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Archive for the ‘outdoors’ Category

On the Parson’s Bullough Road

Today’s plans were scuppered by a couple of road closures, which had cut off our destination, White Coppice, from the rest of the world. We’d intended going up on the moors to investigate a remote ruin sources inform me has been re-purposed into a neo-pagan temple. But the gods had other ideas. So, we read the runes, accepted their counsel, and drove on over the twisty little road, to Anglezarke.

Those who live magically say you should always be on the lookout when your travel plans are upended, that the trickster archetype is at work, and you might be about to learn something important, or that your life might be about to jump the rails into some new and fruitful direction. We’ll see. I’m not sure if this is living magically, but the road up by Manor House Farm is a delight this morning, affording magical views of the misty plain. It’s a lovely sunny start to the day, but banked clouds to the north and east foretell a change.

Ten minutes brings us to our default location, a little layby on the Parson’s Bullough road. New car today. Well, new-ish. We were overdue. It drives well, but has a lot of gizmos I don’t really need, including the intrusion of a computer screen. I can plug my phone into it for navigational purposes, and can ring people up while on the move, should I ever feel the need, and truly hope I never do. We traded the good lady’s little Corsa for it, which appeared on Autotrader last night. The dealer is looking for a breathtaking 100% profit on what he gave us, which of course also means my new one is worth half as much as what I paid for it, but that’s the way it goes, and it doesn’t do to dwell.

So, it’s looking like a short hike up Lead Mine’s Clough, then maybe onto the moor. For all that sunshine, cracking open the door, the air feels cold and bleak mid-winterish. This is familiar territory, walked and photographed to death, and written about here, but I couldn’t think of an alternative on the hoof, after the neo-pagan temple plan was kyboshed. If the Trickster has anything to show me, it’ll have to be in the details, something subtle I would otherwise have missed. We’ll see.

Ruined Walls and straw-coloured grasses – Anglezarke Moor

The falls are musical in Lead Mine’s Clough, emptying the moor of its recent rains, and the melting of last week’s snows, but I always find them difficult to get a decent angle on, and not dramatic enough for the scramble that would otherwise be necessary. A popular spot for picnicking down the generations, and well-loved. We hid a coin here, as children, a token of something ineffable, something magical. It’s still there.

We follow the track up onto the moor by Wilkinson Bullough, a long, bleak track, this. We have the ruins of drystone walls, above Green Withins Brook, and isolated groups of pines, sorry survivors of a more extensive forestry, planted thirty years ago, and destroyed by one heath fire after the other – all this amid a sea of straw-coloured moor-grass, upon which the wind strokes waves of silver.

Remains of forestry – Anglezarke Moor

I remember coming this way one summer and meeting a pigeon walking the other way. No, seriously. I may have told this story before. It passed me by, and I wondered why it was walking. Was it hurt? Was it just tired? I looked back, and it paused, looking back at me. I took a few steps towards it, and it carried on. I paused. It looked back. The pigeon seemed to want me to follow it, so I did, for a bit, but it was leading me back to the car, and I wanted to get on with my walk, so I gave the job up as stupid, and carried on. When I got back to the car, hours later, it had been broken into, robbed out and nearly stolen. That pigeon was trying to warn me. I’ve always been superstitious about birds. You ignore the Trickster at your peril.

Approaching Hempshaws – Anglezarke moor

Anyway, no winged messengers today. I’m tempted by Standing Stones hill, which rises bleakly to our left, and from which all the standing stones have disappeared. The old maps, however, show some features I’ve been wondering about checking to see if they’re still there – an old well, the site of a Victorian shooting hut, and the scant remains of a possible Bronze Age burial. But there are no paths up there any more, and the moor will be heavy going, so we’ll just head on round to the ruins of Hempshaws, have lunch, then wander back by the Dean Wood route.

Heinz Chicken soup today, and half a pork pie that needed eating. Delicious in the open air. We find shelter in the lee of a wall at Hempshaws, and settle down. As we do so, our eye is taken by some curious artefacts. Someone must have been having a sweep around with a metal detector. I thought there was a by-law against that on access land, but anyway, they’ve turned up what look like .303 cartridges, the brass corroded to a wafer, now. And they are displayed as if a hand had just left them there for me to find. Look at these, says a voice? What do you think?

Reminders of wartime – Anglezarke Moor

Indeed, says I, but these weren’t used for shooting grouse. They hark back eighty years, to the second world war, when the moors were closed for army training. Suddenly I’m hearing the crack of Lee Enfields, or maybe they’re from M1 carbines, because the Americans were up here too, and I fancy they could better afford the ammunition. Dark days. What must our grandparents have felt, as the world fell into chaos, and their precious boys were being called up to have little fingers of death like these pointed at them? Hempshaws is a peaceful spot, now, but it wasn’t always so.

I feel a shiver, someone stepping over my grave, as they say. It’s a story maybe, something in the casual scatter of these remnants of the past, and the way they are presented. Don’t try to grasp it, let it sink. It’ll come back more pointed if it’s serious, with a cast of characters and a snatch of dialogue to get you going. Leave them be. Next time we pass, they’ll be gone.

Is that why we’re here, then? Did the Trickster want us to see this? Or was it just the old gods didn’t want us photographing around that neo-pagan temple? I would not have blogged it, I plead – or at least I would have been vague about its location, while waxing lyrical about neopaganism. I’m not of a neo-pagan bent myself, but I would not have wanted trolls going up there and vandalising it. The gods remain silent on the matter, and fair enough.

Yarrow Reservoir

Anyway, we leave the cartridges to the elements, make our return by Old Rachel’s, and then the right of way which no longer exists, through the electrified meadow, where we must now run the gauntlet of rich people’s horses. The horses, muddy and over-coated, ignore me, but horse can have a peculiar sense of humour, and I wonder who is liable if I am kicked in the head by one.

Then it’s by the Yarrow, the light fading of a sudden, though it’s only just past two. The clouds are thickening, the weather changing, now. We sink into the car for a restorative brew from the Thermos, plug in the phone, ask it to plot a course for home. The iron brain obliges, and her voice is sweet. In another eighty years, we’ll be needing robots to tie our shoelaces, because we’ll have forgotten how.

She gives me a route, not the one I would normally take. So, we’ll go home the way we normally do, see how well she keeps up. It’ll drive her mad, but her voice is better company than the radio.

Just four miles and five hundred feet or so, give or take eighty years.

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Town Bridge, Croston

The year begins with a peculiar dream, but more of that later. Right now we’re standing on Town Road at Croston, waiting for a group of tourists to clear off the seventeenth century Town Bridge, then I can grab a picture of it. They’re taking their time, but that’s fine. It’s a good day and there’s no rush. Meanwhile, traffic is whizzing by on its way to the seaside at Southport, this being the last day of the Christmas holidays, and the last gasp for many before it’s back to work tomorrow. It’ll be nice on the promenade, or are they just after the sales? Do actual shops that engage in sales, still exist? My, how much the world has changed in the last few years.

Grade two listed, Town Bridge forms a neat architectural group with the parish church of St Michael’s and All Angels. Then there’s Church Street, and the old school, all of them dating back to the same period, and worth a look if you’re ever passing. It’s also a good place to begin our first walk of the New Year without having to get the car out. The bridge was built in 1682, the same year Halley named his comet. Newton was still very much alive, and Wikipedia tells me we were also still hanging witches. At least we don’t do that any more.

The tourists move off, and we grab the shot.

So, anyway, home territory today, and a hike across the various moss lands to Mawdesley, then Rufford and back, a circuit of around seven miles, and dead flat. It’s a bright day, too, warm in the sunshine, and looking like the only decent day this week. We have all sorts of miserable weather to come, says the weatherman, so today’s the day. I say “home” territory, but I came to Croston in 1994, and still feel myself to be living in exile. By and large, it’s a friendly place though, and plenty of walking from the doorstep, all of it flat, which, being a hill walker, I tend to be a bit sniffy about. But if pressed, I will admit it does have its charms.

Church Street, Croston

Anyway, back to that dream. There was this old grey horse, thrashing about on its back in my garden pond. Then this foal appears and drags it out by its chin. The old horse looks like it’s been through the mill and is starving. It turns to me with a look as if to say: feed me. So I’m thinking what do horses eat, and how can I get hold of some? I’m still pondering this even as I lie awake, until I realise it’s not a real problem I need to solve. Or is it?

Off we go then. From Town Bridge, we take the cobbled way through Church street, past the church with its slightly drunken tower, then through the ginnel, by the old School. Originally built in 1660, the school is now a community resource centre. It also ran a very well attended pre-school group, but lost its funding last year, and is now closed. The effectiveness of cost seems curiously decoupled from the wider values of human need, regardless of how great, how beneficial or how very much in demand that need is.

Croston Old School

Now, we’re out across the River Yarrow and along Carr Lane, a private access road with very little traffic. Vast meadows open up, lush green and glowing in the sunshine. Dotted around are woodland coverts – much of the area still being the preserve of the armed wing of the Tory party – many an otherwise peaceful Sunday morning commencing with volleys of gunfire. Pheasant have been known to seek shelter in my garden.

Then we’re heading south, to Mawdesley, across a flat, largely featureless landscape, all squared up with drainage ditches. Huge agricultural machines lurk in the corners of meadows like slumbering dragons, and we puzzle over their function. Potato picking, maize harvesting, ditch clearing?

Apart from the great bowl of sky, the dominant feature of this stretch is the three shiny, white wind turbines at Cliff’s Farm. Only two are turning today, casting mile long, moving shadows across the land. The third is motionless, its blade tips feathering the wind. The other thing to notice, more subtle, as we pass from Croston to Mawdesley, is the way the earth changes from a sticky, dark clay to a sandy loam – ideal for carrots, which is the dominant crop here.

Wind Turbines, Cliff’s Farm

From Mawdesley we follow the line of New Reed Brook, then across Mill Ditch to Rufford, and the White Bridge, over the River Douglas. It’s a short stretch of road walking, and no pavement, also incredibly busy. Cars approach at speed, and we time it so we can press ourselves into the thorn hedge as they pass. Most give us plenty of room, the drivers wave, as if to say: it’s fine, mate, we can see you. Some don’t. Apparently, it’s a scientific fact, if you drive a BMW, you’re less likely to be considerate to other road users, especially pedestrians. Apologies if you drive a BMW, I’m sure you’re not like that.

Having survived the road section, we’re back along the green lanes, then across the railway line. Here we pick up the River Douglas, which takes us north, towards Croston. The Douglas is an unattractive river, just here. It was deepened and generally fashioned into a giant drainage channel in the eighteenth century, by Dutch engineers. Pumping stations drained the reclaimed farmland on either side, which would otherwise become lakes at this time of year, and the Douglas carries it out to the Ribble estuary. Pumping recently stopped, and the seasonal lakes are returning. It’ll be a slow process, this return to marsh, but an interesting one to observe.

River Douglas, Rufford

This is the last couple of miles of the poor old Douggie, and I find it a sluggish creature. It’s silty, weary with rubbish from all the towns it’s travelled through, also thick with nitrates and effluent from the dairy farms. It’s also tidal. The tide is up just now, but at the ebb you realise how deep the river is, and it gives me the creeps.

So now we pick up Shepherd’s Lane, a long stretch of a thing, all the way to Finney Lane and what I call the Finney Ash, a favourite tree. As I’m lining it up for a photograph, I realise the camera’s been set on “manual” all the way round, and not on “aperture auto” like I’d thought. This means most of the shots I’ve taken are probably either under or over-exposed duds, and I’ll have nothing to illustrate the blog with. Gormlessness is my default setting. Oh, well,…

Finney Lane, Croston

We return to Croston along Cottage Lane, but these are all “lanes” in the ancient meaning of the word – just paths by the field-sides, wide enough for a horse and cart. The Tarmac and the motor car never came this way. As we head east, along Cottage Lane, we can just about make out Darwen Tower, dead ahead, over twelve miles away, reminding us how far we are from the hills, that without the much maligned motor car, this really would be an exile beyond what we could bear. It would take the whole day to reach Darwen by public transport, and the Dales would only be worth the journey for a week’s holiday.

But back to that dream. The old grey horse is me, of course. Or rather, it’s an aspect of the psyche that’s been floundering on its back, in the metaphorical water, and I can relate to that. The symbolism of the foal, however, defeats me. And the hunger? Well, we’re all hungry for something, but mine seems to be vital to well-being, and I’m starving for the lack of it. And we can’t always see what that is, even when it’s staring us in the face.

Cottage Lane, Croston – a distant Darwen Tower.

Such short days, still. The sun is half an hour away from setting, and the shadows in the ditches are darkening, a fine mist beginning to rise. Back home, the car is heavy with dew, and temperatures plummeting under a clear sky. It feels like it’ll be a frosty one. Winter’s no fun when it’s in a foul mood, but on days like this, winter’s as beautiful as any other time of year to be outdoors.

Pity about those photographs.*

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*The photo pixie was looking after us, and most came out all right.

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Stubai 4 point instep crampons

The cold snap continues, with temperatures down to minus four this morning. There’s been a light fall of snow since we were last out, and it’s become frozen like hammered glass, under a light powdery coating. A clear, dry day today means conditions are too good to be indoors, but we need to find the instep crampons first. I don’t want to end up like the poor old guy who broke his shoulder, and ended up strapped to a plank and driven to A+E by his granddaughter in the back of a van, because there were no ambulances.

Our health service has been running on fumes and the good will of its staff for too long now, and looks finally to have been pushed over the edge everyone, at least on the left of politics, knew was coming. Like Kinnock said in 1987: in the future don’t be young, don’t get old, or ill. He could easily have added: don’t have an accident. He was speaking of the consequences of a win for Thatcher’s conservatism at that year’s election, but our current administration makes hers seem positively benign. They are the most brazenly right-wing we’ve seen since the eighteenth century, and ideologically opposed to the very concept of socialised medicine. And the sharks who keep them in power clearly want it gone.

So, anyway, instep crampons. I bought them after a nightmarish descent from the Old Man of Coniston, one winter, many years ago. I’d gone up the south side which was clear and sunny, then came down the shadow-locked north side, which turned out to be treacherous with rime ice. Fortunately, I haven’t needed them for anything but fun since, and then only rarely do we get the conditions in lowland UK when they’re handy. Not all walking boots are suitable for your full-blown, mountaineering crampon, but with insteps you’re fine. Any old boots will do, and they take up hardly any room in the sack. Mine are old Stubai 4 points, probably considered antique now, but they still work.

The roads are clear as far as Rivington, though no further. Sheephouse Lane has been abandoned to the elements, and is closed to traffic. The first job is to remember how to put the crampons on. People are slithering about all over the place, so it looks like I’m justified in taking the precautions. We’ll do the Pike, up by the Ravine and the Great Lawn, then circle back by Wilcock’s and Dean Wood. A shorter walk than last week’s, then. About five miles and a thousand feet. The light is stunning – crisp and bright – and we should get some good shots.

The way becomes scrunchy and Christmas card-ish very quickly. I recall the insteps require a conscious effort to hit the ice with the rear spikes first, feel them bite, then roll into the front ones, but once we’ve got into the rhythm, it’s like engaging four-wheel drive. What is it about snow that gets us excited? It’s sufficiently rare here, I suppose, but it also adds another dimension to the landscape, turns the familiar into an adventure, and there’s the lovely way it paints blown-out highlights on bare trees. Then there’s the cold, and the feeling of aliveness as we warm up through our exertions in the sharp air.

The Ravine, Rivington Terraced Gardens

During the summer, the terraced garden volunteers had been working on clearing more of the Ravine, and it’s astonishing, the details they’ve uncovered – pools and runnels that have lain hidden for a century. We try a few shots here, but nothing really grabs us. It needs lots of tumbling water, so, we’ll be back after heavy rains. What we’re really anticipating as we climb, is a picture of the Pike, under snow. Along the way we note the old building that was once a public lavatory (abandoned for years as a vandalised abomination) is now re-purposed as a café, which explains the trail of discarded paper cups I’ve been following on the way up.

A glorious day, yes, and one to be enjoyed, but now and then I can’t help fretting over the various trials of my offspring, as they attempt to gain a foothold in the world. Number one son, recently moved out, has been awaiting an Internet connection for a month, and is no nearer a resolution even though he’s already paid for a month’s service – that he’s required to work from home is impacting his job, so he commutes to my place and occupies my study. And number two son, mortgaged to the eyeballs in a two bed starter home, has just found out he needs a new roof, though the survey said everything was just fine. I’m realising parenthood is for life. You never stop worrying, be they five or twenty-five. Indeed, the older they get, the worse it is, because you know you have to close your eyes, let them go, and get on with it.

There are other young men having a fine old time, here, sledging down the Pike. I wonder why they are not at work, or if the world has changed so much, I was a fool to keep going until the age of sixty, that for all those years, there were people half my age having a Beano on the Pike. I don’t know what the secret is, but do not begrudge their obvious fun. I’m only puzzled as to why it took me so long to wise up.

Rivington Pike, Winter 2022

The snow is deeper here as we reach the high point of the walk, at around 1200 ft. The crampons loosen as the boots warm up. A shake of the foot reveals the problem. Tighten the strap and on we go. We walk a little way along the path to Noon Hill, so we can shoot the Pike under snow with a starburst of sun. I wonder briefly then about carrying on to Noon Hill, across the open moor, but that’s a tougher walk than I fancy today, so we stick to plan A, come back to the Pigeon Tower, then down through the terraced gardens.

Pigeon Tower, Rivington, Winter 2022

There are mega-buck four-wheel drives – kings for a day – on the Higher House carpark, which suggests they ignored the road-closed signs on Sheephouse Lane. The road here is like glass, and nearly as hard, but the spikes keep us upright and enable steady progress to Wilcocks, along what resembles, in places, a river of ice. Then we cut for home, along the top of Dean Wood. There’s nothing like the feel of those spikes biting, and they keep you firm in places where you’d ordinairly not be able to stand up! No, now is not the time for a broken leg and A+E.

Then I’m thinking back ten years, to a night in Preston Royal. The ward was like a war zone, the staff clearly knackered, yet kind, and the surgeon with a face that betrayed the weight of the world on his shoulders, and my mother discharged into the dead of night, to die of inoperable cancer. I’d hoped they might let her rest until morning, but they needed that bed for someone they’d a chance of saving. And so it goes.

It’s fine if you’re fit and healthy, but at some point we all need care, even if it’s only for the final few weeks, to see us out. So, for pity’s sake, fellow Brits, wake up. Don’t let’s go the way where a health emergency costs us our house and our life’s savings, and our children their house, and their life savings too, and all so an already rich man, lacking in self consciousness and shame, can indulge his whim for an ocean going yacht, or a doomsday bunker in New Zealand. Don’t let me carry that one into my next novel. I’m looking for the off-ramp into the bliss of Zen, not back into the mire of class warfare.

Dean Wood Avenue

A little after two now, and the sun is creeping low. It’s dead ahead as we walk this avenue of ancient chestnuts, now – such a beautiful stretch, filled with memories of hunting conkers with my children. Pockets full, and still plenty left for all comers, and the squirrels too. I wonder at how quickly the time has flown, and how little of it we have to enjoy the company of our children – though I also recall it doesn’t always feel like that when you’re in the thick of it. Though my boys have left home now, I still collect a few conkers in passing, come the season, just for the sentiment. Anyway, the light is dreamy now, so we chance a shot – late day, winter ambiance – and then again as we walk the brookside path towards Church Meadows.

Towards the Church Meadows, Rivington

Then we’re back to Rivington, and the car, and peeling off the boots. This is such a small beat, and I’ve known it all my life, but it keeps on giving. Whatever bit of green is your part of the world, you will never know any other so well, and so intimately. And that’s a gift.

Now the temperature’s falling, and we’re looking at another sub-zero night, but the Met office says rain and ten degrees come weekend. We have to enjoy these things while we can.

Keep safe.

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Winter Hill, from the climb to Spitler’s Edge – West Pennine Moors

The delivery lady came sooner than expected, but also just in time. She’s a familiar face now, and a cheery soul. With the decline of the high street, our delivery drivers have become the engines of the nation, indeed the saviours of it during Covid lockdowns, yet are still treated appallingly by profit-driven employers who deny even their status as employees. Anyway, she took my picture holding my package as proof of delivery. Job done and she’s on her way.

She’s brought me a new walking jacket, or rather a mid-layer fleece, which was rather thicker than I’d been expecting. But then again, I wasn’t expecting temperatures of minus five this morning when I set out for the West Pennines. I’d worried I might boil in the jacket, but as fate would have it, that wasn’t a problem at all.

Everyone who regularly wanders the Western Pennines will have their own definition of what constitutes the classic route. Mine starts from Rivington, takes in the Pike, and Winter hill, then across Spitler’s Edge to Great Hill, down to White Coppice, then back to Rivington via the Anglezarke reservoir. It’s a longer walk than I’m used to, just under 12 miles, and a couple of thousand feet of ascent – a broad circuit that takes in the higher moorland summits and shows off the very best of the scenery.

The day had warmed to a few degrees below freezing at Rivington, which, at 9:00 a.m, was still in the shadow of the moors. There were golden frosted leaves under foot, and wreaths of mist snaking through the trees. But then we climbed into sunrise through the terraced gardens, and into the calm, clear light of what was suddenly looking like a beautiful winter’s day.

Then we tackled the Pike. The lack of wind was a blessing. It would have been arctic otherwise, and the walk curtailed to something shorter and less exposed. It’s odd, but when the Pike is the main objective of the day, it can have you puffing and halting to admire the view, but when the mind is thinking beyond it, you seem to make the top with half the effort.

Rivington Pike from Rivington Moor

Beyond the Pike lies the morass of Rivington moor, and a steady climb to the masts on Winter hill. But crisp days make the going easier, the bog being mostly frozen. Alpine sticks help probe the way, and keep you steady on the ice. At 1496 ft, Winter Hill is the highest point of the walk, and lots of ice here. One can hardly describe it as an attractive summit, among the transmitters, but with your back to them, the immediate view of the moor, and the northern hill country beyond it is breathtaking.

After the trig point, it’s a sharp drop, into the chilly shadow of the hill, to the pass of Hordern Stoops, where we once again emerge into sunshine, and another long climb to around 1300 feet, on Spitler’s Edge. I was last up this way in the spring a warm, early evening, with the cotton grass bobbing about. Winter presents a much bleaker aspect, of course, and it’s not a day to linger for long, but thus far the new jacket is proving to be something of a miracle, and a very fortuitous delivery.

This long stretch between Winter and Great Hill used to be more of an adventure, along vague paths and peat hags, but it’s increasing popularity over the decades has resulted in it being paved from end to end with gritstone flags recycled from old mills. They once rang to the strike of clog irons, now it’s the hiking boots and the scratching of Alpine sticks. It makes the going much easier and preserves the precious habitat. We brave the surface of the land by day, when the sun shines, but scurry back to our beds to pass these cold nights, nights that embalm the moorland grasses in layers of hoar frost, and render the lonely ways thick with ice. This would be a bad place to be after dark, the cold finding its way into the layers of even the warmest coat. But by day, on days like this, the images will enter our dreams and our memory, to rise in flashes of warm reminiscence in the years to come.

So, Great Hill now for lunch, and views across a pale inversion to the mountains of Cumbria and the Dales. Bowland and Pendle seem so close, we feel we could include them in our day’s loop. Then it’s down to Drinkwaters, and Coppice Stile, where we were only last week, up from Brinscall, and on a completely different kind of day. We take a shot of the thorn tree which we photographed last week, and which is today looking very wintery.

The sun is slipping low, now. Such short days, and I’m conscious of the time. We’ve been on the move for about four hours, and another two to go. At the back of my mind is the self-imposed curfew of not being on the road after lighting up time. We’ll probably have to forgo that one this evening, and run the gauntlet of the SUVs burning the paint off our car and my retinas, with their headlights.

White Coppice

Down to White Coppice, and a chance to photograph the tree I spotted from afar, last week, holding onto its leaves. I had thought it was an oak, but closer inspection reveals it to be a beech, its leaves all coppery, while around it, its neighbours stand bare, fingering sunbeams and casting long shadows. Photographers usually define the golden hour as the last hour before sunset, but in these northern winter months, we can enjoy it for much longer.

Anglezarke Reservoir

Like now, for example, and this mellow light over the Anglezarke Reservoir as we rest before the final push. There’s a bank of cloud coming up, snow forecast for overnight. We grab what we can of it with the camera, drink it down to memory before a gloomy stillness comes on, then it’s a long twilight back to Rivington, frost already settling at the wayside. The day is fading out, but I’m loath to paste it back home, and the Barn looks so inviting, lit up and jolly. Table service now. It’s three years, pre-pandemic, since I last enjoyed its hospitality. The young lady comes to take my order. Six hours of a perfect winter round on the moors, finished off with a hot chocolate, and a toasted tea cake.

Classic! Though I’ll probably be a bit stiff tomorrow.

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Drinkwater’s Farm – December 2022

Lunch today is chicken and mushroom soup, and a seeded roll. Our venue is the ruin of Drinkwater’s farm, third sycamore from the left. It is my favourite table, shared, no doubt, with many others, but not today. Today we have the ruins, indeed, so far, the moor all to ourselves.

We’ve come up from Brinscall’s Lodge Bank, which is a long-winded way of doing it, but it makes for a more attractive walk along the Goit valley than the direct ascent from White Coppice. The wooded section, along the Goit, is mostly winter-bare now, just the occasional beech aflame in red and orange, against a background of misty, mysterious gloom.

On the way up, I spied turkeys under makeshift cover, as protection from avian flu, which is hitting Lancashire pretty hard at the moment. There will be a shortage of the birds come Christmas, just as there is already a shortage of eggs. More worrying, though, is the ongoing devastation to the wild bird population. Although naturally occurring among birds, the severity of this outbreak is pointing to our abuse of the natural world, in particular the factory farming of birds, and a wider breakdown of our ecosystems.

Anyway, we’re looking for winter colour today, looking for compositions along routes I must have scoured with the camera countless times. But there’s always something new – a different light, a different angle, a different mood. The bright-eyed holly is in berry now, and the gorse – somewhat confused – is half asleep for winter, yet also half flowering for spring. The bracken, sometimes reaching seven feet high in summer, has now died back to piles of rusty straw, and the mosses, and lichens are a lively green. But it’s mostly the shapes of trees that fascinate at this time of year. Shorn of foliage, their limbs twist and twine, gesturing like dancers in expressive pose.

From the Brinscall woods, we came up by way of the track from the ruins of Goose Green farm, a place that used to double as the Green Goose, being licensed in olden times to sell ale to farmers. What yarns must have been shared in that place, now just an outline of stones in the swelling earth. This sinewy path runs south, is modestly elevated along the line of the Brinscall fault and punctuated by gnarled trees, some of which have now fallen. One of the last before White Coppice took our eye as its limbs, coiled and bent, indicated the way.

Goit Valley – White Coppice

Then it was the moor, more shades of rust, and silent under a uniform blue grey sky. Out across the plain, to the west, there was the dense line of an atmospheric inversion, but the plain itself was mostly clear. It’s a grey day, rather cold, a fine rain blowing in from the east. At the ruins of Coppice Stile house, just a featureless tumulus of rubble, now, we tried to do justice to the wizened old thorn tree. A shy sun peeped through momentarily and helped lend some contrast. I seem to be visiting familiar trees more often than I do summits these days.

Thorn Tree, Coppice Stile

Then it was on to Drinkwaters, to the sycamores, and lunch. Great Hill is tempting, and it feels wrong to skip it, but we’ll leave that for another time. The days are short now, time pressing, and I am sticking to my resolve not to be on the road after lighting up time. The higher set LED headlights on SUV’s have long been painful and blinding to me, and to many others, according to reports. And most cars these days seem to be of the SUV variety. The only solution, I suppose, is to get an SUV myself.

“Excuse me. Is that the Round loaf, over there?”

A passing walker. We hill types are none of us really strangers to one another, and gel at once when in our natural environment. The Round Loaf – a huge Bronze Age burial, is prominent on the skyline. The guy is interested in routes, is not familiar with the Western Pennines, but is keen to find his way around its antiquities. There are routes from this side, but vague, and prone to bog. We discuss options. He will try from the Rivington side, another time, from where the going is easier. We discover a shared interest in the lost farms, as named on the early OS maps. Then he’s on his way, up Great Hill, most likely never to be met again.

Great Hill

I take photographs, wide angle to soak up what little light there is, now. I never know what the camera has got, and can spend many a pleasant hour, afterwards, post-processing in the digital darkroom, teasing out what I thought I saw, or revelling in what the camera saw, and I did not. Drinkwater’s is effortlessly photogenic whatever the season, or the weather.

We begin our return to Brinscall along the track by Brown Hill, noting the line of shooting butts as we go, these having been cobbled together from the remains of drystone walls. There were dubious claims from the shooting fraternity, earlier in the year, that avian flu had not been detected in game birds, so there was no need, they said, to curtail their usual post Glorious 12th jamboree. But the situation overtook them and, with a little unexpected help from BREXIT many shoots were indeed called off.

Shooting butt, Brinscall Moor

We pick up the terminus of Well Lane, a short but steep drive up from Brinscall. There are always a few cars here, people mostly emptying their dogs on the moor. A short detour brings us to Ratten Clough, which has the distinction of being the best preserved of the lost farms, and a moody place at the best of times. But, unlike Drinkwater’s, I always struggle to get a good composition here. We prowl around for a bit, try some shots, but nothing has a definite tingle to it. It doesn’t matter, it’s just good to be out, and feeling warm, even on a cold day like this. It also saves on heating the house.

Ratten Clough, Brinscall Moor

December 2022, and coming up on two years retired, now. I remember what it was I used to do for a living, but haven’t a clue how I did it any more. It was remarkably easy to let it all go. Writing, reading, walking, photography – these are much better ways to spend one’s time.

So now it’s down through the Brinscall woods again, to connect with the Lodge Bank, and the car. Boots off, and a cup of tea before we make the drive home. There’s an ancient duck comes to say hello, a long time resident, scrounging for seed. I hope it avoids the flu.

Five miles round, and around 650 feet of ascent.

https://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=14/53.6729/-2.5632&layers=C

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Abbey Village

The gate to the war memorial at Abbey Village is locked. I usually visit in the week leading up to the armistice, to leave one of those little wooden crosses for my great uncle. He died in Mesopotamia in 1918, and is named on the column. He was one of the many sons of the village who did not come home.

So, what to do? Well, after a moment of indecision, I toss the little cross, as gently as I can, but still rather indecorously, through the bars, where it falls skew-whiff among the evergreens in the planter at the foot of the column. I offer a wordless apology. A token charged such as this should be placed mindfully, not tossed as a last resort, but I didn’t know what else to do. I had not wanted to walk away with it still in my pocket, for then the charge would have fizzled away to meaninglessness. I shall have to rethink arrangements for next time. I’ve been coming here for years and never encountered a locked gate before. I wonder if the village fears vandalism?

Remembrance and the red-poppy has become a political wedge issue in recent years. For myself I feel it’s simply important to keep alive the memory of one’s family’s losses in war, and that we carry that consciousness forward into the lives we lead ourselves, for if enough of us can re-imagine the grief, following those fateful telegrams home, the generation we raise might be better able to temper their reactions whenever sabres start to rattle, as they inevitably do from time to time. And they in turn might pass the same thing on.

Autumn in Roddlesworth

Abbey is a place mostly pictured for me in the monochrome and the sepia of family photographs, from the nineteen thirties to the early sixties. Time has changed it, of course. Motor cars now line the main thoroughfare, and satellite dishes bristle from the rooftops. Five minutes, though, and it is a world forgotten, while another modernity lures us in. This is a modernity of the Victorian period – the reservoir system, and the woodland plantation that surrounds it, a circuit of which will take us a couple of hours, and covers a good five miles. It was a Sunday stroll for my parents, decked out in their best threads. Now we wear storm-proofs and hiking boots, like it’s the world’s end, and the rain will melt us.

The light in November starts poor, and fades early. This afternoon we begin with the flake-white overcast that forms a backdrop to so many of L.S. Lowry’s paintings, and it takes on an increasingly blue-grey tint as sunset approaches. But the intense beauty of autumn has arrived, and the woodland around the Abbey reservoirs is a delight to walk. It is also a place of deep, mysterious shadow, but wonderfully coloured along the pathways, from the rose-gold of the fallen leaves, to the yellows of the beeches, and the pale greens still hanging on. And as the trunks and boughs emerge from their thinning foliage, they assume expressive postures, with the feel of an impressionist tableau.

Autumn in Roddlesworth

I had felt something unfriendly, even unwelcoming in that incident at the war memorial, that the modern village no longer wishes to recognise its past, of which I and my family are a part, but then I discover only smiles and hearty greetings from the few walkers I encounter on the trail. In fact, I encounter most of them twice, as we pass in opposite directions, doing the same circuit, but the other way round. There are owls calling, deep in the privacy of the woods, and I discover a working charcoal kiln, with evidence of fresh coppicing, and woodland management. The charcoal is used mostly for barbecues, but also art supplies, and the bits left over, the charcoal fines, are bagged and sold as “biochar”, a horticultural soil improver.

Charcoal burning, Roddlesworth

On the one hand, it is encouraging to see these traditional practices still being carried out, while on the other it’s disconcerting to see how much woodland is required to be fenced off from casual exploration. Not all the best photographs can be taken from the marked trails. We need some flexibility to stalk the light and the shadow, and these fences, liked locked gates, get in the way of imagination and our freedom to express ourselves.

From Abbey we descend as far as the bridge over Rocky Brook, then begin the climb towards Ryal Fold. The rambler’s café is a tempting destination, but it shuts at three today, and we’ll never make it, so we take the more direct return along the woodland ways. There are hints of a pale sun trying to break through, now, a last gasp for the day, but it never quite makes it. No matter. The woodland has an exquisite air about it this afternoon, and the autumn colours are ravishing. We return to Abbey at lighting up time. The car park of the Hare and Hounds looks busy, so we’ll pass on coffee, and begin the drive home. The woods were a sight for sore eyes today, and a balm for the soul.

Autumn in Roddlesworth

On the subject of remembrance, there is a story about a young man lost in the war, and his father holding on to the hope that there’d been a mistake, and his son would return. To this end he would go down to the local railway station every day to meet the tea-time train, thinking his son might be on it, but of course he never was. The father maintained this ritual for decades, into old age and the Beeching cuts, which saw the line closed, and the rails taken up,…

I regret I do not know the author’s name, but it was a story that touched me deeply. It could have been my great-grandfather, refusing to believe in that telegram message, that there had been a mistake, and of course his son would return, hale and hearty as he had set out. But it’s a long time since the trains ran through Abbey, and, for sure, my great uncle isn’t coming back.

Shall they return to beatings of great bells

In wild trainloads?

A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,

May creep back, silent, to still village wells

Up half-known roads.

Wilfred Owen

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Birkacre visitor centre

Autumn is a slow burner this year. The woodland paths are thus far scattered with only a modest fall, while the canopy remains predominantly green. This was so of Roddlesworth, a few weeks ago, and is still the case with Birkacre and the horseshoe of the River Yarrow. It’s also unseasonably warm. Only the early fading of the light reminds us we’re on the eve of November, with the clocks wound back to GMT.

Which also means it’s Samhain, at least by the telling of the Gregorian calendar. I suspect, though, the ancients would have been more flexible, and gone by the moons, the dark of the moon seeming appropriate for Samhain, or the first crescent, which we passed a few days ago. The full moon on November 8th seems too late, and its bright energy inappropriate for what feels more naturally like a time of internalisation, of hibernation and contemplation.

So, today, we find ourselves at the Birkacre visitor centre. We’re looking for a short walk and some air, after a week of being confined indoors by rainy days. Autumn woodland photographs would also be nice, and to which end we are equipped with some fast glass, and an inside knowledge of the compositions, this area being where I grew up.

I prefer the traditional name Samhain, for what we now call Halloween, which seems a dowdy corruption, I mean the way it is celebrated, with its cheap plastic mummery, and the overtures of horror. I have always felt it was more a time for remembering the ancestors, for flicking through the family albums, tracing things back in time from the faded colour snaps, to the sepia of photography’s golden dawn. I used to think it was amazing that if just one of our ancestral boys had failed to meet the ancestral girl, we wouldn’t be here. Or maybe it’s inevitable we’re here anyway, and it’s just our back-story that would be different.

Drybones Dam, Birkacre

Anyway, speaking of photography, there are some long lenses out around Birkacre’s big lodge, shooting the itinerant water birds, and the resident swans. Impressive and expensive, those lenses, but they must be a devil to use hand held like that.

I read an article recently concerning a trend in America where photographers are being targeted in places such as this, our gear stolen under threat of violence. Those long lenses are worth a few months’ salary. The cops are uninterested, says the report, and the feeling is one of acceptance that certain types of crime will be carried out, nowadays, with impunity. If this is true or not, it does us no good to read such things.

Other than birders we have dog walkers, grandparents with toddlers, buggy pushers, and lovers from eighteen to eighty, but we leave them behind once we’re upstream, past the dam on the Yarrow, where we head into the damp silence of Drybones wood. The paths are softening now under persistent rains, and the mud is clinging to our boots. From the capped shaft of the old Drybones colliery, behind its rusting steel bars, we seek the path to Lowe’s Tenement. The markers are missing, and the path looks little used these days.

Footpath marker attrition

It’s odd how those green footpath markers are so fragile. No sooner does the council tack them up to guide our way across the sometimes obscure public network, they crack and fall off into the mud. Stout finger-posts, too, seem to snap and fall into the hedgerows at the slightest puff of wind. Conversely, the “no trespassing”, the “no footpath” and the “private” signs are indestructible, unmissable and a vulgar blot on the landscape. It’s so important our paths are walked, and every obstruction challenged. The land may not be ours on paper, but the right of passage is, and these paths connect us with so much more than merely fresh air, and a convenient place to empty the dog.

Footpath marker attrition

Thus wears the month along, in checker’d moods,
Sunshine and shadows, tempests loud, and calms;
One hour dies silent o’er the sleepy woods,
The next wakes loud with unexpected storms;

John Clare – November

We follow Burgh Lane now, to the edge of Chorley’s suburban sprawl, then cut down the meadow path to the former Duxbury estate, to the tree that fell into the Yarrow, and made no sound. This was a familiar tree from childhood, which came down in the winter storms of 2019. Losing it was like losing an old friend. The novel I thought it had inspired is turning out to be something else, and deeply puzzling. We plod away at it.

The tree that fell alone, and made no sound

I find woodland photography challenging. The eye, the mind, they prefer a story in shape and colour, and to that end they extract patterns from the chaos of the woodland. But a photograph reinstates at once the visual noise, and the organic riot of arboreal forms. We see photographs everywhere, but finding compositions that will not dissolve on contact with reality is the challenge, and adds another dimension of enjoyment to a woodland walk.

In Drybones Wood

From the tree that fell, we now take the ancient way through Coppull Hall Wood, towards Coppull, following the horseshoe of the Yarrow. The river is eroding the path here, so when it is high the water renders the way impassable. Today we’re okay.

The strangely subdued colours have me wondering, as with the lack of heather on the moors, is this another harbinger of crisis? I read the new PM has shunned attendance at this year’s climate conference, and speaks instead of “difficult decisions”, this being an all too familiar euphemism for stripping out the state institutions that support life. It’s a wonder anything is left, this having been inflicted, without remission, for over a decade, and upon a populace which seems, by now, stunned into submission by the perma-crises of Brexit, Covid, weird weather, worries over energy bills, and war. We don’t expect things to get any better, indeed we seem conditioned into accepting they must always get worse.

In Drybones Wood

The horseshoe of the Yarrow brings us back to Drybones wood, and some of the best compositions of the walk. It seems to be a question of framing, of watching the curve and tilt of trees – that they direct the eye into a scene, rather than away. Colour helps to balance a composition – autumn gold, or spring wildflowers against the greens and grey. A wide aperture blurs and simplifies unwanted background visual noise, and helps with shutter speed.

Just here, early OS maps show the river much wider, with an island mid-stream. Now the island is bypassed and accessible, and the beech trees upon it form pleasing frames and root patterns, with modest leaf-falls cradled among them. There are squirrels. The sun makes an effort, and the Yarrow ripples tunefully.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

W H Davies – Leisure

Then we’re back at Birkacre, and the schools are spilling out. Kids in Southlands uniforms sit among the apparatus and the sandpits of the play area they probably knew as infants in more innocent times. They have stopped off on their walk home from school, as I used to do, a hundred years ago. There was no play-area then, of course, and you could still buy used cigarette-scented televisions from the repair-centre, which operated in the remains of the mill. All gone now to make way for car-parking, and amenity.

I’d better pick up a bag of sweets on the way, in case we’re visited by ghosts and ghoulies this evening. A short walk, if you’re passing and have an hour to spare. Just two and three quarter miles.

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Ogden Clough, Pendle

The lady on the car park at Downham is anxious she can find nowhere to pay. I reassure her it’s free, no honesty box or anything. She’s not sure if she can believe me, searches high and low again. I’ve stopped here only briefly to wipe the wax spots off the windscreen, before heading up over the moor to Barley. I washed the car last night, but didn’t make a proper job of it, and we’ll have the sun in our eyes, scattering over the glass, hence the quick pit-stop to restore clarity. Downham begs us to stay, and it’s tempting, but we walked from here last time, so today it’s Barley’s turn. We set off into the sun, leaving the lady still looking for somewhere to pay.

I suppose it’s a sign of the times, that we don’t expect anything to be free, especially not somewhere so beautiful as the village of Downham. Indeed, we expect prices to be soaring ahead of our ability, or perhaps our willingness, to keep up with them. Unlike at Downham, you must pay on the car park at Barley. This used to be an honesty box, but we arrive to find a new fangled machine has already read our number plate, and we must pay on exit. Still, £3:00 all day is not unreasonable. I wonder how long this machine will last before it breaks down, and what does one do then? As if anticipating the question, a notice tells us we must, in that eventuality, pay online. But the world is leaving behind those who are not web-savvy, I counter. The machine, being a machine, has no answer to that.

It’s a beautiful day in early autumn, and there is a rich light lending deep contrasts to the old stone of the village houses. Above the chimney pots, rises the great whale-back of Pendle Hill, aglow in morning sunshine. Of the various ways to Pendle’s summit, the direct route up the Big End, from Barley, is the quickest, but also, I find, the most brutal, and the least interesting. I prefer the approach via the reservoirs, then into the Ogden valley, and Boar Clough, which is the plan for today.

Repurposed Waterworks Buildings

First we pass the old Nelson waterworks, re-purposed as apartments. As we go we fiddle with the camera, and ponder once again this morning’s Wordle, which has me stumped: it’s the usual five-letter word, last three letters I.S.T. first letter E. But the venerable New York Times must have made a mistake, for such a word simply does not EXIST, right?

The reservoirs are low, but as we enter the clough head, we find the moor and the brooks are running healthily after recent rains. There is something awesomely bleak about the Ogden Clough as it cuts its way deep into Pendle’s flank. There is a route that follows its length, curving round eventually to meet the summit, but we shall save that one for another time. Today, our route climbs out of the valley, up Boar Clough, and across Barley Moor.

Clough Head from Boar Clough

It strikes me I have been wandering various Lancashire moors since August, and have either blinked and missed the season entirely, or the heather has not bloomed this year. Drought, heat, … changes in land management? I don’t know. I had thought Barley moor, would be a blazing sea of purple today, but it’s just your usual shades of straw and khaki, and brown. The flower heads are pale and dry, looking like last year’s blooms, and the ferny tips are blackening.

Trig Point, Pendle Hill

Is this another sign of the times, perhaps? Speaking of which, I read a couple of youngsters, protesting climate change, have thrown a tin of soup over Van Gough’s “Sunflowers”, at the National Gallery. Their argument runs: what good is art if the planet dies, and us with it? So, wake up! There is, I admit, a brutal logic to this. Which is finer: a moorland ablaze with heather, or a Van Gough? But I find I am nervous at the thought of sharing a world – should we be able to save it – with angry people who would sacrifice beloved works of art.

View from Pendle Hill, towards Barley

The view from Pendle is dramatic. The land falls away sharply, runs off in all directions, and lends a tremendous airy feeling, above a patchwork of green. Bowland, Yorkshire, East Lancashire,… and in the valleys nestle the old industrial towns, Burnley, Nelson, Colne, faded to the edge of perception by a faint Autumn haze. As we sit, a Kestrel entertains, but refuses a photograph. Such a beautiful day, I’m reluctant to come down, but down we must come, and via the knee-breaking direct route, up which pilgrims are now plodding the other way, and looking the worst for it.

“Are we nearly there,” they ask?

How does one define “nearly” Five minutes? Ten Minutes?

“Yes, nearly there, and well worth it.” We try to sound encouraging. Many who would not think to climb another hill will have a go at Pendle, and for many, Pendle was their first taste of the hills and a lifetime of enjoyment.

The downhill is as challenging as the up on this route, such a long, steep, descent it has the calves all a-tremble, long before we reach the bottom. Paragliders soar on the thermals. I do hope the Van Gough is all right. They say it was covered with glass. I wonder if the soup throwers knew that, and had it not been, would they have done it anyway?

We know we are nearing civilisation when we are once more assailed by notices claiming “private land” and “beware of the dog” and “no footpath”. Fortunately, the tide of adventure up Pendle is not deterred by such land lubberly sourness.

Autumn on Pendle Hill

Down on the car park, there is a queue of elderly ladies at the ticket machine, working out how to pay. This is not encouraging. When it’d my turn, though, it is relatively straightforward. I press on my registration number, which the machine has captured, and I pay the £3.00 gladly for a day well spent. And off we would go, but there is now an almighty and seemingly intractable snarl-up in the narrow streets of Barley, designed for horse and cart, and is caused by overlarge, luxury SUV’s, which, it is a well known fact, are not equipped with a reverse gear.

So, we settle to wait, and while we wait,.. a five-letter word, beginning with E, ending with I.S.T. No, I’m sorry, such a word simply does not EXIST.

Oh,.. Wait a sec. Got it, now. Very funny.

Thanks for listening

Graeme out.

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In Roddlesworth Woods

It’s not the first time I’ve arrived at the start of a walk to find I’ve left my boots behind. But it’s okay, we’re not climbing mountains. It’ll just be some soft, dew-damp meadows, and gravel tracks, so the cheap hiking-trainers we’re wearing will probably be okay.

We’re at Ryal Fold again, in the Western Pennines, and the plan is to explore some paths we’ve not walked before, so we can add them to that mental map of permitted ways. We’ll be wandering through extensive woodland, towards Abbey Village, returning along the reservoirs and Rocky Brook, and maybe to finish we’ll come back over the moor by Lyons Den, to check on the heather.

We’re looking for signs of autumn’s advance, now, looking to enjoy some woodland photography, but as ever, it’s about enjoying the outdoors. The scent of an autumn woodland, all mushroomy and damp, early leaves composting where they lie, all of that is a delight to be savoured. The walkers’ café at Ryal Fold is busy, lots of people sitting out with coffee, enjoying these intermittent days of warm sun, and there’s a party of ramblers setting out for Darwen Tower, all noisy with well-met chatter.

Of current affairs, our new Chancellor has gone and there are rumours the PM is to be ousted too, in the coming weeks, only having been in the job five minutes. Much of the mortal thrust of last week’s “fiscal-event” is to be reversed, but the crash it precipitated is still reverberating. Retirement nest eggs are now ten percent down, and pensions are once again under a cloud as the Bank of England winds in its support of the long term bond market. And no, I don’t understand any of this either. I would subscribe to the Macbethian world view of current events, that it is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing“, but that requires a philosophical leap when life-savings are going down the plug hole, and they’re putting security tags on tubs of butter.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.

I don’t know Shakespeare at all, other than the fact we can always find bits of him to suit whatever the occasion:

Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.

The man definitely had a way with words. So anyway,… before we’re “heard no more”, off we go, and plunge into the woodland. It’s still mostly green, just a thin carpeting of gold from the first fall of leaves. There’s sunlight pooling in the clearings, illuminating the canopy, spilling along the still lush sprays of beech, to be caught at last in outstretched fingers of ferny fronds, now sinking into a softening earth. There is Birdsong, but otherwise an absolute stillness, shoes and trouser cuffs already wet from their licking, as we crossed the meadows. There’s a plane of water glittering, glimpsed now and then through dense woodland as we walk. And, yes, that autumn scent.

In Roddlesworth Woods

“Have you taken any nice photos?”

It’s a large man, well padded in fleece and parka, his beanie set at a jaunty angle. He has a muddy little dog with him that looks to be having fun. I judge both to be friendly. Cameras were once a more common accompaniment. Mine now marks me as a die-hard geek. Most people are happy to make do with their phones.

“Not yet,” I tell him. “I’ll probably get some as I go up by Rocky Brook.”

“Oh aye.”

He doesn’t know Rocky Brook. I can see it in his eyes. His accent is local, but he wasn’t brought up around here. The familiar names of places no longer stick as they once did.

And no, so far I’ve been making all the same mistakes, so there are no “good” pictures in the can. I have a slow lens in a shady woodland, which means shutter speeds are dropping to 1/8th of a second, which even image stabilisation struggles with. So, it’s all motion blur, poor focus, and the usual mystery of how the eye filters out the messy confusion of a scene, which the camera subsequently reveals.

The Roddlesworth reservoirs are pretty much full, these being the first in the long chain of water-gathering that forms a semicircle around the Western Pennines. On the highest, there are rowing boats at rest, these being for use by the Horwich angling club, but which today form convenient perches for cormorants who are also fishing, and not known for returning their catch.

Fishing cormorant

And speaking of tales told by an idiot, I’m beginning to suspect the current fiction-in-progress is moribund, and I am in danger of losing touch with it. There are two types of writer. One roughs out a structure of the entire storyline, knows where he’s going before he starts, then sticks to that plan and writes to suit it. The other type, like me, doesn’t. We open with a scene, a feeling, and a handful of characters, then see how it goes. Sometimes it goes well. But sometimes you hit a hundred thousand words and things dry up, and you’ve no idea what you’re trying to say any more. Your characters get distracted by current events, so your story starts weaving about and losing momentum.

My story started off in a quiet woodland like this, with the discovery of a fallen beech tree and the age-old philosophical question: if a tree falls alone in the forest, does it make a sound? The way you answer that question puts you into one of two camps. Most people will answer yes, of course it makes a sound. How can it not? But if you think about it more deeply, you realise it doesn’t, and that’s a rabbit hole from which there is no escape.

There are several trees here in Roddlesworth that look to have come down in last winter’s storms, perhaps over-night, or otherwise, when no one was around to see them fall. And there are older trees that fell long ago, now with mushrooms growing out of them. None made a sound as they fell, which is to say we create the world of experience entirely through the senses, but that’s not how the world is in itself. How it is in itself, we don’t know. This is not woolly minded new-age thinking. You simply meditate upon the tree that falls alone, and you follow the question to wherever it leads.

My fictional protagonist is exploring the meaning of such a world-view, while trying to ignore the sound and fury of the world, and he’s trying to work out where true significance in life lies. But I think it’s led me on a bit too far, and it’s opened another door, one that requires a new story, and cannot merely be tacked on to the old. And I’m not sure I can be bothered finishing the old one, either, since it seems to have served its purpose. Or worse, I’m tempted to close it in a hurry, like: they all woke up, and it had been a dream, sort of thing. Best to let it settle, let the characters decide if they’re done or not. But it’s been all summer, and it looks like they are indeed done. I don’t know, if you write, is it best just to let a project go when it no longer resonates, even when you’re within a shout of the dénouement?

Anyway, it turns out cheap walking-trainers aren’t the best of things for walking in. After a couple of miles, you start to feel every pebble. Stand on a coin, and you can tell if it’s heads or tails. We slow the pace and linger for some shots by Rocky Brook, but here the dynamic range is more than we can capture, even bracketing the exposures. There’s a bright sparkle of sun from the little falls, and then deep shadow. The Nikon I’m using will bracket three shots automatically, but I need more, and for that I’d need to fiddle about with a tripod, and I can never be bothered carrying one. Higher up the brook we find a more shady dell and another little fall, one that that’s rarely visited, yet it’s one of the most attractive. Here the dynamic range is more within our means.

By Rocky Brook, Roddlesworth

We settle into the dell for soup. The falls too make no sound, when there is no one around to listen. Imagine that! All the beauty in the world, the sound, the scent, the vision, we do not experience it without the mind first creating it.

We pop out onto the road by the Slipper Lowe car-park. The car-park is empty, closed off, now. From here the moor rises, bright in the sun, pale as straw. We’re perhaps too early for the heather, but I had thought we’d be seeing some by now. We make a start on the climb, but the feet are burning through these thin soles, so we cut it short, contour round on another unfamiliar but beautiful path, towards New Barn, then back to the car at Ryal Fold. A splendid day, early autumn, five and a half miles round. Note to self: next time, don’t forget your boots!

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Rivington Hall

We’re in Rivington today, just parking along the Hall Avenue for the start of a walk up the Pike. The red brick of the old hall is illumined by a spot of sunlight pouring from an otherwise cloudy sky, and is looking very grand, framed by the dark of the trees. We’ll be walking a route I’ve not done for ages, up a ravine known locally as Tiger’s Clough. So far as I know there were never any tigers in it, save perhaps the sabre-toothed variety, in prehistoric times. The name actually refers to an illicit drinking den called The Tiger, tucked away, once upon a time, in its shady environs, all trace of which has now vanished. The early maps have it more properly as Shaw’s Clough. There’s a decent waterfall there, and there’s been a bit of rain, so we’ve a chance it will be running, and worth a photograph.

First though, we head down the avenue towards the glitter of more sunbeams on the Rivington reservoir. This takes us past the Great House Barn, which has been a café for as long as I can remember. It was an unfussy rendezvous for walkers, and motorcyclists, but something has happened. It’s gone posh, with table service and waiting persons in long aprons.

Great House Barn, Rivington

Friday lunchtimes would see me knocking off work, and heading over to the barn for a bite, then a walk, but post retirement, post covid, post a lot of things, I have yet to reacquaint myself with the menu. For today, lunch is in the rucksack, and the end-of-walk brew is waiting in the flask, back in the little blue car. Not all passers-by are tight-wads like me, though, and the barn seems to be doing a brisk trade.

The “Go Ape” Ape, Rivington

By contrast, I note the adjacent Go Ape place is lacking custom this morning. Some years ago they took over the woodland, bordering the reservoir, set up aerial walkways, and zip-wires among the trees, so hard-hatted and harnessed folk could whoop and scream their way from branch to branch. It’s not a place I tend to walk any more. Indeed, I don’t come down this way much at all now. It’s just that this is where we pick up the path to Liverpool Castle, our first objective on the circuit.

The castle was commissioned by Viscount Leverhulme in 1912, intended as a kind of romantic folly, on the shores of the reservoir and was modelled on the more ancient and long vanished Liverpool Castle at – well – Liverpool. It’s now a holding pen for litter, and a canvas for graffiti. Graffiti puzzles me. I’ve heard it explained as an expression of rebellion, but I only feel despair when I see it. I wonder if there is a link between graffiti, and tattoos, and if so what is the tattooed person rebelling against? But I know I’m over-thinking things, now. The castle still takes a good picture, and the worst of the urban artistry can be cloned out.

A replica of Liverpool Castle, Rivington

Now we’re heading down the tree lined avenue towards the car-park, near the high school. A former colleague of mine was once parked here, many years ago now, enjoying a packed lunch, when a half suited gentleman emerged from the small public convenience, and walked across to his vehicle. I say half-suited because he was carrying his trousers, neatly folded, over his arm, and was bare from the middle down, his modesty spared only by his shirt tails. My colleague, a lady of mature years, was upset, and telephoned the police, to be advised the car-park was a well known public sex area, so the cops generally turned a blind eye, though it was certainly news to us. I’ve no idea if this is still the case – things move on, I guess – but neither she nor I ever parked there again. It puzzles me how one is supposed to know these things, if one is not already in the know. It requires a certain level of street smartness, that is not second nature to us, the more naive denizens of rural England.

Climbing up the path by Knowle House, now, we turn towards Horwich, and find the narrow curling ribbon of Tarmac that leads up to Higher Knoll farm. A little way up here, a kissing gate lets onto a path that leads us down into the gloom of a wooded ravine. This is Tiger’s Clough, where the headwaters of the River Douglas first combine and gather pace, after trickling down from their various tributaries on the moor.

Down and down we go, following the sound of water, until we come unexpectedly across a tented encampment. It does not have the look of one of those trendy insta-wild camp things, but something altogether bigger and more permanent. I’ve encountered the homeless, living in tents in this area before, and suspect some poor soul on their beam ends. We give it a respectful swerve. Sadly, Britain is now, by and large, a poor country with, like all poor countries, some rich people making little difference to its future prospects – indeed quite the opposite.

Main falls, Tiger’s Clough, Horwich

We make our way upstream, the way impeded here and there by storm-fallen trees whose boughs force us into yogic contortions, and eventually, we come to the falls. I’ve seen photographs of them when the Douglas is in spate, and very impressive they are too, but today, there’s just a trickle going over, and we struggle for a photograph in the gloom. There is also a mess of litter: beercans, Monster Energy cans, plastic bottles, surgical gloves, and a pregnancy tester (negative), this latter placed quite deliberately upon the makeshift altar of a protruding brookside rock. I hesitate to join the dots.

We’re getting on for lunchtime now, and the tummy is rumbling, but there’s an unwholesome atmosphere, courtesy of all this detritus. Certainly, it is not the place to break out the soup-pot. So, we climb from the ravine, disappointed, and continue our way upwards and onwards, towards the bumpy track known as George’s Lane, and the main routes to the Pike.

Prospect Farm, Rivington

The way becomes cleaner as we climb. Fortunately, the kind who would besmirch the environment, paint it with expressions of rebellion/despair, are also lazy. Just before the path meets George’s Lane, we come across the levelled ruins of Prospect Farm, marked by the still upright remains of one massive buttress. The name is apt, it being a fine viewpoint, and we settle in the sun for lunch while galleons of clouds sail inland, spinnakers billowing. I’ve had many pairs of cheap binoculars over the years, but eventually splashed out on some decent ones, not too heavy in the pocket, and a marvel to settle down with in a viewpoint like this.

Lunch done, we pick up one of the more popular tracks for the ascent via the gentle flank of Brown Hill. The top of the Pike is busy: families, teens, joggers, dogs running amok, owners snapping them back to heel. Jester! Jack! Fritz! Get down! It’s early afternoon, midweek. I don’t know what people do for work any more. It’s like the whole world, young and old, has retired with me.

Rivington Pike

Speaking of work, I can see where I used to work, from the Pike, see too, the line of the M61 I used to commute along – a bleak, potholed roaring ribbon of a road it was, with no lane markings for the most part – all rubbed off – a nightmare in the dark and the wet. There’s still a shiver, when I think of those days. We turn our back to it, seeking instead the Isle of Man, which is sometimes clear from here. Not today, though. Views of the Isle of Man are rare enough to be disputed, but I swear I’ve seen it often enough.

We make our descent through the blessedly tidy terraced gardens, where volunteers are busy weeding. The Italian lake has been drained and cleaned, all of this I presume in readiness for the festival of light, in October. This is a ticket only event, and well attended, one of the highlights of the season. I note it’s sold out now. Maybe next year.

So, finally, we return to the little blue car, ready for a brew and a rest before the drive home. Alas, we note brightly coloured bags of dog doings dotting our near environs, and someone has draped a banana skin over a fencepost by the door. The little blue car is not amused. Consequently, the tea does not taste as nice as it should. We gulp it down, and do not linger. I’d thought it might be an interesting circuit, but somehow those Tigers got the better of me. Five and a quarter miles round, and the GPS assures me nearly seventeen hundred feet of ascent, which is a respectable effort. But there are certain times, and frames of mind, when Rivington looks very tired. And today was definitely one of them.

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