Posts Tagged ‘ribble’

The Brandywine? Ribble Valley, Lancashire

It’s Galadriel who points out the sand martins, nesting in holes in the sandy banks, where the Calder meets the Ribble. The adults are scooping insects up from over the river and delivering them to their young. This is exhilarating for the watcher, but it’s clearly no fun being a bird. Being a bird, she says, is evolution cut to the bone. Only men and elves have evolved the time and the luxury to write poetry. Elven poetry of course is far superior, she adds, and it would be bad form for me to disagree.

There used to be a ferry here, a rowing boat across the Ribble. She tells me it was possibly the inspiration behind the ferry the hobbits used to escape their ghoulish pursuers in the opening trilogy of J R R Tolkien’s epic, The Lord of the Rings. It’s also said by those in search of Middle Earth, the confluence of the rivers, the Hodder and the Calder, feeding into the Ribble matches the confluence of the Brandywine, Withywindle and the Shirebourn – the three rivers of Tokien’s mythical Shire. Personally, I think that’s a bit of a stretch, since the Hodder feeds in about a kilometre upstream from here. But okay, let’s say the Ribble Valley might have inspired the work, along with many other parts of the English countryside, but does Lancashire make too much of its place in Tolkien lore? Oh, very much so, she says. But such is life, and the way of celebrity. We agree the man himself would have been nonplussed to have a walk named after him. For a guide to all the landscapes that might have inspired Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Galadriel says to click here.

The Hodder

When I first came this way, it was not called the Tolkien Trail. I’m not sure when that happened. She suspects it was to do with the movie trilogy, and certain enterprising publicans in Hurst Green. As for actual Tolkien scholars, she doubts we’re much on the radar. Tolkien lived in and around Stonyhurst college for a time, when his son was studying for the priesthood. That period coincided with his writing of the Lord of the Rings, which took him from 1937 to 1949. That it only appeared in print in 1955 is suggestive of some of the problems he had with his publishers.

If he was looking for a few hours walk, a quick squint at the map would have yielded a likely route. That’s how I pieced it together, and others before me. Maybe he did the same. It’s impossible to say, but that’s what they call it now: The Tolkien Trail. Weekdays, says Galadriel, one can still enjoy the tranquillity of it, but come weekend, it’s getting hammered, and in places the stress is showing.

Arriving earlier in Hurst Green, we were assailed by notices warning us not to park stupidly. There was plenty of space on the village hall car-park, with its honesty box. But I’m guessing of a weekend you’ll need to come crack of dawn-ish, or not at all.

We had a murky start, with a heavy, moody overcast, and a humid stickiness. By degrees, though, the day freshened, and the trees began to move. The camera was on the last bar of charge, but I had a spare battery, so I wasn’t bothered, until I realized I’d left the battery in the car. By now we were a mile out, and I wasn’t for turning back. I’d have to be sparing with the shots, and anyway, she reminded me, you’ve seen it all before, and the best bits you can’t take pictures of anyway. You just have to feel them.

We skirted the college, came down to the Hodder through Over Hacking wood, then followed the river downstream. The river was low and moving sleepy-slow. From a distance, it has the look of stewed tea, but up close there are attractive shades of green as it reflects the trees. We met a few walkers along the way, exchanged greetings. None noticed Galadriel. Elven folk can be like that – invisible to all but those they allow to see them.

It was mostly tranquil. There was just the one incident where a dog leaped a fence and set an entire meadow of sheep running for their lives, and the man chasing the dog seeming only to make matters worse. Each to their own, she mused, but wondered why people did not adopt small children instead. They’re much less trouble, can be taught to behave without having to tie them to you all the time. Also, the payback is immense. I tell her people are strange creatures and can rarely be fathomed rationally. She agrees.

Just before the Hodder enters the Ribble, we arrive at the busy B6243 and Cromwell’s Bridge, or so called – a romantic ruin spanning the river. It features large on Instagram. There were more warnings here about parking stupidly. I didn’t bother with a photograph. You can’t get a good one anyway without trespassing, and I wanted to save the battery. Here’s one I took earlier.

So then we come to the Ribble, and the sand-martins nesting in its banks, and we watch them for a while. Then she points out this lone fisherman, mid-stream casting his fly into the turbulence where the waters meet. I ask if I should cook up a haiku about him, but she says not to bother. He’s looking strangely at us. Perhaps he doesn’t like the way we’ve come down off the path to get a better view of the sand-martins. The river bank here bristles with the Anglefolk’s proprietary warnings. It’s his loss, she says.

The Winkley Oak

I read Tolkien’s books when I was in my twenties. There’s a lot in them. Indeed, they contain the life scholarship of a very clever man. It’s also where I first met Galadriel. The movies are a significant achievement, given that, for such a long time, the story was considered un-filmable. But, good as they are, they lack the literary depth of the novels, obviously. The novels can sustain several re-readings, and always a fresh discovery at a mythic or an archetypal level.

Tolkien was about so much more than elves and wizards, goblins, and trees that talk. But I guess that’s all he’ll be remembered for. It’s interesting how the Lord of the Rings and its prequel, The Hobbit, enjoyed by so many readers, young and old, have also been banned from conservative Christian homes, and institutions for their “irreligious” themes. Galadriel wrinkles her nose at that one, but agrees the stories touch a nerve at many levels.

We leave the fisherman to it, make our way back to Hurst Green. The path climbs from the river valley, the lower reaches of it washing away now with erosion from a heavy footfall. It will be challenging in the wet, and needs some restoration work. Finally, it’s across a meadow of lazy, sunbathing sheep, to emerge at the back of the Shireburn Arms.

“Fancy a drink?” I ask, though I’m not sure if this is the proper etiquette when dealing with Elven royalty.

She pulls a face. “No, let’s just paste it home, and have a cup of tea in the back garden, shall we?”

Sounds good to me. But of course, long before I’ve hit the M6, I turn to her, a question on my lips, and she’s gone. Elves are like that.

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pinkfooted geeseThe pink-footed goose spends its summer months in Iceland and Greenland. Then it heads south, mostly to Britain for the winter. For its night-time roosts, it takes to the wide open estuaries and the mudflats of the Ribble and the Solway Firth. Then, by day, it tours en-mass the surrounding farmlands, where it forages among the post-harvest leavings and winter sown crop. Unlike many animal species, the geese are thriving.

A few weeks ago, they came to the moss near my home, tens of thousands of them. They were feeding off flood-ruined winter wheat and the small potatoes, abandoned and left afield as a bad job.

The climate has drifted here into a period of parched springs, followed by summers of an extraordinary wet. The water table has risen, and many of the vast growing-fields have become lakes. It was like this in the fourteenth century. The land hereabouts was wetland, and nearby Martin Mere was the biggest lake in England. Like the Norfolk fens, the land was drained to make way for agriculture, and Martin Mere was shrunk to a puddle. But something’s happened in recent years; there is a hint the wetlands are returning.

I have struggled to make friends with these low-lying areas of the Lancashire Plain. As a hill-man, I prefer to seek the perspective of altitude, and my panoramas to be ever-changing. On the moss you can walk for hours and see the same near-identical squares of factory farmed meadow, where the sky is the only dynamic element. But when the geese come, the atmosphere is one of excitement. Thousands of big, noisy birds in a meadow raise a throbbing hum of life, and when they take to the air as one, the scene is breathtaking.

I was lucky our visits coincided that day, and managed a few snatched shots with a long lens. Birding isn’t one of my usual hobbies, so I didn’t know what kind of geese these were. I had to consult my bird-book at home. It was there I also learned the story of their migrations from the far north, of their liking for my part of the world, and how their timing seems to fit into the agricultural cycle of us humans. In a confused post-fact world, it makes a change, being able to discern and explain a pattern of behaviour. But more, it lifts the spirit to partake of the simple miracle of its manifestation.

I’ve walked the moss often since the geese came, hoping I would see them again. There are still plenty of small potatoes in the ground to tempt them back from their roosts. But the wide open spaces have been forlorn in their emptiness, and the ways heavy underfoot with a cloying mud.

Meanwhile, I read we may have a working vaccine by the New Year, and so expect we’ll see also a ramping up of scurrilous disinformation by anti-vaxers. Only humans tie themselves in knots this way. Nature, be it manifest in geese or viruses, doesn’t care about the million shades of nonsense men make up. In nature, you are either a part of the rich diversity of life, or you’re working against it. And nature has a way of dealing with whatever works against it. She bides her time, changes the world on you, and then you’re gone.

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