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Lochan na Eala

After so long hankering for broader travels, these pandemic years, and for the Romantic, I have decided to bring my travels to romantic lands closer to home. Today, then, we venture from my doorstep, to the small lake that is once more appearing on the Lancashire plain, and which I have today named Lochan na Eala. It means Lake of the Swans. I admit it’s an unlikely name to find on the maps of west of Lancashire, but then this place is not to be found on any maps at all.

In summer, it dries to a puddle, so cannot be said to exist, and therefore does not require a name. But over the course of winter it swells to such a proportion it looks embarrassed without one, so I have named it, because the migrating swans have found it, and they seem to like it, and “Swan Lake”, though more prosaic, and “English” and obvious, lacks the romance of a thing that is not always there. One needs the Celtic, bardic tongue, when it comes to dealing with the more subtle levels of reality.

The farmer has tried to drain it by digging a ditch, but the cause is more elemental, this being a general rise in the water table, and what looks like the slow return of the area to wetland. As I understand it, it’s part of the Environment Agency’s planned flood management programme for my locale, this inundation of natural flood planes. I was there some weeks ago, and had noted its return. In the near future, I suppose, it will become permanent, and named officially but, until then, Lochan na Eala it is, or at least it is for me.

So far, the day has not gone well, and we are in need of a change of scene. My good lady’s pipe has been put out by early morning leaks to the media we are to lead the world in rendering Covid endemic in the population. Free lateral flow tests are to end, and no further booster programs are under consideration. The reports are now disowned, but there is a rule of thumb which states one should never believe a rumour until it has been officially denied.

True or not, my good lady has eased her despair with an overly aggressive cleaning of the oven. This has caused the glass to pop out of the door, so we are currently without an oven. The glass was only glued in, and I think I might be able to repair it with a suitable adhesive, so have ordered special oven-door-glue from the aptly named oven-door-glue company. We now await the good graces of the postman, and the goddess of good fortune.

We’ve had a murky few days, and they’ve kept me indoors. I’ve passed the time reading Gary Lachman’s “Secret History of Consciousness”, which is a look at the nature of consciousness, and the ways in which we have come to approach it, over time. It’s rather a tour-de force, building a persuasive argument from the erudite blocks of the more obscure literature, both psychological and, for want of a better word, the theosophical. It’s making sense of other works I have read, but which proved rather heavy going at the time.

One of the remarkable things he describes is the theory of how we represent reality, that what we see is not what is truly there, that our concepts effectively boot up from different levels of the unconscious mind, whose origins lie in deeper, older parts of the brain. We have only to back-track a little in order to see the world in a radically different way. I remember coming round from being gassed by the dentist, as a child, and the way my return to waking reality was presaged by something I can only describe as abstract. At the time, it was explained away as an effect of the gas, nothing more, but I have always wondered about it.

None of this helped, of course, when I was considering the ugly fact of a broken oven door. Indeed, for a time, I was at a loss. The literature may have explained my dilemma in philosophical or neurological language, in addition to my own more prosaic terminology, but it could not help find a supplier for high-temperature adhesive that stood a cat in hell’s chance of working. Like everything else, that was down to Dr Google. The lesson here is that such explorations of the inner universe are all well and good, but whatever our reality is, it makes a good show of presenting a hard and uncompromising face, that if we have a purpose at all, part of it must be to manage the problems it presents us with first, before taking off on flights of fancy – alluring though those fancies may be.

Anyway, it’s rather a cold day, grey this morning, but forecast to break into sunny spells, later on – much later by the looks of it. Indeed, it’s only a few hours before dusk, now, and I’m half-hearted, setting out, having procrastinated most of the day away. But you never know, we may just catch a nice sunset at the last minute.

I am often dismayed by the two-dimensional emptiness of the Lancashire plain, which, these days, I call home. There are just a few trees that excite the senses by their near alien three-dimensional presence, but which would not be noticed anywhere else. The rest of it is reedy ditches and hawthorn hedgerows, and vast fields of black earth. The appearance of a lake is something of a revelation then.

Lachman speaks of an evolution of consciousness, that there is evidence our forbears saw the world in a radically different way, being barely self-conscious at all, but more intimately connected, as a collective, with their reality, which is internally, mind generated. Our evolution into fully self-aware beings came at the cost of a sense of separation, of alienation from the world, one he argues we have compensated for by mostly violent means. These are speculative ideas, but not implausible. The next phase is a level of consciousness that reconnects with that earlier phase, so we remain self-conscious, calculating beings, but also once more fully connected with the reality we represent. At this point we will be able to see, or rather experience, various levels, and various modes of being. This stage is a long way off, and we may of course extinct ourselves before we get there. If we do, by the same reasoning, the world itself too, as we know it, will also cease to exist, so the burden of responsibility is heavy.

The Romantics were on the right path, using the imagination to explore their inner worlds, and the qualitative nature of experience. But many went mad, since reality itself refused to bend to their will; it remained ugly and inconvenient. It was their oven-door moment, and Dr Google had not been invented to provide a source of glue. All of this might be idle speculation, and of only passing interest, but others have wondered and felt strange things, intimations of other levels of reality, as have I.

One of the writers Lachman quotes is the Russian philosopher, P D Ouspensky, who describes an experience he had in 1908, while on a ship, crossing the Sea of Marmora, and how, for a moment, he became everything he was looking at. So profound an experience this was, he spent the rest of his life trying to explain it. It’s the clearest account of a similar experience I had in the Newlands Valley, twenty years, ago, but could not articulate so well as he. Such a thing becomes your life’s work, whether you’re up to it or not. He was. I’m not, so why that doorway opened a crack for me, I’ll never know, since there is, I fear, so little I can do with it, except wonder.

Anyway, here we are, the lovely Lochan na Eala. Just a short stretch of the legs. And what’s this? The sun makes an unexpected, last minute appearance as the sky opens. Nice that. It seems there may once have been a time, like Ouspensky, when I remembered I was it – I mean all of this. And if that’s true, then, whatever we choose to call it, so are you.

Thanks for listening.

Play me out:

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My last pair of Scarpa walking boots lasted fifteen years. They were never quite broken in, but they never leaked either. They just grew more deeply scarred, and might have lasted longer, but I lost faith in them. I was worried they’d fall apart and leave me stranded up a mountain in my stocking feet. My current pair, comfortable as carpet slippers from day one, have lasted two years. Now they’re opening up, and letting the water in.

All right, it’s a very, very wet day. Indeed, the moor is as wet as a moor can be. The earth liquifies underfoot as we step on it and we’re frequently over the tops of our laces. The sphagnum is drinking the wet down in greedy gallons, and glowing green for the effort. My jacket, too, is letting the water through, at least on one side where a stiff wind is encouraging it. The weather paints me half dark, half light. I am the yin and the yang of things. This could be my cue to start grumbling about the flimsification of the modern day, but that’s not where we’re going. It’s a wild, bracing day. The year is fresh, and it’s too soon for cynicism.

I’m on Withnell moor again, up from Brinscall. I’ve come through the woods, crossed the top of the Hatch Brook Falls, and climbed Well Lane. Now we’re on the moor, approaching the gaunt ruins of Ratten Clough. Its outline is black against the steady drift of rain. Abandoned in the 1960’s, this is the most substantial ruin of the lost farms. The barn’s gables are intact, the rafters hanging on, a watery silhouette, all against the dynamic grey of the swooping sky. I wonder if, in years to come, it’ll be taken for a millionaires des-res. They have a penchant for buying up romantically charged places like this, and throwing a fortune at them to make of them something twee. But he’ll need a taste for the lonely. There’s bleak, then there’s Withnell Moor, and then there’s Withnell moor on days like these.

Given the forecast, I thought it was a waste of time bringing the big camera. I didn’t want to get it wet. Instead, I’ve packed an old, small-sensor compact. It slips easily into the pocket, and I don’t mind it getting drowned. But you can’t expect to shoot in such murk as this without red noise on a small sensor. There’ll probably be no pictures today, then, except the ones I carry in my head.

The gate to Ratten Clough is tied in several places, and intricately knotted. It’s a public way, but we require a deviation to pick it up. I imagine our millionaire will make it a priority to divert the path. Ah,… another perennial thread of mine creeping in: money buying out our freedoms, sticking up no trespass signs. But we’re not going there, either, today. These are tired old themes, and my laments will do little to change them. So much for the power of attraction, then. I seem only to attract to my attention what I most dislike. Time to let them go. Find fresh pastures, with an emphasis on a more positive kind of magic.

Where are we, now? We’re following the line of a tumbled drystone wall into a blank of mist. With a global positioning system, you’re never lost, are you? But things are hotting up between Russia and the West, and between China and US. It’s not escaped my imagination the first thing the militaries will do, in times of conflict, is encrypt the satellites. And then what? How will we find our way with a road-map, and A to Z again? How will I know how far along this wall to walk, before turning down to the ruins of Botany Bay?

The spindly beech answers. I first met it in the spring, spent a while making friends. It materialises from the grey, now. “Here you are,” it says. “Nice to see you again.” The track’s here. So we make our way down to the ruin, touch the megalith for luck, then turn left, to Rake Brook, by the ruins of Popes.

It’s hard to imagine anyone living here, just a tumble of shapeless blocks, and the brook washing by. It’s in spate today, no evidence of there ever having been a bridge, just these few precarious steppy stones at the vagaries of flood. What can we say about that? Transience? Buddhist themes of impermanence, perhaps?

Apple pies were baked in this bleak hollow, with the wind howling through the chimney pots. Wholesome stews awaited the farmer and his boys, on winter days like these. All gone, now, just names in the census records, and a lonely pile of stones. People make all the difference. Without them to bear witness, the world might as well not exist. Indeed, it might already not exist. Strange thoughts today, Michael.

Mind how we go across the brook. Yes, the boots are definitely leaking, something cold encircling the foot, now. I was going to buy myself a new computer monitor, but it looks like it’ll be a pair of boots instead. I’d been looking forward to getting a new monitor, one of those 4K ultra-high definition things, for the photography. How do we prioritise? Sometimes the fates do it for us.

Watsons farm, now, and a strong waft of cattle as we come through the gate. The cows are all cosy in the barn, steam rising from their noses, as they chew. It’s one of the few farms still working the moor. I borrowed it for my work in progress, fictionalised it, changed universes, moved it down the road a bit. I had the farmer renting rooms, and my protagonist moving into one. Here, I court themes of sanctuary, and shoulders to the weather. Then there are stunning summers on the moors, the call of curlew and the rapture of larks.

Speaking of the novel, it’s descending into chaos, and tom-foolery. We’ve reached that point where it asks me if I want to bail out around 80K words, or wander on for another year, make it an epic. I think we’ll call its bluff and go for the epic. Amid this fall of the world, this crisis of meaning, and the impending climate disaster, it’s led me of a sudden to Helena Petrovna Blavatski, to the Theosophists, and all those curious fin de siècle secret societies.

I’ve had a brush with the redoubtable Madame B before, found her intellectually seductive, but also frightening. I bailed out at that first pass, but it looks like there’s something more she has to tell me, and this time I’m ready to listen. Memo to self: order Gary Lachman’s book, and while we’re at it, the one about Trump, and the political right’s courtship of the occult. It all sounds absurd, but let’s just go with it.

Across the Belmont road now, and the path into the woods becomes a bog. The Roddlesworth river is a lively torrent. We’re four miles out, and the woods are busy with muddy bikes, wet families, and happy, yappy dogs. We swing for home via the ruins of Pimms, on the moor, then Great Hill. The rain is blowing itself out at last. There are hints of sunshine, now, but the going is steep. Great Hill has grown since I last climbed it, swollen with rains to Tyrolean proportions. The ground looks like it’s been overspilling for weeks, and squirting water under every step.

At the summit shelter, I’m able to bag the last space among a gathering of several walking groups, all huddled for lunch. Cue mutterings of overcrowding on the fells, paths churned to slime and all that,… but we’re not going there today either. In my new universe, all are welcome. A jolly dame appears from nowhere, offers mince pies, and a nip of rum for my coffee.

The sun breaks through. There’s a low, gorgeous light of a sudden, under-lit clouds, curtains of rain in the distance. Old Lady Pendle appears, a crouching lion beyond Darwen moor. I try some shots with the little camera, but they come out poorly, red dot noisy. Sometimes, the best pictures are the ones you carry in your head, and they get better with age.

A good day on the moors, then, and never mind the wet feet. There’s a pair of dry socks in the car. Fancy a hot chocolate? We’ll drive over to the Hare and Hounds at Abbey, shall we? See what they can rustle up for us. The year turns.

All is well. Bring it on.

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The second and concluding part – to open the trunk or not?

Kathleen recoils from the idea, then becomes evasive. “I wouldn’t know where to find the key. I think Grandma might even have thrown it away,…”

“My tools are in the van. I could have the lock off in no time,…”

“No, thank you. I’ll think on it for a while, but I’m not sure if it’s what she would have wanted.”

I leave her cleaning the dust from the trunk, revealing inch by inch its original lustre. I’m regretting even more now that we touched it, for in doing so, I fear we have disturbed a very melancholy spirit indeed.

It’s a long job, putting things back in order. I’m weeks at Kathleen’s house, and every lunchtime she calls me down for a bite to eat. We sit in the kitchen with the trunk gleaming darkly upon the dresser, but Kathleen will not speak of it, nor even look at it in my presence. Once though, as I’m searching for some tools, I catch her bent over it, the lock in her hand, as if she’s fighting the urge to open it. And as the time passes, I noticed how she seems yet more dispirited, her grandmother’s old sorrows returning to fill again every corner of the house.

When the job’s finished, I come down from the attic to find her sitting, staring at the trunk. By now I hate the thing. I hate it’s squat, ugly shape, but most of all I hate the effect it’s having on Kathleen.

“Have you thought what you want to do with it?” I ask. “I could get rid of it for you, if you like. I’ll take it to the tip. Or we can just set fire to it in the garden and be done with it.”

“No,” she says. “We should put it back. Let it rest up there, out of sight.”

Surely not, I’m thinking. I can just imagine its grim presence lurking above her head, never more than a stray thought away.

But Kathleen insists. “If you’d just help me with it,…”

So that’s how we come to be hauling the thing back up the ladder. I remember pausing to steady myself, and resting the trunk precariously on one rung while I alter my balance. Then I lose my grip and, as the pair of us struggle to keep upright, the trunk goes crashing into the hall below.

The lock must have been hanging by a thread because the lid bursts open, and the contents, an unexpected riot of colour, spill across the carpet. I stare in wonder. There are fine dresses, letters, photographs, a handful of magazines, and the prettiest pair of silver dance-shoes. Kathleen gives a howl and is down in an instant, trying to gather the stuff together, desperate to put it back.

“Whatever would she be thinking?”

But gradually her curiosity gets the better of her, and she begins to study the things more closely, gazing at the photographs, even slipping open some of the letters,…

An hour later, we’re still at it, picking our way through a bewildering collection of poignant mementoes. Then, suddenly, there’s a change in Kathleen, a dazed confusion wrinkling her brow, as she studies the contents of an envelope that was sealed long before either of us were born.

“What’s the matter?”

She says nothing but slowly wand with a trembling hand passes me a slip of paper. As I read, I realise it’s confirmation of her grandmother’s passage to America, departing Queenstown, April 1912,…

There was one boat sailed from there at that time, a boat that has gone on to live forever in the hearts and minds of people the world over. And sure enough, printed at the bottom of the slip of paper is the name. The Titanic.

“Her whole life,” says Kathleen, “She spent it lamenting a lost chance, and she never knew how lucky she was. If she had gone, then she would surely have drowned. And my mother, and I, would never have been born.”

Seeing all those wonderful things, I’m able more easily to picture Kathleen’s grandmother now as a young girl looking ahead with all the vitality of her youth, only to become a dispirited soul, locking that brighter self up in this old trunk, and tossing away the key. That was the real tragedy, I thought, to have been miraculously spared such a terrible fate, and then to have wasted her life in ignorance of it.

Later, Kathleen and I are sitting out in the garden, gazing at the hills and the woods and the little houses, dotted along the roadside. Everything seems uncommonly beautiful of a sudden, the blue of the sky, the sunlight on the trees, even the taste of the cool evening air. She turns and looks at me, as if to speak, but there’s no need. We understand each other perfectly. Over the years, we’ve each had our share of ups and downs, and I suppose it’s only human nature that it should be the disappointments that carry the most weight. But this evening, we’re both appreciating, I think, and perhaps like no other time, what a precious thing life is.

This concludes my little story. It was first published in Ireland, around twenty years ago. I thought I’d blow the dust off it and give it a fresh lease of life, here on WordPress. Thanks for reading.

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The discovery of an old trunk stirs unsettling memories,…

Crouching low in the attic, I play the torch over the roof beams, and find them fragile. Kathleen peers anxiously through the trapdoor beside me.

“Well?” she asks. “What do you think?”

For three generations this house has served her family well, but lately the roof has begun creaking ominously, in even the lightest of winds. She’d telephoned me to ask if I’d mind taking a look. It’s as well she did, for in all my years I had never seen a roof in poorer shape, at least not on a house that’s still standing.

“Well, it needs a bit of attention,” I say, trying not to alarm her. “I can start this afternoon if you like, but first we’ll have to clear all this stuff out of the way.”

I shine the torch over the mass of junk that always seems to gather in such places – the bits of carpet, the old-fashioned lamp stands, the packing-boxes crammed with all manner of forgotten odds and ends,…

She’s embarrassed by the mess. “I know,” she says. “I’ve been meaning to get around to it for ages.”

It’s while helping her to sort through everything that we come upon the trunk, a big old thing, secured by a hefty padlock. Curious, I trace my fingers through a thick layer of dust to reveal a rich, dark sheen of lacquered wood.

“This is a fine chest, Kathleen.”

Her face darkens. “Oh,” she says. “I’d forgotten this old thing.”

“Looks like its been up here a long time.”

“Since my grandmother was a girl. That must be ninety years, or more.”

“But whatever’s inside?”

“Just some old clothes and things, I expect. When we were children, we used to imagine all sorts of exotic treasures. Sometimes we’d beg her for the key, only to be scolded for our cheek and then she’d tell us that, so long as she was alive, the trunk would never see the light of day.”

“But she must have been gone twenty years,” I remind her. “Have you never thought to look since?”

“It didn’t feel right, somehow. It’s like she was still watching me.”

“Well, it’ll have to come out now.” But I can see she’s uneasy about it. I’d often heard folk say what a difficult woman Kathleen’s grandmother was, and it troubles me we might have disturbed memories Kathleen would rather remained forgotten.

Later, I sit in the kitchen while Kathleen makes tea. It’s been a long, messy job clearing the attic and we’re both covered in dust. The trunk had been troublesome, nearly pitching me off the ladder as I’d tried to get it down. Now, it squats sullenly in the corner, an uncomfortable presence hanging over it.

As I look around I notice a photograph on the wall of a young woman wearing a plain dress, in the style of the 1920’s. If I had not known better I would never have guessed this was Kathleen’s grandmother. She would have been about thirty then, and remarkably good looking, which never failed to surprise people, since most could only remember her as a bent and bitter old woman.

Indeed, the bitterness was a thing which soured her life, but it also weighed heavily upon those, like Kathleen, who’d cared for her in her sunset years. Looking at that picture now, I fancy I can see it even then, frozen into her otherwise handsome features,… a sort of tragic emptiness.

Kathleen sees me looking. “Ah,…” she says. “She was always reminding us how she might once have made something of her life. I can see her now, rocking herself by the fire, complaining about the rain and the draughts whistling through the door, and about how noisy the neighbours’ children were,… and all of us would be wishing that if only she could be a little more cheerful,…”

“Didn’t you once tell me she was a dancer?”

Kathleen sighs. In all the years I’ve known her, she’s rarely spoken of her grandmother, but now, the surfacing of the trunk has made her want to talk. Slowly, draws up a chair.

“It’s hard to imagine,” she begins. “But she worked at a theatre, in town. They say she had the music in her bones, and such a tremendous vitality on stage, all who saw her reckoned she was destined for greater things. And sure enough, she was spotted by an American lady who turned out to be the owner of a theatre in New York. There was a position going in a production they were putting on, and it was my grandmother’s, if she wanted it,…

“It must have seemed like a dream come true, starting out from such a small place as this. It would have been her first step on the road to fame and fortune. Who knows? First the theatre, then maybe, with looks like that, the movies do you think? Sure she might even have been a movie star. But she was only nineteen. That would be 1910 or 1912, and New York must have seemed a very far away place indeed,…

“My great grandfather had died, leaving only my great grandmother, a poor, sickly woman who didn’t want my grandmother to go to New York. But in the end, I suppose she must have agreed and, so the story goes, everything was set. The theatre company arranged her lodgings and I think they even booked her passage over – so they were keen to have her all right.

“But it was not to be. No sooner had she got used to the idea she was really going, than my great-grandmother was taken gravely ill, and since there was no one else in the family, the responsibility fell to my grandmother.” Kathleen shook her head. “I can imagine how she felt – all the conflicting emotions as she watched her ailing mother, while her own dreams slipped though her fingers.

“He mother lingered for years, finally passing away in 1914, by which time it was the war, and the world all upset, and my grandmother’s chance was gone,…”

Looking at the photograph again, I feel like I’m seeing it now for the first time. “The poor woman.”

Kathleen nods. “It ate away at her for the rest of her days. Oh, she settled down, met my grandfather,… raised a family, had all the things we ordinary folk enjoy,… But I don’t think any of it meant as much to her as it might have done. She must always have been thinking how different things could have turned out,… if only,…”

“And the trunk?”

“Well, they say she gathered everything up that was even remotely connected with her dreams of New York, and locked them inside. Then she had a neighbour carry it into the attic, and there it lay, out of sight, but never quite out of mind. I don’t know why she kept it. I would have burned it, if it had been mine.”

In a strange way, I think I understand, though. “Some dreams are just too hard to let go of.”

We sit for a long time, our thoughts inevitably focused upon that old trunk and, I for one, am burning with curiosity. “So,… will you be opening it, do you think?”

Thanks for reading so far. Part two tomorrow,…

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So, today is Monday. It’s cold and rainy. I’m ironing. I’m bleeding the radiators. I’m replying to a flurry of overnight comments on the blog. I’m pondering the next chapter of “A Lone Tree Falls”. Retirement is bliss, even on rainy days. Then the phone rings.

It’s a very well-spoken young man who’s concerned I’m missing out on loft insulation deals. I don’t quite get the angle, but anyway, he says my house has come up on his database as having a certain type of insulation. It doesn’t conform to the current regulations – tut tut – but not to worry. It means I can claim for,… well,… something,…

“If we could confirm your details, sir? Name, address, postcode?…

Now, I know very well what type of insulation I have, because I’m the one who put it in. So what I want to know from him is how come he knows so much about it. I’m a little more assertive than I usually am, but there are issues of privacy at stake here:

“If I could stop you there and ask: exactly – and I do emphasise the word ‘exactly’ – how you came by that information?”

I surprise myself. I seem to be settling in for a crossing of wits here, when I could as easily hang up. That’s what I normally do, though with a polite “sorry, not interested”, thereby extending courtesy even to ne-er-do-wells whose aim is to raid my life savings. Did I get out of the wrong side of bed or something? Where is your patience, Michael? Where is your joy of living?

Anyway, the line goes dead before the young man can explain himself – a fault at his end, I presume. But never mind, all is in its place again. God is in his heaven, and the scammers are sweating the phones.

And I have more important things to be thinking about, such as November 3rd 2019. Why? Well, that’s the day I took this picture:

It was a Sunday, the first dry day, after weeks of heavy rain. The gentle undulations of the meadows had become lakes, and in the early light of that morning, they were as beautiful as they were unexpected. I don’t know why the picture strikes me now, as it has languished on the memory card for years. Perhaps it’s more the date, marking a time just before the time everything changed.

My diary fills in the details:

I had bought a new lens for the camera, and was trying it out with this shot. I had also bought “the Ministry of Utmost Happiness” by Arhundhati Roy, from my local thrift shop. I was lamenting how I’d probably never get around to reading it, that it would languish on my TBR pile, which turns out, thus far, to be true. My hall table was also full of leaflets extolling the virtues of the Labour-party. I was delivering them in batches, around my patch, for the local party office. It seems I too was caught up in the heady Corbynism of those distant times.

Then, the day after I took the picture, I sat down with my boss and took pleasure in giving him a year’s notice. Of a sudden, I tasted freedom. I was as excited by that as the thought of an imminent, and long needed, change of political direction. Yes, politics featured large in my thoughts in those days, which I find embarrasses me, now, because it doesn’t feature at all these days. In fact, quite the opposite, I find I view such matters with a very cold eye, or perhaps that too could be called political thinking? But let’s not go there.

Covid was not even a rumour in November. The first cases would appear in China in the coming weeks. But it would be March before Britain, after believing itself immune, would be on its knees. Suddenly, I could not travel even to the next village without fear of curtain twitchers dobbing me in. As for our health service, it proved to be so ill prepared, hobbyists were in their bedrooms, churning out face-masks for doctors and nurses on their 3D Printers.

But back to the photograph. I wasn’t overwhelmed by it at the time. Perhaps it was because events overtook us, and everything that came “before” seemed no longer relevant in the world. Then I tried a different crop, and it seemed to speak to me a little more.
I remember the season came on with a record-breaking wet. The year after was the same. The water table rose, filling the hollows, spoiling crops of winter wheat and oilseed. Migrant birds enjoyed their new-found wetlands. But then each spring, came a drought that baked the land, first to iron, and then to dust.

The photograph tells me the world was beautiful then, as of course it still is. But I detect also now a more deeply entrenched fatalism among its people. There is a growing acceptance of the ruin, and all the casual corruption, and that there’s nothing we can do about it. It just is. And, as if by metaphor, while once upon a time we could avoid those of low character by avoiding a particular part of town at night, now they come at us in our homes, down our telephone wires, wherever we are, and there’s no protection, other than our wits. But such a wit as that risks also tarnishing the spirit and rendering it blind to the beauty of the world. It will make us cynical, it will tempt us over the threshold into the hell of a collective nihilism. And then we are lost.

We need a powerful formula to keep the shine on things, and to keep believing it all means something. For myself, I trust it is sufficient never take our eye off the beauty of the world, never to let it be diminished in our souls, that therein lies the path to truly better days.

Now, please excuse me, the phone is ringing again. Perhaps it’s that young man with his explanation.

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A brief definition is in order: how do we classify a personal blog? Well, obviously it’s one that’s being kept by a person, as opposed to a commercial entity, or on behalf of one – that’s one way of defining it. Another definition would be if it conveys the interests, words, thoughts and sympathies of the writer, in ways that are sincere and uncorrupted by their proximity to the engines of commerce.

The personal blog allows you the time, the space and the means to express your thoughts on anything that interests you or, in my case, it helps to work out what it is I actually think in the first place. Reading other genuinely personal blogs, we get an insight into the world, as viewed through the eyes of someone else, and from the perspective of their part of the world. But the important thing here, I think, is the nature of that person. It must be an ordinary person and, though they may write in such a way as to present the best of themselves, the reader must feel the blog is not a veneer, that it does not present as one thing while being something else entirely, that it is not bullshit or propaganda dropping from the mouths of celebrity.

Ordinary people are much more interesting and informative, and give us a better picture of the world than through our TV screens. To travel a dusty road with a stranger we will likely never meet, to walk a mountain, or a woodland path with them, have them show you things they think are precious, to be shown around their garden,… all the things we can blog about. They inform and deepen the soul, while the shouty, partisan media do nothing but harden it, and make it shallow. That’s why I think the personal blog is a special thing, and I encourage others to take it up, even if they think they have nothing particularly interesting to say.

But is it too late? Is it dead?

I feel the obvious answer is no, since I’m still clearly doing it. If I need further evidence, I need only look at my reading list, and I see others are still doing it too. So no, personal blogging is not dead. Is it dying, though? Well, that’s another question. My own blog, which goes back to 2008, tells me the number of visitors peaked in 2014 and has been declining ever since. If mine was one of those blogs driven by the need to grow an audience, it’s clearly failed, since I had fewer visitors in 2020 than I did in 2012. I’m guessing this decline will level out at some point but, yes, interest does seem to be declining year-on-year, which does indeed suggest at least my little blog is dying on its feet.

This could be due to my having grown a reputation for having nothing worth saying, of course. Or I’m wrong and no one is interested in the trivia of ordinary strangers, such as I have presented here over the years. Or, it could be the way personal blogs are handled now by the algorithms, that they are being out-gamed by the marketing blogs, muscling their way up the rankings. Or, it could be that many writers started out thinking they might be discovered as geniuses and offered publishing deals, or newspaper columns, but have now quit the field in their droves, disappointed at being so cruelly ignored. So the question is now: are fewer people writing, and reading personal blogs? Or are we writers writing the same as we always have, but are just becoming harder for readers to find?

When I ask this question of the Google-bot, the conversation immediately and rather unhelpfully veers away from personal blogging, and starts talking about marketing blogs, or how to monetise your personal blog by turning yourself into a lifestyle-blogging fiction of yourself, and by endorsing products. That kind of thing does seem to be on the rise, at least judging by the number popping up and sticking “follows” on my own blog. But is this really the only reason my blog is on the wane?

You could say the reasons are complex, and they probably are, but I like to think of it as a consolidation. The personal blog is an unusual type of social media. It is long-form personal journalism that attracts a small group of readers who are interested in the thoughts of others. It is telling the world as we see it through “our” eyes, it seeks to inform, to entertain, to tell a story about the world. Through my eyes, the world is a dauntingly complex place, but it is also endlessly fascinating, and beautiful. My own approach, admittedly, is to make a romantic journey out of everything and, whilst not immune to the occasional grumble, I like to think I’m optimistic, and would urge others to remain optimistic too, and to weather as best you can the storms we have undoubtedly battled through in recent years.

So, in spite of the evidence of my own eyes, I don’t believe personal blogging is dead, though it does appear to be boiling itself down to the essence of those writers who prefer the long form means of expression, and perhaps releasing the others to the steam heat of the pithy tweet. None of this is to say, of course, I shall be quitting the blog in a huff at my failure to build an influential platform. I wouldn’t know what to do with one anyway. So long as the Rivendale Review is concerned, it’s very much business as usual – whatever that business is.

As always, to those who follow along and read me, I say thank you. You are a special bunch, clearly more discerning and erudite in your tastes. I’m all the better, and humbled for your company. And to those whose blogs I read, thank you for your continuing efforts, and for the myriad ways you help inform and broaden my own world view, and from a perspective that matters, this being from the ground up.

Thank you for listening.

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The Brandywine? Ribble Valley, Lancashire

It’s Galadriel who points out the sand martins, nesting in holes in the sandy banks, where the Calder meets the Ribble. The adults are scooping insects up from over the river and delivering them to their young. This is exhilarating for the watcher, but it’s clearly no fun being a bird. Being a bird, she says, is evolution cut to the bone. Only men and elves have evolved the time and the luxury to write poetry. Elven poetry of course is far superior, she adds, and it would be bad form for me to disagree.

There used to be a ferry here, a rowing boat across the Ribble. She tells me it was possibly the inspiration behind the ferry the hobbits used to escape their ghoulish pursuers in the opening trilogy of J R R Tolkien’s epic, The Lord of the Rings. It’s also said by those in search of Middle Earth, the confluence of the rivers, the Hodder and the Calder, feeding into the Ribble matches the confluence of the Brandywine, Withywindle and the Shirebourn – the three rivers of Tokien’s mythical Shire. Personally, I think that’s a bit of a stretch, since the Hodder feeds in about a kilometre upstream from here. But okay, let’s say the Ribble Valley might have inspired the work, along with many other parts of the English countryside, but does Lancashire make too much of its place in Tolkien lore? Oh, very much so, she says. But such is life, and the way of celebrity. We agree the man himself would have been nonplussed to have a walk named after him. For a guide to all the landscapes that might have inspired Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Galadriel says to click here.

The Hodder

When I first came this way, it was not called the Tolkien Trail. I’m not sure when that happened. She suspects it was to do with the movie trilogy, and certain enterprising publicans in Hurst Green. As for actual Tolkien scholars, she doubts we’re much on the radar. Tolkien lived in and around Stonyhurst college for a time, when his son was studying for the priesthood. That period coincided with his writing of the Lord of the Rings, which took him from 1937 to 1949. That it only appeared in print in 1955 is suggestive of some of the problems he had with his publishers.

If he was looking for a few hours walk, a quick squint at the map would have yielded a likely route. That’s how I pieced it together, and others before me. Maybe he did the same. It’s impossible to say, but that’s what they call it now: The Tolkien Trail. Weekdays, says Galadriel, one can still enjoy the tranquillity of it, but come weekend, it’s getting hammered, and in places the stress is showing.

Arriving earlier in Hurst Green, we were assailed by notices warning us not to park stupidly. There was plenty of space on the village hall car-park, with its honesty box. But I’m guessing of a weekend you’ll need to come crack of dawn-ish, or not at all.

We had a murky start, with a heavy, moody overcast, and a humid stickiness. By degrees, though, the day freshened, and the trees began to move. The camera was on the last bar of charge, but I had a spare battery, so I wasn’t bothered, until I realized I’d left the battery in the car. By now we were a mile out, and I wasn’t for turning back. I’d have to be sparing with the shots, and anyway, she reminded me, you’ve seen it all before, and the best bits you can’t take pictures of anyway. You just have to feel them.

We skirted the college, came down to the Hodder through Over Hacking wood, then followed the river downstream. The river was low and moving sleepy-slow. From a distance, it has the look of stewed tea, but up close there are attractive shades of green as it reflects the trees. We met a few walkers along the way, exchanged greetings. None noticed Galadriel. Elven folk can be like that – invisible to all but those they allow to see them.

It was mostly tranquil. There was just the one incident where a dog leaped a fence and set an entire meadow of sheep running for their lives, and the man chasing the dog seeming only to make matters worse. Each to their own, she mused, but wondered why people did not adopt small children instead. They’re much less trouble, can be taught to behave without having to tie them to you all the time. Also, the payback is immense. I tell her people are strange creatures and can rarely be fathomed rationally. She agrees.

Just before the Hodder enters the Ribble, we arrive at the busy B6243 and Cromwell’s Bridge, or so called – a romantic ruin spanning the river. It features large on Instagram. There were more warnings here about parking stupidly. I didn’t bother with a photograph. You can’t get a good one anyway without trespassing, and I wanted to save the battery. Here’s one I took earlier.

So then we come to the Ribble, and the sand-martins nesting in its banks, and we watch them for a while. Then she points out this lone fisherman, mid-stream casting his fly into the turbulence where the waters meet. I ask if I should cook up a haiku about him, but she says not to bother. He’s looking strangely at us. Perhaps he doesn’t like the way we’ve come down off the path to get a better view of the sand-martins. The river bank here bristles with the Anglefolk’s proprietary warnings. It’s his loss, she says.

The Winkley Oak

I read Tolkien’s books when I was in my twenties. There’s a lot in them. Indeed, they contain the life scholarship of a very clever man. It’s also where I first met Galadriel. The movies are a significant achievement, given that, for such a long time, the story was considered un-filmable. But, good as they are, they lack the literary depth of the novels, obviously. The novels can sustain several re-readings, and always a fresh discovery at a mythic or an archetypal level.

Tolkien was about so much more than elves and wizards, goblins, and trees that talk. But I guess that’s all he’ll be remembered for. It’s interesting how the Lord of the Rings and its prequel, The Hobbit, enjoyed by so many readers, young and old, have also been banned from conservative Christian homes, and institutions for their “irreligious” themes. Galadriel wrinkles her nose at that one, but agrees the stories touch a nerve at many levels.

We leave the fisherman to it, make our way back to Hurst Green. The path climbs from the river valley, the lower reaches of it washing away now with erosion from a heavy footfall. It will be challenging in the wet, and needs some restoration work. Finally, it’s across a meadow of lazy, sunbathing sheep, to emerge at the back of the Shireburn Arms.

“Fancy a drink?” I ask, though I’m not sure if this is the proper etiquette when dealing with Elven royalty.

She pulls a face. “No, let’s just paste it home, and have a cup of tea in the back garden, shall we?”

Sounds good to me. But of course, long before I’ve hit the M6, I turn to her, a question on my lips, and she’s gone. Elves are like that.

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Some Jungian stuff today. I’m attempting to read Erich Neumann’s “Origins and History of Consciousness”. The book is beyond me, and I’m having to use a dictionary at some point on every page, which breaks the flow. In one sense it’s a technical work, aimed at the psychoanalytical community. In other ways, it’s a four-hundred-and-odd page poem about coming into being.

It’s about the development of an individual’s sense of “I”, also the psychological development of mankind, since the one reflects the other. What I don’t think is mentioned, since even Jung avoided direct talk of it, is that both are functions of an underlying metaphysics, built into the universe itself, that indeed it is the universe. Thus, psychoanalysis crosses the boundary into spirituality.

It’s heavy going, and this is my second attempt. Neumann, a student of Jung, lacks – for me at least – Jung’s ease with language. That said, it’s instructive to come at Jung from another direction, if only to rediscover old ground in a new light. What I’m reminded of today is how the metaphysical universe communicates in the language of symbols. Symbols are mental shapes given motion, and they arouse feeling. They might look like one thing, but we interpret them as something else. Symbols cloud together, so we can cross-reference, and map their meaning to something specific. Interpreted literally, the universe has no meaning, indeed appears, at times absurd. But when seen metaphorically, archetypally, the way is illumined as something else entirely

Culturally, western man thinks of the universe in physical terms, that what we see is all there is. Even what we can’t see we can glean by our ever more sophisticated instrumentation, by our science and our technology. There is nothing else. But such thinking leads to an impasse. Worse, it results in a breakdown in our natural development, because it’s not the full story. There is the universe as we see it, and then there’s the universe as it really is, and the two are not the same. Denying even the possibility of the universe as it is, we cut our selves off from our natural path and we disintegrate, as people and as a culture.

Jungian thinking posits the notion of a psychical underpinning to the universe. This is not to say the stars, the galaxies, the planets are alive and conscious of themselves. These are merely the bigger manifestations of the universe as we see it, not as it is. We don’t know how it is in itself. All we know of it is what we can perceive upon the screen of our senses. But while the rules governing material processes tend towards ever increasing states of disorder, universal consciousness tends towards greater levels of order, and it finds its greatest order, its sense of self-awareness, in each of us.

The formless aspect of the universe is a realm of archetypal pattern, whose behaviours we interpret through the language of myth. Myths are those stories which form the basis of human culture. They deal with the perplexing mysteries of where we come from, of how we should conduct ourselves while we’re here, and ultimately where we’re going. But since the individual mind is a microcosm of the universal mind, these stories can also be turned inward and used for self analysis. The world’s mythologies have more wisdom in them than any book on psychology.

And what the myths teach is that the individual life is the universe playing hide-and-seek with itself. We are born into the world, immersed in its material complexity, and having forgotten entirely who we really are. But we also have this strange kernel of longing for a greater understanding of the meaning of our lives. A life’s journey then becomes a journey to the realisation we are different versions of the same awareness, that we spring from the psychical ground of being. However, it’s one thing to be told such a thing, to be aware of it intellectually, quite another to feel it, and so to “know” it. To truly “know” it is to awaken.

To awaken, however, is a rare thing, even when you know the destination. But for the ordinary travelling souls, like me, what this also means is that if the road is of interest, we need only declare ourselves open for business, and the universe will co-operate to a degree that suits our personal limitations. It will constellate symbols around us and, if we can interpret them, they will draw us in a direction that is right for us. This is a little like confirmation bias, where we agree with those speakers who reflect best our own dispositions, and dislike those who do not.

The universe communicates by synchronicity. It leads us by coincidence to those things, events, or people that are most meaningful to us. And what is meaningful is that which will trigger the emotions we most need to address, they being of a negative, regressive variety. They cloud our vision, and muddy our minds. Whilst the goal here is not happiness, happiness becomes a more reliable companion, as a by-product of the process, while awakening remains the true goal.

The deeper we are lost in the game, the harder will our awakening be, and the more profound the lived experience. To what end, I don’t know. If I can ever get to the end of Neumann’s book, I may find out. But I’ve a feeling the universe was just having me on when it pointed him out to me, and by so doing is pointing out – symbolically – my own limitations.

And if so, then fair enough, but I remain, as ever, open for business.

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I was going to write something grumbly today, something about the decline of real blogging, the decline of writerly bloggers who blog for the sake of it, and without giving themselves the airs of entrepreneurs. You know the type? They’re always offering six easy steps to financial success, and a set of perfect white teeth along the way, the sort of entrepreneurial bloggers who tag my blog daily now as if I’m even remotely interested in what they’re selling. If only they would wise up, admit that, in the great scheme of things, like all of us, they’re simply nobody, going nowhere, and then open their eyes to the world and tell me what they see and feel, in original prose or poetry that seeks no remuneration. Then I’d be interested, and I’d follow back. But I’m not going to write about that.

In truth, I’m a little grumpy because I have the beginnings of a toothache. A bit of filling has dropped out, and my dentist won’t see me for a month. The place was taken over by a corporate brand, a few years ago, the original staff all fired off and replaced with younger, cheaper versions, who now offer botox treatment, white smiles, and other questionable cosmetic enhancements. I sense they now rather look down on the humble, unwashed NHS patient, who simply wants competent dental care and an annual checkup. Anyway, there’s nothing like a bit of naggy pain for refusing admittance to the higher realms of imagination, for imprisoning one instead in this denser version of reality. So we’ll distract ourselves as best we can with the ironing and an exploration of Zen.

How to iron a man’s shirt? Well, first you take the cuff,… or so begins one of those Youtube instructables. It’s a job I’ve taken up more seriously, now I have the time, ironing shirts, trousers, handkerchiefs. I always used to rush it before, and with mixed results. As a kid I had to pick skills up fast, like how to handle a turret lathe, or a milling machine without losing a finger, and all that was before they’d let me near those dangerously sharp pencils in the engineering office.

Once you’ve got the basics, it’s just a matter of practice and focus, and with ironing there’s as much of it to practise on as you want. It also grants an hour or so out of the day, to plug in and listen to lectures on You-tube, which is the main reason I like it, but don’t tell anyone. In particular, I’ve recently discovered a rich seam of wisdom in Alan Watts (1915-1973), many of his recorded interviews, lectures and radio broadcasts being now online.

When plodding a personal metaphysical path, we come to realize there’s no one person who has a monopoly on wisdom. More, there’s always been a succession of teachers throughout time who were able to communicate, or not, in different ways. We might encounter the works of one person and find them too advanced, or too difficult or irrelevant, but we might circle back to them when we’re ready. I think that’s what happened with me and Alan Watts.

Watts had (and still has) an immensely popular following in spiritual and philosophical circles, though various biographies I’ve read suggest he was somewhat shunned by the more orthodox intelligentsia of his day. I find he has a fascinating voice, a compelling manner, an infectious humour, and a canny way of getting across complex ideas, shedding them of their mystique. His topic area is the whole of eastern spiritual thought and seeking a synthesis between it and western metaphysics, but at the moment, it’s his lectures on Zen I’m finding most interesting.

Zen, fares well in the pop culture of the west, with books on “Zen and the art of this, that and the other”. What Zen is though, actually, is a tricky thing to pin down, its subject matter being so ineffable. I’ve read western books on Zen, but none made sense, and the eastern works seemed always to be either laughing or throwing up the shutters at my ignorance. The nearest we can get to it, in western terms, says Watts, is the field of psychoanalysis. This makes sense, suggesting the nature of the mind is bound up with the nature of being, and reality. Watts has opened the door there a little.

The nature of the self – our true self – is generally unrecognized throughout our lives, being too easily mistaken instead for the story of our lives. But, says Watts, when two Zen masters meet, they need no introduction, because each of them knows not only who they are themselves but who the other guy is as well. Each understands there is, as such, no “other”. Both are “it”.

The awareness that grants one’s sense of being is the same awareness as everyone else’s. That’s not an easy thing to grasp. Indeed, it’s somewhat troubling, and near impossible for a materialist to even grant it an audience, since it posits the fundamentally “conscious” nature of reality.

Many pilgrims come unstuck at this point, either unable to accept the universe is thinking itself into being, or they think it’s them, their mind, that’s at the centre of everything, that they are somehow omnipotent. Then their world collapses into a solipsistic delusion with their megalomaniacal ego at the centre of it. The nearest I can get to what Zen, in part, is saying is the western idealist philosophy which suggests the universe is thinking “us” into being and not the other way around, meaning the thinker thinking you, is the same thinker who’s thinking me.

If we can at least work with the possibility reality is structured in this way, it grants us a fresh perspective on life. It allows us to explore reasons why such a thing might be the case, and what it means to be human in the world. It presents also the paradox of waking up to the transcendent nature of reality, while at the same time being trapped within the limitations of this particular version of it. We have our personal functional limitations – like how it’s taking me an age to iron this one damned shirt, when the dude in the video says I should be able to do it in three minutes – but also the fact that the whole of human endeavour is so prone to suffering, and no matter how carefully we build our societies up for the greater good, we cannot help but sow within them the seeds of our own destruction.

As for what Zen has got to with ironing this shirt, I don’t know, except,… just do it, maybe? Nor does it explain the purpose of my toothache, which perhaps only goes to show I know nothing of the true path of Zen, that if I did, I simply wouldn’t mind it.

I’ll tackle ironing a pair of trousers next. Damned tricky things, trousers.

Last word to Alan Watts (audio only):

Keep well all.

Graeme out.

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On Withnell Moor – West Pennines

There’s a remoteness about the Withnell moors that belies the fact even the loneliest bits of them are probably only half an hour’s walk from the well populated villages of Brinscall, or Abbey Village. In the nineteenth century they were home to many small-scale farms but, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, changing times were making it harder to justify such remote habitation, the mills and quarries being more of a draw for employment than farming, at least on this scale. Then an outbreak of typhoid, in Kent (1897), sent the public health bodies into a spin. The Withnell moors were (and still are) part of the water catchment area for the city of Liverpool, and the urgent word went out we should avoid anything, animal or human, defecating upon it. So the leases were withdrawn, and the farms fell to ruin.

I’ve come here today to photograph the sycamores at one particular ruin, Grouse Cottage. The weather’s fair for now, though looking a bit changeable, and I find I’m in the mood to explore further, if I can. I’m wondering if in fact, we can find a route up Great Hill from this end of the West Pennines. There isn’t one marked on the map, and scant trace of such in aerial photographs. But it would make sense, this group of farms being linked by a humble walked way, to the now similarly ruined farms over on the Heapey side of the moor. We’ll see.

The sycamores at Grouse Cottage

Grouse Cottage looks like it’s been gone centuries, but it was still lived in in the 1950s, one of the last of the farms to be vacated. I have seen photographs of it from its working days, and can only say its eradication has been most severe. Interesting to me, my mother, resident nearby in Abbey Village until 1960, would have known it as a working farm. A small piece of it is still standing, which adds some architectural interest to the photograph of the trees – this being what was the outside lavatory. The rest is left to imagination. It was dramatically positioned with fine views but, like all the farms out this way, and from the stories my mother told, a hell of a place to be in winter.

Twisted Beech – Botany Bay

From Grouse Cottage we head south now, to the corner of a tumbled drystone wall, then west, towards Rushy brook. We cross by the ruins of Popes, another lost farm, then onto the rise of the moor, and eventually to a curious, lone beech tree by the ruins of Botany Bay. This farm is renamed on OS maps from the 1930’s as the “Summer House”, it’s having by then been abandoned, and adapted for use as what I suppose was a luncheon hut, for the grouse shooting fraternity. Little remains of it now. The tree is remarkable though – twisted, stunted by ferocious weather, but stoically hanging on. Remarkable too is an upright stone, unworked and heavily weathered, one I reckon predates the farm by several thousand years and marks a previous era of habitation.

Botany Bay stone

From Botany Bay there is a sketchy path south and west, towards the trees that mark the ruins of Solomon’s and New Temple. It’s New Temple I’m after, to a little isthmus of benign pasture that marks the end of the ancient enclosures, and their abutment with the wilderness of uncultivated moor. If there’s a route up Great Hill, here’s where we’ll find it.

The temple isn’t an actual temple, no doubt much to the disappointment of the neo-pagans who have been known to frequent it, in search of “vibes”. It’s just another ruined farm, marked by a pair of magnificent sycamores, romantic in their isolation, and striking today with a background of moody sky. There are heavy showers sweeping the plain, drifting up the Ribble Valley, circling behind us over Darwen Moor. Meanwhile, we enjoy an island of calm and intermittent hazy sun. Anything incoming is at least thirty minutes away, but we seem to be in the eye of the system, so I reckon we’ll be okay.

It turns out there is indeed a little-walked path from here – no more than a sheep-trod, but inspiring sufficient confidence to explore further. It takes us up the nondescript hummock of Old Man’s Hill, then loosely follows the line of Rushy Brook, into the lap of Great Hill. I wouldn’t come this way in poor weather as it would be hard to trace, and it’s a rum wasteland of tussocky grass to go off course in, but otherwise the way makes sense, and follows a reasonably dry route.

The New Temple Sycamores

The plan now, if we can avoid a drenching, is to take in the top of Great Hill, then circle back via Pimms and the Calf Hey brook. I was there some weeks ago, but I want to shoot the trees at Pimms again, against this impressive sky, and to get a name for them. The buds are opening now and hopefully will reveal their signature leaves – sycamores probably.

Great Hill summit – West Pennines

There’s not a soul on Great Hill, again. Everyone must be in the pubs, or the shops as we find ourselves once more in one of those “hair down”, between wave periods. Meanwhile, the weather dances round us, a whirligig of drama, while our own steps remain blessed by dry, and that lingering crazy, hazy sun. This place feels as familiar as the back of my own hand, but no matter how well we think we know a place, there is always another perspective, always something fresh to be gained. If that insight is the one blessing of these Covid restrictions, then so be it.

As for the trees at Pimms, they are indeed sycamores, the same as at Solomon’s, and Grouse Cottage, common enough on the moors, as anywhere. The Woodland Trust tells me they’re not native to our islands, sycamores having been introduced in the 15th or 16th centuries from mainland Europe. They’re hard as nails though, as evidenced by their soaring height here, in defiance of the harshest weather Lancashire can muster. They’ve outlived the farms anyway, stand as monuments to them and, in the present day, provide beacons for navigation.

Roddlesworth falls

So, now we’re heading down through the plantations at Roddlesworth again – a second chance to grab a decent shot of the little falls on the Roddlesworth river. I make a better job of it this time – the Lumix I’m carrying today being a much faster camera than the Nikon I used some weeks before. Then the car’s waiting, my good lady’s car today. Unlike mine, it can navigate the humps and hollows of Roddlesworth lane, without getting beached.

As we ease off the boots, the rain catches up with us. It’s nothing dramatic – more gentle and cooling. It’s been kind enough to hold off for our walk, and a little wet is welcome after such a long period of dry. My garden will appreciate it, and it should replenish the water-butts, which are already at rock bottom.

It turned out to be a good circuit, not as far as it feels on the legs though – about five and a half miles, seven hundred feet of ascent or so. It was a little eerie. Being more used to dodging Covid crowds, I saw not a soul all afternoon, and had only the ghosts among the ruins for company. To be sure this is one of the loneliest of approaches to Great Hill I know.

There’s something sobering about the lost farms of the West Pennines. It’s the idea of, season after season, eking out a hard living from an unforgiving moor, and now those lives passed on, moved on as all things change and move on, and the reeds grow back, where once the deep-walled lane echoed to the sound of the passing cart and the driven beasts. And the multi-storied life, hard won, is reduced in no time at all to a pile of knee-high rubble, to be poked at, and pondered by passing Romantics, like me.

For more information on this part of the world, do check out:

“The lost farms of Brinscall Moor” by David Clayton

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