Monday, 16 June 2008

In praise of millstone grit

I'm getting to know a patch of terrain in the north-western end of the High Peak. It was a fine June day on Friday-- sun and cloud, breeze--and I walked with Jim from their house in Furness Vale over the top to Hayfield.

Once we were out of Furness Vale and across the valley and the road, a footpath took us up tumbledown steps, then up between ash and sycamore and foxgloves and the odd cuckoo-spit patch to open tracks past upland farms.

We could look back and see the village, the canal, the railway and the straggling houses along the A6, and above them stone walls and lush green fields climbing to bare tops, with ever more tops behind them as we climbed. To the north-west we could pick out the plain of Cheshire and the haze of Manchester and were glad not to be in either.

Along our way sheep and lambs were healthy and men were repairing stone walls. The stone farmhouses near the top were uninhabited and used for farmers’ storage, though we could imagine living in them. Swallows swooped around us; we heard and then saw first curlew, then snipe.

On the higher ground the grass changed to the fine, reddish tickly sort that Jim remembered the feel of on his legs as a kid playing on the rec in Wakefield, mixed with cotton grass and a small delicate misty cream flower whose name I once knew (meadowsweet perhaps?).
Paths that followed the walls took us onto the top of the moor and right to the edge, at Big Rock. This is a millstone grit outcrop of the sort that in other places is called a pulpit or a devil’s altar (above Bingley), protruding over a steep drop into the next valley, along which lay Hayfield.
The browner ground on the left is much higher; it’s the moorland where we stood looking down over the valley, across to the bulk of Kinder and over miles of landscape under skies that went from blue at one end to black at the other.

Then down the slope onto a track, past Peek-a-Boo Farm, across the main road and along a back road into Hayfield for pork pies.

This is close to my ideal environment, and Katy, Jim’s partner, grew up in it. Hills and valleys, moorland and fields, woods and crags, rivers and a canal, stone villages, abandoned buildings, dramatic contours, all on a walkable scale, an intricate variety within a five mile compass. What a place for a kid--and not too different from where I lived till I was 12, on the hills on the Pennine slopes above Bradford. For Katy and her friends, an ok comprehensive school in Hayfield and, at weekends and holidays, two railway lines to Manchester.

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