Category Archives: The Wilds

Grindleford to Hathersage: Quarries, Millstones and Little John’s Grave

We took the train to Grindleford with a walking plan in place, but as the train wheels span us forward across the moors our hopes were quietly dashed by the mist setting low and low across the peaks. We sat in Grindleford Station Cafe and had the best bacon and egg sandwich I may possibly have ever had, pondered plans. Set off in the wrong direction for Padmore Gorge. Turned around.

We walked through midday’s leafy dusk, boulders covered with moss and great thick trunks of trees rising from massive gnarling roots, the rush of water, twisting branches of oak dark against the emerald green. Some of the leaves glowed golden, already beginning to turn with the coming fall but the day was warm enough to climb the gorge in T-shirts.

Grindleford to Hathersage

Grindleford to Hathersage

Grindleford to Hathersage

The map showed a stone circle, an old settlement, which we decided to leave the gorge to try and find. We failed in this, but found instead a haunting landscape quarried from the earth long enough ago that its edges have been blunted, harsh planes softened by soil and growing things. Spectacular mushrooms that hardly seemed real.

Grindleford to Hathersage

We climbed out to find ourselves on a strange branching isthmus of earth, quarries falling away to each side. A multitude of paths not marked on our map, bracken and white birches. We climbed down and then up again.

Grindleford to Hathersage Walks

Grindleford to Hathersage Walks

A graveyard of millstones. This uncanny landscape the creation of backbreaking labour, skill expended and so much of it in vain. Moss grows on these rolling stones left to sit here across centuries, no longer needed to grind our wheat. The story is that this is Napoleon’s fault, that damn war and shifting technologies which I partly make up and poorly remember as a good story, initial provenance possibly M. John Harrison via Mark, unverified by wikipedia.

Grindleford to Hathersage Walks

Grindleford to Hathersage Walks

Grindleford to Hathersage

Then we crossed the road, and climbed up up onto the moors, the mist retreated to a more picturesque degree and revealed the glories of the Peak District, one of my favourite places on earth.

Grindleford to Hathersage

Grindleford to Hathersage

Grindleford to Hathersage Walk

A woman was flying a drone, it’s ominous buzzing and angry red lights filled me with terrors imagined from places where these military toys carry surveillance and death. We left her quickly behind, the wild beauty of this place swallowed up the ominous, fragile metal thing. How soon it would rust away here, as though it had never been.

And then, briefly, the sun came out.

Grindleford to Hathersage Walk

Grindleford to Hathersage

We continued down, down into Hathersage. Sent tired feet in search of Little John’s grave, thought of Robin Hood.

Grindleford to Hathersage

Thought more of dinner. Walked down beside the river and were sent wrong by directions to the pub. Encountered mist rising.

Grindleford to Hathersage

Then we retraced steps, climbed again, tired, the sun setting across the valley.

Grindleford to Hathersage

Happiness. More happiness in the Millstones Pub and the shape of pints and Yorkshire puddings of the very best kind, heaped with riches.

Grindleford to Hathersage

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Għarb to Marsalforn, Gozo

Our last walk on Gozo, it involved no ruins or temples, but we saw more salt pans and we found one stone circle but of nature’s origination. Għarb was definitely one of my favourite villages. We passed the shrine to St Dimitri, who legend has it emerged from his frame in this chapel to rescue a boy stolen away by slavers and returned him to his mother. We passed a tumbled pile of carved stone balustrades. There were wildflowers we had never seen before, more windswept coast — but not quite what we were expecting. I think the beauty of the cliffs all around this island raise expectations a little high. But then we reached the deep gullies carved by ocean, the great window. The sun went setting behind us. Lovely.

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Xlendi Cave

For the first time we heard the sea, it roared through the night with a crashing of waves as the wind picked up. No swimming in the morning, even if we had been up early enough to beat the crowds. This sea that I could not imagine other than placid and still suddenly alive and reaching hungrily far beyond where I had thought it’s boundaries lay. We walked down into town, found the narrow path and the stairs in the rock, had no idea there was a cave to be found. What luck that it should be the day when the sea should pound and sing here.

Xlendi Cave

Xlendi Cave

Xlendi Cave

Xlendi Cave

Lizards scurried over the rocks. There is one here if you can find it.

Xlendi Cave

We climbed back out. We sat for a while staring out to the knight’s tower, to the salt pans, watching the crashing of waves and mocking the German tourists.

Xlendi Cave

Xlendi Cave

Xlendi Cave

Then suddenly, pirates.

Xlendi Cave

Limestone Cliffs and Salt Pans, Xlendi Bay

Late afternoon and the air begins to cool, just a little. We explore moonscapes, stare at the shells emerging from the ground beneath us, they seem too brittle for fossils, but how else have they come here? Yet they sit next to circles of rust, marking the presence of metal. Setting sun picks up the yellow of limestone, turns it chromatic against the blue of the sky, picks out the smooth shapes carved out of it by wind and rain and sea leaving sweeping lines of wonder. Smooth boulders. A heart. The Knight’s watchtower seems almost a part of it, anchored there by the door carved into the stone and the tunnel that must be there holding it fast like a dark hand. Below the salt pans, carved by human hands into the rock to capture sea and its salt in the form of crystals. In one direction the open Mediterranean, in the other the cliffs.

They are beautiful even in the early morning light.

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Sunset, Xlendi Bay

We attempted a walk in the morning, beautiful, but the heat sent us stumbling back, though first we got to the oldest of the four surviving Knight’s watchtowers on Gozo, built in 1650 to guard this bay against (other) pirates.

Xlendi Bay

The salt pans:

We retreated, returned in the evening. Found a cat-shaped hole in the hillside, from which its eyes burned.

Xlendi Bay

And the magnificent cliffs.

Xlendi Bay

Xlendi Bay

Xlendi Bay

Xlendi Bay

Xlendi Bay

Down to the Sanap cliffs, where we found a family eating their meal on a fold up table beside their car.

Xlendi Bay

and then a race back home against darkness…

Xlendi Bay

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Devil’s Bridge and the Rheidol Valley Steam Train

Trains. I really love steam trains, and the Rheidol Valley Steam Train is a corker. It is second only to the train from Chama to Antonito in my experience, though granted my experience is still very small taking a global view. This narrow-gauge train, opened in 1902,  leaves from Aberystwyth and climbs and climbs through the valley to Devil’s Bridge.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Devil's Bridge Walk

Crawls up the valley. Stops to refill, and allowed us to marvel at the wonderful raised beds full of wondrous flower plantings — it is amazing how this whole project is loved. The volunteers were young, with leather caps and overalls. Life was fine on this Saturday.

Finally we arrived at Devil’s Bridge. Everyone headed there directly so we headed in the opposite direction, following the walk which can be found detailed here.

It’s longer than 6 miles.

We walked to the ruins of Bodcoll’s Woolen Mill, mysterious, overgrown. The river Mynach is beautiful here, impossible to photograph the smooth bowls its waterfalls have carved from the rock.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Devil's Bridge Walk

Climbed up and looked out across the hills. Walked and walked, saw some local hill sheep.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Got a bit lost. Got back on track.

Saw this little church, built in a much older sacred site and incorporating standing stones into the walls. I was tempted to swing by, but there were cows between us and the church.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Also, I had dragged Mark out on this walk in deck shoes. Neither of our shoe decisions was fortuitous.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Still, sheep scattered before us with fear, picturesque against the heather-covered hills.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Feeling powerful we strode up and up, young and strong, not a single ache or pain, not a breath out of place, the wind teasing our hair, the horseflies shying away from our very splendour. We found ruins, marveled at thick walls of stone.

Devil's Bridge Walk

We continued on and on. Crossed more water running sluggishly in the heat filtering down through sun dappled trees.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Then up again.

And then down and down and down a steep, rock stubbled roadway,  sharp points penetrating the thin soles of Mark’s shoes though he made not a single complaint. We came to a stand of Scots pines, which the guide tells us have long been associated with rights of way, planted to mark overnight stops for men and cattle as they moved across the land, and at difficult sections of the route.

Devil's Bridge Walk

We descended further, came to the mine tailings of the Cwm Rheidol.

Devil's Bridge Walk

They continue to pollute the river and surrounding area, the informational sign noted the presence of marcasite, a mineral which in the presence of air and moisture (and this is Wales you know, there’s a lot of moisture) begins to develop a powdery white bloom and a whiff of sulpher as it crumbles away (if it’s in a museum exhibit) or dissolves into a sulpheric acid that can also melt lead and zinc into a rather toxic mess.

Still. I spent many holiday excursions of my youth around mine tailings, this made me happy. I know it shouldn’t.

Down into the valley, it was beautiful.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Yet we knew we would have to climb back up.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Devil's Bridge Walk

Back up to the railway line.

Devil's Bridge Walk

And then those bastards made us walk parallel this fairly level if steady climb in a strenuous up and down pattern that echoed the larger walk in microcosm. Until finally, with only once getting lost at the very brink of town, we arrived back.

Past the station and on to Three Bridges itself. Looking down.

Devil's Bridge Walk

A pound in the slot gets you through the old fashioned and terribly narrow iron-barred entrance. Look at this place, three generations of bridge built one upon the other.

Devil's Bridge Walk

The oldest built between 1075–1200, the second in 1753, and the third in 1901. The three of the span this incredible chasm.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Why devil’s bridge? The legend of the old woman who outwitted the devil himself — tragically at the expense of her loyal dog — can be found here. George Borrow wrote of it, Wordsworth too. I haven’t let Wordsworth ruin it though.

I had remembered this bridge from watching Y Gwyll, which I quite loved and have an immense desire to watch again now that I know these landscapes so much better.

We had no time for a pint. We boarded the train. And then failed to find a table at any of Aberystwyth’s fine dining establishments. We bought some wine at the Spar and had a glorious fish and chips sitting on a bench by the harbour.

Most wonderful.

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Queequeg’s room and Pinkletinks

Queequeg! Who could have guessed that he stayed — well, Amos Smalley, upon whom Melville based the character — in this very room (that top room, there at the sunlit end), in this very house  where I first met Sam’s grandmother wearing a baseball cap backwards to dinner causing what I later realised was probably some level of disapproval. I stayed here the last time I came, when Queequeg’s room was Tas’s. Her family built this house long ago.

Martha's Vineyard

So exciting. Good to come back to a place that always feels a bit like home away from home, after Sam and me got ourselves through college commiserating over worries about our families, lack of funds, the love and loss of land, and missing wildness. We also both lived in  in places inundated by seasonal tourists, though the ones on her island were of a slightly different sort. We would escape to the basement in Mary Lyons to drink tea in the evenings — escape everyone else — listen to music, talk about home and writing. We invented the happiness game. I wish we lived within at least a thousand miles of each other.

I love that it still feels wild here, and old. Surrounded by ocean:

Martha's Vineyard

Walking through woods full of lovely stone walls from when this place was once grazed flat by sheep:

Martha's Vineyard

Old iron wheels and the great tower from those (very semi)industrial times when this island once produced the bricks that helped build Boston’s Beacon Hill

Martha's Vineyard

Martha's Vineyard

The beginnings of spring (already in full daffodil flower here in Manchester, with crocuses being done), and the season of pinkletinks. I was invited to share the audible delights of peeper’s corner, and we sought them further here:

I am forgetting this pond’s name, black silver reflecting the last of the beech leaves before the new green begins. And now the pinkletink.

Imagine them so loud they can be heard for miles, through the glass car windows even. So loud that as you approach they hurt your ears. They remained invisible to us, escaping to obscurity and silence as we approached.

They are also reintroducing Cranberry bogs, amazing:

Martha's Vineyard

This island also has the best baked goods I have had in ages. But mostly, I loved the beauty of it. The emptiness of it. And I miss the whole of this family, who feel a bit like mine, except that they are always so very late. I was so sad to leave…yet I was leaving in the co-pilot’s seat of a tiny Cessna (look, it’s me!)

This made me feel like a flyer or a film star, and was an incredible view as we flew through crystal clear skies to Boston. I now know what some, not all, of those buttons, levers and gauges do.

It took the sting off, I confess. But I was still sad to go.

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We got more sunsets the last time I was here, seven years ago now… hope it’s not another seven before I get back.

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Marsden Moor

It’s spring, and that means finally a better chance to really get outside for a while, breathe deep, get out onto the moors with space all around. Happiness. We are so close now to moors and a little wildness, so close to the Peak District. A train ride away.

So today we took the train to Greenfield, and walked up along the canal to Diggle — that was crowded with Sunday walkers but nice.

Greenfield to Marsden

Above all, the pair of Labradors that continuously launched themselves in flying leaps into the canal. They were glorious. I saw the first leap, and as we continued walking we could hear a new splash behind us after every lock, turned around to see them happily swimming back to a laborious exit.

Diggle is where the canal goes underground — the longest, highest AND deepest canal in all the UK.

Greenfield to Marsden

We climbed up onto the Pennine Way, slowly leaving village, grass, and human beings behind us.

Greenfield to Marsden

We climbed part of the way through the detritus removed from the tunnels beneath us…not only the canal, but three different train tunnels dug at different points. The view looking back.

Greenfield to Marsden

Up to Brun Clough reservoir.

Greenfield to Marsden

And then up across the moors. Golden brown enough still with winter to warm any desert girl’s heart, a little too boggy for our trainers — this is the way not taken:

Greenfield to Marsden

This the old turnpike road we traveled:

Greenfield to Marsden

Final freedom of Marsden moor before the descent to green fields:

Greenfield to Marsden

Coming into Marsden:

Greenfield to Marsden

And finally, the picturesque dignity of sheep (I jest, you know I do, I know too much about sheep now):

Greenfield to Marsden

Greenfield to Marsden

Greenfield to Marsden

A delicious meal in the Brewery Riverhead Tap, and back on the train to Manchester. With a sigh I confess. We still have to go back to find the Roman road.

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