Miracles

The petals are opening:
what will emerge
no-one can say.
A thing with legs
or a single eye
or a blind mouth
ringed with teeth?
These things have been seen
before and so, they think,
are unlikely to be seen
again. What they all mean
it is impossible to tell
with any certainty:
the legs merely walked around
describing crazy circles
until the invisible mechanism
came to a stop. The eye
never told us what it was
it was looking for. The mouth
gulped at the air soundlessly
for a while, then closed.
Time was, when flowers opened
to reveal the anthers
arranged on filaments
around the stigma
but things have changed.

(c) Sackerson, 2019
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Neighbours

The man next door
is moving stuff about.
I can hear
the high-note scrape
across the floor
as he pulls the chairs
and the dull knocking
as if he’s lugging heavy boxes
up and down the stairs,
dumping them among
the clutter I saw in there once
and which I guess must be
still there although
you never know.
Sometimes I see him
from the upstairs window
out in the garden
smoking cigarettes
or trying to get a signal
on his mobile phone
or sitting on a plastic chair
doing nothing.
Sometimes he looks up
at my tree and once
he turned and just for a moment
our eyes met although
I think we both pretended
that they hadn’t.
So much of what we see
(he and I)’s
the same but different, seen
from a slightly different angle
as it is. Sometimes perhaps
he hears me playing the guitar
but if he does he never says
and I, for my part,
still have no idea
exactly what
he keeps in all the boxes.

(c) Sackerson, 2019

Off-Course

It’s tempting to modify
the 3D landscape projected
inside your head
to force it to comply
with expectations.
You can go so far like this
but no further:
sooner or later
you are forced to turn round
and retrace your steps
back to the place where,
map folded in your pocket,
you set off at a tangent
thinking it merely
a bend in the road.
But then, you may ask,
where were we going?
What’s in a destination?
True, we were looking forward
to the view across the lake
but instead we went for a walk
through the woods and
had I paid attention to the map
we’d have never seen
the bluebells.

(c) Sackerson, 2019

Delivery

It arrived some time between 2 and 5pm
just like they said although I’m not sure exactly when
the doorbell woke me up and I found myself
opening the door to an old man
who asked my name and smiled as he
handed me a cardboard box.
I fumbled to sign the plastic screen
on his handheld machine said thank you
and took it into the kitchen where
I took a sharp knife from the drawer
and ran it carefully along the lines of gaffer tape.
I peeled back the cardboard flaps
and there it was, curled into a foetal spiral,
cradled in bubble-wrap. As I lifted it up
carefully, wondering what to do next,
a sheet of paper fell out
covered in close-printed text
in every language of the world.
I thought it would be the instructions
but, when I read it, all it said
was if you find out what to do
with this please let us know.

(c) Sackerson, 2019

Warriors

All the men are there,
their eyes like photographs
of eyes for a gaze
merely to rest upon,
even the old man,
the blind clarinettist,
blinded at Ypres,
all sat in a line
on wooden chairs
pushed back against the wall
as if for a dance
that never happens.
There is a buffet but
the food remains uneaten.
Nobody says a word
or makes a move,
their minds made up
of what little I know.

The faces of the women, though,
are less familiar: insemination
carried with it rights
to memory. I must surmise
the Mme Lemarchand
who gives birth to an English son
seen standing with a field gun
in his pillbox hat and buttons:
there is a risk he might
be gored to death by Zulus
or blown to pieces by the Boer
but at least he gets to wear
all that 1960s,
Carnaby Street gear.


(c) Sackerson, 2019

Gibbon Hill

At 543m, Gibbon Hill is one of several high points on the rounded ridge that separates Apedale from Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales. I walked up it once before, many years ago, when I first moved to the area but, although I’ve often been out on my mountain bike on the tracks around  it, I’ve not been to the summit since.  The idea of revisiting it has been at the back of my mind for a long time. Walking over hills is a very different experience to cycling over them. Walking is obviously slower, one is more in touch with the land and there is more time to take things in.  Cycling brings with it a whole different set of attractions. I enjoy both but for some time I’ve been thinking of going for walks through the places I visit on my mountain bike, as I often see, when cycling, intriguing features of the landscape that are often inaccessible on a bike and which cry out to be explored on foot.

Gibbon Hill is a case in point. I often find myself cycling along a Land Rover track that contours its north side. It crosses a stream, Grovebeck Gill, just before it comes to a shooting lodge. On the uphill side, the stream vanishes into a steep-sided cleft. I often wonder what I’d find if I dismounted and walked up it. Perusing the map the other day, I was fascinated to see that it leads to a disused lead mine. The mine workings and the stream bed run a good part of the way to the ridge – and the summit of Gibbon Hill.

As I didn’t have a whole afternoon to devote to the walk, to save time I parked half way up on the road that runs over the hill from Grinton to Redmire. I made my way across the moor, knowing that if I kept walking west I would soon intercept the gill and the mine workings. It didn’t take long. Once at the cleft (known at this point as Kay Hush), I clambered down it through the heather to the stony bed of the gill and made my way up it. It gradually became less and less deep and I finally found myself stepping out, back onto the open moor. The ground was rough and had obviously been mined. Here and there there were spoil heaps. There were long stretches of peat devoid of heather, sometimes covered with a scattering of shattered limestone fragments. It was at this point that I came across the first of several tiny skeletons laid out on the peat. I saw few signs of life on this walk. I saw a couple of geese stood by a pool. Later I saw them as they flew over my head. I saw more signs of death. Several times, as well as the skeletons, I came across a scattering of feathers that, from a distance, I mistook for cotton-grass (which, of course, is not in flower yet).

Here and there, as I made my way through the workings, I came across pieces of wood. I was curious to know where they all came from. Finally, to my surprise, I came across a pit, full of pieces of wood. I was put in mind of Cornelia Parker’s exploding garden shed.

rocks

It wasn’t far from the wood-pile to the ridge itself. Distances on rough moorland can be deceptive: things that look a long way off can actually be quite close. Add to this the fact that in the absence of well-trodden paths one moves quite slowly and one can see how one can quickly get demoralised. Walking here has to be unhurried and philosophical. Put one foot in front of the other, then the other in front of the one – and so on. It is good that the ground is a pleasure to look at. The grass grows in tussocks. Each blade, green at the base, dwindles to a white, straggly tendril that drapes itself over the heather that grows around it.

skull2.jpg

In no time at all I reached the wire fence that runs the length of the ridge and turned right. All of a sudden I could see into both Swaledale and Apedale. I was surrounded by hills, although it was difficult to see far as it was quite hazy. I made my way along the fence to the summit. Although, as I said, I had visited it once before a long time ago, nothing about it seemed familiar. I sat myself down in the heather and ate an orange. A fence used to run away northwards from this point. All that remains of it now are a few decayed wooden posts.

When I set off back down, I decided to take a closer look at a tree I’d seen not far from the summit. I wondered if, perhaps, someone had brought their old Christmas tree to this remote place and planted it. Surely not. I can only think a bird dropped a seed. There are no other trees for miles. Being in such an exposed place, it’s grown into the shape of the prevailing wind.

tree

I toyed with the idea of simply retracing my steps back down Grovebeck Gill but decided to follow the ridge instead. The sun was getting quite close to the horizon and I thought I’d cover the ground more quickly if I went that way. All I needed to do was walk along the fence until I came to the prominent cairns on the next named summit, Height O’Greets. I’d made my way down from there many times. I set off and on reaching the cairns, I turned down into Swaledale towards the road. Then, on a whim, I changed course. I could afford to do this, as I was now making good time. As I said, I knew this part of the route well and, as so much of this walk had been completely new to me I didn’t want the sense of discovery to end. I veered off towards Grovebeck Moss, where I found myself weaving a path through flat, bright green patches of ground. A small pool seemed to glow, completely filled as it was with a gelatinous mass of green algae.  Fortunately for me, I decided, it hadn’t rained much recently.  If it had, I’m quite sure I’d have ended the walk sodden from the knees down.  I got back to the car not long after sunset.

wood1

 

 

 

 

 

Pickerstone Ridge

I’ve been meaning to make my way to the top of Pickerstone Ridge ever since I realised it existed. At 565m, it’s the highest point on the horseshoe of hills that encloses Apedale, a remote spur of Wensleydale. It’s not even really called Pickerstone Ridge – the name properly applies to its southern flank. It just happens to be the nearest name to the summit printed on the map. It sounds odd but it’s not an easy hill to see from the valley, which perhaps accounts for its nameless state. However, viewed from the hills around Gunnerside Gill to the north, it takes on the kind of prominence one might expect.

I approached it from Whitaside Moor. on the Swaledale side. I parked on the minor road that runs from Grinton to Askrigg and set off on my mountain bike up the loose Land Rover track that runs from there up to Apedale Head. It was hard going. It was a bright, clear day but a cold wind was blowing in my face most of the time. Half a mile up I took a slight detour, turning left onto another track. I wanted to find a waterfall I’d not visited before which is marked on the map on the flanks of High Carl. Following the map, I then took a right turn onto a less well-defined path through the heather. I’d been having an easy time of it on the Land Rover tracks. This took a little more thought, especially in the wind.

I soon came to the waterfall. It’s only a few feet high and not spectacular but it’s a pleasant spot. One thing I like about exploring hills is how, when you do, you discover  features not visible from a distance. I certainly wasn’t aware of this small valley until I came across it. The path round the top of the waterfall was very narrow and I dismounted, lugging my bike around it and up the steep ground behind it. I stopped to peruse the map. It’s a very popular track but, just for a moment, it wasn’t entirely clear which way it led.

It wasn’t long before I regained the main Land Rover track.The approach to Apedale Head from here always reminds me of the top of Ben Nevis. It’s a bit fanciful, I know, and it’s a sobering thought to reflect on the fact that the piles of stones and the gravel deserts here are the product of human mining activity.

A wire fence runs across Apedale Head along the watershed. Turning left along the fence would soon bring me to the summit of High Carl. Turning right takes you, after about half a mile, to the summit of Pickerstone Ridge. A faint path runs along the side of the fence. I stopped riding the bike at this point, pushing it along the path and, once out sight of the main track, leaving it by the fence. I continued along the fence until I arrived at a point opposite the summit, then struck out across the moor to the summit itself. It’s always hard to see where the exact top is on a gently rising dome like this but, wandering around, you often come across a point where you suddenly get the feeling that all the ground around you is falling away, albeit gently. I walked around for a while and took a few photographs. The wind had dropped. In the late afternoon haze the surrounding hills were reduced to shades of grey, their ridges to distant, undulating lines.