Time Traveller

Today I am going to put on
my thickest pair of socks:
there has to be a barrier
and nothing else will do.
I cannot be held responsible,
however, for the tilt of the axis
and whatever anyone might say
one has to be ready for anything
on a day like this. When you step
into the lift to join the others
who pretend you don’t exist
(or perhaps they just can’t see you)
and the door concertinas with a clatter
and the smell of stale tobacco
combined with the antique design
conspires to take you back
to a time 50 years ago,
it can’t help but strike you how
it all seems like no time at all
and that all those early mornings
sitting on the bus in the rain
warm in your overcoat were for nothing.
Now, at least, we’re going up in the world
to the third floor: the cage
rocks a little then stops.
What am I letting myself in for?
you wonder but whatever passes
through your mind, so what?
You’ll find out soon enough.

(c) Sackerson, 2019

Michael Luis Garcia: marimba
Dominic Rivron: prepared banjo
Artwork by Elliot Rivron

Modern Nature

l’ve recently finished reading Modern Nature by Derek Jarman. It’s a diary Jarman kept for two years during which he created a garden around Prospect Cottage, the wooden house he owned on the shingle at Dungeness, not far from the nuclear power station which looms over the book much as it looms over the seashore there. He had by that time been diagnosed with HIV and his thoughts and feelings about this are an important part of the book. I started reading it because I’ve been getting into Jarman’s films and found myself wanting to find out more about a man who was, in a way, to the end of the twentieth century what Oscar Wilde was to the end of the nineteenth. Sorry, Stranglers: Jarman was a hero. In the book, he says of his HIV diagnosis: “As I sweat it out in the early hours, a ‘guilty victim’ of the scourge, I want to bear witness to how happy I am, and will be till the day I die, that I was part of the hated sexual revolution; and that I don’t regret a single step or encounter I made in that time; and if I write in future with regret, it will be a reflection of a temporary indisposition.”

Reverie

I spend too much time
laid on the settee
looking through the window
at the clouds in
(where else?) the sky
listening to the music
of Howard Skempton.

Or, perhaps, not enough.
Doing nothing, ostensibly,
leaving the words
to fend for themselves
and when I do this
they think I’m not looking for them
that the game is over
and they come out of hiding
and arrange themselves in the sun
outside, in the yard,
where it’s easier for me
to catch them.

(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.

 

Gravity

A man sits on a rock
by a stream.
By a stream,
eating an apple.
Eating an apple
and remembering a kiss goodbye.
Remembering a kiss
and running his fingers over the rock.
Running his fingers over
his first love
as it pulls him down
away from the sky.

 

(c) Sackerson, 2019

Two Poems

Wild Thing

It was here: I didn’t imagine it.
Look at the marks on the ground,
the paw-prints where it paced around.
It’s an inscrutable beast but I don’t think
even it knows what it’s looking for
until it finds it. When it does
the significance of things is made
manifest and everything seems to make sense
just for a moment. It was here.
It isn’t anymore and so
the trees/the sky/the earth/etc.
once more conceal the secret.

 

Fragment, 6am

Right now you’re sleeping and
I’m writing this by torchlight.
Soon it will be morning and
elsewhere in the building
people are already moving –
I can hear the dull sound
of their footsteps as they hurry out.
Then silence almost. There’s just
the sound of breathing
and the birds outside.

 

(c) Sackerson, 2019