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Archive for the ‘poetical sketches’ Category

On Spitler’s Edge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fare thee well, pilgrim, and thanks for listening.

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I made a little lantern,
From an old glass bowl I found,
In a charity shop,
For a couple of pounds,
And rice lights, two hundred or more,
Solar ones. A tenner,
From the bargain home store.

Builder’s silicone,
Keeps out the wet,
All wiped neat and clean,
Before it could set.
Then I found some old copper wire,
Which I bent to a hanger
With a stout pair of pliers.

By day, it sits out,
And feeds from the sun.
But at night it comes in
As the darkness comes on.

It’ll take a long time
To catch up the cost,
But it’s pretty,
And persuades me
That all is not lost.

That so long as our minds,
Continue to spark,
There’ll always be something
To light up the dark.

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What now shall we do,
With the red, white and the blue?
Our jolly jack, half-mast, and shredded,
Timbers liberally embedded
With grapeshot, of raking volley,
Scrap metal of corruption,
Sleaze and folly.

So many left to die, felled by cutlass
Of entitled spin and lie.
Holed below the water,
Pride of fleet adrift,
Towed out to slaughter,
No steam, no course, no captain.
No steerage in the storm,
And not a single friendly port
To call our own.

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Dial you down that thermostat,
Pull you out that plug.
Keep you now the cold at bay,
Beneath a crocheted rug.

Turn you off your games machine,
Ration out your brews.
The energy’s shot up, you see?
They said so on the news.

Bread and butter for your dinner,
Hard cheese for your tea,
Seal the doors, plug the draughts,
Or we’re all going to freeze.

I don’t know how it’s come to this,
We really tried our best.
There’s only one thing left to do,
And that’s to wear a vest.

But when by night the darkness falls,
With your single bulb to see,
Remember what a pleasure,
It is to sit and read.

When the world is looking shallow,
And the future’s looking thin,
For depth and riches, turn you round,
And cast the gaze within.

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As I’ve grown old and hard,
She has softened sweet,
regressed to sleight of youth,
and dances now,
thin-veiled, in the forest of this,
the moon’s first crescent whim.
And she teases with her fluid hips.

I did know her, once,
when we both were of an age.
But she has grown so young,
of late, and wise,
and I can no longer enter in
that forest’s ferny shade.
For I am grown too slow,
to bide, and dance such fevered reels.
I must, alone then, brave
this slower time of turning, and
the wilderness within.

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The payers, grown lean of late,
Fall to the myriad blades,
Of this, their unfortunate fate.
They perish in great number,
Rule takers, not breakers,
While the players, and rule makers,
Wrapped in capital colours,
Prance, booze faced, and hearty.
They make large and party.

Meanwhile, in the hollow land,
A bare tree claws the last warm rags
From a sinking sun.
A kestrel shoulders air,
But – nothing worth the dive –
Moves on.

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Photo by Tim Grundtner on Pexels.com

Unplugging all connections,
Unfastening all the snares,
Might we not embrace this cleaner air,
And fall?
See how tight we cling
To things
Of no consequence,
Our fingers jammed in every crack,
Our arms, oh so tired now,
And aching,
Legs, fearful, shaking.
Let it go, let it all go,
And backwards fall, and trust.
No dash of rocks, no rush
Of earth to black.
There is only this endless void, and true,
In which we might begin,
To embrace the world anew,
Then open up our Eye,
And let the clearer light, of day,
Come flooding in.

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Hot day at the beach.
Blue sky and a hard sun,
softens now to haze of golden evening.
Skimpy girls twirl
in summer shimmerings,
and kiss-me colours,
while tanned boys
with sharp beards
point their chins in strutting play.
A medley of tongues,
and skins drift,
arm in arm, dreaming,
towards the pier’s westward end.
How beautiful we still are,
When our hearts transcend
the fear.

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The new Dinkley Bridge, Hurst Green, Lancashire

July swells to a deeper green.
Riot of wildflower,
pointillistic specks
of yellow and blue,
in meadows left unmown.
Lazy smudge of ancient trod
under the steam heat of a
sunless afternoon,
while balsam and nettle,
and long, drooping grasses,
cross their sleepy arms
over seldom walked ways.

A short run out today, Hurst Green, Ribble Valley, a walk down to the new Dinkley foot-bridge on the river and a visit to Marles Wood. This is not a seldom walked way, indeed this attractive stretch of the Ribble is understandably very popular, but for some reason those lines came to me while I was walking it, as if I was the last man on earth.

I park the car at the village hall in Hurst Green – suggested fee £2.00, but I’m 20p short. It’s an honesty box and no one’s counting, so I don’t suppose they’ll know, or mind. It’s a stubbornly overcast day, with a steamy heat that saps the energy from one’s bones. I’m not really in the mood for walking far – just looking for a change of scene, and a run out to somewhere pretty. There’s a good circuit you can do on foot, down the river to Ribchester from here, then back up the Ribble Way, on the other bank, but something about the day has me spurning all ambition.

I find the bridge and cross it, then sit on the riverbank for lunch, while watching herons wading in the shallows, fishing for theirs. Big camera today, but not much to point it at yet, other than the herons. I never saw the original Dinkley bridge, a suspension type, built in 1951. It lasted until the floods in 2015, when it was finally damaged beyond repair. Work on a replacement was completed in 2019. This is a wider structure, firm under foot. The original had a reputation for being a bit wobbly.

The Ribble is a fine river, but very little of it is accessible to the public. I have traced my finger along it on the map from source to sea, always disappointed by how seldom the green pecked ways are able to hug its banks. Indeed, I read only 2% of England’s rivers are accessible to the curious pedestrian. This is irrespective of the so-called right to roam negotiated as part of the countryside and rights of way act. That adds up to over 40,000 miles of river we politely defer for private use. Yet rivers are such relaxing places to walk by, I wonder people are not more angry about being excluded from them.

Anyway, lunch done, we follow the path downstream. It dips in and out of company with the river. Photographic opportunities are few, not helped by the flat light. Just before we enter the gloom of Marles Wood, I chance upon a likely spot, only to find the view is occupied, and I should say significantly improved upon, by a couple of young ladies enjoying a spot of wild swimming. I defer the shot, not wishing to intrude upon their privacy.

After a mile or so, the path parts company with the river, and leads up to the Marles Wood car park. From here the way suggests a narrow stretch of road, by Salesbury Hall, along which the traffic seems to be moving too fast. Alternatively, the OS shows a network of paths that would provide a safer and more pleasant passage to Ribchester, but by now the sweat is dripping from my hat, so I decide to leave that adventure for another day. We turn around and retrace our steps, take in the views we’ve thus far had our back to.

Near Salesbury Hall, the river takes a sudden 90 degree bend, westwards. There is a fine view of it by a clutch of tree shaded rocks. I rest a while, reeling off shots, none of which do justice to the beauty of it. Here, in the mud, I spy a shiny 20p coin. It bodes good fortune.

We’ll take it back, for the car park.

River Ribble, from the Dinkley Bridge

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I want to write poetry,
just like in olden times
with a notebook, and a fountain pen,
and a book of common rhymes.

I want to watch the sunset,
across this folded dale,
with a lantern at my elbow,
as the light begins to fail,
and the sash taps out in whispers,
the ciphers of the muse,
dot-dot dash, dot-dot dash,
at the rising of the moon.

And if I pay attention,
yet resist that grasping urge
the pen might yet decipher
an authentic string of words,
a pattern in the ink strokes
on this smooth vanilla page,
a thing we can hold onto
at the fading of the age,
a string of understanding,
timeless and complete,
indelible and indifferent,
to control, and alt-delete.

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