Posts Tagged ‘Longridge’

The Shireburn Cottages, Hurst Green

There’s a beautiful light in Hurst Green, this morning. We have strong sunshine, but there’s a mellowness to it, that lends late season contrasts. The oft-photographed alms-houses, the Shireburn Cottages, are basking in it, warming their grand facade. Meanwhile, all around us, the skies are patrolled by ominously towering cumulonimbus. We’ll be lucky if we avoid a soaking.

We’re looking to climb Longridge fell today – a ridge that runs east-west, roughly parallel to the River Ribble, for about six miles. The reward of the climb up the quiet lanes and meadows, from Hurst Green, is the sudden view of the Forest of Bowland, from the summit.

We’ll be meandering up to the trig column on Spire Hill, roughly the mid-point of the fell, as well as its highest elevation. Then we’ll head through the plantations to the easternmost tip, at Kemple End. From here, we’ll fumble our way back across the meadows, and finally through the grand environs of Stonyhurst College, to Hurst Green. It’s ground I’ve not covered before, so I’m expecting a bit of an adventure, adding a few more rights of way to the map in my head.

My thanks to Bowland Climber whose posts are a valuable source of intel on likely routes and ground conditions in this area. Longridge is heavily forested and, as with all such territory, the routes get overtaken as the forest develops, and permissive ways open up in their stead, ways which may not be familiar to a non-local walker. Then you get logging, and storm damage with trees coming down, blocking the paths, or balanced precariously, waiting for you to sneeze before crashing down on top of you. And then of course we can expect the usual difficulties on the lowland stretches, with way markers disappearing, and little used paths across meadows vanishing under crops.

I’d felt a sense of hush, leaving home, news of the Queen’s death still settling in. The hush was self-imposed, of course, and partly courtesy of the long planned and wall-to-wall reverence of the BBC. This vanished as soon as I hit the M6 of course, where the nation’s life still goes on at full throttle, as needs must, with heavies and delivery vans, drivers having to pee in bottles to meet schedules set by machines.

There are, of course, many who feel a genuine sadness, as if they had lost their own grandmother. But there are also plenty, particularly in the under forties bracket, who have no longer the luxury of time, or are too worried about feeding their children to don the sackcloth and ashes.

I am not immune to the sense of history, nor to the symbolism of a fallen monarch, especially now, adding as it does, its weight to a heaviness I already feel for the state of an Albion so besmirched and tattered. I fear it is optimistic to hope this will be one of those historic moments to galvanise the nation, for so much of the nation has other things on its mind right now, and which are hard to ignore. One wonders what next. Were I to suffer a sudden, blinding pulse of light, prior to witnessing a mushroom cloud rising in the direction of Manchester, courtesy of Vlad P, I would not be surprised. Still, one must not tempt fate.

For now, though, the only mushroom clouds are these cumulonimbus. They spread out at great altitude, into anvil heads, and they darken, broody and funereal. Climbing the quiet, rain puddled lanes towards the fell, we lose the sun, and the day turns grey, and sticky. There is the crackle of thunder, but, so far, the gathering storms seem to circle us, their dramatics kept at a safe distance.

I was grouching in my last post about the cost of NHS dental treatment. “Over sixty quid for a checkup and a clean,” I spluttered. However, as a friend later pointed out, I’m fortunate still to receive NHS treatment, and should be more grateful for it. Dentists are shedding our sort like unwanted fleas. That same check-up and clean will cost me over two hundred quid, under the private system many have now fallen victim to. More serious work – fillings, extraction, bridge-work – and it can easily run into thousands. This is beyond the means of so many in poverty-pay jobs, paying sky-high rents and energy bills. It’s little wonder, then, DIY dentistry is on the rise. I’m not sure how, or when, this happened. It just sort of crept up on us while we weren’t looking.

Spire Hill, Longridge Fell

We pause at the trig point, rather sweaty now, to rest and clean our specs – all the better to take in the panoramic sweep of the Bowland hills. They are most movingly beautiful under this rapidly changing light. There is mixed sunshine and cloud to the north, though the skies are turning an ominous green to our backs, now. There are para-gliders, launching from the precipitous north face, and seem to be defying the weather, as they defy gravity, circling and swooping like slow motions birds. I hear Vaughn Williams in my head, then another rumble of thunder.

Eastwards now, following the line of the ridge, and plunging quickly into the forest’s gloom. It’s mostly coniferous plantation, but with the occasional stretches of beautifully twisted Scot’s Pine. Then, amid the gloom of the conifers, there lurks the occasional, defiant deciduous giant, one of which I discover hung with curious trinkets. Coniferous forestry is an affront to nature, and she shows her displeasure in that eerie monocultural, mossy silence.

On Longridge Fell

The way is far from straight forward here, as we encounter damage from last winter’s storms, stacks of fallen trees laying across the path. There has been some ad-hoc clearance, plus a splintering of unofficial diversionary ways, leading off into the gloom, but no concerted effort to clear passage. So, it’s with a bit of hit-and-miss, aided by the occasionally more helpful long stretch of forestry track, we make it down to the eastern tip, near Kemple End. The Bowland fells still look balmy, while an evil looking storm sweeps the Ribble Valley, trailing rain. Was that a flash of lightning? We pause and count to ten for the rumble of distant thunder.

Logging near Kemple End, Longridge Fell

Here, we descend into the pastures along the rights of way where a helpful sign, posted by a local resident, tells us we’re probably going to go wrong here. There are some well-intentioned instructions, which we follow to the letter, but the path is little walked, and we go wrong anyway, meandering about in shin-high wet grass for a while, until we spot a possible exit.

We ford a stream where it looks like there was once a crossing, and we come up to a rusty old gate that hasn’t been opened since Tolkien last passed this way, pondering his Hobbits. I’m walking with the latest OS map, which tells us we’re bang on the right of way, at least in theory, so we plod on, following the GPS across a meadow, freshly planted, and ankle deep in soft earth. There are no markers here except the prints I leave behind, hopefully for others to follow. It pains me to do this but, as usual, a little more clarity by the landowner would not go amiss, and I’d be glad to oblige. One never knows in these situations if we aren’t simply digging ourselves deeper into the confusion of lost ways, or if a helpful marker will pop up of a sudden, and see us safely through.

More awkward stream crossings follow, more rights of way missing their markings, and no evidence of footfall on the ground. We seem to have found one of those routes long abandoned, yet it is the quickest way from Kemple End to Stonyhurst. With patient attention to the GPS, though, we locate the wobbly stiles, now slowly rotting in deep hedgerows, and the rickety stream crossings. Plucked by thorns, and stung by nettle, we come down to our way-point on the road, where a single finger post points us back to perdition. From here, a short walk brings us into the grand environs of the Stonyhurst College, where we can pass without fail or interference.

The doors of St Mary’s Hall are open, the sombre sounds of a Requiem Mass for the Queen spilling out, and following us some way along this last stretch to Hurst Green. We must ring a bell here, as there is occasional shooting across the path. There’ll be none today, I would think, but I feel obliged to ring it anyway. The jarring clang so soon after passing the spiritual music from the chapel feels irreverent.

Millie’s Pantry, our usual watering hole, is just closing, so we find ourselves in the Shireburn Arms, instead, with a large, sweet coffee and the feel of nine miles, and twelve hundred feet of ascent in our legs. I wonder if JRR himself ever sat here, nursing a pint and smoking a pipe. The bar is empt, except for a couple of ladies dressed like wedding guests. I hope my dishevelled appearance does not offend. The fates were with us, and the rains held off, but where we go from here, amid these gathering storms, is far from certain.

But there’s always another hill, another day in the outdoors to call us onwards. And the hills ask nothing but that we respect them, while they reward our efforts ten-fold.

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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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