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Posts Tagged ‘rural’

on harrock hillAfter a morning of torrential rain and gales, Saturday afternoon cleared to a bright, blustery, blue sky sort of day. It being a weekend, I didn’t fancy a walk anywhere near the honey-pot of the West Pennines. Instead, I kept it local, drove a short way along the little lanes that make up the somewhat dispersed community of Wrightington. Here, I parked up in a secret little lay-by and walked a network of muddy paths from there.

This is deepest, rural Lancashire, home to secret millionaires who live in tastelessly refurbished sandstone piles. They like to film your approach along the public ways with cameras on tall poles. I presume this is in case you’re of a mind to trespass, and make off with their possessions. I return the courtesy by photographing their ostentatious security, strictly for posterity of course. If they can film me without my permission, I can snap them. In a hundred years we’ll either be horrified people ever felt the need for such barbarity, or we’ll be laughing at such a quaint deterrent when they can zap you with lasers instead, and no questions asked.

There were two events of note this weekend, the most important and exciting being I had taken delivery of a second-hand lens for the camera, from Ebay – a longish zoom at a bargain price! It can be dodgy buying from an unknown seller online, so I wanted to try the lens before the two week no-quibble-returns thing ran out. The second event of course was an announcement from Number 10, regarding another, much heralded, national shut down. But as I parked the car amid the fall of leaves, and tied on my boots, the latter was just a rumour. If true, I suspected it would not be so severe as was being reported, especially since Lancashire is already under the most severe restrictions anyway. Personally, I was concerned only that we should have crystal clarity over the extent of our continued liberty to get out and walk.

The pubs and restaurants would be closed this time, I thought, and, thinking further, and with a long head, that would have everyone flocking back up to the West Pennines for something to do, so I’d not be venturing there in a while. I would have to find other venues, closer to home, like Harrock Hill for example, get my mugshot better known on those millionaires’ cameras.

As you move inland from the sea, say from Southport, the first hills you encounter are not the Western Pennines, but Parbold, Highmoor and Harrock, the latter famed for its ruined windmill. The southern loop of the Lancashire way passes by this fine old ruin, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find it, so much has the woodland grown up now and obscured it, obscuring also the views across the plain. It’s still a worthy destination for an afternoon though.

The lens was performing well. Zooming in certainly gives you a different perspective on things, isolating interesting bits of landscape, a stately group of trees for example, eliminating the clutter of telegraph poles and pylons. It’s interesting how we can colour a scene more by what we leave out, than what we leave in.

buzz 1As an older lens it’s a little slow to focus, but landscapes don’t move about much, so it’ll suit me fine. At one point a buzzard took off in a huff at my passing and I managed a shot of it as it slid across the meadow.  The auto-focus tracked it well, so it’s reasonably sharp, but I  fluffed the exposure – dark bird against a bright sky – so I didn’t capture it in all its beauty.

I’m back where I was in my twenties then, carrying a big zoom, having full-circled from the portability of point and shoots. It’s fine – I don’t climb many mountains now – and am older of course, yet the eye seems to be drawn by the same things: by a spill of light under a low sun, by a stand of ancient trees against the blue, by the shape of a hill, and the character expressed in the simple curve of a path.

I’ve lived around here all my life, toured these lanes by bicycle as a kid, by motorbike as a teen, and by car, but there are still nooks and crannies of surprise. The approaches to Harrock are plentiful from any direction, and amenable to circular exploration.

buzz 2I was still making my way down the hill when the PM’s announcement was rumoured to be due, so I thought I might have missed it. But it was delayed several times, and I was able to catch it in the early evening. I’m leaving off the partisanship here. We cannot turn back the clock, and we are where we are.

The bit I was listening for was:

You may only leave home for specific reasons, including: For education; For work, say if you cannot work from home; For exercise and recreation outdoors, with your household or on your own with one person from another household,…

That’s clear enough for me.

As for how far we can travel away from home for exercise – well I’m not sure about that bit. I’m guessing the tier three rules apply, and if not then I’ll apply them anyway, unless otherwise appraised – meaning it’s “advised” I’m confined to Lancashire, until further orders. I’ve no problem with that. Yes, I’m missing the Dales and the Lakes, but there’s still air enough to breathe here, and not that far from my doorstep. 

Think while walking, walk while thinking, and let writing be but the light pause, as the body on a walk rests in contemplation of wide open spaces.

Frédéric Gros

 Goodnight all. Graeme out.

 

 

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jefferies[1]

My most treasured book by Richard Jeffries is not this one but a fragile early edition of The Amateur Poacher, (1879). The Amateur Poacher is a collection of essays detailing bucolic life around Jeffries’ native Coates, in Wiltshire and is cherished for its evocation of a rural England now lost. But there’s something else in it, not so much written as alluded to through the intensity and the beauty of Jeffries’ prose. What that is exactly is hard to describe but many have felt it, and wondered,…

Let us get out of these indoor, narrow modern days, whose twelve hours somehow have become shortened, into the sunlight and the pure wind. A something that the ancients called divine can be found and felt there still.

Traditional ideas of spirituality and religion are but the ossified remains of this ineffable thing the ancients called “divine”, but it’s still present in the world and can be felt anywhere where the last sleepy cottage slips from view, where we can immerse ourselves once more in nature and intensify our experience of it through the lens of the psyche as well as the senses.  Jeffries allows that nature can be cultivated – meadows, coppices, fields of wheat – it does not have to be wilderness. It’s the life-energy in it that’s important to the soul, while the built world – the towns, the cities – are dead places more associated with the soul’s decay.

The nature of this ineffable “something” haunted Jeffries. While it’s hinted at throughout his writings, it’s here in “The Story of my heart” he attempts a more direct understanding of it. It’s not an easy book to summarise and must really be experienced, so there’s little I can do here but grant a flavour of it.

Written in the intense and emotional language of a prose poem, the book treats mankind as a being both of and keenly attuned to beauty, also as something apart from the world and capable of great perfection on our own terms, both physically and mentally. Nature, on the other hand, though at times ravishing to the senses, is more reflective of something within us, while being of itself blind to our existence. Though not intentionally cruel, nature can easily harm us. Also when we see the low creeping forms of life, it can be ugly, even offensive to the soul. Only superficially then can we describe Jeffries as a nature mystic. He does not deify nature, more something in man that’s higher than anything we can imagine.

“The sea does not make boats for us,” he says, “nor the earth of her own will build us hospitals.”

But for all our efforts with boats and hospitals in the last twelve thousand years, we’ve done nothing more than struggle for subsistence. Yet if we put our minds to it we might harvest in a single year enough to feed the entire world for decades. That we don’t suggests a deep failing, that we allow ourselves to be perversely distracted by everything that is bad for us, deliberately avoiding the need for cultivating the soul-life. Instead, we eulogise enslavement to largely meaningless and unproductive work.

He describes observing traffic in London, the crowds the carriages, the mad, rushing crush of it, everyone driven by an insatiable craving for motion and direction. Yet for all of that, he says, we are going nowhere, and shall continue to do so: while money, furniture, affected show and the pageantry of wealth are the ambitions of the multitude.

He sees the general human condition as one of perpetual ignorance and suffering,… so great, so endless, so awful that I can hardly write of it. He dismisses religion in all its forms, also the idea of deity entirely on the basis of the evidence,… that there is not the least trace of directing intelligence in human affairs.

Our miseries are our own doing, he insists, and we must own them: because you have mind and thought, and could have prevented them. You can prevent them in future. You do not even try.

For us to progress, he urges us to reconnect with the higher mind, what he calls the “mind of the mind” – this being the soul, or the psyche because:

The mind is infinite and able to understand everything that is brought before it. The limit is the littleness of the things and the narrowness of the ideas put for it to consider.

Neither religion nor the physical sciences can offer us anything in this regard, those modes of thinking being completely wide of the mark. But as one who has felt the full blistering force of his own higher nature, Jeffries cannot be wholly pessimistic about our lot either, only lamenting that we need a quantum leap in understanding if we are not to spend another twelve thousand years going around in circles.

But while he tries his eloquent best to tell us the story of his heart, the abiding impression of this book is of an exquisitely sensitive man beset all his life by visions and feelings of such sublime loveliness they left him virtually speechless.

I was sensitive to all things, the earth under, and the star-hollow round about; to the last blade of grass, to the largest oak. They seemed like exterior nerves and veins for the conveyance of feeling to me.

Branded heretical in his time, pilloried by the Church for his paganism, and by urbanites for his unflattering views of London, the book did not sell well and many critics dismissed it as unintelligible. But for others, including me, Jeffries’ prose describes most powerfully those things all sensitive countryphiles have felt, and which we know point to a greater understanding of our place in the Cosmos – if only, like him, we could open our hearts to it properly, and find the words.

*[Richard Jeffries, English nature-writer, novelist, natural historian. 1848-1887]

For more information about Richard Jeffries you can do no better than to click here.

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greenbeltOne of the recurrent emotional themes in my life’s story is that of lamenting the loss of green spaces treasured since childhood and, by association, I presume a good deal of my self with them.

I was fortunate growing up in rural England, meadows and woodland on my doorstep, an ancient space I could disappear into the whole day long, a space that responded to childhood imagination and to the later private poet – the spirits of place alive and well and taking me into their confidence.

As I grew, the woods and meadows seemed an immutable fact, an anchor to a solid bedrock, holding me steady. No matter what else happened, they would be the same, their familiarity a salve for the occasional humiliations meted out by the pitiless ogre of growing up. If I felt threatened, anxious, lonely, I could simply walk those familiar ways, pick up the company of my ghosts and emerge easier in my head.

Life has not taken me away from my roots. I settled locally, settled into a career within easy commuting distance, married a local girl, bought a house, had children. I realise I have somehow existed well into my sixth decade in this small circle, in the north of England. It feels familiar, intimate, safe. But in that time those meadows have also suffered from the scourge of greenbelt erosion. There are now vast housing estates intruding upon my past, and I curse them, because I want my past to remain inviolable. I’ve watched the diggers moving into one meadow after the other and felt something akin to grief at their destruction – each bit of green a life taken, a spirit of place evicted. Precious,… irreplaceable.

The other side of this argument runs that as populations increase there is an inevitable demand for new houses. There is nothing we can do to prevent it. If it were not ‘my’ meadows disappearing, it would be someone else’s. And lately it’s made me suspicious the way I become angry at this thing I cannot possibly do anything about. So I ask myself, is it that I treasure the place, or merely the past versions of my ‘self’ I imagine it represents? Do I champion the breathing space and the freedom it affords me, or is it more I am imprisoned by it?

There is a world of beautiful, open space out there – just not on my doorstep. All I have is that bit of space I’ve got. So the question is, in my lament for its loss, am I restricting the person I might otherwise be?

I read a line in a book recently, that we are indeed whomever we allow ourselves to be, that through fear of the unknown, we risk keeping ourselves small. We choose the familiar path, keep to the places we know rather than venture abroad, try out the new, the unfamiliar, and grow. This is the mantra of the entrepreneur of course, of the big-shot businessman – nothing ventured, nothing gained. You too could be a millionaire, and all that,… and if you’re not it’s because you didn’t think big enough, that you wasted your life, that instead of lamenting the vast housing estates blanketing the once virgin green, you should be the one building them!

It depends how you measure success of course, but I take the point.

But still, I suspect the bigger point is this, that the obstacle to self growth is more the inability to let go of what must inevitably change – change into a form we no longer recognise or connect with. Everything changes, and we must change with it, and not view the change in it, or in us as being in any way important. It may cause us deep regret, but it just is.

Small circles, big circles – they’re are the all same. Live your whole life in one little town, or circle the globe. But it is the singularity at their centre that’s important, also that we take the trouble now and then to seek it out. How to find the centre of a circle? Euclid might give us a clue, something to do with bisecting chords is one method I recall, but that’s for the circles other people draw for you. The centre of our own circle is always wherever we happen to be standing at the time.

blake-newton

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