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.

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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.

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Pennine Chain

IMG_20190130_155137I’ve been putting this poem together for some time. A couple of sections have been posted here already. Another section appeared in the Breathless Anthology as far back as 1994, although most of the poetry is more recent. I read the whole thing for the first time this evening at the regular Le Mondo Bongo poetry evening at Sip Coffee and Eat in Richmond.

 

 

Pennine Chain

1.

The labels are confusing:
this is no longer the corner
of the street where I live
although the signs are still there,
the mental Post-It notes,
and the feeling that if
I want a pint of milk
I must walk that way,
turn left, turn right –
two minutes at the most.

The whole is overlaid
with lines of thought
that reassert themselves unbidden.
The park across the road
where the children used to play
while I kept half an eye
‘s still there as is the man
(much older now) who walks
a different dog.

I never knew his name
and it strikes me now that
things on the periphery
are easier to reinstate:
the man, the park,
the corner of the street,
these things remain in place
whereas it is impossible
to visualise a version of oneself
shaped by so many small decisions
that never came to pass although
perhaps I catch a glimpse (back view)
of a man about my age
(his hair’s beginning to turn grey)
dressed in an overcoat,
who walks away.
He could be anyone I never knew.

 

2. Tubular Bells

Time was, when you had
to lower down the needle
slowly, wait until the point,
with a crack, engaged the groove
and set out on its spiral journey
to the centre.

I remember how (it seems
so real) we sat around,
drinking cans of beer,
all couples, and how we felt so old.
We were in love, perhaps,
but underneath it all
lay desperation, fear.
The piano starts to play.
I watch her look into his eyes
and (cliché or not)
this is the memory from that time
I feel most intensely
as he slips a ring onto her finger
(so conventional, yet so sincere).
That was before the Fall,
rebellious jukebox,
o’erwhelmed us all
with floods and whirlwinds of
tempestuous sound.
Sometimes even now
I wonder what became of them,
although I’m not sure I ever
even knew their names.

Years later, driving North along
the B6265,
the hills are invisible
in the darkness.
I’m peering down
the headlamp beams
to see the bends.
Bebop plays on the cassette
(Thelonius Monk
stabs at the keys)
and in the back
two small children
strapped in kiddie-seats
are sleeping. There is
so much for me to do,
so little time to think;
certainly no time
to press the rewind button
and reflect.

Today, same place
but driving South,
there’s none of that.
The audio system’s set
to shuffle-play.
The choice of track’s
determined by an algorithm:
it’s just a case
of wait and see.
And so it happens that
the piano starts to play
just as in 1973
and I find myself wondering
yet again
what lay in store
for the girl and boy I hardly knew
back then.

 

3. The Barns

Joseph’s Barn

His cow and calf
overwintered there
and often Joseph, too,
spent the night
after a skinfull,
dreaming in the straw
that his wife
might lay him down
a son, there,
in the manger.

William’s Barn

He liked the feel
of the stones
in his hands.
He built the windowless walls
higher and higher
shutting out the world
and creating a darkness
for himself.

Susan’s Barn

She still inhabits the cage
of her lover’s bones.

She still treads the paths
around the place
his heart used to be.

She still works
what they had:

the barn, the cow, the field.

Sarah’s Barn

In summer,
when the rising sun
shines through the empty door,
you’ll still hear Sarah singing.

In autumn,
when the wind blows leaves
against the outer wall,
although the barn’s now filled with straw,
you’ll still hear Sarah singing.

In winter,
when the snow falls through
the blue-sky roof between the beams
and one more stone falls from the wall,
you’ll still hear Sarah singing.

In spring,
when water runs between
the stones and weeds find root
and sheep find shelter by the wall,
you’ll still hear Sarah singing,

although there is no pail to fill
and the mouths to be fed
are now closed.

Peter’s Barn

is now the home
of a television producer,
who sits before the fire where once
a lamb fell to earth
between the legs of its mother.

Michael’s Barn

Three gold coins
he found in the earth floor.

He gave them to his son,
who left to find work
in the town.

Barn

I remember my making –
a growing shadow in a ring of stones.

Since then, a stone
here and there, a rotting beam, the slate
that slips by inches every year:
the light creeps in. It seems to be
a universal principle.

Stone is my mantra.
Solid ground my only reassurance
that I’m part of something bigger.

One day I’ll be full of light:
a field of stones
for people to pick over
in search of artefacts.

 

4.

My favourite hole in the ground
is on top of Harkerside Fell.
It’s not very big but
you can lie down in it, just,
so you’re out of the wind.
If you look over the edge
you can see for miles
only don’t get too comfortable
or one of the straggly nettles
that live there
(vicious bastards that they are)
will bite you on the arse,
even through your trousers –

so take care.

 

5.

My imaginary flying machine
lifts me just high enough
to clear the garden fence
and carries me silently
through the darkness.
I control by telepathy
the invisible engine:
I tell it to follow
the line of the streetlights
along the empty streets
that lead out of town.
Once over the fields
I steer by the stars
until I hear but can’t see
the water flowing over the stones
of a stream-bed.

This I follow,
plunging with the waterfall,
leveling out
as the stream joins the river,
startling an owl
from its tree on the river-bank.

Sweeping under the arch
of a bridge, where all is invisible
and where the water
echoes for a moment, I emerge:
and here the river widens, merges
into the dark mass
of the sea and I turn
up into the sky,
banking to follow
the curve of Draco’s tail
as it weaves between the Bears.

(c) Sackerson, 2019

Draco_and_Ursa_Minor

Friarfold Hush

Gunnerside Gill is an uncanny place. It’s a deep, steep-side cleft that cuts  through the Swaledale moorland for some three miles. The place is strewn with the ruins of past mining activity which has left massive scars on the landscape. The result is a place that is more intriguing than a lot of other, relatively unspoilt areas of the Yorkshire Dales.

The East side of the Gill is dominated by three massive “hushes”: Gorton, Friarfold and Bunton.  Lead miners were in the habit of damming streams that ran down hill-side gullies, waiting until a sizeable body of water had gathered and then bursting the dam. The force of the released water stripped the surface layers off the gully sides, exposing the rock. In Gunnerside Gill this technique was practised on a massive scale. Seen together from the flanks of Rogan’s Seat opposite, the three great hushes form an imposing moonscape. “Moonscape” is an overused term for such places but in this case it is hard to think of a better way to describe this mass of almost vertical grey rock.

I’ve ridden my mountain bike around the area quite lot but I’ve never taken it into the hushes. A Land Rover track runs along the top, along the edge of Melbecks Moor. I had ridden this previously and passed a post and a cairn that marked the turning  to Friarfold Hush,  itself invisible below the rim of the fell. Although I had never taken it I had always felt drawn to it and knew that I would return one day to explore it.

Yesterday was the day. I cycled over the moor from Surrender Bridge and took the turning. It turned out to be every bit as challenging as I expected. The track quickly became so steep and narrow that I knew it would be impossible for the likes of me to descend it and stay on the bike. At first I could find gentler detours but, as the gully steepened further, staying on the bike proved impossible and I was reduced to pushing it and manhandling it down the twisting track. Rock rose up on both sides and the rocky slope was littered with scree. Riders more skilled than myself can descend the hush in less than two minutes. It took me quite a lot longer than that.

I finally reached the bottom, a flat, grassy spot where a fingerpost marks the junction of the track with a bridleway running along the Gill. The map told me that if I followed this it would take me up the side of the Gill, back to the Land Rover track. I spent a couple of minutes weighing up the possibilities. The bridleway was steep and narrow, no more than a sheep track cut into a steep hillside and rising to some 200 feet above the stream in the valley bottom. I’d have to push the bike up it somehow. The alternative was to cycle the other way down to Gunnerside village and follow the road back to Surrender Bridge. I decided to take the bridleway.

Half way up I met a couple of walkers coming down.
‘My god!’ said one of them, ‘A man with a bike!’
I smiled and nodded.
‘We might be able to help you,’ he said.
‘How’s that?’ I said.
‘We’re both trained psychiatric nurses,’ he said.
After a brief, friendly chat, we went our separate ways.

The slope eased off and at last, after having to drag the bike up a final steep slope, I made it to the Land Rover track. I stopped there for a rest, eating, drinking and admiring the view, safe in the knowledge that the ride back to Surrender Bridge would be relatively easy and mostly downhill.

Someone who didn’t end up pushing his bike down it has made a film of the descent of Friarfold Hush. It’s all worth watching but the descent itself starts at about 3:06.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Road

The other day I went on quite a long car journey and arrived back home late at night. The road I drove down, doing my best, in the dark, to concentrate on the white lines and cats-eyes unrolling in front of me, was a relatively new one to me. My routes are chosen partly by contingency and partly by what I want to feel as I travel. I have to admit the nostalgia suckers me and the route I took holds my interest more than the newer, faster, more uniform A1. Twilight enhances the effect: the fading of the sun changes the world from

WALL

colour to black and white, surely the medium of preference for the lost world I’m dreaming of. The A1 cuts a line North across England, to the East of the Pennines. Here and there, along its length, sections of older roads shadow it, often just beyond the  wooden fences and  the recently-planted trees that border the new road. These areas of so-called “soft estate”, designed to screen out the road from the outside evoke, from the inside, a half-imaginary distant past of continuous forest and wild land. However, I’ve taken to traveling on those old, straight roads beyond the fences. When I do so I always feel an elusive sense of a more recent past – of non-dualled “A roads” dotted with occasional lay-bys, garages, lorry parks and cafés.

LORRY

My first journeys were made in a succession of second hand Lada estate cars. These were great. The British motor-trade used to endlessly denegrate the Lada: they were cheap cars and I can only think they  knew that if everyone realised how good they were, more people would buy them. They were good, too, in an age when one could realistically fix one’s own car.  I used to change the plugs and the oil myself. Once, I corrected an electrical fault  by dismantling, fixing and rebuilding a relay.

Frequently in those days I found myself driving from where I lived in Halifax to my parents’ house in Wensleydale, usually with my children, who were very small then. The road out of Halifax climbs almost up to the level of the lowest South Pennine moors. You pass the forest-lined Ogden Reservoir on you left. On the moor above it, there used to be a pub, The Withins Inn. When we first moved to Yorkshire, we went there a lot. You could go for a walk on the moor and buy a pint of beer and a cheap lunch afterwards. It was a good morning out for hill-loving adults with small children. Last time I drove past it, it was  a private house. The moor beyond it is dotted with white wind turbines.

Whenever I drive that first leg of the journey -from Halifax to Keighley- I imagine the area I’m traveling through being used as a location for a film of Lord of the Rings. This is my Mordor. It’s a land of marginal-looking farmland divided by tumble-down, blackened stone walls. Wuthering Heights country lies just over the hill. It’s grim. At least, it feels that way, to me.

Beyond Keighley, the land softens a little. At Skipton, the gritstone gives way to limestone. The whole landscape seems lighter. I find it impossible to drive up Wharfedale to Kilnsey and beyond without wanting to stop, get out and walk on the hills. In fact, it strikes me now that to drive, to travel along lines from one places to another, is often associated, for me, with walking fantasies. Something in me wants to make the journey I’m making on foot and -where there are hills- along the hilltops. From  the comfortable interior of a car, all seems effortless. The windscreen can so easily become too like the screen of a silent film. You think you’re in a place – but you can’t smell it or hear it. Is it warm or is it cold? You can’t feel the breeze on your face. If it’s raining, the wipers brush the water aside. You’re hardly there at all. It comes home to you when you cycle the same route and you experience all the missing elements. You realize, too, how steep the hills are. It comes home to you, too, when things go wrong.

Once, I was driving through Wharfedale in the dark, with my two small children in the back (it was before the third was born).  Not far from where the road passes Kilnsey Crag, I found myself driving through a deep puddle. It came up to  the bottom of the door, and seemed, in the dark, to go on forever. It had never happened to me before: I did what I’d been told to do and came out safely the other side.

Then the car stopped. I tried to start it again, but nothing happened. I was sat, in the dark on a remote road with two (for now) sleeping children in the back. What does one do? It was before the days of mobile phones. After a few minutes, another car came came down the road. Sensing a problem, the driver stopped. He said he’d be coming back the same way in a few minutes and if I was still here, he’d tell the garage in Kettlewell. It was good of him but there was no need. A few minutes later the electrics dried out and the car started.

I think of this every time I pass Kilnsey Crag. I don’t drive past it very often these days but when I did, years ago, I’d often stop to watch rock climbers attempting the overhang. Something about the cliff captured my imagination. My father painted me a watercolour of it. It’s hanging on the wall over my left shoulder as I type.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maiden Castle

 

I went for a run over Harkerside Fell in Swaledale the other day. I took a camera with me, as my route took in Maiden Castle – an Iron Age structure I’d not explored before. I’ve often seen it on the Ordnance Survey map and, since it’s  not far from here, I’ve often thought of visiting it, but never got round to it – I’m not sure why.

I set off from a lay-by not far from Grinton Youth Hostel and took a route across the moor to Grinton Gill, a stream that runs through a ravine. The path zigs and zags across the ravine’s steep sides before returning to the open expanse of the moor. I checked the map carefully from this point  on, as it wasn’t an area I knew well. The moor is criss-crossed with paths, some marked on the map and others not.  One thing that was obvious from the map was that I had to neither climb nor descend but keep contouring round the hill until the castle came in sight. Trouble was, I’d not seen it before and wasn’t sure how obvious it would be when I did find it.

It’s thought Maiden Castle was created about 600BC, perhaps falling out of use after the Roman Invasion. I was surprised to find how little was known about it. I’ve searched the internet and for every known fact there is quite a lot of speculation. A ditch surrounds a pear-shaped enclosure, big enough to accommodate a small village. Unusually, the entrance is flanked by an avenue of piled rocks about 100 yards long.

I needn’t have worried. The avenue was distinctive and as soon as it came into sight I dropped down the hillside to the start of it, as I wanted to make my first approach to the monument by walking along it. Was this the site of a settlement or place of religious significance? Some of the uncertainty about the place revolves around this. As you walk along the avenue you certainly experience  a sense of awe, but then the most prosaic things can have this effect when they are this old.

I stood in the central area, trying to take it all in. I wandered around the ditch. I took a few photos (see the slideshow, below) although I was very much aware that it was impossible to capture the scale of the place with a camera.

I’d intended to run on to the top of Harkerside but I was thirsty. Stupidly, I’d left my water-bottle in the car. I didn’t want to struggle on feeling parched so I headed back, leaving the top of the hill to another day.

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