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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 coming 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 indefinable, 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 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.

https://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=14/53.6336/-2.5493&layers=C

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The abbot gathered the order in the meditation hall, brothers Angus and Benjamin among them, and bade them sit. Then he spoke of hard times ahead. This was nothing new, thought Angus. There had been nothing but hard times for decades, that indeed the hard times were the main reason he had turned to the monastery, for peace of mind, in the first place. But even now, after many years, he was finding peace of mind still hard to come by.

Then the abbot spoke of the recently deposed king. He reminded the monks of how the king’s misconduct, over many years, had been the cause of his eventual removal by exasperated ministers, and how the king, following his disgrace, had been cast into exile. In his place, there had been appointed a princess, a choice many had thought ill-advised, on account of her having kept company with forces believed to be allied with the barons.

Now, the barons had long ago accomplished the impoverishment and defenestration of the serfs, Angus among them, and had begun to turn their attention towards the merchants. But the barons had acted in ignorance of the full power of the merchants, who had caused a revolt, which had threatened to bankrupt the entire kingdom. In renewed desperation, and with great effort, the ministers had persuaded the princess to surrender the crown, so the merchants might be placated.

Although cloistered, Angus was only too well aware of the turbulence beyond the monastery walls. Indeed, he was ever hungry for rumours, which he picked up from the lay-brothers, who had greater contact with the outside world. What puzzled Angus now, though, was what any of this had to do with them, since the monasteries had no power, and no influence over events.

The abbot went on: so great had the chaos been in the halls of the palace, the ministers had looked about in vain for someone else among the royal line who might now take up the crown. But then some ministers had begun to look back fondly upon the days of misrule by the king, for even though his behaviour had been disgraceful, and dragged the name of the kingdom into disrepute, reducing it even to a laughing-stock among its neighbours, he had been careful never to upset the merchants. And sensing now the ambivalence of the ministers, the king, had begun petitioning for the restoration of his crown, which he saw as his by right.

Thus, the kingdom was suddenly agog with rumour that the old rogue might actually return. Now, this was news to Angus, and he sat forward, listening ever more intently. Could it be true? What would the abbot have to say about it? Opinion in the land was polarised between those aghast, and those who were delighted, for it was said the king possessed a powerful charm, gifted to him by the Goddess of Misrule, and to which only the most settled, and clear of mind were immune.

Of course, some ministers looked less forgivingly upon those days of misrule, and were inclined to dismiss the king’s ambitions as beyond the pale. But already the criers, and jesters, who had themselves called for the removal of the king only months before, and had sung in praise of the princess’s accession, were even now preparing the way for the king’s return with sweet songs, sung in the town squares, throughout the kingdom. And even among the defenestrated serfs, there were murmurs of assent.

Being themselves of the most settled and clear of mind, the monks listened to all of this news, impassively, for theirs was not the world of the town squares, or the serfs, or the merchants, or the barons, or the ministers. As for the criers, and the jesters, their duplicitous songs were transparent to anyone who was not tone-deaf. As for what the monks’ response should be to all of this, the abbot smiled mysteriously, and suggested they would do well to meditate upon it.

But this failed to quell the anxiety in Angus’ breast, and he turned briefly to Benjamin, a more experienced monk, for reassurance, only to see him tip back his head and let out a silent laugh, before nodding in approval at the abbot’s wisdom. With that, the monks were dismissed, and it was later, in the courtyard, Benjamin said to Angus: “Well, brother, you’ve got to hand it to the Abbot. He’s one crafty old devil, and a genius of a teacher.”

“But I didn’t get it,” said Angus. “What would the abbot have us do about the return of the king? Take to Twitter, or something?”

Benjamin shook his head, picked up a stone, and handed it to Angus, then instructed him to go down to the pond by the farm, at sunset, to toss the stone into the water, that by doing so he would have his answer.

So Angus did as Benjamin suggested. He went down to the pond at sunset. It was a beautiful evening, the pond was a perfect mirror for the sky, and a balm for the soul. Angus tossed the stone in and watched as the ripples broke the surface. Then the ripples were reflected, intersecting each other, until the entire pond was made up of separate shards of light all pointing in different directions, and the clarity of the reflection of the sky was lost.

He slept better that night than he had for a long time, and promised himself in future he would distance himself from the lay-bothers, whose endless gossiping kept him awake at night, wrestling with matters he had no power to influence, yet which prevented him from attaining the clarity of his own mind, and thereby the authentic nature of his being.

(Photo by Sanjay Indiresh on Pexels.com)

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A wet week looks like having us confined mostly to barracks. Since the youngest flew the nest, last year, I have acquired a study. It has a view of the garden, and beyond, to a once grand ash tree, now beginning to die back. We resist the obvious metaphor, focus instead on the stripes of the lawn, and the remaining splashes of colour among the heleniums.

I’m thinking about something that happened a long time ago. It was a moment of transcendence, I think, one in which there was no difference between who I was, and what I was looking at. That I happened to be looking at Scope End, a shapely cone of a mountain in the Newlands Valley, made this a very grand experience indeed. And whether it was a genuine taste of oneness, as the Buddhists would have it, or just a bit of a funny do, is largely irrelevant at this stage. I’m inclined towards the former, since it has remained fresh in memory all these years, and has driven a lot of creative efforts in mystical directions, though I readily accept the possibility of the latter.

It’s hard to imagine everything we see as being made of atoms: the lawn, the heleniums, and the old ash tree. We know it to be so, thanks to the elementary science we learned at school, but we still tend not to think of things that way. To do so would lend the world a layer of complication we can manage perfectly well without, day to day. Atoms are mostly space, yet the world looks solid. Go down another level, and atoms are made of smaller particles. Then again, these smaller particles are made from even smaller particles, none of which are actually particles, but more like twists of energy, vibrating in what is called the Unified Field. The field is a thing beyond which there is nothing, because it is nothing, yet it gives rise to the world, to the universe of appearances.

It’s also here, while conducting science at this subatomic level, the consciousness of the observer has an effect on what manifests, on that which is observed, which leads to speculation that the unified field – if not in itself actually aware – is the ground from which even consciousness arises. All of this is simply to say that when I am looking at the ash tree, my relationship to it is more complicated than surface appearances, and certainly more complicated than I am ordinarily aware.

All of this, the last hundred years or so of scientific thinking finds itself converging on the Vedic tradition, which speaks also of a fundamental ground of being, an emptiness, a nothingness, a formlessness, timeless and infinite, from which all things arise. And the tradition holds that this state can be experienced directly, either by diligence in the practice of meditation, or you can even sometimes fall into it by accident.

In my case, the accident occurred at the tail end of a long and very beautiful walk in the mountains, some time around the millennium. It probably lasted only the length of time it takes for the raising of a foot, as I walked, and the placing of it down again, but, internally, the experience was much more expansive, and timeless. It posed many questions, of course, and the subsequent search for answers became a considerable part of my leisure time thinking, thereafter, a search for which one feels poorly equipped, bound as one is by the nine to five-ness of ordinary, suburban circumstances.

Scope End, June 2005

Although I have speculated on it before, a firmer link between Vedic – also to some degree Buddhist – philosophy and the Unified Field of contemporary physics came to me only recently while revisiting some old notes on Transcendentalism – Transcendent meaning a direct experience of the ground of being, or the divine, or however you want to put it. I first heard the term, long ago, when a work’s doctor was interviewing me, after I’d fainted. I was a manufacturing apprentice, and my mate had injured his finger on a machine. He swore, and I fainted. I came round in a sweat, the doc pronounced me fit, told me to get back out on the shop and then, as if he had peered into my soul, added that I’d probably benefit from some form of Transcendental Meditation. It was perhaps the single most sage piece of advice I was ever given, but I ignored it.

And just as well I did, because the “official” Transcendental Meditation (TM) would have been beyond my means. Even if I’d found a teacher, TM costs you serious money, and I’d a long way to go before I was ready, or desperate enough to take any form of meditation seriously, but especially one where they asked you for money. Now, I’ve no reason to doubt TM is as effective as they say it is – even though most of those saying it are celebrities who can well afford it – but there are plenty of other forms you can learn from books, or from inexpensive church hall classes, if you want to give it a go.

As for TM in particular, it’s a technique defined by the use of a mantra, a meaningless word that has a certain resonance in the mind as it is silently repeated. In the official TM that mantra is a secret – specific to you – given to you by your teacher and never to be shared. Naturally, this raises some sceptical eyebrows. Personally, I think you could find your own mantra, and that will do just as well.

I’ve used meditation – though not TM – as a means of controlling stress and anxiety, mostly work related, and found it effective, but it never took me back to that moment in the mountains. Then again, I don’t meditate very often these days, and I’m not sure I want, or need, to go back to that moment anyway, because it raised more questions than I can ever answer, at least in this lifetime. But I’m grateful for the glimpse behind the curtain, so to speak, if indeed that’s what it was. It’s certainly gifted me plenty of speculative avenues to explore over the years, and the mind has enjoyed toying with them in my various fictional writings.

It’s deeply strange to look at a mountain and have one’s consciousness expand until one is both oneself, and the mountain. That’s too clumsy a way of putting it. Perhaps a better way is to say the unified field contains both the manifestation of the mountain, and one’s own consciousness, and that, for a moment, one attains a glimpse of both, from some higher perspective.

Of course the ego resists even this one small concession, that while it might be possible this is the way it really is, Ego denies any certainty of belief, that beyond granting the world is indeed a beautiful place, and at times hauntingly so, it would sooner take anchor in a materiality we know full well to be a serious simplification of the way things truly are.

And now, after all of that, the sun is shining, so we’ll slip out for a walk, while the going is good, and I’ll leave you in the company of David Lynch (Lost Highway, Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive) who I think explains it very well.

Thanks for listening

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The Shireburn Cottages, Hurst Green

There’s a beautiful light in Hurst Green, this morning. We have strong sunshine, but there’s a mellowness to it, that lends late season contrasts. The oft-photographed alms-houses, the Shireburn Cottages, are basking in it, warming their grand facade. Meanwhile, all around us, the skies are patrolled by ominously towering cumulonimbus. We’ll be lucky if we avoid a soaking.

We’re looking to climb Longridge fell today – a ridge that runs east-west, roughly parallel to the River Ribble, for about six miles. The reward of the climb up the quiet lanes and meadows, from Hurst Green, is the sudden view of the Forest of Bowland, from the summit.

We’ll be meandering up to the trig column on Spire Hill, roughly the mid-point of the fell, as well as its highest elevation. Then we’ll head through the plantations to the easternmost tip, at Kemple End. From here, we’ll fumble our way back across the meadows, and finally through the grand environs of Stonyhurst College, to Hurst Green. It’s ground I’ve not covered before, so I’m expecting a bit of an adventure, adding a few more rights of way to the map in my head.

My thanks to Bowland Climber whose posts are a valuable source of intel on likely routes and ground conditions in this area. Longridge is heavily forested and, as with all such territory, the routes get overtaken as the forest develops, and permissive ways open up in their stead, ways which may not be familiar to a non-local walker. Then you get logging, and storm damage with trees coming down, blocking the paths, or balanced precariously, waiting for you to sneeze before crashing down on top of you. And then of course we can expect the usual difficulties on the lowland stretches, with way markers disappearing, and little used paths across meadows vanishing under crops.

I’d felt a sense of hush, leaving home, news of the Queen’s death still settling in. The hush was self-imposed, of course, and partly courtesy of the long planned and wall-to-wall reverence of the BBC. This vanished as soon as I hit the M6 of course, where the nation’s life still goes on at full throttle, as needs must, with heavies and delivery vans, drivers having to pee in bottles to meet schedules set by machines.

There are, of course, many who feel a genuine sadness, as if they had lost their own grandmother. But there are also plenty, particularly in the under forties bracket, who have no longer the luxury of time, or are too worried about feeding their children to don the sackcloth and ashes.

I am not immune to the sense of history, nor to the symbolism of a fallen monarch, especially now, adding as it does, its weight to a heaviness I already feel for the state of an Albion so besmirched and tattered. I fear it is optimistic to hope this will be one of those historic moments to galvanise the nation, for so much of the nation has other things on its mind right now, and which are hard to ignore. One wonders what next. Were I to suffer a sudden, blinding pulse of light, prior to witnessing a mushroom cloud rising in the direction of Manchester, courtesy of Vlad P, I would not be surprised. Still, one must not tempt fate.

For now, though, the only mushroom clouds are these cumulonimbus. They spread out at great altitude, into anvil heads, and they darken, broody and funereal. Climbing the quiet, rain puddled lanes towards the fell, we lose the sun, and the day turns grey, and sticky. There is the crackle of thunder, but, so far, the gathering storms seem to circle us, their dramatics kept at a safe distance.

I was grouching in my last post about the cost of NHS dental treatment. “Over sixty quid for a checkup and a clean,” I spluttered. However, as a friend later pointed out, I’m fortunate still to receive NHS treatment, and should be more grateful for it. Dentists are shedding our sort like unwanted fleas. That same check-up and clean will cost me over two hundred quid, under the private system many have now fallen victim to. More serious work – fillings, extraction, bridge-work – and it can easily run into thousands. This is beyond the means of so many in poverty-pay jobs, paying sky-high rents and energy bills. It’s little wonder, then, DIY dentistry is on the rise. I’m not sure how, or when, this happened. It just sort of crept up on us while we weren’t looking.

Spire Hill, Longridge Fell

We pause at the trig point, rather sweaty now, to rest and clean our specs – all the better to take in the panoramic sweep of the Bowland hills. They are most movingly beautiful under this rapidly changing light. There is mixed sunshine and cloud to the north, though the skies are turning an ominous green to our backs, now. There are para-gliders, launching from the precipitous north face, and seem to be defying the weather, as they defy gravity, circling and swooping like slow motions birds. I hear Vaughn Williams in my head, then another rumble of thunder.

Eastwards now, following the line of the ridge, and plunging quickly into the forest’s gloom. It’s mostly coniferous plantation, but with the occasional stretches of beautifully twisted Scot’s Pine. Then, amid the gloom of the conifers, there lurks the occasional, defiant deciduous giant, one of which I discover hung with curious trinkets. Coniferous forestry is an affront to nature, and she shows her displeasure in that eerie monocultural, mossy silence.

On Longridge Fell

The way is far from straight forward here, as we encounter damage from last winter’s storms, stacks of fallen trees laying across the path. There has been some ad-hoc clearance, plus a splintering of unofficial diversionary ways, leading off into the gloom, but no concerted effort to clear passage. So, it’s with a bit of hit-and-miss, aided by the occasionally more helpful long stretch of forestry track, we make it down to the eastern tip, near Kemple End. The Bowland fells still look balmy, while an evil looking storm sweeps the Ribble Valley, trailing rain. Was that a flash of lightning? We pause and count to ten for the rumble of distant thunder.

Logging near Kemple End, Longridge Fell

Here, we descend into the pastures along the rights of way where a helpful sign, posted by a local resident, tells us we’re probably going to go wrong here. There are some well-intentioned instructions, which we follow to the letter, but the path is little walked, and we go wrong anyway, meandering about in shin-high wet grass for a while, until we spot a possible exit.

We ford a stream where it looks like there was once a crossing, and we come up to a rusty old gate that hasn’t been opened since Tolkien last passed this way, pondering his Hobbits. I’m walking with the latest OS map, which tells us we’re bang on the right of way, at least in theory, so we plod on, following the GPS across a meadow, freshly planted, and ankle deep in soft earth. There are no markers here except the prints I leave behind, hopefully for others to follow. It pains me to do this but, as usual, a little more clarity by the landowner would not go amiss, and I’d be glad to oblige. One never knows in these situations if we aren’t simply digging ourselves deeper into the confusion of lost ways, or if a helpful marker will pop up of a sudden, and see us safely through.

More awkward stream crossings follow, more rights of way missing their markings, and no evidence of footfall on the ground. We seem to have found one of those routes long abandoned, yet it is the quickest way from Kemple End to Stonyhurst. With patient attention to the GPS, though, we locate the wobbly stiles, now slowly rotting in deep hedgerows, and the rickety stream crossings. Plucked by thorns, and stung by nettle, we come down to our way-point on the road, where a single finger post points us back to perdition. From here, a short walk brings us into the grand environs of the Stonyhurst College, where we can pass without fail or interference.

The doors of St Mary’s Hall are open, the sombre sounds of a Requiem Mass for the Queen spilling out, and following us some way along this last stretch to Hurst Green. We must ring a bell here, as there is occasional shooting across the path. There’ll be none today, I would think, but I feel obliged to ring it anyway. The jarring clang so soon after passing the spiritual music from the chapel feels irreverent.

Millie’s Pantry, our usual watering hole, is just closing, so we find ourselves in the Shireburn Arms, instead, with a large, sweet coffee and the feel of nine miles, and twelve hundred feet of ascent in our legs. I wonder if JRR himself ever sat here, nursing a pint and smoking a pipe. The bar is empt, except for a couple of ladies dressed like wedding guests. I hope my dishevelled appearance does not offend. The fates were with us, and the rains held off, but where we go from here, amid these gathering storms, is far from certain.

But there’s always another hill, another day in the outdoors to call us onwards. And the hills ask nothing but that we respect them, while they reward our efforts ten-fold.

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Living responsibly in an unfinished world

The idea of a purpose to the universe, and our individual place in it, has mostly lost out to a rational world view that relegates the whole of creation to an accident of nature. The only mystery left is how consciousness can arise from within a system of physical matter. This is called the hard problem, but lately there has arisen a breed of fundamentalist scientistic thinker claiming to have solved the problem by claiming consciousness does not exist. We only think it does, and by doing so, we are trying to make more of the cosmos than there really is. How depressing! The only miracle is how we do not all go mad, when faced with such pointlessness.

But there is a view that such scientific fundamentalism is actually dangerous, and in this book, Gary Lachman argues we urgently need to move ourselves back to the centre of the cosmos, and realise our role as its caretaker, before it’s too late.

As in all his other works, Lachman writes as a champion of consciousness. He assures us that not only is consciousness real, it is primary, and he reminds us of the reasons for such belief with the aid of a tour through a long history of ideas and thinkers.

While the scientific consensus has moved towards an ever more hardened and eliminative position, as if drawing the shutters on the light of consciousness, other thinkers have been trying to keep them open, and to let the light back in. The book opens with the Jewish, Kabbalistic concept of Tikkun. This views creation as imperfect, that man’s place, man’s purpose, is one of seeing to its ongoing repair.

The world is always going to hell in a handcart, have you noticed? But it could always be worse. We might feel we cannot affect significant change in the world, as individuals, but if we all did the little bit of good that we know, and feel, personally, then the world would be changed. This might sound twee, but as we work our way into the book, we begin to see the profundity of the concept. The question arises, though, what is good? Can man decide, rationally, and make laws to define it? Or is the idea of good something that comes from within, and an inherent property of a fundamentally conscious universe? Or is it neither? Is it not so much an action or a prohibition anyway, as a way of seeing, and being?

Another powerful idea is that of evil, and the perennial question: why does it exist? Here Lachman turns the argument around and asks instead: is evil, or rather an amoral “might is right”, “survival of the fittest” world, not the default position? And if so, why is there good in the world? His answer is that in all of evolutionary history, there was no “good”, until man came along.

There are so many references here, so many springboards for further thought and study, it’s difficult to know where to start, but one of the more striking quotes comes from the Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz who says: “we live in the worst of all possible worlds in which there is yet hope.” The suggestion here is that the universe is an experiment in existence, an experiment that would be pointless unless carried out under difficult conditions. Similarly, it would be equally pointless if all hope were extinguished, for then we would be justified in taking the nihilistic position, simply giving up and lowering our necks to the block, bowing to the axe of an irresistible evil. But the world is not like that. It is always on the brink,… and we work, argue and even at times fight to keep it in balance and moving forward.

This is an idea also reflected in the work of Gurdjieff who once remarked that the earth is in a very bad place in the universe, almost the worst… that everything we do is difficult and costs a great deal of effort, but it may be the only place where we can get things done.

At this point we encounter the work of Ian McGilchrist, whose book The Master and his Emissary, describes the differences between the left and the right brain hemispheres, and the types of attention they each bring to the world. The right hemisphere is geared towards observing reality with a kind of patient, broad brush attention, while the left is geared more towards control and manipulation of details. As an example of this we’re given the grain of sand in which the poet Blake, in an extreme right brain mode of attention, sees a whole world of wonders, but which, in left brain mode, others might see more as being insignificant, or worse, an annoying piece of grit in your shoe.

The kind of attention we must bring to bear in order to realise the good within ourselves, is of the right brain variety. The act of Tikkun, or repair, then, is not so much a specific act, or an intervention, but a way of looking at something while we are doing it, and it doesn’t matter what it is we’re doing. It is the kind of attention we employ that’s the important thing, because the kind of attention we direct at the world, determines the kind of world we encounter.

In the Master and his Emissary, McGilchrist argues that the right brain is the proper, natural master. It is like a King who must rule a nation. The King has a broad grasp of many things, but favours and retains no specifics. When he needs to pay closer attention to something, he deploys an emissary, the left brain, to deal with the details, to summarise, and report back for the King to act wisely. But as time has passed, human consciousness has evolved in ways that have allowed the left brain, the emissary, to dominate. We have become immersed in details, we drown in them, and can no longer see the broader picture. Thus, the kingdom suffers as the scientistic emissaries shut the King out, and work against him, decrying him as incompetent, and fuzzy minded. The prediction of this kind of thinking, should it come to dominate, is pretty much the kind of world we have now, one that denies the very existence of consciousness, and treats people as objects, as dumb machines, to be exploited, dominated, controlled.

Returning then to the idea of “doing the good that we know”, this sense can only arise in us with a right brain dominance, also when our basic needs are met – food, shelter, warmth, intimate relationships,… once all these things are in the bag, so to speak, the way becomes open for a person to self-actualise, to become, in the words of Abraham Maslow, more “fully human.” Then the sense of what is good arises spontaneously from a kind of intelligence of the heart.

Of course a great deal of harm has been done by people imposing their ideas of good on others, but the more fully human “self-actualisers” tend to be less concerned with other people, and seek instead to apply their instinctive sense of the good in their own struggle to develop. And such development leads to the conclusion that while we are in the cosmos, in a physical sense, we are not entirely of it. Metaphysically, we are “outside” of it, looking in.

When we study the works of early civilisations, in particular their art, there is a sense that they did not differentiate themselves from their environment, or from nature, that self consciousness was as yet nascent. Their art is curiously two-dimensional, and child-like. Only later do we see a change taking place, and art separating man from his world by the use of perspective. The world and nature becomes “object” and through our sense of separateness, we start to wonder about our place in it.

Objectifying the world has had its downsides, and may yet bring us to self-destruction, but the genie is out of the bottle, so to speak, and there can be no return to earlier, pre-conscious modes of thinking. Evolution does not run backwards, so the task facing us is both critical for our own survival, but also for the cosmos, since, in a sense, we are the eyes and ears of the cosmos waking up to itself. If we stuff it up, the cosmos, as we know it, and therefore as it knows itself, will cease to exist.

The way ahead appears to be to achieve a greater understanding of the powers that we have. This means re-orientating ourselves back to the centre of our personal universe, to become more fully human, then to recognise and to do the good that we know. We bring the kind of attention to bear that we would like to see reflected in the world.

A thought-provoking and uplifting work, broad in scope but engagingly written. Fully referenced and with a lifetime’s worth of side reading.

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In dark and uncertain times, it’s a pleasure to find a book as unremittingly positive, and as (literally) energising as this one. Wim Hof is famous for his feats of extreme endurance, like running up Everest wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, climbing Kilimanjaro in record time, without the normal acclimatisation to avoid altitude sickness, and for sitting encased in ice for periods that would kill a lesser mortal. Not surprisingly, he is also known as the “Ice man”.

Wim Hof claims no special physiology. Medical tests confirm he is not a freak of nature, and he tells us anyone equipped with his methods can achieve the same thing. Moreover, his methods are simple, and they are not “secret”. Any search of the Internet will reveal them. They are based upon his own life experiences, and his researches of ancient eastern techniques. For example, there are stories of Tibetan monks who sit in the freezing cold, and dry out wet cloths upon their backs by the generation of internal heat. It’s a phenomenon that’s been documented, but has left researchers stumped. It’s that sort of thing, Wim has taken on board, honed it to its essentials, demystified it, and applied it to astonishing effect in his own life. While few of us would feel the need to emulate Wim Hofs feats of extreme endurance, the implications for general health and well-being are equally profound.

The method does not require years of seclusion in a Tibetan Monastery. Rather, it involves a daily regime of breathing exercises, followed by exposure to cold water – say a cold shower every morning. The book outlines the exercises, its applications, and some testimonies from satisfied practitioners, but in the main this is Wim Hof’s personal story, and writes like a force of nature, is inspirational, and comes across as infinitely compassionate. He speaks of his early childhood in Holland, and his drop-out culture youth, among communities of squatters. He speaks of adult tragedy, his love of family, and his mission, which is to pass on this same infectious passion for life.

But is he too good to be true? Inevitably, perhaps, many have thought so. Journalists have sought him out with the aim of exposing him, but have ended up becoming converts. His collaboration with various scientific institutions also adds rigour to his claims, and has further silenced cynical naysayers, though his feats still defy conventional wisdom on how the body works, and what it should be capable of.

The difficulty most of us have with any “method”, however, is making the time, or having the motivation, or just the sheer courage, and I for one have yet to take the cold water challenge. That said, my own studies and practice of Qigong lead me to have no trouble endorsing at least the breathing techniques, which seem like an effective précis of the many methods I have encountered over the years.

The aim of breath work, like this, is to dramatically increase the oxygen content of the blood. Breath is, literally, the stuff of life, it is oxygen, it is the Qi of the Chinese, the Prana of the Hindu, but the western lifestyle means we are often living under stress, which interferes with the breath, restricts it, which results in a permanent state of hypoxia, and a resulting chemical imbalance, which leads to inflammation, to immuno-deficiency, and to all manner of sickness. We gradually acidify. Attention to the breath redresses the balance, boosting oxygen intake, and gradually resetting the dial so to speak. Reading this book has reinforced the answers to the questions my own practice of Qigong posed over the years.

Whilst at pains to provide a rigorous backing for its claims, there is an undoubted hippy, new age vibe to the narrative, and Wim’s language is never far away from the mystical – at least in a secular, new age kind of way. Some readers may find this off-putting, but this is not written as a sterile medical textbook, it is the document of a man’s life, his achievements and his passions, told in his own words, which makes his story all the more readable, and I warmed to it at once.

Wim Hoff: I’ll tell you what I do. I follow my inner voice and listen to what it tells me. I trust my soul sense and let it guide me. I ignore, as best as I can my ego. I know it’s going to be cold in the morning and that those first few seconds in the cold water are going to be unpleasant because my ego tells me so. But my inner voice tells me to bloody get into that cold water,…

We’ve all heard that voice. For now mine’s not urging me under a cold shower in the mornings, though with electricity currently at nearly 30p per Kilowatt hour, I can see the benefits to my pocket, if not also my health. It once happened by accident, a guest house shower suddenly running ice-cold, and the shock of that was so great I gasped for breath, staggered out, and nearly fainted. Wim does suggest, therefore, you go easy on yourself to begin with.

Altogether, a very engaging and informative read. I gained such a lot of knowledge from it, answering questions I’ve had for a long time about breath-work, and it effects on physiology. And yes, I’m sure a cold shower would wake me up in more ways than one, but at the risk of sounding cosseted, I’m happy to take it one day at a time.

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Midsummer from the Pike

My thanks to fellow blogger Ashley, for his evocative Haiku this morning, and from which I stole the title of this blog. My thanks also for inspiring me to get out up a hill this evening, Ashley, and what a golden evening it was. It is of course mid-summer, and the longest day. As I write, the sun has now set, so, in a way, I suppose we have made the summit and already taken the first of those hesitant steps back down. I say hesitant, because the summit is so beautiful, and the air so balmy, and the sky so blue, and nights like this are few.

My nearest hill of any note is Rivington Pike, so that’s where I headed. Early evening and the Hall Avenue was almost as full as it might have been on a busy weekend, so a lot of people had the same idea. Mid-summer clearly means something to us, as a population, as a people, though we may not know exactly what it is. Yet, still, it draws us out. We speak of energy, of peace, of beauty, of dreams, even – dare I say – of the Faerie. To be sure, June nights are often the gentlest, and have about them an air of magic.

Rivington Pike

I made the top of the Pike by around 8:00 pm, still nearly two hours from the sunset. The Pike was filling up, but in a quiet sort of way. There were couples, families, a trio of young women in spandex with new agey trinkets and Yoga mats, and a couple of strapping lads with little pug dogs. All were settling down to see the sun out. There was an air of festival, and – it has to be said – a smell of weed. Druids and other modern pagan groups would be celebrating at Stonehenge, also at Glastonbury Tor. In my neck of the woods, we have the Pike.

As traditional Christian religious observance falls away, there is a tendency to assume we westerners are losing our religion, but all we are really losing is our dogma. People cannot help but be spiritual, for to be moved by a sunset is a spiritual thing. To make an effort to catch a sunset at a turning point of the year, this is a spontaneous religious observance, one for which no church bell needs to toll.

That said, I didn’t actually wait for the sunset, but just rested a while, rested in the subtle energy of those also quietly gathered. It reminded me of something from my childhood and put me in a loving frame of mind, I suppose. All my fellows were my brothers and sisters this evening. I took a few shots with the camera, but felt self-conscious. The DSLR is a noisy thing – one of its downsides. Everyone else was happy with the quiet little cameras on their ‘droids and iPhones. So then I came away, descended the leafy terraced gardens, beneath the Pike, all of which were by now illumined by the golden hour.

Leverhulme’s terraced gardens

There’s probably a wild party going on up there now, with the young ones, and if there is, then good on you, kids! That’s it with the hill of summer, once you make the summit, you feel mellow. I recall, in the I Ching, or Book of Changes, Hexagram 20 speaks of a tower, raised on a hill. It’s a place of contemplation, where we rest from a point of vantage, and survey the paths we’ve taken on our journey, also the paths that lead on from here. The energy of the sun has peaked, raised us up. So now what?

Well, to think of the nights drawing in, the days shortening, autumn and winter approaching, is perhaps to jump the gun a bit. We have the rich splendour of the ripening seasons still to come, when our labours shall bear fruit, or so one hopes. It depends on what one has sown, thus far. And of course, we don’t have to wait so long for the golden hour of light, that precedes the sunset.

Anyway, I retire now, with the clock pressing for midnight, wishing you all good night, and I hope to dream of the Tuatha de Danaan. That’s the other thing about the solstice – that air of the faery and Titatnia, about it.

What’s that? You don’t believe in the Faery? Of course you do. You’re just afraid to admit it.

Thanks for listening.

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I’m not sure if the author had any say in the cover design, or the title, of this book, both of which, to my mind, speak to a different audience to that perhaps intended. Talk of an afterlife is pretty much a taboo subject in polite secular, and even some religious circles. Those expressing belief in it are dismissed as naive, and in thrall to woolly minded thinking. Pastel shades, fluffy clouds, and soft focus apple blossom sums up the popular audience to whom such works as this might appeal. Those wishing for a more sober, scientifically minded approach might be put off, as indeed I was. Had it not been recommended by other trusted writers, I would have passed it by, and that would have been a pity because I think it makes a valuable contribution to the literature.

Many works on this subject deal with anecdotes of the near-death experience (NDE) itself, but, whilst interesting at one level, even compelling, such accounts lack intellectual impact, when taken in isolation. They require us to have faith in the bona fides of the teller, and actually do little to further our understanding of the phenomenon itself. And it is a phenomenon, one very much a part of the human experience, with reports going back to the beginning of recorded history, but more-so in recent years, as resuscitation techniques have improved to the point where we are reviving more and more people who, would once have died. And some of them are telling us strange stories.

Jens Amberts trained in philosophy, and is not an NDE experiencer himself. Philosophy strikes me as a subject in which nit-picking is honed to a fine art, and nit-pick, expertly, he does. In order to explore the subject, he sets up a thought experiment in which he likens the NDE to a sealed room into which people are chosen at random to enter, and explore its contents. They are not able to make recordings of what they find in the room, and must rely entirely on word of mouth in describing what they saw, to others, when they emerge.

Taken at its simplest then, the proposition is thus: how many people do we require, coming out of that room, and all reporting similar findings, for the people outside the room to believe those accounts to be the truth, given that some people are honest, while others are liars, fantasists, attention seekers, easily confused, and so on. Will it take a thousand? Tens of thousands? Millions? As the title suggests, Amberts concludes it is no longer philosophically, or even rationally, reasonable to doubt.

He points out four characteristics of the NDE supportive of the case for their authenticity:

One: in the entire history of the research we can pinpoint nothing, psychologically, sociologically or physiologically that will predict whether a person close to death is likely to have an NDE, or how deep that NDE will be. So, we don’t need to be sympathetic towards the idea, be religious, agnostic or atheist, in order to have one. It’s entirely random.

Two: Of those who have had an NDE, whether they were previously sceptical or not, the overwhelming majority are convinced their experience was indeed what it purported to be, i.e. a glimpse of some form of psychical continuation of life after death.

Three: Those reporting an NDE often describe the experience as “more real” than real life, in the same way that waking reality is more real than the dream state, that the NDE is an experience of being, of cognitive bandwidth, and sensory awareness, that is a quantum leap beyond anything previously known. Indeed, regaining ordinary consciousness after an NDE is likened to seeing the world in black and white, after having first seen it in colour.

And finally, four: We return to how common NDEs are, and the estimates are somewhere between 4 and 15% of the world’s population, or 320 million to 1.2 billion people, have reported an NDE. This means an awful lot of formerly rational, sceptical people are now convinced there is such a thing as an afterlife state, who would never have contemplated holding such a view before.

But for all of that I find myself still very much on the fence, at least as regards what it is we are seeing, exactly, in that room. But this is not to detract from the power of Amberts’ argument. It is more perhaps to illustrate, through my own doubts, the persistence of a perhaps defensive scepticism that will disregard even the strongest logic, and which also lies at the root of human experience.

What is not in any doubt is that something psychologically profound happens during an NDE, an experience that has, as yet, no rational physiological explanation, yet which has a deep and lasting effect on the psyche of the experiencer. What we don’t know, of course – should the experiencer not return to tell the tale – is does the NDE persist? Nor do we know if the 85 to 96% of those not reporting an NDE do so because they were denied entry through the Pearly Gates, and if so, the odds aren’t looking too good for the rest of us, no matter how well we conduct our lives, or swear allegiance to the various religious faiths who profess to be keepers of the gates.

The book was a fascinating, thought-provoking read, and Amberts’ argument will be of interest to believer and sceptic alike, also to students of philosophy who might have no interest in the subject one way or the other, but are looking for a case study in the diagnostic power of a thought experiment.

As the serious literature on this subject mounts, I find myself growing cautious of where the affirmative NDE arguments might lead, I mean socially and even politically. Indeed, it takes very little imagination to foresee societal structures emerging that will precipitate our departure for the next world on grounds purporting to be humane, whether we like it or not – and we don’t know anywhere near enough to be taking risks like that.

If it is true, it may be we’re not supposed to possess any certainty about it. Indeed, I suspect we may be psychologically predisposed to doubt, no matter how convincing the argument, be it religious or secular, and for our own good. Because, again, if it is true, we’re here because we have a contract to fulfil to our own being, and knowing for sure there’s a sure fire get-out clause, if things get tough, well,… that might defeat the whole point of us being here in the first place.

And if it isn’t true, well, it doesn’t matter anyway.

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The arts put man at the centre of the universe, whether he belongs there or not. Military science, on the other hand, treats man as garbage – and his children, and his cities, too. Military science is probably right about the contemptibility of man in the vastness of the universe. Still – I deny that contemptibility, and I beg you to deny it, through the creation of appreciation of art.”

Kurt Vonnegut -1970

Unless you’re already some sort of celebrity, it’s a well established fact the arts are no way to make a living. But what they do for the ordinary Joe and Joanna, is make living meaningful, or even just bearable. It brings each of us back to the centre of our universe. It may be there is nothing to life and death, nor anything beyond it, and all our stories to the contrary are wishful thinking. But the person who takes up a pen, writes a story, or a poem, paints a picture, sings in a choir, dances, performs in amateur dramatics, or even – as Vonnegut once also put it – makes a face in their mashed potato, performs an act of defiance. If there’s art, creativity, inside of you, you have to let it out. Do not deny you have a soul, or the soul will become a demon, and it will eat you.

Trying to write for money nearly killed my desire to write in the first place. It’s likely there’s a good reason my novels never tickled an editor’s fancy, but an inability to court the art-world or write like a Hemingway or a Vonnegut is no reason not to write. My novels have taught me, and shaped me in ways that would not have happened if I’d spent every night in the pub, or watching trash TV. I dabble in watercolours too. I’m no good at it, and can only marvel at the masters, but I do enjoy working with colour. Poetry, comes and goes. Photography is more constant. I spent a good bit of yesterday setting up a shot of a watering can and a garden fork, then waiting for the sky to turn interesting. I don’t know why. Art can use technology, too. It all depends on how you use it. The picture isn’t going to win any competitions, but it’s what I saw and felt, what I was looking for, and what I was trying to express that’s the important thing. And I don’t always have words for that. Nor does it have to please anyone else.

I mention this to illustrate how when we get stuck with one form of expression, we simply turn to another. There’s an endless list of creative means. I’ve just adopted the ones that appeal to me. Thus, we cycle. If we’re not performing for money, it doesn’t matter. The work gets done, effortlessly, and the work is about you. It’s about building you by whatever means come to hand.

I enjoy reading blogs. But the blogs I follow are of a particular sort. They’re not selling anything, and are written by people with no agenda, other than to give vent to their creative energies. And what interesting personalities they are, each of them worthy of a glossy, hard-backed biography on the shelves in Waterstones, and these individual perspectives have shaped me too. But, other than through the semi-anonymity of the blogging medium, these authors have discovered the secret of contentment in being unknown. They do it because they enjoy it, and seek no explanation for it. But they’re growing their souls, and mine, all the same. They are, to quote Kurt Vonnegut again, “becoming”.

I remember an old trades union leader telling of looking up at a monolithic block of Brutlaist flats. To others, it would have presented a grey, depressing vision of “the masses”. But behind any one of those hundreds, or thousands of little windows, he said, was a potential philosopher, mathematician, writer, actor, social activist, or an inspirational leader, and to deny them the opportunity of “becoming” is the tragedy of a regressive society. To treat people as contemptible, as trash, is to diminish all people, everywhere.

I like the way Vonnegut put it in that opening quote. Yes, maybe the materialists are right, there’s no soul, no purpose, consciousness is an illusion, and we’re all just robots made of meat. Who am I to deny it? Yet, I deny it anyway. The soul is a work in progress. The tools we use are the whole panoply of creative expression. And if you don’t feel yourself to be naturally creative, you can always feed upon the art of others. Read. Look at pictures. Watch a play. Listen to music. But try not to fall for what is shallow – you can usually identify it by the fact its purpose is more to empty your pockets for little return, or to make you hate. Try to go deeper, into the sublime, and feel it. And what you will feel there, that is the only reality. Yes, there is certainly a world, a universe, without a soul, where we can erase all feelings with a pill, but it’s one we’ve created. I never said we were perfect, and perhaps it’s integral to the human condition that when it comes to the journey of the soul, we will always have a long way to go. So be creative for its own sake. Every day. It’s good for you. And it’s good for everyone else.

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Drybones Dam and the fishpass, Birkacre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The original memorial to Beavis in Duxbury Woods

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

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

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

Did we say 1842?

Well, the memorial stone reads:

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

1842

This remembrance erected by Susan Mrs Standish, 1870

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you go down in the woods today,…

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