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Fair Snape Fell and Paddy’s Pole

It seems incredible, the last time I was in Chipping was December 2008. I arrived at first light and drove home in the dark, after following pretty much the route I’ll be following today. Chipping hasn’t changed much. It’s still as elusive a place as ever, to non-locals, though quite a substantial and indeed a very pretty village when you do manage to find it. The roads that morning were icy, and the tops were snowy. Today is forecast for eighteen degrees, but warming already to considerably more than that. I was sad to note in passing the demise of the little Cobbled Corner café, so beloved of cyclists and walkers. We arrive to find the car-park is empty, but then this is a mid-week morning.

I have a chair that was made in Chipping. The H J Berry factory, famous for furniture making since 1840, closed in 2010, finally crushed by the financial collapse. The site is still being cleared this morning. I guess it’ll go for houses. My dining table was made by William Lawrence of Nottingham. That place closed in 2000. I can just about grasp the scale of the loss in terms of skills and livelihoods, but I need a very flexible view of economics to understand why it makes better sense now, if I want something so basic as a chair or a table, to have it made in China, and shipped halfway round the world, regardless of the carbon footprint that implies. The likes of H J Berry and William Lawrence are not coming back. Maybe other, more modern manufactories will replace them in the post BREXIT world. I don’t know. All I know is the shape of the future Global Britain remains, as ever, a mystery.

Anyway, it’s a hot morning, with something of a haze about it, which bodes ill for photography, but we’ll see what comes out. We wend our way out of the village, and pick up the track that takes us to Saddle End Farm, then we strike up Saddle Fell. This is the first leg of a fine horseshoe walk that’ll take in Fair Snape (1706 ft) and end with Parlick (1417 ft). That morning in 2008, I remember an inversion which obscured the tops, but which we came out of on the climb up Saddle Fell, to reveal a cloudless blue, and snow clad hills afloat on a sea of mist. It’s a scene I put in my last novel Winter on the Hill.

Parlick, from Saddle Fell

I must have been much fitter then, as I don’t remember as many of the ups and downs along the way that strike me today, in this heat. I remember tackling the fell without much difficulty, but then memory can be selective. Today I’m flagging, sweating, swigging water every five minutes. The horse-flies are taking lumps out of me, and I’m salving their bites with the now ubiquitous hand sanitizing gel. It seems to work too, and keeps the buggers off.

Although hazy, we still have a sufficiently awesome view across the vale to Longridge Fell. Our later objectives – Fair Snape and Parlick, rising above Wolf Fell, are starting to preen themselves in the light, as the morning matures, and are looking a lot bigger than I remember. These are substantial hills, Fair Snape only a little lower than the grand old lady Pendle herself.

It’s cooler as we crest the ridge and come onto the moor-top, but only because the air is moving a little. I remember skittering about on ice up here last time – the bogs all frozen deep. Today the moor is dry and dusty, the meandering trail leading us across to Paddy’s Pole on Fair Snape. There’s litter here, and the remains of past lunches. Paddy’s pole is – well – a pole sticking out of a substantial cairn. Nearby is a well constructed wind-shelter of dry-stone walling, comprising several stalls. Way south is Parlick, with its ever present coterie of paragliders. They were aloft that winter too. It was minus five on the summit then. Heaven knows what it was up around the paraglider man’s toes.

We have quite a drop in altitude, before the final pull to the stately dome of Parlick (1417ft). By now the hips are aching. I’m hoping this is just a bit of stiffness and not a sign of wear and tear. My mother’s hips began their decline around my age, rendering the last decade of her life one of severe immobility and frustration, even with an eventual replacement in her early eighties which she never really got the use of. We keep our fingers crossed, make hay while the sun shines and soldier on – to seriously mix our metaphors.

Fair Snape summit, looking back from the ascent of Parlick

The descent from Parlick is a steep one. We meet the paraglider men coming up with their huge packs, and pity them, though they look happy enough, and why not? Not all humans are destined to fly as they are. There is a hang-glider coming up too, rolled into a long and impossibly ungainly package, which the guy carries over his shoulder. He makes painfully slow progress, his brow dripping in the heat, and humidity. There is something messianic in his plodding torment. One hopes he manages to stay aloft long enough to make this purgatorial journey worth his while.

The thermals that will power his flight are in evidence around Fell Foot. They are like earth-scented blasts from an open furnace, and seeming strong enough even to lift my arms, though I obviously imagine it. Gaining the lower ground now, and slightly giddy in the heat, one is tempted to think the walk is over, but we’ve still a way to go and the navigation not so straight forward. Not all the paths are well-marked, and we’re outside the access area, so we must be careful. I’m trying to stay off the roads, but I lose the path around a place called Fish House, which is undergoing extensive rebuilding work, where neither signage nor evidence of gates or stiles exist any more so, in spite of our best efforts searching for a way through, we end up finishing the last mile into Chipping by tarmac.

There’s water in the car, which replenishes the shrivelled extremities, then a large Mocha from the farm shop does the rest. Here, I learn the Cobbled Corner Café is not gone forever, that it may reopen soon, which I’m sure is good news to many.

A fair day on Fair Snape, then, about eight and a half miles, sixteen hundred feet of ascent, four hours round. At this rate, we may even be fit enough to heave our bones up a mountain, before the year is out.

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The 2009/2010 transition was marked by a return to the lovely little village of Chipping, scene also of last year’s transition walk. This time the objective was Longridge fell. The closing of 2009 had left me feeling exhausted, frankly – and my moods had been increasingly dark. I wasn’t even sure I had it in me to make much of an effort this year, but I went anyway, and as usual the day was a psychological turning point. I came back energised and inwardly transformed.

The cold snap here, in the North West of England is lingering longer than its done in thirty years, with many of the minor roads  rural Lancashire still snow-bound after three weeks of persistently wintry weather. A glitch in navigation had me facing a 1 in 5 downhill section, slick with ice and snow that was frozen into hard ruts. The ABS cut in  as I nudged the Astra over the precipice, so to speak, and it continued to judder and whine for fifty yards, all the way to the bottom. The car handled brilliantly though. It was smooth, steady, nicely balanced, and sure footed. But it would never have got back up that hill!

We’re not used to winters settling in here. It usually only snows one or two days a year, causing misery and chaos during the morning’s commute but then it’s gone by tea time. Our cars slip and slide all over the place, but it’s never worth taking precautions, like putting snow tyres on because  – well – it never lasts long enough does it? At least our Nordic cousins are more certain of the timing, and can say with confidence that winter comes at the same time every year. Here in in the UK though, we never know. This year though, our trains have packed in, our airports have closed and our roads have been impassable, giving the impression of a country that’s incompetent and technically incapable. But just for the record, we’re not incompetent – merely pragmatic: no sense in gearing up for the next ice age, until it happens.

The area around Chipping is about as rural at it gets in Lancashire, very pretty villages built of old stone, and there’s a sturdiness about them that you don’t get in the south of the country. There are also isolated farms and a vast patchwork of meadows. But this doesn’t help navigation for the hiker. Fell-top paths change little, but rural footpaths change all the time. They get re-routed when old farms and barns are transformed into posh houses and the owners no longer want the woolly hat brigade marching past their front doors. Footpath markers mysteriously disappear, leaving the incomer puzzled and – well – lost. So, the hike up Longridge from Chipping proved to be a bit of a trial and what was supposed to be an eight miler turned into ten.

It was a friend of mine who introduced me, years ago, to the idea of not “bagging the peak”. Peak bagging is where one must achieve the objective at any cost, and actually touch the summit cairn of the chosen hill with one’s boots, otherwise you can’t really say you’ve been there, and you can’t cross it off in your little book of peaks to bag. But there’s something very egotistical in this, and my friend’s view was that it was a greater test of character to be within striking distance of the top of a hill, and then to deliberately turn away from it – to forgo it. On the one hand, this seems mad: you’ve done the work, yet deliberately fail to take up the reward, but I believe it was this eccentric little idea that was just one of the things that got me thinking about ego, and the idea of disentanglement- long before I’d ever delved into Taoism or Buddhism, or read a copy of the I Ching. Both my friend and I have strong Celtic roots, and it’s not the first time I’ve noted a similarity between the Celtic and the Eastern view.

Longridge Fell was still deep with a softish snow, and a long raking path brought me up within less than half a kilometre of the summit  at Spire Hill. I could clearly see the white trig point to my left, and the homeward path, snaking off to my right. I thought of my friend, and had little difficulty turning right. I’d come five miles, and had another five to go, but I couldn’t be bothered with the summit. There was nothing philosophical about this. I was simply cold, and the light was going.

I must have bagged hundreds of peaks in the last thirty years and each of them seemed terribly important at the time – important to say I had actually been there, but of course, looking back, there are very few walks where the memory of the peak still means that much to me. The greater transformations are not brought about by a single event, like the climbing of a mountain. They happen slowly. You lean your mind in a certain direction and, over time, things happen. The most meaningful transformations are internal, like looking out at the world through a different pair of eyes.

I came down from the snow and the cold via Jeffrey Hill, then picked my way through the disjointed footpaths back to Chipping, where I dispersed the beginnings of frostbite in the Cobbled Corner Cafe, and as day turned to night, and the frost began to sparkle, I fired up old grumpy (the Astra), and braved the snowy roads back home.

I’m not sure if New Year resolutions are worth much. They never seem to last long, and a year’s not that long anyway if you want to see a real transformation in your life. I’m just going to keep leaning my head in the same direction,… and we’ll see what happens.

A happy New Year to all my readers.

Graeme out.

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The cold spell continues here with temperatures down to -4C at night, and highs just above freezing by day. It seems rare in these years of global warming for us to experience such a sustained chill, but it’s entirely natural of course and, though hardly comfortable, it’s most welcome.

The car was thick with frost and the roads ominously dark with  ice as I set out at first light for the Trough of Bowland. I always start the year with a hike up some hill or other – something I find difficult to psyche myself up for as it flies in the face of the season, which seems to be encouraging me instead to lie down and submit to darkness, to hibernate, to snuggle beneath warm covers, and under no circumstances venture out into the dark and frozen world, this secret world of winter. All right, I know it’s not exacty the official New Year yet, but I seem to work to a different calendar, going more off the turn of the seasons, and in that respect my old year ended on the 21st.

It’s usually Cumbria or the Yorkshire Dales I head for, but this year I’ve been trying to get more intimately aquainted with the uplands to the north of my native Lancashire, an area known as the Trough. I had an unpromising start here in the summer with the remote summit of Ward’s Stone, which delivered up perhaps the most prolonged and severe drenching I can remember in my long walking career, as well a pair of the ugliest and most painful blisters it’s ever been my pleasure to hobble home upon.

A previous attempt on Ward’s Stone, many years ago, had to be aborted when I discovered that the Duke of Westminsters’ men, who were out for a spot of shooting, had closed all the paths.  So, this otherwise uniquely attractive region hasn’t exactly welcomed me with open arms in the past. However, my perseverance was rewarded today with an eight mile walk from the lovely village of Chipping, which  nestles deep in a maze of minor country roads. The classic walk from here is up Saddle Fell, then Fair Snape Fell and Parlick, a grand cirque of moorland summits and one that’s been on my list of “routes to do” for years.

Fortunately the cold weather was accompanied by mostly clear skies and, even though the sun shone pale and with little effect on the frozen land, it managed to paint a picture of winter in it’s most attractive aspect – the ground hard and white with frost, and the great khaki and russet coloured hills dusted with white, rising with an impressive dignity from the fertile pastures that huddle in the valleys. It was a day that reminded me why my walking boots are numbered amongst my most treasured possessions.

boots2

The boots, a pair of venerable Scarpas, must be fiteen years old now, deeply creased and cracked, and I suspect this was their last outing. They’ve carried me over much hallowed ground and I can hardly begrudge them their retirement now among the sawdust and the cobwebs of my garage. I can only trust my next pair will be as reliable.

I’ve had so many drenchings on the fells this  year it was easy to ignore the rasping cold today, to revel in it almost for its blessed dryness. The route from Fair Snape to Parlick was in the teeth of a stiff wind blowing over a hard frosted moor which took the temperature down to an abrasive -8C.

The summits here are around the 500 metre mark, which is typical for Lancashire’s higher peaks, and today they just pierced the thin cloud layer that clung to them, so the normally expansive views were obscured and there was a sense of being isolated in an upper world dusted with intricate particles of brilliant white ice.fair-snape-fell-summit-shelter

In the summers, after rain, the moors are mucky places, the more popular routes being churned to a mixture of peat slime and sheep poo but today there was an almost clinical cleanliness and a cryogenic stillness about them.

The year is only a little past the solstice, the earth still in deepest sleep, but these walks serve to remind both me and it that I am still very much alive and as keen in my exploration of the myriad pathways of both the inner and the outer world as I ever was. They are not quite an act of defiance, more a respectful reminder to the world that I still have my eyes upon it.

Family life has taken its toll over the years and prevented me from venturing into these precious places as often as I once did. Each year I tell myself I shall walk a little more, but seem only to end up walking a little less, and I had begun to fear a gradual decline in my physical ability to tackle such outings on those rare occasions when I have both the inclination and the opportunity to do so. Fortunately, the Tai Chi and Qigong, though unobtrusive in my life and apparently gentle in their effects have produced a noticeable improvement in my ability to draw breath and keep pace in the hills which is another reason I’m keen to keep them up.  As for the metaphysical, such outings as these rarely yield a ready  harvest of musings. Even this accounting is too soon after the event to unearth any clues, but I shall walk the way again, in imagination over the coming days, and in my dreams tonight, and I am assured the magical richness of today’s experience shall find its way into my writings, though it be in an encrypted form that shall in all likelihood defy even my own analysis.

paddys-pole1 The Trough of Bowland possesses a charm that is unique in England, also a rare, raw, remote north-country wildness that can both horrify and inspire. Long the preserve of the private, grouse bagging gentleman, decades of  campaigning by the Ramblers’ Association has now succeeded in opening up its secrets to those who are willing to put their boots upon the relatively few tracks that wend their way across this truly remarkable landscape.

Its unlikely my old Scarpas will see much more of this land and my current finances make it equally unlikely it will be a fresh pair of Scarpas that takes their place, but the wild still exerts a pull upon me and I am assured that replaced they will surely have to be. As a young man the lure of the lonely uplands was akin to a passionate love affair, while these days it is  a growing sense of the sublime nature of the land that attracts me. To be sure, I no longer feel the animal allure of  siren summits when I gaze across landscapes such as this, and more the whisperings of ghosts.  But whatever the nature of the attraction, I am grateful for it.

Michael Graeme

www.mgraeme.ic24.net

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