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Posts Tagged ‘Round Loaf’

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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round-loaf1

January has dissolved into that pale-sun kind of mildness, and on Sunday afternoon I was tempted out to my old stomping grounds in the West Pennine Moors. I had in mind a stroll up Great Hill from White Coppice, but I wasn’t the only one tempted out by the mild weather, and there was nowhere to leave the car within a couple of miles of the start of the walk, so I cut back over the narrow moorland roads and wound up at Jepson’s Gate for a walk to the Round Loaf instead. The boots are still holding together – a little leaky – but this was home-ground for me and even if they fell apart I was pretty sure I’d be okay.

You can do the Round Loaf and back in a couple of hours, which was just right given the shortness of the days. There’s an uncompromising bleakness about these uplands and sometimes I wonder if their only attraction is that they’re in my blood. One cannot call them dramatic – even though they touch 1200 feet, they’re far too gently rounded and their appearance is more wind-blasted and crouching than proudly soaring.

The Round Loaf, for those of you not familiar with the West Pennines is a Neolithic Cairn, probably a burial, but an unusually big one. These ancient cairns are made of loose stones piled up and overlaid with millenia of vegetation. The stones provide good drainage for root systems so the Round Loaf stands out above the poorly drained peat moorland, a  startling and incongruous green blob on a russet upland plain. Many paths converge upon it and the site seems to appeal to many a varied interest: the sheep seem to like it, walkers certainly do, geocachers too, and also, it has to be said, the local Wiccan’s and maybe some of the darker neo-pagan sects as well.

It’s curious that this place has never been excavated, or vandalised – I suppose its remoteness has spared it both of those indignities.

And speaking of indignities, I returned to the car off-piste so to speak, seeking out the Pike Stones, another ancient monument, another former burial site from the Neolithic period. This one’s only five minutes from the road and consequently has been stripped bare over the generations, dismantled and excavated almost to extinction. All that remains here these days are a couple of tilted slabs of weathered millstone grit. Like the Round Loaf this is another location favoured by the neo-pagans and a while ago one of them decided to embellish this admittedly rather dull monument by chiseling a distinctly “new-age” spiral motif upon it. That was bad enough, but today I noticed someone else had made a half hearted attempt at chiseling the spiral motif off. Either way the site is ruined now and it’ll be centuries before this place ever attracts back the natural magic of the earth – if it ever does. Indeed next time I go up I half expect to see a recreation of the Cerne-Abbas giant dug into the peat.

Forestation began up here in the 1980’s, and the plantations are reaching maturity now. In my humble opinion these forests do little to add to the attractiveness of the area  and I’ve been spending the last 25 years quietly grizzling at them, laid down as they are with a geometric insensitivity that’s about as unnatural as you can imagine and as much of an insult to the plain beauty of the moors as chiseling a spiral on an ancient monument. I suppose they’ll be logging these out soon and then I’ll really have something to grizzle about.

I seem to be peculiar in my belief that open country like this is far more of a blessing than most people seem to realise.  Left entirely to nature it acquires a peculiar energy that has to be felt to be appreciated. Walk through it and it begins to work upon your bones, and upon your brain. You think differently when you return from a walk up here. You’re calmer, brighter, more positive in your outlook and I think there’s more to it than simply the fresh air.  But in walking through it you also leave behind a trail of energy of your own that lingers in your footprints. That’s okay because if you’re careful and respectful the tides will wash away all evidence of your passing and no harm is done. However, if too many people converge upon a place, and especially if their presence carries with it a negative energy, as evidenced by the dropping of litter, the indiscriminate and insensitive planting of commercial forests, or the wanton vandalism of ancient monuments, then the overall quality of the land is diminished or sometimes extinguished altogether. It becomes scrappy, mucky, trashed and void of spirit.

All of this is subjective and I appreciate that much of what I feel about these uplands is entirely imaginary. I wrote my first novel, the Singing Loch, partly in response to these peculiar feelings, in an attempt to give voice to what it was I believed we should value in those few true remaining wildernesses that are left to us in the UK, apart from the handful of filthy money to to be gained from their destruction.

I often think of my ancestral territory as being that patch of moorland bounded to the north by the line of Black Brook, and Great Hill, East by the upland ridge of Spitler’s and Redmond’s edge, and South by the fledgling Yarrow. This is because I was born within sight of it, and grew up gazing out of my bedroom window at it through a pair of binoculars. Looking westwards from just about anywhere in this territory you have a view of the Lancashire Plain, and all the way out to the Irish Sea. When the weather comes in it comes in unchecked and usually very windy, and in my darker dreams now I see wind-generators, and I pray the gritstone foundations lie too deep beneath the squelchy peat for such monstrosities to ever be considered here.

Still, I’m sure someone’s thinking about it.

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