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Archive for the ‘West Pennine Moors’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see come Friday.

Thanks for listening

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On the Parson’s Bullough Road

Today’s plans were scuppered by a couple of road closures, which had cut off our destination, White Coppice, from the rest of the world. We’d intended going up on the moors to investigate a remote ruin sources inform me has been re-purposed into a neo-pagan temple. But the gods had other ideas. So, we read the runes, accepted their counsel, and drove on over the twisty little road, to Anglezarke.

Those who live magically say you should always be on the lookout when your travel plans are upended, that the trickster archetype is at work, and you might be about to learn something important, or that your life might be about to jump the rails into some new and fruitful direction. We’ll see. I’m not sure if this is living magically, but the road up by Manor House Farm is a delight this morning, affording magical views of the misty plain. It’s a lovely sunny start to the day, but banked clouds to the north and east foretell a change.

Ten minutes brings us to our default location, a little layby on the Parson’s Bullough road. New car today. Well, new-ish. We were overdue. It drives well, but has a lot of gizmos I don’t really need, including the intrusion of a computer screen. I can plug my phone into it for navigational purposes, and can ring people up while on the move, should I ever feel the need, and truly hope I never do. We traded the good lady’s little Corsa for it, which appeared on Autotrader last night. The dealer is looking for a breathtaking 100% profit on what he gave us, which of course also means my new one is worth half as much as what I paid for it, but that’s the way it goes, and it doesn’t do to dwell.

So, it’s looking like a short hike up Lead Mine’s Clough, then maybe onto the moor. For all that sunshine, cracking open the door, the air feels cold and bleak mid-winterish. This is familiar territory, walked and photographed to death, and written about here, but I couldn’t think of an alternative on the hoof, after the neo-pagan temple plan was kyboshed. If the Trickster has anything to show me, it’ll have to be in the details, something subtle I would otherwise have missed. We’ll see.

Ruined Walls and straw-coloured grasses – Anglezarke Moor

The falls are musical in Lead Mine’s Clough, emptying the moor of its recent rains, and the melting of last week’s snows, but I always find them difficult to get a decent angle on, and not dramatic enough for the scramble that would otherwise be necessary. A popular spot for picnicking down the generations, and well-loved. We hid a coin here, as children, a token of something ineffable, something magical. It’s still there.

We follow the track up onto the moor by Wilkinson Bullough, a long, bleak track, this. We have the ruins of drystone walls, above Green Withins Brook, and isolated groups of pines, sorry survivors of a more extensive forestry, planted thirty years ago, and destroyed by one heath fire after the other – all this amid a sea of straw-coloured moor-grass, upon which the wind strokes waves of silver.

Remains of forestry – Anglezarke Moor

I remember coming this way one summer and meeting a pigeon walking the other way. No, seriously. I may have told this story before. It passed me by, and I wondered why it was walking. Was it hurt? Was it just tired? I looked back, and it paused, looking back at me. I took a few steps towards it, and it carried on. I paused. It looked back. The pigeon seemed to want me to follow it, so I did, for a bit, but it was leading me back to the car, and I wanted to get on with my walk, so I gave the job up as stupid, and carried on. When I got back to the car, hours later, it had been broken into, robbed out and nearly stolen. That pigeon was trying to warn me. I’ve always been superstitious about birds. You ignore the Trickster at your peril.

Approaching Hempshaws – Anglezarke moor

Anyway, no winged messengers today. I’m tempted by Standing Stones hill, which rises bleakly to our left, and from which all the standing stones have disappeared. The old maps, however, show some features I’ve been wondering about checking to see if they’re still there – an old well, the site of a Victorian shooting hut, and the scant remains of a possible Bronze Age burial. But there are no paths up there any more, and the moor will be heavy going, so we’ll just head on round to the ruins of Hempshaws, have lunch, then wander back by the Dean Wood route.

Heinz Chicken soup today, and half a pork pie that needed eating. Delicious in the open air. We find shelter in the lee of a wall at Hempshaws, and settle down. As we do so, our eye is taken by some curious artefacts. Someone must have been having a sweep around with a metal detector. I thought there was a by-law against that on access land, but anyway, they’ve turned up what look like .303 cartridges, the brass corroded to a wafer, now. And they are displayed as if a hand had just left them there for me to find. Look at these, says a voice? What do you think?

Reminders of wartime – Anglezarke Moor

Indeed, says I, but these weren’t used for shooting grouse. They hark back eighty years, to the second world war, when the moors were closed for army training. Suddenly I’m hearing the crack of Lee Enfields, or maybe they’re from M1 carbines, because the Americans were up here too, and I fancy they could better afford the ammunition. Dark days. What must our grandparents have felt, as the world fell into chaos, and their precious boys were being called up to have little fingers of death like these pointed at them? Hempshaws is a peaceful spot, now, but it wasn’t always so.

I feel a shiver, someone stepping over my grave, as they say. It’s a story maybe, something in the casual scatter of these remnants of the past, and the way they are presented. Don’t try to grasp it, let it sink. It’ll come back more pointed if it’s serious, with a cast of characters and a snatch of dialogue to get you going. Leave them be. Next time we pass, they’ll be gone.

Is that why we’re here, then? Did the Trickster want us to see this? Or was it just the old gods didn’t want us photographing around that neo-pagan temple? I would not have blogged it, I plead – or at least I would have been vague about its location, while waxing lyrical about neopaganism. I’m not of a neo-pagan bent myself, but I would not have wanted trolls going up there and vandalising it. The gods remain silent on the matter, and fair enough.

Yarrow Reservoir

Anyway, we leave the cartridges to the elements, make our return by Old Rachel’s, and then the right of way which no longer exists, through the electrified meadow, where we must now run the gauntlet of rich people’s horses. The horses, muddy and over-coated, ignore me, but horse can have a peculiar sense of humour, and I wonder who is liable if I am kicked in the head by one.

Then it’s by the Yarrow, the light fading of a sudden, though it’s only just past two. The clouds are thickening, the weather changing, now. We sink into the car for a restorative brew from the Thermos, plug in the phone, ask it to plot a course for home. The iron brain obliges, and her voice is sweet. In another eighty years, we’ll be needing robots to tie our shoelaces, because we’ll have forgotten how.

She gives me a route, not the one I would normally take. So, we’ll go home the way we normally do, see how well she keeps up. It’ll drive her mad, but her voice is better company than the radio.

Just four miles and five hundred feet or so, give or take eighty years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stubai 4 point instep crampons

The cold snap continues, with temperatures down to minus four this morning. There’s been a light fall of snow since we were last out, and it’s become frozen like hammered glass, under a light powdery coating. A clear, dry day today means conditions are too good to be indoors, but we need to find the instep crampons first. I don’t want to end up like the poor old guy who broke his shoulder, and ended up strapped to a plank and driven to A+E by his granddaughter in the back of a van, because there were no ambulances.

Our health service has been running on fumes and the good will of its staff for too long now, and looks finally to have been pushed over the edge everyone, at least on the left of politics, knew was coming. Like Kinnock said in 1987: in the future don’t be young, don’t get old, or ill. He could easily have added: don’t have an accident. He was speaking of the consequences of a win for Thatcher’s conservatism at that year’s election, but our current administration makes hers seem positively benign. They are the most brazenly right-wing we’ve seen since the eighteenth century, and ideologically opposed to the very concept of socialised medicine. And the sharks who keep them in power clearly want it gone.

So, anyway, instep crampons. I bought them after a nightmarish descent from the Old Man of Coniston, one winter, many years ago. I’d gone up the south side which was clear and sunny, then came down the shadow-locked north side, which turned out to be treacherous with rime ice. Fortunately, I haven’t needed them for anything but fun since, and then only rarely do we get the conditions in lowland UK when they’re handy. Not all walking boots are suitable for your full-blown, mountaineering crampon, but with insteps you’re fine. Any old boots will do, and they take up hardly any room in the sack. Mine are old Stubai 4 points, probably considered antique now, but they still work.

The roads are clear as far as Rivington, though no further. Sheephouse Lane has been abandoned to the elements, and is closed to traffic. The first job is to remember how to put the crampons on. People are slithering about all over the place, so it looks like I’m justified in taking the precautions. We’ll do the Pike, up by the Ravine and the Great Lawn, then circle back by Wilcock’s and Dean Wood. A shorter walk than last week’s, then. About five miles and a thousand feet. The light is stunning – crisp and bright – and we should get some good shots.

The way becomes scrunchy and Christmas card-ish very quickly. I recall the insteps require a conscious effort to hit the ice with the rear spikes first, feel them bite, then roll into the front ones, but once we’ve got into the rhythm, it’s like engaging four-wheel drive. What is it about snow that gets us excited? It’s sufficiently rare here, I suppose, but it also adds another dimension to the landscape, turns the familiar into an adventure, and there’s the lovely way it paints blown-out highlights on bare trees. Then there’s the cold, and the feeling of aliveness as we warm up through our exertions in the sharp air.

The Ravine, Rivington Terraced Gardens

During the summer, the terraced garden volunteers had been working on clearing more of the Ravine, and it’s astonishing, the details they’ve uncovered – pools and runnels that have lain hidden for a century. We try a few shots here, but nothing really grabs us. It needs lots of tumbling water, so, we’ll be back after heavy rains. What we’re really anticipating as we climb, is a picture of the Pike, under snow. Along the way we note the old building that was once a public lavatory (abandoned for years as a vandalised abomination) is now re-purposed as a café, which explains the trail of discarded paper cups I’ve been following on the way up.

A glorious day, yes, and one to be enjoyed, but now and then I can’t help fretting over the various trials of my offspring, as they attempt to gain a foothold in the world. Number one son, recently moved out, has been awaiting an Internet connection for a month, and is no nearer a resolution even though he’s already paid for a month’s service – that he’s required to work from home is impacting his job, so he commutes to my place and occupies my study. And number two son, mortgaged to the eyeballs in a two bed starter home, has just found out he needs a new roof, though the survey said everything was just fine. I’m realising parenthood is for life. You never stop worrying, be they five or twenty-five. Indeed, the older they get, the worse it is, because you know you have to close your eyes, let them go, and get on with it.

There are other young men having a fine old time, here, sledging down the Pike. I wonder why they are not at work, or if the world has changed so much, I was a fool to keep going until the age of sixty, that for all those years, there were people half my age having a Beano on the Pike. I don’t know what the secret is, but do not begrudge their obvious fun. I’m only puzzled as to why it took me so long to wise up.

Rivington Pike, Winter 2022

The snow is deeper here as we reach the high point of the walk, at around 1200 ft. The crampons loosen as the boots warm up. A shake of the foot reveals the problem. Tighten the strap and on we go. We walk a little way along the path to Noon Hill, so we can shoot the Pike under snow with a starburst of sun. I wonder briefly then about carrying on to Noon Hill, across the open moor, but that’s a tougher walk than I fancy today, so we stick to plan A, come back to the Pigeon Tower, then down through the terraced gardens.

Pigeon Tower, Rivington, Winter 2022

There are mega-buck four-wheel drives – kings for a day – on the Higher House carpark, which suggests they ignored the road-closed signs on Sheephouse Lane. The road here is like glass, and nearly as hard, but the spikes keep us upright and enable steady progress to Wilcocks, along what resembles, in places, a river of ice. Then we cut for home, along the top of Dean Wood. There’s nothing like the feel of those spikes biting, and they keep you firm in places where you’d ordinairly not be able to stand up! No, now is not the time for a broken leg and A+E.

Then I’m thinking back ten years, to a night in Preston Royal. The ward was like a war zone, the staff clearly knackered, yet kind, and the surgeon with a face that betrayed the weight of the world on his shoulders, and my mother discharged into the dead of night, to die of inoperable cancer. I’d hoped they might let her rest until morning, but they needed that bed for someone they’d a chance of saving. And so it goes.

It’s fine if you’re fit and healthy, but at some point we all need care, even if it’s only for the final few weeks, to see us out. So, for pity’s sake, fellow Brits, wake up. Don’t let’s go the way where a health emergency costs us our house and our life’s savings, and our children their house, and their life savings too, and all so an already rich man, lacking in self consciousness and shame, can indulge his whim for an ocean going yacht, or a doomsday bunker in New Zealand. Don’t let me carry that one into my next novel. I’m looking for the off-ramp into the bliss of Zen, not back into the mire of class warfare.

Dean Wood Avenue

A little after two now, and the sun is creeping low. It’s dead ahead as we walk this avenue of ancient chestnuts, now – such a beautiful stretch, filled with memories of hunting conkers with my children. Pockets full, and still plenty left for all comers, and the squirrels too. I wonder at how quickly the time has flown, and how little of it we have to enjoy the company of our children – though I also recall it doesn’t always feel like that when you’re in the thick of it. Though my boys have left home now, I still collect a few conkers in passing, come the season, just for the sentiment. Anyway, the light is dreamy now, so we chance a shot – late day, winter ambiance – and then again as we walk the brookside path towards Church Meadows.

Towards the Church Meadows, Rivington

Then we’re back to Rivington, and the car, and peeling off the boots. This is such a small beat, and I’ve known it all my life, but it keeps on giving. Whatever bit of green is your part of the world, you will never know any other so well, and so intimately. And that’s a gift.

Now the temperature’s falling, and we’re looking at another sub-zero night, but the Met office says rain and ten degrees come weekend. We have to enjoy these things while we can.

Keep safe.

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Winter Hill, from the climb to Spitler’s Edge – West Pennine Moors

The delivery lady came sooner than expected, but also just in time. She’s a familiar face now, and a cheery soul. With the decline of the high street, our delivery drivers have become the engines of the nation, indeed the saviours of it during Covid lockdowns, yet are still treated appallingly by profit-driven employers who deny even their status as employees. Anyway, she took my picture holding my package as proof of delivery. Job done and she’s on her way.

She’s brought me a new walking jacket, or rather a mid-layer fleece, which was rather thicker than I’d been expecting. But then again, I wasn’t expecting temperatures of minus five this morning when I set out for the West Pennines. I’d worried I might boil in the jacket, but as fate would have it, that wasn’t a problem at all.

Everyone who regularly wanders the Western Pennines will have their own definition of what constitutes the classic route. Mine starts from Rivington, takes in the Pike, and Winter hill, then across Spitler’s Edge to Great Hill, down to White Coppice, then back to Rivington via the Anglezarke reservoir. It’s a longer walk than I’m used to, just under 12 miles, and a couple of thousand feet of ascent – a broad circuit that takes in the higher moorland summits and shows off the very best of the scenery.

The day had warmed to a few degrees below freezing at Rivington, which, at 9:00 a.m, was still in the shadow of the moors. There were golden frosted leaves under foot, and wreaths of mist snaking through the trees. But then we climbed into sunrise through the terraced gardens, and into the calm, clear light of what was suddenly looking like a beautiful winter’s day.

Then we tackled the Pike. The lack of wind was a blessing. It would have been arctic otherwise, and the walk curtailed to something shorter and less exposed. It’s odd, but when the Pike is the main objective of the day, it can have you puffing and halting to admire the view, but when the mind is thinking beyond it, you seem to make the top with half the effort.

Rivington Pike from Rivington Moor

Beyond the Pike lies the morass of Rivington moor, and a steady climb to the masts on Winter hill. But crisp days make the going easier, the bog being mostly frozen. Alpine sticks help probe the way, and keep you steady on the ice. At 1496 ft, Winter Hill is the highest point of the walk, and lots of ice here. One can hardly describe it as an attractive summit, among the transmitters, but with your back to them, the immediate view of the moor, and the northern hill country beyond it is breathtaking.

After the trig point, it’s a sharp drop, into the chilly shadow of the hill, to the pass of Hordern Stoops, where we once again emerge into sunshine, and another long climb to around 1300 feet, on Spitler’s Edge. I was last up this way in the spring a warm, early evening, with the cotton grass bobbing about. Winter presents a much bleaker aspect, of course, and it’s not a day to linger for long, but thus far the new jacket is proving to be something of a miracle, and a very fortuitous delivery.

This long stretch between Winter and Great Hill used to be more of an adventure, along vague paths and peat hags, but it’s increasing popularity over the decades has resulted in it being paved from end to end with gritstone flags recycled from old mills. They once rang to the strike of clog irons, now it’s the hiking boots and the scratching of Alpine sticks. It makes the going much easier and preserves the precious habitat. We brave the surface of the land by day, when the sun shines, but scurry back to our beds to pass these cold nights, nights that embalm the moorland grasses in layers of hoar frost, and render the lonely ways thick with ice. This would be a bad place to be after dark, the cold finding its way into the layers of even the warmest coat. But by day, on days like this, the images will enter our dreams and our memory, to rise in flashes of warm reminiscence in the years to come.

So, Great Hill now for lunch, and views across a pale inversion to the mountains of Cumbria and the Dales. Bowland and Pendle seem so close, we feel we could include them in our day’s loop. Then it’s down to Drinkwaters, and Coppice Stile, where we were only last week, up from Brinscall, and on a completely different kind of day. We take a shot of the thorn tree which we photographed last week, and which is today looking very wintery.

The sun is slipping low, now. Such short days, and I’m conscious of the time. We’ve been on the move for about four hours, and another two to go. At the back of my mind is the self-imposed curfew of not being on the road after lighting up time. We’ll probably have to forgo that one this evening, and run the gauntlet of the SUVs burning the paint off our car and my retinas, with their headlights.

White Coppice

Down to White Coppice, and a chance to photograph the tree I spotted from afar, last week, holding onto its leaves. I had thought it was an oak, but closer inspection reveals it to be a beech, its leaves all coppery, while around it, its neighbours stand bare, fingering sunbeams and casting long shadows. Photographers usually define the golden hour as the last hour before sunset, but in these northern winter months, we can enjoy it for much longer.

Anglezarke Reservoir

Like now, for example, and this mellow light over the Anglezarke Reservoir as we rest before the final push. There’s a bank of cloud coming up, snow forecast for overnight. We grab what we can of it with the camera, drink it down to memory before a gloomy stillness comes on, then it’s a long twilight back to Rivington, frost already settling at the wayside. The day is fading out, but I’m loath to paste it back home, and the Barn looks so inviting, lit up and jolly. Table service now. It’s three years, pre-pandemic, since I last enjoyed its hospitality. The young lady comes to take my order. Six hours of a perfect winter round on the moors, finished off with a hot chocolate, and a toasted tea cake.

Classic! Though I’ll probably be a bit stiff tomorrow.

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Drinkwater’s Farm – December 2022

Lunch today is chicken and mushroom soup, and a seeded roll. Our venue is the ruin of Drinkwater’s farm, third sycamore from the left. It is my favourite table, shared, no doubt, with many others, but not today. Today we have the ruins, indeed, so far, the moor all to ourselves.

We’ve come up from Brinscall’s Lodge Bank, which is a long-winded way of doing it, but it makes for a more attractive walk along the Goit valley than the direct ascent from White Coppice. The wooded section, along the Goit, is mostly winter-bare now, just the occasional beech aflame in red and orange, against a background of misty, mysterious gloom.

On the way up, I spied turkeys under makeshift cover, as protection from avian flu, which is hitting Lancashire pretty hard at the moment. There will be a shortage of the birds come Christmas, just as there is already a shortage of eggs. More worrying, though, is the ongoing devastation to the wild bird population. Although naturally occurring among birds, the severity of this outbreak is pointing to our abuse of the natural world, in particular the factory farming of birds, and a wider breakdown of our ecosystems.

Anyway, we’re looking for winter colour today, looking for compositions along routes I must have scoured with the camera countless times. But there’s always something new – a different light, a different angle, a different mood. The bright-eyed holly is in berry now, and the gorse – somewhat confused – is half asleep for winter, yet also half flowering for spring. The bracken, sometimes reaching seven feet high in summer, has now died back to piles of rusty straw, and the mosses, and lichens are a lively green. But it’s mostly the shapes of trees that fascinate at this time of year. Shorn of foliage, their limbs twist and twine, gesturing like dancers in expressive pose.

From the Brinscall woods, we came up by way of the track from the ruins of Goose Green farm, a place that used to double as the Green Goose, being licensed in olden times to sell ale to farmers. What yarns must have been shared in that place, now just an outline of stones in the swelling earth. This sinewy path runs south, is modestly elevated along the line of the Brinscall fault and punctuated by gnarled trees, some of which have now fallen. One of the last before White Coppice took our eye as its limbs, coiled and bent, indicated the way.

Goit Valley – White Coppice

Then it was the moor, more shades of rust, and silent under a uniform blue grey sky. Out across the plain, to the west, there was the dense line of an atmospheric inversion, but the plain itself was mostly clear. It’s a grey day, rather cold, a fine rain blowing in from the east. At the ruins of Coppice Stile house, just a featureless tumulus of rubble, now, we tried to do justice to the wizened old thorn tree. A shy sun peeped through momentarily and helped lend some contrast. I seem to be visiting familiar trees more often than I do summits these days.

Thorn Tree, Coppice Stile

Then it was on to Drinkwaters, to the sycamores, and lunch. Great Hill is tempting, and it feels wrong to skip it, but we’ll leave that for another time. The days are short now, time pressing, and I am sticking to my resolve not to be on the road after lighting up time. The higher set LED headlights on SUV’s have long been painful and blinding to me, and to many others, according to reports. And most cars these days seem to be of the SUV variety. The only solution, I suppose, is to get an SUV myself.

“Excuse me. Is that the Round loaf, over there?”

A passing walker. We hill types are none of us really strangers to one another, and gel at once when in our natural environment. The Round Loaf – a huge Bronze Age burial, is prominent on the skyline. The guy is interested in routes, is not familiar with the Western Pennines, but is keen to find his way around its antiquities. There are routes from this side, but vague, and prone to bog. We discuss options. He will try from the Rivington side, another time, from where the going is easier. We discover a shared interest in the lost farms, as named on the early OS maps. Then he’s on his way, up Great Hill, most likely never to be met again.

Great Hill

I take photographs, wide angle to soak up what little light there is, now. I never know what the camera has got, and can spend many a pleasant hour, afterwards, post-processing in the digital darkroom, teasing out what I thought I saw, or revelling in what the camera saw, and I did not. Drinkwater’s is effortlessly photogenic whatever the season, or the weather.

We begin our return to Brinscall along the track by Brown Hill, noting the line of shooting butts as we go, these having been cobbled together from the remains of drystone walls. There were dubious claims from the shooting fraternity, earlier in the year, that avian flu had not been detected in game birds, so there was no need, they said, to curtail their usual post Glorious 12th jamboree. But the situation overtook them and, with a little unexpected help from BREXIT many shoots were indeed called off.

Shooting butt, Brinscall Moor

We pick up the terminus of Well Lane, a short but steep drive up from Brinscall. There are always a few cars here, people mostly emptying their dogs on the moor. A short detour brings us to Ratten Clough, which has the distinction of being the best preserved of the lost farms, and a moody place at the best of times. But, unlike Drinkwater’s, I always struggle to get a good composition here. We prowl around for a bit, try some shots, but nothing has a definite tingle to it. It doesn’t matter, it’s just good to be out, and feeling warm, even on a cold day like this. It also saves on heating the house.

Ratten Clough, Brinscall Moor

December 2022, and coming up on two years retired, now. I remember what it was I used to do for a living, but haven’t a clue how I did it any more. It was remarkably easy to let it all go. Writing, reading, walking, photography – these are much better ways to spend one’s time.

So now it’s down through the Brinscall woods again, to connect with the Lodge Bank, and the car. Boots off, and a cup of tea before we make the drive home. There’s an ancient duck comes to say hello, a long time resident, scrounging for seed. I hope it avoids the flu.

Five miles round, and around 650 feet of ascent.

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In Roddlesworth Woods

It’s not the first time I’ve arrived at the start of a walk to find I’ve left my boots behind. But it’s okay, we’re not climbing mountains. It’ll just be some soft, dew-damp meadows, and gravel tracks, so the cheap hiking-trainers we’re wearing will probably be okay.

We’re at Ryal Fold again, in the Western Pennines, and the plan is to explore some paths we’ve not walked before, so we can add them to that mental map of permitted ways. We’ll be wandering through extensive woodland, towards Abbey Village, returning along the reservoirs and Rocky Brook, and maybe to finish we’ll come back over the moor by Lyons Den, to check on the heather.

We’re looking for signs of autumn’s advance, now, looking to enjoy some woodland photography, but as ever, it’s about enjoying the outdoors. The scent of an autumn woodland, all mushroomy and damp, early leaves composting where they lie, all of that is a delight to be savoured. The walkers’ café at Ryal Fold is busy, lots of people sitting out with coffee, enjoying these intermittent days of warm sun, and there’s a party of ramblers setting out for Darwen Tower, all noisy with well-met chatter.

Of current affairs, our new Chancellor has gone and there are rumours the PM is to be ousted too, in the coming weeks, only having been in the job five minutes. Much of the mortal thrust of last week’s “fiscal-event” is to be reversed, but the crash it precipitated is still reverberating. Retirement nest eggs are now ten percent down, and pensions are once again under a cloud as the Bank of England winds in its support of the long term bond market. And no, I don’t understand any of this either. I would subscribe to the Macbethian world view of current events, that it is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing“, but that requires a philosophical leap when life-savings are going down the plug hole, and they’re putting security tags on tubs of butter.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.

I don’t know Shakespeare at all, other than the fact we can always find bits of him to suit whatever the occasion:

Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.

The man definitely had a way with words. So anyway,… before we’re “heard no more”, off we go, and plunge into the woodland. It’s still mostly green, just a thin carpeting of gold from the first fall of leaves. There’s sunlight pooling in the clearings, illuminating the canopy, spilling along the still lush sprays of beech, to be caught at last in outstretched fingers of ferny fronds, now sinking into a softening earth. There is Birdsong, but otherwise an absolute stillness, shoes and trouser cuffs already wet from their licking, as we crossed the meadows. There’s a plane of water glittering, glimpsed now and then through dense woodland as we walk. And, yes, that autumn scent.

In Roddlesworth Woods

“Have you taken any nice photos?”

It’s a large man, well padded in fleece and parka, his beanie set at a jaunty angle. He has a muddy little dog with him that looks to be having fun. I judge both to be friendly. Cameras were once a more common accompaniment. Mine now marks me as a die-hard geek. Most people are happy to make do with their phones.

“Not yet,” I tell him. “I’ll probably get some as I go up by Rocky Brook.”

“Oh aye.”

He doesn’t know Rocky Brook. I can see it in his eyes. His accent is local, but he wasn’t brought up around here. The familiar names of places no longer stick as they once did.

And no, so far I’ve been making all the same mistakes, so there are no “good” pictures in the can. I have a slow lens in a shady woodland, which means shutter speeds are dropping to 1/8th of a second, which even image stabilisation struggles with. So, it’s all motion blur, poor focus, and the usual mystery of how the eye filters out the messy confusion of a scene, which the camera subsequently reveals.

The Roddlesworth reservoirs are pretty much full, these being the first in the long chain of water-gathering that forms a semicircle around the Western Pennines. On the highest, there are rowing boats at rest, these being for use by the Horwich angling club, but which today form convenient perches for cormorants who are also fishing, and not known for returning their catch.

Fishing cormorant

And speaking of tales told by an idiot, I’m beginning to suspect the current fiction-in-progress is moribund, and I am in danger of losing touch with it. There are two types of writer. One roughs out a structure of the entire storyline, knows where he’s going before he starts, then sticks to that plan and writes to suit it. The other type, like me, doesn’t. We open with a scene, a feeling, and a handful of characters, then see how it goes. Sometimes it goes well. But sometimes you hit a hundred thousand words and things dry up, and you’ve no idea what you’re trying to say any more. Your characters get distracted by current events, so your story starts weaving about and losing momentum.

My story started off in a quiet woodland like this, with the discovery of a fallen beech tree and the age-old philosophical question: if a tree falls alone in the forest, does it make a sound? The way you answer that question puts you into one of two camps. Most people will answer yes, of course it makes a sound. How can it not? But if you think about it more deeply, you realise it doesn’t, and that’s a rabbit hole from which there is no escape.

There are several trees here in Roddlesworth that look to have come down in last winter’s storms, perhaps over-night, or otherwise, when no one was around to see them fall. And there are older trees that fell long ago, now with mushrooms growing out of them. None made a sound as they fell, which is to say we create the world of experience entirely through the senses, but that’s not how the world is in itself. How it is in itself, we don’t know. This is not woolly minded new-age thinking. You simply meditate upon the tree that falls alone, and you follow the question to wherever it leads.

My fictional protagonist is exploring the meaning of such a world-view, while trying to ignore the sound and fury of the world, and he’s trying to work out where true significance in life lies. But I think it’s led me on a bit too far, and it’s opened another door, one that requires a new story, and cannot merely be tacked on to the old. And I’m not sure I can be bothered finishing the old one, either, since it seems to have served its purpose. Or worse, I’m tempted to close it in a hurry, like: they all woke up, and it had been a dream, sort of thing. Best to let it settle, let the characters decide if they’re done or not. But it’s been all summer, and it looks like they are indeed done. I don’t know, if you write, is it best just to let a project go when it no longer resonates, even when you’re within a shout of the dénouement?

Anyway, it turns out cheap walking-trainers aren’t the best of things for walking in. After a couple of miles, you start to feel every pebble. Stand on a coin, and you can tell if it’s heads or tails. We slow the pace and linger for some shots by Rocky Brook, but here the dynamic range is more than we can capture, even bracketing the exposures. There’s a bright sparkle of sun from the little falls, and then deep shadow. The Nikon I’m using will bracket three shots automatically, but I need more, and for that I’d need to fiddle about with a tripod, and I can never be bothered carrying one. Higher up the brook we find a more shady dell and another little fall, one that that’s rarely visited, yet it’s one of the most attractive. Here the dynamic range is more within our means.

By Rocky Brook, Roddlesworth

We settle into the dell for soup. The falls too make no sound, when there is no one around to listen. Imagine that! All the beauty in the world, the sound, the scent, the vision, we do not experience it without the mind first creating it.

We pop out onto the road by the Slipper Lowe car-park. The car-park is empty, closed off, now. From here the moor rises, bright in the sun, pale as straw. We’re perhaps too early for the heather, but I had thought we’d be seeing some by now. We make a start on the climb, but the feet are burning through these thin soles, so we cut it short, contour round on another unfamiliar but beautiful path, towards New Barn, then back to the car at Ryal Fold. A splendid day, early autumn, five and a half miles round. Note to self: next time, don’t forget your boots!

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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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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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