask, though the alcohol was considerably diluted, I recall, by the rain dripping off my hat.

By contrast, today is a warm, about nineteen degrees, while a high of twenty-two is forecast, for later on, with humidity off the dial. In other words, it’s one of those muggy days that raises a sweat. A poor night’s sleep has also left nothing in the legs, though I recall I’ve used this excuse before. Starting from the Royal at Tockholes, we tread a familiar route, through the farmyard at Ryal Fold, then across meadows, and down into the sylvan ravine of Sunnyhurst woods. Here, a pack of feral school children are raising a din while tearing branches from the trees to beat each other with. I was thinking of settling here for lunch, but decide not to linger, now, and head on up through the Lynch Gate. Then it’s by the Sunnyhurst pub, and on to the more tranquil environs of the moor.

Ornamental falls, Sunnyhurst Woods

I note the Guardian newspaper this morning reports the flight intended to offshore seven asylum seekers to Rwanda, at a reported cost of £550K, has been torpedoed by a last minute appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. The Daily Mail is furious, and demands to know the name of the judge who has dared hold the UK to the letter of the law, this I presume, so they could be beasted on social media. On whose authority the Daily Mail acts, I have to wonder. As I understand it, the UK is not only a signatory to the ECHR, it is one of its architects, this being in 1959, and a possibly more enlightened age. I find all this unsettling, this denigrating of the laws, and the law-keepers. One cannot help but sense a dark cloud passing over the sun, chilling the earth.

As we mount the path to the tower, clouds of flies roar from piles of horse-shit, and mountain bikers careen downhill, doing a hundred miles an hour. Mid-June on the moors sees the foamy white blossom of heath bedstraw, wrestling with the shiny green of wimberry. Then we have the broad brush-strokes of cotton grass, bobbing about against the yellow ocre, and the russet of the moor. There are still buttercups, but also the more delicate yellow petalled tormentil – used in herbal preparations – and as with all such things I wonder how the ancient apothecaries worked its properties out, and who was the first to try it.

Approaching the tower, we discover it’s actually still a building site, ringed by fencing, so we are unable to climb it. I think I am relieved. As for photographing, we have to choose our angles carefully to minimise the remaining ugliness. But I have to say the tower itself is looking very handsome indeed, with all its fresh pointing.

It feels odd, this time of year, approaching midsummer, now, and the longest day, when the summer seems hardly to have begun. Slowly, the days will shorten. Then we must make hay while the sun shines, and the clock ticks down once more to winter gales, and dark at five.

In America, they are calling witnesses in the hearing over that terrible January 6th insurrection. It seems clear there was great wrong doing in high places, yet already a feeling said wrong-doers, even if found guilty, will avoid punishment, and might indeed be left to try their hand at insurrection again. There is a sense of the meek, and the law-abiding being powerless in the face of something clever, but darkly ruthless. And then there is another school shooting, and seemingly nothing to be done about that either.

Darwen moor is beautiful this afternoon, the cotton grass running up the low rise of Cartridge hill, picking out the contours and the hollows in between, adding shape to the landscape as a painter brushes in highlights. There is a slight haze, but plenty of fair weather clouds sailing like galleons in formation, their sails full of a billowing jolliness. There are curiously few birds. I see larks, but they are keeping their heads low, and there is no rapture about them, as if the mugginess has put the same lead in their wings and as it has put in my legs.

On Darwen Moor

There are notices about heath fires. The moor is very dry, now, and I note the rushes in even the worst of the bogs are showing pale brown, and look brittle, like they are dying back for want of a drink. The paths are dusty, the moor is wide open, and hot, but mercifully less humid at altitude. We come to the little oasis of Lyon’s Den, a green fold in the upper reaches of Stepback brook – cool shade from trees planted around the ancient dwelling, which is now just a pile of mossy stones, while the trees live on. Here, we try some shots against a dynamic sky, and wonder about the small lives that were passed here. We imagine ourselves born into those same times, and wonder what we would have been, what we would have made of ourselves, if there would have been the same pathways out of humble beginnings.

And then we’re back at the car, ready for coffee, and a rest from the heat. We click the radio on to hear the government’s ethics advisor has resigned, after coming under pressure to approve of something unethical and, in his words, “odious”. There is some doubt if he will be replaced. In the history of our islands, all of this strikes me as a very grave state of affairs. We turn the radio off, dislike its company these days, and drive home. Mid-June on the moors. They have the most colour, I think, and the cotton grass is especially beautiful just now.

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Dean Black Brook, White Coppice, Lancashire

The cold seems to have been hanging on this first week in June, the house struggling to warm, most days never breaking eighteen degrees. The boiler lies dormant. Jumpers and jackets suffice for comfort and, of an evening, only essential lamps are lit. Appliances are scrutinised for kilowatts, and used as necessary but with circumspection. I don’t know if such economies are futile, but we make them anyway. And as I gaze out along the street, none of my neighbours are lit up either, so I guess I’m not the only one feeling a way through these strange times.

Meanwhile, malodorous smoke drifts, chugging out from the chimneys of those with wood-burners. These were purchased no doubt, for fancy, when they were of a fashion, but are now pressed into the more serious production of free heat – this, I suspect, from the burning of old pallets, and window frames. All of which is to the chagrin of those with hung out washing, and to me, whose sinuses swell at the merest whiff. Reluctantly, I take an anti-histamine.

For such a tiny pill, the anti-histamine packs a mighty punch, and I never could handle them. It does nothing for the sinuses, but puts me in a muddle all the next day long, and takes my legs. We’ll say that’s what it is anyway, as we feel the path bite. We’re in White Coppice, a little late in the day, so it was a struggle to park. I think some schools are still on Half Term – so hard to judge them these days. The plan is to wander up the ravine of Dean Black Brook, breaking out towards its head to Great Hill, but I find I’m overdressed for the day, which warms suddenly, and my legs are – well – leaden.

It’s becoming quite a sporting route, this, the path eroding, and dangerous in places as it slides away to a long and exposed drop. Or it may just be my age, and it’s always been this way. As an approach to Great Hill, it’s a more intimate route than the more popular path by Drinkwaters with its wide moorland vistas.

There are little cascades along the way, some accessible, some not, as the path sweeps up and down. At the first of these, I rest a bit, pull off the jacket before I boil, and settle down to take a photograph. It’s a cheat, I suppose, but even a modest runnel of water like this can be made to appear dramatic, from the right angle, and with a bit of cropping. Thus, I fuss over dozens of shots, thinking at least one is likely to come out all right. I’m packing up and turn to recover the path, only to be startled by a pair of Amazons coming at me like they mean business. That’s it with running water, you don’t hear the approach of others.

They have stepped out of an Instagram shoot, these girls. They are – what do you call them? – influencers, or perhaps more likely influenced. Tall, both of them, blonde and shapely, in their twenties, hair tied up in identical ways, like twin sisters. They wear identical gear: very short shorts, tight tee-shirts, little back-packs bouncing in the smalls of their backs, and running shoes. They are moving fast, and have looks of grim determination about them.

The lead girl is bold, and sure of foot, heedless of the sometimes sporting nature of the path. The girl who follows is more hesitant. She is the one I would have most in common with, I think. I never had much time for bold leader-types, nor they for me. I feel almost bowled aside by them, but they do not seem to notice me.

I venture a polite hello. The lead girl ignores it, or does not hear it. The girl who follows makes a belated, surprised response, as if indeed they had not noticed me. With a fragrant waft of body-spray, they are gone, up the side of the ravine, climbing like mountain goats. I see only legs, and sky. I reassure myself I would have outpaced them once, but not today. Today, I flake out at every opportunity, and fiddle with the camera.

We fiddle with it some more, at every insignificant sparkle of the brook along the way. Our progress is slow and halting, the day of a sudden somehow jaded. We take pictures of the more unfamiliar flora to identify later (heath bedstraw), and note the fresh green ferns now sprouting, marking their assertive dominance. In a few weeks they will be tall and wavy, and the valley will be pungent with them, and the air caught in their fronds will be thick with the drone of flies.

I see the crown of Great Hill ahead, and the sycamores by the ruin of Great Hill Farm. The Amazons are already two jogging dots of white against the heat wobbled green of the moor. They were indeed beautiful girls, but they struck me as cold, and that’s always something of a paradox, as I always imagine beauty to be warm. Bodies to die for, of course, and which would lure even the most nervous would-be lover from his mother’s apron, but they possessed not a smile between them. I don’t know why that struck me. Perhaps it was just the day and the muddlement, caused by the anti-histamine. It would need a poem to explore it.

We leave Black Dean Brook by the kissing gate that brings us up to the ruin of Drinkwaters, and there we sit in the shade of trees, enjoying a cooling breeze. Even the sheep are reluctant to relinquish their shade, now, and keep us company. A few lines of a poem by Betjeman comes unbidden:

Fair tigress of the tennis courts,
So short in sleeve and strong in shorts,
Little, alas, to you I mean,
For I am bald and old and green,..

And while I thank the unconscious pixie for its wry humour – which does indeed raise a smile – I know that’s not it, and it knows I know, but challenges me to mull it over and come back with a more serious answer to the question the day poses. So then it’s down to White Coppice in weary defeat, Great Hill seeming an Everest of effort, and quite beyond us, nothing in the legs, and this haunting sense of Beauty having turned its back.

At home, we sit out with coffee, and watch the sunset. The day is cooling again, and needs a sweater for comfort. Then the village stokes its wood-burners for the evening, and we withdraw to the cleaner air indoors, to dream, not of Amazons, but of sparkling rills along the Dean Black Brook.

And we attempt our reply, not as erudite or as witty as Betjeman:

Awakening to loss, we mourn the day’s swift run,
Seeking shallow waters, so to play,
Mistaking splash and haste for meaning,
And with foolish swings,
Scythe then our harvest home,
Thin as air, wholesome as the dust,
Of windblown clay.
Only in the lingering pause of beauty,
Do the depths reveal,
And then, smiling, lead the way.

The forecast says the days will turn warmer. I welcome that.

Thanks for listening.

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On Spitler’s Edge

You catch up with me this afternoon, on Spitler’s Edge, in the Western Pennines. It sounds precipitous, like a mountain arête, but it’s not. That said, it’s still quite an airy aspect, in a dun coloured, tussocky, bog-cottony, sky-scraping, moorland sort of way. Indeed, the views are spectacular, from the hills of eastern Lancashire, to the west coast. Southwards, we have the porcupine ridge of Winter Hill, and its cluster of transmitters, while to the north we have Great Hill. The crossing from Great Hill to Winter Hill is always a treat, not to be underestimated in bad weather, but much easier now the route has been paved to spare erosion of the precious peat and bog habitat. The highpoint here is around 1286 feet.

I’ve not come over from Great Hill, though. I’ve come up by an unfamiliar path that snakes between Standing Stones Hill and Green Withins’ Brook. Early maps tell us there was always a track here, though aiming a little lower, for the coll, and the pass to High Shores, then down to Naylors. Naylors is a ruin now, and the current map shows the track petering out in the tussocks of Standing Stones. But there’s still a clear and well trod footway that carries on, though aiming more for the featureless summit of Redmond’s Edge.

It’s a hot day, down in the valley, with a dazzling, head-bursting sun. The sky is streaked with great fans of whispy, stratospheric clouds like white dendrites against the blue, and I’ve been photographing them with various foregrounds on the way up. There’s a cool wind on top, now, and a dusty taste to the air. The moors are ripe for burning, but so far so good, and the idiots have spared us their perennial pyromania. We’re a little later setting out, having waited in for the Tescos delivery man, so it’s getting on for tea time. The light is turning mellow, and a poem is gnawing at me, wanting me to remember it from way back.

I was crossing Spitler’s Edge,
With the sun touching the sea,
When a stranger on a dark horse,
From the distance came to me.

So I took myself aside a-ways,
To let the traveller pass,
And leaning on my staff, I paused,
Amid a sea of grass.

2002, I think. No strangers on dark horses today, though – just the occasional mountain-bike going hell for leather and with an air that suggests a supreme confidence I’ll be stepping aside for it. Although we’re in a post CROW access area, this isn’t a bridle way, so, strictly speaking, bikes have no place on the edge – walkers only. It could be worse, though. It could be motorcycles. You can’t police stuff like this, though. It relies on conscientiousness, hillcraft, and good manners.

So where was I? Standing amid a sea of grass? Okay,…

From there I watched the sky ablaze,
Above a darkening land,
Until I felt a chill and spied,
The stranger close at hand.

He stood upon the hillside,
While his horse about him grazed,
And with his eyes cast westwards,
On that same sunset he gazed,…

Yes, an old poem of mine, insisting on rhyme, at the risk of meter. It came out of an odd feeling, when crossing this way, late one evening, forty years ago. It was the antiquarian John Rawlinson, in his book “About Rivington” who wrote of the origins of the name “Spitler’s Edge,” it coming from the Knights Hospitaller’s of the Holy Order of St John, who had holdings in the district – this being in medieval times – and who, legend has it, would pass this way en route. So the guy I meet in the poem is a medieval warrior-monk. So what?

He wore a cloak of coarsest wool,
Around his shoulder’s broad,
And, across his back was slung,
I swear, the mightiest of swords.

But I did not fear the stranger,
When at length his gaze met mine,
For I knew we shared that hillside,
Across a gulf of time,…

And, speaking of time, the evening I’m thinking of was some time in the early eighties. I’d had a bad day at work, plus the realisation the girl I had the romantic hots for had the romantic hots for someone else – a colleague of mine, and a decent guy I was friendly with. So I’d driven up to Rivington, and set out to mull it over. And in mulling it over, I’d walked, and walked, and walked. Thinking about it now, I would have been better just walking home that night, which would certainly have made for a shorter walk, but I turned around and came back to Rivington over the edge, as the sun set.

It was a beautiful night, a perfect stillness across the moor, a faint mist rising after the heat of the day, and I was kept company by a long eared owl whose silent, broad winged flight was the most beautiful and eerie thing. All right, I didn’t actually meet a Knights Hospitaller, but if you believe in gaps in the fabric of space-time, that would have been an evening to encounter one. The walk did me good, cleared my head. There was no way I was going to fight over the girl, and I reckoned I had it in me to find a way of finally letting her go. As for the stranger,…

I nodded my slow greeting,
And he duly did the same,
Then he climbed upon his patient steed,
And ambled off again.

But turning back, he caught my eye,
Then slightly cocked his head,
And smiled to me a kindly smile:
“Fare thee well, pilgrim…” he said,..

Not as long a walk today, but then I’m forty years older, and I feel the miles differently. Just six miles round from the Yarrow Reservoir, to which we return with the sun sparkling upon it, and the oak trees of Parson’s Bullough, with their fresh leaves luminous against the blue. I still think about that girl from time to time. She’s still married to that guy and, in retrospect, she was always going to be happier with him, than she ever would have been with me. Sometimes it’s the ghosts, and the shadows who let us in on secrets like that, but you need a vivid imagination – a mind’s eye sort of thing – and the faith in it, even if it sometimes works backwards way, and is never any use to you at the time. Still, we get by.

Fare thee well, pilgrim, and thanks for listening.

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Solomon’s Temple, Withnell Moor

You catch up with us today at Solomon’s Temple, on Withnell Moor, and it’s lunchtime. First, though, we unlace our boots and let our feet relax. We’ve only walked a couple of miles from Brinscall, but things aren’t looking promising. Suddenly, all this talk of the strangeness of dreams is of little interest when we’re on the moor, and our boots hurt.

The boots are newish, a bit old-school in their construction. I’d thought to get up on the moors with them, see if we could break them in a bit, but they’re proving to be stubborn. They’re British army surplus, made by Iturri. You can get them for a song off Ebay, like new. They’re a solid boot, but they bite.

It’s one of those “follow our nose” sorts of days. There’s no plan, just out enjoying the moor. But since we find ourselves at Solomon’s, it looks like the subconscious has Great Hill in mind. The boots are man enough for that, man enough for a lot of things, I guess. But I’m not sure my feet are up to much more today, at least not in these boots.

Mushroom soup for lunch. For company, we have the larks, a curlew, and fieldfares. There are no people. I left them all thrashing about in Brinscall woods, looking for the Hatch Brook Falls. The falls are not easy to get to, but the guy who asked me for directions tells me it even has its own Tripadvisor rating, now. That worries me. I directed him as best I could, but he’d come a long way, and wasn’t familiar with the names of places. I advised him to be careful. He nodded with enthusiasm, then set off in the opposite direction to what I’d said.

Hatch Brook Falls, Brinscall

The little blue car’s down on Brinscall’s Lodge Bank Terrace. The sills I’d had welded some years ago are coming through again, and I have to make a decision. Expensive one this. MX5s, like mine, can go for five or six thousand, at a dealership, spruced up, so it may be worth the investment. Or they might fetch as little as fifteen hundred, private and spotty, in which case it isn’t. Mine’s probably somewhere in the middle. She has a full service history, and she’s coddled, but the repair is on the edge of sensible for a twenty-year-old car. It depends on how much the car means, I suppose. I find it means a lot. But that’s not rational, and I’m usually rational when it comes to cars.

Ratten Clough, Brinscall

So anyway, we’ve walked up through the woods, location for the creepy bits of that Netflix thing “Stay Close”. Then it was onto the moor via the ruins of Ratten Clough, and we followed our nose to Solomon’s Temple. New Temple is next, then Old Man’s Hill, and a little trodden way that approaches Great Hill, from the north. It’s a warm day, a jostling of jolly cumulus, and some stratospheric streaks toning down the blue. The ground is mostly firm. Yesterday’s full moon seems to have ushered in a change to fair, after a very cold Easter weekend.

The light is dynamic, and full of interest. I complained in an earlier blog, all we’re doing with photography is trying to freeze the moment. But that’s not right. We’re bearing witness to a moment in time, as well as trying to capture an essence of the beauty of the world. It’s like we capture glow-worms in a jar, then hold them up in wonder and say: look at that!

But in the middle of the day, like this, a photograph never comes out as you see it. Even with a decent camera, the scene is flat, the contrasts, the colours lacking vibrancy. Or maybe it’s just my eyes, and I like to see the world through Van Gough’s spectacles. So I spend a while with software filters, teasing out the world the way I see it. My kids say whatever pills I’m taking, they want some.

Okay, lunch done, boots fiddled with, fastened, unfastened, adjusted, refastened, and on we go. Note to self: Hotspots around the ankles and under the right heel. Early signs of blistering to the backs of both left and right heels. I wouldn’t like to be a soldier tabbing far in these. No wonder they were surpluse to requirements. We clip the western approach to the hill, then turn-tail for Drinkwaters, and White Coppice. We’re three miles out now, and it’s far enough. It’s a pity to miss the top, but I reckon our feet only have a couple of miles left, and three to go.

Drinkwaters, Anglezarke

Of course, it’s a risk, fixing up the bodywork of the little blue car, at such great expense – maybe half as much as the car’s worth. It’s asking for a serious mechanical fault to develop soon after. That’s the way with old cars. But you can get a lot of repairs for the price of a fresh car, if keeping the old one going is what you want.

Some schools are still off for Easter this week, so White Coppice looks busy as we descend the moor. We avoid the noise by staying high and turning north along the edge of the Brinscall fault. Pace is slow, both feet on fire.

There’s a roe deer down in the valley, a mature female – not exactly rare now, but still a joy to come across in the wild. It sees me before I see it, and it bolts high, climbs to the moor’s edge and watches from the safety of altitude. We eye each other, I chance a shot on full zoom. It knows the line of my route, even knows, perhaps, my boots are hurting, so then it bounds along the ridge, and crosses back down the path behind me. “I’ll get no trouble from him,” it’s thinking. “Poor guy can barely walk.”

Roe Deer, Goit Valley, Anglezarke

We sit a while beneath the ash at the ruins of Goose Green farm, let the feet relax again. It was also known as the Green Goose, in the days when farms were also permitted to sell ale. I wouldn’t mind a pint of something cold and murky, actually. I’d fill these boots with it and cool my feet down.

It’s easy going now, a decent, level path, along the Goit, all the way back to Mill Bank Terrace. The little blue car is a welcome sight. And it’s heaven to get the trainers on. A run out’s not the same without the little blue car. She’s not perfect, and rather Spartan by today’s touch-screen standards. But I enjoy her imperfections, and her simplicity. And driving her still makes me smile. Okay, we’ll call at the body shop this week and see what the man thinks. When I croak, it would be nice to think of her being discovered in my garage, a mint condition MX5, covered in the dust of memory, and a quarter of a million miles on the clock. Then some boy racer goes and wrecks her in five minutes.

Those boot though? Well, after today, I think we’re done. I’d never trust them to get me down from a big hill. I’m hoping they’re just a pair of duds, because I’d hate to think of the entire British Army marching in boots like those, poor souls. I don’t know, though; it would be a pity. Maybe a bit more breaking in will do the trick. Lunch at Solomon’s’ was good though. We’ll have to do that again sometime.

Thanks for listening.

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Drybones Dam and the fishpass, Birkacre

This post concerns a dead dog, witchcraft, and the fact there’s nowt so queer as folk. But first, the anemones!

I wrote last time of my attempt to take pictures of the wood anemones around Birkacre and Drybones wood. But I had left my memory card at home, so my camera was useless. Instead, I enjoyed the walk for the opportunity to experience “presence”, and the muse presented me with a poetic challenge: how to turn nihilistic crud into the alchemical gold of enlightenment. I’m still pondering that one.

I didn’t intend returning today, and certainly not so soon after my previous visit. I had intended a walk in the West Pennines, but a massive traffic jam rerouted me, so here we are, as if by magic, back at the Birkacre visitor centre, where there are even more people and more dogs than last time.

On the plus side, it’s looking like a better day for photography, a better light, with more persistent sunshine. As for the crowds, they tend not to venture much further than Drybones dam, on the Yarrow. Ten minutes beyond that, into the woods, and they are forgotten. The woods are pungent today with wafts of spring earth and allium. The anemones are in profusion. I get my fill of photographs, and resolve to return in a few weeks, hopefully timing it for when the anemones are accompanied by the bluebells and the starry heads of wild garlic.

The deep wood for me is that which fills the valley of the horseshoe of the River Yarrow. An ancient highway – actually a narrow muddy track – leads us to through it. I have known this area since boyhood, and used to hunt it with an air-rifle in the days when it was less frequented, and before I knew better. So, yes everywhere is more well trodden than it used to be, but the woodland is still a special, quiet place, a place of contemplation, of calm. Woodlands possess certain liminal properties that put us on the edge of “otherness”.

I have begun to notice a trend for floral tokens, left in discrete places, places near water or in the embrace of trees. They are, I presume, transient memorials to the departed. I have also noticed bolder evidence of folk religion – aka witchcraft – these being items handcrafted from natural materials and hung from the branches of trees. Our organised religions are struggling for membership. Indeed, I predict all but the most fundamentalist Christian congregations will be gone in a generation. But there is still something in many of us that seeks connection with that sense of the “other”, and it finds expression any way it can. Thus, today, we note in passing the budding alder is home to a small woven pentangle.

The way leads us on to the ancient Duxbury Hall estate, once a massive manicured parkland, now reverted largely to nature. At this point we can swing back to Birkacre, or we can continue our way following the Yarrow upstream, and make a loop through the woodland of Duxbury park. We choose the latter.

It’s as we follow our nose here, I am reminded of Beavis, and an unfinished story I began to write years ago, but paused at the punchline, not wanting to intrude upon the original legend with my own version of it. But today, I don’t care, and I’m going to go for it. But first, let’s see if he’s still around. Beavis was, and in some sense still is, a dog, a big, fast hunting hound with a very loud bark.

The original memorial to Beavis in Duxbury Woods

The grave of Beavis has been a feature of these woodlands since 1870, when Susan Standish, of Duxbury Hall, had a memorial stone laid in gratitude for the dog rousing the house on the night of a fire, the year before,1869. Thanks to Beavis, everyone got out, while the house itself suffered badly and had to be partially rebuilt. That’s as far as the story goes, but there’s something wrong with it, and I’ll explain in a moment, see what you think.

It’s a while since I was last at the site, and half expected by now the statue of the dog to have been carried off, or vandalised, as is the way with these things. The original statue suffered that fate, in the early twentieth century, leaving only the memorial plaque to weather the years, and pass on its enigmatic sentiment.

Proceeding upstream, the memorial is on the right-hand bank of the Yarrow. It’s sometimes missed, as there are a profusion of ways through the wood, many of them leading to a quagmire. But if you stick close to the river, you’ll find him all right. And I’m pleased to discover he’s in fine fettle, at least for a dog that’s been dead since 1842.

Did we say 1842?

Well, the memorial stone reads:

“All ye who wander through these peaceful glades,
Listening to the Yarrow’s rippling waves,
Pause and bestow a tributary tear.
The bones of faithful Beavis slumber here.”

1842

This remembrance erected by Susan Mrs Standish, 1870

So, the memorial tells us the dog died in 1842. Then we have the documented record of the fire at Duxbury Hall in 1869, and the story of the dog raising the house, and Mrs Standish’s subsequent laying of the memorial in gratitude, in 1870. Logical conclusion: the beast that roused the house in 1869 was not Beavis, at least not in any corporeal form, because Beavis had already been in the ground for sixteen years. Question: Are we dealing with a ghost dog? Did the Standishes lay the dog properly to rest with a suitable memorial in 1870, because, on the night of the fire, they realised, it had been running the woods undead since 1842. If so, lucky for them it had!

So far as I’m aware, this version of events has not passed into local lore, and, if true, is a story that went to the grave with the last of the Standishes. I prefer my version to the original, even though I’ve possibly embellished it beyond what is decent, and romantic though the original is. But there we are. You heard it here first!

From the memorial, the going becomes more difficult further upstream, the Yarrow having washed its banks out in various places, and taken the path with it. But with a bit of scrambling and thrashing about in the undergrowth, we reach the bridge which grants access to the opposite bank. Here, there’s a better path to bring us downstream, and which completes our diversionary loop through the history – natural and otherwise – of Duxbury wood.

This particular route is popular with visitors, and presents no difficulties. In various places, the refreshing scent of mature pine mingles with the sweet and sickly presence of something more weedy. I remind myself not to be around here after sundown, and not because I’m scared of ghosts – well, not of Beavis anyway. I’ve known him since I was a kid, and I think we’re on friendly terms.

And speaking of dogs, finally, we return to the crowds and their dogs around the visitor centre. On the car park, there is a dirty slouch of a man who is allowing his dog to dash about on the loose. It’s interfering with the dogs of other people, and with the people themselves. Most politely ignore the annoyance. Some make timid remonstrations, to be greeted at once with a stream of disproportionate invective. I do not like the F word in mixed company, and especially not when young children are around, but then I’m knocking on in years, and the world is changing.

People are strange creatures. It’s a wonder we get along as well as we do. Nor is it any wonder why sometimes we don’t.

If you go down in the woods today,…

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(One of) The Twich Hill Oaks

March’s full moon ushers in a definite change. Suddenly it feels like spring, as the sky peels open to an optimistic blue, and the temperature breaks fifteen degrees. We’re sitting by the ruins of Peewit Hall, on the edge of the Anglezarke moors, looking out over the lush green of hill and dale as it runs from Jepsons, down the gentle undulations of Twitch Hills, into Lead Mines Clough. There are larks today, the first I’ve heard this year, and the rapture of them lifts the spirit. I’m sure they know this, and I appreciate their effort. We could all use some cheer. Also, somewhere down the valley, I hear the rising, scratchy call of a Lapwing.

We were late getting going today, noon already, but we’re making up for it. The car is down by Parson’s Bullough, and we’ve just come up by the oaks in the meadow above Twitch Hills. They’re always impressive these trees, fine focal points, marking the line of the path. They anchor the senses in the midst of an otherwise dizzying panorama. We have no route in mind as yet, just a vague idea of heading up to the Pikestones, then we’ll see what other ideas strike us. We’re coasting, feeling out the future by the seat of our pants, today, enjoying the sunshine and the earthy scent of spring.

The View from Peewit Hall

I’m reading a lot about the nature of time, and the fourth dimension, as they used to call it. In ordinary consciousness, we travel a single line in time. Our reality is defined by a point on that line, this being the present moment, like now, as we sit by the ruins of this old farm, looking out towards Jepsons. Memory tells us the line in time that brought us here but, ordinarily at least, we have no clue where it’s going.

This much is obvious, but what’s not so obvious is that in order to see ourselves in this beautiful landscape, there must be another awareness, another level of observation. And there’s a strong suspicion among time theorists this higher part of our selves views our reality, not as a point in time, but as a line that ventures some way into that future, and not necessarily a fixed future, either, more one of potential outcomes. And sometimes, just sometimes, it leaves clues for us in our dreams, if we pay attention to them.

And our future, from this point?

Okay, the Pikestones it is.

The Pikestones

The moor is still heavy underfoot, though it must be a week since we had any serious rain. And the Pikestones? Like most prehistoric monuments, they’re high in expectation, but ultimately low in drama. Some years ago, vandals of a neo-pagan bent, similarly under-whelmed, thought to chisel a spiral motif on the largest of the stones, I presume to spice them up a bit. Someone else chiselled it off in outrage. The damage is still evident, though in time, (talking centuries) it will weather in, I suppose. It depends on what you’re looking for, but as a place of quiet contemplation, and a viewpoint overlooking the plain of Lancashire, the Pikestones serves us perfectly well.

So, where does our line in time branch to, now? Well, I’m getting a feeling for Hurst Hill, so we navigate our way up Rushy Brow. This is always a bit vague, the hill itself being hidden over the rise, as yet, and no path. There’s a little visited ring burial here, which is a good way-point, if you can find it, then a heading north of west-ish brings you to the only tarn on this side of the moor, a small, rush fringed eye, smiling blue today, instead of its more familiar thunder-black. A vague sheep trod then contours cleverly towards Hurst Hill, avoiding the worst of the bog.

Hurst Hill

There’s a discreet surveyors mark on the summit, presumably from the very first 1845-47 survey. I found it by accident once, while descending with a low sun that just caught the crows-foot mark, chiselled into a flat rock. I make a point of seeking it out with the aid of GPS, whenever I’m passing this way. The Victorians fixed it by theodolite, and trig tables, and it’s bang on.

Since my last visit, someone else has found it, and covered it with a couple of rocks. It confused me, but it’ll prevent weathering, I suppose, and I left things as they were. So, someone else knows the secret! I wonder what relevance such a mark still has in this modern age. I wonder who the surveyors were who first, and ever so neatly, cut those marks, and what the world was like for them. What was the flavour of their own lines in time?

Normally we’d head east from here, deeper into the bosom of the moor, to the Round Loaf, or Great Hill. But then I’m thinking about the Anglezarke Reservoir, and a graceful trio of oak trees that I know, and some different photographic opportunities, so we branch out west, into another line in time, descending by the old lead mines to the Moor Road.

The mines are interesting. They have the appearance of a bombing run, a line of deep craters in the moor, with heaps of spoil thrown up around them. The surrounding grasses are a striking green, compared with the sour khaki of the moor. They’re crude bell pits, I suppose, eighteenth century, probably, as they were already noted as old, in the mid-nineteenth. Lead is found in vertical veins, so the miners chased it down from the surface as deep as they dared, before their walls caved in. Always a risky occupation, being a miner, but always, too, the siren lure of the mythical mother lode.

From the Moor Road, we choose a path we’ve never walked before, and lose it almost at once. We’re at Siddow Fold, now, a former farm, and gamekeeper’s cottage. Dated 1707, and listed grade 2, it’s seen significant gentrification in recent years, and very beautifully done. The council’s footpath marker guides us confidently enough from the road, and is our quickest route to the reservoir, but it abandons us to our devices in a meadow. I suspect we’re now tangled up in a diversion imposed upon us by the owners, the route deviating markedly from that on the map, and a bit of help would not be amiss, here. Oh well:

Anglezarke Reservoir

We follow our nose, or rather the line of a faint depression in the meadow that appears to be making a beeline for the reservoir. It’s a trespass perhaps, but not my fault. The sparkling ribbon of the reservoir is in full view here, and we meander down towards our trio of oaks, as splendid as I remember them. They’re a good place to sit for a brew, and admire the scene.

So, our line in time today, thus far, brings us here, or at least the line in time I’m aware of. If, as I sometimes like to speculate, at any given branching of the ways, more than one potentiality is realised, in another timeline, we’re also sitting atop the Round Loaf, listening to the larks and the curlews. In another, we gave up at the Pikestones, swung round by Lead Mines Clough, and returned to the car. Even as we sit here, by the sparkling Anglezarke Reservoir, among these magnificent oaks, we’re already driving home, with the top down, through Adlington, perhaps waiting for the lights by the Elephant and Castle.

And then there may be another level, one that grants a view of all the lines in time we ever chose. From this perspective, then, our lives resemble a tree, a proliferation of branches, of lines in time, of all the potentialities we were offered and realised, this being the true fullness of our being. Of course, from a very closed perspective, we’re only ever aware of this one point, moving along this one thread. But sometimes, you get a feeling about the rest.

So, anyway, here we are. We’ve still a couple of miles back to the car, and a variety of ways to choose. I guess at some point, we’ve walked them all before, even the ones we’ve yet to walk, at least in this line of time, if you know what I mean.

Any ideas?

It doesn’t matter much. They’re all good.

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The Dam at Drybones, Birkacre, Coppull

I’ve done something I’d normally advise against. I’ve bought second hand walking boots off Ebay. They’re army surplus, advertised as having seen hardly any use, and it’s true, they’re like new. My Scarpas have been leaking, off and on, and I felt I needed back-up. They look to be a good boot, decent leather, and no inner membrane. So they’re old-school, and, at £45, a bargain. What could possibly go wrong?

On the first try-out, I walked to the local shop, a quarter of a mile or so, and they were so uncomfortable, I thought I was going to have to come back in stocking feet. Anyway, a fresh insole, and here we are at the Birkacre visitor centre, at Coppull, ready to give them another go.

I grew up around here, and it always beggars belief how busy it’s become. It’s a midweek morning, a welcome bit of sunshine, and looks like the world is on holiday. Home to a bleaching and dyeing works in the long ago, all that remains now are the mill lodges, a popular spot for dog walkers, and bird-watchers – not always an easy mix. It’s handy for the carpark, but we need to get beyond the lodge, into Drybones wood, and the horseshoe of the Yarrow, before nature can get to work on us.

Sitting at home, assailed by rocketing energy bills, record petrol prices and news of wars, we can all too easily feel that life is becoming narrow, that the walls are closing in. A walk in the countryside can push the walls back out again.

There’s a dam on the river at Drybones. It was built to raise the water-level to feed the mill race and is very picturesque after heavy rains. Some nights, I would hear the thunder of it from my bedroom as I drifted off to sleep. I always slept with the window open, summer or winter, one ear to the outdoors, to the meadows, the woods and moors beyond. The rumble is still familiar, something deep in the bones, a sense of OM in its eternal reverberation, a reminder of my Coppull years, and home. So far, the boots are doing okay. They’re heavier than the Scarpas, but no hint of blisters, yet.

Around Birkacre Lodge

Beyond the dam, the path meanders past the ruins of Drybones cottage. This is a remote, off-grid place – something to do with the mines here in Victorian times, and which remained firmly in the Victorian period until about fifteen years ago, when it burned down. Since my last visit, the land has been cleared and stoutly fenced off, the path rerouted. The muddy track to the property has also been gravelled – about a half mile of it – presumably for a luxury land-rover.

It’s a lonely spot, and always something dark about it, I felt. I presume someone’s going to develop it into a des-res, but I wouldn’t want to live here. The original house features in my novel Durleston Wood as “the old Willet place”. I picked it for its symbolism at the heart of a mysterious personal darkness, a demon lurking there, to be negotiated, while holding prisoner a femme fatale, whose seduction had to be survived, before we gained redemption – all very Jungian. And while the world has moved on immeasurably since I wrote it, I’m still pondering the story. I remember how much I enjoyed writing it, how deep a connection I felt with the characters, one that seems lacking in my fiction these days.

The lone tree

Beyond Drybones, the path follows the river upstream, through a stretch of woodland that’s just coming into bud now, and we have the first of the anemones about to open. A little later in the season, there’ll be a lush pallet of bluebells, and the pungent, starry alium. We’re on an ancient way that links up with the old Duxbury estate, and which threads by the ancient beech, again featured in “Durleston Wood”, and, more recently, as the fallen tree in my present and forever halting work in progress, “A Lone Tree Falls”.

The latter story is turning out to be a struggle. The characters feel remote, dazed and numb, like they’ve all had the stuffing kicked out of them, since the days of Durlston Wood, and what I’m longing for is the deeper connection of those earlier times.

As I’ve written here before, they’re going to build houses on the meadows around Durleston, because people have to live somewhere, even if the solution is the destruction of the very reason why we live at all. To a town mouse, this might not seem like such an issue, not much of an argument – it’s progress after all, and the world moves on. But speaking as a country mouse, I know there were once spirits here, spirits of place. I’ve talked to them, and knew them as our kin. They are not literally true, of course. They are subliminal, imaginal, but all the same, without them, we are a rootless, soulless people.

The protagonist of my work in progress is a former intelligence analyst, now on the trail of the meaning of his life, but he keeps getting waylaid by the corruption of his former world. I’m not writing a spy story – I wouldn’t know where to start. What I’m trying to do is get at is how we’re so bound up in the complexity of appearances we fail to recognise the simplicity of our path. But as usual, I feel I’m groping towards something I don’t understand well enough to make much of a meaningful accounting of it. All I know is the beech tree was an old friend; I had known it since I was a child. It came down in storms, which seem as metaphorical as real, and since no one saw it fall, it fell without a sound, and the thought of that haunts me.

The Oak Tree, Birkacre

It’s mostly beech in this part of the wood, some sycamore. Coming out of Durleston, though, we see the old oak on the skyline, above the meadow. Another decade or so and it’ll be gone, obscured by the saw-tooth profile of little houses. The tree falls, the spirits flee, and the landscape is smothered, to be retained only briefly in human memory. But then we too fall, and it’s all gone, within a couple of generations, and all of it without a sound; it never was, it never fully existed, except in the eye of the mind, which suggests our imagination alone is the emotive essence of life, so we had better be careful what we do with it.

Not a long walk today. Just three miles round the horseshoe of the Yarrow. We leave Durleston, and imagination behind, return to Birkacre to the Big Lodge, to the carousel of dog walkers, and bird-watchers, and kiddies feeding ducks, and back to the car. The boots feel okay, I’d forgotten they were there, actually. You know what? I think they’ll do.

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Cooper’s farm, Longworth Moor

Most walks are a pleasure. Others are instructive. Here we are, then, lost in the Rabbit Warren. We’ve been on the move for two hours, and the way has come to grief in a Hellish morass. I’m not familiar with this area, to the south of Turton Moor, and it turns out winter is not the best time to be bungling around, exploring it.

The ways are not well walked, so the presence of a path on the map is no guarantee of a navigable way. If there were paths, once, the moor has gobbled them up. Hence, we’re tiring, our boots have been overtopped, and now we’re trying to cross yet one more moorland brook, with nothing to go on by way of direction but a flattening of the rushes to suggest a former passage, by persons unknown.

It’s a filthy day, and we have the impression the light is going, though we’re two and half hours from sunset. But we’re also in the dark of the moon, and I always feel that’s a funny time to be about, always a depletion, or a change of energy. That latter comment is irrational, of course, and I don’t wish to corrupt you with it. But, right now, we’re in a bind, and the dark of the moon is not a good time to be abroad, emotionally, if you’re superstitious about such things.

So, anyway, we’re on, or rather we’re deep ‘in’ this bit of Longworth moor that’s marked on modern OS maps as the ‘Rabbit Warren’. I don’t know how it got its name, but, in a metaphorical sense, it’s descriptive. The paths are circumlocutory, leading only to various depths of morass, exhaustion, and frustration. Frustration, of course, leads to errors in navigation, and more morass. Even with the aid of GPS, I seem to keep diverging from, rather than converging with, the objective, which is Moorside, presumably a ruined farm.

We’ve come across from another ruin, Whewells farm. I thought I knew the way, but it’s twenty years since last I sat at Whewells, and I can’t remember how I got there, or how I came away, except it all seemed much easier than this.

We’re four miles out, another three to go. This circuit of Turton moor looked like a good option for a poor day, with mist on the tops. The track over from the Crookfield Road carpark, at Roddlesworth, was familiar and firm, it being part of the Witton Weaver’s Way. The idea was to follow it down Green Lowe Clough, then cut across to Whewell’s, Coopers, then Moorside, before linking up with another arm of the Weaver’s Way, above the Belmont reservoir, which I know to be good. But this wasteland between them might be the undoing of us.

I thought it had been a dry month, that the going underfoot would be okay, but there are torrents running from the moor, filling the ditches, raising the brooks and swelling the bogs. We’re within sight of the A666, car headlights zooming along, but the feeling of remoteness and isolation is discouraging. It’s such a quagmire, you’d never get off here in the dark.

We talked about Whewells in a previous post.

My photography let me down there, and I didn’t get a decent shot of it, which was actually the main objective of the day. The other major ruin in these parts is Coopers, plenty of that still above ground, and quite eerie in the murk. From Coopers, the path supposedly led us on to Moorside, but it was a beggar to follow, either that or I just missed the faint thread of it in a mess of rushes.

So here we are, now, in this deep cut above Owshaw Clough, and we’re past caring if our feet are wet or not. Then I spot the broken remains of a stile, up on the skyline, suggesting there at least used to be a way up there. It’s not wholly encouraging, but better than nothing, and it gets us out of this damned clough. Another hundred yards of sodden moor at last brings the ruins of Moorside into view. It looks like we’ve squeaked though to fight another day, then. The sky is scraping our heads, here, and there are flecks of snow in it. We find a spot, out of the wind, by the ruins, and sit down with the soup pot, catch our breath, and berate ourselves for a numbskull.

I remember last time on the blog, I was waxing all lyrical about the path to emptiness, and another mode of being. I closed by saying, let’s go for a walk and find it, shall we? Serves me right for being such a pompous ass. It doesn’t seem much help, all that air fairy stuff, on a bad day, with the light going, and you’re lost in an unfamiliar stretch of moor. We can speculate on metaphysical matters until the cows come home, but we’re still very much up to our necks, dealing with what arises, both the good and the bad of it. Then again, a bit of spaciousness might have helped with the navigation – less haste, clearer head, drier feet, and all that.

Anyway, fed and watered we make our move, pick up the broad, wet ribbon of the return arm of the Witton Weaver’s Way, follow it round by Catherine’s Edge, and Lower Pasture Barn farm. Then it comes to me, I’ve left the sit mat up at Moorside. Don’t worry, we’re not going back for it, but that’s the second one I’ve donated to the moors this year. It’s a good one, too. SD685173, if you fancy your chances. It’s not a spot that looks to attract many visitors, and I’m sure it’s still there.

I’ve never been happier to see the little blue car. And yes, the boots have leaked, but I’ll forgive them. That was a tough one, and, as I said at the beginning, instructive. The Rabbit Warren and Owshaw Clough certainly made a monkey out of me, but I’ll be back, in slower time, on a drier day, with lots of light. If there’s a decent route across that gap, I’ll find it. About seven miles round, some of it easy going, some of it not.

On the Witton Weaver’s Way around Turton Moor

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On Anglezarke Moor

We live in strange times. Energy prices are to increase by 75% in April. I can’t remember a hike as dramatic as that on anything, ever. For many families, barely managing already, I can’t see any way through for them. It’s expected over six million will be unable to pay. Then we have Russian warships in the Irish Sea, preparing to conduct “Live Firing” exercises. I’ll say that again. Russian warships, in the Irish Sea.

Meanwhile, the media headlines obsess about cake, taking pleasure in attacking a political leadership they first of all helped create, then spent the last few years propping up. And I suspect, when the eponymous Sue Gray makes her report, we shall all be left nonplussed. We seem unimportant players on the world’s stage, lacking influence, and seriousness. It’s all quite bewildering. We need an anchor, something else to settle us, or we’d be lost. Or perhaps we’re wiser not enquiring too deeply into things we do not understand, and can do nothing about anyway.

Just as well it’s a good forecast, then, and after several days of frigid January monochrome, colour is restored, and the moors beckon. These are times when the question of truth is best answered by an absence of questions. Take today, for example, the first question might have been: where are we going? But any definitive answer would have been deceitful, because I haven’t a clue. The little blue car needed a run, which brought us to Parson’s Bullough, on the edge of the moor, because that’s where it always delivers me when I’m not bothered. Setting out from the car, we were in half a mind to follow the well-worn route around the Yarrow Reservoir. But then a whim pointed to the moors, and here we are with a vague plan forming, but nothing too firm.

All there is right now is this extraordinary light, and that’s enough to be going on with. The moors are a pale straw colour here, and the sun is making them glow against a glowering sky. It looks like storms, but it’s all bluff. The sky is clearing from the west, only fine weather to our backs. We make for the ruins of Old Rachel’s, settle here for lunch, while we watch the ever-changing sky. A woman comes by with dogs. The dogs are loose, but she calls them to heel when she sees me, calls out: are you bothered by dogs? I say not, so long as they’re friendly. Oh, they’re friendly, she says. She lets them go, and they demonstrate their good natures in spades, by covering me in muddy paw-prints.

I’ve read there were a hundred farms on the moor, all but a few gone now, all within a short walk of one another, a dispersed community, but much closer in spirit than any of us are today, crammed together in towns and cities. One of the farms is reputed to be the hiding place of lost gold. The farmer bequeathed it to his son, but the gold was never found, and was believed to have been hidden around the farm. The farmer’s restless spirit is said to haunt the ruin, searching for it, that he won’t rest until the gold finds its way into the rightful hands. This is just one story of the moors, I picked up while digging through old memoirs, and a good one I think. I’m not saying which farm. That’s a secret. But then the real gold up here is of a different sort entirely, and easier to find.

On to Hempshaws now, then we swing back west, into the wind, which is raw. My right boot feels like it’s letting water in but, in spite of the mud and bog we’ve walked, I know it’s not. It’s my mind that’s leaking, in that respect, not my boots.

And on the subject of muddy moorland ways, I’m reminded of a poem from thirty years ago:

I’ll go the muddy moorland way,
And into those dark hills I’ll stray.
With trusty pack upon my back,
I’ll etch my boot-prints up that track,
Until at last somewhere on high,
I find a cleaner, broader sky.
And then with flask of tea in hand,
I’ll take a stock of who I am;
Of what I’ve done and where I’ve been,
And ask if life is all it seems.
I’ll go the muddy moorland way,
And though it takes the whole long day,
I shall return a stronger man,
Than when my journey first began.

The business of rhyme bothered me much in those days. Rhyme and meter. It doesn’t always fit with what comes out of the unconscious, though, whose rhythms are not so mechanical. You go up in the hills, you clear your head. I didn’t really need a load of rhyming couplets to say so. Better these days the Zen-brevity of the Haiku:

The State wobbles. The wind blows, the grasses whisper emptiness.

Another farmer hereabouts, amid this rushy wilderness, laid out a bowling green. If you come this way on a summer’s eve, just as the sun is setting, you might hear the clack of bowls. But they were not quiet times. Beyond the rim of the moors, beyond the seas, the same wars raged as they do now, the same scandals. It just took longer for news of it all to catch up. Now, I need only lift my phone to see if Sue Gray’s report is out yet.

I resist the temptation.

But there were miracles in the world too. Small ones. There are always small miracles. We just lose sight of them, that’s all. Like this rushy moor, and the wind stirring the grasses, and the light moving over it. And in the whisper of the grasses, and the melody of the brook, if we listen, but not too carefully, we will hear the poetry of emptiness.

Gray or Gold? Our choice.

Thanks for listening.

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Cartridge Hill, Darwen Moor

Another walk on the Darwen moors, this time taking in Lyons Den, Cartridge Hill and Hollinshead Hall

We’re standing by this small ruin on Darwen Moor. It’s a low, mossy, grass covered mound, and hard to tell if we’re looking at stone or brick underneath. We’re near the head of Stepback Brook. Lower down its steep, rocky course, is where we found the enchanting little waterfall, last time, but which is today reduced to a disappointing trickle. We’ve come up from Ryal Fold in deep shade, over a frost hardened earth, and in the teeth of a bitter wind that severely tested our resolve. Now, though, we’ve popped out into dazzling sunlight, with a bit of warmth in it, so the way is slightly more encouraging.

This is Lyons Den. I was expecting more, but perhaps less is more. I imagine it’s a fine spot in summer, with the moors dusty, under the heat of a noonday sun, and these trees providing shade for the traveller and a whisper of stories as the wind stirs their leaves, and the brook tinkles its way down the valley. Today though, even in the sun, it looks and feels rather bleak.

According to legend, it was a man called John Lyon who gave the place its name. This would be around the last decade of the eighteenth century. He lived here, not in any ordinary dwelling, but in a crude shelter made of turf. A shaggy, giant of a man, he was seen to emerge from his rustic lair on all fours, the Lyon emerging from his den, so to speak, and the name stuck with the locals, or so the legend goes. He gets a paragraph in Shaw’s 1889 book, “Darwen and its people”, which is the most definitive account I have of this enigmatic character. The place was sold on in the nineteenth century, and became the more conventional, small farm we see on the early OS maps.

Lyons Den, Darwen Moor

The maps also suggest it was less of a lonely place then. There were mines and quarries all around, and we can imagine the sound of men toiling at, and in, the earth, and the sound of carts creaking over the rutted moorland ways, with their loads. A profusion of Victorian shafts dot the moor, ominous depressions by the wayside, and caution is required. Some are fenced, others not. Shafts weren’t always securely filled from the bottom up, and that curious depression in the earth might easily conceal a rotting cap of planks, with a terrifying void lurking beneath.

The plan for the day is to take in the top of Cartridge Hill, then walk down to the woods at Roddlesworth, to the ruins of Hollinshead Hall, then circle back to the car at Ryal Fold. I’m not feeling on top form, so we’ll have to see how it goes. I have what looks like an infected tick bite on my foot, which itches like blazes. It’s been keeping me awake, so I’m tired and lacking energy. Either that or it’s the start of Lymes’. I’ve tested negative, so I know it’s not Covid.

I didn’t get to show it to the doctor, who remains elusive. I had to send the surgery a photograph instead, and the practice nurse rang me back to say it looked more like ringworm, that I need an antifungal ointment. I hope she’s right. Neither Lymes’ nor Covid are attractive alternatives, though of the two, I’d sooner take my chances with Covid.

Perhaps that’s why the moor feels strange today, empty somehow. Or it could be a bitterness over the recent party-gate revelations. I had thought I’d risen above all the polarising politics of recent years, but am occasionally brought back to the boil by its craven lunacy. Today, I’m remembering how the cops came down really hard on ordinary folk for infringement of the social distancing rules, how we were encouraged to dob our neighbours in, how lone walkers were spied upon by cop-drones, and shamed for being out of doors, “admiring the view”, like it was the new sin. It’s all proving a bit hard to swallow.

Anyway, Lyons Den is at the junction with the track coming up from Duckenshaw Clough, and which winds its way down to Hollinshead. We follow it westwards a short way, locate the path that cuts back to Cartridge Hill, then follow the line of a fence over open moor to the summit. Although an understated hill, as a viewpoint it’s outstanding, and well worth a visit. Southwards, there’s Belmont and Winter Hill. To the east, it’s the Holcombe moors. Westwards, it’s Great Hill and Anglezarke. We have a faint inversion in the valleys today, which we try to capture with the camera, but the cold soon nibbles at the fingers and has them aching for our pockets again.

I have an irrational thing about ticks. They’re a metaphor of something I can’t pin down. It’s nature, no longer welcoming, but turned predatory. If that thing on my foot is a tick bite, it can only have come from this neck of the woods, where ticks are unheard of, and it’s the middle of winter, for heaven’s sake, when ticks aren’t active. But then we have climate change, mild winters, and a burgeoning wild deer population,… I don’t know. Perhaps it’s an age thing, but there’s this sense of change, and all of it careening downhill to nothing good.

In roddlesworth woods

We retrace our steps back to the main track, then wander down to the woods at Roddlesworth. Here we seek out the extensive, and fascinating ruins of Hollinshead hall. Flattened in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I’ve always found it curious that the well house remains so stubbornly intact. It’s the setting for a very fine ghost story, whose origins are the eerie memoir of Richard Robinson, of Brinscall, also known as “a moorland lad”. Out of print now, I found a pdf copy of it, titled “The Wishing Well” on the website of the Chorley and District Archaeological society, and a very good read it is too, as well as being of significant historical interest.

The Well House, by the ruins of Hollinshead Hall.

Lunch today is lentil soup, which we enjoy in the sunshine, sheltered from the wind, in the lee of a wall, whose original function we can only speculate about. Kitchen? Lounge? Study? In the seventeenth century, the hall was home to the Radcliffe family, of Royalist leanings in the civil war. There’s speculation the well house was used as a secret baptistry, the Radcliffes being of the Catholic faith, at a time when priests were being murdered by the state, and the Vatican was having to smuggle them in through Ireland. But my favourite story of Hollinshead Hall – also told by Richard Robinson in his memoir – comes from the eighteenth century, when it passed to one Lawrence Brock-Hollinshead. Brock-Hollinshead installed a special circular room, here, as part of an experiment concerning time, and determining the exact length of a calendar year. This was prior to Britain’s adoption of the Gregorian calendar, in 1752.

Britain was still relying on the less accurate Julian calendar, in spite of the rest of Europe, by that time, having changed, the result being we were 11 days behind everyone else. The experiments involved timing the sun as it shone through a series of apertures, over a period of six years. Brock-Hollinshead’s studies proved Pope Gregory was right about the precise length of the year, and the new calendar was duly adopted. This meant catching up the 11 lost days, which gave rise to riots, people believing they had been robbed of life. And on that note, given also the febrility of the present day, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn there were moves to abolish it, and have our pre Gregorian exceptionalism restored!

Hollinshead Hall 1846 – Cartridge hill in the background

So, down through the mossy woods now, to the bridge over Rocky Brook. The sun is slanting nicely through the trees, but I’m not in the mood to linger. I’m definitely feeling off, and wanting a sit down, somewhere comfy and warm, with a large mug of hot chocolate. The little blue car is up at the Royal, and it’s a bit of a pull out of the woods from here. We’ll see how we go. Itchy feet for sure, though, today, which of course could also be read as a metaphor which bodes well, for the coming year.

Thanks for listening.

References:

Image of Hollinshead Hall in 1846, reworked from a public domain print, acknowledgement www.albion-prints.com

“Darwen and its People” J.G. Shaw 1889

The wishing Well – a moorland romance. A Moorland Lad – Richard Robinson 1954

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