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.

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