September, Blackshaw Parish


Michael and I step out into the warm equinoctial sunshine and take the track up through Knott Wood. The ascent out of the narrow and steep-sided valley bottom of Calderdale is always something of an ordeal, but catching up with a friend I haven’t seen for some time proves a perfect way of mitigating it, and we quickly dispatch the steepness and emerge above the woodland. I stop us at a favourite spot, affording a view of Hebden Bridge, nestling in its confluence of cloughs, bristling with redundant mill chimneys, swaddled in valley side woodlands.

We continue up the track, bordered on one side by spent brambles, pillaged by blackberryers and blackbirds of all their plump and polished fruits, and on the other by a half-avenue of hawthorns hung with terracotta haws yet to reach their full autumnal livid scarlet. On we go, up across cattle and sheep pastures to the farm of Pry. I wait on the rotting and treacherously unstable stile for the usual gruff greeting from the sheepdogs, but they must be at work elsewhere, so we pass through the farmyard and then cross Badger Lane into more pastures.

We unintentionally herd a flock of sheep over the skyline, which we crest shortly after them to look down over the scattered farmhouses of the Colden Valley, and then angle down across fields and walls to join the Pennine Way. As we start down the final plunging descent to the Colden Water I catch movement on the fast flowing stream below us. I stop and scan across a band of white water, and find a kingfisher on one of the rapid’s rocks. Before Michael has pulled his binoculars from his bag it skims across the water to a sycamore branch above a still and shadowed bend, presumably a favourite branch from which to fish when the picnickers and walkers disappear. We descend in hope of getting a further view, but we have no cover and within a few steps its incandescent blue has flared upstream.

We finish the descent into the improbably idyllic dell of Hebble Hole and sit for our sandwiches on one of the four monoliths that make up the three hundred year-old clapper bridge. Crowding over us are the first of the oaks and sycamores of the woodland that fills the Colden Valley for its remaining one-and-a-half miles to the River Calder. Hidden along its length amongst the seemingly wild woodland are the remains of six cotton mills, their chimneys projecting through the close canopy. Upstream, four more mills moulder beneath the moors. This idyll is very much post-industrial.

We make the steep pull out of the valley, climbing up out of the pastures onto the heather moorland of Hot Stones Hill. Here a much more expansive panorama opens up of the Calder-Aire watershed; from Hoof Stones Height to Midgley Moor our eyes follow the gentle swells of fifteen unbroken miles of moorland.

We walk along the moor for a while, our feet springing lightly on the peat, then descend a sunken, sedge-filled lane for a visit to May’s Shop, the smallest, remotest, best-stocked and most cheerfully-staffed shop in the area. Housed in a small outbuilding of High Gate Farm, it has been open every day except Christmas Day for over 40 years. I lead Michael in and draw his attention to its eclectic magazine rack, exceptional alcohol selection, shelves of traditional sweets in jars and, above the groceries, the vacuum cleaner spare parts, packets of curtain rings and all manner of other offerings pinned to the walls. We take a couple of Bakewell slices from the bakery counter to the picnic bench outside, spreading the map out to plot our next move.

We descend back into the valley to re-cross the Colden Water at Jack Bridge, passing the village school and the New Delight Inn, then climb back up the valley’s southern side to Blackshaw Head. I take us through the field beside the Methodist chapel where, three weeks before, the parish’s late summer fete was held. I recount the produce tent triumphs of Clare with her chutney and strawberry jam, and Bertie with his jar of flowers, decorated buns and potatoes. I take care not to claim any unjustified share of their glory, making clear that my contributions every year are limited to writing the jar labels and taking the entries up in the morning for judging.

Having crossed the watershed between the Colden Water and the Calder we descend again, down ancient flagged paths worn into a shallow trough by wayfarers and water, past the 17th century yeoman farmhouse of Hippins and deep into Jumble Hole Clough. Like the Colden Valley, this thickly-wooded cleft in Calderdale’s southern hillside was once a centre of industry; its stream, which plummets five hundred feet in just three quarters of a mile, powered four mills. We quickly arrive at the topmost of these, Staups Mill. For a century the rattling clamour of its four hundred spindles joined with the thundering rush of the stream which powered them. For the century since, the stream has roared on beside the silenced ruin.

Its sound drops away below us as we take a path that cleaves to a contour and slings us out of the clough and onto the valley side. The late afternoon sun illuminates the woods as we pass the small graveyard of the long-demolished Mount Olivet Chapel. Behind the iron railings lie forty-eight bodies, twelve of which are of children younger than Bertie, not yet three years old.

We plunge down the valley side past decaying remnants of our predecessor’s toil: derelict houses and crumbling field walls, empty gate stoops and obsolete mill goits, and pastures that are now woodlands strewn with the bleached bird bones of the spring bluebells. But through these layers of loss we arrive in Hebden Bridge, where at least some of these remnants are preserved, restored and repurposed to write new chapters in the history of this remarkable palimpsest Pennine valley.

  • PJK
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

September, (to and) from and to (and from) Hebden Bridge


We’re almost at the end of this series of adventures in miniature, and although not all the walks we’ve written about have been done in splendid isolation, we haven’t up to this point been for a walk together for the whole of the last year. For the final pair of instalments we spent a very enjoyable afternoon in and around Hebden Bridge.

My own experience of the day was bookended by car journeys from and back to Glossop. Neither was particularly unpleasant, and they didn’t seem unduly long since I’ve just started a new job that requires frequent three-hour commutes. Those are by train, which of course affords plentiful reading time, but as a substitute today’s trip was narrated by Hugh Fraser reading to me about the exploits of Agatha Christie’s number one fictional Belgian, Hercule Poirot. And you’d have to go a lot further than Yorkshire to find a more pleasant way to spend a few hours than that.

Walking boots seem to become useless about a fortnight after they reach the peak of their comfort and these recent replacements still have quite a long way to go. Their crime may only be that they are not already seven years old. Today they continue their initiation.

A striking feature of the day, both on foot and by road, was hills. Mainly, if memory serves, going up. It can’t be denied that this sort of thing, as we reluctantly agreed at the time, is necessary for achieving the best views. And there were certainly some doozies; I think some of them might even have been vistas.

From the highest points we saw clusters of electricity-generating wind turbines on nearby hills across one valley and reflected on the conditions in which the building of such structures is justifiable. My companion spends his professional life considering questions just such as this, so I was, as usual when we talk, left with rich food for thought.

The view across another valley revealed the tower of the monument on Stoodley Pike in Todmorden. Built to commemorate the fall of Napoleon’s Paris, the original collapsed at the outbreak of war in Crimea after having narrowly survived a lightning strike.  Paul reckons some bloke reckons it’s Masonic. That’s good enough for me.

We wondered about the correct geological term for the network of folded, variegated valleys that characterize the head of these dales. The landscape is on a larger scale than the corner of the High Peak where I live; there are certainly hills at home, but you have to go a bit out of the town – ideally to the south – before they start to roll and spread out. South West Yorkshire takes the hills and spreads them out over a wider area. I can’t help but see Postman Pat trundling his van round stone-walled lanes even on those few occasions when he isn’t in fact doing that. My first thought on seeing this kind of Yorkshire landscape is always that it is more dramatic than at home; I can’t quite escape that feeling, but I’m persuaded that ‘dramatic’ is the wrong word. It sprawls more, but it does a weaker job of looming and my impression is that there are more trees to soften the edges.

Throughout the afternoon we didn’t mention sheep at all, despite walking through several fields of the things. Here they are recorded for posterity. Not by name, I’m afraid – we didn’t talk about them, never mind to them. They certainly contributed to the atmosphere; I hope they’d be satisfied to hear that.

In a general way one of the highlights of the walk was seeing the iridescent blue flash of a kingfisher skimming low over a stream. I can’t confidently assert that it was a highlight in any more than a general way, because I didn’t, as it turns out, see it. First Paul spied it as we descended a bank twenty or thirty yards from the water, and lamented that he hadn’t brought his binoculars. I had brought my binoculars, and twisted to get them out of the pocket of my bag. I lingered over that task, trying to explain an irritating problem I’d started to notice with them recently, and while I was absorbed with that I missed the kingfisher again. It might have been twice more.

The route back to Hebden Bridge took in woodland full of ghost buildings and tales of floods and unconnected impressive, but characteristically modest, lifesaving, school buses meandering around undulating lanes cut into the overwhelming green. We talked about happiness and its relation to low expectations; we talked about the difficulties of weight loss and stopped in at a fascinating shop for cake and fizzy drinks. The store is tiny, but boasts an almost unreasonably large range of magazines and provisions. It manages to fit a fresh food counter and a beer and wine selection to rival all the nearby supermarkets into a space about the size of my kitchen. We talked about an idea for another project, developing a similar motivating idea to this one but with pictures, that I think we will do throughout next year.

Back from strolling and it was chucking-out time at the nursery, so I went along to meet Bertie and we spent a delightful ten minutes throwing rubble at ducks. Obviously Paul and I helped him to source the stones, because children have to learn not to do stuff by first doing it, then gradually realising as they get older that their parents and other adults were slightly, though indulgently, disapproving at the time, until they’re a little bit ashamed of throwing gravel at waterfowl and they don’t do it any more, although they do go on to indulge their own children in doing it and the cycle repeats. Right, that’s parenting sorted, in case you were after any tips.

“Wait a minute! Are those fieldfares? Ah, no, just starlings. I was going to say.”

Twenty-four thousand words, it turns out, paints a picture.

  • MDR




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

August, Torside Clough

The August in my mind is characterised by sunshine. If not exactly frolicking through cornfields or languishing beside lazy streams in wildflower-strewn meadows, then at least caravan holidays mainly involving playing badminton in the field or hide-and-seek around the farm. In the remote possibility of any of them seeing this and knowing who I am, hello to Jason, Suzanne, John, and, I think, two Claires. Definitely one, who was the daughter of the man who ran the shop.

Sadly the shop’s gone, the caravan – as I might have mentioned before – has also gone. The people, I hope, have only dispersed.

I mention this for two reasons. First, it pleases me to think and write about these places and times, but more pertinently because August this year is very much not characterised by sunshine. It’s entirely possible both that previous Augusts have not been either, and that this August will seem to have been characterised by sunshine when remembered rather than directly lived. In fact I might have guaranteed remembering it more clearly by writing about it here, but don’t forget, future me, that I could easily be making this up for narrative convenience, so it was probably as sunny as you think, almost every day.

There’s also the problem of remembering fun, carefree, sunny days more clearly than grey dismal ones because they’re more pleasurable and more varied. Or maybe everyone’s youth has more sun in it.

I’m pretty sure, though, that I won’t remember my walk up Torside Clough to meet Simon and Liz as a sunny day. The second most memorable feature of it was the prevalence of water. Not just in the reservoir, which would have been wholly appropriate, but moving at great horizontal speed at face height.

My intention in the first place, half-planned a few weeks ago, was to set out from home at an appropriate hour and meet the weary travellers two hours or so from the end of their gruelling first day. Instead, because of a mixture of my laziness and some crossed wires, I ended up dashing around to Torside Reservoir in the car and starting from there. By the end of the day this would prove to be something of a relief.

At the bottom of the path leading from the road, a section of the Pennine Way, there was a single, hopelessly waterlogged boot. It’s entirely understandable that someone chucked it away in frustration and disgust, although I can’t approve of it, but it’s puzzling why anyone would treat only one of a pair like this, and how that would leave them fixed for carrying on.

The first ascent quickly turns steep as the path beats a fairly direct route towards the top of the clough. It had been raining, but had set all of that on one side and cleared the sky up a bit, showing a watery blue between the watery grey of the clouds. In the summer this path can be all buzzing bees and the odd bit of heather that’s made its way down from the moor, but today it decided to recommence glowering and before long all I knew was water. Never mind, I thought; quick-drying trousers, I thought; new jacket, I thought; waterproof boots, I thought – and here I inferred precipitately from past experience.

One of the reasons I love walking boots so much is that I have a horror of having wet feet. The rain storm that broke over me (and I’m sure it reserved its worst for me rather than sharing the suffering out equally) was so heavy that before long I had resigned myself to never having dry feet again, having accepted that this was my life now, squelching through the rain up this hill forever, without rest or food. Water, water, of course, got everywhere.

Towards the top of this section of path, where I had decided to stop and wait rather than descending the last bit of the gorge and climbing out of it again, only to repeat the procedure in the other direction once my companions arrived, there is a collection of stones marked by a painted stone sign revealing that they are known as The Pulpit. I haven’t been able to find out if it has any ecclesiastical claim to the name. A foxhole, I thought! But no; picturesque though the place is, this afternoon the rain was so cunning that the best I could do was hunker down by one outside wall of the structure, perched on an uncomfortable rock – that it was wet to sit on was by this point of no concern to me at all – and avoid some but not all of the rain that would otherwise blow right in my eyes and right through my soul.

The easing off of the rain coincided quite neatly with first Liz and then Simon clambering up the gorge I had avoided; a very pleasant first real-world encounter followed by a comparatively leisurely stroll back down to the road.

I bought some new waterproof trousers not long afterwards. It felt like I’d missed the optimal time to make this small preparation but thankfully, if that’s the right way to put it, they have come in useful once or twice already. I also bought some new boots, to replace my now emphatically permeable ones. No matter my frustration, I didn’t leave the retiring pair by the side of the road: they’re in my shed for now, although I can’t imagine them ever seeing active service again.

Looking back, of course, the rain was perfect and I’d do it all over again. But then hindsight is so often not the 20/20 vision it’s cracked up to be: I checked through my photographs after writing this and discovered that the boot abandoned by Woodhead Road was actually accompanied by its mate. So really I have no way of being completely confident any of this ever happened. If I didn’t just imagine it, it’s a lovely way to meet people.

  • MDR
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

August, Church Fenton


The carriage doors wheeze open and I wheel my bike down onto the platform with one hand. In the other I clasp the hand of Bertie, my two-year-old son, as he leaps off the train, smartly bending his knees on landing. The train lumbers away, leaving Church Fenton railway station deserted except for us. I had never heard of this small village in the Vale of York until a few days before when Bertie had asked if we could see tractors at work in the harvest and, if possible, a combine harvester. A Google Maps satellite view scan of the environs of various railway stations had revealed this one to be surrounded by likely-looking arable fields, so here we were, on something of a wild goose chase.

It is two o’clock in the afternoon. The sky is free of cloud and the shadeless platform bakes. I lean the bike against a fence and get the suncream from the rucksack, preparing myself for Bertie’s customary howls of anguish at being subjected to such cruel torture. But he must be impressed by the exceptional blaze of the sun today, for he submits to the slathering with only melodramatic grimaces and snorts.

We cross the railway bridge and exit the station onto the road. I strap Bertie into the bike seat behind me, clip our cycle helmets on and we set off on our hunt. We pass the institutions of a traditional village; the Post Office and general store, the primary school, the village hall, a Church of England church (St Mary’s) and a Methodist chapel, a cricket club, a bowling club, two pubs. But despite these signs of a thriving community there is a hush to the empty streets, surely explained by the proportion of the population that make either the thirty-minute train commute to Leeds or the fifteen-minute one to York on a weekday such as this.

I glance up Northfield Lane as it passes on our left and turn into it on a hunch. It pays off: after a quarter of a mile the houses give out into fields, in which we find two tractors. One – the green John Deere – is at rest, its subsoiler raised behind it like a cocked and fanned tail; the other – the blue Ford – is at work, drilling seed. After watching the Ford for a while, a plume of dusty soil billowing from its discs, ploughs and harrows as it marches between the field’s headlands, we interrupt the John Deere driver’s lunch to see if we can glean a tip off regarding the whereabouts of any combines. He points to a large farm a mile and a quarter distant and speculates that ‘Sykes’ might – I put particular stress on the ‘might’ when relaying this to Bertie – be combining later in the afternoon.

After another admiring walk round his tractor as if we were prospective buyers, we head back into the village, where we attempt to find some cooling refreshments, first at the Fenton Flyer (not opening until five o’clock), then the White Horse (heavy curtains drawn) and finally at the Post Office, which we find had closed for the day an hour before. Bertie took this series of crushing disappointments better than I did, and instead of gulping down iced fruit juice and slurping ice creams, we sat on the shaded step of the shop and made the best of the clementine, raisins, rice cakes and water I had in the bag.

We saddle up again, crossing the railway line and turning off-road up Sandwath Lane, through a copse of ash, hazel, oak and hawthorn. We chalk up another tractor – a light-green Claas – at Tank Houses, where fencers are airgunning rails to posts in a newly-landscaped garden.

We come to ‘Sykes’s’. It is North Milford Grange, a vast complex of a farm set back from our track, with plenty of hanger-sized barns in which combines could be lurking. But the farm is silent; for Bertie these summer behemoths are destined to remain mythical beasts in picture books for another year.

We cycle a little way beyond the farm, past a spinney of whispering black poplars towering over a fifty-acre field of sugar beet, which is being weeded by hand by a line of distant figures. Electric blue TransPennine Express trains skim across the parched landscape like kingfishers. Swallows jostle one another on the telegraph wires and a charm of goldfinches rolls along the hedges of field maple and ripening elderberries.

After being passed by another Ford tractor, and before heading back to the railway station, we lean the bike against an oak and get up close to a field of wheat. I pick an ear, rub it between my hands to separate the grains, then crush one with my thumb nail to show Bertie its bleached interior. Nonplussed by my attempt to connect this to what he helps weigh out at home when baking cakes, he enters the field and pretends to be the harvester that has eluded us. I sit and watch his auburn head bob along above the wheat’s golden ears, his reel and cutter bar arms industriously revolving in front of him.

I breathe the achingly familiar scent of the August arable landscape, transported back to my Essex childhood, and the two harvests over twenty years ago in which I was the John Deere tractor driver, working through until twilight to help bring the harvest in. I am suddenly struck that no matter how deep my affinity – kindled when I was ten years old – for the uplands of northern England, nor how deep the roots grow that I have been sinking into the peaty Pennine soil for the past eight years, I am ultimately of the loam and clay lowlands. But for Bertie this has been an excursion to an unfamiliar – and gratifyingly tractor-rich, if combine-poor – countryside. For him, as our train passes from the open aureate plain into the deep green shade of our Pennine valley, we are truly going home.

  • PJK
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

July, Cruttonstall 

It is the early afternoon, and I have not stepped outside since returning from a decidedly chilly early morning cycle along the Rochdale Canal’s towpath to take my son to nursery. The view from my study window while working had done nothing to reassure me that the day had marshalled any warmth, with the trees being thrashed about by a stiff wind and wetted by fine driven drizzle. But when I do step out, I find that a new weather system has arrived to suddenly still and warm the air.

I cross the road onto the Pen, a two-acre sliver of land between the railway and the road which Charlestown residents have used as common land for over one hundred years, now protected for the community as a registered village green under the Commons Act 2006. On the path through the young woods at the top end of the Pen I encounter young Archie, himself out for a walk and brandishing a stick in the same way I did when I was ten years old.

I leave the Pen at the far end and descend Stoney Lane, where, in this most worryingly butterfly and dragonfly-sparse year I have a very welcome near-collision with a common hawker. It menacingly and methodically quarters the road and railway embankment with its angular flight, but I suspect that its prey is similarly thin in the air this summer. At the bottom of the street of quiet houses I pass the original site of Charlestown, a cramped and crowded collection of fourteen back-to-back dwellings, demolished in the 1950s, which housed such domestic industries as a cobblers, a sweet shop, a bakers and a brewery.

I turn left at the bottom of the lane, and within seventy-five metres bisect the valley’s arteries, passing under the railway line, darting across the Halifax Road, crossing the River Calder on a stone bridge and arriving on the canal towpath to cross it a little way upstream. In doing so I weave around the ruin of Callis Mill, abandoned in the 1970s after two centuries of spinning cotton, and cross the canal lock where the body of the murdered thirteen-year-old Lyndsay Rimer was found in 1995, five months after she disappeared from nearby Hebden Bridge, a town still haunted by this unsolved crime.

I climb away from the canal on a steep path up to a field. In the centre of the field one of the valley’s most magnificent ash trees is hurling a boy out over the slope on its rope swing. After another climb I briefly join the main track up to the high pastures of the parish of Erringden, but just beyond Callis Wood Farm I leave it for an unfrequented green track that ascends into the birch and oak wood pasture. It is waterlogged, deeply hoof-pitted by grazing cattle, and so delicately worked into the hillside that it needs attention to stay on it.

As I climb I am struck by the absence of birdsong; now that mates no longer need to be sought nor territories defended, the high summer silence of the woods is only occasionally broken. Ripples are sent through this silence by the distant ‘drip drip’ call of a nuthatch, and it is torn by the rasping screech of a nearby jay. On the last stretch of the track under a row of 150-year-old beeches that stride to the skyline, two dozen woodpigeons storm from their boughs, clattering their wings indignantly at my disturbance.

I cross the weathered fence at a stile and the track continues through open pastures – patrolled by flickering swallows – between two dry stone walls that have all but completely tumbled down into the lane they were built to border. I navigate this path of grass-concealed stones at ankle-twisting angles with care while admiring its fringe of flowering harebells and thistles. The drizzle has started again, dense enough this time to obscure the moors and their wind turbines four miles away above Todmorden, but not sufficiently troubling to the flies which persevere against my flailing hands to attempt landing in my eyes and ears.

At the end of the lane I pass between the two still-standing gate stoops that now have no walls to provide a gate between, and arrive at Cruttonstall, a derelict early 17th century farmhouse. It is the site of one of the earliest recorded settlements in upper Calderdale, being mentioned in the Domesday Book. An old farmer once told me that it had never been inhabited in his lifetime, so it was probably abandoned around one hundred years ago. I walk around it, looking up at its collapsing Yorkshire stone slate roof and its bricked up windows, but when I reach the towering gable end I find it bulging so alarmingly that I instinctively back away. Nonetheless, it is impressive that after a century of Pennine weather it is as substantially intact as it is, and it will surely be centuries more before, like the lane that led me here, it has sunk back into the earth.

A home has stood here for one thousand years, with this very building one for three hundred of them. I try to make it one again; amongst the silence of the stones I strain to hear children playing, and to light the dark ruin of the interior with the glow from hearths long cold. But the sense of loss and decay is overpowering, and my mind keeps turning to the moment, probably between the world wars, when the last family to leave closed the front door behind them, and the final curl of smoke from the chimney drifted away in the breeze. Only foxes, rabbits and jackdaws have made a home within its crumbling walls since.

A lamenting call from a curlew, descending into the meadow beyond the house, only deepens the melancholy of the scene, and I decide it is time to go back to work before the cycle back along the canal to pick up my son.

  • PJK
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

July, Surrey Street

When my then-future wife and I moved to Glossop, thirteen years ago, the chimney at the Ferro Alloys site at the industrial estate on Surrey Street had been quiet for several years.

The skyline from many points near our house was still dominated by the sleeping giant and without its smoke it was easy to come to think of the chimney as a benign landmark and divorce it from the problems endured by the last couple of generations of Glossopians. From the hills around the town it formed a focal point and, albeit unlit, a beacon, pointing, and calling, towards home.

The site is next to the Surrey Street home ground of Glossop North End football club. Glossop is the smallest town to have fielded a club in the top division of English football, during which time they beat the likes of Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest. If you’re trying to remember whether you saw those memorable occasions on telly on a rainy Saturday in your childhood, don’t put yourself to any further effort: they took place during the season of 1899-1900.

As it turned out, and to widespread delight, the giant was not sleeping but dead. And now it’s been given the dignity of perhaps the closest thing huge metal industrial chimneys can get to a decent burial: teams of workers have been beetling away around, above and even, from what I could see, at one point inside it and the site where it had stood since it was finished in 1978 has finally been cleared.

Between 1978 and its closure the chimney was quiet during wakes weeks and at Christmas, but otherwise produced a constant plume of gases and smoke with which it bathed the surrounding houses and fields and the lungs of the captive audiences of sheep and babies.

I would, I think, come down wholly in favour of closing the factory and removing the chimney, but more generally its decline is a symptom of a broadly bad state of affairs with the manufacturing industries. We’ve only lost the wakes weeks because there are no workers left who would benefit.

As someone with an – albeit precarious – career in a different sphere, I don’t directly feel the loss of jobs in the factory and others like it in Glossop, and crouching in other nearby valleys, but we’ve lost them, and it is a loss, to the point where it’s hard to imagine what the town must have been like when they were in full bloom, and it’s perhaps harder still to imagine the beasts reawakened.

We’ve also lost the products of the industrial processes so many of us are glad to see the back of. No doubt some of them are still needed but are produced elsewhere, so overall we haven’t suffered or benefited, but the distribution of benefits has been given a shake. Some distant unpronounceable region gets jobs and pollution, and round here we get industrial decline and a loss of whole employment sectors, but the filth and poison is no longer, as it used to be almost literally for many living in the centre of Glossop, in our back yards.

The chemistry of it is, I suppose, quite interesting, but this isn’t the time for fine details. The headline message is that the chimney, in its pomp, allowed the air of Glossop to suck up enormous quantities of sulphur dioxide, present as a by-product of smelting molybdenum sulphide to molybdenum oxide, which the company did to produce an important ingredient in the production of high-temperature steel.

This is, naturally, all fine and well in its proper place, but the people of Glossop protested from the beginning that the siting of the factory in the town would lead inevitably to trouble.

A chimney of this sort would disperse its emissions if not harmlessly then at least in a not immediately noticeable way were it to be built on high ground, or in the middle of a large plain. Glossop is not a large town, and the hills and high moors stand close on three sides. At the top of the chimney there were spiral attachments which, I’m reliably told, served to funnel air up along the stack and high into the air to carry away the fumes. It worked only to some extent.

Though to the west Glossopdale opens out onto the motorway to Stockport and Manchester, its eastern end, giving on to Snake Pass and bounded by the Pennine Way, rises steeply above the level of the town, and the highest point on Bleaklow, Glossop’s technical mountain – that is to say, it’s technically a mountain; I should think it provides no excitement to adventurous climbers – does its best to loom with its summit of 2,077 feet. The summit, it has to be said, is one of those summits whose neighbours might resent it for winning the competition for summithood by only a matter of inches, but in this instance that only makes the problem worse, hemming the whole valley in by high moors and channelling the emissions back towards the houses and towards the schools.

Rather than rising a few hundred feet in the air and scattering over a relatively safe area, all that lovely sulphur dioxide rose a few hundred feet in the air, caught the wind, smacked straight into the sides of the valley and flowed right back into town. I’ve heard, from a lifelong resident, that the grass on the surrounding access land would routinely be dusted with a blue powder.

Well now it’s gone. I suspect a mixture of increasing popular pressure and decreasing viability contributed to its downfall, or at least its measured dismantling, over the course of this last week.

Until the final stages I have been able to see the work being carried out from my back garden, along the same road where the chimney was a feature. On reflection, peering over the fence with binoculars is not designed to put one’s neighbours at their ease.

  • MDR
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

June, Holme

A winding and undulating drive took me home to Yorkshire. Sorry, took me to Holme, in Yorkshire, to think about home and England and Britain and other sundry important matters following the recent referendum vote for the UK to leave the European Union.

Past the reservoirs of Longdendale, and the road briefly joins Woodhead Pass before breaking off left and uphill in the direction of Huddersfield. The rain in Glossop was persistent and intensifying, so I thought I might as well try my luck further afield.

I headed for Digley reservoir, above the village of Holme. I got out of the car and thought cheerily that I’d beaten the weather gods and escaped to the relative sunshine of an early evening in Yorkshire. Hubris is fun while it lasts but nemesis can be swift and I had to smile as the rain made a warning show of having heard me, advising against complacency. It must have been in a gentle mood, though, because the storm held off until I was back within a few hundred yards of the car after an hour or so rambling through the woods around the lake.

The path is initially very neatly metalled and open on one side to fields kept neat by sheep, before dropping steeply down a small but uneven and slippery rocky gully to the dam between Digley and Bilberry reservoirs. The flickering of wagtails and the bat-like darting of martins and swifts on the hunt, skimming low over the water; mindful, perhaps, of the warnings about deep water and its low summer temperatures.

On the other side of the dam the path resumes though it seems older and more worn in. There are apparently good walks to be had up on the surrounding moors. One day.

I stopped to sit on a bench and make a few notes, shielding my notebook from the returning drizzle and marvelling at quite how many different greens there are; I’m sure on a densely wooded hillside like the ones across the valley, in the late evening light and in a sort of reverse version of Hume’s problem, there must be one or two shades that no one has ever seen before. Even the greys of the sky ran the gamut from slate to dove.

There’s a wind turbine on the hillside in the distance, a reminder that our desires may not be mutually compatible, and some will need to be curtailed or replaced if this many greens are to be available in the future. Of course, I drove here, so that limits my credibility to a certain extent, but I’d say the turbines are well worth it.

A couple of dog walkers in T-shirts come down the path from the hill and it wasn’t clear whether they set out once it was already raining. They breed them hardy in Yorkshire. A tiny poodle-like creature came up to say hello but was called away before it could introduce itself. The T-shirt man turned out to be carrying a coat after all, so maybe he wasn’t a local, either.

Passing an old stone wall, filled in between what look like gateposts but crumbled away completely a few feet to the right, I paused to look at a Johann Chaffinch sitting calmly on a branch almost at head height right by the path, singing its lungs out with a surprisingly complex regular melody in ¾ time, including two repeated bars of rests.

By another sign warning that cold water kills a sound came from the depths of the wood that was definitely the belly rumbling of a monster, so I pressed on. A group of small black cows on the crest of the hills forming the bowl in which the reservoirs sit apparently had some compelling reason to suddenly run in formation, or at least unison, behind the trees. I heard a gunshot from the same direction. That’s the trouble with cows: dangerously gang-obsessed.

A delta of rushes marks the spreading out of a stream through a sodden field, which contrives by its contours to largely reconvene the flow in time for it to breach the fence and cross the path in a two-foot ford. From there it carves its way through the wood, past nettles and brambles punctuated by foxgloves. The trees are Scots Pine and are mostly naked to a height of several metres save for stubby cut-off branches and spindly leafless twigs. I heard a sound that could have been a distant sheep, but could just as well have been a lure devised by that same hungry monster, so I stuck to the path and carried on.

So what does Britain, or – in light of the developing uncertainty over the other Union – England, mean? No idea. One of the things I cherish most is the ability to wander round listening to the ambient music of the babbling stream and the Aeolian harps of the trees. I’m pretty sure that’s not what people were voting to reclaim control of. It doesn’t feel immediately under threat from internal party wrangling at Westminster, or indeed bureaucratic wrangling in Brussels, and is not something that can be lost overnight if we leave the EU. But it can be lost, and we can’t afford to lose it.

Back to the car and the rain had very much got its boots off and settled in for the evening.

At the top of Holme Moss the clouds had loosely smothered the hill. Coming back down from the summit and back into Derbyshire, on the route taken by the first stage of the 2015 Tour de France, visibility gradually increased until the reservoir at Woodhead, which the TV commentator mistakenly thought was the site of the training runs of 617 Squadron of the RAF with the bouncing bomb. But that was Ladybower Reservoir, some 15 or 20 miles away. Not much by Lancaster, but a fair trek on two wheels.

And so, from Holme, via a few more reservoirs and winding roads, home.

  • MDR
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

June, Erringden

It is ten o’clock in the morning and Clare, my wife, and Bertie, my two and a half year old son, are walking along Kilnshaw Lane amongst the high pastures of the parish of Erringden. The misted air is cool, but the sun is issuing a promise to break through before we reach our destination, Stoodley Pike, a 120 foot stone obelisk perched on the crest of Langfield Moor.

We come to the early 19th century Erringden Grange Farm on the north side of the track. Its enormous outbuildings are empty, their stone slate roofs rippled as if having been subject to an earthquake, and only part of its large farmhouse looks inhabited. We walk through the thick scent of a honeysuckle that leans over the garden wall as if to engage us in conversation. Swallows fly among towering ash trees, and, underneath them, crouch decrepit hawthorns, their trunks swaddled in snagged sheep wool. Both the ash and the hawthorns are substantially behind their conspecifics lower down in the valley. Above us the ash are only just coming into leaf, while those in the valley are lime green. And these hawthorns are only now unclenching their tightly wrapped white flower petals, but those I can distantly see down on the Eastwood hillside are fully in bloom, seeming to be encrusted with glittering hoar frost.

Clare, with Bertie on her back in the sling, have moved ahead of me. Bertie calls to me to come and look at something interesting they have found; a verge of flowering meadow foxtails. Clare leans over for Bertie to bat one, and a wisp of golden pollen floats off on the breeze.

The mist is clearing, with smudges of blue sky soaking into the whiteness. The defined base of the mist is also rising, revealing for the first time the lower plinth of Stoodley Pike. As we approach it the mist rises further, disclosing the balcony, 40 feet above the ground, and, slowly, from base to tapering point, the 80 foot obelisk that rises from the balcony. It is as if we are there in 1856, watching it being built.

We pass Kilnshaw Farm and then Kershaw Farm, both now dwellings only. Pinnacle and Swillington Farm appear to be smallholdings, leaving Lower Rough Head, three pastures below our lane, as the only traditional sheep and cattle farm to work these fields.

The emerging sun ignites the white phosphorescence of the flowering cotton grass that surrounds an abandoned barn, and brings out the buttercup yellow of the pastures, from the nearest of which a pair of calling curlew rise.

As we leave the lane and strike out uphill, Bertie belatedly informs us that he didn’t like the tails of the cattle we passed by Kershaw Farm. After reassuring him that we won’t see them again on the walk, he then asks what seems to me like a planted question to my geography lecturer wife; where does the water that gurgles down a drainage ditch beside the path come from? Clare delivers a digest of her first year lecture on the hydrological cycle. Bertie repeats the essence of it back to us, pulling Clare off balance as he enthusiastically points to the sky, the hill, the drain and the distant sea. Clare concludes that he is more clued up than many of her first year students. To mask the fact that I have nothing to contribute to enhance his knowledge on this topic, I pluck a head of cotton grass and tickle him under his chin, his hysterics and attempted evasions further unsteadying Clare on the rocky path.

After crossing the last dry stone wall we let Bertie loose onto the open Langfield Moor. I set him on a hunt for a spring that most walkers probably miss on their charge to the summit. He gamely sets off on the search. I have often had trouble re-locating it, but he soon spots something strange amidst the scattered stones and leads us to it. He is enchanted by the little constructed stone tunnel that the spring emerges from, and the carved trough into which it spills and then overflows to disappear again into the moor. We spend some time there; he swirls his hands in the cold water, and launches little sedge stems into the trough so they can be sucked to the overflow and plummet down its miniature waterfall. He finds the earlier answers to his questions about where the water comes from (further up the hill; I can see him thinking, ‘But there is almost no more hill above us!’) and where it goes to (down the hill; I can see him thinking, ‘But it disappears into the hill!’) understandably unsatisfactory, and he is reluctant to leave these unresolved mysteries.

We tempt him the last few hundred yards with the promise of the banana and chocolate cake that he helped bake yesterday, but then cruelly make him go up the monument first before the large group we can see approaching across the moor arrives. This is the second Stoodley Pike monument. The first was erected to celebrate the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, but having already been struck by lightning it collapsed on February 8th 1854, which by coincidence was the day the Russian Ambassador left London before Britain declared war with Russia and entered the Crimean War. This second monument was erected in 1856 when peace was proclaimed.

The balcony is reached, happily for Buchan fans, by 39 steps, most of which must be navigated in total darkness. Bertie is less interested in the stunning views across the layered moors to the Peak District than in spotting the tractors that are mowing the hay meadows across the valley.

After gorging on the promised cake, we walk back down the moor and along the ridge above Kilnshaw Lane. Eventually he climbs back into the sling and falls asleep as we descend lanes frothing with cow parsley and fringed with the rose-pink spikes of bistort.

  • PJK
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

May, Knott Wood

A fizzing Roman candle of a cherry tree in full blossom stands in the corner of the last garden that I pass before I enter Knott Wood. The sky is almost entirely cloudless apart from a gathering of cirro-stratus on the far horizon, and the tender oak and sycamore leaves – which have been propelled from their buds by the warmth of last three days – provide some welcome dappled shade from the midday sun.

I leave the track at the first of the four hairpin bends it makes to ascend out of the valley, and cross a small stream, murmuring among the flowering woodrush. A sudden current of rising warm air billows a heady floral scent up the steep hillside. I stop and look down to marvel at the cobalt blue of a flash flood of bluebells spilling down the hillside, surging around mossy boulders and the trunks of sycamore, oak and holly. They are at the peak of their perfection, and it is for this that I have come into the woods.

I take a descending path and wade through the blue torrent. Buckler ferns periscope up through the swells. Their fronds are unfurling in unison, as if the earth has exhaled into a thousand party horns to fill the woodland with a cacophonous spring clarion. But no such fancy is needed, for a whistling wren, a carolling song thrush and a drumming woodpecker leave no doubt as to the season.

My path has doubled back and I now re-cross the stream 30 feet below my first crossing, but here it is fringed with the broad-bladed leaves and white flowers of ransoms, and their garlic scent overpowers that of the bluebells. At the end of the path I am delighted to find a veteran ash, which I have somehow missed on previous visits and can now add to my map of the valley’s ash trees. I contemplate what disease or damage in decades past might have caused a scar of serpentine fissures on its trunk, before turning around and ascending back up to the main footpath.

A short distance after re-joining it I cross a dry stone wall and enter an amphitheatre, the pert bluebells crowding its terraces like an enraptured audience. Below me they deluge down a shallow clough, breaking against a boulder before funnelling between two ancient gate stoops.

I continue, and the path emerges from the woodland into a field. A third of this field is grass, the rest bramble and heather. A chorus of summer migrants – willow warblers, blackcaps, chiffchaffs – conceals itself among small oaks, birch and hawthorn. This kind of scrub is a maligned habitat, perhaps because it has not aesthetically travelled far enough in the direction of ‘natural’ to stop evoking, for some, the indifference and disrespect of abandoning something that was hard-won from nature in the past. In this case what was won and is now being a lost is a once fine and productive south-facing pasture.

After angling up the hillside to the far side of the field, I sit down amongst grass which is studded with the tiny white stars of greater stitchwort. I lean back on my hands, but have to move them from a patch of baking bare earth onto the cooler grass. On the facing hillside across the valley is a fair representation of the various fates of farmhouses in the English uplands: Heights Farm, a working sheep farm in good repair; Higham Barn and Oaks Farm, both inhabited but neither working farms, the former smartly restored, the latter tumbledown and mouldering; and Thorps, an abandoned ruin.

I stand up and resume my walk, joining an extraordinary flight of some 250 stone steps that directly ascend the hillside. The labour that went into constructing these steps is unfathomable to me – I have tried to move one significantly smaller stone step in my garden, on level ground – and the cost of constructing such a flight at today’s labour costs is unthinkable. But these steps, like the pasture they border, are being smothered and lost. The lower 200 or so of them are not a public right of way, so there is no statutory obligation on the local authority or the landowner to keep them clear. A few years ago I encountered a man attempting to reclaim them, digging out the grasses and tearing out the brambles. He did not live nearby and did not use them, but had come across them on a walk and was both inspired by them and sufficiently appalled at their neglect to bring back his tools and put in a day’s labour to uncover them. But his is a rare kind of concern that issues in sweat and backache. Their obliteration has only been delayed.

For now, though, the steps are passable. I ascend them to the ruined house of Delph. Bluebells that might once have been brought in for its kitchen table now throng around its cold hearth. Willows crowd its parlour and its pantry is stocked with wild garlic.

I move on, climbing beside a steeply tumbling stream that spouts from a remarkable culvert underneath the tiny hamlet of Winters. Once back up on the main track, three hairpins above where I first left it, I descend and then cross the hillside in the cool shade of a young birch woodland. In an aerial photograph which sits on my mantelpiece, taken by the RAF in 1948, this was also a fine pasture. It demonstrates that in just a few decades, the field below Delph will no longer bake in May sunshine, but be similarly cool and shaded.

Through a tunnel of holly, on a path the flags of which have long been buried beneath deep leaf mould, I traverse across a series of terraces. Cleared and cultivated on my 1948 photograph, they are now thickly wooded. Deer and badgers have left their wakes among the cascade of bluebells. I inhale a last lungful of spring scent before stepping back into the sun.

  • PJK

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

May, Shittern Clough

Big news! It turns out there might be more than one heron! More of this anon.

My main purpose this month, in a walk put off since December, was to visit the stream running through the Access Land at Shittern Clough. And no, not just for the name. But what a name! It’s also below Cock Hill, which I’ve also mentioned before and which is not funny in any way. At all.

For the sake of a different initial route I set off from home in the direction of the High Street. A book in the window of the Oxfam bookshop caught my eye and I popped in to buy a short history of the Parish Church in Old Glossop.

Not much to report about the High Street, to be honest.

At Pyegrove I turned left and cut across the playing fields following the path to the base of Shire Hill. No cows in the pathside field today, nibbling the trees in the shade; they’ve been away for a while, judging by the length of the grass and the sprinkling of buttercups. Up the hill and the stone wall rises behind thick bracken, separating me from the sheltered crop of bluebells nestling in Shire Hill Wood, still abundant towards the end of their season.

At the shoulder of the hill, and by one of the entrances onto the higher slopes of the wood, there’s a bench—or better to say the still serviceable remains of a bench—and I paused and sat down to make a few notes and have a quick drink of water.

The path from here drops down the hill towards the path running between Old Glossop at one end and Mossy Lea and Doctor’s Gate at the other, and up this next steep section an old-looking dog, brown with greying white splotches, bounded up apparently entirely unruffled, followed by its slightly more ruffled handler. Still, it has to be said, more sprightly than I would be after running up the same track. Another, younger dog dashed up and denied himself the pleasure of saying hello in favour of satisfying the compulsion to dig an old banana skin out of the clump of nettles at the bottom of a wire fence. I confidentially offered the opinion that no one was likely to thank him for that, but he was utterly unperturbed, and seemed pleased with a job well done. Finally a spaniel, and a more pointy-faced creature in whom its owner insisted there was no malice—not so encouraging a comment as I suspect was intended—crossed paths briefly with the others, and their respective human travelling companions, before moving on. To see, for all I know, a dog about a man.

I reassured a family that they were going the right way for Mossy Lea and that, yes, they had to go down the big hill they’d just come up. I wouldn’t have started from there, and so forth. But to be fair they probably chose the best compromise between guaranteed parking space, convenience, and picturesque route. When I got to the bottom of the path at the base of Shire Hill ten minutes later they’d made it as far as the bridge over the stream and the child and dog of the party were happily playing in the water, so I don’t know how far they ended up getting. Not the point on a day as sunny and lazy as this.

Unless, that is, you’re aiming for something quite specific, even if that target is just sitting for a while by a different stream, listening to the babbling, contemplating the rhododendrons and reading a book about the history of a church.

Onwards! I know there is some debate over whether it is necessary or advisable to keep eggs in the fridge, but I’m fairly sure opinion is less divided on whether they should be left for sale on a table in the sun. Six for a pound at Tanyard Farm, if you’re interested.

Along the track to the first gate, and the path to Open Country breaks off to the left. I paused on the way up, watching a sheepdog skilfully outflank a stray ewe at almost no command. He or she spoilt it straight away by then wandering off through a gate to sit down in the sun, to the sound of vigorous and exasperated shouting. It wasn’t clear whether the dog or the shepherd were in training. Possibly both. The job eventually got done, but not without some wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The wind was whistling down the channel between Shire Hill and Glossop Low, and the jackdaws were doing well to have any influence on which direction they were going to fly. On the exposed hillside there are a couple of rusted iron hides, the larger of which has been broken since last year so that I’m glad I took a dramatic photograph of the sun setting down the valley through a small gap in the crumbling metalwork when I had the chance.

I reached my destination this time as planned. Nothing much had changed. I sat for a while on a rock by the water reading my book, and managed, as I discovered later, to catch the sun on my arms.

I got up, stepped, with all due respect to Heraclitus, into the same stream as I had several times before, and started to make my way back. Suddenly there were birds! One or two pheasants made their voices heard, but the main show was house martins. Dozens of them were hunting along the stretch of Glossop Brook as it widens and slows before gathering its forces to plunge through to the Etherow, Liverpool, and the ancestral sea.

And in the trees behind the field on the northern side of the track there was a nest with two huge baby herons in it, so it seems I might have been wrong about that whole heron thing. You live and learn.

  • MDR
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment