A Walk on the Moon

Occasionally, I while away sleepless nights turning the pages of Zdeněk Kopal’s A New Photographic Atlas of the Moon. I discovered it in a second hand bookshop on the Isle of ManIt’s an intriguing book,  packed with full-page photos of the lunar surface, photos  dating from the earliest unmanned Russian missions to the Apollo programme. Especially interesting are the images of the elusive far side of the moon. (One cannot  help but be reminded how much the Russian space programme achieved where the moon is concerned,  despite the fact that no cosmonaut has yet set foot on it).

Reading it at night, on the verge of sleep, it is easy to imagine yourself dropping into the pages and walking on the surface, trecking, for example,  across the floor of the crater Ptolemeus, towards its distant,  mountainous rim, or traversing the uncanny,  double-walled basin of Schrodinger on the far side. Since the gravity of the moon is one sixth that of the Earth, it seems reasonable to assume one could cover, roughly,  six times the distance on a moon walk as one could walking on Earth.

However,  despite the fantastic landscape and the starlit sky, there is something missing from my moon walks.  They lack something I inevitably encounter on my real walks across the earth’s surface: signs of human activity.  It strikes me as interesting that,  although I seek out wild places,  there is a satisfaction to be found in encountering faint paths, ruins, the traces of earthworks and so on.

Thinking along these lines, I happened to pick up Robert  Macfarlane’s book, The Old Ways and read this quote from Emerson:

All things are engaged in writing their history… Not a foot steps into the snow, or along the ground, but prints in characters more or less lasting,  a map of its  march.  The ground is all memoranda and signatures; and every object covered over with hints.  In nature,  this self registration is incessant,  and the narrative is the print of a seal. 

Perhaps when out walking I’m seeking not wilderness but a wildness where my species’ presence feels not overwhelming but proportional, like the presence of  one species among many. And perhaps, although history can seem nightmarish when written or spoken about,  perhaps there is comfort to be found in the unspoken history, the traces. It strikes me that,  whether  or not I care to admit it, were I walking on the moon in real life,  even though I had travelled through space for days to get there,  to encounter the landing site of a probe or an Apollo mission would be a highlight of the trip.



I found myself walking through Darlington town centre today. Out of curiosity, instead of going through the main shopping streets, I took to the side roads to see what I could see.

I found myself walking past a now-drab Victorian building, the word MUSEUM spelled out in bas relief over the front door. The museum in question  seemed to be long gone, the building divided up into business units. It was as if the sign itself had become the only exhibit.

A few yards further on, I passed a pub. A young man was stood outside and, despite being rather unsteady on his feet, was demonstrating his prowess at karate to a friend, aiming high kicks at an imaginary victim. He looked my way and called out. At first I thought he was calling to me but then I realised there was another man, who he obviously knew, walking just behind me.

I rounded a corner. Paint was peeling off the stonework over a shop that advertised cheap loans. I walked past another pub. A thin man about my own age was stood outside, lighting a thin roll-up.

I crossed the market square and walked through a concrete covered walkway. To my right, the concrete was decorated with abstract bas reliefs. To my left, a series of arches, like you would find in a cloister, opened onto a line of coach-stops. Drifts of cigarette ends had accumulated behind each pillar. I imagined crowds of smokers, waiting for coaches to London, Liverpool, Edinburgh, desperately dragging on that final fag before embarking on two hundred miles of cold turkey. The whole place stank of stale tobacco. Across the road, a new building was being thrown up in the modern, red-brick supermarket style, as bland as the cloister was brutal.

Slow is Good

It snowed today. The roads were quickly covered. We needed a few essentials, so I walked to the nearest shop (two miles, I’d guess, over the fields) armed with an umbrella and a rucksack. I returned weighed down with mince pieces, newspapers, and a bottle of red wine.

It was good to be forced out of the car, I decided, as I walked down the edge of a snow-covered field. I’d taken an off-road route partly out of a desire to stay safe and partly because I wanted to enjoy myself. I do get quite a lot of exercise but my day-to-day working life revolves around getting from A to B in a car.

Snow slows you down. Often, as in this case, this is good. Walking takes time. Nothing in particular happened. It was good to do nothing except walk.

Later, after dark, I lit the fire. Only then did I realize I’d been wearing my trousers inside out all day.


I was listening to this the other day. I not only  enjoyed the music but also the whole atmosphere of the performance. It has a sense of fun about it that in no way detracts from the music. It’s perhaps hard to perform piano duets otherwise. Not only do performers need to sit (sometimes incongruously) close together but an aura of amateur music-making surrounds the whole genre.

The last, most well-known movement starts at 10:38. I’m sure it was used as the theme tune for a TV or radio programme. I can’t for the life of me think which one.

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:


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