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Archive for the ‘walking’ Category

Rivington Hall

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

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

Great House Barn, Rivington

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

The “Go Ape” Ape, Rivington

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

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

A replica of Liverpool Castle, Rivington

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

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

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

Main falls, Tiger’s Clough, Horwich

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

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

Prospect Farm, Rivington

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

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

Rivington Pike

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

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

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

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The falls on Stepback Brook

It’s a beautiful, mid-September morning. We reverse the little blue car from the garage, and let the top warm in the sun. It folds down easier when it’s warm, and I’m trying to spare it from further cracking. It’s a little frayed around the edges now, and not surprising at twenty years old, but still keeping the water out, so I’m in no hurry to replace it. We fold it back gently, flip the baffle plate, to keep the wind from sneaking up behind our backs, and make ready for the off. Every warm day from now is a bonus, and possibly the last we can get out with the top down, and enjoy the air.

I’ve wasted half the morning trying to load music onto my phone because I want to avoid the radio, but it’s a new phone and I can’t make head nor tail of it, so we’ll make do with the company of our thoughts as we drive instead. It’s a short run today, over the moors to the Royal, at Ryal Fold. It’s cool on the road, but pleasantly so with the heater on just a touch. Of the ongoing national mourning, there’s not much in evidence en-route, a few pubs with flags at half-mast. It’s a different story in the Capital, of course, with all-night queues for the lying in state, and extra trains for the influx of tourists.

The King meanwhile courts an occasional bad press for being grumpy. This is from both the political left and right, and both the royalist and the republican media. Memes are spreading across the Internet, some humorous, some spiteful. This seems to hint at the nature of the future relationship. Meanwhile, dissenters are being arrested. Even holding up a blank piece of paper will get you nabbed.

One broadcaster mistakes a crowd protesting the killing of a young black man by the Met, believing them instead to be well-wishers. It must be difficult trying to keep the commentary up for so long, when not everyone is following the same script.

Anyway, the car park at the Royal is busy, lots of people sitting out in the sunshine, enjoying an early lunch, but the Union Jacks are absent. There is an intoxicating scent of cooking and coffee, mingled with the moorland air. The plan is a circular walk to Darwen Tower, as I have it on reliable authority it is definitely open now after its years’ long refurbishment.

We follow the route up Stepback Brook to Lyon’s Den. There’s been rain recently, and the brook is musical, the little wayside fall running nicely, a generous and shapely mare’s tail. So we sneak down into the dell and try a shot or two, but we’re shooting into the sun, and the lens is flaring awkwardly. We’ll be lucky to salvage anything from it, but no one’s counting, and it’s always fun trying. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the day, and to be out in it, and looking at it the right way round.

Eighteen months retired now, and I’m still not sure if I can call it real, not sure if I’m making the best use of the time I’ve been waiting for so long to enjoy. I’m still aware of time ticking down, but now the deadline is not the Devil dragging me back to work on Mondays. It’s something more final, numbered perhaps in summers, and it needs to be overcome, for the sense of pressing time is the Devil itself.

Climbing the track to Lyon’s Den, we spy a note pinned to the fence. Someone is expressing thanks to the kind soul who found their photographs (we presume on a memory card, or something). We sometimes don’t appreciate how much stuff we have on these things, that their loss would be devastating to us. It is a random act of kindness, then, and a reciprocal gesture of appreciation. The finder gains nothing, materially, seeks no reward. It was a rationally meaningless act, then, yet also the act of any decent human being.

Lunch is served on the bench by the little copse above Lyon’s Den. The view from here is breathtaking. The cooler air of these September days cuts the haze, and jacks the clarity dial up to infinity. The Dales are so clear, it’s as if we could walk to them in five minute, the Cumbrian Mountains, too. Closer to hand is Bowland and Pendle, barely a stone’s throw.

An old timer comes ambling slowly by, trailing a pair of ancient Irish Wolf Hounds. They have the scent of my lunch, and are curious. He’s a pleasant soul, bids me good morning, gently tugs his giant creatures onwards, in the direction of the tower. There’s an air of ease, of gentleness to the day. The tower stands out, way across the moor, a Dan Dare rocket-ship, poised for take-off.

Darwen Tower – Yorkshire Dales beyond

So, a random act of kindness – finding a memory card in the mud, and placing it where the owner might find it, should they come looking. The simple goodness of that act has extended beyond returning those treasured photographs to a grateful owner. It has coloured the morning like a charm. It ripples out in time and space.

I have spent a long time on the trail of something “other”. Those more well travelled say it’s a journey that ends with the realisation there is no “other”. I think I know what that means, now. It grants a certain degree of shape to the cosmos that makes more sense, though it actually has no shape, beyond what we grant it, that subject and object are the same thing.

But the journey is like a long breathing in. And if you hold your breath long enough you get to the point of bliss, and it seems many travellers make do with that, sit on their cushions with their scented candles, and their singing bowls, lost in the emptiness. But you need to breathe out too, and that means bringing something back into the world, a world where there’s so much suffering it’s almost impossible to get anything done, and where nothing makes sense without these random acts of kindness.

But like the breathing in, we make a meal of it, and it turns out to be much simpler if we can only look at things the right way. I’m hoping it’s the same breathing out, breathing something back into the world, that it’s no more than a question of doing the good that you know, as it arises. But it’s a good that must come from an intelligence of the heart, which in turn comes from that journey to the realisation there is no other.

The finder of those photographs felt their loss, because it was they who lost them, they who also felt the joy of their return. I know I’m not making much sense, but it doesn’t matter. The message is in this mellow air, and in the ripples coming out from that little note, the lost, the found, and the random act of kindness.

Darwen Tower

We arrive at the tower to find it is indeed open, and looking in fine fettle after its long refurbishment. I venture inside a little way, take the spiral staircase to the lower balcony. The sun is very bright now and, entering the gloom, I find my old eyes are slow to adapt to the dark these days, so I’m fumbling for the steps with my toes. I’d get there eventually, but don’t feel confident in climbing to the top. The lower balcony will do, and in itself is a stupendous viewpoint.

There are two stories about the origins of the tower. One is that it was built to celebrate the jubilee of Queen Victoria. But there is another story, one about land ownership, and the public’s rights of access to it. Once upon a time, I would not have been able to walk, as I’ve walked today. It would have been an insane trespass, and I would have been seen off by gamekeepers in the employ of an absentee landlord. But it was courageous acts of trespass, defiance, and an ensuing legal battle that opened the ways over Darwen Moor to everyone, and that’s what the tower celebrates. The intelligence of the heart says it was a good thing, securing freedoms we continue to enjoy today. But that is not to say our freedoms cannot once again be lost.

Darwen Moor

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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Rannerdale Knots from The Attermire Scars

Around Langcliffe (and other) scars

My old copy of Eric Langmuir’s venerable “Mountaincraft and Leadership” book contains many a useful tip for the walker, and was a good companion, as a lad, getting me going in the hills. It tells you things like what to carry in your rucksack, what to do if you’re caught out in a thunderstorm, how to ford a river, and how to use a map and compass. But nowhere does it tell you what to do when there’s a bull sitting on the right of way.

We’re in the Yorkshire Dales today, among the many scars and crags above Langcliffe, in Ribblesdale. We’ve had a cloudy start, but the forecast tells us it’ll clear by 2:00 PM. It’s a dynamic sky, lots of textures, but so far the light is flat. Much has been made in recent weeks of the parched brown countryside of the South East, but here everything is green, and there are puddles. It’s warm, but not oppressively so, and there’s an earthy smell after last night’s rains.

We’ve left the car on the road up from Langcliffe, around the 1200′ contour. This little altitude booster brings the walk in at just under eight miles and gets us off to a good start, with some fine views over Ribblesdale.

For the first leg, we head south along the line of the Attermire scars. The plan is for a circuit of the moorland between Settle and Malham, making use of the Dales High Way, and the Pennine Bridleway. We’ll follow it nearly as far as Pikedaw, overlooking Malham, then head North-ish towards Malham Tarn, and finally west, back to the car. It’s not a day of peak-bagging, then, more one for the views of some fine Dales country, and to explore a circuit that’s been nagging at me for a while. First, though, the bull.

He’s a handsome beast, but he looks a bit – well – knackered, surrounded by recumbent cows. It’s that old question, then: can cattle be trusted not to flatten you? The answer to which is: not entirely.

The common sense advice is that, if in doubt, find another way round, but there are no other ways, and anyway this is pretty much open country. If they were in a mood to be frisky, they could be chasing us for miles, and I wouldn’t make a hundred yards. There’s a fence and a gate, a little way beyond, but for that we have to run the gauntlet. What to do? If you ask this question on the hiking forums, you’ll set the Internet on fire with unhelpful opinion. But just like life in general, you can only read the situation in front of you, and it feels okay, so we carry on.

I rarely have trouble with cattle, but it’s still a comfort to put that gate between us. Cattle roam the hills freely here, though, so this won’t be our last encounter. They do seem to enjoy congregating around stiles and gates. My usual approach is to speak to them gently as we pass. It doesn’t matter what you say, of course. It’s a different if you have a dog with you. Then cattle are best avoided, because they hate dogs, and you might find yourself collateral as they try to trample it.

The Attermire Scars and the Rannerdale Knots

The Dales High Way and the Pennine Bridleway coincide at Attermire, and take us up towards the remote Stockdale Farm. The light is beginning to break through a little now, making soft speculative sweeps of the hillsides. The outlook west, behind us as we climb, to the scars, and Rannerdale are especially striking. There are several parties climbing on the crags, by the deep gash of the Horseshoe Cave.

I read there’s a new revised edition of Langmuir’s book, published by The Mountain Training Boards of England and Scotland. I wonder if I should get it, and wonder in particular what it has to say about navigating by Smartphone, and GPS? Probably nothing good. My old copy from 1985 has a foreword by Lord Hunt. These were a hardy breed of men, unlikely to be troubled by cattle. Hunt trained commandos in mountain-craft, during the second war, but is best known as leader of the first successful expedition up Everest in 1953. Postwar there was a rush of people heading into the hills, many of them ill prepared and coming to grief for want of basic knowledge, so there was an effort to set standards, and Langmuir did a sterling job. The Insta generation has brought about a similar rush of ill prepared folk.

Stockdale farm and Ryeloaf Hill

Anyway, I think it’s okay to navigate by smartphone. Mine is waterproof, has OS 1:25000 mapping, a three-day battery, and I carry a spare powerbank. It tells me exactly where I am, all the time. A paper map can just as easily let you down, as anyone who’s tried to read one in a gale force wind will tell you. A compass too can be dangerously misleading in hills that are rich in iron ore.

There are, of course, no simple solutions to every eventuality. You think you’re sorted, well kitted out, got the proper togs, the tech, and you know your Langmuir back to front,… then there’s a bull sitting on the footpath saying: you didn’t see this one coming, did you? Life is never without risk. Venturing into the hills, one accept this, prepares as best one can and takes responsibility for oneself. But let’s not big this up any more than we need to. We’re just out for the afternoon, not exploring the Andes.

The view up the valley is dominated by Rye Loaf hill. This is a remote peak, not walked very often, with as yet no clearly defined route up it. You’d have to make your own way across open country. Through binoculars, I can make out a rough wind-shelter and a survey column on top, all of which is very tempting, but I’ve still got blisters from my last outing, so we’ll stick to the planned route, and no deviations.

It feels like we’ve come a long way, meandering eastwards, up to the high point – this being around seventeen hundred feet. There’s a huge cairn to set our bearings by, here. I’d say it was unmissable, but on another occasion I’ve walked past it in mist and not known it was there. It’s a mystery actually, not marked on the maps, and consists of what resembles builders’ rubble. It makes for good foreground interest in the view over the Grizedales, to the distant splash of Malham Tarn.

The Grizedales to Malham Tarn

The path takes us east of north now, over the Grizedales as far as the junction with the path coming up from Malham. We seem to have left the heat behind at this altitude. The air is fresher and the scent of it is intoxicating. The bridleway bears west at a signpost which carries the daunting news Langcliffe is still four and a half miles away. It’s a long section, this, easy to follow, probably better undertaken on horseback. But, lacking a handy steed, we must make do on tiring feet, the path snaking away over the moor, forever teasing us with how far we’ve still to go. It’s not long before I’m thinking this section has little to recommend it, but then the outline of Penyghent hoves into view.

I think it was Alfred Wainwright who said the mountain Suilven, in Sutherland, had to be seen to be believed, and I agree with him, but that may have something to do with its remoteness. When I saw it, it was after a three-day drive into a sparsely populated area of the UK, soon perhaps to be another country. There is a definite otherness about that region, the wildness, the light, the emptiness. Suilven is an awe-inspiring hill, even getting a mention in a Ewan MacColl song. But it’s recently struck me Penyghent is only around a hundred feet shorter, and equally striking. It rears up dramatically, has a prow like a dreadnought battleship, and is often to be seen sailing over Ribblesdale, on a boiling mist. Penyghent too has to be seen to be believed. It’s just seen a little more often than Suilven.

Anyway, bang on schedule, 2:00 PM, the sky peels open, the sun comes through, and Penyghent starts showing off. We take some time to enjoy the light, but the feet have had enough now, and the path brings us full circle, just in time, delivering us back to the car. Tea and cake in Settle then? That would usually be the next move, but I’m a bit of a tight wad these days, and I’ve brought my own. We open the top to the sky, and enjoy the air. It was a good idea to park up here. The tea tastes all the better for the view.

Days in the sun and the tempered wind and the air like wine
And you drink and you drink till you’re drunk on the joy of living

Ewan MacColl

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The Anglezarke reservoir

It seems a while since I made it out, the past few weeks having been spent sheltering from an oppressive heat. And even though today is much cooler, I didn’t fancy a hill, so we’ve settled on this circuit of the Anglezarke Reservoir, just to get us back into the swing.

It’s a cloudy-bright sort of day, still dry, with barely a drop of rain in ages. The paths are pot-hard, and wearisome. We’ve left the little blue car on the causeway, at the southern end, and are now approaching the halfway point, along the Heapey fold Lane. It’s an uninspiring stretch, all barbed wire, straight lines and miles of that electrified white tape the horsey people use, whether to deter horse or man is open to debate. As for the reservoir, it’s very low, as most of them are now, and, thus far, we’ve had only a few glimpses of it as the path veers shy.

There’s something wrong with my GPS tracker. Every time the phone goes to sleep, it forgets where we are, only to pick us up when I wake the phone again. Which is why our track is as the crow flies, and about a mile long, instead of all wiggly and about two. It’ll be something to do with how Android manages background apps, but this isn’t the time to be sorting that out. I know how far round this walk is anyway: Four and a quarter miles. Flat. Why I think I need the phone tracking us in the first place is a mystery, but we persuade ourselves it’s interesting to know these things, then all we end up doing is fiddling with the phone instead of absorbing properly what the walk has to offer.

We’re late season now, second half of August, and we have several trees along the way showing heat-stress, crisping up for an early autumn. And there are blackberries in the hedgerows, looking plump.

Just here, there’s a fine ash tree, and a good place to settle for lunch, before we plunge into the woods below Grey Heights, and Healey Nab. Heinz mushroom soup today, £1.40 a tin! I fancy the energy bills at their Kit Green factory must be getting on for the GDP of a small nation. I was also saddened to read the Coppull chippy, “Oh my Cod“, is to cease trading, due to the price of energy. I imagine many chippy’s are in the same boat; cafes, coffee shops, too, all victims of the killer watts.

Speaking of which, I’ve been trying to run an energy calculation in my head, one that’s vital to my own well-being. So: if it takes four minutes to boil water using a three kilowatt kettle, and electricity costs 28p per Kilowatt hour, how much for a cup of tea?

It’s taken me a couple miles to come up with the answer: 6p. Now, how many times do I brew up in a day? A lot, for if in doubt have a brew, and I am often in doubt, so let’s say six times. And six sixes are thirty-six, so thirty six pence a day! Times three hundred and sixty-five is,… em,.. calculator on the phone,… 13140. That’s pennies, so divide by a hundred, and we arrive at around £131 a year, brewing up. So, where I’m going with this is,… if we halved the number of brews?

No, wait a minute. Economies like that – like sitting in the dark – won’t even touch the sides. Anyway, when a man has to think twice before brewing up, he no longer lives in a civilised country, and I’d sooner preserve the illusion a while longer.

I’ve been sitting quite still by this tree, and maybe that’s why the ladies’ rambling group comes by and doesn’t notice me, or at least no one thinks to say hello. They’re a fragrant, and colourfully Lycra clad party, and very noisy as they enter the wood, sending up a flock of outraged pigeons. Which all goes to show, when you’re out with your mates, you’re not thinking about how much it costs to brew up, and maybe I should join a rambling group myself. Except, I never notice anything when I’m with a group, and I’m self-conscious lingering over photographs.

Anglezarke Reservoir, August 2022

Built between 1850 and 1857, the Anglezarke reservoir is perhaps the most attractive of its neighbours. But the best walking is along the east bank, where we’re closer to the water and get that lovely dancing light. Today we’re short of water, this northern end in particular, being shallow, emptied early, and is now green with an entire season’s worth of wild grasses and flowers. There’s just this narrow channel snaking down towards the southern end, which retains the appearance of a reservoir. Here, though, the land is reverting to its pre-1850 aspect. I venture down below the winter water-line, back in time, so to speak, to take a picture of the Waterman’s Cottage.

Waterman’s Cottage, Anglezarke reservoir, August 2022

Built in the mock Tudor style. It used to be one of those places I’d dream of living. It’s looking badly neglected now, though – sorry if you live there. But then everywhere’s the same, nothing heading in the right direction any more. It always made for a good photograph, reflected in dark waters, but is now suspended over a sea of green.

Waterman’s Cottage, Anglezarke Reservoir

Just past the cottage, we pick up the path below Siddow fold, and follow the pretty eastern shore towards the Bullough Reservoir. The views open out here, and we can see the deeper, southern end of the reservoir, where it still makes a good show of catching the light. This is the best section of the walk, even when we pick up the Tarmac water-board road, with the sparkle of water coming through mature plantation. Then we meet Moor road, where it snakes down from Lester Mill. The spillway of the Yarrow is dry, of course, and looks like it has been all summer, judging by the vegetation sprouting out of it. Then we’re back at the causeway, where we pick out the smile of the little blue car, waiting. A long four miles, somehow, and ready for a brew.

So we peel back the top, open the flask and enjoy a cup of sweet tea, relaxing in a cooling breeze coming off the water. Sixpence, remember? Or rather no,… forget that. Forget how much it costs to brew tea, for therein lies madness. A quick burst of data on the phone, allows the notifications to catch up. There’s one from Amazon letting me know they’ve dropped off my folding solar panel. That’s to keep my powerbanks and charged for, when the power-cuts begin. It’s another economy that’s not going to touch the sides, but it makes you feel like you’re at least doing something, stealing sunshine. So long as we can walk and write, all will be well. Less so, I fear for others. There is a real sense of teetering on the brink of something awful, but so long as you’re in the mood to read, I’ll be posting my way through it. And I might even finish that novel, before the year runs into Yule!

Thanks for listening.

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Mellor Knoll

A glimpse at the news this morning reveals the media’s sudden interest in a man’s shoes. The man in question is one of the contestants in the game show to become prime minister. He seems to be getting a kicking over the trappings of his personal wealth, which I find an odd line of attack, him being of the party of the rich, and what else does one expect? I have no wish to defend the man, no horse in that race, so to speak, but I wouldn’t expect him to be buying his shoes from the same place I buy mine. It’s a peculiar start to the day, but one that has already raised a smile. I think we’re on to a winner!

And speaking of shoes, it’s looking like a day of intermittent and lively showers, wet underfoot on the fell, even after such a long period of dry – and my best boots are occasionally leaky! We shall have to see how we go. The fell in question, or rather the hill, is Mellor Knoll. I attempted a circuit of this attractive Bowland peak, back in May, but ran foul of motorcycles from an adventure centre, in the woodland above New Hay Barn. They threw me off course, got me lost, and ruined the walk. It’s been a bit of a monkey on my back ever since, and today I intend putting it to rest by completing the route, without a hitch.

We come at Bowland by snaking around Longridge fell, through Hurst Green, Mitton, and Whitewell, then along the valley of the Hodder to Dunsop Bridge. There’s a fast changing light, bright sunshine backed by glowering curtains of rain that sweep down through the nick of the Trough. They deposit a great, glittering soaking, then move on, leaving the wet to steam in the sun. It’s waterproof trousers from the start then, which isn’t the most optimistic way to commence a walk, but the forecast is for a window of drier weather later.

Since I last did this route up from Dunsop, the season has matured, and the hills have taken on a deeper green, as the bracken swells. Last week I was struck by the emptiness of the Stocks’ reservoir, signs of serious drought everywhere, and still talk of rationing this morning. Now we’re climbing towards Middle knoll with a wind to our backs, and driving rain. The grasses are tall, the path little used and, in most places, no more than a faint impression across the steep meadow. Bowland is quiet today, the car park in Dunsop Bridge was empty, and I’ve seen not another soul on the route.

On Mellor Knoll

Instead, our ascent is observed by poker-faced cattle. They turn a blind eye, as we temporarily lose the path and find ourselves on the summit of the Knoll. This is technically a trespass, but it looks like a popular one. Even the cows have been up here to admire the view, if their copious doings are anything to go by. Like before, I claim navigational error, and no intention of taking up residence.

From up here, we can see an opening in the weather coming our way. The views stretch forever, a vast swathe of North Lancashire as it blends seamlessly into Yorkshire, all of it green and beautiful, and blinking in and out as the light moves, and the showers sweep it. We also have a good view of enemy territory, this being the patch of woodland where we were routed by armoured riders last time. A quick sweep with binoculars from our summit vantage reveals no riders today, so we gird our loins and make our descent, ready for battle.

It’s easy to go wrong with navigation. You think you know where you’re going, where you are. Then something happens. It could be an up-welling of thick fog that disorientates you, a sudden squall on a mountain that takes you off the path, or it’s an unmarked way, and you meander into a bog, or it’s motorcycles leaping around you in a forest where there should be only pedestrians. At such times, the brain stops working, and you no longer know which way round the map’s supposed to go. The instinct is to keep moving, even though the sensible thing is to be still a moment and think, to take a breath, re-orientate yourself, find north,…

The line of the path through the woods above New Hay Barn is still obliterated by scores of bike tracks, leading off in all directions, cutting up the land. But without the bikes around, I’m able to locate a shy marker post in the midst of the battlefield. With its help, we trace the line of the path and muddle through. Last time, I would have been mown down.

Totridge Fell

The footpath network is often derided by the landowning community. I’m sure they would sooner it was dissolved as an anachronism, and an impediment to progress. But it’s of great importance, granting us all a fine laced network of access to the countryside, one that’s the envy of other nations. Although we are clearly intended by our maker to live in the world, at least for a time, we are not fully of the world, and it’s the quiet places, the green spaces, the fells, the riversides, the forests that remind us of this all important, non-material side of our natures. Without that reminder, we are lost. We become machines.

For our part we ramblers keep the bargain by using the footpath network as it is intended – on foot, respectful of nature, and the ways of the countryside – and in return we expect the landed to respect our ways, and keep them open. We do not expect scurrilous, unofficial re-routing, down featureless ginnels, nor intimidation by aggressive signage, nor, on occasion, misuse by motorcycles.

Anyway, the monkey climbs down off my back, and the route continues where last time it ended in ignominy. We leave the views of Mellor Knoll behind, and enter into a greater acquaintance with the shifting shape of Totridge fell – quite a monster it is, too. We shall have to think of a way up there for another day, one our legs can keep pace with.

The rain eases off, and the sun comes out in celebration. Waterproof trousers go back in the sack, and we make a leisurely return over emerald meadows, along the Hodder from Burnholme Bridge. On the last occasion, I ended the walk having thought I’d lost my wallet on the fell – I’d actually left it at home. It took the edge off the coffee at the Puddleducks café. Today, though, I settle with that coffee, and enjoy every sip. A toasted crumpet is the crowning glory.

You can pay eight hundred and fifty quid for a pair of gentleman’s Prada shoes. I suppose your gentleman might also want them made to measure, which would jack that up a bit. It puts my walking boots into perspective, and I’d be tempted to stop whining, and finally replace them, except, in spite of the soaking earlier on, they’ve kept my feet dry. That’s more than those posh shoes would have done. No, even for eight hundred and fifty quid, they would have made a poor showing on Mellor Knoll, being made for a different kind of world altogether. One wonders, though, where they add the value. Does there not come a point where, beyond a certain level of quality, I mean, in terms of materials and construction, when a shoe is just a shoe, and the rest is a name? And is it possible to judge a person by the name of their shoes, anyway, or does it not tell us more about the person asking the questions?

Totridge Fell

I wonder what my shoes say about me.

Thanks for listening.

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On Brinscall moor

After several hot days, with temperatures pushing into the high thirties, we wake to grey skies and twenty degrees. Lives resumed, we venture out of doors. So, today, a short run brings us to the moor-side village of Brinscall, where we park near the Victorian swimming baths. By noon the day has grown a little sultry, but nothing on the scale of previous days, and we should be fine for a short walk.

As we make ready to change into boots, a couple of lads come walking by, early teens, singing along to a song on their phones. It’s not what one expects of kids these days. They are singing freely, and unselfconsciously, and have fine voices. The incongruence is striking. I could be cynical and say it’s the Insta generation, that everyone wants to be a pop star,… but they sing so well, indeed beautifully, so good on you, lads.

Speaking of phones, mine broke, refused to charge and now lies dead in a drawer with years of map-notes and useful waypoints entombed within it. I’d thought I was saving them to the removable card, for security, but it didn’t work, and now I’ve lost them, but I dare say I’ll manage. I have a new phone today, a waterproof one that weighs a ton, and I’m struggling to make friends with it.

It says we’re in Brinscall, which of course I already know, but I’m just testing its sense of direction. And so far, so good.

The woods here have grown thick, and dark, and eerily quiet over the summer. The balsam and the ferns are seven feet high, the latter sharply pungent. The Balsam is rampant, finding its way along the arteries of civilisation, and strangling all in its path. We are encouraged to pull it out, to stamp on it before it sets seed for next year.

We take the track up the brew as far as Well Lane. Here, over the wall, we glimpse the giddy drop and the rocky top of the Hatch Brook falls. But there’s barely a trickle, today, and it makes no sound. So, then it’s on up the little road to the moor, in search of a path I once knew, along the edge of the Brinscall fault, which leads to the Coppice Stile House.

There is not a breath of air, and it’s hot of a sudden after, that stiff ascent. The sky is heavy, and the moors are all damp grass, bilberries, and tumbled lines of ancient walls. There is a curious lack of contrast between earth and sky, such that nothing I photograph looks promising. Also, I cannot find the path.

Where are we, exactly, phone?

The phone is supposed to come on when I show it my face, show me the OS map and my position. At least that’s the deal. But it reneges, makes me punch in the pin. I can’t be bothered. I’ll manage, so navigate across the bilberries by the mind’s eye – not always a good idea in my case, since the mind’s eye is as myopic as the other two. But we find the path. It’s not used much these days, just a thin thread alongside a mostly levelled wall. But it’s clear enough now we’re on it, and we make way more confidently south.

On Brinscall moor

Over our right shoulder we have the whole of Western Lancashire, the Ribble and the Fylde. Over our left, the moor rises, Great Hill dipping in and out of view. The stillness and the silence are suddenly broken with great fuss and bother as the Lancashire Constabulary chopper comes buzzing by. It’s on a parallel course, all glittering and purposeful in its midnight blue and yellow livery. We have the unusual perspective of looking down upon it, the rooftops of the towns and villages spread beyond and below, as it patrols its patch. It seems an expensive way of going about things, in these straightened times – coppers flying about, I mean – but I suppose an eye in the sky is worth ten on the ground.

And speaking of the town, I called in on the way over, seeking miscellaneous items, but struck out on all counts. I shall have to order my things online, as usual. The old town continues to dwindle, becomes less relevant, less useful. It was with regret I noted another old café had gone. I used to treat my kids to breakfast there, on Saturdays. It doesn’t seem that long ago. It’s now another cheap boozer, flying a Jolly Jack as its calling card. Betting machines illumine the gloom, and beckon the skid-row chancers within. And slumped within these no hope saloons, a clientele, each resembling a tired iguana, with a pint pot stare. It was barely eleven of a midweek morning, and they were already on their way to a comfortable oblivion. In such places is the future glimpsed, yet at the same time so surely lost.

The moorland grasses and the rushes are slick with overnight rain. It steams gently, and finds its way through the stitching of my boots. The scent of the moor is rich and earthy. Lone uprights of gritstone appear. They are old gateposts, or the corners of enclosures, but which look to have been repurposed from prehistory, their founding myths lost to us. The Stile House, once a farm, is now just another tumulus of ruin, kept company by a twisted thorn tree. Here we intersect the broad way from White Coppice over to Great Hill, and Picadilly beyond.

We’re down hill now, down to the Coppice, and a welcome break by the cricket field. Here all is manicured perfection, in the carefully mown emerald of the sacred twenty-two yards, and then the little white cottages as spectators, in a bowl of shaggy hills. A notice tells me the team is struggling for players. I suppose it’s a commitment fewer are willing to make- to play every weekend of the season, April until September. And of course the burgeoning service industry, with its unsociable hours, is no facilitator of the traditional village cricket scene.

I was always hopeless at cricket, could never lob a ball the right way, and at the crease, with the bat, though eager enough, I always delivered it directly into the fielders’ hands. Naturally, when picking teams, no one wanted me on their side, so I dare say White Coppice can manage better without me.

So now we follow the sleepy watercourse of the Goit, back towards Brinscall, eventually to enter the steam heat of the woods again. A man could disappear for months in here, so dense has it become, a heavy green with an impenetrable and creepy shadow. Only the winter opens it up a little to scrutiny, and then it reveals the ruins of past lives, in the mossy gate posts, and the outlines of dwellings, both humble and grand. It all looks so ancient, but you can find these addresses in the census records, speak the names of the people who once leaned upon these disappeared gate posts.

The riot of spring wild-flowers is too soon a memory. The flowering of deep summer is more subtle now, save of course that blousy balsam. But of a sudden, in the secret, light-dappled parts of the wood, we discover sprays of delicate white flowers, lancing tall from the undergrowth. They seem to paint their own light, where otherwise all would be gloom. This is enchanters nightshade, Circaea lutetiana – Circaea, being from the mythical Greek enchantress, Circe, who had the knack of turning people into swine, wolves and lions.

As with all myths, there are many versions of it. Myths are meant to stimulate the imagination, and thereby live through the generations with each retelling. In my own version, Circe merely holds up a mirror, and the people transform themselves, become whatever is their base nature: swine, wolf or lion. So then the wolves eat the swine, and the lions eat the wolves, and then lions eat one another, or they just starve for having eaten everything else.

It would be a fair assessment of the human condition, and of our future, except, of course, for the memory of those kids singing, and the realisation we need not choose our base nature as our life’s vehicle. In song, in art, in culture, and in the magic of imagination, the mirror cracks, and the spell is broken.

It’s in there, in imagination, as it is when we walk that faint line of the moorland paths, even perhaps in the footsteps of our ancestors, far above the broken towns, we find another, a better way ,to see and to be.

The little blue car awaits, welcomes us back with a flask of tea.

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Brennand, Forest of Bowland, Lancashire

I’ve been thinking I should be travelling a bit further out these days. It’s July after all, and seriously summer. I don’t want to waste another year’s retirement, barely venturing more than a day’s return journey outside of Lancashire. Time to book some B+B, then, and seek out those more distant places, places I don’t get to very often – say the Western Lakes, Southern Scotland or North Wales. But I’ve not done that since before Covid – stayed in a B+B, I mean – mingled with,… you know,… strangers, who might be carrying,… you know,… it,…

So far, touch wood, I’ve not caught it. But people are telling me I’m in the minority now, that I’m bound to get it, that I’m in denial if I think otherwise, so I should just go out and catch it and be done with it. I know it’s less likely to put me in hospital these days, but I also know several people who have caught it recently and it’s taking them a long time to get over it, and then it’s leaving them drained and with lingering chest problems. Getting over it sounds like a long-winded business. Hiking in the hills is about the lungs as much as the legs, and Covid seems to take both. Is it wise then to risk company, for a taste of the unfamiliar, when, to catch it might finish my summer altogether?

Or so ran my thoughts as I browsed places to stay this week, and yes, I’m starting to feel impatient for adventure, but cases are on the rise,… we’ve just reach 200,000 deaths, and in the end, I decided to play it safe.

So it is, you catch up with me today, motoring by the Inn at Whitewell, bound for Dunsop Bridge, and a day out in the Forest of Bowland. The plan is to park a little way up the Trough road, by Langden Brook, then climb the track up Ram’s Clough, to the nick between Whins Brow and Whin Fell. I’m thinking I should get a good view of The Brennand Valley from there. There are lots of stories of lost valleys, secret places, mythical places, idyllic places hidden from view in an otherwise inhospitable wilderness. The most famous perhaps is the legend of Shangri-la, while, amid the bleakness of the fells, here in the north of Lancashire, we have the seldom seen Brennand Valley.

I first came upon it many years ago, after a very long walk along a private road from Dunsop Bridge – private meaning you can walk it but not drive it. I was heading for the circuit of a hill called Middle Knoll, and wasn’t expecting the revelation of the valley on the way. After all these years, the valley is the thing I remember, while the circuit of Middle Knoll is a blank. The way up over the fell from Langden promises to be a more interesting walk, and not as long if I just nip up and down, plus, the start point puts me in the vicinity of the Langden Grill chuck wagon, of which I have heard great things.

However, I’m disappointed today to find there is no chuck wagon, so there’s no gourmet breakfast barm. But never mind, we’re here. It’s an overcast morning, a flat light, the sky mostly featureless, somewhere between Flake White and Paynes Grey. Meanwhile, the air is heavy, pungent with the smell of ferns, and the buzz of flies. The walk takes us up the Trough road a little, which, for such a lonely road, proves busy with zipping bikes and cars. If you’re on the tourist trail in Lancashire, a run through the Trough is likely to be on your itinerary. This brings about an immediate change of plan, and a commitment to not returning this way, but dropping into the Brennand Valley itself and circling back via Dunsop Bridge. It’s further than I was planning, but involves less traffic.

The Trough of Bowland

I’m determined not to get sucked into the already breathless coverage of the Conservative leadership contest. On politics, I prefer satire now to what passes for objective journalism in the UK. The satirist, John Crace, writing in the Guardian describes it all as game-show territory, and even Peter Obourne, former chief political commentator of The Daily Telegraph, speaking on DDN paints us a picture of future governance that is even bleaker in prospect than the Bowland hills this morning. But I’m trying for a day without current affairs, and the little blue car agrees, its radio suddenly, and mysteriously, having refused to pick up the BBC on the drive over.

I find it’s quite a pull, up Ram’s Clough, to the top of the ridge. Considering all the hills I’ve climbed since I was a kid, you’d think they’d be getting easier now, but they never do. It’s with an air of anticipation then we crest the ridge and, sure enough, the Brennand Valley comes suddenly and dramatically into view. It’s remote and lush green against the dour, shaggy brown of the surrounding fells, a patchwork of sweet pastures fanning out from the central hub of the High Brennand Farm. It has to be one of the loneliest places in England. Alas, it’s not a dramatic light sort of day, so any pictures will be flat, even after teasing them out in post-processing. But we’ll see.

Ouster Rake, Brennand

We’re about 1400 feet up, now, so find ourselves an impressive perch to soak up the view, and settle down for lunch. Here I meet the only other walkers I’ll see all day, a sprightly Scottish couple, well into their later seventies, making an ascent of Ouster Rake. I’m curious about the rake as I’ll shortly be heading down it. It has a slightly sporting look as it cuts across the face of the hill, which appears uniformly steep, and vertical in places, so I ask if it had given them any trouble. Oh, you’ll be fine, says the lady. You’re plenty young enough. To have reached my sixties, and still be considered a young man, and without irony, by a pair of active seniors, is encouraging, that while old age can be daunting in prospect, it need not be entirely downhill. I still hope to be rambling the hills at their age. What puzzled me though was how neither seemed out of breath. I will always be found out of breath in the hills, and sitting down for a rest.

But speaking of down-hill, lunch done, and having taken our fill of the beauty of this elevated view of the valley, we make our descent into it. Ouster Rake, though a little giddy in places, at least for a wobbly head like me, was nothing but beautiful. But poor weather, and in particular, snow or ice, I think you’d have to watch your feet here. It would be a pleasure to come back when the heather is in bloom.

The way down to the farm is occasionally faint, the line of the path petering in and out, but we gradually leave behind the shaggy greens and browns of the fell, and enter the fertile grounds, as we make our way into the bosom of the valley. Looking back up the fell from here there’s a sense of regret, now, the high land only briefly graced, and a long yomp back to the car awaits us, along that private road, to Dunsop Bridge, then a little way along Langden brook.

I’m kept company from here by oyster catchers, which seem to be fishing the river. Over the moors, I’d seen and heard nothing. The Forest of Bowland can swing from an austere beauty to a terrible loneliness, in the blink of an eye, perfectly reflective of the personal predisposition, so it pays to keep your pecker up. No drifting off into depressive thinking on current affairs, or this place will crush you. Better by far to let it help you forget.

Later, as I drive home through Osbaldeston, rattling over the potholes, I note the speed camera, which was set afire, back in May, is still in a state of ruin (police seek witnesses). And as I pass the blackened mess of it – the miscreants used a burning tyre – it’s tempting to read it symbolically, as both a brazen contempt for authority, and authority’s now threadbare lack of finances to fix things when they go up in smoke. Is that the state we’re in, now? But let’s not go there. Let’s remember the day, and the beauty of Bowland.

The valley of Brennand, one of Lancashire’s least seen places, and one of its most beautiful. Yes, it would be nice to get a little further out, but there’s still plenty to be going at in the meantime, in this little corner of the North.

The Trough Road

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Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

Another posterior vitriol detachment, this one in the right eye, leaves me with a horseshoe shaped floater in centre vision to match the one in the left eye which appeared after a retinal firework display, a few years ago. I can’t blame this latest one on weeks of close work under the kosh of earning a living, so I must simply put it down to age. I mention this only as a metaphorical illustration of how one’s view of life can change suddenly, after a shift in the mode of vision.

Meanwhile, the horseshoes dance across the white of the computer screen, disrupting the flow. They have me closing my eyes from time to time, taking refuge in darkness, and in thought. Reading books is also suddenly tiresome as they drift across the text, obscuring it and causing it to ripple. I can still walk around and drive without interference. It’s focusing close that renders their presence more brutishly real, and I like to focus. The fresh one will fade a little over time, and having one in each eye has me hoping I’m done exploring posterior vitriol detachments forever. Then again, old age never comes alone. I’m looking at the next twenty years, and hoping my travelling companion into senescence will not be blindness.

We are never just the one thing. This struck me while reading of Ouspensky’s encounter with the magician Gurdjieff, in a Moscow Café in 1915. Gurdjieff – as near as I can understand him – describes people as automatic machines, reacting to inputs, and that they are never the same person, even two days in a row. He has a point. Reading back over the Rivendale Review, I have lost count of the number of people I am, or have been. While being a distinctly human characteristic, apparently, this is not a good thing when it comes to blogging.

Blogging, I’ve read, is about setting yourself up as just the one thing, as an expert at that thing, then readers know what to expect from you, and where to come for ideas. I suppose I’m off to a bad start in that respect, then, never having considered myself knowledgeable about anything, at least not to the level of expertise. Indeed, I’ve always fought shy of it, the level of expertise being where the shouting starts, as other experts vie for eminence. No, I’m far too reticent a character to set myself up as an expert.

I have written about tinnitus, which was once a defining thing for me, and, though all of that is old material, now, it’s still a piece that’s read a lot. However, those readers hoping to find more up-to-date material on the topic, will discover I am no longer that person at all. Of late, I am a writer of mostly local adventures in the English countryside, with occasional thoughts about writing.

Writing what? Well,… fiction and ,… stuff.

I have been a writer on spiritual matters, and still am occasionally, but spiritual seekers don’t know what to make of me, as the Rivendale Review is too eclectic to tune in regularly and expect things of a similar theme on a regular basis. One week I might be blundering through Advaita Vedanta, or Zen, and the next I am scrambling down a hillside to photograph an orchid, or setting up a camera to capture an interesting sky, talking about aperture and shutter speed and focal length because I like technical things as well.

And photographers, encountering such talk, might bookmark me, only to find me writing about the demise of Hen Harriers in the Forest of Bowland next. And bird people intrigued by those avian interests will then discover me uttering dark curses over the price of fuel and butter, as if I can make a difference. I have opined on politics, but no longer have the steam to make a thing of it. Political pundit, then, I no longer am.

I have written about Chinese martial arts, about traditional Chinese medicine, and its western medical correlates, but anyone looking for my current thoughts on the subject will be confused to find I am no longer that man at all. I have explored that world, found much in it that was good, absorbed it, made peace with it, and moved on. So yes, I am pretty well aware of the shortcomings of the Rivendale Review as it glides ever so slowly into deeper levels of obscurity. However, I find I cannot let it go, or change it to more closely resemble what I’m told a blog should be. That would not be me. The Rivendale Review, should be, is, and always will be – obscure.

Gurdjieff was saying this mechanical trait in people is unconscious. We do not know who we are at any particular time, and his route to awakening was a process of stopping the flow, and remembering. That I am writing about Gurdjeff illustrates only another person in me, a man who is interested in the history of ideas, and certainly not one who is a reliable expert on Gurdjieff. Next week I will be writing about something else entirely, while hopefully remembering all these different people inhabiting my psyche are connected by a single thread, and that it is the binding thread that is the important thing.

The world is just so awesomely big. There are two ways we can deal with its daunting dimensions. We can focus down on one thing, and ignore the rest. Or we can follow the ideas of the world wherever they lead. I think the world of ideas was meant to be explored, the universe itself being one’s personal guide with its whispers and its serendipitous segues. That in itself is a kind of stopping and remembering, that while we are indeed many people, knowing that to be the case, doesn’t put us far from the wrong path. While we are none of us anybody in particular, and none of us are actually going anywhere, it does not mean we should ignore the call to journey wherever the mind takes us, and to enjoy the scenery along the way.

The Rivendale Review is just an old-fashioned blog about nothing in particular. And if it must offer anything, I suppose I would like to think that someone reading about the various eccentricities of this one obscure life, might grant permission for other obscure lives to embrace their own eccentricities, and their obscurity too. We have all of us been many people, even in the same lifetime, and none of them are who we really are. Who we are, is the thread that binds them.

Thanks for listening

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Darwen Tower

You can see Darwen tower from a long way off, and from various directions, all over Lancashire. Built in 1898, it’s been under repair for some time now, embedded in an exoskeleton of scaffolding. It was also wrapped in pale green polythene to prevent the workmen from freezing to death, in such an exposed spot, and this also made it even easier to pick out from the most improbable of distances. I noticed recently, though, the scaffolding had come down, so decided to head over for a walk, and to get some shots of the renovated structure.

I was thinking I might also be able to coax myself up it, though the very top of the tower can make my legs wobble. It commemorates two notable events, one being the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Vic, the other being the opening of the moors to the public after a series of successful mass trespasses that wrestled them from the grip of local toffs. But whatever the reason, Darwen is proud of its tower, and rightly so. In these straightened times, it’s good to see it being looked after.

A friend and I once drank a toast from the top, in birthday remembrance of a friend who was recently departed. That was mid-winter, with gale force winds and pouring rain. We could not even see the bottom of the tower, and it felt like being in the basket of a hot air balloon in the middle of a cloud. We used delicate, diamond cut glasses, and sherry poured from a pewter hip-flask, though the alcohol was considerably diluted, I recall, by the rain dripping off my hat.

By contrast, today is a warm, about nineteen degrees, while a high of twenty-two is forecast, for later on, with humidity off the dial. In other words, it’s one of those muggy days that raises a sweat. A poor night’s sleep has also left nothing in the legs, though I recall I’ve used this excuse before. Starting from the Royal at Tockholes, we tread a familiar route, through the farmyard at Ryal Fold, then across meadows, and down into the sylvan ravine of Sunnyhurst woods. Here, a pack of feral school children are raising a din while tearing branches from the trees to beat each other with. I was thinking of settling here for lunch, but decide not to linger, now, and head on up through the Lynch Gate. Then it’s by the Sunnyhurst pub, and on to the more tranquil environs of the moor.

Ornamental falls, Sunnyhurst Woods

I note the Guardian newspaper this morning reports the flight intended to offshore seven asylum seekers to Rwanda, at a reported cost of £550K, has been torpedoed by a last minute appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. The Daily Mail is furious, and demands to know the name of the judge who has dared hold the UK to the letter of the law, this I presume, so they could be beasted on social media. On whose authority the Daily Mail acts, I have to wonder. As I understand it, the UK is not only a signatory to the ECHR, it is one of its architects, this being in 1959, and a possibly more enlightened age. I find all this unsettling, this denigrating of the laws, and the law-keepers. One cannot help but sense a dark cloud passing over the sun, chilling the earth.

As we mount the path to the tower, clouds of flies roar from piles of horse-shit, and mountain bikers careen downhill, doing a hundred miles an hour. Mid-June on the moors sees the foamy white blossom of heath bedstraw, wrestling with the shiny green of wimberry. Then we have the broad brush-strokes of cotton grass, bobbing about against the yellow ocre, and the russet of the moor. There are still buttercups, but also the more delicate yellow petalled tormentil – used in herbal preparations – and as with all such things I wonder how the ancient apothecaries worked its properties out, and who was the first to try it.

Approaching the tower, we discover it’s actually still a building site, ringed by fencing, so we are unable to climb it. I think I am relieved. As for photographing, we have to choose our angles carefully to minimise the remaining ugliness. But I have to say the tower itself is looking very handsome indeed, with all its fresh pointing.

It feels odd, this time of year, approaching midsummer, now, and the longest day, when the summer seems hardly to have begun. Slowly, the days will shorten. Then we must make hay while the sun shines, and the clock ticks down once more to winter gales, and dark at five.

In America, they are calling witnesses in the hearing over that terrible January 6th insurrection. It seems clear there was great wrong doing in high places, yet already a feeling said wrong-doers, even if found guilty, will avoid punishment, and might indeed be left to try their hand at insurrection again. There is a sense of the meek, and the law-abiding being powerless in the face of something clever, but darkly ruthless. And then there is another school shooting, and seemingly nothing to be done about that either.

Darwen moor is beautiful this afternoon, the cotton grass running up the low rise of Cartridge hill, picking out the contours and the hollows in between, adding shape to the landscape as a painter brushes in highlights. There is a slight haze, but plenty of fair weather clouds sailing like galleons in formation, their sails full of a billowing jolliness. There are curiously few birds. I see larks, but they are keeping their heads low, and there is no rapture about them, as if the mugginess has put the same lead in their wings and as it has put in my legs.

On Darwen Moor

There are notices about heath fires. The moor is very dry, now, and I note the rushes in even the worst of the bogs are showing pale brown, and look brittle, like they are dying back for want of a drink. The paths are dusty, the moor is wide open, and hot, but mercifully less humid at altitude. We come to the little oasis of Lyon’s Den, a green fold in the upper reaches of Stepback brook – cool shade from trees planted around the ancient dwelling, which is now just a pile of mossy stones, while the trees live on. Here, we try some shots against a dynamic sky, and wonder about the small lives that were passed here. We imagine ourselves born into those same times, and wonder what we would have been, what we would have made of ourselves, if there would have been the same pathways out of humble beginnings.

And then we’re back at the car, ready for coffee, and a rest from the heat. We click the radio on to hear the government’s ethics advisor has resigned, after coming under pressure to approve of something unethical and, in his words, “odious”. There is some doubt if he will be replaced. In the history of our islands, all of this strikes me as a very grave state of affairs. We turn the radio off, dislike its company these days, and drive home. Mid-June on the moors. They have the most colour, I think, and the cotton grass is especially beautiful just now.

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