Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘lancashire’

On Spitler’s Edge

You catch up with me this afternoon, on Spitler’s Edge, in the Western Pennines. It sounds precipitous, like a mountain arête, but it’s not. That said, it’s still quite an airy aspect, in a dun coloured, tussocky, bog-cottony, sky-scraping, moorland sort of way. Indeed, the views are spectacular, from the hills of eastern Lancashire, to the west coast. Southwards, we have the porcupine ridge of Winter Hill, and its cluster of transmitters, while to the north we have Great Hill. The crossing from Great Hill to Winter Hill is always a treat, not to be underestimated in bad weather, but much easier now the route has been paved to spare erosion of the precious peat and bog habitat. The highpoint here is around 1286 feet.

I’ve not come over from Great Hill, though. I’ve come up by an unfamiliar path that snakes between Standing Stones Hill and Green Withins’ Brook. Early maps tell us there was always a track here, though aiming a little lower, for the coll, and the pass to High Shores, then down to Naylors. Naylors is a ruin now, and the current map shows the track petering out in the tussocks of Standing Stones. But there’s still a clear and well trod footway that carries on, though aiming more for the featureless summit of Redmond’s Edge.

It’s a hot day, down in the valley, with a dazzling, head-bursting sun. The sky is streaked with great fans of whispy, stratospheric clouds like white dendrites against the blue, and I’ve been photographing them with various foregrounds on the way up. There’s a cool wind on top, now, and a dusty taste to the air. The moors are ripe for burning, but so far so good, and the idiots have spared us their perennial pyromania. We’re a little later setting out, having waited in for the Tescos delivery man, so it’s getting on for tea time. The light is turning mellow, and a poem is gnawing at me, wanting me to remember it from way back.

I was crossing Spitler’s Edge,
With the sun touching the sea,
When a stranger on a dark horse,
From the distance came to me.

So I took myself aside a-ways,
To let the traveller pass,
And leaning on my staff, I paused,
Amid a sea of grass.

2002, I think. No strangers on dark horses today, though – just the occasional mountain-bike going hell for leather and with an air that suggests a supreme confidence I’ll be stepping aside for it. Although we’re in a post CROW access area, this isn’t a bridle way, so, strictly speaking, bikes have no place on the edge – walkers only. It could be worse, though. It could be motorcycles. You can’t police stuff like this, though. It relies on conscientiousness, hillcraft, and good manners.

So where was I? Standing amid a sea of grass? Okay,…

From there I watched the sky ablaze,
Above a darkening land,
Until I felt a chill and spied,
The stranger close at hand.

He stood upon the hillside,
While his horse about him grazed,
And with his eyes cast westwards,
On that same sunset he gazed,…

Yes, an old poem of mine, insisting on rhyme, at the risk of meter. It came out of an odd feeling, when crossing this way, late one evening, forty years ago. It was the antiquarian John Rawlinson, in his book “About Rivington” who wrote of the origins of the name “Spitler’s Edge,” it coming from the Knights Hospitaller’s of the Holy Order of St John, who had holdings in the district – this being in medieval times – and who, legend has it, would pass this way en route. So the guy I meet in the poem is a medieval warrior-monk. So what?

He wore a cloak of coarsest wool,
Around his shoulder’s broad,
And, across his back was slung,
I swear, the mightiest of swords.

But I did not fear the stranger,
When at length his gaze met mine,
For I knew we shared that hillside,
Across a gulf of time,…

And, speaking of time, the evening I’m thinking of was some time in the early eighties. I’d had a bad day at work, plus the realisation the girl I had the romantic hots for had the romantic hots for someone else – a colleague of mine, and a decent guy I was friendly with. So I’d driven up to Rivington, and set out to mull it over. And in mulling it over, I’d walked, and walked, and walked. Thinking about it now, I would have been better just walking home that night, which would certainly have made for a shorter walk, but I turned around and came back to Rivington over the edge, as the sun set.

It was a beautiful night, a perfect stillness across the moor, a faint mist rising after the heat of the day, and I was kept company by a long eared owl whose silent, broad winged flight was the most beautiful and eerie thing. All right, I didn’t actually meet a Knights Hospitaller, but if you believe in gaps in the fabric of space-time, that would have been an evening to encounter one. The walk did me good, cleared my head. There was no way I was going to fight over the girl, and I reckoned I had it in me to find a way of finally letting her go. As for the stranger,…

I nodded my slow greeting,
And he duly did the same,
Then he climbed upon his patient steed,
And ambled off again.

But turning back, he caught my eye,
Then slightly cocked his head,
And smiled to me a kindly smile:
“Fare thee well, pilgrim…” he said,..

Not as long a walk today, but then I’m forty years older, and I feel the miles differently. Just six miles round from the Yarrow Reservoir, to which we return with the sun sparkling upon it, and the oak trees of Parson’s Bullough, with their fresh leaves luminous against the blue. I still think about that girl from time to time. She’s still married to that guy and, in retrospect, she was always going to be happier with him, than she ever would have been with me. Sometimes it’s the ghosts, and the shadows who let us in on secrets like that, but you need a vivid imagination – a mind’s eye sort of thing – and the faith in it, even if it sometimes works backwards way, and is never any use to you at the time. Still, we get by.

Fare thee well, pilgrim, and thanks for listening.

Read Full Post »

By the Goit, White Coppice

Six days after the most appalling storm, I’m here at White Coppice, in sparkling sunshine. There’s not a breath of wind, and the ground is hard with frost. Most of the trees are bare now, with only the oaks still clutching, defiant, to the tatters of their leaves.

In my previous piece, I put up an extract from my first novel, the Singing Loch. That story dealt with the way powerful forces shape small lives, and sometimes erases them. And it asked: what does that mean for the small lives? And what does it mean to us who, in the course of our own small lives, examine their traces? What can we learn, about ourselves, and the world?

Here at White Coppice, we look out across the always-summer green of the cricket field, with its attendant little whitewashed cottages. Winter begins where the moor rises, atop the line of the Brinscall fault. Sometimes moody, sometimes benign, the moor has a look of wild desolation. But it was not always so. Much of it is criss-crossed with drystone walling, marking the early enclosures. And there are piles of worked stone, overgrown, now, with moor grass, and clumps of soft rushes. These are the remains of farms, each a late formed tumulus, and a marker of past lives. Then there were any number of quarries, and small mines scratching out rare minerals. They’re all gone now, swept away by time, and, in the case of the hill-farms, by the need of burgeoning cities, and their industries, for water. In the small lives of the lost farms, here, there are untold stories of love, endurance and tragedy. We are left only to imagine them, and imagine them we must, or the only story remaining to us is one of catching water into the reservoirs, and delivering it to Liverpool. And where is the awe and the reverence in that?

It’s quiet at White Coppice this morning. We park without difficulty at the cricket field. Things are getting back to normal, after the scramble for green spaces during the peak of the lock-downs. I’m not planning a long walk. I’m looking for trees. There are some fine ones here, some I know, some specimens I’ve read about, and which I’m searching for. This is my own Covid legacy, this late found friendship with trees.

We begin by following the line of the Goit. This is a shallow canal, between the reservoirs around Tockholes, and the larger Anglezarke and Rivington system. Just here it is natural in appearance, and pleasing, but becomes more industrial and dull, further upstream. We turn off, at the edge of the woods around Brinscall, and enter the still crisp, frosted meadows of the Goit valley.

Ash tree, Goit valley

There’s an ash tree here, looking beautiful with the sun caught up in its boughs. We try a few shots, then seek out a likely spot for lunch. There’s a mound of stones nearby, with some flat bits we can sit upon. So we sit, and dig out the soup pot.

The old maps tell us this was a farm, called Goose Green. There are tiny mushrooms sprouting from the mosses. I imagine their myclelial network feeding from the dissolving timbers, deep below us. Mycology is beginning to interest me. We’re taught to be terrified of mushrooms, except the ones you can buy from Tescos. And, fair enough, some mushrooms will kill you, but most won’t. That’s not so say I recommend foraging, unless you know what you’re doing.

The more secret mushrooms, the magical, psychoactive ones, aren’t difficult to spot. They’re especially profuse in England’s climate, so it’s puzzling they do not form a greater part of our story than they do. These particular mushrooms are not of the magical variety. But if they were, to pick one, and put it in my pocket, would put in me in possession of a class A controlled substance. Interesting. I make do with Chicken soup.

This is one of the many Lost Farms of the Brinscall Moors, as documented in David Clayton’s fascinating book of the same name. It looks centuries old, this ruin, but, within the memory of my grandfather, it was still standing, and these now bracken and reed choked pastures, fallen to bog, were being worked.

You couldn’t reach this place with a modern vehicle, but there are the walled remains of old track-ways, designed for horse and cart. Some of them are walkable, others have reverted to nature. Our way traces one such track, up the steep slope of the fault-line. From the looks of it, the mountain bikers have made a big dipper of it. It looks an exciting way to descend. We’ll see where it leads us.

There’s a sunken track, deep with ancient use, but now filled with tussocks and reeds, and heather. There are a couple of gate posts, indicating the way down to another of the farms. This would be Fir farm, I guess. The census records tell us it was home to a young couple, the Warburtons, in the 1880’s. Not bad going for paper records. I wonder what will be left of our digital fingerprints a century from now? Will there be any trace of us? Will there even be a machine to read them? I couldn’t read what’s on the 3 1/2″ floppies in my attic, and they’re not twenty years old.

One of the gate posts leans in at a precarious angle, and looks weathered enough to be thousands of years old, rather than a few hundred. The way down to the farm looks impassable. But what a beautiful place to have lived! It colours the moor differently, to know the name of the people for whom this place was home.

We stick to the high ground, following the narrow ways, that could either be the trod of man, or of sheep. As we close with the line of the ridge, the walk takes on an airy, exposed feel. It’s mostly imagined, but it lifts the mood. There look to be ancient ways up onto Brinscall moor, and worth exploring another time. Another pair of gateposts provide foreground interest for a grand old tree, stunted by the weather. After I take the shot, the sky darkens, as a blanket of finely textured cloud rolls in, and the perceived temperature plummets. Time to press on, then, to wend our way back to White Coppice. I’d forgotten that unforgiving bite of winter.

On Brinscall moor

It’s an intriguing area, one I’ve often passed through, on the way to somewhere else, but as with all these places, it’s worth the slowing down, and taking a closer look for stories in the composition of stones and reeds and weathered trees. Worth it too are the old maps, and the census records that retain the names of lost places.

So, to answer the question, what does all this mean to the passing of small lives? Well, from a rational, clinical, left-brained point of view, it means nothing. But we don’t have to look at things that way. We can layer the world instead, with a vision that is essentially romantic. It’s not difficult. You’ve only to sit a while to feel it. And then, no matter the changes that sweep our small lives away, there’s always a discernible trace that’ll make a difference to someone, as it has made a difference to me, this morning.

Now, as I write, in this, during the dark of the new moon, it’s blowing a gale again. The rain rattles hard against the glass, and there’s a devil in it. It’s laughing at us, perhaps for what ecologists have widely hailed as the depressing, but the entirely predictable failure of the COP 26 summit. I have not seen the sun for days, which reminds me it’s all the more important to enjoy it whenever we can.

Oak tree, Goit valley

Read Full Post »

In Sunnyhurst woods, Darwen, Lancashire

So, today we’re looking for trouble. We fell foul of disappearing footpaths on this walk last time, and today we’re not messing about. We’re well rested, tack sharp, and feeling assertive. We’ve also cleaned our spectacles in case we missed any obscure signage that would have seen us on our way. But since our last visit, there has been a mysterious and profuse flowering of the official green way-markers, which is frankly unexpected, since I have not yet reported any obstructions to the council. Perhaps someone read my blog? I feel my guns have been spiked, but in a good way, and whoever you are, thank you.

Thus, we are guided, without a hitch, through the formerly troublesome farmyard, and to a diversionary path. It’s not exactly as marked on the map, but it’ll do, and before we know it we’re smoothly on our way towards Tockholes. Then, at the gate, which we found to be locked last time, and had to be climbed, we note the gate is merely tied. So we untie it, and pass through with dignity. We then tie it up again with a boy-scout’s reef-knot, and a little bow on top – by way of thanks to our guardian way-fairy, for restoring safe passage. Except then, we turn to find we are greeted by a pair of magnificent horses, who must have heard us coming, and are curious. They’re big horses, too, which is a little alarming, as they canter down with purpose – their purpose being – well – us. Cobs, I think the breed is called. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to take their picture – such huge, beautiful creatures, not as big as a shire, but impressive all the same. Our alarm is uncalled-for, though. They are gentle, and their stillness invites our touch. Just mind their back legs as we get around them. Horses can sometimes have a quirky sense of humour.

It’s with some regret, then, we leave our new friends, and head off up the meadow to Tockholes. We’re going a little further than we did last time, pushing the walk out to eight miles, taking in Sunnyhurst Woods, at Darwen. I’ve not been there for ages, and it would be nice to see if it’s still as I remember it.

I put a short story up on the blog last time, wrote it for Ireland’s Own magazine, some twenty years ago. I did a lot of stories for them in the nineties and the early noughties, and, as I walk, I’m trying to remember the others. One in particular comes to mind. It was about this guy who’s aching to leave his home town and see the world. Then he meets a girl from the other side of the world, who’s travelled to his town, because she saw it on the map, and thought it sounded like a cool sort of place. Through her, the guy ends up seeing his home-turf in a new way, and he decides to stay.

Looking at the lush meadows here, as they sweep up to the shaggy moors, I’m thinking, it’s a small part of the world, this corner of the West Pennines and, beautiful as it is, it’s one I sometimes take for granted. Shall I go somewhere? or shall I just nip up the moors? But when I put out a photograph online, of Great Hill, or the spillway of the Yarrow reservoir, or when I write about walks like this, I don’t always appreciate how others from around the world, and for whom their part of the world is radically different to mine, will see them. Even the names of places, unremarkable to me, sound exotic to others, as their place names, unremarkable to them, sound exotic to me.

So, whilst it’s a pleasure, and an education, to travel, and I think we should always travel as much as we can, we’ll never know anywhere as well, and I mean as intimately, as our own allotted patch of God’s earth. So we should never feel there’s anything dull, writing about it, or photographing it. We are curating what we know, and what we love. Photographs of the landscapes of Iceland, and the Faroe Islands in particular, blow my mind, but I could never know those places intimately. Such grandness is for the Icelanders, and the Faroese, as this part of the world is for me, in all its understated beauty, also, it has to be said, its occasional ruin and imperfection.

At last, we come down to Sunnyhurst Woods. It’s a public park, actually, on the edge of a once industrial Darwen, but also on the edge of the moors. Bought out of a public-spirited ideal, and planted up in the early 19th century, it’s now a ruggedly mature gem, natural in style, well-kept and well-loved. We’re beyond peak autumn, now, with most trees are looking bare – just the occasional beech still hanging on to its coppers, and the stubborn oaks. And yes, it’s all pretty much as I remember it, and gorgeous.

There’s a pretty waterfall here. We try a shot, but the light is poor. Maybe we can tease some colour out of it in post-processing. There’s a park bench. We sit, retrieve our soup-flask from where it has settled, deep in the sack. Bacon and Lentil today, made in Wigan. Kitt Green. We do still make things in Lancashire, just not as much as we used to do. But still,…

In Roddlesworth Woods

From Sunnyhurst, we pick our way over to Ryal Fold, where we enjoy another break, and a pot of tea at Vaughn’s Café. Then it’s down through the plantations at Roddlesworth. Gone is the gold of just a few weeks ago. All is bare, now, and autumn firmly on the ground. The season is still worth some pictures, though. I’m glad to have found a properly marked way through that farm. The public rights of way network is a thing of immense value, protected in law, and a freedom not enjoyed in other parts of the world. An understated resource, it costs nothing to enjoy – good for the body and the soul, and no gym membership required.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

The Ribble at Marles Wood

I’ve just come a cropper on the Ribble Way. I seem to have discovered the knack, this year, of navigating rights of way that no longer exist, other than on the OS map. I’m using the latest mapping, and GPS. X marks the spot, and yes, it looks like there was a path through here once. I see shadows of its former self in the lie of the land. But it’s adopted now as part of the expanding grounds of this big old house. Mystically speaking, I’m standing in a liminal zone, then. We’re somewhere between the deep past, and a future in which the path isn’t even a memory in the most venerable and crustiest of walkers heads. Technically I’m not trespassing on private property, because the map says I’m not, but I doubt the owner would see it that way. After some desperate manoeuvres in the undergrowth, all efforts end in barbed wire, and I concede defeat. This is becoming a habit.

The path has been unofficially rerouted. I’ve missed the opening, which I discover a little higher up the lane. So, I drop a pin on the GPS to remind me of the location where the path disappears, should I ever come this way again. I’ll not bother reporting it. It’s not my patch, and I’ve got a few reports on the County Council’s PROW website already. I’ll be getting a reputation as a pedantic nutter. Besides, the re-route is as plain as day if you know what you’re looking for, which I didn’t. But here we are. On we plod.

We’ve got a moody sky and light rain today. Pendle hill was the plan this morning, up the Big End from Barley. But it looked like it was promising a soaking, so we came off the A59 and worked our way along the little lane to the car park at Marles Wood. I was there in the summer, delighted by the stretch of the Ribble, upstream to Dinkley Bridge. It was the same today, very picturesque, though looking less autumny that I would have thought for the time of year.

Just down from the car park, we encounter the Ribble at its most lovely. It emerges from a rocky ravine overhung by woodland, before taking a wide bend into open country. There were cormorants and egrets fishing from a distant clutch of rocks this morning. I remember trying a photograph there in the summer, with the big camera, which didn’t come out very well. I’ve got the smaller Lumix today, which usually makes light work of murky conditions. We’ll see how it does.

The walk goes upstream, takes in the Dinkley Bridge, then downstream along this section of the Ribble way to Ribchester, before looping back to the car. I’d given up on it in the summer, in the heat, made do with the Marles Wood stretch, and I’m glad I did. I’m far less enchanted by this return leg on the Ribble Way, but only because my pride is dented. I don’t like mucking about in mud and brambles around farms, and posh houses. I’m sure the occupants don’t like it either. But a little friendly signage would go a long way towards helping everyone out. I have the impression the wealthy find the footpath network annoying, even a little socialist, and would rather have it done away with. Or is that the politics of envy talking?

Ribble Way signage, resting in the mud.

Speaking of signage, I come across a fallen footpath marker a little further on. I’m getting the impression the Ribble Way isn’t a well walked route, or not well liked by landowners. Anyway, we muddle through, make it finally to a line of fishermen by the bridge at Ribchester, where the air is suddenly funky. I’ve no idea what other narcotics smell like, but cannabis isn’t exactly discrete. If it’s ever legalised there’ll be an outcry against the smell alone. Odd, but I’d never have thought to combine whacky baccy with fishing.

The rain is coming on heavier now. I had planned to take the rights of way that cut up through the environs of New Hall, then up the valley side, into the woods – more new ground for me. This might be straight forward, or it might involve another mysterious re-route. With the weather coming on, I’m in no mood for that, so take a short-cut and brave the traffic along the Ribchester Road. A pleasant diversion for a wet day, about five miles round, and worth it for the section between Marles Wood and Dinkley bridge alone.

Read Full Post »

Pendle Hill, from Downham

At 1827 feet, Pendle is a hill of considerable stature. It’s also a shape-shifter. From the A59, as you zip by Whalley, it calls, to my mind, the shape of a crouching lion. From the east, say from Barley, I think it has more the profile of a whale. From Downham though, where we’re heading today, it looks more like one of those Pictish hog’s back stones, complete with mysterious pictograms.

The simplest, and most direct route to the top of Pendle is from Barley, up the big end, but I have a vague notion of trying something more meandering today. I say ‘vague’ because it’s a mystery how I come to be here at all, actually. The original plan was to meet a friend in Kendal, but he was pinged at the last minute by the test and trace app, so he’s in isolation now. I’d thought to head over to the Dales instead, which, when in doubt, is what I usually do. That was definitely the plan on setting out but, as is sometimes the case, the grand old lady Pendle seduced me in passing, so the little blue car and I found ourselves swinging off the A59 at Chatburn. Now we’re on the car park, at Downham, just coming to our senses, and with the feeling of having been bewitched.

Downham is an unusual place, at least now, in twenty-first-century, rural Lancashire. It’s an estate village, owned in its entirety by the hereditary Baronet, Lord Clitheroe, who also owns the hill. What strikes you about the place is not what is present, but what is missing – no telegraph poles, no road signs, indeed nothing that speaks of any modernity beyond the nineteenth century, and with only the passing cars to reassure you you’ve not fallen through a timeslip, into an alternate universe. The way to the car-park is also secret, and unsigned, except at the last minute, and then only discreetly. You either know your way, in Downham, or you don’t.

So anyway, here we are.

The light is stunning at this time of year. Photographers have a thing about the golden hour – this being the hour before sunset, when shadows run long, and the light becomes dreamy. Some would never think to get their cameras out at any other time of day. But in September, the golden hour lasts from dawn till dusk, so long as the sun is shining. And it’s shining today. The colours are rich, the contrasts deep, and there’ the sense of the year holding its breath, holding on to the very best of things, as the leaves hover on the edge of crispness. It’s been a long time coming, a long time building, and here it is: the year’s perfection, golden and gorgeous. The oppressive heat has gone out of it, the air is fresh for walking – a beautiful day to be on the hill, or indeed anywhere out of doors.

Worsaw End Farm

The map tells us the way is clear enough. We take the path that runs by Worsaw hill, one of Pendle’s many curious little limestone outliers. Then it’s down by Worsaw End farm, famous as the main location for the 1961 film “Whistle Down the Wind” which starred a young and ruggedly bearded Alan Bates, and an even younger Hayley Mills. From here we follow the narrow lane, which peters out into a track and then becomes a path up the moor, meandering at first, then arrow straight, as it joins the curiously named Burst Clough. The contours are close together here and the path intersects them at right angles, so the going is very, very steep.

I remember coming down this way, late one winter’s afternoon, with a weak sun putting in its first appearance as it dropped below the level of the clouds, yet with only minutes from setting. The light was eerie, and I’ve never forgotten it, nor have I forgotten how glad I was not to be going up by this route. Now here I am, over a decade later, going up. But it’s a glorious day, much earlier in the day, the sun is dipping in and out of the clouds, and the undulations of the land are preening cat-like, as the dynamic shadows stroke it.

I don’t know what it is about hills. I’ve not been doing too bad this year, tackling the more substantial climbs in my locale, but I never seem to hit a peak of fitness, when a climb like this wouldn’t be a struggle, one that involves several stops to admire the view and to catch the breath. Maybe if I climbed a few thousand feet every other day, I might make it to the supreme level of fitness that seems to come easy to others, who only walk a big one once a year. I think they call it mountain form, and I suspect no matter how many miles I put in, mine will always be middling. You have it or you don’t. And if you don’t, you just do the best you can.

The path eventually cuts the contours at a less punishing angle, and we reach the massive Scouting Cairn, a hard one to miss, even in atrocious weather. Here, the vast plateau that Pendle hides, become evident, and mercifully level. The path from here hugs the edge of the hill, takes us north-east, then east, with stunning, airy views of the Ribble Valley, the Bowland Hills and the Dales. Ingleborough, where we were a few weeks ago, is glimpsed now through a buttery haze.

The going is easy on the legs now, and impressive, ample reward for that slog up Burst Clough. Eventually we meet another distinctive path coming more directly from Downham. We’ll be using this on return, but for now, while we’re so near the big end, we’ll strike a bearing south for the main top – not that we need to strike a bearing here, not even in mist, I imagine. The paths here are broad as day, and easy to follow.

Pendle summit

I’ve seen only a few people on the hill, and likewise even manage to get the summit trig-point to myself for a bit. It’s good to welcome back that old rush you get from making the top. But it’s more than that. For a time, on a big hill, with all the land spread out below your feet, there is a sense of transcending the every-day. You think and feel differently on a big hill.

I don’t know where I would have ended up if I’d carried on to the Dales – Malham probably, Pikedaw, possibly, and a good day would have been had, because all days in the Dales are good days. But Pendle made her play, for reasons best known to herself, and I was not disappointed.

The way down seems a long one, as it always does, when one turns for home. We can see the village of Downham miles away, pinpointed by the prominent tower of St. Leonard’s Church and, on wearying legs, we wonder if we will ever reach it. But the way is pleasant, first the meandering path across the moor, then the greener, meadow ways, by Clay House. Then it’s Downham’s timeless and ever gorgeous welcome, and those last few strides to the car. I’m glad to have the little blue car back on the road, after a few weeks of uncertainty. Runs out to places like this really aren’t the same without her.

But the day goes to the grand old lady, Pendle herself. She’s beautiful, at times mysterious, occasionally treacherous, but forever beloved of Lancashire. If you’re not from Lancashire, and you wonder what we sound like here, I can do no better than refer you to Whistle Down the Wind. I can’t believe we were really as innocent as this in the ’60’s, and the kids so sweet, but I was there, and I have a feeling, actually, we were.

Read Full Post »

On the lesser walked ways of the West Pennines

So, today, we’re coming down off the moors by what appears to be the most direct way, but the path has petered out in a patch of overgrown woodland. It’s mossy, dim and mushroomy in here. No one’s been this way in a long time. There appears to be a diversion into a meadow, through a kissing gate, so you can avoid getting snagged in the wood, but the gate is smashed, and wrapped up in a zig-zag of electrified wire. There are horses in the meadow, extensive stabling at the farm a few miles away – which is where we’re heading. The OS map I’m using is the latest edition, but it doesn’t show a diversion – keep to the woodland, it says. So I do.

A quarter mile later, where the path should emerge from the wood, there’s no exit, just barbed wire, and to make doubly sure I can’t get out, there’s more electrified wire as well, and more horses looking at me like I’m stupid, and they’re in charge, now. One of the horses has a long mop of curly hair, and looks a bit like someone I went to school with. Yes, that’s him to a tee! It’s odd seeing him standing there, looking like a horse, but somehow not surprising. Anyone coming off the moor in bad weather, looking for a direct line to the farm, perhaps cold, wet, wind-blown and at their wit’s end, is going to struggle here. Obviously, the horsey people don’t want anyone approaching the farm this way. I make a note of grid references, and drop a waypoint on the GPS, with a view to reporting it, when I get home.

I shouldn’t be here, actually. The plan was to go to the Dales today. But then I dreamed I’d gone to find the place overrun. There was a crush of folks on the very paths I was going to walk. I tried to get ahead of them, but they started jostling to keep ahead of me. There were dog walkers, people with buggies and hoards and hoards of walkers, and runners, and mountain biker’s and horse riders, and people in four by fours roaring on all sides, throwing up dust and stones. The whole scene was ludicrous. The national parks were becoming a nightmare.

Dreams should never be read literally because that’s not the way they talk to us. Still, the mood on waking was to give the Dales a miss. So I lay in a bit and walked somewhere local instead. I began with some familiar ways in the West Pennines, then wandered along some less familiar ones, and finally gravitated towards this one because – well – I’ve never walked it before, and I was curious to see where it popped out. And now I’m stuck.

So, I make a long back-track, then take another route. This one is overgrown, and poorly marked, but I find my way around, and enter the pungently horsey environs of the farm. One last obstacle, now. I climb a ladder stile to get over a walled enclosure, but find there’s no way down the other side. The bottom two rungs have been smashed out, as if to discourage any attempt to mount them. And I am indeed discouraged, but by now also lacking patience for yet another backtrack, which in this case would involve miles. So I jump. It’s not the most dignified descent, especially with middle-aged knees.

I’m indignant. These are ancient ways. It’s our right, and our heritage to walk them, to keep them open. It’s not the first time I’ve struggled around horses and electric wire. I’m in the mood to make a nuisance of myself over this. But no, don’t be silly, this is meek and mild me we’re talking about. So, I’ll just report it on the council’s PROW website instead, and keep an eye on it.

Curious, that dream. Silly. But amusing too. It shifted scene, like they do, and then I was on a bus. On the seat next to me was a plate of muffins my wife had made. They were delicious muffins, too. Coming down the bus was none other than Donald Trump. He gave me a look that would have soured milk, and then he helped himself to a muffin. His expression was as if to say: “Well, what are you going to do about it, loser?” I was cross, actually, because my wife had made them for me. Not him. They were my right!

I was thinking, who does he think he is? He read my mind, and then, in the most politely apologetic voice you can imagine, though perhaps not coming from the mouth of Mr Trump, he said – through a mouthful of muffin: “Oh,.. I’m terribly sorry, old boy. You don’t mind, do you? I thought you didn’t want them.” And, somewhat disgruntled, I said: “Well, you’re in charge, mate.” But then I remembered he wasn’t in charge, and he’d no right to my muffins, and I kicked myself. But too late. He’d got my muffin, and away he skipped.

Privilege always did enjoy taking the biscuit (and the muffin), obviously. But I’d have my revenge served nice and cold, thank you. I was going to tell Lancashire County Council over him. They’d sort him out – him and his horses and his damned electric wires!

Read Full Post »

Sea Pink, Lancashire coastal way, Glasson

The plan was to climb Ingleborough. But it’s a popular hill, and we realized at the last minute it was the half-term holiday. We’d be lucky to get near it or, once on it, we’d be trampled underfoot by herds of stampeding three-peakers. So we diverted to the Lancashire coast, and to Glasson. I wasn’t up to a sweaty climb anyway, felt tired after sleeping a bit funny. The little blue car felt jittery, and it had a bouncy clutch.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“It’s not me,” it said. “It’s you. Stop driving like you’re half asleep.”

So, nine a.m., the M6 is running thick and fast, just like in the old days. It’s been decided by a consensus that the pandemic is now over. Except it’s not. I had the second AZ jab last week, so I’m as immune as it gets, at least to the known variants. But there are mutations arising everywhere, and no certainty over how infectious, or dangerous they are, vaccinated or not. The World Health Organisation says we’re just going to have to live with it. But on the bright-side, the forecast is good, so everyone’s bound for Blackpool, or the Lakes. The sun shines, we forget our troubles, and make hay.

We sneak off at Junction 32, Broughton Bridge, and pick up the A6, north, pausing briefly here to drop the top and let some sunshine in. It’s cool to start, but the morning warms as we travel the rural lanes, to the coast at Cockerham. After rather a cold and wet May, the season seems to have come upon us suddenly, the hedgerows bursting with growth and colour, as if making up for lost time. Suddenly, it’s summer.

Glasson Harbour

Ten in the morning, and Glasson Harbour is quiet. It’ll fill up with visitors later, but most go no further than the harbour basin to picnic and catch some sun. We’ll be heading south to the marsh at Cockerham, then back along the coastal way. I’ve done this walk every year since 2014, usually on the last Friday of February, and for no particular reason. But early summer is as fine a time as any to be here. The paths, always heavy with mud, mid-winter, are now dust-dry, and the hedgerows are head high in waving white clouds of cow parsley.

I’ve got the big camera today and a couple of lenses, a wide one and a long one. I’m looking for wide shots of bright meadows, those summer heavy hedgerows, and puffy-cloud skies, as we trace the paths to Cockerham Marsh. Then I want some long ones when we circle back along the coastal way, in particular of the Plover Scar light.

The sheep are out on the marsh, sleepy in the sun, thousands of them, seeking shade or splashing in the tidal creeks. And there’s a profusion of sea pink in the rocks, and along the defences by the abbey. It makes a fine display, and is one of the unexpected highlights of the day.

Thursland Hill

The walk is about seven miles round, so two and a bit hours, and dead flat. The tide is far out, but the air is sea-scented, and heat-shaky, and there are oystercatchers and curlews on the mud-flats. Glasson is sweltering on our return, and bustling. We enjoy coffee and chips at the Lock Keeper’s Rest, before driving home. Top down, summer-scented hedgerows, blue skies and a sense of unhurried motion. It’s why I bought the car. I’m feeling great now, and the car feels super, super normal.

“See,” it says. “I told you it wasn’t me.”

Crook End Farm, Glasson

The M6 southbound is solid, but fast, and we flow with it. Northbound is solid and stationary from Broughton to beyond Leyland, which is my exit. I wonder if everyone is still banking on a day in Blackpool, even as the day slips away to late afternoon. The car ran well, touch wood, still coming up on 95,000. We’re just not getting the same miles in we once did. I’ll wash her off tomorrow. She deserves it, even though she can get a bit grumpy with me when I’m not entirely with it.

The Plover Scar Light, Glasson

Of the photographs I took, the quiet network of paths down to the marsh yielded the best results. They spoke of a balmy English summer, without the cynicism. Those scenes will never look quite the same again, or as fine, as they did today. I’ll use the one looking back to Thursland Hill as background on my laptop. It’ll keep me cosy throughout next winter.

None of the shots of the Plover Scar light really did it justice. I think you need the golden hour for that one. You need a long lens, a tripod to steady it, and the patience to find a leading line, with the tide in the right place to add a mirror for the flaming sky. I can picture it my head, but I’ll leave that one for the locals to pick their evening. I’m sure you’re not stuck for fine sunsets out here.

I don’t know what it was like on Ingleborough. We’ll save that one for later in the year, and an early start, but it couldn’t have been any better than the coast around Glasson.

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 »

Pimms ruin, Withnell Moor, Lancashire

There’s something seductive about the River Roddlesworth, the way it comes down through its wooded gorge in a series of cascades. Flowing roughly from south to north, it picks up the morning sunlight which sparkles upon it like a scattering of fairy dust, and adds a layer of magic. It also makes it hard to photograph, if you’re moving upstream. From the brightness of the spilling sun to the shadow of the deep wooded valley, it presents a dynamic range that defeats casual photography. Well, it defeated me, anyway. One needs a set-up, a tripod, and bracketed exposures to be overlapped in post-processing. I tried it hand-held, but the shutter speeds were too slow, and the movement between frames was too much for post-processing to make sense of.

I’ve always known it as Rocky Brook, this being a more descriptive title used by locals – or at least those of my mother’s generation who grew up nearby. The word “river” summons the image of something broader, more physically powerful. Rocky Brook is more sylvan, subtle and secretive.

River Roddlesworth, West Pennine Moors

It has numerous sources in the water catchment areas of the Withnell and Darwen moors. One of them is the Calf Hey Brook which appears from under a culvert, crossed by the A675. It’s here, where the road cuts through, the plantations thin out to their soured and less photogenic fringes. It’s here the unconscious and the unconscionable sling rubbish from out of car windows. As a liminal zone, from ferny forest to open moor, it lacks subtlety. There’s something altogether more brutal and unwholesome about it, not least in the breakneck rush of vehicles. As a scenic moorland road it’s impressive, though it does rather encourage speed and accidents. Here, from the roadside, having emerged from the dapple-shaded magic of Roddlesworth, to the scatter of beercans, McTakeaway cartons, and the stench of diesel, one feels more keenly the cost of modernity.

However, we try to pay it as little attention as possible and look instead to the vastness of the moor, on the other side of the road. Then, five minutes up the Calf Hey Brook, the road is forgotten again. It has become a crass irrelevance amid the rapture of skylarks as we focus on our next objective: the trees at Pimms.

The moor is tinder dry now, a desert of straw, but the ruins of Pimms farm stand out on a mound of emerald green. I presume this is the result of generations of dung from its farming days. I found a lunch spot by a ruined wall, sat down on sun-warmed stones to contemplate this former abode amid the quintessential wilds of a Lancashire moor.

I am still feeling blessed by my early retirement, more so as the weather warms and days lengthen. It’s such a pleasure to be able to get out like this, do what I want, when I want, without always the queasy thought of a return to work at the back of my mind. A commuter slave ’till last year’s end, I now wander my locality seeking and photographing statuesque trees, like these at Pimms. It’s not what I’d planned, but it fits nicely with these days of Covid blues. It also adds another objective to a day’s walk, besides taking in the tops, especially when the more distant tops might be denied by dint of HMG’s ongoing emergency powers.

Pimms Ruin, Withnell Moor

Forgetting Covid for a moment, our lives have changed immeasurably since Pimms was lived in – I’m talking about working lives now. That would have been in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. But the world is always a vortex, and things were changing fast for these people even then. Small-scale farming such as this was in decline, in the later Victorian years, and the tenants of the various holdings on the moors were more likely to be finding work in the mills and quarries as England turned to mass manufacture. Eventually, the properties stood empty, the tenancies were not renewed. But now the major manufactories have gone, and those few still working employ a fraction of the people they once did. That old story of transition from agriculture to industrial powerhouse concluded with the Iron Lady and an era as ruinous, and nostalgic for past relevance as the remains of Pimms today.

It’s a puzzle. Where is the western world of work heading? I mean the ordinary work that does not need degrees and shiny shoes, the work people can do when the only thing they can sell is their hands? The next transition is anyone’s guess, and while warehousing and distribution seem dominant, such things are ripe for total automation, not leaving much for those hands to do except pull pints and serve chips. There’s always been something to draw the next generation en masse, into the future, a way for them to sell their labour in exchange for life, and some state protections, but these are strange times, and we seem to be staring into an abyss. It’s no longer my problem of course. I’ve escaped the treadmill, but still I wonder.

Pimms is a lovely, emotive ruin. It would have been a hard life out here in winter, but in the balmier seasons, it must have been a beautiful place to lay your head. In his excellent guide “The Lost Farms of Brinscall Moor“, author David Clayton tells us it was the Brownlow family who last lived here, their traces recorded in the census of 1881 and 1891, a mum a dad, two boys and a grandma. As far as I know no photographs exist of it in its heyday, so we’re left with imagination, and its outline on the OS map of 1849, which suggests something of the traditional Lancashire Longhouse design.

I wonder what became of the Brownlows, when they finally came down off the moor. These trees would have been much smaller then, and are now risen without help as impressive markers to past lives. This is still a gorgeous spot to pause, to enjoy the shade, while on the climb to Great Hill. I spent a while here with the camera. The sun was just about on the meridian, and the light harsh, but managed some passable shots.

Great Hill, West Pennine Moors

And while I was so close, I took in the top, surprised to find I had it to myself. When I was last up here, it was standing room only. But today the pubs were open after a long period of closure. Driving over, I’d passed one after the other, and the crowds were all sitting outside in summery colours, like they were glad to be alive. Myself, I still think it unwise, rushing back to the pubs. It’s hard I know, for more social types, and for whom the pub is as “English” as cricket and warm beer. But we’re balancing the risks of health against wealth – your health against the wealth of the hospitality lobby.

The plantations around Roddlesworth were busier on my return. At one point I was mobbed by a pack of excitable dogs. There must have been a dozen or more, all shapes and sizes, all off the lead, and running amok. A somewhat Bohemian looking couple came sauntering up, offering the usual oh, they’re just playing, they won’t touch you, platitudes. But I remembered how a guy I know had a lump torn out of his hand by his own dog, which was also “just playing”, so such reassurances don’t wash with me. Still, Covid, or a dog-bite? I suppose making way in life is always a balance of risk, set against that backdrop of an endlessly changing world. Something’s going to get you in the end. And we only escape the harshness of that fact in moments of contemplation, perhaps in transcendental company, amid the dappled shade of timeless trees.

Keep well. Graeme out.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »