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Posts Tagged ‘autumn’

In the woods at Roddlesworth

Today, we’re going to walk from Abbey Village, to Tockholes. Then we’ll circle back through the woods at Roddlesworth, which should be in peak autumn now. First, though, I want to visit the war memorial, here in Abbey, to remember a great uncle who was “lost” in the first war. Then we’ll have a wander through some meadows I used to walk with my mother. And if we make it over to Tockholes, we’ll visit the mysterious “Toches”, or “Tocca’s” stone.

I say “if” we make it, because the route leads through farms, where rights of way have a habit of disappearing. The path I’ve chosen seems the most direct and quite obvious on the map. But over recent weeks, when out and about, I’ve discovered a knack for finding rights of way that no longer exist on the ground, and I’ve learned it pays never to be too cocky setting out on paths you’ve not walked before.

My mother grew up in one of the long line of mill terraces at Abbey, so she knew this area well. I have memories of visiting my grandmother here, and aunts who were not aunts, but we called aunts. Ditto cousins, who were not really cousins – this being an era when it was claimed everyone in Abbey Village was related. From the roadside, the terraces at Abbey have rather a dour look about them. But those where my family lived, open onto meadows, and to stunning views of the Darwen moors.

Perhaps it’s because I’m still not getting into town much this year, on account of abiding Covid fears, but I’m less aware of the build-up to November’s armistice remembrance. Recently, the event has found itself caught up in the culture wars. Those of the right who would glorify war, and those of the left who would disband the forces altogether, are the two most vociferous extremes. The rest of us, I guess, including the man on the Clapham omnibus, are somewhere down the middle. I think about the half century or so of life my great uncle missed, and I wonder about the difference it would have made to the present day, if he’d found his way home from Mesopotamia. The tide of history can be cruel for everyone, but it sweeps away the poor in disproportionate numbers. Anyway, I like to come here around this time of year. I leave my small token at the memorial, then head down the backs of the terraces, and set out on the walk.

First we head across the meadows where my mother used to play, then down the dip to what I always knew as Abbey Bottoms. Sure enough, at my first encounter with a farm, the right of way disappears into an enclosure, and the only way out of it is to straddle a fence. This is tedious, coming so early on in the walk. There are cars about and the dogs are going bonkers. I wander around, looking for an opening, but there are none, and I’m beginning to feel a fool. If I want to make way, I’ll have to straddle that fence or turn tail already and call the walk off. Fine, then. I drop a pin on the GPS, make a note: “Way blocked here” and then I go for it.

Free of the farm, and with trousers intact, it’s obvious the path beyond’s not been walked in ages. But it follows the line of an ancient hedgerow, and is reasonably obvious. In other times this would be a beautiful route, pastoral, with wide-ranging views of the Darwen moors. But I’m in that liminal zone now between where I am entitled to be, and where I feel others would rather I was not. And that’s not a comfortable place. I’m aware my last three walks have landed me in a similar muddle to this, and I’m starting to repeat myself.

The Toches Stone

Then, where the map shows an exit from the meadow, a locked gate blocks the way. There is no stile, not even a rotten one. I can see a stile on the other side of the gate. It leads off on the next leg of the journey, but the only way to get to it is to climb the damned gate. Have I become so incompetent and doddery a rambler, I can no longer find my way around? Clearly this is not a route for those of limited mobility, and, given the crisis in A+E at the moment, it gives one pause climbing anything. But needs must, so up and over we go. Another pin goes on the GPS. “Effing gate blocked here.”

It’s been a struggle then, but we’ve stuck to our guns, and finally made it across the vanishing ways to Tockholes. These are paths my mother and her family would have known. My great, great-grandfather would have walked them from his weaver’s cottage in Hoddleston, to Abbey seeking work, and where he settled. They are historically significant ways, and need protecting, need walking. When I look back on my life, I see traces of the places I knew disappearing, being overwritten by novelty. Of my mother and her family’s past, here, there is now barely any trace at all.

Anyway, Tockholes is a curious and attractive hamlet, tucked out of sight. I meet a few other walkers on the road here, and we exchange greetings. The atmosphere changes from one of oppression, to welcome. Tocca’s stone is in the churchyard at St Stephens. I once drew it for an illustration in a friend’s book on the magic and mystery of Lancashire. It’s a curious monument, a mixture of early Christian and pagan. Of the facts, we can say the tall bit is probably the remains of a seventh century preaching cross. This sits atop an old, repurposed, cheese press, this in turn sitting on an inscribed plinth of Victorian vintage. And then, next to the cross, there’s the peculiar Tocca’s or Toches’ stone, from which the parish takes its name. There are scant references to it online, and they all seem to quote each other. My friend, who trawled the historical records in libraries all over the county, in the days before the Internet, is also rather vague.

The stone is said to have connections with the ancient British tribe who inhabited the valley, and one ruler in particular, the titular “Tocca”, or “Toki”. It’s also said to have magical or healing properties, and was, at one time, worn smooth by the hands of pilgrims, come to touch it. It isn’t very smooth now, so I guess the habit has fallen out of fashion. In short, little can actually be said about it at all, at least nothing that’s guaranteed to be historically accurate, but as a piece of local myth and legend, it’s quite the thing, if you believe in it, or not.

Do I touch it? Well, after the trouble I’ve had getting here, you bet I do.

Autumn in Roddlesworth Woods

And it works. We have no trouble the rest of the way, the way being over the moor to Ryal Fold, then down into the autumn-gold heavens of the Roddlesworth plantation, where the season is a revelation. We’ve had such a poor week, thus far, with torrential wet. One night it rained so hard the gutters burst and I swear I could feel the house shaking. And then today, it’s warm in the sun, we have clear blue, and plenty of water in the brook, so the falls are running. The world has the fairy tale look of an impressionist painting. Out comes the camera.

Autumn in Roddlesworth Woods

I’ll be reporting those obstructions. I’ll also be repeating the walk, because, in spite of a few local difficulties, it’s a good circular route – about seven miles – of varied scenery, in a beautiful part of Lancashire. And if no one walks the paths, the landed will take them from us, swear blind there was never anything there in the first place. And they’ll get away with it.

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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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With the going of the light, and the fast fading memory of summer’s ease, Black Dog comes stalking once again. We toss him a stick, some stupid novelty or other, which he returns sodden and chewed beyond attraction. Thus, after a couple of turns, we are no longer minded to pick it up, so there he curls, our unshakeable friend, creeping ever closer until he’s in our lap, weighting down all possibility of forward movement.

Words fail in our throats, people look strange, look also strangely at us as we sink into paranoia at the apparent indifference, even of our loved ones. In pettiness, we withdraw, lose empathy, and equanimity as we huddle in imaginary self defence. We become then the worst of ourselves, favouring the lonely places, or the indoors, the impersonal, the pointless flicking at our phones,  the mindless digestion of the indigestible, the foolish, and the vain.

The soundtrack to our lives deepens to despair as Gorecki displaces once more the Red Priest from the player. A symphony of sorrowful songs de-tunes the cellos from their once ravishing Baroque concertos, splits the lustrous age-old wood, breaks the bows, shape-shifts rosin into a cold slime, and bends the dead strings into the intersecting snail-trails of man’s infinite inhumanity.

The filters of filth fail us, and we are overwhelmed by the madness of the world again, no longer able to blind-eye its deep vales of deceit, its mountains of depravity. And we see the leaders naked, as they truly are perhaps, lost or mad or utterly grotesque, letting loose their policemen, black-armoured cockroach armies to hammer blood from dissent.

Black Dog, your visions are cruel, rendered bearable only by the numbing fragrance of your breath. You are the rot of crushed leaves, the rot of wood dissolved to crumb by cringe-legged beetling lice, you are the perennial black mould on the wallpaper above my desk, you are the scratching in the night, and the sinister rustling of an infestation of mice.

We brush down our books in vain, our books of dreams, of alchemy, of transcendentalism, yet, once treasured, we find them mould-stained and dusty, and scented of you, taking with them the key to the only escape we knew, to the vast labyrinth of the esoteric. Now there is only the unsoftened day ahead, each to be taken in its turn. Thus we answer each half-lit morn the alarm clock’s shrill call, rise, stretch our stiffening limbs, pee out our aching bladder.

Is this really the only way? But what of those moments when we shook you from our lap and soared? Those days we rattled the high roads while the beatific sun beat down and tanned our faces? Where were you then? Or the glad beach-days with the soft sand and the multitudinous shades of ocean blue? Or coffee, and company, and that gentle hand to hold? Where were you then?

But these are earthly things for sure and transient as mist, the meagre sticks we toss, then you’ll chase and allow us a moment to breathe. What we seek now is the secret of another kind of cultivation, and the ability to cast it an infinite distance away.

Then go,… Fetch!

Damn you.

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slaidburn nov 2014

Dark Midnight of the soul awakes to weary dawn,
Pale lightbulb of a miserable morn illuminates the new,
While six-thirty fingers to the nadir point, and state,
Get up, you fool, you’re going to be late!

The house glows feeble in a tired beige,
Stunned by this outrageous wrench from rest,
Smells of mould, old breath, and bread.
Levered gently upright now we test,
Our limbs, joints, feet, for steadiness,
Then pee out our first long whimpering complaint,
And fart.

Breakfast ritual, drinking down the news,
Between heaped spoons of porridge,
Sweetened against habitual morning blues.
Yes, yes the news.
Finger flicking through brevatious blatherings,
Picking at sores until they bloom raw,
Yet festering of an incoherence vast,
So each day borrows vagueness of delineation,
From the last.

Same old, same old then,
We begin.

Thin half-light and a grey car glitters in a cold cocoon of dew,
Air stung by smoke of autumn burning wood,
Wipe the shivering glass to a lesser opaqueness,
Blow away the mist, with roaring fan,
Then drive.

The house shuts back its eyes at the parting gate,
Reverts to sleep, and mellow moldiness.
It remembers not,
Nor waits.

Thus I, into black face of morning, stare,
Continuing a slow meander,
Into the dreaming, wakeful blur,
A place,
That is not truly awake,
More these days a soft cushion occasionally spiked,
With the shards of old longing,
Rendered docile now across the years,
Like lost boys.

Dawn deepens to the soporific rumble of the road,
Leading more into delusions of the day’s crass light,
From which we turn our thoughts,
And pray haste our treasured teatime tryst to keep,
That therein we might once more escape,
This melancholic life of sleep.

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wet leafThe day dissolves to a silver mist,
Lighter than air,
Drifting,
Settling softly
Among bare branches,
Where minuscule spheroids swell,
Coalescing to a smug fatness.
Teardrops of crystal,
Transparent berries among the black thorns,
Rich yield of cold nourishment,
Hanging motionless in a mist,
Still drifting,
Thin as ghosts,
Aimless as smoke,
From dying embers.

A lone leaf falls.

 

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