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Pikestones – Anglezarke Moor

I’ve been out of sorts recently: low energy, and the back’s been aching, threatening something dire in the region of the sciatic nerve. But the weather’s been fair, I thought the air would clear the head, and a bit of a walk loosen the back. A short hike to the Pikestones was far enough, and I was curious to see if the sit-mat was still there, after leaving it behind on my last visit. I did not like to think of it littering. Better to retrieve it, though there was a good chance a passing walker might have adopted it.

I felt washed out as I started the climb by Parson’s Bullough, and by the time I came to the ladder-style by Peewit Hall, I was running on empty. Here, I reached up to hook the top of it with my arm – resistant to grabbing hold of things with the hands, due to Covid transmission fears – but I missed. No bother, I thought, the legs will hold me while I have another swing at it. They didn’t. There was nothing in them. They buckled, and I sailed backwards into the ditch.

I checked the camera for damage. It was fine. I was fine, just no energy. Plus, I was an idiot. Damn Covid! Damn its cursed erosion of trust, that we fear to touch what others might have touched, fear to go where others might have gone. We cannot live like this forever!

Anyway, there were peewits out in the meadow, curlew coming over from the moor, bleat of lambs with the season in full swing. And I could hear skylarks. Beat of life. Beat of nature. Rush of sap to the swelling buds – just not my buds. I was blocked, or leaking somewhere. Steady, slowly to your feet, take a few deliberate breaths. Reach. Now grab. GRAB dammit! With your hand. And look: gnarled wood under the palm, bleached under a thousand suns, deep pitted, patterned with crusty lichens, yellow-green and teal. It’s darker, and shiny where other hands have touched it, smoothed it in their passing. The texture. The beauty,… Yes, all right, all right,… I get the message.

I took a firm hold, and made it over the second time, dropped the pace the rest of the way to the Pike Stones. When you know you’re running off-song, there’s no sense flooring it and burning a hole through a piston. Okay, so here we are. Sit, now. Breathe. Qigong breathing. Remember that? Deep. Slow. Find the centre. I’ve been neglecting the Qigong, forgetting its principles. I’ve let it go off the boil a bit. Anyway, the sit mat wasn’t there. It’s been adopted – and welcome. Such an easy thing to do, forget your sit-mat. Gormless though.

It was chicken and mushroom soup from the thermos for lunch. Scan the plain below through the binocs. Chorley, Southport, Liverpool, Preston, Lake District, Snowdonia – everything where it should be, only myself slightly displaced if not exactly in space and time, then metaphysically, somehow, and no I can’t explain what I mean by that.

I took my time heading back, feeling cross on account of Ego, which has little patience for empty legs. Ego wanted Great Hill, Spitler’s Edge, Winter Hill. It wanted the endless miles and the indestructibility of youth. Just three miles brought me around by the lead mines, an insult to the Ego, but the bones and feet were aching like I’d done a ten-miler. Paradoxically, the back felt easier. Strange that but, as a cure for back-ache, launching oneself backwards from a ladder stile is a little extreme, and hardly to be recommended. The car was waiting with a smile. I dropped the top and basked a while in the restorative tonic of a noonday sun. Then I drove home.

Rushy Brow – Anglezarke Moor

The bones responded well to a hot bath, then I flicked through the bagged shots with a glass of red. Blue skies are uninteresting now. To think: how I used to edit the holiday pics, take out the cloudy skies. Look, look what good weather we had! Now, give me dynamic skies, and a camera that can handle them! Things change. We age. We grow. Patience. Qigong. Meditation. Remember? I’ve forgotten these things – our little Tai Chi group blown to smithereens over a year ago now by the damned Covid. Lord knows if we’ll ever breathe deep of the same air as each other again, touch others, explore their centre with the dancing grace of Push Hands and all without the fear of germs.

So much has been lost, we’ll be a generation counting the scale of it. Was it inevitable we would grind things out as long and slow as this? Might things have been different with a more urgently human-centric approach from the beginning? Let it rip,… Let the bodies be piled in their,… no, don’t go there, Mike. Let others pick at that one. Anyway, all that was a week ago. I’m feeling better now, the energy returning. Sometimes that’s the way, and you just have to be easy on yourself in the meantime. The weather looks like being a mixed bag for the remainder of the week: April showers, interesting skies.

Time we were out again.

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by the yarrow

We leave the little blue car down by the Yarrow Reservoir. Kind souls have cleaned up after the orgy of the other week, when there were fast-food wrappers and laughing gas cartridges, and other unspeakable items, everywhere. But all are bagged now, awaiting collection. All that’s left of the party is the hangover.

It’s blessedly quiet this morning, almost normal. We’re heading up to the Pike-Stones for lunch, then on to Anglezarke moor – taking in Hurst Hill, via a small, nameless tarn, and then the Round Loaf. After a sunny start, it clouds over but looks like it’ll stay dry. It’s blustery though, and cold, so not a day for lingering.

I’ve struggled getting out lately. All these furloughed folk have been making the best of their time, and who can blame them? But they’ve been interfering with my routines, and I wish they’d clean up after themselves, leave no trace, you know? Some people understand this instinctively. They feel something when they’re in nature. But the sight of deliberate droppings pops the bubble of the sublime. And it’s offensive.

Life can seem at times like a seething quagmire, one damned thing after another, a dog-eats-dog kind of world, an endless frenzy of feeding, of seeking satisfaction. The only way to transcend such ceaseless craving is through beauty – beauty of form, of art, music, and landscape. Only humans have the power to do this – only humans have need of it. But then we see the rubbish dumped by ignorants, and we’re right back in that vale of suffering again, grinding our teeth.

Today’s looking good though.

I know this landscape well, but I’ve not joined the dots of this particular route before. First we go up by Parson’s Bullough, via the beautiful green way across Twitch Hill’s Clough. Then it’s past the ruins of Peewet Hall, to the track from Jepson’s, and the access point for the moor. This is open land now – right to roam and all that – but for now we navigate by the line of the old, burned plantation on Holt’s Flat, all the way to the Pike Stones.

holts flat plantation
Burned plantation – Holt’s Flat

I remember them putting this plantation in, thirty odd years ago, vast geometrical patterns excavated deep into the virgin canvas of the moor, and then, from the wounds, this slow, cancerous growth of conifers had emerged. I found it upsetting. The hills are the most unchanging things we know. No matter what else is going on, they seem the same, and comforting. But then someone bulldozes our sensibilities and dumps a monocultural plantation on top of them.

Half of the plantation is gone now, consumed by heath fires, the remains like dried bones, all rotting down. I try some photographs. The skeletal forms are mono-chromic and repulsive.

pikestones
The Pike Stones – Anglezarke

The Pike Stones once comprised the finest Neolithic burial in the north, probably in the whole of England, and is certainly of national importance, but all that remains of it now are a couple of tilted slabs that mark the inner chamber, portal to the underworld for a soul of great standing. As for the rest, only an archaeologist could make sense of it. Indeed, it was so disappointing to some passing neo-pagan types, back in the nineties, they chiselled a funky spiral onto one of the slabs to add a bit more “vibe” to the site. It was a striking and skilful job, though criminally self-entitled, of course. Someone else chiselled the graffiti off. The outrage is fading now as the seasons weather the gritstone back to black. I only hope it did not disturb the honoured personage on their journey to Tír na hÓige.

I have a thermos of soup, so find respite from the wind, hunkered down in the lee of the stones and settle in for lunch. There’ll be no shelter further up. So far so good, then. Hot chicken soup, scent of the wild moor and the howl of the wind. What could be finer on an otherwise dull, blowy day?

Meanwhile, down on the plain, life goes on. The M61 is taking up its omnipresent roar again. There is political pressure to relax the two-meter rule. It looks like the plan is to get things back to normal, to a condition of gradual herd immunity, but without actually calling it that. On the upside, the skylarks are in fine voice, keeping low in the wind, but sounding rapturous in their twittering. They don’t seem to mind my presence and hover close, allowing a more intimate study of their plumage and colouring than one is used to. Perhaps they thought humans were extinct.

I manage a good half hour at the Pike Stones before I pick out some figures moving up by the plantation. I’m not in the mood for company, so break camp and move on, cutting the contours now up by Rushy Brow, towards Hurst Hill.

rushy brow tarn
Tarn on Rushy Brow – Anglezarke
There’s a small, nameless tarn here. It’s not marked, even on six-inch maps, yet it’s easily picked out by Google’s satellite mapping. I find it hard to believe the men of the Ordnance survey missed it, so it’s either a recent formation, or it’s intermittent and subject to drought. I remember when I first discovered it, an inviting spot on a hot summer’s eve, under a clear sky, but right now, with the wind howling, it is home to trolls, so we press on before they drag us to our doom.
hurst hill
Hurst Hill – Anglezarke

The low, shaggy outline of Hurst Hill lies ahead now, the cairn giving us a good point to aim at over the shivering tussocks.  Otherwise, it’s just a featureless knoll, a little over a thousand feet but, as a view point, it certainly holds its own. From here, we’re east of north to the Round Loaf, and one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Western Pennines.

It looks like a huge, Bronze Age burial. That’s that’s what generations of us have been brought up to believe it was anyway and  its scheduled status certainly supports that belief. Owing to its remoteness it’s never been excavated, but then a geological survey in the eighties concluded, and somewhat glibly, that it’s more likely a natural feature. I don’t know, you pick your experts, depending on what you want to believe, I suppose. I know which explanation I prefer.

It’s about five meters high and there’s a little cairn on top which provides a vantage point on a fine sweep of the moor. The monument is also a focus for paths, which converge upon it from all directions.

round loaf top
Round Loaf Top – Anglezarke Moor

From the Round Loaf we now head roughly south, to meet Lead Mine’s Clough, then home. But the multiplicity of tracks here can be disorientating, especially in thick weather. So we pick out the one we’ve just walked from Hurst Hill, then take the one next to it, counter-clockwise to see us safe.

It’s a little over four miles round, but feels further over rough ground, and well worth the time spent. It’s good to be on the moor again, a place changing but slowly, and a reassuring fixture in a bizarre, uncertain world.

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