Back in the Peak District! A few weekends ago, before Aberystwyth even, before the anthropocene decided that summer would be cut short. I am writing an editorial for City in my own blood at the minute, so thought I would take a break to vicariously breathe the wind, taste the air and freedom, regain perspective on deadlines, cross this little thing off the to-do list. We were following the walk as signposted by Ali Cooper in Archaeology Walks in the Peak District, but started at Hope train station as all those without cars must do. It was beautiful.
In this field, the Roman fort of Navio once stood, occupied between AD 75-120 and from about AD 160-360.
A town full of civilians also once stood here — all that is left still visible are some stones of the wall embedded in the ground and a collection of masonry in the field’s middle. They found lead ingots here, so the Romans were definitely mining these hills. We walked up towards Castleton
Skipped Peveril’s castle as we’d already been.
On towards Odin Mine:
Through a field with two lost lambs who didn’t understand the concept of lateral movement.
Mined for lead since the 13th Century, legend has Odin mined by the Romans and the Danes as well (hence the name). This mine comes complete with ore-crushing circle, where a horse once pulled a gritstone to crush the rock! Now I know what those are.
And then up to Mam Tor starting along the old road fractured through subsidence in a fairly apocalyptic way
We climbed up, really really far up and then up some more. The tor is surrounded by an immense ditch from the Iron Age, once home to a large settlement over a long span of years — though it is hard to tell now how regularly it was occupied. This is what archaeologists think it might have looked like once.
It is looking back you can get a better sense of the scale of the ditch marked along the hillside though you have to look closely at the photograph which doesn’t do justice (of course) to how marked it was as we stood there.
It is beautiful, windy, wild, from here we walked along the ridge towards Black Tor and Lose Hill.Artifacts have been found on Black Tor as well, though it is unknown if this was a residential or burial site.
We continued on
Chased by the rain
And down, passing a horde of London youth mourning the lack of escalators. We laughed, marveled at the foxgloves.
Found a pint.
It is hard to remember the moors exist on a day like today in front of the computer filled with frustrations. I have to remember that the road goes ever ever on. Just like in this cool display from the Hobbit.
Of course, Mark wanted me to call this post ‘Circling the Cement Factory’, which we did. I quite loved the cement factory I must confess.
But I loved most the wild, misty windswept hills with as few people on them as possible. I am far too domesticated.
Aberystwyth is quite wonderful in terms of the interesting, the beautiful, the strange. Its cult 60s upper floor brutalist diner.
Its interior decoration.
Its basement of books.
Its splendour of shop windows.
Its rumble of bikers on sunny days.
Its gangsters or the sweeney or the owners of the funicular railway?
The view over Aberystwyth in the UKs largest camera obscura
The view heading back down on the funicular railway:
A genuine welsh choir
A site of the first protest for the survival and revival of the Welsh language.
The city itself charms, it is amazing the difference paint makes to pebbledash, which I can never find other than utterly grim when left unpainted. I care not how it weathers rain. The streets wind, open up on new vistas. There are a scattering of large stone buildings, some old beamed things. This old pub still has this small area in front of it expanding the public space of the street — once common here, or so the plaque says. Such a brilliant space.
And again I am reminded the importance of paint, but also the bow windows and the variegated surface, the light and shadow and interest this creates.
Beyond the castle rises Pen Dinas Hill Fort, built around 400 BC. Every town should have one of these. As we climbed, we were also able to look down on preparations for a day of horse racing. And we met the loveliest dog.
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.
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.
Climbed up and looked out across the hills. Walked and walked, saw some local hill sheep.
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.
Also, I had dragged Mark out on this walk in deck shoes. Neither of our shoe decisions was fortuitous.
Still, sheep scattered before us with fear, picturesque against the heather-covered hills.
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.
We continued on and on. Crossed more water running sluggishly in the heat filtering down through sun dappled trees.
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.
We descended further, came to the mine tailings of the Cwm Rheidol.
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.
Yet we knew we would have to climb back up.
Back up to the railway line.
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.
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.
The oldest built between 1075–1200, the second in 1753, and the third in 1901. The three of the span this incredible chasm.
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.
I hated summer today. Sunburns everywhere like bruises. So hot, but unlike lazy Tucson days it felt as though here someone had picked the town up and shaken it so everyone clinging by threads or riding along any kind of edge had fallen out twitching and needing a fix. Men wandered the streets whip thin, shirts off and ribs sticking through badly tattooed skin. Excited with an edge of anger, voices raised even when they were just talking about haircuts, bicycles. Nowhere lives and early deaths marking their gaunt stubbled faces. Visible addiction here belongs only to them. Mass unemployment here now for a good few generations, the closing of pits and factories. My heart hurt and I wanted a drink, still, I wouldn’t be going round the Wetherspoons today. It opened at 8 am. It snapped and snarled and soppily swore at full capacity and anything could have kicked off.
Instead I felt like spending the cool of the evening going to throw rocks at the original captain-of-industry’s ‘castle’, raging against the violence of this wealth extraction and abandonment — its chemical decimation of generations and its blight upon the earth.
Tomorrow I get to go home.
This miserable town. Boredom, hopelessness, despair drip as condensation down its every surface to deaden the skin and the eyes, light up a thousand cigarettes. Defeat’s miasma curls wood, strips paint, shatters windows, repairs them again with superglue and uneven squares of plexiglass. Or leaves them jagged stars. Watches beautiful buildings sag and fall in a slow moaning plea for new use, truncates facades gawping at the sky, metals up entrances as it sends roofs slowly collapsing into the mildewed black holes beneath. Closes up all but the cheapest pubs, strip clubs. Ensures anger and violence always simmer just beneath the surface, marks couples by angry words, makes bodies spread wide or condense into hardened addict knots of wasted flesh. Faces too old.
Here and there a brave effort tries to rise above it. One holds knock-off china of a poorly-executed traditional pattern and cakes no one will ever eat embalmed in its windows. There are no bookstores. There are many people who do not embody poverty and despair here as foil to the rest, but they will not be found walking here after five. They disappear in cars to pockets of relative prosperity after picking up groceries at the giant Asda, carefully avoiding its predecessing poverty-stricken brutalist arcade next door. The two buildings together must have claimed a large section of the city center.
It is as miserable in the heat as it was in the rain and December’s freezing chill.
I hoped to escape, to find a mountain I walked up a broad paved path through a park, garbage winking at me everywhere beneath a welcome cover of riotous summer growth. It was isolated, trees and high banks to either side, beautiful old trees. Defeat running through their sap, their leaves keening. This is no safe place, there is nowhere to run but a preordained forward or back. A shuffling figure ahead of me, zombied with spice, dragging something from the bushes. Forward or back. Forward. No fear. It is some kind of jacket left here some time ago, he has dragged it into the middle of the path. Forward, he tries to see me but his eyes can’t focus, his lips can’t move to shut the gaping mouth over rotting teeth. His skin is mottled, I would not recognise him again because there is little of him here. It must feel like hours between thought and jerking steps. My heart breaks. Three others up ahead. Two young and one old, none of them have many teeth. All way too fucking thin, sinews standing out, anger simmering, arguing. Still walking with purpose, intent. Homemade tattoos stand out against white flesh. Only the old (prematurely old) one sees me, at my nod he makes way. ‘Sorry, love’ he says. I like his smile.
And then I am on an estate. A wide sprawling one, semi-detached houses that have all seen better days. Nothing else here. A sense of barrenness. Isolation. No plants, gardens. A place strangers never come, I can tell by the way cars slow with their music blaring, by the curious gazes of the children. I feel myself curling up inside because there is nothing about me that belongs to this place. This is somewhere so long cast out from belonging they belong only to each other. I am familiar with these places, knowing one makes you no more welcome in another. The mountain is getting closer. I swing my way through stares like wet concrete.
I approach what I suddenly realise is a motorway. No way over to escape to the mountains, you must go under. A fucking underpass, here. No way to walk alongside the road. No way to safely cross it. I can already smell the underpass. There is only forward and back. The air is horribly sickly sweet but underneath is human waste. Two fires have been lit here, I would guess to burn the sum of someone’s meagre possessions. Charred shapes rise from the ground, they feel alive, malignant. The underpass is actually a series of bridges. I stared, you cannot see from this place of safety what lies beyond. The tunnel that must be there.
Forward or back.
It was back. Had to be.
Past the same eyes, wading through the same concrete for the worst of it. I did manage to bypass the ‘park’ and instead curved down another road that opened up views across the valley — I had no idea how high I had already climbed. It should have been beautiful, but wasn’t. Down I went.
Oslo is a lovely city, a wonderful city to wander — we didn’t realise how big it was until we took the ferry out to the Viking ship museum (zomg the viking ship museum, amazing), but it feels human size, liveable. I think partly it is because only a short walk from the center you reach areas where you find things like this:
I’ve not been to a city with quite this shape — a yard or second road and houses tucked in behind them. It creates variety, interest, surprise — all the things Cullen and Alexander described as key to an interesting human environment. The above picture isn’t the most picturesque, but the only shot that managed to capture some of the contrasts, and just how cool a space this is.
Then there are the old streets of wooden houses. But I have already sung their praises.
There are balconies that seem well used, cafes spilling out onto sidewalks, coloured lights and tables and chairs inviting you to enjoy any summer evenings you can manage. Lots of street furniture too, in pallet style though I am fairly certain that is not cheap pallet wood upcycled.
It is also almost all mixed use and plenty of small shops, like this fruit and veg vendor protecting his wares by a small sacrifice to the birds. There are parks and green spaces all over.
There is a museum dedicated to Labour — we walked up the Akerselva to the old working class neighbourhoods to get there (I confess, they don’t really feel working class any more).
Lots of cobbled streets still. I love them, though I love them more since I stopped wearing heels.
The museum itself is small, nice, not quite enough about Labour and a little too even handed in describing the workings of capital, but we’re biased. It was worth a visit, and had we not gone we would have missed these splendid waterfalls in their entirety. They appeared nowhere in my admittedly quick search for weird and wonderful things to see — that turned up the mini bottle museum (closed), but not this beauty?
This was the centre of Oslo’s industry, the museum had an exhibition on of paintings of the Aker. These waterfalls once powered sawmills, later textile factories. A vision of it as it once was below:
Heading out towards the Munch Museum we passed what felt more like the current environs of the working class. Nice, I love these balconies, with their built in window boxes.
There is street art everywhere, here off of Tøyengata we found a beauty, along with an impressive diversity and some old buildings and cracked walls and lots of tags and stores that sell everything with brand names you don’t recognise that made me feel right at home.
Perhaps what I loved best was how massive luxurious modernity was squished into its own small section — though modern building is spread through out the city. This ‘landmark area’ still felt more vibrant and interesting than say Salford Quays (though we didn’t venture in), but they’ve actually done very interesting things with long narrow buildings lines all up in a row. I like them confined this way.
With wonderful plazas, a parade for each day we were there, some of the best public art I’ve seen as well as awesome (often anti-fascist) graffiti and stickers, I enjoyed Oslo immensely, despite the rain. Just reminded us of home I suppose.