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.

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