Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘ruins’

On Withnell Moor – West Pennines

There’s a remoteness about the Withnell moors that belies the fact even the loneliest bits of them are probably only half an hour’s walk from the well populated villages of Brinscall, or Abbey Village. In the nineteenth century they were home to many small-scale farms but, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, changing times were making it harder to justify such remote habitation, the mills and quarries being more of a draw for employment than farming, at least on this scale. Then an outbreak of typhoid, in Kent (1897), sent the public health bodies into a spin. The Withnell moors were (and still are) part of the water catchment area for the city of Liverpool, and the urgent word went out we should avoid anything, animal or human, defecating upon it. So the leases were withdrawn, and the farms fell to ruin.

I’ve come here today to photograph the sycamores at one particular ruin, Grouse Cottage. The weather’s fair for now, though looking a bit changeable, and I find I’m in the mood to explore further, if I can. I’m wondering if in fact, we can find a route up Great Hill from this end of the West Pennines. There isn’t one marked on the map, and scant trace of such in aerial photographs. But it would make sense, this group of farms being linked by a humble walked way, to the now similarly ruined farms over on the Heapey side of the moor. We’ll see.

The sycamores at Grouse Cottage

Grouse Cottage looks like it’s been gone centuries, but it was still lived in in the 1950s, one of the last of the farms to be vacated. I have seen photographs of it from its working days, and can only say its eradication has been most severe. Interesting to me, my mother, resident nearby in Abbey Village until 1960, would have known it as a working farm. A small piece of it is still standing, which adds some architectural interest to the photograph of the trees – this being what was the outside lavatory. The rest is left to imagination. It was dramatically positioned with fine views but, like all the farms out this way, and from the stories my mother told, a hell of a place to be in winter.

Twisted Beech – Botany Bay

From Grouse Cottage we head south now, to the corner of a tumbled drystone wall, then west, towards Rushy brook. We cross by the ruins of Popes, another lost farm, then onto the rise of the moor, and eventually to a curious, lone beech tree by the ruins of Botany Bay. This farm is renamed on OS maps from the 1930’s as the “Summer House”, it’s having by then been abandoned, and adapted for use as what I suppose was a luncheon hut, for the grouse shooting fraternity. Little remains of it now. The tree is remarkable though – twisted, stunted by ferocious weather, but stoically hanging on. Remarkable too is an upright stone, unworked and heavily weathered, one I reckon predates the farm by several thousand years and marks a previous era of habitation.

Botany Bay stone

From Botany Bay there is a sketchy path south and west, towards the trees that mark the ruins of Solomon’s and New Temple. It’s New Temple I’m after, to a little isthmus of benign pasture that marks the end of the ancient enclosures, and their abutment with the wilderness of uncultivated moor. If there’s a route up Great Hill, here’s where we’ll find it.

The temple isn’t an actual temple, no doubt much to the disappointment of the neo-pagans who have been known to frequent it, in search of “vibes”. It’s just another ruined farm, marked by a pair of magnificent sycamores, romantic in their isolation, and striking today with a background of moody sky. There are heavy showers sweeping the plain, drifting up the Ribble Valley, circling behind us over Darwen Moor. Meanwhile, we enjoy an island of calm and intermittent hazy sun. Anything incoming is at least thirty minutes away, but we seem to be in the eye of the system, so I reckon we’ll be okay.

It turns out there is indeed a little-walked path from here – no more than a sheep-trod, but inspiring sufficient confidence to explore further. It takes us up the nondescript hummock of Old Man’s Hill, then loosely follows the line of Rushy Brook, into the lap of Great Hill. I wouldn’t come this way in poor weather as it would be hard to trace, and it’s a rum wasteland of tussocky grass to go off course in, but otherwise the way makes sense, and follows a reasonably dry route.

The New Temple Sycamores

The plan now, if we can avoid a drenching, is to take in the top of Great Hill, then circle back via Pimms and the Calf Hey brook. I was there some weeks ago, but I want to shoot the trees at Pimms again, against this impressive sky, and to get a name for them. The buds are opening now and hopefully will reveal their signature leaves – sycamores probably.

Great Hill summit – West Pennines

There’s not a soul on Great Hill, again. Everyone must be in the pubs, or the shops as we find ourselves once more in one of those “hair down”, between wave periods. Meanwhile, the weather dances round us, a whirligig of drama, while our own steps remain blessed by dry, and that lingering crazy, hazy sun. This place feels as familiar as the back of my own hand, but no matter how well we think we know a place, there is always another perspective, always something fresh to be gained. If that insight is the one blessing of these Covid restrictions, then so be it.

As for the trees at Pimms, they are indeed sycamores, the same as at Solomon’s, and Grouse Cottage, common enough on the moors, as anywhere. The Woodland Trust tells me they’re not native to our islands, sycamores having been introduced in the 15th or 16th centuries from mainland Europe. They’re hard as nails though, as evidenced by their soaring height here, in defiance of the harshest weather Lancashire can muster. They’ve outlived the farms anyway, stand as monuments to them and, in the present day, provide beacons for navigation.

Roddlesworth falls

So, now we’re heading down through the plantations at Roddlesworth again – a second chance to grab a decent shot of the little falls on the Roddlesworth river. I make a better job of it this time – the Lumix I’m carrying today being a much faster camera than the Nikon I used some weeks before. Then the car’s waiting, my good lady’s car today. Unlike mine, it can navigate the humps and hollows of Roddlesworth lane, without getting beached.

As we ease off the boots, the rain catches up with us. It’s nothing dramatic – more gentle and cooling. It’s been kind enough to hold off for our walk, and a little wet is welcome after such a long period of dry. My garden will appreciate it, and it should replenish the water-butts, which are already at rock bottom.

It turned out to be a good circuit, not as far as it feels on the legs though – about five and a half miles, seven hundred feet of ascent or so. It was a little eerie. Being more used to dodging Covid crowds, I saw not a soul all afternoon, and had only the ghosts among the ruins for company. To be sure this is one of the loneliest of approaches to Great Hill I know.

There’s something sobering about the lost farms of the West Pennines. It’s the idea of, season after season, eking out a hard living from an unforgiving moor, and now those lives passed on, moved on as all things change and move on, and the reeds grow back, where once the deep-walled lane echoed to the sound of the passing cart and the driven beasts. And the multi-storied life, hard won, is reduced in no time at all to a pile of knee-high rubble, to be poked at, and pondered by passing Romantics, like me.

For more information on this part of the world, do check out:

“The lost farms of Brinscall Moor” by David Clayton

Read Full Post »

Pimms ruin, Withnell Moor, Lancashire

There’s something seductive about the River Roddlesworth, the way it comes down through its wooded gorge in a series of cascades. Flowing roughly from south to north, it picks up the morning sunlight which sparkles upon it like a scattering of fairy dust, and adds a layer of magic. It also makes it hard to photograph, if you’re moving upstream. From the brightness of the spilling sun to the shadow of the deep wooded valley, it presents a dynamic range that defeats casual photography. Well, it defeated me, anyway. One needs a set-up, a tripod, and bracketed exposures to be overlapped in post-processing. I tried it hand-held, but the shutter speeds were too slow, and the movement between frames was too much for post-processing to make sense of.

I’ve always known it as Rocky Brook, this being a more descriptive title used by locals – or at least those of my mother’s generation who grew up nearby. The word “river” summons the image of something broader, more physically powerful. Rocky Brook is more sylvan, subtle and secretive.

River Roddlesworth, West Pennine Moors

It has numerous sources in the water catchment areas of the Withnell and Darwen moors. One of them is the Calf Hey Brook which appears from under a culvert, crossed by the A675. It’s here, where the road cuts through, the plantations thin out to their soured and less photogenic fringes. It’s here the unconscious and the unconscionable sling rubbish from out of car windows. As a liminal zone, from ferny forest to open moor, it lacks subtlety. There’s something altogether more brutal and unwholesome about it, not least in the breakneck rush of vehicles. As a scenic moorland road it’s impressive, though it does rather encourage speed and accidents. Here, from the roadside, having emerged from the dapple-shaded magic of Roddlesworth, to the scatter of beercans, McTakeaway cartons, and the stench of diesel, one feels more keenly the cost of modernity.

However, we try to pay it as little attention as possible and look instead to the vastness of the moor, on the other side of the road. Then, five minutes up the Calf Hey Brook, the road is forgotten again. It has become a crass irrelevance amid the rapture of skylarks as we focus on our next objective: the trees at Pimms.

The moor is tinder dry now, a desert of straw, but the ruins of Pimms farm stand out on a mound of emerald green. I presume this is the result of generations of dung from its farming days. I found a lunch spot by a ruined wall, sat down on sun-warmed stones to contemplate this former abode amid the quintessential wilds of a Lancashire moor.

I am still feeling blessed by my early retirement, more so as the weather warms and days lengthen. It’s such a pleasure to be able to get out like this, do what I want, when I want, without always the queasy thought of a return to work at the back of my mind. A commuter slave ’till last year’s end, I now wander my locality seeking and photographing statuesque trees, like these at Pimms. It’s not what I’d planned, but it fits nicely with these days of Covid blues. It also adds another objective to a day’s walk, besides taking in the tops, especially when the more distant tops might be denied by dint of HMG’s ongoing emergency powers.

Pimms Ruin, Withnell Moor

Forgetting Covid for a moment, our lives have changed immeasurably since Pimms was lived in – I’m talking about working lives now. That would have been in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. But the world is always a vortex, and things were changing fast for these people even then. Small-scale farming such as this was in decline, in the later Victorian years, and the tenants of the various holdings on the moors were more likely to be finding work in the mills and quarries as England turned to mass manufacture. Eventually, the properties stood empty, the tenancies were not renewed. But now the major manufactories have gone, and those few still working employ a fraction of the people they once did. That old story of transition from agriculture to industrial powerhouse concluded with the Iron Lady and an era as ruinous, and nostalgic for past relevance as the remains of Pimms today.

It’s a puzzle. Where is the western world of work heading? I mean the ordinary work that does not need degrees and shiny shoes, the work people can do when the only thing they can sell is their hands? The next transition is anyone’s guess, and while warehousing and distribution seem dominant, such things are ripe for total automation, not leaving much for those hands to do except pull pints and serve chips. There’s always been something to draw the next generation en masse, into the future, a way for them to sell their labour in exchange for life, and some state protections, but these are strange times, and we seem to be staring into an abyss. It’s no longer my problem of course. I’ve escaped the treadmill, but still I wonder.

Pimms is a lovely, emotive ruin. It would have been a hard life out here in winter, but in the balmier seasons, it must have been a beautiful place to lay your head. In his excellent guide “The Lost Farms of Brinscall Moor“, author David Clayton tells us it was the Brownlow family who last lived here, their traces recorded in the census of 1881 and 1891, a mum a dad, two boys and a grandma. As far as I know no photographs exist of it in its heyday, so we’re left with imagination, and its outline on the OS map of 1849, which suggests something of the traditional Lancashire Longhouse design.

I wonder what became of the Brownlows, when they finally came down off the moor. These trees would have been much smaller then, and are now risen without help as impressive markers to past lives. This is still a gorgeous spot to pause, to enjoy the shade, while on the climb to Great Hill. I spent a while here with the camera. The sun was just about on the meridian, and the light harsh, but managed some passable shots.

Great Hill, West Pennine Moors

And while I was so close, I took in the top, surprised to find I had it to myself. When I was last up here, it was standing room only. But today the pubs were open after a long period of closure. Driving over, I’d passed one after the other, and the crowds were all sitting outside in summery colours, like they were glad to be alive. Myself, I still think it unwise, rushing back to the pubs. It’s hard I know, for more social types, and for whom the pub is as “English” as cricket and warm beer. But we’re balancing the risks of health against wealth – your health against the wealth of the hospitality lobby.

The plantations around Roddlesworth were busier on my return. At one point I was mobbed by a pack of excitable dogs. There must have been a dozen or more, all shapes and sizes, all off the lead, and running amok. A somewhat Bohemian looking couple came sauntering up, offering the usual oh, they’re just playing, they won’t touch you, platitudes. But I remembered how a guy I know had a lump torn out of his hand by his own dog, which was also “just playing”, so such reassurances don’t wash with me. Still, Covid, or a dog-bite? I suppose making way in life is always a balance of risk, set against that backdrop of an endlessly changing world. Something’s going to get you in the end. And we only escape the harshness of that fact in moments of contemplation, perhaps in transcendental company, amid the dappled shade of timeless trees.

Keep well. Graeme out.

Read Full Post »

gt hill

Great Hill, West Pennine Moors, from the Coppice Stile House ruins

Home territory today, ghosts and all – a walk up Great Hill in the Western Pennines. At 1250 feet it’s hardly Himalayan, but a shapely dome all the same, a seductive draw for the eye and a good stretch for a misty day in late December. We start mid-morning from the cricket ground at White Coppice, by the gash of the valley of Dean Brook with its dour gritstone crags. I’m intending a straight-forward hike up the moor to the Stile House, then Drinkwaters, and on to the top, returning via the ruins of Great Hill Farm – not really a day for exploring much, just striding out in familiar territory, and thinking.

With less than year to go now, I’m wondering what it’ll be like to retire early, and as I sit here in the car, gathering a head of steam to put my boots on, I have glimpses of a possible future in the dozens of old folk out with their dogs. I’ve wondered about a dog; I’m sure they’re good company, but they make me chesty and I couldn’t pick up their shit, plus a guy I know had his hand ripped open by his daft mutt the other day. It was only playing, I’m told, but the guy forgot the rules. The dog wins or else, and all these people here look like a similarly submissive species to me. No, theirs is not my future.

So here we go, bit of an odd man out, no dog. I have the camera – also odd these days – but you can’t expect good photographs with a mobile phone on a bleak day like this.  The new Scarpas are already muddy after a few other jaunts this winter, and are living up to their promises. I’ve not been well, actually, a weird virus about a week ago that began with a fever but failed to break into anything specific. It seems to have gone now though – plenty of wind in my sails at least. There’s just this odd feeling, a presence I’ve not felt in years.

Beatrice, is that you? I thought we were done with all that.

I’m talking stories here, you understamd?  I’m talking about myths, daemons, muses.

The Stile house has gone. They’ve all gone, the farms, the homesteads, just piles of rubble now. The Stile house was at times a farm, at times a pub, or both – and that it was a pub tells us this was once not the wide-open wasteland it is today. There was a bustle on the moors with farmers, miners, carriers. But then the land was bought for water catchment and none of the leases were renewed. A way of life, a people, all of it disappeared a hundred years ago leaving the moor as we see it today – desolate and uninhabited.

It must have been hard, scratching a living from the land up here, but they managed it; they peopled the moor, lent it life, ploughed, grew crops, bred animals. It was monied men in suits, sitting in far away cities who banished them with a flourish of the pen.

The Stile house resembles nothing more than a giant tumulus now, kept company by an old thorn tree, and it’s from here we get our first glimpse of the hill, just over a mile away. Cloud-base is around a thousand feet today, so it’s in and out of view as the mist scrapes by. We’ll be in it soon enough, and if Beatrice is indeed around, as I suspect she is, that’s where she’ll find me.

It’s rained all November, all December too, thus far, so the paths are heavy going. But come spring the moor will be dry as bones, and burning again. There seems no mid-curve averaging out to life these days, only the tail ends of either extreme.

dwfm

Drinkwaters Farm – West Pennine Moors

A decent track brings us to Drinkwaters farm, another ruin and welcoming with its line of fine Sycamores and its lush grass, kept green by generations of dung from the beasts they farmed here, all of this in contrast to the sour khaki of the reedy moor that does nothing now but graze sheep and catch water.

Third tree from the left, by the way. That’s me. If you want want me, centuries from now, that’s where I’ll be sitting, my back to that tree, watching the sun reach its zenith over the Round Loaf. But this is a popular spot with us locals, and I suspect I’ll have plenty for company.

We’re in the mist as soon as we set foot on the hill, and the wind carries us up. The path isn’t easy to lose, part paved now with re-purposed flagstones from derelict mills, and  already somewhat greasy from constant wet. The summit is a cross shelter amid a moat of mud, and it’s a parting of the ways.

gt hill fm

Great Hill Farm – West Pennine Moors

We take the path south, descend towards the blank, mist-addled space from which eventually would materialise Spitlers Edge. But before then we skirt west, around the base of the hill towards Great Hill farm, and another stand of bare Sycamores coming at us from out of the mist, the low gritstone ruins moist and mossy. I wonder, was the farm a cosy place? Did its fires manage to keep out the damp? Did the lamps burn a welcome in its windows? A hundred years gone, yes, but there’s still the echo of something Romantic.

Beatrice is here too, as I knew she would be. She is Victorian tweeds and a feminine sturdiness. She is Dorothy Wordsworth, she is Emily Bronte. She is Beatrice of the Lavender and the Rose. She is the flicker of a presence, inhabiting a corner of ones inner eye, her smile the lure, the trap to reel me in.

Yes, of course,… I know she’s not really here.

I sit a while in the mist, allow the imagination to restore life; bleak midwinter, the hill to our backs, cut off from the world below, there is nothing beyond the boundary of the gateless gate. I am a traveller, passing, uncertain of his way.

“Lost?” she asks.

She knows I am. That’s why she’s come looking, to fill in the gaps for me whether I like it or not. And on reflection, I do, I think,… like it.

I drift a little, mesmerised by the mist and the isolation, and the shapeliness of the bare Sycamores and the seductive flow of thought. I’m miles from anywhere, seen not a soul on the hill, but feel perfectly at home here. Then I’m walking, heading back to the multifarious profanities of the twenty first century. Did she take my arm awhile? What did she whisper as she hung close and warm?

Returning now to White Coppice, it has begun to rain, and there’s this miserable looking guy taking shelter in the cricket pavilion. I look to nod him my acquaintance, but he’s not in the mood and I’m ready to read his sullenness as an omen of mischance, that Beatrice was not here to counsel direction after all, but caution. But then there’s a girl coming up with what looks like a holly-wreath, or it could be laurels, something oddly pagan and evergreen about it. She’s young, fresh of face, beautiful. I try a smile and she responds with a warm hello, her eyes lit, a real sense of cheer and welcome for me, this passing stranger, freshly down,…

From winter on the hill.

Read Full Post »