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on smearsett scar

On Smearset Scar

There’s this soft wintry light, and a mostly clear sky, tending to a tobacco haze around the full sweep of the horizon. The sun is past the meridian now, the short day already maturing to shades of buttery mistiness. The hills and valleys are rendered in dynamic sweeps of luminous green and yellow-ochre as the light plays upon them, and all the crags and the long runs of dry-stone wall are etched in sharp relief by that pale, low slanting sun.

We can only be in the Yorkshire Dales, on top of Smearsett Scar to be precise. This is a fine hill, tucked away from casual view, though not far from the little market-town of Settle and I’m surprised it isn’t better known. We’ve seen no one on the trail since leaving the car an hour ago. I’m sure it’s well loved by Dalesmen hereabouts, but I suspect the day-tripping peak bagger is more likely to be on the hunt for bigger fish. Sure, they’ve been tearing up the Ribble to Horton since before dawn, in search of the three peaks, and that well worn circuit of the damned on which I’ve been casually bowled aside on more than one occasion. Meanwhile glorious Smearset here gets barely a look in, but I’m not complaining.

Adjoining Smearsett, to the west, we have Pot scar, its summit pricking the tranquil skyline with an inviting cairn, and between the two a precipitous escarpment falling away to the south. Thus far the climb has rewarded us with exquisite views and a sense of exhilaration out of all proportion to the relatively modest altitude and effort required to get here. We’ve left the car in Stainforth, and in a bit I’ll be taking you across the fell, to that cairn on Pot Scar, then down to the little hamlet of Feizor for a brew in the cafe there, then finally back along the valley. It’s an outing of between six and eight miles, depending on our choice of return, and already on its way to becoming one of the finest walks I’ve done in the Dales – apart from all the others of course.

Although there are good paths running either side of the hill, there was little on the map to actually guide us to the top – no well worn routes on the ground either, but on a fine day like this all became clear, and it was fairly easy to pick our way. We did the right thing, I think, tackling it from the north where that track runs up from Little Stainforth and gave us a good start on the day, plus spring-boarding a less precipitous approach to the summit. Our first glimpse of Smearsett from the Ribble was quite intimidating, but on closer acquaintance the ground proved easy enough and just a short detour to the trig-point at 363 meters.

And what a summit! What a fine sweep of the Dales! But don’t let that sunshine deceive you, this is December, closing down on the Solstice now, and not much heat in it. So don’t worry, I’m not for lingering any longer than the time it takes to grab a quick photograph or two. But in Summer this will be a grand place to settle down in the grass, to feel the  sun’s caress, and listen to the high twittering rapture of skylarks.

towards pot scar

Pot scar from Smearsett

So,… it’s an airy walk westwards now at an easy pace along the undulating escarpment, a route that seems little used, but we’re granted the courtesy of good stiles built into the various drystone walls to aid our passage, and to join the dots between vague twists of path. Pot Scar ends in precipitous crags above Feizor and a stout, bounding wall that tells us we must have missed a more obvious way off. But an easy detour north brings us back onto that track running up from Little Stainforth, and leads us safely into Feizor, amid the most spectacular rolling hills and limestone crags.

There’s a splendid little teashop here, and I know I’ve been promising you a pot of tea and a toastie all the while, but sadly on arrival we find there’s not a table to be had. It seems there are visitors a plenty in the Dales today, just none on the fell. So we must press on – a long but easy track now, south and east through pastures and valleys, in the first gatherings of twilight and deepening shadow, down to Stackhouse, and the weir on the Ribble.

heron at stackhouse

The weir at Stackhouse, on the River Ribble

There’s a Heron, fishing at Stackhouse. It looks ever so stately and aloof while I pause to admire its ungainly grace and to chance a photograph. It grants me the courtesy of a lingering pose, the epitome of patience, though I’d be less inclined to be so admiring if this turned out to be same Heron that took all my goldfish in the summer. Such is life. It’s all about context, I suppose.

We finish the walk with an easy stroll upstream to the falls at Stainforth, and a sudden prospect that’s like something from an old master’s painting – the thundering rapids and the sweep of the river above them running ponderously black, spanned by an ancient and slender stone arch of a bridge. There’s just one last slice of amber warming up the far bank as the day winds down to dusk now, the scene mostly deserted, but I imagine come summer this will be a popular little spot.

stainforth falls

The falls at Stainforth

I’m not sure how a walk earns the title “Classic” but this one has to be a contender. I know, I always say that. At the very least it’s been a grand day out, and just a pity we didn’t manage to crown it with that brew in Feizor. But no bother, let’s burn up that last half mile to the car, then we can get our boots off and cool our feet. We’ll call at the Naked Man Cafe in Settle on the way home. I’ll treat you to a brew there instead, and a toasted teacake as darkness comes on and the old town lights itself up for Christmas, all twinkly and magical!

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There was some debate over whether or not the Baby Trump blimp (AKA Hairpiece One) would be allowed to fly over London in response to the visit of POTUS  this week. But permission has now been granted and I’m pleased as it shows that, in spite of the world being in free-fall these days, we British have still not lost our sense of humour. It’s an unflattering likeness for sure, but one done in that age old satirical tradition, a visual raspberry to deflate an arch display of pomposity and bombast.

The thing with laughter is it can defuse anger, and thereby restore a sense of reason that might otherwise be swept away by stronger, darker emotions. Laughter is important . We laugh, then pause to wonder more soberly and deeply where the world has gone wrong in recent years, and why of a sudden there’s so much hate and spittle flying about.

The above Youtube clip is of an interview given by Owen Jones, on the BBC’s Newsnight program. Owen is a regular political commentator, a respected journalist, and columnist for the Guardian Newspaper. Very much to the left of the political centre Owen is here voicing his support for the flight of “Hairpiece One”, against an opposing view from a POTUS supporter.

But what struck me most of all were the comments that followed this clip. I use Youtube a lot, and in return it mines my deepest Freudian cavities for personalised marketing opportunities. Its largely unmoderated and immoderate commentary is also notoriously sickening, therefore daunting for polite company to wade through, and actually quite useless in rational debate,  so I rarely bother with it. Except this time I found it upsetting. The fact of its anonymity of course invites all manner of cowardly and ill judged sniping. But there we are.

In the case of the “Hairpiece One” piece, the comments section predictably acted as a lightning rod for the loud energy of the intolerant, the misogynistic, the racist and the merely ignorant tendencies. In short, there was such a lot of hate – ill informed, indeed juvenile and no one of any intelligence would enter into debate with it, but it’s still worth taking note of because I see dangers in it.

The piece was discussing the rights and wrongs of flying a satirical balloon over London as a means of peaceful protest against a world leader whose policies are controversial to say the least, a leader buoyed along upon comments that seem to come exclusively from the mouths of angry white men, utterly entrenched in their unswerving hatred of almost everything that they are not: towards Gay people, people of colour, people of intelligence, people of left leaning liberal values, people of the Muslim faith – hatred towards British people too, of how our capital is a war-zone, the streets running with blood, of how badly our National Health system “sucks”, and it’s all our fault for being “soft ” on immigration and not taking up the same draconian policies of POTUS, which would make us great again! And more, I read of the visceral hate of “communism”, and it’s usual tiresomely inaccurate conflation with “socialism”, all of these being echoes from recent conservative news-media tropes, and all of them expressed in the most vile, inebriate public-house language. It’s if one had slipped the catch on a huge, overstuffed Bluebeard’s cupboard and been buried in an avalanche of nefarious material that would be better unseen by polite company.

All this the result of a visit to the UK by POTUS.

So is it better in the open, then we know what the incoming tide is bringing with it? Of course, a hundred vile comments do not represent the views of the silent majority of American citizens, some of whom I’ve had the great pleasure of speaking to and meeting virtually via this media. But what shocks me is the subliminal energy behind those comments, and the risk those nominated to lead, or guard our flanks – the policemen, the border patrols, the military, become infiltrated by that same shallow, hateful mindset. In short we should be careful to whom we grant the keys of the nation, lest they go berserk in the lockings up. Some might say it’s too late, that the Genie is out of the bottle now and he’s not for going back in. Naturally I hope that’s not the case, nor that it presages the loss of yet another generation and much bloodletting to flay the demons of hate out of existence for yet another century.

Love and compassion won’t always trump evil. But it’s better than joining in with the hate. I wish Hairpiece One well, and all who sail in her.

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