Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

On Whernside

Whernside is something of a paradox. It is the highest of the three peaks of Yorkshire, at 2415 ft, yet also provides the gentlest of ascents, the starting point at Ribblehead being a considerable leg-up at 980 feet. It is not particularly photogenic in itself, yet provides a platform for some of the most stunning views in the dales. The trail is pounded constantly, of course, by three peakers as part of their epic undertaking, but as a day’s objective on its own, it lends itself to an especially fine round of about eight miles. And the climb to the summit is, at this time of year, is almost bettered by the return to Ribblehead, through wildflower meadows. These seem to be a new feature of a rural England, recently awakened to the steep decline in our pollinators – our bees and other bugs. I’m not sure if this is aided by a decline in the numbers of sheep being grazed, for they do seem fewer in recent years – the latter being the tell-tale of an economic, rather than an ecological, collapse. There are certainly pressures on traditional upland farming, post crash, post BREXIT. And it’s plain to all who walk the hills that things are changing.

We came this way in April, last year. There was ice and snow that day, and very few cars at Ribblehead. Today, there are droves, and a chuck wagon selling everything from hot-dogs to 99’s. At the nearby station pub, the jolly jacks are flying, and there is a festival air. It’s a strange place, Ribblehead. Its altitude has it catch some atrocious weather, and there is an air of remoteness about it, yet there is always something of a gathering here: cars, coaches, trains passing, walkers in procession.

It’s still cool as we step out, and the sky is moody, but the forecast is for things to clear around noon. We’ll just about be making the summit by then. For now the tops are lost in a lingering cloud, but the day has the feel of brightness and warmth to come. Sad to say, we’ve left the little blue car at home. She blew a hole in her back box this week and, though the resulting deep, throaty note sounds lovely, like a tuned exhaust, there’s a risk it’ll get very noisy of a sudden, so she’s waiting on repair. Instead, the Astra carried us with a stately kind of grace, this of course being a modern illusion, courtesy of cleverly folded paper-thin steel, mixed plastics, and packing foam.

Blea Moor signal box, Settle Carlisle line

From the iconic viaduct, completed in 1875 we make our way up the rough trail, by the railway line to Blea Moor. There’s a signal box here. Weather blasted and forlorn, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was abandoned, but it’s still manned 24 hours a day. The signalmen work in twelve-hour shifts, and their day starts with a mile long walk, in all weathers. It has the distinction of being the remotest signal box in the UK. First shift starts at six a.m., yet far from being considered a hardship post, it is one of the most coveted, amongst signalmen.

It’s a long walk in, this, and in the process we lose sight of our objective, only gaining it again at the aqueduct which carries the lively Force Gill, and us, over the railway. Here we have a grand view of the line as it emerges from the Bleamoor Tunnel. They run a good deal of freight on this line, gypsum and timber being common sights, but the jackpot is one of the heritage steam excursions. I’m guessing there are none today, or there would be enthusiasts here with cameras on tripods looking to catch these beautifully restored behemoths as they emerge in an explosion of steam

One of the hazards of this tunnel, in winter, is icicles, which can grow as long as fifteen feet. That’s not going to be a problem for Network Rail today, though. The clouds clear on time and, from a moody start, we find ourselves climbing gently over a sunlit Slack Hill, thick with cotton grass, bobbing about in a pleasant breeze.

We have had no rain for many weeks now, and the ways are dusty. I’m not sure if it’s a result of my last struggle up the fells of Patterdale, but the legs have no problem today with the gentle, and mostly paved route to gain the ridge. Like many of our popular upland routes, they were beginning to suffer from erosion. At the same time we were pulling down the mills, and someone had a bright idea of taking up the flagstone floors and laying the pavings end to end across the moorland routes. Not all walkers approve of these paved ways, and they do present their own challenges in winter, when iced, but mostly I think it’s been a success. From a distance, they are also invisible, unlike the ugly scars that were once becoming such a regrettable feature of the national parks.

As we begin our climb in earnest, and gain the ridge at Knoutberry Hill, the path catches a fierce upwards blast of wind, which accompanies us most of the way to the summit. Here we finally attain the lee, and the sun gets to work. The views open up, and the charms of Whernside are revealed as the ringside seat of impressive Dales scenery. Ingleborough dominates to the south, while to the west, suddenly, we see Lancashire’s only remaining mountain, the lonely and little visited Gragareth.

It’s busy here, lots of hikers about. It’s the school’s half-term this week, and many of them are very young, and nice to see them starting out in the right way – either that or being put off the hills for life. The sense of altitude from Whernside is exhilarating, the land falling away steeply to the left and to the right, but it’s the view Ingleborough that most draws the eye. It’s usually the final of the three peaks to be climbed, before the long descent to Horton, and it must have struck fear into the hearts of many a walker over the years, already tired from two stiff climbs, to be suddenly faced with its towering crags and gulleys, and all this after another long slog across the dale to get to it.

I have been digitally detoxing these past few weeks. I have been reading, instead of doomscrolling, drawing pictures and feeling out the direction of the current work in progress. Our access to digital and especially the “social” media is doing something to our brains, I think, sucking something out of them, dulling the imagination. I feel much better for the break, much more creative and in touch with that indefinable inner self. Current affairs can be addictive, and they have a deleterious effect on the psyche, over time, whereas time spent in the high places, like this, are a tonic. And on days like this, the tops can be lingered over, their views truly savoured, erasing all of that which is less wholesome to us.

Wild flower meadows, under Whernside, Late May 2023

We walk on, a little way south, now, before making our descent. It’s a steep one, and used to be tricky, but extensive repairs have provided basically a stairway, which is nevertheless still hard on the knees. The legs are reduced to jelly by the time we come down to the farms at Bruntscar and Broadrake. From here, a delightful series of meadow ways scoots us back to Ribblehead. The last time I was here, that cold April day, I noticed the signs pleading with us to keep to single file across the meadows, and today we reap the rewards of it, a beautiful thread of a path across a golden meadow – mostly buttercup, but also clover and mayflower.


One again though, it is the view of Ingleborough, rising across the dale, that draws the eye. You can never walk any of these hills too often, and I suspect I’ll be up there again before the year is out. Easy going now on smooth, tracks of crushed stone, which paint our boots white with their dust. And then the final bend, around which the viaduct calls us home, back to the car and a well earned brew.


Whernside: a beautiful circuit, not too hard on the legs or the lungs. 8 miles, 1400 ft of ascent.

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Simon is a scientific officer, assigned to a field station on a remote Scottish island. He has lost contact with the mainland. Phones, Internet, email, are all down. Local broadcasts on FM and Medium Wave are silent. The ferry that connects him with civilisation can no longer be summoned. By night, the lights from the mainland no longer shine. It is as if the world has disappeared, and he is the last man alive.

The station is self-sufficient, generates its own power, and he has food to last him months. He is in no immediate danger. But how can he find out about what has happened to the world beyond?

A technical guy like Simon would be thinking of the short wave frequencies. He would be thinking of how he could build a receiver, and erect a wire for an antenna. The short waves carry signals over immense distances. If anyone, anywhere, is broadcasting information about the fate of the world, he’ll pick it up there.

I’m describing the genesis of a work of fiction, of course. Imagination has steered me in the direction of the short wave wireless frequencies as a plot device. But from the point of view of the story, at least, I’m no longer sure I need it. There’s more going on that I find equally compelling, like the humanoid robot Simon has rescued from the sea.

That robot takes me into cross-genre territory, which I recall was always a strict taboo in the days when I cared about attracting a publisher. It is a rejection slip, already in the post. Except no publisher will ever see this story, if indeed I ever complete it. I am writing for myself, following where it leads. If you write online, fiction or non-fiction, you should write for yourself too. Forget about the approval or otherwise of everyone else, and just do it.

For now, the robot remains, and I’m having fun with it. But the short wave thing, though possibly redundant as a plot device, has leaped the pages into real life. It inspired me to buy a receiver and to hang a wire antenna from a rickety lash-up of bamboo poles. This basic rig has so far picked up transmissions from Nashville, China, Korea, Romania and Turkey. It has picked up the Morse code exchanges between amateurs bending their meagre wattage across the North Sea – I find the rhythms of Morse to be curiously soothing. There is a phone app that listens to the dots and dashes and translates in real-time. They seek contact, with a distinctive burst of CQ… CQ… CQ… followed by their call-sign. In an age of modern communications this might seem anachronistic, but that anyone should still be interested and capable of doing it, I find inspiring.

I built a basic receiver when I was a boy, encouraged by my father. Instructions came in a Ladybird book. At it most basic, it consisted of a long piece of wire, a ferrite rod, a germanium diode and a crystal earpiece. There was no power needed, since the energy of the radio waves themselves was enough to drive it. It was miraculous to me, as were the far distant stations we picked up with it.

Perhaps inspired by those experiments, my father bought a world band receiver. What he wanted was a Grundig Yacht Boy – the bees knees back then. But what he could afford, on a pit deputy’s wages, was a Russian VEF, which actually served us very well.

And I find the short waves, for all their hiss and crackle, still fascinate. There is no certainty about them. You can pinpoint a faint signal, and note its frequency. But your chances of finding it again depend on atmospheric conditions, as much as broadcast schedules.

When I used to explore the dial on that VEF, a quarter turn, nosing through the mysterious aether was all it took to make a fresh discovery, a foreign voice, a snatch of exotic music, before the static swallowed it again. Sometimes you could keep on station by chasing it with the dial. But mostly it would be gone, a shy ghost briefly met, then departed in the misty swirl of night.

VEF 206 (USSR 1975)

My current rig is more sophisticated. Online resources also enable us to pinpoint and identify transmissions. This demystifies things to a degree, but also adds to the breadth and depth of the experience. There’s still something romantic about it, I find, and anything romantic is, for me, always worth exploring. What do I mean by this?

I can look at my phone any time, and get the news from the BBC. But it’s so much more thrilling to stumble upon it broadcasting from the relay station in Ascension island, and sounding like it’s coming from the far side of the galaxy. And if the short waves are, as some say, a pointless medium now, why does China Radio International broadcast so powerfully, and in so many languages?

All this started with a paragraph that popped out of the imagination, and a story that’s not currently going anywhere. I have left Simon sitting on a rock, on the beach at midnight. He’s staring out at the blackness, where once there shone the comforting lights of a distant harbour. I don’t know what comes next for him, or his robot companion. The story will deliver the answer eventually, if that’s what it intends, and I’m not stressing over it. Me? It had me working out how to raise a wire five meters in the air, then I could listen to the pops and squeals of the universe beyond my own shores. It inflated me with an irrational enthusiasm, and an energy that’s been curiously lacking of late. Then it brought me back to the blog, and to thinking.

We can read a blog, written and posted anywhere in the world. Blogs are a high bandwidth medium, containing all manner of information. There will be plenty of metaphorical static, plenty of meaningless pops and whistles. But there will also be poetry, prose, and stimulating points of view. Meanwhile, my antenna offers only scratchy reception, and sometimes only the dots and dashes of small talk I need a computer to decode. Yet the medium persists, is resilient, difficult to block, and one’s listening leaves no digital trace.

Much of our past, our history, is written in the short-waves. How much of our future lies there is uncertain, but I wouldn’t dismiss it, given that powerful transmitters are still pointing at it, beaming music, chat, culture, current affairs and, yes, propaganda, tens of thousands of kilometres, heedless of borders. It also needs nothing very sophisticated, either to transmit, or to receive.

Western Internet sites are currently blocked in Russia. This is easy to do, easy to control information on modern, digital networks. Less so with the analogue short waves, which is why the BBC have revived their World Service broadcasts into Ukraine and, over the border, into Russia. When all else fails, when the lights go out, when your phone dies, and the Internet goes down, you can still ride the short-waves, join the dots and dashes of a human hand, in the swirl of night, seeking contact,…

CQ,… CQ,… CQ,…

As for Simon, perhaps what he really needs more than a short wave receiver right now, is a boat. How about if one were to simply wash up,…

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Evening, Southport Pier (by me)

It was the late great Kurt Vonnegut who reminded us the arts are no way to make a living. You can apply this to any of the arts – writing, poetry, painting, photography – all things we amateurs take great pleasure in. This is a pity, but it’s also an obvious fact of life in a world that values capital, above soul.

We might wind up in a toxic job, suffering under bad bosses, and psychopathic colleagues. Or maybe it’s more simply that we find the day-to-day business of paid work unfulfilling, because that’s just the way contemporary work is organised, robbing us of all sense of our own agency. It is only through our art, carried out in free time, we become re-animated through our satisfaction in what we do, and by exploring life’s meaning. Through the lens of art, life takes on a greater depth and a richness. Without it, life is featureless and void as any workplace on a wet Monday morning. We can hardly be blamed then for making the connection, and wanting to earn a living by our art. During my own early working life, I sought financial independence by writing, and by landscape photography. Neither worked out. Obviously, some artists do make it, but for the main part, at least, Kurt was right: it’s no way to make a living.

The Ruined Windmill, Harrock Hill, Lancashire (by me)

Some formerly amateur “hobby” photographers have made a success of themselves by virtue of the Internet, setting up smart YouTube channels where they can be the stars of their own show. I follow a few, find them entertaining, and a useful source of tips and tricks, but I have also noticed they are not making a living from photography. When we look more closely, we realise that although their photographs are very accomplished, they are making a living by selling a lifestyle. They gain followers, and thereby earn ad revenue, and sponsor products and services. They also hold workshops which others pay to attend. As for their picture, they actually make very little from sales. Like everyone else, then, they have to reach beyond their art in order to pay the bills. If you are an articulate, good-looking and charismatic individual, moderately skilled in picture taking, I dare say you might do as well as any other YouTube photography guru. If, however, you are an introverted, camera shy, tongue-tied old gargoyle (like me), it’s probably better giving it a miss.

Bank End Farm, Cockerham Marsh (by me)

But this does not mean the art of photography is denied us. Quite the opposite. We have the opportunity to become much more intimately acquainted with it, to truly grow our souls by it, undistracted by the need to apply our art to the business of making money. That said, we have to reconcile ourselves to making a living by conventional means, and making our peace with it. Then we can begin to explore the art in photography.

It would be vain to call myself a photographer. I have a smattering of technical knowledge gained ad-hoc over a lifetime of simply fiddling with cameras. I have picked up compositional guidelines – the rule of thirds, for example, or the Golden Mean. I can talk about the times of day when the light is more interesting, more dramatic, but if we are not selling our photographs, these details are secondary. What brings us back to photography, to the frame and the shutter, is something else.

“Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing, and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Lone figure, on a hill. Rivington, Lancashire. (by me)

This comes close to nailing it for me. My own photography is mainly landscape and rural scenes. It fits in with a love of exploring those wild places that remain to us, here, in the British Isles, mostly the North of England within a radius of a couple of hours drive from home. I walk with a camera. Just a camera. Too much gear, and especially a lumbering great tripod, gets in the way of the freedom to move, to stalk those things Cartier-Bresson describes as continually vanishing. And in the hills you are better packing an emergency bivvy bag and an extra layer of clothing than, say, a bag of photographic filters or other accessories you are unlikely to use.

A patch of light on a fellside, a dramatic formation of clouds, above a light-painted tree, a single mountain standing out from its neighbours by dint of time and light, and moment. All these things are continually vanishing. Blink and they are gone forever. They are moments to be enjoyed in the moment, of course, as we bear them witness, and this is the pleasure of the walk. But if we can return home with a camera full of images, we can continue to explore our day though the dimension of the photograph, and what more we can draw out of it in the (digital) darkroom.

Penyghent, Yorkshire Dales National Park (by me)

This way, an afternoon’s walk, say in the Yorkshire Dales, can be enjoyed, relived, and explored for the rest of the week, or longer as old photographs are revisited. And sometimes even the shots we thought blurred and uninspiring can reveal something new, something unexpected at a later date in their colours, shapes, or contrasts. This is the art in photography, and anyone can do it if they are so minded.

How we develop as photographers is down to individual experience. Beyond a basic grasp of the triangle of shutter, aperture and ISO, the rest is application and, here, as Bresson says, your first 10,000 photographs will be your worst. In other words, we gain nothing by having our camera in a box. We must get out there, and use it.

“A good photograph is knowing where to stand.”

Ansel Adams

Drinkwaters farm (ruin), Anglezarke moor (by me)

The difference between a snap and a photograph is in the perspective. Two photographers can capture the same subject. One will record the subject as existing, in a documentary fashion, the other will frame and express it, and add to it something of the moment. It’s like looking at an apple. Fine. It’s an apple. But how does it make you feel? How you express that is down to where you stand.

As for the kind of camera, a simple phone camera has plenty to teach, and reveals as much about the art in photography as a top of the range Leica or a Hasselblad. Art is not about counting pixels. It’s about growing the soul. And the art is in the image, even a grainy one. I am still discovering things in pictures I took twenty years ago, with a 3 megapixel camera – considered the bee’s knees at the time – when now even 24 megapixels is pedestrian, at least from a technical perspective. And personally speaking, I shall never bottom the potential of my 24 megapixel Nikon, and to which I apologise, for I am sure it would perform much better in more capable hands.

But then:

“All the technique in the world doesn’t compensate for the inability to notice.”

– Elliott Erwitt

And, likewise, all the megapixels in the world are secondary to the eye’s ability to look and to truly see whatever it is looking at.

Thanks for listening.

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M6 Northbound. 10:00 AM. The forecast was for minus two overnight, and nippy all day, but the day is already shaping up to be a warm one. We’re heading for the pretty little Dales village of Clapham. As we drive, the mind meanders, pausing now and then on a snippet of news picked up from this morning’s dawn doomscroll. The chief economist of the Bank of England, a Mr Pill, tells us we must accept we are all a lot poorer, now, and stop expecting it to get any better, and certainly not by agitating for a pay rise. Mr Pill’s pill is indeed a bitter one, and I must be careful not to choke on it.

The run east from Crook O Lune, through Caton and Hornby, towards the Dales is such a beautiful drive. Conditions look perfect for the hills, and a little route I’ve not walked before. We’ve got a blissful blue sky, and meadows so green they make your heart ache. Ingleborough puts in an early appearance, and tells us we’re nearing our destination. The plan is to visit an upland area littered with boulders that came from the Lake District, during the last glacial period. These are the Norber Erratics, and I’ve had them on my list for a long time.

Parking for a day in the Dales, is typically half the price of the Lake District. In terms of prettiness, Clapham is easily the equal of what the Lake District’s Grasmere might once have been, had it chosen another path, and which Grasmere has now lost to tourism. Thank heavens, Wordsworth never so much as hung his hat here. I’m sure there are many fine poets who have lived in Clapham, for the setting most definitely inspires verse, but they remain obscure. They attract neither pilgrimage nor the curse of memorabilia.

Clapham Tunnels

We head for the church, and enter the tunnels. These are a peculiar feature, giving access to the fells, but without our having to cross over land owned by the Big House. Instead, we go under it. I recommend a torch on poor days, or if returning in the gloom of twilight. I have literally fumbled blindly through them on occasion, but not today. After the tunnels, it’s a stiff climb up a broad track, then we’re on our way to Austwick, and Robin Proctor’s Scar.

Here we meet an enormous school group, and a lively bunch they are too. When my good lady was teaching, so many safeguards needed to be in place for a school outing, they were becoming all but impossible to organise. It’s good to see some schools still making the effort to get out of doors, but cheery as these youngsters are, I’m glad they’re coming down, and not going up at the same time as me.

Robin Proctor’s Scar

Just past the scar, a path strikes north, climbing to the plateau where most of the erratics are scattered. They are indeed an impressive sight, some of them massive, and beautifully weathered – much darker gritstone rocks, sitting atop the white of the native limestone. This is a place to loiter, so I do, prowling around for photographs, most of which I manage to fluff.

This is said to be one of the premium sites in the British Isles for students of geology, and it’s plain to see why. Interesting glacial factoids: twelve thousand years ago, the ice was half a mile thick, and the last British glacier to disappear was in the Cairngorms, only three or four hundred years ago.

Norber Erratics

We decide upon our favourite erratic, hunker down beside it to take in the view and rest a while. What about that Mr Pill, eh? The foodbank queues are getting longer, the NHS is on its face and the poor have been huddling together in dedicated, council run warm spaces over winter. But this is the first time I’ve actually heard it admitted that there is no real concern among the plutocracy things should be better for the population at large, and no plan to get us even halfway out of the mess we’re in.

Anyway, we have a much more pressing problem now. The right of way gives out in a dead end, up ahead, and we must return to the valley, lose quite a lot of altitude if we are to pick up the path that will take us up Crummakdale. But I’ve just spotted a ladder stile that gives on to the open access land around Thwaite Scars. This is an area the map shows littered with cairns, and crags, so I suspect a profusion of faint ways, and long drops. With luck, we can contour round and intersect the Crummackdale path, without losing the height we’ve gained so far.

Over the stile, we follow the wall north. There is a faint way here, but hard to tell if it was made by sheep or man. Still, it’s easy going, and the wall draws us a good long way, before tumbling to ruin over precipitous crags. The path skitters along the edge of its remains, but the exposure is extreme. The route definitely shows use here, but perhaps by mountaineers who have more of a head for these things. As a humble pedestrian, I could be walking into trouble, so back track a little, try a faint path higher up the fell, and this brings us more safely around the dangers. The view of Penygent from this angle, is breathtaking.

Penyghent from above Crummackdale

A profusion of faint ways now crosses a more gently undulating area. The land closes in around us, pockets us quietly, and there is a sense of having lost one’s way. The mind temporarily misbehaves, refuses to think properly, confuses west and east. I’m probably wanting my lunch. The map on the phone spins uselessly around our position when we activate the electronic compass. An old Silva compass settles the argument, and on we go. Phones are great for pinpointing your position, and a real boon in bad weather, when you might otherwise be reluctant, or even unable to unfold a map. But an analogue compass is still a good thing to carry, if only to set north.

Anyway, we crest a hill and the massive cairn on Long Scar rises into view, Ingleborough beyond. A friendly hand, it waves the traveller in. Over here, it says.

The cairn on Long Scar

Lunch at the cairn. We are a little way above the grand fissure that is Trow Ghyll, a popular route up Ingleborough. Our way is clear, now: simply pick up the head of Long Lane, and follow it back to Clapham. This is a daunting proposition, though. Long Lane is so named for obvious reasons. Arrow straight, a rough track bordered by drystone walls, it undulates into infinity. There is no past, no future, and an almost supernatural lack of progress when walking it. There is only an infinite now. Fortunately, that now is in the midst of some of the finest Dales scenery.

Long Lane

I don’t know in what context Mr Pill was speaking, nor what the media intended we are supposed to make of it. At face value, it seems an incredibly crass thing to say. And anyway, he’s wrong, because on days like this, in places like this, we are all enriched beyond measure.

About seven miles round, seventeen hundred feet of ascent.


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Image by Nightcafe Studio AI

There is no shortage of criticism of the artificially intelligent chatterbot ChatGPT. I’ve been snippy about it myself, here. It takes only a few Q+A’s to work out it’s mostly peddling BS. The one good thing we seem to hear about is the plausibility of its answers. But plausibility does not always equate to truth. I asked it to list the novels of “Michael Graeme”, thinking it would tell me it had never heard of him, but it did not. It went on to list a few of the books I’d written, along with many titles I had not, and which – more to the point – did not exist. It appears to make stuff up. And it’s good at it.

Now, of course, I’m anthropomorphising. It does not actually “make stuff up”. Only humans can do that. It’s more that the way it is programmed causes it to give the impression it makes stuff up. ChatGPT is what they call a large language model. It takes an input, and generates an output based on a statistical analysis of the huge pool of linguistic data at its disposal. But that linguistic data is the product of generations of human beings. It is our written language. Our language is at the core of ChatGPT. We are its DNA.

Writers of fiction have much in common with ChatGPT’s ability to make up stories. Stories are plausible lies. The difference between us and con-men, and ChatGPT is we do it for art and entertainment, and our readers are complicit. We take a character, put them in a situation, and see how they react. The plausibility of their reaction depends on their nature. Act too much out of character and the reader isn’t going to be convinced. Similarly, slip an alien abduction scene into the last chapter of a gothic love story, and the reader is going to feel cheated.

We can go the whole hog and ask ChatGPT to write an entire story for us: Give me a thousand-word story about a man who finds an abandoned car with a body in the boot. ChatGPT will deliver. But don’t expect to win any prizes with it.

A more intelligent way of using it is as a sounding board for ideas. You’ve already written part of the story. You’ve got your guy, he’s come across an abandoned car. He flips the boot lid, discovers the body. Let’s add a bag of cash. The guy’s basically an honest, decent type, but he’s hard up, needs cash badly,…

But then you get stuck. The imagination won’t come up with the next piece of the puzzle. Perhaps you don’t want to sound too corny, too obvious, but whatever you come up with must still be plausible. You could ask a fellow writer. Give me some ideas for what might happen next, and the likely consequences? Or you can ask ChatGPT. So I did.

ChatGPT says, and I quote verbatim:

As an AI language model, I must clarify that the following actions and consequences are hypothetical and should not be taken as legal advice. The actions of the man in this scenario would also depend on his personal values and ethics, which can vary from person to person.

With that said, here are some possible actions and their consequences that the man may take upon discovering the abandoned car, body, and cash:

Call the authorities: The most ethical and responsible action would be to call the police and report the incident. This would potentially help in identifying the body and also in tracking down the owners of the cash.

Consequences: If the man chooses this option, he may not receive any monetary benefit from the cash, but he would have acted in a morally and legally responsible manner.

Take the cash and leave the body: The man may decide to take the bag of cash and leave the body, without reporting the incident to the authorities.

Consequences: This action would be illegal, as taking the money would be considered theft. If he is caught, he could be charged with theft and possibly even with being an accessory to a crime, since he did not report the discovery of the body. Furthermore, he may experience psychological trauma due to the guilt and anxiety associated with his actions.

Take the cash and report the body: The man may decide to take the cash and report the discovery of the body to the police.

Consequences: This action may be seen as a middle ground between the first two options. While taking the money would still be considered theft, reporting the discovery of the body could help the authorities in their investigation. If the man is caught, he may face legal consequences for stealing the money but may also receive some leniency due to his cooperation with the authorities.

In conclusion, the most ethical and legal course of action would be for the man to report the discovery of the abandoned car and the body to the authorities. While taking the money may seem tempting, it would ultimately lead to negative consequences and potentially serious legal trouble.

The first option is the most obvious, and advisable to take in real life, but we’re dealing with fiction here and that would be the end of our story, rather than the beginning. The second option, take the cash and sneak off with it, don’t report the body, suffer guilt as a consequence, and legal peril when the cops catch up,… that’s perhaps the most obvious choice for a story, as well as being entirely plausible. But it’s probably already been written, and a thousand movies based up on it,…

The third option, take the cash but report the body, I’d not considered. It’s slightly less obvious, perhaps, and could be an interesting alternative. Already the imagination has latched onto it and is feeling out its potential.

This is a simplistic example, but we can see how ChatGPT helps us explore ideas, and in a way that is meaningful to us as writers and, ultimately, to our readers as well, but without falling for the fallacy that it can simply do our job for us.

ChatGPT and its ilk are here to stay. They will of course be used in stupid and inappropriate ways by time-pressed or just lazy people. They will be used by unscrupulous or just cowardly bosses as a proxy for treating their workers badly. They are being used to write advertising copy, filling the blank spaces on those corporate blogs. Students are using them to write essays, which they submit verbatim for assessment. Like any new, transformative technology, AI can be society’s worst enemy, its best friend, or more likely a bit of both. If facts and truth are your business, I’m still of the opinion it’s best avoided, at least for now. But if it’s ideas you’re exploring, like any conversation, it can stimulate your own imagination into coming up with things you’d not considered, but which nonetheless already exist, albeit in nascent form, like fish in the vast ocean of our linguistic heritage. ChatGPT, used wisely, can be a means of simply fishing for them.

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This was one of those novels I’ve been thinking I should read, but never got around to it. I was thinking it might be a bit heavy, the kind of story it was advisable to read the Spark notes first. I found it on the shelves of a charity bookshop, still in pristine condition, never opened. Clearly, others had felt the same way about it. But I tried the first paragraph, felt we might get along, and decided to take it home with me. I’m glad I did.

I don’t know Steinbeck very well. I found his prose sparse, but he uses it to create an overall structure of great beauty. This is a long novel, covering three generations, and the characters have a powerful authenticity. Set in the Salinas valley, California, it opens around the time of the civil war, and takes us through to the first world war.

Actually, I like to read a book like this without first cribbing from the Spark notes, or online reviews. A serious novel will speak to a reader in different ways, as they take from it what resonates with their own psyche. Afterwards, I find it useful to skim the notes, see what I missed and usually – fair enough -it’s quite a lot. But what we seem to agree on here is that it is a story very much concerned with the idea of good and evil. It draws on Biblical themes, namely the story of Cain and Abel.

Read as myth, Cain and Abel has various interpretations. Basically, the brothers Cain and Abel make a sacrifice to God. Abel’s sacrifice is welcomed, and he enjoys good fortune. Cain’s is rejected, for no reason that is ever explained. So, Cain is angry with God, and jealous of his brother. Eventually, he kills him. Steinbeck takes this scenario and works it into the relationship between our hero, Adam Trask, and his brother, Charles. He does it again through the relationship between Adam’s sons, Cal and Aeron. Genesis has a great deal to say about the human condition. Philosophers and theologians have been arguing over it for millennia. Steinbeck’s conclusion is that while there is evil in the world, it is never inevitable we shall give ourselves over to bad ways. Though we are born with a certain nature, one we can perhaps do little about, we do have a choice in the way we conduct ourselves, morally.

Estranged from his brother, Adam moves to California with his new wife, Cathy, and buys a ranch. He has inherited money from his father – a convincing bullshitter who manipulated his way into the heart of government. Both Adam and Charles suspect the money to be embezzled. On a neighbouring ranch are the Hamiltons, based on Steinbeck’s own family. The partriarch is Samuel, who befriends Adam, but senses something strange about his wife. Adam employs a Chinese cook and general dogsbody, Lee, who is also disturbed by Cathy’s strangeness and, it turns out, with good reason.

Cathy is actually a monster. She has left a trail of destruction in her wake, including the murder of her parents. Skilled in the arts of sexual manipulation, she has worked as a prostitute, and a blackmailer. Fleeing from a near fatal beating at the hands of a man she underestimated, she reinvents herself and manipulates her way into marriage with Adam, as a means of escape. Adam is blindly in love with her, but knows nothing of her past. She bears him twins, but it’s uncertain they are Adam’s. She makes it plain she has no interest in being a mother and a ranch wife, and tells him as soon as it is over, she will leave him.

This is a dramatic opening. By the time of Cathy’s flight, we have a cast of well fleshed out and fascinating characters. Adam is in love with a ghost, unable to see Cathy for what she is. Sam Hamilton, a wise and sympathetic man, is struggling good naturedly with the stony ground of an infertile ranch. Lee, my favourite character, speaks to most people, including Adam, in pidgin, because that’s what everyone expects from a Chinese. But with Sam he lowers his guard, and reveals himself to be a well-read, articulate and erudite. We get much of the philosophical and psychological thrust of the novel from conversations between Lee and Sam. And then there’s Cathy, a terrifying creation. She has not an ounce of redemptive potential, yet she remains throughout a deeply fascinating character.

This is one of those big novels whose world you can enter and live in, and I didn’t want it to end. I found its style accessible, and seductive enough even to keep me away from the phone. It’ll take you places you might not want to go, but you’ll feel all the better for having done so. Steinbeck is, of course, considered to be one of America’s finest writers and, from reading East of Eden, it’s plain to see why.

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The plan was to drive to Troutbeck, then climb Wansfell. It’s a modest peak, though steep in the approach, as I recall, and it peters out where the big fells are only just getting going. But I thought it would be plenty for the day, and it would get me back into the Lakes where I have not walked since before the COVID restrictions.

Parking’s a bit tight in Troutbeck so, just in case, plan B was to slip over the Kirkstone Pass to Patterdale and do something from there instead, if Troutbeck let us down. And, sadly, Troutbeck did let us down. The last of the slots on the secret (and free) carpark had all gone by 9:15. So, plan B swung into action, only for us to discover the Kirkstone pass was shut for repairs. There was no plan C.

The last thing I wanted now was to end up in the parallel universe of the central lakes, a place of bottlenecked traffic, and zombie crowds. And I especially didn’t want to end up in Grasmere. But when you’ve no plan C, and you’re trying to make up something on the hoof, strange things happen, and, in the end, Grasmere it was. The parking here is not free, and it’s 50p to pee. It’s nice to see the place has not lost its touch.

It was 2010 when I last walked from Grasmere. I went up Tarn Crag, crossed the head of Far Easedale, then returned along the ridge to Helm Crag. But we’re not up to that today. Instead, a simple walk to Easedale Tarn is more our speed. The sun is shining, the morning is fresh, and there are lots of pretty waterfalls along the way.

Reading back about that walk, I did a lot of moaning. The price of parking, and the contempt with which visitors are treated in the shops particularly vexed me. I even took a picture of my parking ticket – shock horror – but those prices seem quaint today. Yes, I have a difficult relationship with Grasmere, though I suppose all tourist traps are the same. I remember being here when my children were still in nappies, and discovered we’d run out – not a situation a parent wants to find themselves in. So I enquired desperately of the chemist, who found my predicament amusing and explained how so few babies are born in Grasmere it wasn’t worth his while stocking nappies. It was a sad indictment of the Disneyland the place had by then become: plenty of money for some, but losing its authentic soul. Wordsworth’s been a long time dead and though he’s still worshipped daily in St Oswald’s churchyard, by the tour busses, all that he worshipped has surely turned to dust. We drove home fast, and with the windows down.

But that old blog piece also reminds me how I stopped to rest by Little Brownhoe Gill, just before tackling the ridge up Tarn Crag. It was where I finally worked out what that line in William Henry Davies’ poem “Leisure” means: streams full of stars, like skies at night. You’ve only to take a little time to stand and stare, and there they are. In broad daylight.

2010 is a long time ago, and there’s been a lot of water down Brownhoe Gill since then, though it feels like only yesterday. But then every decent walk in the Lakes, the Dales, or anywhere, was only yesterday, though that yesterday might have been forty years ago. The normal rules of the universe don’t apply, we tie our bootlaces, and step off into a timeless place of beauty. For today’s yesterday then, we have a straight forward walk, up the Easedale road, then Easedale beck as it tumbles down the fell in a series of rushing falls.

Sour Milk Ghyll, Grasmere

There’s been a lot of rain over the past few weeks, and the beck is boisterous in the shallows, thundering over the rocks. The deciduous trees are still bare, but the yews are a lush green in the sunlight, and the hollies are glossy, berries red and almost luminous. The most dramatic cascade, and what’s been drawing the crowds up from Grasmere since the Victorian Romantics, is Sourmilk Ghyll. It’s one of two to be so named in the district I know of, the other being in Seathwaite.

We have clear skies today, and it’s warm in the sun. The beck is sparkling, and gin-clear. It’s still only mid-morning, and the footfall on the path is light. It’ll be different by midday. There’s a little waterfall every five minutes that draws us aside to fiddle about with the camera, or just to stand and stare. The water-colourist Heaton Cooper described the essence of the district as rocks and light and running water. It’s a phrase that always comes to mind when I’m here, and for obvious reasons.

Easedale Tarn, and Tarn Crag

Above the falls, Easedale Tarn comes suddenly into view. Here, the roar of water falls away into a vacuum of silence. There’s not a breath of wind, and the tarn is a mirror for the backdrop of fells, their lower flanks all rusty, giving way to runs of scree and frozen free-falls of rock towards the craggy tops. Tarn Crag is beautifully lit by late morning sun, and very tempting. I did once pick a line to the summit from here, but I can’t trace it now and, like my last walk, up Rivington Pike, I’ve still not the puff for it. Instead, we head to the far end, looking to perhaps circumnavigate it, but the faint ways here are overcome by water running down from the fells, swelling the boggy bits, and all the becks are in spate, making crossings difficult. I’m not that attached to the idea, though, just glad to be bumbling about. So, we bumble on up the valley a little for the view of Belle’s Knott.

Belle’s Knott

Beyond Belle’s Knott, and a little jink to the right, lies Coledale Tarn, which I’ve only visited once, and I’m wondering about heading up to it. As an objective, I’ve often felt the Lake District tarns are as worthy as its summit cairns, each with its own character, but I’ve only got five hours on the ticket. Any more than that, and it would have cost me eight quid. And again, I’m really not that attached to anything today. So we sit a while by the beck, listening to the music of it instead. It’s not how I imagined the trip turning out, but I am glad to be here, and to be reminded of just how beautiful, how special this landscape is. The main routes in the Lakes, like this one, have always seen a lot of footfalls, and that can be frustrating, even on a midweek morning, but you’ve only to slip away from them for five minutes to find secret places, and to experience the intimate magic of it.

We make our leisurely descent via Easedale, arriving back at the car with enough time on the ticket for a brew in the sunshine. I’ve brought my own brew in a Thermos. Heaven knows what they charge for a coffee in Grasmere, now, if it’s 50p even to pee. That would have been an easy walk, once, but a tough one today. I can feel myself bone tired, and the feet are sore. It’s true, then, a mild dose of COVID might only knock you out for a few days, but it’ll leave you empty for months.

Just over seven miles and fourteen hundred feet of ascent.

I leave the last word to William Henry Davies, on the subject of seeking beauty:

Cold winds can never freeze, nor thunder sour
The cup of cheer that Beauty draws for me
Out of those Azure heavens and this green earth —
I drink and drink, and thirst the more I see

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White Coppice

There’s a feel of spring in the air today, as we drive over to White Coppice. It’s been a cold, wet week, and the change is welcome. The plan is to climb Great Hill, with a little deviation to visit what I can only describe as a Neo-Pagan temple. We’re in the little blue car, so we park down by the village green, rather than pressing on up the bumpy track to the cricket field. The last time I tried that, she was almost beached in the deep pots left over from the lock-down days. It adds a mile or so to the route, but all of it is pleasant.

Once home to the rural poor, White Coppice is now a place of desirable residences. It’s looking very pretty this morning, too, with its Wordsworthian daffodils fluttering and dancing in the breeze. The local celebrity here is Alfred Ephraim Eccles, not a poet, but an industrialist, social reformer, and stalwart of the temperance movement.

If White Coppice folk wanted a drink, they had to sneak out of the village. But Eccles had a good view of goings-on from his elevated home, the rather grandly named Albion Villa, and was reputedly stern in his reprimands. He was also the main employer, so not a man to antagonise.

It’s easy to be cynical about the killjoys of the temperance movement, but that would be to take it out of context. In 1872, the Chaplain of the Salford County Gaol claimed 90% of prisoners owed their incarceration to the influence of strong drink. But also, with crippling poverty hitting wives and children especially hard, it wasn’t a bad idea to prevent the publicans from emptying the pockets of men, before they’d even made it home from the mill.

The other famous son is Sir Henry Tate, sugar magnate, and founder of London’s Tate gallery. It’s also home to Big Al, from my story “Winter on the Hill”. I always look out for her when I’m passing her cottage.

The week’s heavy rains are tumbling from the moors, and remind me I’ve still not managed to get my leaky roof fixed. Roofers are an elusive breed in my locale. There are several falls up this way, impressive in the wet, and always worth a photograph.

White Coppice

The route eventually narrows to a couple of sporting options. One of them would take us along a narrow, exposed path, into the intimidating jaws of Black Brook. I’ve never liked the look of that one. The other involves a bit of a scramble onto the moor, to rejoin the main path coming up from White Coppice. We take the latter and head on up to the ruins of Coppice Stile.

Great Hill from Coppice Stile

There’s a beautiful thorn tree here, looking gaunt today. Somewhere among the ruin there’s an OS benchmark from the Victorian period, chiselled into a cheese press of all things, but I’ve yet to find it, and today is no exception. From Coppice Stile, we can see Great Hill, and the usual well-walked route up to the summit, via the ruins of Drinkwaters farm. But, just a little further along from Coppice Stile, we take a detour across open moor to investigate another ruin. I’m not going to name it, but anyone who can read a map will work it out. A substantial ruin, over the years it has been quietly refashioned into a Neo-Pagan temple.

I have seen photographs of it, an old and weighty lintel raised as a central upright, amid a tidy circular space, and decorated with intriguing magickal symbols. Its presence isn’t exactly advertised, but I’ve been thinking it’s inevitable the trolls will find it, and I want to see it before they get to it.

Sadly, I’m too late.


Someone has pushed the central upright over, and the ritual neatness I have seen in photographs, is in disarray. But there’s something odd about it. What’s most curious is the scallop shell at the base of the fallen upright. Needless to say, scallop shells are not a common sight on the moors. There is a symbolism here that’s intriguing, but beyond me. The scallop is associated with Christian pilgrimages, but it also features in the practice of witchcraft, as a protection from the evil eye, or the ritual containment of rogue spirits. Or it can be a symbol of water, from the five elements of the old alchemists. Take your pick.

We touch nothing, and withdraw quietly.

There are no paths here, only sketchy ways. We strike out across the moor, until we hit the track coming up from Brinscall’s Well Lane, then we head for Great Hill, still puzzled and not a little spooked by our encounter. The imagination cannot help but invent stories about it. At first, I have it as the Christian fundamentalists catching wind of Pagans in their midst, and violently shutting them down. But then I have a scene of Crowleyesque magick, raising Pan, and scaring the pants off the participants. They only just manage to contain the horned one, and coax him under that shell, where he remains to this day,…. until disturbed.

Other suggestions gratefully received.


Anyway, we have a more cheery aspect awaiting us at the ruins of Drinkwaters farm, where I usually settle for lunch when I’m up this way. The aspect is gorgeous, with afine views south over the moors. But we’re a bit early today, so press on up the track to Great Hill. At the summit shelter, however, there is the overpowering stench of marijuana, which puts me off my soup. I also note a fellow walker has left his sit mat – perhaps he was too stoned to remember it. I have donated quite a few of these to the moors myself over the years, and seeing it makes me smile. I fold it up and wedge where it won’t blow away. Perhaps he’ll come back for it. Then we head down the side of the hill towards Spitler’s Edge, to find somewhere less malodorous.

By the stile here, I note the wire has been snipped, and curled out of the way. I’ve seen this at several access points on the moor. It’s a troubling phenomenon. The bikers carry wire cutters up here, then they can thunder through without the inconvenience of dismounting, and lifting their bikes over stiles. But the wire is there to keep the sheep in, to stop them wandering off and getting into trouble. I’m all for freedom of access, but come on guys, cutting the wire is not cool, and reflects badly on all of us who use these moors for recreation.

Great Hill

Anyway, the edge is not for us today, tempting though it might be. Instead, we turn for the ruin of Great Hill farm. There are some fine trees on this side of the hill, and we spend a while photographing them. The light is suddenly very bright, but we have clouds moving in. It’s warm, too, and I’m wondering if we might be able to drive home with the top down. But there’s rain forecast for around the time we’ll be getting back to White Coppice, and those clouds are telling me the forecast is going to be spot on.

Great Hill Farm

Probably the loveliest oasis of trees, hereabouts, are those surrounding the ruins of Great Hill Farm. They form the cover art for “Winter on the Hill”, a graceful collection of thorns and sycamores. So, finally, we settle for lunch. No scent of marijuana, and no magickal symbols to raise the hairs on my neck. Boy, am I glad I didn’t touch that shell!

It does indeed come on to a light rain as we make our way down. Passing by the little preschool at White Coppice, I am struck by a couple of inspirational quotes on notices. One of them I quote as best I can from memory: There is no WiFi in the forest, which is why the connection is always better.

Never mind Wordsworth, in Lancashire, everyone is a poet.

Village Green, White Coppice

Around 5 miles, 860 ft of ascent

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Bank End, Cockerham

They have installed a new parking meter, and spy cameras at Glasson Basin. There are two things to note about that. (1) The price to park has gone up, and (2) I found the meter impossible to understand. But help was on hand from the younger generation, and we muddled through. The important thing is we’re here, the walk having been postponed from February.

It’s good to be in Glasson again, though I was saddened by that parking thing, and the hike in tariffs, as it’s not exactly the Lakes or the Dales. Yes, there is an understated charm about the place, but this new parkomat seems to rather overstate its virtues. It will of course be something of a cash-cow, as the days warm, and the weekend crowds return.

But for now, it’s a cold morning, and there’s a steady breeze off the water, with razor blades in it. There’s an in-and-out sun, but a mostly gloomy sky. The forecast is for dry until mid-afternoon. Then a band of rain and sleet is set to sweep up from the south, but we should be on our way home by then.

There’s a forlorn look to the few barges moored on the canal, as we walk by on this first leg of our journey. Indeed, they puncture any bubble of romance one might have had about living off grid, and on the water. They look rusty, damp and cold. Some vessels have also moved out of the vicinity of the basin and are now moored much further down the canal, as if shunned from the port’s environs. There is trouble afoot here. The sleepy look of Glasson belies recent tensions with the port authority, who appear to be asserting themselves over the local residents, and in ways that aren’t at all popular.

Glasson Basin

From the canal, we take the little lanes south, through the meadows, towards Thursland Hill. In doing so, we pass the Morecambe R/C aeroplane club who are putting their little machines through their paces. There is also the steady drone of a Pilatus as it takes off from the skydiving centre where, for as little as £150, you too can throw yourself from an aeroplane.

The vast meadows around Thursland Hill are dotted with itinerant swans today. They are the biggest of our birds, and so common a sight on our lakes and waterways, we take them for granted. I think they look better on the water than off it. Off it, there is also a lumbering menace about them. Beyond the meadows, beyond the swans, in the far distance, the shaggy Bowland fells are dusted with snow.

Beyond Thursland Hill, the scenery shifts from cultivated plain, to coastal marsh. I’ve said before how the Victorians took the most attractive bit of the Lancashire coast and built the screaming fun metropolis of Blackpool on it. At least that’s Blackpool’s front of house. For the rest, it is the most deprived town in the North. I’m sure there are other towns who can argue they are worse off, but it’s not exactly a competition we should relish, and speaks volumes instead to the times.

This bit of the coast is untamable, and therein lies both its charm and its salvation. However, even here, much of what we see is shaped by sheep, reared for the salt marsh lamb, and for which Bank End farm is famous. As in much of the Lake District, they crop the shaggy grasses and give a fresh mown appearance, which is pleasant, but unnatural. There are a couple of benches by the farm here for weary pilgrims to rest their bones. I choose one for lunch. On the other sits a man with a telescope and a notebook, spotting birds out on the marsh. We exchange greetings. He seems a quiet type, has with him a quiet, companionable dog. I don’t like to disturb them, so we share the view in easy silence.

It’s around noon, and the incoming tide is beginning to fill the vast network of dendritic channels which are patrolled by shrilly piping oystercatchers. There are eagle-eyed cormorants, too, statue-still, waiting for incoming fish. There is a lone egret, and further out, by their thousands, all huddled together, on a slowly vanishing sandbank, there are dunlin. That’s the extent of my knowledge of coastal birds, but I bet the other guy has spotted dozens more. If there is any healthy diversity in the natural world, it is at the liminal zones like these, where human reach is limited. Elsewhere is ruin.

The light is strange, today. I want to say it is gloomy, but there’s an occasional glow to it, like something sunny and revelatory is wanting to press through. The moments are fleeting, and we let the camera make of them what it can. As we walk, I’m worried about Jansen Pool, which is coming up on the latter part of our meander. It’s a tidal channel, through which our path passes, and is sometimes submerged. There is no viable alternative, other than a long back-track, or acrobatics involving a farm gate and slippery planks. I have checked the tides, and we’re looking at five meters today, around mid-afternoon. The problems only arise at the spring tides, and we are several days past the moon’s full. We should be okay then, but I am no Salty Sam, and have been caught out before. That’s for later, but adds a certain spice of anticipation as we make our way up the coastal trail to Cockersands.

The Chapter House, Cockersand Abbey

We try a couple of fresh perspectives here. One is of the Chapter House, the sole remains of the Abbey, and a grade 1 listed building. It’s a perspective I’ve copied by researching other photographers’ takes on it, though we seem to have captured today’s fleeting light and moody sky. Then, turning to face the sea, there is also a striking view of the Plover Scar lighthouse and an altogether different mood. It has a kissing gate at land’s end for foreground interest. The lighthouse looks rusty and ancient, even though it was only recently rebuilt after a ship collided with it. Beyond the light, we have the wide reach of Morecambe Bay, and a snow speckled Black Coombe.

The Plover Scar Light

I check the phone, on which I run the navigation app, to confirm the distance still to go. I have forgotten to turn the data off, so a notification has leaked through and informs me there will be no pundits on Match of the Day, tonight. I’m not a fan of football, and haven’t watched Match of the Day for donkey’s years. But this is about much more than football.

The lead presenter is a popular celebrity, with a huge Twitter-base. He has said something derogatory, but essentially true, about the government’s refugee policies and the BBC have suspended him for his candour. His colleagues have now also withdrawn their labours, quoting “solidarity”. This is not the sort of word one usually hears among the astronomically well paid, but welcome all the same.

It is a serious matter for the BBC who appears to have caved in, and very publicly, to political pressure. It damages their reputation as an impartial public service broadcaster, and is to be regretted. But it is a reputation already in question on account of their chairman being a significant donor to the Conservative party. I don’t see this playing out at all well. But I note also the media fuss is over the man, rather than the policy, which is widely, and internationally condemned.

I fear all of this means the next few years will be a hateful time, as more cultural issues are stoked for their incandescent effects on public opinion. Indeed, we’re going to hear a lot about who we should hate or fear, as a distraction from more pressing issues. Those damned bloggers for a start, perhaps, those bleeding heart amateur hacks, bleating on like they know what they’re talking about. But we should remember that, while the populists claim to be defending us against bogey-persons of their own invention, our futures are being dismantled brick by brick, freedom by freedom, doctor by doctor, nurse by nurse, and ambulance call by ambulance call,…

Tidal flooding at Jansen Pool

Anyway,… Jansen Pool is passable with a mere splash of the boots, unlike in the photo, taken on a previous occasion and which required acrobatics. Then we’re up the final pasture, where the thorn trees make dramatic shapes against a glowering sky. And, finally we return to Glasson, to the shimmering basin, and the simmering discontent of its locals, to its eclectic moorings, and its shiny new parkomat. Here, we call at the Lock-keeper’s rest for chips, and a brew. There’s always a handful of garrulous hairy bikers here, with their thundering machines. It’s a good run out on a bike, or in a little blue car with the top down. But we’re in the big grey one today, anticipating this band of weather, and wary of salty roads for fear they might dissolve the little blue car’s undersides. The big grey one ran well, was powerful and comfortable. It’ll be taking us some distance in the coming year.

As we’re served our chips, the skies darken, and the rain comes on. It’s gentle, just the lightest kiss, but with flecks of sleet in it. In a world of few certainties, it’s comforting to know you can at least still rely on the factual impartiality of the Met office.

Six and a half miles, dead flat.

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I tested negative for COVID on day ten, so nipped out to fuel the little blue car. The drive wore me out, and my arms and legs didn’t feel like my own. I’ve been a bit cautious then, getting back into the walking saddle, so much so, today’s walk hardly counts, at barely two miles, but enough to see what’s what, and hopefully get things rolling again.

It’s one of those cold, grey, late winter days. The light is flat, the colours muted. We have clumps of snowdrops, plus the miniature daffodils are out, and the garden forsythia is showing yellow. When in doubt, I always let the car decide, and it always delivers me to the Parson’s Bullough road, by the Yarrow Reservoir, at Anglezarke. You’ve a good choice of routes from here, from the epic, to the bimbling, and I think bimbling is the more sensible choice, today. We’ll see if we can claim our legs back, and trust the rest will follow when it’s ready.

So, you catch up with me driving up Adlington’s Babylon lane. I was always going to buy a house up here, handy for Rivington and the moors, and I seem to drive it every week. I could save myself some miles. Babylon Lane is mostly old mill terraces, and can look a bit dour, but as you reach the top, and the junction by the Bay Horse, everything opens out, and the beauty of the West Pennines hits you all at once. You can travel straight on from here to Rivington, or cut left down Nickleton Brow, for Anglezarke. This is one of the most beautiful roads in the district, dropping to the bridge over the Yarrow, then up the other side, to the Yew Tree inn, and the reservoirs.

I’m not great, festering in doors for long periods. Even a few days of rain can make me twitchy, so the 10 days of self-imposed isolation was a bit of a trial, one that renders the outdoors strange, as the self-important media holds one captive, injecting its bad news, like a poison infinitely worse than COVID. In his recent piece, fellow blogger, Narayan, quoted Kurt Vonnegut as saying we are dancing animals. We are made to move, to get outdoors, to experience the world and other people. This struck a chord. Isolation, and gawping day after day at a computer screen, or doomscrolling our phones is not good for us. It is not dancing.

So, here we are, now, on the Parson’s Bullough road, looking to dance. There’s a huge flatbed truck in a little lay-by, and goodness knows how he got that up here, but it looks like they’re repairing the Allance Bridge, after a boy racer knocked the parapet off. My sense of smell has yet to make a return, so I can’t smell the leaf mould, or the moorland air, but as I crack open the door, something in the air is sufficiently welcoming, and revivifying. We step out, eager to embrace it.

In one of my early COVID reveries, I was wondering about getting a body-cam – though not because I fear assault when I’m out and about. I enjoy fiddling with clips from the little blue car’s dash cam, and wondered if a mash-up of a walk would be a fun thing to do. Of course, there are plenty of vloggers out there with the full kit and caboodle, including the buzzy drone for tracking shots that would make my efforts look childish, but still, I may have a go.

So, anyway, we’re moving. One foot in front of the other. The first test is the short, sharp hike up Hodge Brow, to where the path leaves the road, by Morrises. I was thinking it would flatten me, but we seem to have fuel in the tank. Things are looking good. The colours are so soft today, we’ll need to have a think about how to pull anything out of them with the camera, but without over-blowing it. What tends to happen is we lose detail, especially the distant woodlands blurring out, and everything looking muddy. Not a great day for the camera at all really, but we’ll try setting the upper limit on the ISO to 800, then we can get faster shutter speeds, and hopefully dissolve any noise in post-processing.

This eastern flank of the reservoir is the most attractive, the route meandering through open meadows, and quite elevated with views all around, to the moors, to the Pike at Rivington, and then out to the estuary of the Ribble. The land feels real, and comforting in its familiarity. Does that sound too obvious? But stuck at home, vulnerable to the worst of bad-news media, it’s easy to lose our way, imagining things to be important which are not. Or is it more a case of being encouraged to believe certain things are important, when they are not, in order to distract from other issues, which are.

I read this week the novels of Roald Dhal are to be censored, removing language that has, shall we say, fallen out of polite usage. The same fate is to befall Flemming’s Bond novels. The media seems made to inculcate strong opinions on such matters, and perhaps it’s because I’ve been ill, but I find it difficult to care. Philip Pullman suggests we should simply let such works go out of print if they are no longer suited to contemporary sensibilities, and I have some sympathy with that view. I’m no fan of Dhal or Flemming, but many still are. I am a fan of LeCarre, and some of his early works contain a language that was certainly of its time, so how soon before he is added to the mix. Many household names are the same. I suppose the issue is that these works still sell, and publishers are loath to let a good earner go out of print. But what do I think, urges the breathless media, you have to have an opinion. No, I don’t. Not today.

I think it was Krishnamurti who said something to the effect that the craziness only starts when men start to think, and then we argue over who’s right, even to the extent of killing one another over trifles. The natural world is not beset by such madness, which is perhaps why so many of us seek it out to regain our footing in the pell-mell of the world of men.

We come down to the southernmost point of the walk through Dean Wood, now, and the avenue of the chestnuts. When I last came this way, it was under snow. It beguiles me every time, inviting a shot, but I always struggle to do it justice. Here we pick up the track that comes up from Rivington, and we follow it around the western shore of the reservoir, first in the shadow of the Turner Embankment, named after the farm that was demolished to make way for it.

There’s a lone tree here that’s always photogenic, in any season. Again, I’ve yet to do it justice, but it’s always worth looking out for. Then the reservoir comes in to view again. There used to be a face in the wall, here, reputed to be a carving of the head of an unpopular foreman overseeing the works – this would be in the latter Victorian era. We used to have fun as kids, seeking him out on our family walks. He survived into the nineteen eighties, before disappearing, I presume stolen. I’ve often thought it telling how he survived in plain view for so long, and no one thought to steal him before.

Another landmark along this way, harder to steal, is the building we used to call the Diddy Man’s house – Ken Dodd was a mainstay of children’s TV when I was growing up. I presume the building houses a valve for the waterworks. We would knock to see if the Diddy Man was in, then press our ears against the door and hear the spilling of water. My father would tell us the Diddy Man was having a bath, so could not come to the door. He is having a bath again, today.

From the northwestern embankment we get a view down to the Anglezarke reservoir, and beyond, over the Lancashire Plain, to where the little blue car and I will shortly be returning. There’s a steep ravine here and, though I’ve walked past it hundreds of times, something about the trees overhanging it catches my eye today – the colours, the shape of them – and is certainly worth the last shot of the day. I remind myself this is all man made, and must have been a dramatic change to the landscape up here, armies of men with picks and barrows, then flooding the valleys, flooding out farmsteads and pastures. It’s been a long time coming, but there’s been a healing, and this is a landscape now much loved by many.

So now we’re back, the little blue car waiting in the layby with a flask of tea, and some lunch. The legs feel like my own again, and the mind seems capable of its usual accompanying ruminations. You know, after joining the ranks of COVID veterans, I think we’ll do. We’ll make it four miles next time. Thanks for listening.


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