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Archive for the ‘photography’ Category

It beggars belief, but yesterday’s domestic news was dominated by our recently ousted PM’s unsubtly trailed and somewhat premature angling for a comeback. In her forty-day tenure – the shortest serving PM in history – she crashed the markets, wiped billions off investments, stunted the growth of defined benefit pensions for millions of workers, and ruined the UK’s reputation for sound financial governance. But, she writes, it was not her fault. She was badly advised. And worse, there are those within the now bitter dregs of her party who think she’s right. My heart sinks, says the leader of the opposition. Mine too, mate.

Then, political journalist, Andrew Marr, now released from the constraints of corporate news media, has been more frank and informative in his analysis of world events of late. Rumours of an early end to the war in Ukraine are premature, he says – though I must admit I had not heard any such rumours – and we should be prepared for it to go on for another five or ten years. This will cast a dark shadow over European – indeed world – affairs throughout the 20’s. But the UK is particularly exposed, it being now the worst performing of the western nations, including Russia, with stagnant growth and levels of entrenched inequality that are quite staggering. You are better off being poor virtually anywhere else in the world, than in the UK. We must expect energy and food prices to remain high, for a long time.

All of this paints a bleak picture, one that is in contrast to the positive vibes of the morning, with clear skies and the frost still lying across the meadows. We leave the car on Dole Lane at Abbey Village, and walk down to the Hare and Hounds, then strike out along the right of way whose signage does its best to say it is not a right of way, but access only to a private residence. But a right of way it is, and has been forever, so off we go.

Just a short walk today, more of a dog waking circuit for Abbey residents, and incomers like me, around the lower reservoirs, and the Roddlesworth plantations. We have no dog, but there is no shortage of yappy canine accompaniment, and our trousers are soon muddied by an over-friendly, jumpy creature, who gets a telling off by a scold-faced woman. I am ready to wave away her apology, but do not get one. Most people we meet are open and friendly, but we tend only to mark the ones who are not.

We’re planning a bigger walk in the Forest of Bowland for later in the week, when the weather is looking iffy, but today, being such a good day, it was a pity to waste it indoors, so here we are, but not wanting to wear our legs out for the upcoming epic. We have time to linger over familiar ways, to take photographs, and to ponder world affairs. As we move from winter’s dark into the first hints of post Imbolc light, and the snowdrops begin to show, there is the feeling of a weight lifted, of an optimism returning. The media, however, have other ideas and would sooner scotch all hope before it has the chance to bud.

I have the long lens today, not the obvious choice for woodland photography, but I’m looking for details in isolation with blurry backgrounds. The obvious targets are the lone juvenile copper birches, holding onto their leaves, and rising into shafts of sunlight against a backdrop of fuzzed out darker woodland. I’ve a feeling it’s a cliché, but I’m not selling photographs, so it doesn’t matter. There’s something in them that’s worth a moment of contemplation, anyway. The branches have poise, like a dancer, expressive of,… well,… something.

The big international news of course is this devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria. Over 5000 souls are known to be lost, so far. It’s an unimaginable and sudden tragedy that puts our European troubles into perspective. It’s also worth remembering, however, that a study by the University of Glasgow concludes we lost 335,000 souls, across the home nations, between 2012 and 2019, due to poverty alone, as caused by political austerity a fact the media seems curiously reticent about. But to dwell on these things, says our redoubtable chancellor, is to talk Britain down.

On the middle reservoir, the fly-fishermen have pulled their boats in for the winter, so the cormorants are perched instead on the mooring buoys. Patient birds, they share the character of vultures in their Victorian funeral feathers. We are also befriended by a robin which hops onto a post within arm’s reach, and eyes us cheekily. He bobs about there for ages, so enchanting we forget about the camera, and as soon as we do remember it and try to get focus, he’s gone.

Then we meet a bunch of guys we used to work with, the entire department actually, all retired, but still keeping in touch and meeting up for regular walks. It was a tonic to see them looking so hale and hearty. The chancellor scowls and tells us we are part of the problem, we, the early retired, and economically inactive, and should get back to work, along with the sick and disabled, fill in all those vacancies left by our European friends who went home post BREXIT. But the taxman still collects his dues from us, which is more than can be said for certain members of the cabinet. He will have a tough job coaxing us back into the office, should we even be wanted, which I am sure by now we are not.

We have in common our freedom from the constraints of those things we cannot alter, like the clocking machine for a start, and the daily deluge of bullshit emails. We have the freedom to focus on those things that are within our remit: to stay at home and write, do a bit of DIY, tidy the garden, come out for a walk, explore an unfamiliar part of the country, choose which lens to bring with the camera. These are small things for sure, but important all the same, if not as things in themselves, then as vehicles for exploring the deeper self. But even granted such freedom, we risk ignoring it, to go fretting instead over those things we cannot change, like what further madness the chancellor and his swivel eyed colleagues might be planning next. How about scrapping all environmental, food, employment and animal welfare standards? And making it illegal to go on strike.

I have begun a new story, about a man living alone on a remote Scottish island. He finds a humanoid robot of the type they are now developing, and hyping to a ridiculous extent, washed up on the beach. I take all the frankly improbable tech utopian projections, and bestow them in spades upon my fictional bot. It wakes up and proves itself both intelligent and an astonishingly capable companion, as well as gorgeously female in appearance. In what ways does it alter the man’s outlook on his own life?

Artificial Intelligence is a hot topic, but even as a romantic with an increasingly non-dualist perspective, I hesitate to make fun of it. It is a thing to be reckoned with and, if the impact of the Internet is anything to go by, it will render the near future unrecognisable, and in ways that are not predictable and not entirely benign either. Again, this is something we have no control over, but at least as a writer I can explore it, whilst being careful not to be too shrill in its condemnation, or as its advocate. We’re up to three chapters and the ideas are still coming, but we’ll say no more in case I jinx it.

Anyway, just two and a half miles today in frosty sunshine, then a pleasant drive back over the moors. At home, we clean and waterproof the boots for Bowland. I read on a blog recently of a method of spiritual and philosophical reflection, where we cast our minds back over the week, and ask what lessons we learned, something our former PM would do well to dwell upon. I’m not sure if I’ve heard this before – I think I might have – but it’s not something I do by habit, and it’s early in the week yet, so I hesitate to jump to conclusions.

We’ll see come Friday.

Thanks for listening

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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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A light fall of snow overnight clears to a frosty dawn. The forecast is too good to be skulking about indoors, so we muster our gear, then set out for Rivington, and the Hall Avenue.

Mid-week, mid-morning, and it’s busy with cars, kids and dogs. These are school age kids, and they are with working age parents. Again, I wonder to what they owe their premature attainment of escape velocity. There’s a sprinkling of snow here, and the ground feels mushy where the sun touches it, but it’ll most likely be frozen, higher up, so we pack the spikes – just in case – and off we go. Check: camera on aperture auto, shooting RAW, and set to bracket, polariser on the 18-140mm lens.

I’m a bit pie-eyed this morning, and feeling gormless. I used to be a night bird, but no longer seem able to burn the midnight oil without consequences. I’d stayed up watching a movie that had been recommended, called John Wick. Personally, I found it mindlessly violent, almost like a video game. There was one brutal set piece after the other, and then the embarrassing festishisation of ever more elaborately phallic firearms. And there was a veneer of glamour whose thrust had me wincing more than the oft-wielded knife blades. Okay, so it wasn’t my preferred genre.

I didn’t make it to the end, but fell asleep, frankly, bored. That said, John Wick’s brooding, funereal presence is still following me around this morning. I hope he’s wearing a decent pair of boots, or he’ll be grumbling later.

Unlike John’s violent and nihilistic universe, the world of Rivington is peaceful, and beautiful. We take a meandering approach to the terraced gardens – no particular route in mind, as seems usual with me these days, when on home territory. The snow cover thickens as we climb, and the low sun paints buttery highlights. There’s just enough whispy cloud to add interest to the sky without it tipping the atmosphere into something gloomy. John would prefer it gloomy, he says, while checking for the firearms secreted about his person. But this is England, and we don’t allow that sort of thing here. He’s puzzled by this. I mean, what if someone insults you?

On the great lawn, there are two summerhouses, now wonderfully restored and architecturally fascinating. I’ve just worked out one faces the morning sun, the other the evening. Mi’lord Leverhulme would have taken breakfast on fine summer mornings at one, and sipped his sundowners at the other. And me, sitting down on the steps of his morning summerhouse, basking in this buttery light, would have been seen off with dogs, and John, no doubt in Mi’lord’s employ. A century later, I have my revenge, and sit with impunity, for Time is the great leveller.

I never tire of the gardens. They’re certainly a royal way to approach the Pike, and the moors beyond. A vague plan is beginning to form. We’ll do the Pike, then chance the moor, across to Noon Hill.

The café that has recently popped up in the ruins of the old public lavatories, below the Pike, is open, and John is gasping for a coffee. It has recently installed a diesel generator, and we are treated to its noxious exhaust as we approach from downwind. I am not tempted, but John grabs a quick one, then crushes, and discards his cup in the bushes. I fish it out and put it in my bag, decide against giving him a lecture on it. He seems at times on the verge of becoming a reformed character, but a moment’s thoughtlessness, and he reverts to type.

There’s quite the procession going up the Pike, they’re also struggling, avoiding the steps, which are thick with ice. So we put the spikes on and make a traverse, spiralling round to get at the top from behind. It’s cold and blowy, people taking selfies. They’re looking at John like they know him from somewhere. Again, there are many here I would have thought of an age to be either in college or working. I wonder if they are on strike today.

The various strike actions are deepening across the country now, and the usual yapping dog presses seem to be failing in their attempts to demonise the Union officials. The government is also looking crass and incompetent, in its refusal to negotiate. The political Zeitgeist is swinging to the centre and would swing further, but the left no longer has meaningful representation. The powerful have not grasped these are not the nineteen seventies. The discontent is different, born of an inequality our parents never knew, one that has been a decade in the manufacture, at the hands of those who, by contrast, have profited handsomely by it. John confides in me, he’s been approached by several kingpins with a view to taking out ringleaders of discontent. He’s told them he’s retired and doesn’t do that sort of thing any more.

Anyway, in the summer months the route across the moor from the Pike to Noon Hill can be difficult to trace, and intermittently boggy. But today it’s plainly picked out by a dusting of snow, a thin white line squiggled over an undulating expanse of pale straw, and the ground is hard. The trick is knowing where the snow is covering bog, and how thick the underlying ice is. Will it take your weight, or will you burst through over your boots? As we get going, we look back and take a few shots of the pike in retrospect. There’s a lone man making his way up, and with a tight crop, the scene is dramatic.

Noon Hill is an unimpressive summit from this angle, just a small spur off the Winter Hill ridge. It’s more interesting when viewed from the west, where it forms a meridian with Great Hill, and I’ve often wondered if there’s any significance in the fact that, whatever the time of year, when viewed from Anglezarke, the sun will always be directly above Noon Hill, at noon. What do you think, John? John shrugs, couldn’t care less, checks instead for the knife in his sock. I’d told him to lose that, because it’s a one way ticket to chokey, if he’s caught. He looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. What kind of dumb-ass country is this where a man can’t carry a knife or a gun? Clearly, we’ve a way to go before we can restore his faith in humanity.

Noon Hill is the site of a Bronze Age saucer burial. It was first excavated in 1958 by John Winstanley who was then curator of the Hall in th’Wood Museum. It was an eventful dig, and his diary makes for interesting reading. Further information can be had at the excellent Lancashire Past website, here. There are also some fascinating period photographs of the dig here.

The ground becomes more treacherous the nearer we get to the top, and the light turns bleak as thicker clouds begin to gather from the south. The view looking back to the Pike takes on the appearance of a revelation now, as the sun fans down though whatever heavenly apertures it can find. But it is the view northwards that is the most stunning, across Anglezarke moor. Then there’s the land falling away to the plain, and finally the glittering line of the sea, to the west. And to the east, we have the stacked ranks of increasingly snowy hills, marching out towards Rossendale.

But there’s little time to settle and enjoy it, greeted as we are by a face numbing wind, so it’s a quick shot of the snowy cairn with Winter Hill in the background, then turn tail and make our way down. The time for Noon Hill is a clear summer’s day, with a pair of binoculars.

We take the short route down to the old turnpike, then the unofficial path that drops us steeply to the bend on Sheephouse lane, and finally, a very boggy return to Rivington. It’s a walk that always feels longer than it is – just over four miles, and seven hundred and fifty feet of ascent, but a pleasantly varied route, and far enough given what looks like a bit of weather moving in.

Time for a brew, now. John’s smiling a bit. You know what? I think we’ve mellowed him out. He says he’s sorry about that coffee cup, earlier on. I just hope no one picks a fight with him in the tearoom, or we’re all in trouble.

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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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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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From Peewit Hall, Anglezarke Moor

Exploring meaning, purpose, and our freedom to choose.

After a couple of cold, squally days, the weather clears, and we venture outdoors. There is no plan so, as is usual under such circumstances, the car delivers us seemingly of its own accord to Anglezarke’s Yarrow Reservoir, where we find ourselves parking along the Parson’s Bullough road. The trees here are showing their first signs of turning, and the waters of the Yarrow are a cobalt blue, sunbeams sparkling between crisping foliage. There is speculation this year’s drought will gift us, by way of apology and compensation, some spectacular autumn colours. I’m looking forward to it.

It’s been an eventful week. My nest-egg investments dropped five percent overnight. Meanwhile, company pension schemes find themselves a heartbeat from implosion, as the long term bond market collapses. All this following last Fridays’ inoffensively titled “Fiscal Event”. It’s had me considering what kind of employment I would be fit for now, after enjoying barely two years of retirement. Will I have to go grovelling back, after quitting the day job in such a fit of giddy joy?

By the Yarrow on the Parson’s Bullough Road

Paul Donovan, chief economist of UBS Global Wealth Management, likens present UK governance as resembling a Doomsday Cult. I find it hard to disagree. The PM and Chancellor meanwhile hold to the line that it’s all part of a cunning plan, one no one else has thought to try. We can only hope they are right.

Anyway, I’m glad I took the plunge and finally bought those new walking boots I’ve been banging on about, and a fresh walking jacket as well – just for the hell of it – as I might not have felt like it later on when I was browsing the job adverts. Today, though, we leave the new boots behind, having decided to walk our old ones to destruction. But we pack the jacket, because it’s half the weight of my other, and weight is everything to the walker approaching his autumn years.

We have a mostly clear sky, but with some isolated, dramatic clouds, and a bank of something more solidly changeable, coming up from the south. The latter needs keeping an eye on, but we should be fine for a couple of hours.

We take the path, still in warm sunshine, towards Jepsons, and across Twitch Hills Clough. The levelled ruin of Peewit Hall is always the first stop. The view from here is too good to rush, not only the whole of west Lancashire laid out from hill to sea, but the broader arc from Wales to Cumbria. After feasting on it through binoculars, we plod on, still with no objective in mind, meeting a few other walkers, mostly old timers, who all seem buoyed by the day, and cheerful in their greetings. Such pleasantness is infectious. The legs carry us up Lead Mine’s Clough, past the falls, and the site of James Yates’ Well. We seem to be heading for the moor, then, more specifically the Round Loaf, a remote Bronze Age burial mound.

The Round Loaf, Anglezarke Moor

The moor is heavy underfoot, splashing wet, and bog-shaky in the usual places. The heather is in abundance, but of a washed-out mauve, like last year’s colours left too long in the rain. I’d thought it was done for after the drought, but there are isolated patches showing the more vivid purple, so perhaps another few weeks will see the moors carpeted in glory as usual. We’ll be back to check. Expect a moorland scene with heather, all in unashamedly overcooked HDR, enough to make your eyes ache!

Sometimes there’s a cairn on the Round Loaf, sometimes not, and if there is, it varies in size from one visit to the next. The biggest I ever saw it, it was topped off by a sheep’s skull, and a sobering reminder that some neo-pagans embrace the diabolical. No skull today, though, but there are the usual dizzying views of moor and plain, and a choice of paths radiating at all points of the compass: Black Brook, Great Hill, Black Hill, Devil’s Ditch, Lead Mine’s Clough, Hurst Hill; take your pick,….

We choose Hurst Hill on a whim, just 1038 ft, but high enough to be several degrees cooler than when we started out. It’s a cold day up here, then, all the more noticeable after such a perpetually hot summer. Then the banked cloud swallows the sun, and the nature of the day changes. It’s another splashy path, but the boots are holding out, and the socks are still miraculously dry. There’s a more substantial cairn on top of Hurst Hill, and a persistently chill wind. A zippered fleece is of a sudden insufficient, so we delve in the bag for the new jacket. It cuts the wind in its tracks, allows us to settle, oblivious to the elements, and enjoy our soup.

On Hurst Hill

Serious though they are, I’m sure I’m over-thinking Albion’s woes when I imagine even my pension cheques drying up, and investments tanking, like they did in 1929. Still, an interest rate hike would see both my kids at risk of losing their newly acquired footing on the housing market, just so millionaires can pay less tax, and that would vex me enormously. But for the sake of argument, how does a man face his future when the future he imagined no longer exists?

It’s no coincidence I’m reading Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s search for meaning” at the moment. His thesis is that a sense of meaning and purpose is essential to our well-being. This runs counter to prevailing existentialist, post-modern teachings which tell us there is no meaning, that we suffer, and we do so pointlessly. But once we subscribe to such a view we lose sight of the future, relinquish all sense of meaning, become dehumanised, suffer all the more and without respite. This is the malaise of the western world, and it’s killing us.

Frankl’s views were formed during his time in the Nazi concentration camps. In such hellish places, a man was stripped of everything, until all he had left to lose was his fragile hold on life. Frankl’s observations of his fellow captives, condemned to being literally worked to death, led him to conclude those who retained a sense of personal meaning, in spite of everything, tended to survive longer, even though they might have appeared physically less able than their friends.

Meaning may well be denied both its existence and its validity in the life of a modern man, but the experience of such extremes of suffering teaches us it remains essential for well-being, even survival. It has often struck me how many of my former colleagues were so deeply invested in the working life, they cultivated no hobbies, no interests beyond the office, then fared poorly in retirement. No longer the “big man” but just another grey old fart, pushing a trolley around Tescos, they longed to be taken back.

Do we define ourselves, our purpose, by our means of earning a living? By the badge we wear? It’s possible, even productive to do so, for a time, but there also comes a time when there has to be a transition to something new. Purpose and meaning must evolve as our circumstances change. This is easier for creative types, for they shall always have their art, unless they become too invested in the idea of making a success of it, in which case, they’re sunk.

The problem facing many of us in these strange times, times in which a permanent sense of crisis seems to hold sway, is the inability to live for the future, or even to aim at a specific goal, since the future is rendered opaque. Frankl called this living a provisional existence, a loss of faith in one’s future. To live well, one must live with some sense of purpose, be it big or small, and to transition as needs must from one to the next like stepping stones to lead us on through life. But the sense of purpose, of meaning is not a thing bestowed upon us, more it is a thing we are invited to cultivate internally, in order to animate and enliven our world.

Manor House Farm, Anglezarke

For now my purpose is to find my way off this hill, follow the line of the old lead mines, touch base with a few familiar points along the way, and then, over the coming evenings, weave the whole of it, the financial crisis, Victor Frankl’s book, and this walk over Anglezarke moor, into a coherent narrative – hopefully without the stretch marks showing too much. The way leads us past the Manor House farm, where chestnuts litter the wayside. We pick one up, savour the smooth oiled sheen of it, and pocket it for good luck. Always something magical, I think, about freshly fallen chestnuts.

By Jepsons Farm, Anglezarke

One of my familiar waypoints is the stone that overlooks Jepson’s farm. I have this idea that many megalithic features were hidden in the construction of the dry stone walls, some of these latter dating from medieval times. The walls are tumbling now, and the calling cards from an earlier age are revealing themselves. Sometimes, if you have a sharp eye, you can spot them, still buried in the walls. They bear the marks of millennia of weathering, rather than mere centuries. I may be wrong in this, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t intend making a theory of it in order to convince others. It’s the interest alone, the observation, the connection, the speculation that, in this moment, is purpose in itself.

A stone in the wall, near Jepson’s Farm, Anglezarke

Another thing Frankl wrote that deeply impressed me was to the effect that a man could be deprived of every freedom, and every thing in his life, including his loved ones, and even his name. Yet he would still retain the choice of what attitude to bring to the shouldering of his burden. I hesitate to paraphrase such a powerful idea, born as it was in such a terrible darkness of suffering, but it reminds us we are all free to choose at least our inner path, no matter the nature of the constraints imposed upon us by the external world.

It’s late afternoon when we come back to the Yarrow, and the car. We’re still hours before sunset, but already seem to be losing the light. By the time we make it home, it’s raining.

Thanks for listening

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