Setting out from home, I turn immediately right from the front door and head East, past Norfolk Square and its restless pigeons, past the Co-Op and across the road to the footpath skirting the Western fringe of Manor Park that’s tarmacked now, which makes this route more convenient as well as slightly less adventurous. A black kitten briefly indulges a man leaning over a fence to stroke it. The weather is bright and calm, and for a brief time not so cold in the absence of the wintry breezes that have been in regular recent attendance.
As I pass the park to my right I catch glimpses of the skateboards that are heralded by the repeated rumble and clatter of ramps ascended and jumps made with varying success, and I hear the thump of footballs which by the time the sound reaches me have bounced on and away, and I’m reminded as always of the early observation of this phenomenon on the school playground. It’s still the example that comes quickest to mind to illustrate the difference in speed between sound and light. By the lake, through the trees, a couple of moorhens pay no attention to a lone and stately Canada goose scudding around the water followed discreetly by a fleet of mallards.
As I reach the end of the path the right turn along Church Street into the centre of Old Glossop, the original heart of the town with its tiny, small-paned windows on its sixteenth century houses, is marked by the distinctive call of jackdaws, milder than crow-croak, on an afternoon foray from their roost under the great dark Dinting and Broadbottom viaducts with their supporting pillars of Staffordshire Blue Brick, huge but hidden by familiarity.
Another slight right to drop down past the old Duke of Norfolk School, surrounded by metal fences and skips on its way to becoming well situated and presumably expensive homes. Past the attached schoolhouse, long adapted for private use, into the graveyard of the parish church of All Saints, and a short rest on a bench dedicated to two brothers apparently lost young. A female blackbird, silent and very nearly invisible, drops from the almost bare branches of a tree into the leaf litter, damp and brown and the perfect hiding place.
Across and out of the other end of the churchyard, I cross Church Street South to Old Cross and past Old Glossop’s market cross, supposedly on a Saxon site and renovated in 1912 with a new cross piece on a 15th Century shaft, now augmented by a Christmas tree in an oil drum, still decorated in this week before New Year.
On to Shepley Street and the sweet green smell of silage drifts down the hill to the sound of a cockerel proclaiming the break of a quarter to four in the afternoon. Past the site of more house building, dormant and showing no signs of progress since I last saw it several weeks ago, and past the quiet factory on Glossop Brook, the road gives on to the footpath towards Doctor’s Gate, with a sign carefully informing the tourist that, despite what the OS maps may say, it’s not the route of an old Roman road. ‘THE ROMANS’, it eye-catchingly shouts and then, in smaller letters, ‘didn’t pass through here, but a lot of water does’. A pack horse route and dozens of streams, but no legions, who apparently went further south before reaching the garrison at Melandra Castle, in modern-day Gamesley.
Lots of water indeed, but in these days of heavy flooding across much of the North of England and Wales we can be glad it’s not a lot more. Glossopdale is a place of many waterways – upwards of a hundred streams and brooks, but they are almost all small, as they first come down off the moors. The town centre flooded in 2002 when Glossop Brook breached its walls, but hasn’t looked threateningly close since. The streams mainly combine to feed the River Etherow, or wind up in Glossop Brook and meet the Etherow at Melandra Castle. The Etherow in turn joins the Goyt in Marple, to meet with the Tame at Stockport and so form the Mersey, according to the modern reckoning. Ultimately the water flowing down from the peat of Peaknaze Moor and much of Bleaklow—which, with its summit at 2,077 feet, ten feet short of Kinder Scout, may or may not count as a mountain depending on who you ask—will see the Irish Sea at Liverpool. Bleaklow also, fact fans, contains the source of one of the four English Rivers Derwent—flowing south to join the Trent at Derby before taking a left and eventually approaching the North Sea at the Humber—and the most Easterly point in the British Isles above 2,000 feet.
For a moment I thought the heron was back, circling overhead, but it was briefly joined by a second bird with the same silhouette against the dove grey sky, so since I trust my eyes and I’m not prone to avian hallucinations, I conclude that it can’t have been the heron at all. Some sort of fancy robin, I expect, as it’s still just about Christmas.
All the rain, and the nearby flooding that has affected friends and relatives but left Glossop relatively untouched, has set me thinking, as you can see, about rivers. I had originally intended to go as far today as Shittern Clough, best named of all the local cloughs, and a tributary of Glossop Brook along with Shelf Brook, Little Clough, and Yellowslacks Brook, but slowness and darkness have defeated me. The wind is getting up and the sheep are coming down from the higher slopes, apart from a few skittish ones scared back up by a man walking two beagles, all three of whom failed to return my smile. I get as far as the gate at the bottom of the path up to open country and turn back for home.