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Posts Tagged ‘Anglezarke’

Anglezarke Moor

Rivington, in the West Pennines, a popular spot at the best of times, it became a Mecca for urban escapees during the COVID-19 restrictions. But now the nation’s shops and pubs have re-opened, things have become a little quieter, at least mid-week. So it is, this morning, we park with casual impunity and unexpected ease along the Rivington Hall avenue. This would have been impossible a few months ago. Our plan this morning is to head up onto the moor via the terraced gardens, take in Noon Hill, then investigate a lonely old ruin called Coomb.

Rivington is famous for many things, not least among them being the first Viscount Leverhulme’s terraced gardens. They fared poorly after his death in 1925, falling quickly to ruin amid a profusion of rampant ornamental forest. Walking here was always like rediscovering the remains of a lost citadel. There have been several attempts to revive them. The most recent work, undertaken by the Rivington Heritage Trust began in 2016. This has been a most ambitious, well-funded undertaking, and the results are impressive. Previously dangerous structures are now repaired and returned to use. Lawned areas, long overtaken by nature, have been cleared of scrub, and re-seeded. Lakes have been drained, repaired and refilled. Still a work in progress, and a hive of enthusiastic volunteer activity – restrictions permitting – it has been a joy to see it returning to life. I just hope the trolls, or what the gamer community call NPC’s, don’t ruin it.

The kitchen gardener’s hut – Terraced Gardens, Rivington

The gardens occupy a vast area, and include many listed structures. There are also miles and miles of pathways to explore, with spectacular views out over the plain. No wonder it’s a popular venue. But today there’s a relaxed silence about the place, granting us the rare impression we have it all to ourselves.

The beech trees overhanging the terraces are in leaf now, and provide gorgeous cascades of fresh spring green. The oaks look to be about a week behind them, an orangey-redness to their leaves as they begin to swell.

I’m reading a book called “Entangled life” at the moment, basically about fungi. Fungi are one of the most mysterious and ancient forms of life on earth. Amongst many other things, they form vast networks that connect trees, through their root systems – a kind of Wood Wide Web, allowing trees to share information. The fungi trade nutrients with favoured species, in return for carbon. It’s an area of study that suggests we still know very little about the ecology of the earth, what holds it together, and how easily we can make disastrous interventions, destroying whole swathes of life upon which we ultimately depend ourselves. The book has made me look at trees differently.

The lower Summer House – Terraced Gardens, Rivington

Anyway, zig-zagging up the terraces we gradually rise some five hundred feet to the iconic Pigeon tower. From here pilgrims usually turn right, and head on up to the Pike. But today we’re heading left, along the Belmont Road, and onto the moor. This is the old stage-coach route from Bolton. A broad, rough track of uneven stone sets, it’s navigable only by rogue 4x4s, and the occasional fire-engine during the outdoor barbecue season. After a half mile or so there’s an access point to Catter Nab, which allows us to pick our way across the moor, towards Noon Hill.

This area was the scene of ferocious heath fires some years back, with a terrible loss of habitat. Some estimates suggest it will take centuries to recover. The moor is healing of a fashion now, the bare earth being re-colonised, but in ways that appear alien. The grasses are a shorter, greener variety. And there are bright orange mosses growing up and over the scattered grit-stones. The cotton-grass has come back, but with little competition it paints the moors now in prolific waves of bobbing white hares’ tails.

After being without company thus far, we discover to our chagrin the summit of Noon Hill is occupied, by unfriendly men in camo. They have a large, aggressive hound, a bull-lurcher, that takes umbrage at our approach. We’re better giving this dubious party a wide berth, so we head instead towards Winter Hill where we encounter the infamous bog coming off the saddle. I’m looking for a familiar track, down to the Belmont Road, but coming to it from the wrong direction I’m confused by what turns out to be an impromptu beeline cut by bikers under the influence of gravity. Water has found its way into the grooves and is fast eroding the peat, giving the impression of a well walked way.

At the bottom we are separated from the track by a barbed wire fence which has the appearance of being smashed open, then hastily re-jigged with a mad tangle of barbed wire. Its crossing looks tempting, though messy, to say nothing of hazardous in the trouser department, so we take the prudent option and follow the fence north a little, to where the more familiar path grants proper access.

Here we cross the track and venture into a little area of moorland between the Belmont Road and Sheephouse Lane. This is where we find the farm marked on the oldest maps as “Coomb”. Historian and local author, John Rawlinson* tells us the local pronunciation was “Comp”. By the later Victorian period, it was a vacated and unnamed ruin. Very little remains now, and its outlines are difficult to decipher.

Winter Hill, from the ruins of Coomb

The word Comp itself was likely a dialect corruption of “camp”, legend being there was a military camp here in Roman times. Mr Rawlinson also writes of an archaeological dig that yielded artefacts. These were retained by Viscount Levehulme, but the finds were not documented, and were lost on his passing. Time has long erased Coomb or Comp or Camp, certainly from living memory, and pretty much from the written record as well, but this morning at least, it provides us with a decent, if somewhat forlorn, foreground interest for a shot of Winter Hill. Unusually for the lost farms hereabouts, it is without trees, and looks all the more lonely on account of it.

We turn south of west now, along the line of the deep, narrow valley which gives birth to Dean Brook and opens out to Flag Delph, at the corner of Sheephouse Lane. Here we pick up the path to Lower House, above Rivington, and finally return to the car, refreshed in spirit and feeling philosophical, wondering what rich trove of stories was also lost with the demise of these upland farms, and what a shame no one thought it important, at the time, to write them down. Mixed weather and cold today – some hail, appropriately enough, on Winter Hill. Just four-and-a bit-miles, up to the twelve hundred foot contour, but apparently there is still plenty of puff left in the old geezer. What am I, nowadays, I wonder? let loose across the moors to muse on trees and fungi, and lost farms? Am I walker? Writer? Blogger? Photographer? Or just a plain old retiree? It matters not how we label it. All I know is, it beats working.

* Mr John Rawlinson was the president and Chairman of the Chorley and District Archaeological Society, also a good, and generous friend to my father, encouraging him in his own researches into the prehistoric remains of the Anglezarke area. His book, About Rivington (1969) is the definitive guide to this area, meticulously researched and containing a wealth of local lore, gleaned from conversation with its then living inhabitants. I remember him as a very kindly old gentleman, when my father and I would visit him at his home on Crown Lane in Horwich in the late 1960’s. He passed away in 1972. His book is sadly out of print now, though still oft-quoted in secondary sources, both on and offline. My father’s copy, padded out with correspondence from Mr Rawlinson is much treasured, and much thumbed.

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Pikestones – Anglezarke Moor

I’ve been out of sorts recently: low energy, and the back’s been aching, threatening something dire in the region of the sciatic nerve. But the weather’s been fair, I thought the air would clear the head, and a bit of a walk loosen the back. A short hike to the Pikestones was far enough, and I was curious to see if the sit-mat was still there, after leaving it behind on my last visit. I did not like to think of it littering. Better to retrieve it, though there was a good chance a passing walker might have adopted it.

I felt washed out as I started the climb by Parson’s Bullough, and by the time I came to the ladder-style by Peewit Hall, I was running on empty. Here, I reached up to hook the top of it with my arm – resistant to grabbing hold of things with the hands, due to Covid transmission fears – but I missed. No bother, I thought, the legs will hold me while I have another swing at it. They didn’t. There was nothing in them. They buckled, and I sailed backwards into the ditch.

I checked the camera for damage. It was fine. I was fine, just no energy. Plus, I was an idiot. Damn Covid! Damn its cursed erosion of trust, that we fear to touch what others might have touched, fear to go where others might have gone. We cannot live like this forever!

Anyway, there were peewits out in the meadow, curlew coming over from the moor, bleat of lambs with the season in full swing. And I could hear skylarks. Beat of life. Beat of nature. Rush of sap to the swelling buds – just not my buds. I was blocked, or leaking somewhere. Steady, slowly to your feet, take a few deliberate breaths. Reach. Now grab. GRAB dammit! With your hand. And look: gnarled wood under the palm, bleached under a thousand suns, deep pitted, patterned with crusty lichens, yellow-green and teal. It’s darker, and shiny where other hands have touched it, smoothed it in their passing. The texture. The beauty,… Yes, all right, all right,… I get the message.

I took a firm hold, and made it over the second time, dropped the pace the rest of the way to the Pike Stones. When you know you’re running off-song, there’s no sense flooring it and burning a hole through a piston. Okay, so here we are. Sit, now. Breathe. Qigong breathing. Remember that? Deep. Slow. Find the centre. I’ve been neglecting the Qigong, forgetting its principles. I’ve let it go off the boil a bit. Anyway, the sit mat wasn’t there. It’s been adopted – and welcome. Such an easy thing to do, forget your sit-mat. Gormless though.

It was chicken and mushroom soup from the thermos for lunch. Scan the plain below through the binocs. Chorley, Southport, Liverpool, Preston, Lake District, Snowdonia – everything where it should be, only myself slightly displaced if not exactly in space and time, then metaphysically, somehow, and no I can’t explain what I mean by that.

I took my time heading back, feeling cross on account of Ego, which has little patience for empty legs. Ego wanted Great Hill, Spitler’s Edge, Winter Hill. It wanted the endless miles and the indestructibility of youth. Just three miles brought me around by the lead mines, an insult to the Ego, but the bones and feet were aching like I’d done a ten-miler. Paradoxically, the back felt easier. Strange that but, as a cure for back-ache, launching oneself backwards from a ladder stile is a little extreme, and hardly to be recommended. The car was waiting with a smile. I dropped the top and basked a while in the restorative tonic of a noonday sun. Then I drove home.

Rushy Brow – Anglezarke Moor

The bones responded well to a hot bath, then I flicked through the bagged shots with a glass of red. Blue skies are uninteresting now. To think: how I used to edit the holiday pics, take out the cloudy skies. Look, look what good weather we had! Now, give me dynamic skies, and a camera that can handle them! Things change. We age. We grow. Patience. Qigong. Meditation. Remember? I’ve forgotten these things – our little Tai Chi group blown to smithereens over a year ago now by the damned Covid. Lord knows if we’ll ever breathe deep of the same air as each other again, touch others, explore their centre with the dancing grace of Push Hands and all without the fear of germs.

So much has been lost, we’ll be a generation counting the scale of it. Was it inevitable we would grind things out as long and slow as this? Might things have been different with a more urgently human-centric approach from the beginning? Let it rip,… Let the bodies be piled in their,… no, don’t go there, Mike. Let others pick at that one. Anyway, all that was a week ago. I’m feeling better now, the energy returning. Sometimes that’s the way, and you just have to be easy on yourself in the meantime. The weather looks like being a mixed bag for the remainder of the week: April showers, interesting skies.

Time we were out again.

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yarrow res 6I was a little out of sorts watching the mixed weather today. I both wanted and did not want to go out. Do you ever feel like that? I knew if I didn’t go I’d regret it come tea time. And the forecast for the rest of the week looked even bleaker, so it was today, or not for a long time. Still, the energy, the spirit, the confidence was lacking.

There’s a bit of “C” word fatigue creeping in here, and I have temporarily lost my magnanimity over it. I’d vented some spleen on the blog last time, after reading up on the test and trace fiasco, and for which I apologize now. I know we’re all sick of it, but I’m feeling also an irrational sense of creeping doom.

Six weeks to retirement, after forty-three years, and then he goes and catches it from a door handle, and pops his clogs. I do not want that to be my story, the story my workmates share over a glum pint in the not too distant future and I trust the universe does not have such an unfortunate sense of humour. Maybe we were always going to end up here anyway. I don’t know.

Sure, it’s the black dog. I’ve been expecting him, regular as clockwork, these late October days. But when he comes, robbing me of the will for venturing further afield, I know I can usually coax myself around the Yarrow Reservoir. The little blue car is eager to agree, so off we go. She’ll say anything for a run out.

The best of autumn is a fragile thing. It’s sudden to mature, then gone overnight in a stormy squall. Then the trees are winter-bare, their fingers left clawing the air until spring. I’d say Anglezarke is approaching full colour right now. Another week and it’ll be gone, so I was glad I talked myself into it.

I can sleepwalk this circuit, did it once at dead of night by head-torch for some daft reason. It was probably October again, same black dog, and a certain desperation on my part.

So, here we are again, Parson’s Bullough, Allance Bridge, up Hodge Brow as far as Morrises, then cut along the meadows above the reservoir. The weather is still mixed, some squally rain, some low sun lighting up the rain like silver bullets. There’s a bit of hail too. And maybe it’s something about the scent of leaf mould and mud, but the air is a tonic. Then that hail is a timely slap in the face, telling me to pull myself together, that the earth is alive, and us with it, so wake up or you’ll miss all the fun!

yarrow res 4

We’re still a couple of hours from sunset, but in the squalls the light dips to dusk and the shadows deepen. As I come down to Dean Wood, I see a fox, a fine looking fellow, big and gingery, dodging the showers. He looks wily with his ears all a twitch – white tail-tip bobbing. There are sheep grazing the meadow, none of them paying much attention to me. But as one, they stop their munching and keep a weather eye on old foxy. He pays us no attention, slips like a ghost over the wall and into the dark of the wood – a passing encounter, but the kind of thing you remember long afterwards. Nature opens her door now and then, allows a brief glimpse of her more intimate secrets. It’s a side of the world we can all too easily wipe out without even knowing it’s there.

The last fox I saw was an old vixen. It was dusk, one fine summer’s eve in Eskdale, many years ago. She’d come tiptoeing across the path behind me, thinking I wouldn’t notice. But it was that kind of evening, an electric stillness about it, and I’d felt her in the hairs on the back of my neck, and turned. Both of us froze for a moment, each staring into the other’s eyes. She’d looked hungry, and thin, I thought, tail all a-droop. She was afraid, but only for a split second, then judged me harmless and tiptoed on.

And speaking of foxes, it was this time last year, I saw the hunt, on the road up by Parson’s Bullough. I’d parked up there as is my habit, and was tying on my boots. Then the road was awash with the clippety-clop of horse and the baying of hounds – indeed, a veritable sea of hounds, and frisky too. It’s a colourful tradition, those fine Lords and Ladies, or at least their latter-day equivalent – on the trail of blood. I judge public opinion is mostly set agin ’em these days, but they’re hanging on to their pinks in spite of that, waiting for a change in the law. They were pleasant enough in passing, the master-of-hounds even tipping his shiny horn to the neb of his hat in salute. To scruffy old me. Imagine? But a frisky pack, blood-lusted, has been known to tear a man’s ear off in their enthusiasm, and I was glad when they’d gone. It is of course illegal to hunt foxes in England now, but it doesn’t stop the creatures from occasionally being torn to shreds by accident.

yarrow re 5

More rain, more hail on the return leg, then a sudden drying and a brilliant, if transient, sun. It slants low through the gold and copper-hung canopy like a revelation. The little roads hereabouts are buckling for want of repair. They’re puddled deep and slick with wet, gleaming now in a passing strobe of light, strewn here and there with mud and fallen branches churned to mulch.

A generous amount of rain these preceding weeks has topped up the reservoirs to bursting, so the spillway of the Yarrow is all a-roar. It’s a small river, the Yarrow. Once released from the reservoir, and twelve miles downstream, it runs not a few hundred yards by my house. How long for that white water leaping the spillway right now to make it all the way by my door? Days, is it? Weeks? Months? Play Pooh-Sticks with it, shall we?  I toss that imaginary stick into waters, black as stout. The small blue car is waiting, turn the key,… sounds eager for the challenge.

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by the yarrow

We leave the little blue car down by the Yarrow Reservoir. Kind souls have cleaned up after the orgy of the other week, when there were fast-food wrappers and laughing gas cartridges, and other unspeakable items, everywhere. But all are bagged now, awaiting collection. All that’s left of the party is the hangover.

It’s blessedly quiet this morning, almost normal. We’re heading up to the Pike-Stones for lunch, then on to Anglezarke moor – taking in Hurst Hill, via a small, nameless tarn, and then the Round Loaf. After a sunny start, it clouds over but looks like it’ll stay dry. It’s blustery though, and cold, so not a day for lingering.

I’ve struggled getting out lately. All these furloughed folk have been making the best of their time, and who can blame them? But they’ve been interfering with my routines, and I wish they’d clean up after themselves, leave no trace, you know? Some people understand this instinctively. They feel something when they’re in nature. But the sight of deliberate droppings pops the bubble of the sublime. And it’s offensive.

Life can seem at times like a seething quagmire, one damned thing after another, a dog-eats-dog kind of world, an endless frenzy of feeding, of seeking satisfaction. The only way to transcend such ceaseless craving is through beauty – beauty of form, of art, music, and landscape. Only humans have the power to do this – only humans have need of it. But then we see the rubbish dumped by ignorants, and we’re right back in that vale of suffering again, grinding our teeth.

Today’s looking good though.

I know this landscape well, but I’ve not joined the dots of this particular route before. First we go up by Parson’s Bullough, via the beautiful green way across Twitch Hill’s Clough. Then it’s past the ruins of Peewet Hall, to the track from Jepson’s, and the access point for the moor. This is open land now – right to roam and all that – but for now we navigate by the line of the old, burned plantation on Holt’s Flat, all the way to the Pike Stones.

holts flat plantation
Burned plantation – Holt’s Flat

I remember them putting this plantation in, thirty odd years ago, vast geometrical patterns excavated deep into the virgin canvas of the moor, and then, from the wounds, this slow, cancerous growth of conifers had emerged. I found it upsetting. The hills are the most unchanging things we know. No matter what else is going on, they seem the same, and comforting. But then someone bulldozes our sensibilities and dumps a monocultural plantation on top of them.

Half of the plantation is gone now, consumed by heath fires, the remains like dried bones, all rotting down. I try some photographs. The skeletal forms are mono-chromic and repulsive.

pikestones
The Pike Stones – Anglezarke

The Pike Stones once comprised the finest Neolithic burial in the north, probably in the whole of England, and is certainly of national importance, but all that remains of it now are a couple of tilted slabs that mark the inner chamber, portal to the underworld for a soul of great standing. As for the rest, only an archaeologist could make sense of it. Indeed, it was so disappointing to some passing neo-pagan types, back in the nineties, they chiselled a funky spiral onto one of the slabs to add a bit more “vibe” to the site. It was a striking and skilful job, though criminally self-entitled, of course. Someone else chiselled the graffiti off. The outrage is fading now as the seasons weather the gritstone back to black. I only hope it did not disturb the honoured personage on their journey to Tír na hÓige.

I have a thermos of soup, so find respite from the wind, hunkered down in the lee of the stones and settle in for lunch. There’ll be no shelter further up. So far so good, then. Hot chicken soup, scent of the wild moor and the howl of the wind. What could be finer on an otherwise dull, blowy day?

Meanwhile, down on the plain, life goes on. The M61 is taking up its omnipresent roar again. There is political pressure to relax the two-meter rule. It looks like the plan is to get things back to normal, to a condition of gradual herd immunity, but without actually calling it that. On the upside, the skylarks are in fine voice, keeping low in the wind, but sounding rapturous in their twittering. They don’t seem to mind my presence and hover close, allowing a more intimate study of their plumage and colouring than one is used to. Perhaps they thought humans were extinct.

I manage a good half hour at the Pike Stones before I pick out some figures moving up by the plantation. I’m not in the mood for company, so break camp and move on, cutting the contours now up by Rushy Brow, towards Hurst Hill.

rushy brow tarn
Tarn on Rushy Brow – Anglezarke
There’s a small, nameless tarn here. It’s not marked, even on six-inch maps, yet it’s easily picked out by Google’s satellite mapping. I find it hard to believe the men of the Ordnance survey missed it, so it’s either a recent formation, or it’s intermittent and subject to drought. I remember when I first discovered it, an inviting spot on a hot summer’s eve, under a clear sky, but right now, with the wind howling, it is home to trolls, so we press on before they drag us to our doom.
hurst hill
Hurst Hill – Anglezarke

The low, shaggy outline of Hurst Hill lies ahead now, the cairn giving us a good point to aim at over the shivering tussocks.  Otherwise, it’s just a featureless knoll, a little over a thousand feet but, as a view point, it certainly holds its own. From here, we’re east of north to the Round Loaf, and one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Western Pennines.

It looks like a huge, Bronze Age burial. That’s that’s what generations of us have been brought up to believe it was anyway and  its scheduled status certainly supports that belief. Owing to its remoteness it’s never been excavated, but then a geological survey in the eighties concluded, and somewhat glibly, that it’s more likely a natural feature. I don’t know, you pick your experts, depending on what you want to believe, I suppose. I know which explanation I prefer.

It’s about five meters high and there’s a little cairn on top which provides a vantage point on a fine sweep of the moor. The monument is also a focus for paths, which converge upon it from all directions.

round loaf top
Round Loaf Top – Anglezarke Moor

From the Round Loaf we now head roughly south, to meet Lead Mine’s Clough, then home. But the multiplicity of tracks here can be disorientating, especially in thick weather. So we pick out the one we’ve just walked from Hurst Hill, then take the one next to it, counter-clockwise to see us safe.

It’s a little over four miles round, but feels further over rough ground, and well worth the time spent. It’s good to be on the moor again, a place changing but slowly, and a reassuring fixture in a bizarre, uncertain world.

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1630020_000

West Pennine Moors, late May. Eight p.m. The sun is turning to amber. Millions are still clapping the NHS, rather than funding them the PPE they need. And with what’s looking like the worst death rate in the world, the PM has just announced a further easing of the bio-security controls.

I find the little moorland roads are crazy-busy. There are long lines of vehicles nose to tail, driving fast, all filled with youths, catching Covid. The windows are down and the thump-whack music is drowning out the curlews and the lapwings. I wonder if their parents know where they are.

I’ve left the little blue car down in the last free layby, at Parson’s Bullough, by the Yarrow Reservoir. I’d hoped it would be quieter this evening, after an aborted attempt earlier in the week, by day. I was wrong. There were people swimming in the reservoir, next to the signs that warn you not to. The water here is very deep and cold. You’d be a fool to risk it.

There was a sickly-sweet smell of weed.

My son and I climbed the quiet pastures by the old walls, towards Jepsons. It was a most treasured respite. I wouldn’t actually be here, but by neighbours had been driving me nuts all day with their boom-box music, and I’d simply had to get away. I thought they’d followed me, actually. I could hear the same mindless thump-thump-thump, two beats per second, as we climbed to Jepson’s gate.

There, we found a car all skew-wiff, both doors open, the inhabitants, a boy and a girl in their teens, hanging out. They were stoned on the nitrous oxide they were imbibing, somewhat comically, from pink balloons. Little silver cartridges were scattered everywhere. They’d clearly been at it a while, and others before them. A mid-week evening, pubs shut, so they come up here en-mass, families, swimmers, stoners.

We gave a wide berth, picked up the track for the moor, joked about the degeneration of society, about the freak show. My son, at 26, is closer to that generation than me, yet dismisses it as lost, corrupt, decadent. I laugh, though it breaks my heart. He sounds older than me at times. But he’s right, they’re lost. There is no going back from this. I see things a little differently. I see a society broken and despairing, trying to kill itself by whatever means comes to hand. Drugs, covid, driving like a loon.

What a waste.

There are a couple of stones on the hill, on the approach to Jepsons. I swear they’re megaliths. I want to show them to my father, though he’s been dead getting on a half-century now. Still, I know he would have enthused over them, theorized over them, spoken to his contacts in the local archaeology groups in Chorley and in Horwich. But I’m not sure anyone knows or cares about such things any more. And I would have hated for him to see those kids. He would have wanted to help them, call an ambulance perhaps.

I have a friend who collects those little spent nitrous oxide cartridges. He makes hundreds a year for charity, selling them for scrap. I would have picked them up to add to his collection, but I didn’t want to catch anything. It’s worth thinking about though, if your area is similarly plagued, a rich and self-sustaining vein of valuable scrap.

The sunset was extraordinary.

We drove home with the top down. It was a warm night, and beautiful. The birds were singing rapturously, the little blue car burbling along, sweetly as ever, but all of it still eerie under the circumstances. My neighbours had gone in to watch the telly, so it was quiet. They have been known to drag the telly outdoors and watch it at full blast. Small blessings then. I sat a while, as a crescent moon slipped west, lit candles.

There are over 37,000 dead now, even by the government’s own conservative figures, but it’s nearer 60,000 if you look at the real figures, the so-called excess deaths. The PM looked confident tonight as he told us all the tests had been met for a further easing of the lock-down, opening the shops and getting us all back to normal. I understand many of the died-in-the-wool, true blues who voted for him are still confident in those assurances. But most of the country isn’t actually listening any more. Even before Covid, they had no dignity in work beyond that grim glass ceiling of minimum wage slavery. They have no future, no hope. And they were all up on the moors tonight, getting stoned. A part of me couldn’t blame them. But I’d hoped to see my country in better shape than this as I drift towards retirement, better anyway than the freak-show its become.

I suppose every generation says the same.

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bomber memorial

The Bomber Memorial, Anglezarke, August 2019

The dog days are upon us, bringing with them a stultifying heat, humidity, and thunderstorms. The Western Pennines have escaped the worst of it, unlike Derbyshire, Cheshire and North Yorkshire, all of which have suffered an apocalyptic pounding this week. We’ve had one flood warning, fortunately short lived as the storms broke elsewhere. Anglezarke meanwhile was steamy, the reservoirs as yet not full, but filling fast, the becks running high and the air enlivened by the sound of water as a week’s rains poured from the moors.

I had in mind a brief walk to check out a possible megalith, over in the meadows towards Jepson’s farm, but was defeated by cowardice, or the better part of valour, whichever you prefer. From the Yarrow reservoir there’s a network of footpaths taking you north through lush pastures which rise steeply to the edge of the moor. It’s just a short hop from the car and far enough in such a fierce heat. As I set out I saw a peregrine which gave me pause. When birds of prey are aloft the song birds go into stealth mode, and the atmosphere of a place changes. I’m also superstitious about birds and this one had the look of an omen about it.

Then there were sheep. Suddenly. Thousands of sheep, running, panicking, wave upon wave of them undulating across the green and all heading towards me. Sheep moving like that are generally being driven by something – a dog, or a farmer’s quad-bike – but all I could hear was the beating of hooves on a heavy earth. It was puzzling. Then came another sound, deeper, and distinctly bovine. The thing driving them was a crazed bullock.

The countryphile has no fear of sheep – I know some townies do, but trust me, they’re harmless creatures, even in large numbers, though easily spooked. I’ve read they’re more intelligent than a dog and I had it in my head they’d clocked me as a human being, therefore a useful idiot, and were making a beeline, expecting me to sort this stupid and possibly heat-addled bullock out, give it a stern ticking off for tormenting them. I’m afraid they overestimated my pluck.

The rules regarding potentially aggressive farm animals and public footpaths are strict, but not all farmers obey them, and it’s for the walker to make their own judgement when encountering these large ruminants, which can also come in armed varieties with pointy things on their heads. Cows are generally okay, require caution if they’re with calves but might attack on instinct if you’ve a dog with you, so always let the dog go. Cows are easily identifiable of course: they have udders. Bulls are a different matter, and opinions vary. Some are aggressive, some aren’t. A bull for beef isn’t, I’m told, while a bull for dairy is, but neither kind have udders and I wouldn’t know the difference, nor in what context each might be encountered because they do not come with labels attached.

A bull in a field of cows generally has other things to think about than chasing walkers. A field of bullocks is also considered safe and, though they can sometimes be curious, can easily be discouraged by a wave and a shout. However, while we’re invited to take it on trust the farmer wouldn’t deliberately endanger life, there’s no point lying on a morgue slab crushed under a ton of beef claiming you had lawful right of passage across his meadow.

Now perhaps a charging bullock isn’t as dangerous as it looks, but I decided discretion was the better part of valour and backtracked hastily, left the sheep to their torment, and scrambled to safety over the gate. Peculiar thing – I’ve never seen sheep and cattle grazing together before. Still, it seems sheep do at least keep the bullocks entertained, and vice versa.

So, I abandoned my search for the megalith and am still a bit ticked off about it. Instead I walked a little way up Lead Mine’s Clough, climbed the valley-side to the bomber memorial, then sat down. This is a fine, tranquil viewpoint – no sheep and no bullocks.

The memorial remembers the loss of a Wellington bomber – Zulu 8799 – on Hurst Hill, in the November of 1943. Out on a navigational exercise from its base in Leicestershire, it  struck the moor in the small hours of the morning with an impact that was felt for miles around. It had a crew of six, and all were lost. The pilot, Timperon, just 24, came from Alice Springs in Australia, came half way round the world to die on Anglezarke moor, about as far from hearth and home as it’s possible to imagine.

It’s a sobering thought, imagining those war years and the young being called up, and sent to places they’ve most likely never heard of. From reading war diaries of fighting men, you get a feeling for the mixture of fear and the sense of wanting to do one’s duty, but I have to close my thoughts off from imagining what it was like for those six lads in those last moments before the crash. There are no physical traces on the moor now, though the debris field was still there well into the sixties when I went up with my dad and had a pick through the various bits of twisted metal.

More often true valour does not have the luxury of discretion; it just has to button down, and get on with it.

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The Yarrow Reservoir

So, we’re leaving the car by the Yarrow reservoir this afternoon, tucked into one of the cuttings along Parson’s Bullough road. It’s a cold sun sort of day, enough to tease us outdoors, but the daffodils are looking shivery, so we’ll need to zip up. There’s a good light on the reservoir, and the sun just low enough now for the contrasts to be interesting.

The Yarrow reservoir: late Victorian period, built to supply water to Liverpool and, along with its much larger neighbours, the Anglezarke and the Rivington reservoirs, it was all something of a tragedy if you consider the land and the farms and the homes that were sacrificed to progress hereabouts. But they’ve been an unchanging fixture of my own life and, as far as reservoirs go, they’re beautiful and have bedded in well.

This afternoon’s jaunt will cover about three miles, where we’ll find a varied and fast changing scenery of moors and meadows, woods and running water, also a few dark tales along the way.

yarrow reservoir mapWe start with a bit of quiet road-walking, first across Alance Bridge, which spans the tail end of the reservoir. You sometimes get idiot kids tomb-stoning from the bridge in the summer, but it achieved a different kind of notoriety a few years back when murderers crept out of one the darker cracks of Bolton and attempted to dispose of a body by dropping it over the side here. It’s not a story I’m happy to be adding to local lore, and it reminds me these remoter stretches of Lancashire are perhaps best not explored after dark.

Next comes the climb up Hodge Brow, eventually passing an old barn on our left. This is a queer building, marked as Morris House on early six inch maps. I’ve known it variously as a ruin, then a bunkhouse and more lately a millionaires des-res project that’s stalled and has now lain empty for years. It looks about another winter away from the weather getting in too. There are warnings of spycams. This is a bleak corner, the wind unchecked, roaring down off Anglezarke moor to rattle the tiles – pretty enough in Summer, I suppose, but I don’t think I’d want to over-winter here.

Past Morris’ we’re onto Dean Head Lane, a narrow cut of a road, water pooling in the reedy hedgrows as it drains from the moor. It’ll take us on to the pretty little village of Rivington eventually, or up by Sheephouse Lane and Hoorden Stoops, to the more populous Belmont. There are fine views of Anglezarke to the north and, further off to the east is Noon and Winter Hill – something shaggy and frigid about them this afternoon though, in spite of the sun, like they’re hung over or still grumpy after the summer heath fires.

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The path by Dean Wood

At Wilkocks farm (1670), we cut down the path along by Dean Wood which skirts the deep ravine in which the wood nestles. I’ve often fancied a closer look at the wood as legend has it there’s a fine cascade hiding in there, but this place is considered so precious to the region, it’s sealed off and managed as a secure nature reserve – access by permission only, and you’d better have a good reason for asking.

There’s something creepy about the path, an old story about a farm labourer coming along here in the early nineteen hundreds. He felt a “presence” behind him, then turned to see, in his own words, the devil “horns and all”. Terrified, he ran to Rivington and told his tale, swearing all was true. Three months later they found his body at the bottom of the ravine in Dean Wood having apparently fallen from the path around where he claimed to have had his near miss with old Nick.

It’s a story recounted first, I believe, in John Rawlinson’s “About Rivington” and I’ve been careful not to add anything of my own to it here. Writers usually can’t help embellishing where they feel a story lacks detail. What I will say though is reports of such Forteana tend to cluster in the liminal zones, and this one certainly fits that pattern: the open meadows coming down to the edge of the wood, and then the deep ravine itself forming a void of air, all of which  makes for a fine transition from one thing to another.

One theory is we “imagine” such apparitions, but that doesn’t make them any less real, at least not to those experiencing them. On a fine sunny afternoon like this it’s just a story of uncertain vintage – no names, no precise dates, so it’s impossible to research more fully. To my knowledge Old Nick hasn’t been seen again around Dean Wood, but would I come down here at dead of night? Well, let’s just say, I’d be tempted to go another way.

I remember John Rawlinson as a kindly and wise old gentleman – a leading light of the Chorley Historical and Archeological Society, also a good friend of my father’s, both of them a half century gone now, both legends in their own way and loving every inch of the moors hereabouts.

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Turner Embankment – Yarrow Reservoir

After offering us tantalising glimpses of the forbidden, sylvan delights of Dean Wood, and hopefully avoiding any diabolical disturbance, the path brings us out into open meadows and with a fine view of the Yarrow reservoir, overlooking the somewhat angular Turner Embankment, so named after the house that was demolished to make way for it. Rawlinson tells us the house was most likely salvaged, and the materials put into building Dean Wood house, which nestles in a cosy bower just to our left here. There’s something pleasing about the close-mown lines of the embankment, I think,  with the trees still bare against the sky and the foreground meadows all lit by late afternoon sunshine.

Now we’re off along Dean Wood lane, through a fine avenue of chestnuts, just coming into leaf, and there’s a clear brook tinkling alongside us for company. We can walk on to Rivington from here, perhaps have a brew at the chapel tea rooms, but that’s for another day. Today we’ll take the path around the Yarrow instead, which we could follow pretty much all the way back to the car if we wanted, but if you don’t mind, I want to make a bit of a detour because I can hear the rumble of water and I suspect the spillway is running.

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The Yarrow Reservoir overflow

The Yarrow spillway is a spectacular feature hereabouts, a series of cascading steps that takes the excess from the Yarrow and feeds it with style into the Anglezarke reservoir. It isn’t often running these days, but there’s a good bit of water today, and it’s always worth a photograph, especially now with the sun settling upon it and adding a golden glow to the highlights.

I try a couple of shots with the lens wide open and manage 1/2000th of a second on the shutter. This has a dramatic effect on the capture of water, freezing it and rendering an image that’s essentially true but something the eye wouldn’t normally see. There must be thousands of shots of these falls on Instagram and Flikr, and a good many of them mine, but I never tire of it.

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F1.8 – 1/2000 sec

Okay, it’s just a short way now back to Parson’s Bullough and the car. Then it’s boots off, and home for a brew. A pleasant walk in familiar territory, but always something a little different to see.

Just one last look back at that gorgeous spillway, and we’re done:

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January has dissolved into that pale-sun kind of mildness, and on Sunday afternoon I was tempted out to my old stomping grounds in the West Pennine Moors. I had in mind a stroll up Great Hill from White Coppice, but I wasn’t the only one tempted out by the mild weather, and there was nowhere to leave the car within a couple of miles of the start of the walk, so I cut back over the narrow moorland roads and wound up at Jepson’s Gate for a walk to the Round Loaf instead. The boots are still holding together – a little leaky – but this was home-ground for me and even if they fell apart I was pretty sure I’d be okay.

You can do the Round Loaf and back in a couple of hours, which was just right given the shortness of the days. There’s an uncompromising bleakness about these uplands and sometimes I wonder if their only attraction is that they’re in my blood. One cannot call them dramatic – even though they touch 1200 feet, they’re far too gently rounded and their appearance is more wind-blasted and crouching than proudly soaring.

The Round Loaf, for those of you not familiar with the West Pennines is a Neolithic Cairn, probably a burial, but an unusually big one. These ancient cairns are made of loose stones piled up and overlaid with millenia of vegetation. The stones provide good drainage for root systems so the Round Loaf stands out above the poorly drained peat moorland, a  startling and incongruous green blob on a russet upland plain. Many paths converge upon it and the site seems to appeal to many a varied interest: the sheep seem to like it, walkers certainly do, geocachers too, and also, it has to be said, the local Wiccan’s and maybe some of the darker neo-pagan sects as well.

It’s curious that this place has never been excavated, or vandalised – I suppose its remoteness has spared it both of those indignities.

And speaking of indignities, I returned to the car off-piste so to speak, seeking out the Pike Stones, another ancient monument, another former burial site from the Neolithic period. This one’s only five minutes from the road and consequently has been stripped bare over the generations, dismantled and excavated almost to extinction. All that remains here these days are a couple of tilted slabs of weathered millstone grit. Like the Round Loaf this is another location favoured by the neo-pagans and a while ago one of them decided to embellish this admittedly rather dull monument by chiseling a distinctly “new-age” spiral motif upon it. That was bad enough, but today I noticed someone else had made a half hearted attempt at chiseling the spiral motif off. Either way the site is ruined now and it’ll be centuries before this place ever attracts back the natural magic of the earth – if it ever does. Indeed next time I go up I half expect to see a recreation of the Cerne-Abbas giant dug into the peat.

Forestation began up here in the 1980’s, and the plantations are reaching maturity now. In my humble opinion these forests do little to add to the attractiveness of the area  and I’ve been spending the last 25 years quietly grizzling at them, laid down as they are with a geometric insensitivity that’s about as unnatural as you can imagine and as much of an insult to the plain beauty of the moors as chiseling a spiral on an ancient monument. I suppose they’ll be logging these out soon and then I’ll really have something to grizzle about.

I seem to be peculiar in my belief that open country like this is far more of a blessing than most people seem to realise.  Left entirely to nature it acquires a peculiar energy that has to be felt to be appreciated. Walk through it and it begins to work upon your bones, and upon your brain. You think differently when you return from a walk up here. You’re calmer, brighter, more positive in your outlook and I think there’s more to it than simply the fresh air.  But in walking through it you also leave behind a trail of energy of your own that lingers in your footprints. That’s okay because if you’re careful and respectful the tides will wash away all evidence of your passing and no harm is done. However, if too many people converge upon a place, and especially if their presence carries with it a negative energy, as evidenced by the dropping of litter, the indiscriminate and insensitive planting of commercial forests, or the wanton vandalism of ancient monuments, then the overall quality of the land is diminished or sometimes extinguished altogether. It becomes scrappy, mucky, trashed and void of spirit.

All of this is subjective and I appreciate that much of what I feel about these uplands is entirely imaginary. I wrote my first novel, the Singing Loch, partly in response to these peculiar feelings, in an attempt to give voice to what it was I believed we should value in those few true remaining wildernesses that are left to us in the UK, apart from the handful of filthy money to to be gained from their destruction.

I often think of my ancestral territory as being that patch of moorland bounded to the north by the line of Black Brook, and Great Hill, East by the upland ridge of Spitler’s and Redmond’s edge, and South by the fledgling Yarrow. This is because I was born within sight of it, and grew up gazing out of my bedroom window at it through a pair of binoculars. Looking westwards from just about anywhere in this territory you have a view of the Lancashire Plain, and all the way out to the Irish Sea. When the weather comes in it comes in unchecked and usually very windy, and in my darker dreams now I see wind-generators, and I pray the gritstone foundations lie too deep beneath the squelchy peat for such monstrosities to ever be considered here.

Still, I’m sure someone’s thinking about it.

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