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yarrow reservoir 1

The Yarrow Reservoir

So, we’re leaving the car by the Yarrow reservoir this afternoon, tucked into one of the cuttings along Parson’s Bullough road. It’s a cold sun sort of day, enough to tease us outdoors, but the daffodils are looking shivery, so we’ll need to zip up. There’s a good light on the reservoir, and the sun just low enough now for the contrasts to be interesting.

The Yarrow reservoir: late Victorian period, built to supply water to Liverpool and, along with its much larger neighbours, the Anglezarke and the Rivington reservoirs, it was all something of a tragedy if you consider the land and the farms and the homes that were sacrificed to progress hereabouts. But they’ve been an unchanging fixture of my own life and, as far as reservoirs go, they’re beautiful and have bedded in well.

This afternoon’s jaunt will cover about three miles, where we’ll find a varied and fast changing scenery of moors and meadows, woods and running water, also a few dark tales along the way.

yarrow reservoir mapWe start with a bit of quiet road-walking, first across Alance Bridge, which spans the tail end of the reservoir. You sometimes get idiot kids tomb-stoning from the bridge in the summer, but it achieved a different kind of notoriety a few years back when murderers crept out of one the darker cracks of Bolton and attempted to dispose of a body by dropping it over the side here. It’s not a story I’m happy to be adding to local lore, and it reminds me these remoter stretches of Lancashire are perhaps best not explored after dark.

Next comes the climb up Hodge Brow, eventually passing an old barn on our left. This is a queer building, marked as Morris House on early six inch maps. I’ve known it variously as a ruin, then a bunkhouse and more lately a millionaires des-res project that’s stalled and has now lain empty for years. It looks about another winter away from the weather getting in too. There are warnings of spycams. This is a bleak corner, the wind unchecked, roaring down off Anglezarke moor to rattle the tiles – pretty enough in Summer, I suppose, but I don’t think I’d want to over-winter here.

Past Morris’ we’re onto Dean Head Lane, a narrow cut of a road, water pooling in the reedy hedgrows as it drains from the moor. It’ll take us on to the pretty little village of Rivington eventually, or up by Sheephouse Lane and Hoorden Stoops, to the more populous Belmont. There are fine views of Anglezarke to the north and, further off to the east is Noon and Winter Hill – something shaggy and frigid about them this afternoon though, in spite of the sun, like they’re hung over or still grumpy after the summer heath fires.

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The path by Dean Wood

At Wilkocks farm (1670), we cut down the path along by Dean Wood which skirts the deep ravine in which the wood nestles. I’ve often fancied a closer look at the wood as legend has it there’s a fine cascade hiding in there, but this place is considered so precious to the region, it’s sealed off and managed as a secure nature reserve – access by permission only, and you’d better have a good reason for asking.

There’s something creepy about the path, an old story about a farm labourer coming along here in the early nineteen hundreds. He felt a “presence” behind him, then turned to see, in his own words, the devil “horns and all”. Terrified, he ran to Rivington and told his tale, swearing all was true. Three months later they found his body at the bottom of the ravine in Dean Wood having apparently fallen from the path around where he claimed to have had his near miss with old Nick.

It’s a story recounted first, I believe, in John Rawlinson’s “About Rivington” and I’ve been careful not to add anything of my own to it here. Writers usually can’t help embellishing where they feel a story lacks detail. What I will say though is reports of such Forteana tend to cluster in the liminal zones, and this one certainly fits that pattern: the open meadows coming down to the edge of the wood, and then the deep ravine itself forming a void of air, all of which  makes for a fine transition from one thing to another.

One theory is we “imagine” such apparitions, but that doesn’t make them any less real, at least not to those experiencing them. On a fine sunny afternoon like this it’s just a story of uncertain vintage – no names, no precise dates, so it’s impossible to research more fully. To my knowledge Old Nick hasn’t been seen again around Dean Wood, but would I come down here at dead of night? Well, let’s just say, I’d be tempted to go another way.

I remember John Rawlinson as a kindly and wise old gentleman – a leading light of the Chorley Historical and Archeological Society, also a good friend of my father’s, both of them a half century gone now, both legends in their own way and loving every inch of the moors hereabouts.

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Turner Embankment – Yarrow Reservoir

After offering us tantalising glimpses of the forbidden, sylvan delights of Dean Wood, and hopefully avoiding any diabolical disturbance, the path brings us out into open meadows and with a fine view of the Yarrow reservoir, overlooking the somewhat angular Turner Embankment, so named after the house that was demolished to make way for it. Rawlinson tells us the house was most likely salvaged, and the materials put into building Dean Wood house, which nestles in a cosy bower just to our left here. There’s something pleasing about the close-mown lines of the embankment, I think,  with the trees still bare against the sky and the foreground meadows all lit by late afternoon sunshine.

Now we’re off along Dean Wood lane, through a fine avenue of chestnuts, just coming into leaf, and there’s a clear brook tinkling alongside us for company. We can walk on to Rivington from here, perhaps have a brew at the chapel tea rooms, but that’s for another day. Today we’ll take the path around the Yarrow instead, which we could follow pretty much all the way back to the car if we wanted, but if you don’t mind, I want to make a bit of a detour because I can hear the rumble of water and I suspect the spillway is running.

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The Yarrow Reservoir overflow

The Yarrow spillway is a spectacular feature hereabouts, a series of cascading steps that takes the excess from the Yarrow and feeds it with style into the Anglezarke reservoir. It isn’t often running these days, but there’s a good bit of water today, and it’s always worth a photograph, especially now with the sun settling upon it and adding a golden glow to the highlights.

I try a couple of shots with the lens wide open and manage 1/2000th of a second on the shutter. This has a dramatic effect on the capture of water, freezing it and rendering an image that’s essentially true but something the eye wouldn’t normally see. There must be thousands of shots of these falls on Instagram and Flikr, and a good many of them mine, but I never tire of it.

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F1.8 – 1/2000 sec

Okay, it’s just a short way now back to Parson’s Bullough and the car. Then it’s boots off, and home for a brew. A pleasant walk in familiar territory, but always something a little different to see.

Just one last look back at that gorgeous spillway, and we’re done:

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daimonic realityFairies, flying saucers, angels, visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, ghosts, crop circles and other assorted Forteana; it’s all fascinating stuff, even if you don’t believe in any of it, but as Patrick Harpur tells us in the opening of this book, these are not topics for respectable discussion. Intellectually they’re shunned, relegated to the idle conversations and the popular beliefs of “ordinary people”. Yet here too, we find certain of these things to be ‘in vogue’ while others are ‘out’.

Talk of the Faerie, for example, at least outside of the West of Ireland, might get you laughed at, while it’s odds on we all have a compelling ghost story or two to tell and will solicit from our listener a rapt attention, even if neither of us believes in ghosts. Strange that, don’t you think?

Me? I still have a fondness for the nostalgia of the Faerie, but I put that down to my Celtic ancestry. Then again belief in the objective reality of angels is widespread in the United States, but far less so in Europe. As for those poor old fairies, they seem antiquated now, replaced by talk of flying saucers and aliens which in turn seem suspiciously contemporaneous with our own development of space technology and powerful weaponry.

What this suggests is there’s a cultural dimension to anomalous phenomena, and it is to this that Patrick Harpur draws our attention. But rather than seeking to prove or disprove the existence of such things, he tells us such an obsession is to miss the point, that indeed to become embroiled with the ins and outs, say of flying saucers, or crop circles, is to follow a path of ever decreasing circles, one in which the daemonic will have a field day with your emotions, and even your sanity. Instead, he says, the importance lies at a deeper level, in the realms of  the collective psyche, and it’s only when we attain such a transcendent perspective do we see patterns emerging, that the bewildering multiplicity of the Forteana themselves are all expressions of the same thing, indicative of a breaking through of the ‘Daemonic’ into waking reality.

Harpur uses the term Daemonic here in the purely psychological sense, meaning a constellation of apparently autonomous psychical or ‘imaginative’ energy, and not to be confused with ‘Demonic’ in the more religious sense, meaning something entirely malevolent. In other words the Daemons and their associated Fortean manifestations are figments of the imagination, but this is not to dismiss them as unreal, because people are always reporting things they cannot explain. The problem, says Harpur, is our understanding of and our respect for the power of the human imagination.

We all possess an imagination, but this is built upon a foundation of the collective imagination of our culture, which is bounded and shaped by its traditions and by its myths. But, says Harpur, the myths themselves arise from a deeper layer still, one that has its own reality, independent of whether we can ‘imagine’ it or not, or believe in it or not, and it’s from this place the Forteana – the Daemons – arise to beguile and at times frighten us.

The idea of a ‘non-literal’, purely imaginary reality is a difficult one to grasp. The ego must reject it, for even if it were to exist, it would seem, from its reported manifestations, to be a very chaotic place, totally unhelpful to our rational and scientific enterprise, so we had better shun it, demonise it, or society will surely fall apart. But in the same way as when we suppress troublesome thoughts they come back at us as neuroses, so too shunning the Daemonic causes it to break through and disturb the smooth running of our rational lives. In this way the Daemons, manifesting as Forteana, can be viewed as a kind of collective neurosis.

In order to understand this better, Harpur takes us back to the lessons of Greek myth, which, in a nut-shell comes down to having a respect for the independent reality of an imaginary realm as described in stories of the interrelations between a pantheon of Daemonic deities and their various goings on, also of an ‘otherworld’, the place the soul journeys to after death, or nightly in dreams.

These realms exist, says Harpur, but not literally so, not objectively, yet if we deny them in ourselves, or collectively as a society, the Daemonic will find ways of challenging the smugness of our preconceptions regarding the true nature of that reality. Things will go bump in the night, we will see flying saucers, and the most extraordinary crop circles will come pepper our growing crops every summer, and we will fall out endlessly over whether it’s men with rollers doing it, or some other mysterious agency.

Contrary to popular belief, those most inclined to flights of imaginative fancy are least likely to be doorstepped by the supernatural. To exercise the imagination, for example in the pursuit of the creative arts, say writing or painting, seems sufficient to propitiate the Daemons and keep them on our side. On the other hand, it is the hard headed refuseniks with blunted imaginations the Daemons are more likely to tease by revealing themselves in whatever forms they can borrow from the collective psyche. A healthier approach then is for us to give such things some headroom, grant them the courtesy of a little respect, even if we do not entirely believe in them.

As with all Harpur’s books, I found this one a hugely enlightening read. It is a deeply thought, seminal thesis and lays the ground for his later and similarly themed “Philosopher’s Secret Fire – A History of the Imagination”. It has a foundation in Jungian psychology, Romanticism and Myth, all of which makes for fascinating reading, and for further reading if you’re so inclined. But if you’re hung up on any one topic of the supernatural in particular, seeking to winkle out concrete proof of its objective reality, the book is unlikely to satisfy you.

Indeed by telling you supernatural events are essentially imaginary, you may be so indignant you’ll miss the more profound message regarding the subtle reality of the imaginal realm itself. You’ll miss the core insight that the difference between the literal and the non-literal is at times not so easily discerned, that the one sometimes bleeds through into the other, and the proper place for a human being, psychologically speaking, is with our head in both camps, then we can tell the difference, discern perhaps a glimmer of meaning in it, and hopefully live as we should.

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