Walking with the Ghosts

My son and I went for a walk yesterday along part of the Pennine Way. We started from Standedge Cutting, where the A62 crosses the hills on its way from Huddersfield to Oldham. We headed North along the top of  Standedge itself towards the next outcrop, known as Northern Rotcher. We carried on for four or five miles as far as Windy Hill radio mast, which stands next to the M62 motorway. Then we turned back.

This is a section I’ve walked many times in the past and is, I reflected as we walked, one of my favourites. I used to live quite close to these hills: they aren’t particularly high but the ridges that connect them stretch for miles. They’re small enough to be accessible to anyone who wants to walk or run over them while being big enough to discourage attempts to civilize them. Their sides -especially in the West- are steep. The path often runs along the edge, which gives you the feeling of being in the sky, looking down on the villages and fields around Oldham.

To walk it now is to recall what I can remember of my feelings and impressions from when I walked it in the past. I find myself joined by a young social worker. He’s not much older than my son. It’s his day off. It’s a weekday: his daughter is at school and his son, asleep, hangs from his chest in a baby-carrier. He’s driven out of town to get away from it all for a couple of hours. He likes nothing better than to climb the hills in Scotland and Wales. He regrets leaving London. He used to live there – he merely survives here. He might dream of Tryfan or the Cuillin but he is in the process of forming a deep attachment to these little hills.

Then I’m joined by a slightly older man. I get the impression he’s going through the motions. He can’t quite lose himself here but then he can’t quite lose himself anywhere. This is as near as he can get. He wants to write poetry. He’s a slightly alarming character. It’s obvious to me, now, as I walk along with him that whatever he’s going through is not going to end well. It’s not yet obvious to him or, if it is, he’s not quite faced up to the fact. He’s working too hard and he’s being pulled in too many directions at once to survive in one piece. He survives from day to day by making plans, setting his sights on good things that might happen. He’s an incorrigible optimist. He doesn’t know it but his world is about to fall to pieces. He recites a poem he’s written about rock-climbing not far from here:

Bridestone

From one angle
it looked
like the head
of a man.

I climbed up.
The grit slashed
the pale skin
on my knuckles.

I held on-
to the nose-bridge,
pressed down
onto the cheekbone,

rested my hands
on the forehead,
looked at the sky
reflected in the rain-

-pool worn
into the rough pate
of the stone.
I rested there,

a temporary statue,
relishing the touch
of a dark moon,
newly inhabited.

Then there’s my son. He’s here, now.  He’ll soon be as old as the young social worker. When I was his age I felt so old… Perhaps one day in the future he’ll walk this ridge again and find himself walking along with his father and his younger self.

Then there’s myself, in the future. Assuming he’s still around and can manage a bit of light fell-walking, what will he make of all the younger men, walking along beside him?

windy hill

northernrotcher

path

path1

rocks

pw1

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7 thoughts on “Walking with the Ghosts

    1. I found this quite sad to read in many ways and yet I suppose, were we all to write a resume of our lives it would probably read in similar vein – we all have ups and downs after all. Also, as I know you now I realise that you have come a long way.

  1. A nice piece of writing, Dominic, and a lovely remembrance. We’re all just passing through, aren’t we, babes becoming children, children becoming young adults, middle agers becoming old — all walking toward some unseen destination.

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