March up North Road

Cresting what is in effect a false summit of North Road, by the upper entrance of Howard Park, the carriageway sweeps round to the right and starts the slow climb to the real top at the junction with Cemetery Road. By the Park gate if you turn and look back the way you have just come you can see the far side of the valley spread out for you, if you’re lucky in the glow of the dipping sun at your back. You can see one or two houses at the Eastern reaches of Simmondley, flanked on three sides by fields enclosed with a tracery of dry stone walls.

Two banks of green fields, tinged golden yellow in the last of the light, fold into a crease in the land marked at the top by a large thicket of trees. Above the tree line and looming behind the green fields the high sides of the valley, with the Pennine Way running south to its origins at Edale, are brown with the still mostly dormant heather and pitted by gullies and grips in the peat.

Illuminated like this it’s a sight worth lingering over, the few farm buildings dotted just below the edge of the moor suggesting a part of the landscape unchanged for generations of both labourers and poets.

If you turn back to the footpath to head up the hill the first thing you’ll see, if you’re quick, is the very much more prosaic site of the foundations of Laurel View, a new housing development. Apparently opening in two months’ time, it is just now a scene of rubble, mud, portakabins, and heavy digging equipment surrounded by a temporary metal fence set in black and yellow plastic feet. Not much of a view at the moment and the name perhaps consciously designed to distract from the plain fact that whatever the idyllic nature of the view from the housing estate, the view looking in from everywhere else is just the view of a housing estate. Still, people have got to go somewhere.

With the sun dropping below Mouselow, above the fishing ponds of Glossop Amalgamated Angling Society, and presumably doing terrible damage to Hadfield on the other side, you’ll be able to see the communications mast, cast purposefully against the sky on the top of Castle Hill, for all I know bringing you the wireless internet coverage you need to read this blog. The castle in question is some earthworks popularly supposed to be the site of a mediaeval motte and bailey castle, possibly on the site of an Iron Age hill fort. The ‘motte’, authorities assure me, is actually a ringwork. I would not venture to dispute that, and I commend the clarification to those of you equipped to make something out of it. The site has been quarried and what remains is, to the untrained eye at least, a confusing prospect of undulating grass and gravel. The name ‘Castle Hill’ is late eighteenth century, apparently, a time when people of a certain cast of mind saw druids lurking behind every ditch and ruin, and an age freer with innocent invention in the name of historical reportage. The same cloak of glamour is draped over a set of stones found on the site by the Reverend George Marsden around 1840. Carved in a tantalisingly Celtic fashion they may or may not be of the appropriate vintage. In fact they may or may not be a lot of things, including cursed, and capable of stopping computers from working when stored nearby. ‘Not’ on both counts, would be my guess. One thing they pretty indisputably are is housed in Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

As you wrest your mind back to the present day and reach Cemetery Road, Redgate drops steeply away ahead and down into Padfield. The record for running up Redgate with a sack of coal, a crown contested at September’s annual Plum Fair until its demise after twenty years in 2013, is a fleet 28.5 seconds. Never fancied it myself. Beyond Padfield the next great valley of Longdendale stretches off along the run of five reservoirs of Woodhead, lending its name to the pass over the Pennines to Yorkshire, Torside, Rhodeswood, Valehouse, that sounds like a remote public school in a Sherlock Holmes story, and, keeping up the tradition of amusing names, Bottoms.

Looking West it’s clear that on this occasion Hadfield has been spared and the sun is further away than it first seemed. The sacrifices must have worked.

Today’s wildlife tally includes two Canada geese grazing, a couple of horses, not willing to be drawn on their view of the new houses they can look forward to having as next-stable-door neighbours, sundry bird calls which I’m afraid I still can’t identify but which do the soul good, and now the attention is drawn mainly by Swaledale sheep, many of whom have lambed and which are covering, though sparsely, most of the hillsides.

‘Cemetery Road’ is so called, unless there has been a series of unfathomable coincidences, because it is home to Glossop Cemetery. Cemeteries are restful places. Not only because in them you’re surrounded by people very much not in a hurry, but also because I suppose I think of graveyards as somehow universal. Which is to say it almost doesn’t matter in which place your loved ones are actually buried, the place to visit them is any graveyard, as though the dead formed just another geological layer of the earth, erupting here and there where people have chosen to erect memorials.

I like graveyards in general anyway, but this one is a particularly pleasant place to finish up, with views on all sides of the hills and moors, the sound of birdsong, the odd cow and sheep, and occasionally the creak-crake of a pheasant. And, just now, that same ice cream van tinkling away about Dublin’s finest cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o. We all finish up here but, just for today, I’m going home.

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