Wednesday, 21 January 2015

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills…

Betwix’ thi ’ills, s’ bleak an’ barren,
Lies a little town, bi the name o’ Darren.

For most of the first forty years of my life, I lived on the western edge of the Pennines: cradled by tall hills and rugged moorland; and for the latter half of that period, made my home on the edge of a small industrial town, whose low centre lies 172 metres above sea level; and whose most famous landmark – itself 26 metres high – stands on the “bleak an’ barren” (but utterly beautiful) moors 372 metres above the Lancashire coastline: with Blackpool Tower visible, nearly thirty miles away, on a clear day.

If you can see the tower, it’s going to rain.
If you can’t, it’s raining.

I therefore feel utterly at home when the terrain huddles around me – although this does not mean (especially as my legs grow older) that I need to be climbing; just that the altitude needs to be such that I know, even with my eyes closed (although that would just be plain silly, when there are so many delights to soak in…), I am not in the lowlands or the flatlands of our country’s varied topography.

Over the weekend, I therefore found myself driving through freshly-fallen snow and thick fog, as the sun rose – clearing the hilltops; but leaving the deep hollows in-between filled with thick strands of cottonwool – with an inexorable desire to don my walking boots, and retrace some familiar steps from that earlier existence. From the single set of tracks, and lone 4x4 sitting in the pristine, bright crispness, it was obvious that this would also be the peaceable experience I hankered after: complementing my memories with refreshing vistas (of the sort, I’m afraid, that you can only find many miles north of Tysoe…).

It’s not a long walk (about two-and-a-half miles) around Turton and Entwistle Reservoir – formed by what was the tallest dam (33 metres) in Britain, when it was constructed in 1832 – even when it’s cold enough to leave it partially frozen; and, on a less treacherous day (and without other commitments), I would have carried on around its lower sibling, Wayoh Reservoir, stopping for refreshments (and warmth) at the welcoming Strawbury Duck pub, right by Entwistle railway station; and which is therefore most easily accessed by train (especially tempting if you travel from the north through the remarkable over-a-mile long Sough Tunnel – the (debatable) source of a very local saying, which basically translates as “on the road to nowhere”).

When the fog cleared (before returning, and creeping slowly and surreptitiously across the valley), an almost Alpine landscape revealed itself: flecked with white, and mirrored perfectly under a crystal-blue sky. It therefore took me nearly two hours to complete the circuit: stopping both to admire and to capture the coolness, the calmness, the quietness and restfulness that was the perfect panacea for anyone’s troubles; my only companions being the tits, robins, blackbirds, ducks, gulls and herons scratching, digging and diving for sustenance.

I so love Tysoe; but I also, occasionally, miss the hills of the north (and usually more, the closer they are – approaching or departing): rejoicing in their rugged majesty; their snowcapped peaks; as well as the challenge they can present, when in the mood. They reward my efforts with a calm and a presence that I can find nowhere else. I will be back….

You ask me why I dwell in the green mountain;
I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care.
As the peach-blossom flows downstream and is gone into the unknown,
I have a world apart that is not among men.

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