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Posts Tagged ‘photography’

Mossy bridge in Sunnyhurst Woods

I’m sitting by the ornamental lake in Sunnyhurst Woods, near Darwen, having walked over from Ryal Fold. It’s a mild, soft lit day, in mid-January, a faint mist washing out the distant hills. The woods are deep-shaded in this poor light of winter, and they are moist. The breath is rising, and the luncheon soup-pot is steaming. The stonework of the bridge I’ve just crossed is thick with moss. There is something of fairyland about it.

I came out to take a picture of the ruins on Green Hill, which I first saw some weeks ago, and I’ve done that, now. I’ve also shot the ornamental falls, here in the woods. The Green Hill ruins are not accessible, being on private farmland, but I have a long lens that got me within useful range. As a strictly amateur photographer, it’s hard to explain what I’m trying to achieve, wandering the North in all seasons, like this, taking landscape photographs. I mean this in the sense of what difference it makes to anything, at least in the materially measurable, tangible way.

The ruin on Green Hill, Ryal Fold.

Intangibly, though, the difference is felt in the gut. My photography and my writing about it on here, brings me into a deeper relationship with the land, and that’s enough, indeed that’s all any of the contemporary arts are about, as practised by most of us, just deepening the soul a bit. What does that mean? Well, it’s like keeping the door open on something “other”, because, so long as that door is kept open, the “other” will get to work on us in ways that makes us feel more whole, more connected. It provides a balance to the material life, which has no meaning and connects us with nothing, other than a pathological craving for more of the same. We don’t need a camera to keep the door open. A notebook, a pencil and a box of watercolours did it for the Romantics. Anyway, I’m mostly following my nose today, probably heading up Darwen Moor next.

The ornamental falls, Sunnyhurst Woods, Darwen, Lancs

To get here, I’ve walked the amusingly named Trash Lane, a rutted quagmire, towards the equally amusing Tottering Temple. The latter is no longer marked on the maps. I’m referring to an 1849, six inch edition, courtesy of the National Library of Scotland, along with the more contemporary GPS version, so both past and present are informing the imagination. There’s a definite charm about those early, hand-drawn, OS maps, and they pick up a lot of detail that would otherwise be lost to us: Tottering temple, Mount Pleasant, Back o’th Moor. I don’t know how these places got their names, or if they’re still used.

Anyway, next up, we’ll tackle the hill, and see how the restoration of Darwen Tower is progressing, then return via Stepback brook. It’s about five miles round, lots to see along the way. So, we climb out of the woods to the Lych Gate, turn left for the Sunnyhurst pub, then right, up the ginnel, and onto the moor. The tower, built in 1897, is wrapped in plastic, now, and nestles within an exoskeleton of scaffolding, while extensive works are undertaken. I decide to avoid it, skirting below instead, to the 1200 ft contour. Here, the westward view tempts a sit down with the binoculars.

It’s from here I spot an interesting waterfall on Stepback brook. That’s another curious name, “Stepback”, this one taking us back to the 1640’s, and the English civil war. Local legend has it Cromwell’s men were after a bunch of Royalists in the area, but called the chase off, and “stepped back”. I’m not sure if I believe in that one, though. If you look at the landscape hereabout from over Withnell way, it appears as a set of giant steps, rising to Cartridge Hill, and I prefer that explanation, though I admit, the Cromwellian one is much more colourful.

The area certainly saw a lot of action in the civil war. Indeed, one of the most appalling atrocities ever committed on English soil was carried out by Royalists, not far from here, when James Stanley, the 7th Earl of Derby’s, men went berserk, murdering and raping in Bolton, in May 1644. One of those who came to grief in that terrible event was a young girl from Whewell’s farm, now a bleak ruin on the moor’s edge, and just a short walk from where I’m sitting now.

It was her father, George, who had the later satisfaction of beheading the Earl of Derby, by the market cross in Bolton. George Whewell’s skull resides to this day in the Pack Horse pub, at Affetside. At least, legend has it this is Whewells’s skull. How it came to be detached from his body is the subject of another legend, which tells of how, after the Restoration, the Royalists had their revenge on George. The skull is associated with paranormal activity, if it’s ever moved. So it stays where it is. I’m still wrestling with the moral of this one. I suppose the nearest I can get is that violence begets violence, and a continuation of suffering, long into the future, no matter how right the violence seems at the time.

So, anyway, we make our way down from the hill, pick up the path by the brook, wander upstream a bit, and there’s the fall, a lovely cascade spilling over a lip of gritstone. It’s enchanting, and I spend a good while here fiddling about with the camera. I thought I knew the area fairly well, but there’s always something new to discover. A wonderful note on which to end our walk,

The falls on Stepback Brook, near Ryal Fold, Darwen, Lancs

It’s mid-afternoon, now, and the best of the light is going. On the way back to the car, at Ryal Fold, I meet plenty of pilgrims setting out for the tower. An elderly couple asks directions. I worry about them; it’ll be dark by the time they’re off the moor. I’ve noticed this before, people heading up the hill, when I’ve calculated my descent in the last hour of daylight. A friend of mine has concluded they’re not humans, but aliens, going up to meet the mother-ship. Any other reason would be too far-fetched.

All told, then, a good day, making the best of the forecast, and discovering a new waterfall. It’s given cold and gloomy for a few days now. Indeed, it’s looking like stormy days ahead in other ways, too, but the past teaches us there’s nothing new under the sun. England in the civil war was hell on earth, now mostly forgotten, except for some place names, and some intriguing legends, not least among them the abiding mystery of the Affetside Skull.

Thanks for listening.

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My last pair of Scarpa walking boots lasted fifteen years. They were never quite broken in, but they never leaked either. They just grew more deeply scarred, and might have lasted longer, but I lost faith in them. I was worried they’d fall apart and leave me stranded up a mountain in my stocking feet. My current pair, comfortable as carpet slippers from day one, have lasted two years. Now they’re opening up, and letting the water in.

All right, it’s a very, very wet day. Indeed, the moor is as wet as a moor can be. The earth liquifies underfoot as we step on it and we’re frequently over the tops of our laces. The sphagnum is drinking the wet down in greedy gallons, and glowing green for the effort. My jacket, too, is letting the water through, at least on one side where a stiff wind is encouraging it. The weather paints me half dark, half light. I am the yin and the yang of things. This could be my cue to start grumbling about the flimsification of the modern day, but that’s not where we’re going. It’s a wild, bracing day. The year is fresh, and it’s too soon for cynicism.

I’m on Withnell moor again, up from Brinscall. I’ve come through the woods, crossed the top of the Hatch Brook Falls, and climbed Well Lane. Now we’re on the moor, approaching the gaunt ruins of Ratten Clough. Its outline is black against the steady drift of rain. Abandoned in the 1960’s, this is the most substantial ruin of the lost farms. The barn’s gables are intact, the rafters hanging on, a watery silhouette, all against the dynamic grey of the swooping sky. I wonder if, in years to come, it’ll be taken for a millionaires des-res. They have a penchant for buying up romantically charged places like this, and throwing a fortune at them to make of them something twee. But he’ll need a taste for the lonely. There’s bleak, then there’s Withnell Moor, and then there’s Withnell moor on days like these.

Given the forecast, I thought it was a waste of time bringing the big camera. I didn’t want to get it wet. Instead, I’ve packed an old, small-sensor compact. It slips easily into the pocket, and I don’t mind it getting drowned. But you can’t expect to shoot in such murk as this without red noise on a small sensor. There’ll probably be no pictures today, then, except the ones I carry in my head.

The gate to Ratten Clough is tied in several places, and intricately knotted. It’s a public way, but we require a deviation to pick it up. I imagine our millionaire will make it a priority to divert the path. Ah,… another perennial thread of mine creeping in: money buying out our freedoms, sticking up no trespass signs. But we’re not going there, either, today. These are tired old themes, and my laments will do little to change them. So much for the power of attraction, then. I seem only to attract to my attention what I most dislike. Time to let them go. Find fresh pastures, with an emphasis on a more positive kind of magic.

Where are we, now? We’re following the line of a tumbled drystone wall into a blank of mist. With a global positioning system, you’re never lost, are you? But things are hotting up between Russia and the West, and between China and US. It’s not escaped my imagination the first thing the militaries will do, in times of conflict, is encrypt the satellites. And then what? How will we find our way with a road-map, and A to Z again? How will I know how far along this wall to walk, before turning down to the ruins of Botany Bay?

The spindly beech answers. I first met it in the spring, spent a while making friends. It materialises from the grey, now. “Here you are,” it says. “Nice to see you again.” The track’s here. So we make our way down to the ruin, touch the megalith for luck, then turn left, to Rake Brook, by the ruins of Popes.

It’s hard to imagine anyone living here, just a tumble of shapeless blocks, and the brook washing by. It’s in spate today, no evidence of there ever having been a bridge, just these few precarious steppy stones at the vagaries of flood. What can we say about that? Transience? Buddhist themes of impermanence, perhaps?

Apple pies were baked in this bleak hollow, with the wind howling through the chimney pots. Wholesome stews awaited the farmer and his boys, on winter days like these. All gone, now, just names in the census records, and a lonely pile of stones. People make all the difference. Without them to bear witness, the world might as well not exist. Indeed, it might already not exist. Strange thoughts today, Michael.

Mind how we go across the brook. Yes, the boots are definitely leaking, something cold encircling the foot, now. I was going to buy myself a new computer monitor, but it looks like it’ll be a pair of boots instead. I’d been looking forward to getting a new monitor, one of those 4K ultra-high definition things, for the photography. How do we prioritise? Sometimes the fates do it for us.

Watsons farm, now, and a strong waft of cattle as we come through the gate. The cows are all cosy in the barn, steam rising from their noses, as they chew. It’s one of the few farms still working the moor. I borrowed it for my work in progress, fictionalised it, changed universes, moved it down the road a bit. I had the farmer renting rooms, and my protagonist moving into one. Here, I court themes of sanctuary, and shoulders to the weather. Then there are stunning summers on the moors, the call of curlew and the rapture of larks.

Speaking of the novel, it’s descending into chaos, and tom-foolery. We’ve reached that point where it asks me if I want to bail out around 80K words, or wander on for another year, make it an epic. I think we’ll call its bluff and go for the epic. Amid this fall of the world, this crisis of meaning, and the impending climate disaster, it’s led me of a sudden to Helena Petrovna Blavatski, to the Theosophists, and all those curious fin de siècle secret societies.

I’ve had a brush with the redoubtable Madame B before, found her intellectually seductive, but also frightening. I bailed out at that first pass, but it looks like there’s something more she has to tell me, and this time I’m ready to listen. Memo to self: order Gary Lachman’s book, and while we’re at it, the one about Trump, and the political right’s courtship of the occult. It all sounds absurd, but let’s just go with it.

Across the Belmont road now, and the path into the woods becomes a bog. The Roddlesworth river is a lively torrent. We’re four miles out, and the woods are busy with muddy bikes, wet families, and happy, yappy dogs. We swing for home via the ruins of Pimms, on the moor, then Great Hill. The rain is blowing itself out at last. There are hints of sunshine, now, but the going is steep. Great Hill has grown since I last climbed it, swollen with rains to Tyrolean proportions. The ground looks like it’s been overspilling for weeks, and squirting water under every step.

At the summit shelter, I’m able to bag the last space among a gathering of several walking groups, all huddled for lunch. Cue mutterings of overcrowding on the fells, paths churned to slime and all that,… but we’re not going there today either. In my new universe, all are welcome. A jolly dame appears from nowhere, offers mince pies, and a nip of rum for my coffee.

The sun breaks through. There’s a low, gorgeous light of a sudden, under-lit clouds, curtains of rain in the distance. Old Lady Pendle appears, a crouching lion beyond Darwen moor. I try some shots with the little camera, but they come out poorly, red dot noisy. Sometimes, the best pictures are the ones you carry in your head, and they get better with age.

A good day on the moors, then, and never mind the wet feet. There’s a pair of dry socks in the car. Fancy a hot chocolate? We’ll drive over to the Hare and Hounds at Abbey, shall we? See what they can rustle up for us. The year turns.

All is well. Bring it on.

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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

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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.

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In the woods at Roddlesworth

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Toches Stone

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

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

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

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

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

Autumn in Roddlesworth Woods

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

Autumn in Roddlesworth Woods

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

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Pot Scar and Smearset ridge

I’m sitting on a big piece of limestone that was once part of a dry-stone wall, here on the Dales High Way. It’s been in the sun, and it’s nice and warm. The wall has eroded to no more than knee height but the line of it is distinct enough, and leads the eye unerringly up the green fell side, to a crown of limestone crags. Just here, it’s been brought down flat, and the path runs through it. We’re a mile out of Feizor, heading for Stainforth, but the view has pulled me up and sat me down. The scene, the air, the sun, and this faultless blue sky, all of it makes for a feel-good day, as most days are in the Yorkshire Dales.

As the days shorten, and good weather becomes less frequent, the light takes on a magical quality. The sun is rendering the line of crags from Smearset Scar, to Pot Scar in bristling detail. I’ll never do it justice with the camera, not the way I see it and feel it, right now, but I’ll give it a go anyway, maybe a little higher up the valley. But, for now, we’ll just rest awhile, and soak up the atmosphere. Who knows when we’ll pass this way again?

Our peace is disturbed by a large walking group coming over the ladder stile, a little way off. They number around thirty old guys with craggy faces and outdoor complexions. We exchange greetings as they pass. This is Yorkshire, so greetings are hearty and often delivered with a touch of dry humour. Then comes the tail end guy. He’s a tall, bearded and somewhat distinguished looking gentleman, a good few minutes behind the rest. He comes up to me and then he stops.

“An erratic, you know?”

I admit, that’s not what I thought he was going to say.

“Em,…”

“The rock I’m standing on,” he clarifies. “Gritstone, you see?”

“Really?”

“Glacial erratic. Erratified even further by whoever put it in this drystone wall.” His accent, like his compatriots, is Yorkshire – but posh Yorkshire.

“Well spotted. You’re a geologist, then?” He does have the look of a geologist – don’t ask me why I think that. He nods. Yes, he’s a geologist.

He looks at me, and something registers with him. “Ah,… you’re not part of our walking group, are you?”

“No, they went that way.”

“Oh,… well,…. em,…. nice talking you. Enjoy the rest of your afternoon.”

“I shall. You too.”

Actually, I have a bone to pick with him and his mates. They’d taken over the little tea-room in Feizor, leaving me nowhere to sit. That makes it the second time I’ve walked over from Stainforth with the idea of getting a brew, only to be denied it by ravenous crowds. It’s a popular tearoom, though Feizor itself strikes me as being one of those pretty little places that only comes into existence for a day, and only once a century, if the moon is right.

The weather has been appalling all week, and I was doubtful today’s forecast of fine weather would materialise, but it did. Then, the fuel shortages that rattled everyone last week seem also to have passed over, at least in the north-west. Anyway, we filled the tank, and here we are.

The little blue car is down in Stainforth. We had a good run over from Lancashire. Confidence in the old girl is restored, after the mystery of the loose wheel-nuts – though the mystery itself remains unsolved. In fact, she went like a rocket, though mainly on account of aggressive tailgating by monstrous, thundering hardcore wagons. They’re an intimidating presence on the route from Clitheroe to the limestone quarries, near here, and always put me in mind of that old film, Hell Drivers, but with much bigger wagons.

So, we managed to keep our tails from being trodden on by the Hell Drivers, and we parked on the National Trust car-park at Stainforth, (£4.80, card payments accepted) and we set off for Feizor. I was in Stainforth, back in August, and failed then to get a decent shot of the impressive falls on the Ribble, here, due to holiday crowds. It’s quieter today, and, what with heavy rains, I’m thinking they’ll be worth another visit. But as I cross the little bridge over the river, I see the falls have been colonised by a large group of photographers and film-makers. All we’re likely to get there is a shot of the backs of their heads. So, we plod on.

Penyghent, from Little Stainforth

At Little Stainforth, we go north, along the narrow road. The views across Ribblesdale to Penyghent from here are stunning today, crackling with detail in an extraordinarily clear light. The meadows are a lush, soft green, and the sun, struggling for altitude now, is picking out the crags and the wiggly lines of dry-stone walls. We sometimes forget man is part of nature, that when he’s not busy destroying it, his presence can add something special to the land in reducing some of its bleakness. The enclosures do have a lovely, pleasing quality to them – natural stone, all higgledy-piggledy, following the contours. I suppose, however, if we were to replace them now, it would be straight lines and barbed wire.

So then we pick up the path that takes us west, over the fell. Smearset Scar is an imposing lump, as you come up from Stainforth, but it’s all bluff, at least if you approach it from its northern face. From the south and west, it’s more precipitous. At a modest 1200 feet, it still manages to impress, being dramatic, and airy, with tremendous views all round.

As a lunch spot, we can do no better than this. Eleven forty-five, on a midweek morning, not a soul in sight, and we’re on top of the world. This time last year we were still working, and doubting we’d see the end of it. Now, none of that is our problem. I’d wondered if I’d still be waking in the mornings, thinking I should be heading out to work. I was warned I might have trouble switching off in retirement, but I think the major part of me had switched off long before. Or rather, I had already moved on, in my head, to what I’m doing now. I’ve not thought about the day job at all, except on mornings like this, to appreciate the freedom to simply be.

On Smearset Scar, looking towards Pot Scar

So, from Smearset Scar, the feet are naturally drawn westwards, along the ridge to Pot Scar. This is an area without any substantial paths, though it’s criss-crossed by what looks like the tracks of a farmer’s quad bike. There’s probably a simple way down though the crags, directly to Feizor, but I’ve yet to find it, so we rejoin the path coming over from Stainforth, disturbing a fox in the process, which bolts to a hidey hole on a limestone pavement. The path swings south, through a nick in the crags, and brings us down to the tea-shop in Fiezor.

Feizor

Unable to get our coffee, without what looks like a long wait, we make do with a swig from the water bottle, which is what I remember we did last time, and we start on the climb back towards Stainforth, along this lovely bit of the Dales High Way. Then we pause, on a rock, by another rock, which our new friend points out is a glacial erratic. The area is well known for them. Some, the Norber Erratics, are spectacular lumps of stone, up on the limestone pavements around Ingleborough. They were deposited here by retreating ice sheets, and probably came from the Lake District. The word derives from the old French erratique, and from the latin erraticus; it means, literally, “wandering, straying, roving.”

Anyway, we say goodbye to our geologist friend, give his walking group a good fifteen minutes start, then follow them back to Stainforth. The encampment of photographers and film-makers is still there at the falls, so we’ll give it another miss. I wonder if they’re photographing salmon leaping. October, November, after rains, I’ve read are best. Good luck to them, but I prefer to keep moving on my days out, keep wandering, roving. That makes two erratiques then, today, on the Dales High Way.

So, now it’s time to join the Hell Drivers, on the road back to Lancashire, and see what we’ve got in the camera. On past performance, it’ll be mostly blurred, I suspect. Others, I’ll be wondering what on earth I thought I was looking at. But, with luck, one or two will have some potential as a reminder of another good day, in the Dales.

I wish I’d taken a picture of that rock, though!

“An erratic, you know.”

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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.

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I am sitting by the path, looking out over Ribblesdale, in the Craven district of North Yorkshire. Below lies a patchwork of lush, undulating pasture, overlaid with a gentle criss-crossing of dry-stone walls. A lone tree holds the eye, centre stage. It prevents the senses from being overrun by beauty, while the greater landscape races off to the horizon. I am waiting for the light. At the moment, it’s very subtle. The sun is filtering down through shifting layers of cloud, so the scene is one of softness. I am anticipating something more dramatic breaking through.

There’s no rush. It’s early afternoon on a midweek in August. The schools are off, and most of the UK is holidaying in the UK this year, instead of jetting away. The National Parks are busy and all the holiday cottages are booked up ’till goodness knows when. The little car-park, down in Langcliffe was full by mid-morning. I managed to get the last spot. I had thought this was a secret place, known only to a handful of discerning walkers. This year it’s different. This year, everyone seems to know where the secrets are kept, and they rush at them.

The walk itself has been a bit of a run around, and strangely unremarkable. First, it was up the River Ribble from the Lock Weir at Langcliffe, to Stainforth, to see the falls. Then it was on to Catrigg Force. Both falls were overly busy with tourists. It was difficult to settle.

The first time I saw Stainforth falls was a winter’s evening, January 2019. The last of the light was spilling over the dale, painting it in shades of gold and tobacco. There was no one there, and the scene, coming at the end of a long walk, took my breath away. Today, late summer of this Covid year, was different. I didn’t bother taking a photograph, same at Catrigg. I couldn’t get a clear shot of either, couldn’t take the time to explore the angles and the light. I’m such a fusspot when I’m out with the camera.

Lower Winskill, Ribblesdale, Yorkshire Dales

So now I’ve walked over by Upper and Lower Winskill, and I’m dropping back towards the car at Langcliffe, a round of about five miles. There’s a mile or so still to go and, of a sudden, no people. I want to slow the day, to stretch it out. Soon I’ll be driving back home among the thundering hardcore wagons. What I was looking for today, down by the river and the falls, but could not find, the Dales are now gifting me in spades. It’s a scene I have gazed upon many times, but today, it’s like a door is opening to another world.

This time last year, I was working for a living. Days in the hills like this were prized outings. They were the result of planning, limited opportunity and negotiation. Now I can come whenever I want. I simply check the weather forecast, and pick my day. There are still times when I feel I’m on extended leave, that it will come to an end, that there’ll be another bloodshot eye of a Monday morning, another commute in pitch dark and pouring rain to find emails stacked all the way to Christmas. Then I remember it’s over, and it feels so natural, like pulling on an old glove. Thus, I swing between feelings of ease and disbelief. This afternoon, the feeling is one of luxury, with the added spice of the promise of insight.

I’ve got the big camera today, and a medium zoom. It’s a slow lens, zoomed out, and I need a bit more light to get the shutter speed up. As I wait for the light, I realise there’s a run of power lines to the right of the frame, spoiling the composition. It inflicts a scar of linear modernity to a scene that has otherwise not changed in centuries. I try to frame it differently, but it doesn’t work. I don’t know why I didn’t see them before. It’s like the mind saw the scene in perfection, in abstract form. Now, the eye points out the reality, which is always less than perfect. I can crop the power-lines out or, I can even disappear them with the clone brush in post-processing. It’s cheating, I know. It’s not conveying what’s there, but sometimes, we try more to convey what is felt. Playing with the image, exploring it, reinforces the scene in memory, but it doesn’t open doors, like the mind can.

The clouds thicken, and a stiff breeze comes up the dale. There is a brief flurry of light, and then the dale darkens down to a moodiness that looks set for the rest of the day. We’ve been half an hour now, resting, relaxing, finishing the nibbles, watching the subtle shifts of light. Time to move on, to tail the heavies back to Lancashire. We’ll see what comes out of the camera. Knowing me, half the shots will be out of focus. Others will be blurred by camera shake, but there should be one or two we can work with. As for the feeling, though, that’s a one time thing, a wordless thing we can at best glimpse in passing, and savour alone, in real time.

There’s no drama, no revelatory burst of sunlight upon emerald pastures. That’s just the way it is.

And you can never really photograph it.

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Photographers are complaining about Instagram. They’ve spent years cultivating, and indeed buying, followers, and they’ve enjoyed watching the number of “likes” they get, soar. They’ve reached the point where they can put up a picture of a bent, rusty nail and tens of thousands will see it and like it. They feel epic. Hundreds are flocking to their linked web-sites, clamouring to buy prints of their work – they say. Life is good.

But then Instagram’s algorithm changes. Suddenly they’re lucky if they’re getting a hundred hits, and their entire business model collapses. It means anyone with an old Android phone can now put up a wonky snap of a girl in her underwear, and it’ll easily trump the pernickety artisan’s rusty nail pictures, taken with his pro-camera gear. I sympathise, but are we really surprised?

As an amateur photographer, I’ve enjoyed Instagram. It took a while for my pictures to gain any kind of traction, but eventually you find a group of like-minded people, follow them, and they follow you and, without gaming the system, your pictures are getting liked, and you’re swapping comments in that social media kind of way. Personally, I’ve not noticed a collapse in my support, but then I’m not selling anything. True I could get more attention if I started putting up pictures of girls in their underwear, instead of trees, I mean if it’s the popularity I crave, which I suppose it is. But not that way.

Of course, you can argue Instagram is more of a lifestyle blogging, “influencer” social media thing, anyway, and was never intended to be infiltrated by serious photographers. There are better places for them to put their stuff, I suppose. I don’t know. It depends on what you mean by serious.

Photographers using Instagram, amateur or otherwise, lifestyle influencer or otherwise, produce original content – the stuff that’s worth looking at – for Instagram to then pepper with adverts. In other words, on social media sites, it’s not about us at all. It’s about ad-revenue and selling stuff. True, without us, there’d only be adverts, and no one would be looking at them. But we avail ourselves of a free service for our own ends – whatever they may be – and we can’t complain when we have no say in how the platform is run.

I’ve been on Instagram for many years, and it’s not made me famous. The idea was to lure people across to the blog, and my books, but it rarely does. What it has done though is introduce me to parts of the world others have found worth photographing, and has inspired me to put them on my list of places to visit, also to up my game in terms of picture taking. As an enthusiastic amateur, I’ve derived a great deal of pleasure from it, so I’m not of a mind to quit the platform in a huff.

But what other options are there for the huff-taken photographer? Well there’s Flikr of course. Flikr’s been around since the year dot. While Instagram was originally aimed at spontaneous quick-snapping phone photographers, Flikr was more for your enthusiast or professional, with a proper camera. You’re not limited to the low-res format of Instagram, and you can use it to store images for yourself and others to download (presently up to a 1000). Flikr offers a free (ad supported) account, or a paid Pro account, costing around a fiver per month. Personally I’ve found it a bit of a wilderness though. I’ve had pictures on there for years, and they’ve attracted no visitors – I really don’t know what the secret is.

Which brings us finally to YouPic [Y]. Like Flikr, YouPic is aimed at the enthusiast and the professional photographer. Pro prices start at around £10 a month, but again there is a free option, which comes without the frills, and it limits you to just one upload per day. That sounds a bit tight, but if you’re spending time post-processing a picture to get it looking awesome, you’re not going to be churning them out. It makes you selective, and I’m happy with that.

There also a “gamey” feature where you gain points as you go along, though I’m not entirely clear for what yet, nor how many levels there are (I’m currently at level 6 but if that means dunce or demi-god, I don’t know). I’ve tried a few recent pictures on there, and the immediate response has been surprisingly positive, with lots of views and comments, and, significantly, no adverts. It remains to be seen if this level of exposure continues, or if it’s just a teaser to lure you in, and will tail off over the coming weeks. But, so far, I’m impressed. Naturally, the paid members get greater exposure, and fair enough. The quality of photography on there is generally very high.

But why showcase our pictures anyway? Is it not a bit, “look at me”? As always, there is a danger in chasing the fake approval of the “like” button. But we’re also social creatures, and like to share our experiences. And a photograph is an experience. “Here, I saw this. What do you think?” It’s partly to affirm our own existence, but also to seek connection with those who are like-minded. Decades ago, the amateur photographer was sending his transparencies to the photography or the walking magazines, in the hope of publication. Or he was a club member, entering competitions and putting on exhibitions. Those are still options of course, but I found the magazines were a dead loss, and the clubs were cliquey. Online suits me fine.

Which is the best platform for sharing photography? Probably the one I’ve yet to discover. But of the three listed above, they all have their pros and cons. Use them all, but don’t expect them to make you a famous photographer. That’s more of a calling and, as with any other art, it requires a single-minded approach with unassailable levels of enthusiasm, self belief, as well as superlative levels of skill. And not a little luck.

Happy snapping.

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Morecambe Bay from Arnside, Cumbria UK

The M6 was pretty much your normal mid-week M6, thick with tradesmens’ vans, ton-up delivery vans, and long lines of lumbering heavies. This was overlaid with the familiar manic tapestry of boss-class Beamers and Mercs, all shiny in their lease-black livery, tailgating and weaving about likes jerks. I counted just the one caravan making a speculative foray towards the lakes.

The giant electronic signs urged us to minimize our travel – meaningless from all but the earliest of days, and clearly ignored by most. Still, it pricked my conscience. Arnside was fifty miles away, so hardly local but, since “local” was however we chose to define it now, I had the letter, if not the spirit of the law on my side. Plus, I’d not been more than ten miles from home – at least not for pleasure – in nearly a year, which was surely the very definition of minimizing travel.

Arnside was warming up a bit by 10:00 am, beginning to bustle a little too, but there was still plenty of parking. I’m fond of this place, but I can’t say I know it – only as a tourist, and occasional walker, come to take in the scenery, and frequent the tea shops. Today I was meeting up with an old friend for a walk down the coastal way to Silverdale, then back over the Knott.

Arnside, Cumbria UK

There is an eerie beauty about this part of the world. The limestone cliffs overlooking Morecambe bay provide a habitat for all manner of unfamiliar colour of flora and fauna – unfamiliar to me anyway. And the light, reflecting off the wet sands of the bay, is exceptional. The cliff-top sections of path here have a sporting feel to them, with, in places, nothing to guard against a near certain fatal fall, not helped by the fact the limestone underfoot is becoming polished. There is mixed woodland, also dense thickets of blackthorn amongst which the near fluorescent yellow-green brimstone butterflies were in profusion.

From Silverdale, we turn inland, and a criss-cross of well-marked ways leads us eventually down by the evocative ruins of the Arnside Tower. The farm here was selling rather fine bird boxes at just eight quid apiece. The honesty box consisting of a child’s welly, was well stuffed. I’m into bird boxes, have built a few for my garden, and I would have partaken of the offer, but I’ve had no cash on me since I can’t remember when, and we’d still a way to walk.

Arnside Tower, Cumbria UK

The Knott is our last objective, a wooded hill, clearing towards the summit with fine views over the bay. They’re grazing cattle here now. Belted Galloways mooched amongst the scrub – cows, calves and bulls, all looking placid enough at our passing, but beware, if you’re up here with a yappy dog, you’ll perhaps not get the same indifferent reception. On the way down from the summit, there’s a particularly scenic tree. It has a wood-crafted heart suspended from it with the inscription: “Live, Laugh and Love”. Hard to argue with that one. It was a favourite for passing walkers to pose with their selfies.

On Arnside Knott, Cumbria UK

It was pleasant to be taking pictures of things other than the shaggy moorland and sycamore trees close to home, interesting to see how the much softer light played out, especially in the post-processing. It was also good to get the car out on a good run. But the day was not without its downside.

On arriving home, I noticed I’d picked up a couple of ticks. I’ve not seen these outside the Western Isles, and had not thought they were an issue at all in England. However, further researches inform me they are indeed very much a presence in the Arnside and Silverdale area, so do be careful when exploring around here. Walk with your trousers tucked into your socks, check yourself over on return, and be aware they are adept at finding the lesser viewed areas like backs of knees, elbows and other private places. If you’re out with dogs you’ll need to check them too.

A tick removal tool is best for getting them off safely. Otherwise, you’ll need a pair of fine tweezers and grasp the things as low down as possible, where the snout penetrates the skin. Don’t squeeze or burn them, and especially not if they’re engorged. Then, over the coming days, keep a lookout for inflammation and a red ring around the bite-spot, an early symptom of the onset of Lyme’s disease. If it appears, get to the docs urgently, screaming tick-bite, and demanding anti-biotics. Hopefully I’ll be okay.

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