Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘great hill’

Drinkwaters farm (ruin) en route to Great Hill. West Pennine Moors.

The track to the cricket field at White Coppice is a mess. Heavy Covid traffic has left it with deep potholes. The little blue car would not have made it without beaching. It’s a good job we came in the little black one. The last time I was here, in November, the car-park at the cricket field was full by eight in the morning, and the whole length of the track was parked nose to tail. Today, it’s nearly lunch-time and the place is all but deserted. We have a choice of spaces, so we park facing the lovely green sward of the cricket field, the shaggy moors rising beyond. Are things are drifting back to normal after all?

We’re forecast a gloomy one today, promise of light rain from midday. It has a steamy, sticky feel to it down here, but it’ll be cooler on the moor. The plan is a short hike to the top of Great Hill and back, eight hundred feet of ascent, and about four miles round. There’s a guy in a camo poncho, peeling off his boots. He’s beaten us to it with an early start. He’s had the worst of the rain, too, which was heavy first thing, and he looks drenched. Sweat or rain, it’s hard to tell. He wears camo pants and a camo jacket underneath – oh, and a camo hat.

It’s interesting, this creeping militarization of the Zeitgeist. Then there’s this word “tactical” infiltrating the marketing of the gear we use, like we’re all on special operations, and war – or the preparations for it – are the most natural and desired state for human beings. We miss so much of the world when all we’re seeing are potential enemies, and states of alarm.

Ignore me. I’m grumpy. It was hard to get going this morning. I fussed about with the big camera, and lenses, then left them all behind in favour of the smaller Lumix. It’s less hassle, and half the weight. It also seems to like these conditions, meaning a flat light, and not much of it. With the Lumix, you can set a fairly small aperture for depth of field, and still achieve a decent shutter speed. We get around the flat light by shooting bracketed exposures and superimposing them, which brings out textures in the gloomiest of skies. I’ve been experimenting with the method all year, and it’s added a lot of interest to my outdoor photography. It doesn’t always work, sometimes looks overblown and silly, but that’s part of the fun, and we should never stop learning, no matter how old we are.

So, we wander first up through the long abandoned quarries, looking for fresh shots. But we’ve shot this place to death, over half a century, and not much appeals today, not even the waterfalls, which can manage barely a dribble after such a long period of dry. We climb onto the moor, intersect with the main route to the hill from White Coppice, and it’s here we encounter an elderly lady, from behind, squatting in the middle of the path, performing her ablutions. I have to blink and work out exactly what it is I’m looking at, then look away and try to unsee it.

I think it’s safe to say most walkers will have answered calls of nature in the outdoors. Also, none of our posteriors are getting any better for keeping, but perhaps I am too shy in seeking at least a modicum of cover for my modesty – a tree say, well off the path, or a wall – and, actually, it matters nothing if we disturb the horses. Still, I prefer to think there are certain standards to be upheld, and the lady certainly put me off my lunch.

Great Hill from Drinkwaters farm

Anyway, it’s one of those days when the muscles are slow to warm, and the spring in the heels is lacking. Half an hour to Drinkwaters’ farm, and – yes – lunch. I try to clear the image of the lady’s bottom from my head, but to no avail. Indeed, I think I am damaged by it. Anyway, third sycamore tree from the left, and a view of the moor from Spitlers’ to the Round Loaf, then down to the plain. This is one of my favourite spots on the moor, even today when the weather is brisk and broody.

Another tell-tale of a year of heavy Covid footfall on the hill is how tame the sheep have become – well, not tame exactly – sheep are untamable, but they are intelligent creatures and not above begging scraps from one’s ruck-sack, nor indeed helping themselves, if they think they can get away with it. I’ve had this in the Lakes and the Howgills – the sheep shoving their heads in your sack before you’ve even sat down. Here, the Swaledales, several stout ewes and their lambs, at least have the manners to wait until I am comfortable. Then they approach with stealth, inch by inch, until I am surrounded. I watch them, bemused, unused to seeing them so close up. I have only a thermos of soup which does not interest them, so they settle around almost within petting distance, which is eerie. I suppose they are waiting to see if anything else appears from the sack. It doesn’t. We have a chat, and leave it at that. They were very decent about it, and good company.

Sycamore, Great Hill Farm (ruin), West Pennine Moors

On top, there is no one. It’s cooler here, and the sky, though not exactly breaking, is rippling into interesting textures. Though it’s a grey sort of day, visibility is stunning. Westwards we have a view across the Lancashire plain, down to the sea, from the Mersey to the Ribble, out as far as the wind farm and the gas field. Then, over the Fylde coast we have Blackpool, the Lake district mountains beyond that. North, we have Bowland, Pendle, the Dales. East, and closer to home is Darwen Moor. South, beyond the undulating ridge of Spitlers’ and Redmond’s edge, we have the porcupine back of Winter Hill with its array of transmitters. At just1252 feet above the sea, and like all hills, Great Hill makes a difference in lifting one’s perspective, both internally and externally. We retrace our steps to White Coppice, refreshed.

Back at the cricket field there is more camo, this time accompanied by gun-dogs and green wellies – a mixture of “tactical” and “shooting gentry”, I suppose. I leave the West Pennines to them for the day, and make a “tactical” retreat home. There I soak my feet, and peruse my photographs, see what came out and what did not.

Read Full Post »

On Withnell Moor – West Pennines

There’s a remoteness about the Withnell moors that belies the fact even the loneliest bits of them are probably only half an hour’s walk from the well populated villages of Brinscall, or Abbey Village. In the nineteenth century they were home to many small-scale farms but, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, changing times were making it harder to justify such remote habitation, the mills and quarries being more of a draw for employment than farming, at least on this scale. Then an outbreak of typhoid, in Kent (1897), sent the public health bodies into a spin. The Withnell moors were (and still are) part of the water catchment area for the city of Liverpool, and the urgent word went out we should avoid anything, animal or human, defecating upon it. So the leases were withdrawn, and the farms fell to ruin.

I’ve come here today to photograph the sycamores at one particular ruin, Grouse Cottage. The weather’s fair for now, though looking a bit changeable, and I find I’m in the mood to explore further, if I can. I’m wondering if in fact, we can find a route up Great Hill from this end of the West Pennines. There isn’t one marked on the map, and scant trace of such in aerial photographs. But it would make sense, this group of farms being linked by a humble walked way, to the now similarly ruined farms over on the Heapey side of the moor. We’ll see.

The sycamores at Grouse Cottage

Grouse Cottage looks like it’s been gone centuries, but it was still lived in in the 1950s, one of the last of the farms to be vacated. I have seen photographs of it from its working days, and can only say its eradication has been most severe. Interesting to me, my mother, resident nearby in Abbey Village until 1960, would have known it as a working farm. A small piece of it is still standing, which adds some architectural interest to the photograph of the trees – this being what was the outside lavatory. The rest is left to imagination. It was dramatically positioned with fine views but, like all the farms out this way, and from the stories my mother told, a hell of a place to be in winter.

Twisted Beech – Botany Bay

From Grouse Cottage we head south now, to the corner of a tumbled drystone wall, then west, towards Rushy brook. We cross by the ruins of Popes, another lost farm, then onto the rise of the moor, and eventually to a curious, lone beech tree by the ruins of Botany Bay. This farm is renamed on OS maps from the 1930’s as the “Summer House”, it’s having by then been abandoned, and adapted for use as what I suppose was a luncheon hut, for the grouse shooting fraternity. Little remains of it now. The tree is remarkable though – twisted, stunted by ferocious weather, but stoically hanging on. Remarkable too is an upright stone, unworked and heavily weathered, one I reckon predates the farm by several thousand years and marks a previous era of habitation.

Botany Bay stone

From Botany Bay there is a sketchy path south and west, towards the trees that mark the ruins of Solomon’s and New Temple. It’s New Temple I’m after, to a little isthmus of benign pasture that marks the end of the ancient enclosures, and their abutment with the wilderness of uncultivated moor. If there’s a route up Great Hill, here’s where we’ll find it.

The temple isn’t an actual temple, no doubt much to the disappointment of the neo-pagans who have been known to frequent it, in search of “vibes”. It’s just another ruined farm, marked by a pair of magnificent sycamores, romantic in their isolation, and striking today with a background of moody sky. There are heavy showers sweeping the plain, drifting up the Ribble Valley, circling behind us over Darwen Moor. Meanwhile, we enjoy an island of calm and intermittent hazy sun. Anything incoming is at least thirty minutes away, but we seem to be in the eye of the system, so I reckon we’ll be okay.

It turns out there is indeed a little-walked path from here – no more than a sheep-trod, but inspiring sufficient confidence to explore further. It takes us up the nondescript hummock of Old Man’s Hill, then loosely follows the line of Rushy Brook, into the lap of Great Hill. I wouldn’t come this way in poor weather as it would be hard to trace, and it’s a rum wasteland of tussocky grass to go off course in, but otherwise the way makes sense, and follows a reasonably dry route.

The New Temple Sycamores

The plan now, if we can avoid a drenching, is to take in the top of Great Hill, then circle back via Pimms and the Calf Hey brook. I was there some weeks ago, but I want to shoot the trees at Pimms again, against this impressive sky, and to get a name for them. The buds are opening now and hopefully will reveal their signature leaves – sycamores probably.

Great Hill summit – West Pennines

There’s not a soul on Great Hill, again. Everyone must be in the pubs, or the shops as we find ourselves once more in one of those “hair down”, between wave periods. Meanwhile, the weather dances round us, a whirligig of drama, while our own steps remain blessed by dry, and that lingering crazy, hazy sun. This place feels as familiar as the back of my own hand, but no matter how well we think we know a place, there is always another perspective, always something fresh to be gained. If that insight is the one blessing of these Covid restrictions, then so be it.

As for the trees at Pimms, they are indeed sycamores, the same as at Solomon’s, and Grouse Cottage, common enough on the moors, as anywhere. The Woodland Trust tells me they’re not native to our islands, sycamores having been introduced in the 15th or 16th centuries from mainland Europe. They’re hard as nails though, as evidenced by their soaring height here, in defiance of the harshest weather Lancashire can muster. They’ve outlived the farms anyway, stand as monuments to them and, in the present day, provide beacons for navigation.

Roddlesworth falls

So, now we’re heading down through the plantations at Roddlesworth again – a second chance to grab a decent shot of the little falls on the Roddlesworth river. I make a better job of it this time – the Lumix I’m carrying today being a much faster camera than the Nikon I used some weeks before. Then the car’s waiting, my good lady’s car today. Unlike mine, it can navigate the humps and hollows of Roddlesworth lane, without getting beached.

As we ease off the boots, the rain catches up with us. It’s nothing dramatic – more gentle and cooling. It’s been kind enough to hold off for our walk, and a little wet is welcome after such a long period of dry. My garden will appreciate it, and it should replenish the water-butts, which are already at rock bottom.

It turned out to be a good circuit, not as far as it feels on the legs though – about five and a half miles, seven hundred feet of ascent or so. It was a little eerie. Being more used to dodging Covid crowds, I saw not a soul all afternoon, and had only the ghosts among the ruins for company. To be sure this is one of the loneliest of approaches to Great Hill I know.

There’s something sobering about the lost farms of the West Pennines. It’s the idea of, season after season, eking out a hard living from an unforgiving moor, and now those lives passed on, moved on as all things change and move on, and the reeds grow back, where once the deep-walled lane echoed to the sound of the passing cart and the driven beasts. And the multi-storied life, hard won, is reduced in no time at all to a pile of knee-high rubble, to be poked at, and pondered by passing Romantics, like me.

For more information on this part of the world, do check out:

“The lost farms of Brinscall Moor” by David Clayton

Read Full Post »

Great Hill – West Pennine Moors

There’s so much to do, places to explore. I’m itching to get back on the road, get up to Bowland, to the Dales, the Lakes, get the camera up the fells, have that long weekend at the Buck in Malham I’ve been promising myself since whenever. And now, retiring early I’ve plenty of time for all that creative stuff, all that travelling about. Except of course we’re still riding out the “C” word, and things seemingly getting worse, even with a vaccine on the horizon.

Stay at home, exercise locally. Do you know what that means? Me neither. We’ve been here before. I’ll still be taking the camera for a walk, but it’ll be doorstep to doorstep now. The downside is my shots may start to look like they’re all the same, because they are – just different lights, moods and seasons. But then what we sometimes overlook is the fact that while our local beat might seem monotonous to us, it’s still interesting to others whose own “familiar” is monotonous to them, but to us fascinating, and so on.

Anyway, these first bright, frosty days of 2021, I’ve been doing a lot of miles on foot. I’ve been inspired by my fellow outdoor bloggers to clock up a thousand miles this year. That’s a big number for me but, holding true to my ambitious nature, I’ll be happy with five hundred, which is around ten miles per week, and should be feasible, even locally. I’ve done more than that already, but then the weather’s been good.

Speaking of local, the header shot is of a beguilingly lovely Great Hill, in the West Pennines, under snow just now. I was last up there a month ago, but this is as close as I’ll get until the latest restrictions are lifted. I shot it from the west, around nine miles out, by the river Yarrow, near the village of Eccleston, a short journey for me by Shanks’ pony. There would have been people up there today, regardless of the new restrictions. The little road up to the cricket field at White Coppice, the usual starting point for the climb, would have been nose to tail with vehicles, like it’s been all year, everyone out for a “local” walk. Some will have interpreted that as fine, even though they came from Manchester or Liverpool.

It was pretty much like this before, everyone looking for a loophole. Admittedly, the loopholes are smaller now, so some are flouting the rules due to Covid fatigue, a sense of self-entitlement, ignorance or just sheer bloody mindedness. The danger, I suppose, is when the books are written, the wrong people will be carrying the can for the death toll.

Actually, this string of paths I’m on today is unusual for being little trod. Indeed, for the full hour I’ve been on them, I’ve seen not another soul. I’m after a particular set of shots here: late afternoon sunshine lighting up bare trees. I’m looking for long shadows running across green pastures. I need a long lens, a small aperture for depth of field, so a slow shutter, which requires a tripod. If the paths are busy, I always feel self-conscious with a tripod so rarely bother with one, but not today. Today it’s pleasant to slow right down, and just tinker with the camera. Plus, by the time I get home, I’ve added another four miles to that thousand-mile challenge.

There will be other challenges this year of course, like how to avoid catching Covid in one of the few developed countries where it’s running out of control. Then there’s the matter of how to get my jab when everything else Covid related has been an unmitigated organizational disaster. There’s also the issue of staying sane, continuing to obey the rules while abandoning my beloved Great Hill to insta-incomers, in their four-byes, travelling across tiers for a selfie in the snow. Judging by that last comment, my magnanimity may be on the wane, but no one’s perfect. At least I no longer shout at the Telly, but that’s because I use it mainly for casting You-tube stuff these days. I know, You-tube is a repository for the worst of humanity, but it’s also a place you’ll find some inspirational talent, no matter what your bent. I’ll close with one of my favourite channels, and a trip to Bowland which I’m unlikely to be making in person any time soon.

Henry, you’re an inspiration, mate, and your pictures make mine look like they were shot with a Box Brownie from the back of a galloping horse.

Read Full Post »

Great Hill, West Pennine Moors

Great Hill, West Pennine Moors

I was sitting in the cross shelter on the top of Great Hill on Friday, sharing the view and passing the time of day with another walker. He was in his late middle age, what I’d describe as a robust pedestrian and a good sort. He was knowledgeable about the area and about the bird-life. I’ve never met him before and I knew him for all of ten minutes, but we got on well. Such encounters with strangers on hilltops are not unusual. The mere fact that you’re there means you already have a lot in common.

It’s a very beautiful spot, Great Hill, in a low moorland windswept sort of way. It’s about 1250 feet high, and miles away from the roads or any form of habitation. There were larks a plenty and a couple of curlew plaintively piping. To the north, we could see as far as Pendle and beyond to the Dales. Westwards we had the Lancashire plain and the sea. To the south lay Winter Hill, all of it crisply delineated in the mid-morning sunshine, and shimmering over the long moorland causeway known as Spitler’s Edge. This is a very beautiful patch of territory, otherwise known as the Western Pennines, and not twenty minutes drive from where I live, also not twenty minutes drive for a couple of million other souls as well, and unfortunately suffering from the stress of it.

Suddenly my new found companion advised me never to be in the area after 9:00 pm, that there were far too many unsavoury goings on these days. If it wasn’t boy racers killing themselves and others on the narrow moorland roads, he said, it was people up to goodness knows what on the public carparks.

“You know,” he said. “Those unsavoury parties and such-like.”

He explained those “unsavoury parties” were the reason the Higher House car-park at Rivington is now locked at night by a sophisticated electric rolling gate – or at least it was until the trolls came up and stole the solar panel that charged its batteries. Another car-park in the area, he informed me, is now padlocked at all times – no one can use it, day or night.

With a worldly sigh, he set his hat upon his head and bade me good morning. It was a curious encounter, possibly daemonic, and one that’s had me thinking ever since.

great hill summit

As I watched him ambling away, I reflected on other stories I’d heard about these nefarious goings on, and how they are increasingly interfering with people’s innocent enjoyment of the countryside. I suppose I take it personally because it’s my back yard and I grew up treasuring what it has to offer – its beauty, its wide open space, its antiquarian oddities, and its walking of course – so a part of me does resent this rather rude intrusion of what I call the grey world and its creeping ugliness.

It spreads like litter.

And of course the West Pennines isn’t the only area under siege by such unsavoury goings on.

Imagine:

An elderly lady and her husband drive to a local beauty-spot. There’s a pleasant car-park under the trees, a shimmering lake in the distance, a shapely green hill rising beyond. It’s all sunshine and blue skies – a midday week, about lunchtime. They park their vehicle, unpack a picnic and are about to pour coffee from the flask when a man walks by in a pin-stripe suit, carrying his trousers, neatly folded, over his arm – only his shirt tails to spare his modesty.

They used to bring their children here for picnics on Sundays, they’d go walking and playing hide and seek in the woods. It’s a public car-park, a handy public loo, but unknown to them it’s also become what the police have unofficially designated a public sex area, in this case mainly for gays, looking for anonymous encounters. The street smart call it “Cottaging”. The police call it a public nuisance, but don’t want to be seen as homophobic, so unless someone gets hurt or there are drugs involved it’s mostly tolerated.

Then imagine:

A young woman takes her dog out for a walk, early evening. It’s another car-park, another beauty spot. She’s followed by a man who begins making lewd remarks, so she beats a hasty retreat, understandably in some distress. As she drives away he calls her stuck up for not wanting to have sex with him. When she calls the police, she’s told the area is a well known “Dogging” location, Dogging being a euphemism for what might be loosely termed public sex. People drive for miles to these spots and rendezvous for anonymous intercourse, this time of the heterosexual variety.

The young woman didn’t know all this of course, not being familiar with that sort of thing.

In an attempt to curb the problem, and I’m sorry dear Doggers and Cottagers, but you are a problem, the council locks the carparks at night, unless they run out of money and can’t afford to pay a warden, in which case they simply shut the car-parks altogether and the amenity is denied to others who merely want to walk or picnic and generally enjoy the greenery and the scenery on their doorstep. But because that green is within spitting distance of a conurbation, the grey tide washes up a thick line of unsavoury detritus.

I’m not sure how these things take hold, nor how the innocent among us are supposed to know that lay-by or car-park where we habitually leave our car of a summer’s eve, while we take a couple of hours out across the moors and enjoy the sunset, is now a public sex area. It’s a very British phenomenon – apparently – this dogging thing, but it’s all rather sordid too, and though it’s not like me to moralise, I really don’t like the thought of it in my back yard.

Of course, it’s not a good idea, sex with strangers, but even less so with lots of strangers. It’s a sure way to catch an STD for a start, possibly a fatal one, but that never stopped anyone from doing it, so moralising and pointing out the public health implications is never going to solve it. The other problem is it also creates bad feeling among the locals – these immoral urbanites travelling out to our rural idyll to perform their beastly functions. And there’s a resentment too that the innocent ones had better be locked indoors, with the curtains drawn by dusk, because there’ll soon be trolls about and there’s never a burly copper around to see them off.

Anyway, I came down from Great Hill, returning via the woods at Brinscall, then along the Goit to White Coppice. I saw more curlew and lark, heard cuckoo and woodpecker, and found what I believe to be an unmarked standing stone, though possibly a Victorian facsimile. It was a beautiful day, a pleasant walk, a beautiful area, an area well known to me, an area well known also, apparently, for dogging.

standing stone

As an interesting, though not entirely unrelated aside, today I took the good Lady Graeme out in the MX5. (We might as well enjoy it while the sun shines) We drove to Saint Annes on Sea and had a picnic by Fairhaven Lake. We used to go there a lot with the children, but today’s journey was considerably enhanced by travelling in an open top car. In fact it was a delight, and it was also wonderful to see my teacher wife smiling again after weeks of stress during the build up to yet another school inspection. On our return, my good lady, one eye on the wing mirror, asked me if I was aware the car behind the car behind us was a police car.

I was not.

I wasn’t speeding, but that aggressive looking Hyundai cruiser was suddenly an intimidating presence and, driving that MX5 I felt like I had a target on my back. I have been indicted for my carelessness before (SP30) – there were extenuating circumstances, but I didn’t argue them. I have also been falsely accused by a traffic officer of using a mobile phone when driving. I was not using it, and was able to prove to his satisfaction I had not been using it, but was given a stern warning for using it anyway. I was also once stopped and asked, with blistering sarcasm, if indicators were optional on my car, sir. It’s unfortunate but my only contact with the boys and girls in blue is when I’m behind the wheel of a car, and my confidence in them is tainted by that experience. I recognise it as a neurosis, and could perhaps use some desensitisation therapy, but I no longer feel protected and served. Instead I feel vulnerable.

So, if you were the traffic officer two cars behind when a blue Mazda MX5 pulled into the petrol station at the Warton filling station this afternoon, I admit I wasn’t really pulling in for petrol. I was merely wanting you off my tail because you were spoiling my day out with my wife. And by the way, did you know, as I write there are people committing acts of public indecency in nearby beauty spots, frightening the life out of old ladies and young women, and horses too?

What’s that? You do?

Clearly one is less likely to attract the attention of the constabulary these days cavorting in public areas without one’s trousers than one is when merely driving from A to B.

The material world is endlessly fascinating. While it so often seems bent on self destruction, I seem able to watch it these days from the detached perspective of a mostly docile middle age, but it doesn’t stop me from occasionally getting my dander up when the unconscious among us use what few bits of beautiful English green we have left to us for wiping their bottoms on.

Except, reading back on all of this it sounds like rather a long editorial from the Daily Mail – World going to hell in a handcart, public morals shot to pieces, and the police doing nothing about it. But in truth, though I am aware of what goes on, I have never personally witnessed such public indecency as I speak of here, and I don’t lay awake at night worrying about it,  so the West Pennines remain for me another country, and long may it remain so. Policemen are also human beings and do a decent job that many, myself included, would be incapable of. Yes, I’m paranoid about traffic policemen, I break out all nervous and sweaty when one settles on my tail – which is precisely why I imagine I attract them –  when all the guy’s probably thinking is “please let there be no more calls before I finish my shift”. If I could learn to love them, I would no longer care so much when one settles on my tail. That’s going to be quite a challenge, probably beyond me, but its been an interesting weekend’s journey from my first sitting down on Great Hill on Friday morning.

Read Full Post »