Pyrenees wildflowers get their own post, from irises and lilies and roses to orchids and tiny flowers hidden among the windswept rocks, they were all extraordinary.
An amazing walk, starting from La Estación de Canfranc and walking up and up. We stopped first at the Coll de Ladrones, hill of thieves — we had been staring at it the day before.
The first fortifications were built here in the 16th century. But this incredible space is from the 18th Century, started after the war of independence and built to guard the valley against France. It sits amongst many more modern defenses built by Franco here beginning in 1944. None of them are as amazing as this. You walk up to the main gate, and it’s only then that you realise this hill is essentially moated:
You can’t get down there.
We continued up from there. Across rubble and through flowers.
Up to the fields
We walked along this stream most of the way
This is as high as we got — we did not find the dolmen, and it seemed no one else was as keen on such things as me, so it was not seen on any of my maps nor marked after that first sign that sent us astray.
Looking up to the right
Back down the valley
More beautiful places. And cows, each with its bell.
Walk Almost To The Dolmen Of Izas
We’re in Zaragoza! Mark is examining a PhD even now as I sit in relative luxury. We spent two(ish) days in the Pyrenees and they were amazing, this is our first short walk up to the casita blanca y el mirador del epifanio…I imagine these woods full of partisans, makes them as magical as they were beautiful. The Station itself has an amazing history, but more on that later…
La casita blanca is relatively recent, built as part of the work to reforest this hillside to control avalanaches and landslides.
A little higher is the ‘lookout’ over the Epifanio, a wide dam from which you can look down to La Estacion de Canfranc
And up to the peaks.
And if you look very closely you can see the group of chamois we saw drinking there. There was a whole large group of them, but almost invisible in the shade. They are almost in the photo’s center, on the rock just to the left of the stream.
And then back down again, to the welcome shade of the forest. It was very hot, the forest very beautiful.
I loved York, it’s my brother T’s favourite UK city and I could see why…the old medieval streets, the timber framed buildings all slopes and angles, the cathedral and the old churches, Guy Fawkes’ house, Jacobs’ Well, the Merchant Adventurers’ Guild Hall (maybe I’ll get a chance to write about them…but, who are we kidding? I probably won’t), at least three haunted pubs, a number of brilliant bookshops (my case was unbearably heavy heading home and we didn’t even see them all), city walls you can walk on, ruins from the Romans on down, something like 23 cat sculptures hidden on buildings to be found, the most delicious lemon cake I’ve had in some time and ham sandwich triangles from Betty’s Tea Shop, and one of the most beautiful Art Deco cinemas I have ever seen.
It couldn’t help but make me think back to Sitte, Cullen, Alexander about how cities can create drama as you move through them. York curves and opens up unexpectedly, it still has its old narrow passages to what I think must have been once-crowded closes now gone from most cities. It gives such delight, and I know it is mainly because this wasn’t bombed (or then regenerated) flat but still…such delight.
Poorly marked, terribly overgrown — we battled our way through nettles, brambles and thistles. We fought an array of insects and horseflies. It was hot and the air close. It was not particularly scenic nor was it particularly beautiful. Our grand finale was a golf course and the Stagecoach bus station. This was, possibly, the most shit walk ever, but it is in close competition with the now legendary 26-mile-because-we-got-lost ramble from Haye on Wye, or our first memorable encounter with horseflies on the Mersey estuary in a terrible walk from Hale. Still, it had a ruined priory so it comes in third.
The bus timetables were all wrong online, and this was was fatal given how the service to the moors is so limited. I’m finding this to be quite common, you have to download the damn app in every city you go to, to be sure you have the right bus schedule. Our original plan to get to the moors and the Hole of Horcum had to be switched, and this is no easy feat in unfamiliar territory. We took an absurdly expensive bus to Cambreck, which was once a reformatory school and is now residential. We took our lives in our hands and crossed the motorway. We walked along a pleasant path beside the river Derwent, only to find the clearly marked footpath on our Os map is no longer in existence. We backtracked, and that always hurts. We followed the path to Kirkham Priory, with a plan to end in Malton.
This was reasonably beautiful, and the highlight of the walk beyond doubt though the strange clouded day made photography difficult. An Augustinian priory founded in the 1120s, had a fairly uneventful, though wealthy, existence until Henry VIII. Winston Churchill was here among the ruins to watch vehicles practicing for the D-Day landing. It’s hard to imagine, it is a small river, a small space. There is not a lot left.
What followed was also pretty all right for a while. We walked through fields of wheat and potatoes — quite uncertainly, it must be said, but we were indeed on the right track
And then the true purgatory began. It was lit up for a brief moment by an incredible small patch of wetland filled, absolutely filled with dragonflies. I have never seen so many. They were beautiful.
But most of our track looked like this:
We were both bleeding. Mark had great red welts across his calves from the cleggs — my bites didn’t come up until I was back at work annoying everyone else, and myself most of all, by scratching them. Splendid river view? Not so much:
Irises though, we did also get to see irises close up.
Oh look, the footpath continues:
Finally we emerged all too briefly into some woodland, that faded all too quickly into gold course.
We chose not to take this ‘footpath’ and walked down the fairly busy lane instead
I know councils have limited funds and have made hard choices and I do blame the Tory government first and Stagecoach second but…damn it. What a terrible plan B.
Nazi memorabilia, brothels where women stood in windows above their names, local people who, it felt, rather hated us…they certainly hated my poor attempts at German.
But also moments of the sublime.
St Egidien…we walked past and heard the most beautiful music and just sidled in the great doors and sat to listen to a rehearsal.
An older man who was brilliant but a young woman who was truly one of the best I’ve heard, singing there in a white t-shirt and cut-offs. Not Bach, but of the period I think. We could have, should have, lit a candle to the angel of history in the back.
And then there was the fairly brilliant bar Mata Hari (tiny basement bar, regulars, DJ playing 70s vinyl and loving every minute of the music, a German whiskey)
Albrecht Dürer‘s house — quite beautiful, from a time when this was a vibrant centre of politics, trade and culture, one in which Dürer chose to stay rather than be lured away to Venice. He lived here just below the castle, in front of one of the main entrances to the city:
The rooms are full of light — at least the day that we were there. Beautiful rooms.
Not so beautiful, perhaps, how he and these rooms were reinvented to the greater glory of Nuremberg and Germany. A lot feels reinvented here for those reasons somehow, though I loved the sausages and the dark wood paneling and the wine — and wished I could still drink beer. The Golden Postern was delicious and friendly, couldn’t really say the same for anywhere else.
Mark giving a lecture and doing a class at the University in Erlangen, and we deciding to stay in Nuremberg. It is a beautiful town to be honest, and one where life can be lived with grace I think — wide pavements, well maintained buildings of flats, lots of colour that I love. Lots of timber construction, a vibrant market in the centre, brilliant public transport. Also a number of people rough sleeping. Addictions — though they felt of a different kind than those so familiar in Manchester or London.
Statues that were bewildering:
Some terrifying (though I confess I rather liked the latter)
Yet I think we will not be going back to Bavaria, at least not to stay.
It didn’t leave me with the physical sick to the stomach feeling of Bayreuth — the visit to Cosima Wagner’s Wahnfried and Winfred Wagner’s home next door, where Adolf Hitler felt at home, sneaking in after dark in the days after the 1923 failed putsch and then openly feted after his rise to power.
But this was ‘The most German of German Cities’, a centre of Hitler’s support and where they planned to build the massive and monumental Nazi Party Rally Grounds.
A map of what would have been, had not World War started and been lost:
I read Speer’s autobiography many years ago when he writes about designing this, the great outdoor rally grounds with the massive banners, the use of floodlights to create the cathedral effect. It is almost down to foundations now, called the zepplin grounds because a zepplin once landed here in happier days.
It made me happy to see this there though:
Most of this complex still serves as just another park.
This is also the city where Kaspar Hauser appeared on 26 May 1828, claiming to have been held prisoner, rumours ran rife of his parentage, especially after he was stabbed and killed.
The castle was interesting, the transport museum — I loved seeing the train carriages of Bismarck:
And Ludwig II, I love trains and these were absolutely brilliant.
I’m glad to have seen all this, also more happy than usual to be home.
Garbage swirled against my ankles. Napkins and plastic cups used, crushed in the hand, dropped carelessly. A large dead rat lay decayed flat beside a bin. A scattering of people still wandered, some with their dogs and some still wringing the last dregs from a night out. Others settled in where they would sleep. A woman screamed liar and streamed filth from somewhere in the darkness of Picadilly Gardens. ‘We don’t do spice‘ two girls said to a man as I walked past, as I waited briefly to cross behind the tram. Warm summer night as claustrophobic, overheated. Everything felt edged. From Glasgow to Wigan to Victoria, late trains and late arrival and the further station and a ways to walk to the bus and I hadn’t money to waste on a cab and streetlights out, and God I thought to myself I am not sure about this city whose cheeks are growing hollow as it drowns itself in nonrenewables and sends luxury’s chrome and steel up into the sky and kicks its people into the gutters.
We went on a tour of Mayfield Station back a little ways, one of my birthday treats. It was brilliant, Jonathan Schofield is definitely highly recommended. March and April have rushed by in a torrent of insane deadlines, I haven’t even really had time to breathe but this week I have been winding down. Not so much because work is that much slower, though it is a bit, but more just because I have nothing left to keep going with.
So a bit of catch up. Just images of this old commuter station that was never very popular but is quite spectacular (‘an epic civil engineering from 1910 where mighty iron columns stretch into the distance.’) and can also be glimpsed in The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue.
I read, and loved, Hillary Mantel’s Fludd over the Christmas holidays, after finding it on a shelf in the Inverness cottage where we were staying. I copied an extensive, brilliant description of a Peak district village, finding it amazing that they should turn from the moors towards the city while I am always looking from Manchester to the moors. But there is so much more about the moods and manners of a village here. I loved everything about it.
Completely by accident, we happened to visit this same village on Good Friday. The irony is that I had forgotten all about this while searching for a good walk, and in reading about the walk itself, had found only that Hadfield was one of the locations where League of Gentlemen was filmed. If you know it, you might recognise this view of Royston Vasey:
But what follows is a VERY long and wonderful description of Hadfield as was, under another pseudonym of Fetherhoughton.
At this early point, the topography of the village of Fetherhoughton may repay consideration. So may the manners, customs, and dress of its inhabitants. The village lay in moorland, which ringed it on three sides. The surrounding hills, from the village streets, looked like the hunched and bristling back of a sleeping dog. Let sleeping dogs lie, was the attitude of the people; for they hated nature. They turned their faces in the fourth direction, to the road and the railway that led them to the black heart of the industrial north: to Manchester, to Wigan, to Liverpool. They were not townspeople; they had none of their curiosity. They were not country people; they could tell a cow from a sheep, but it was not their business. Cotton was their business, and had been for nearly a century. There were three mills, but there were no clogs and shawls; there was nothing picturesque.
In summer the moorland looked black. Tiny distant figures swarmed over the hummocks and hills; they were Water Board men, Forestry Commission. In the folds of the hills there were pewtercoloured reservoirs, hidden from sight. The first event of autumn was the snowfall that blocked the pass that led through the moors to Yorkshire; this was generally accounted a good thing. All winter the snow lay on the hills. By April it had flaked off into scaly patches. Only in the warmest May would it seem to vanish entirely.
The people of Fetherhoughton kept their eyes averted from the moors with a singular effort of will. They did not talk about them. Someone –it was the mark of the outsider–might find a wild dignity and grandeur in the landscape. The Fetherhoughtonians did not look at the landscape at all. They were not Emily Bronte, nor were they paid to be, and the very suggestion that the Bronte-like matter was to hand was enough to make them close their minds and occupy their eyes with their shoelaces. The moors were the vast cemetery of their imaginations. Later, there were notorious murders in the vicinity, and real bodies were buried there.
The main street of Fetherhoughton was known to the inhabitants as Upstreet: “I am going Upstreet,” they would say, “to the Co-op drapers.” It was not unprosperous. Behind window displays of tinned salmon, grocers stood ready at their bacon slicers. Besides the Co-op draper, the Co-op general store, the Co-op butcher, the Co-op shoe shop, and the Co-op baker, there was Madame Hilda, Modes; and there was a hairdresser, who took the young women into private cubicles, segregated them with plastic curtains, and gave them Permanent Waves. There was no bookshop, nor anything of that sort. But there was a public library, and a war memorial.
Off Upstreet ran other winding streets with gradients of one in four, lined by terraced houses built in the local stone; they had been put up by the mill-owners towards the end of the last century, and rented out to the hands. Their front doors opened straight onto the pavement. There were two rooms downstairs, of which the sitting room was referred to as the House; so that in the unlikely event of anyone from Fetherhoughton explaining their conduct in any way, they might say, “I cleaned miyoopstairs this morning, this afternoon I am bound fert clean the House.”
The speech of the Fetherhoughtonians is not easy to reproduce. The endeavour is false and futile. One misses the solemnity, the archaic formality of the Fetherhoughtonian dialect. It was a mode of speech, Father Angwin believed, that had come adrift from the language around it. Some current had caught them unawares, and washed the Fetherhoughtonians far from the navigable reaches of plain English; and there they drifted and bobbed on waters of their own, up the creek without a paddle.
But this is a digression, and in those houses there was no scope to digress. In the House there would be a coal fire, no heating in any other room, though there might be a single-bar electric fire kept, to be used in some ill-defined emergency. In the kitchen, a deep sink and a cold-water tap, and a very steep staircase, rising to the first floor. Two bedrooms, a garret: outside, a cobbled yard shared between some ten houses. A row of coalsheds, and a row of lavatories: to each house its own coalshed, but lavatories one between two. These were the usual domestic arrangements in Fetherhoughton and the surrounding districts.
Consider the women of Fetherhoughton, as a stranger might see them; a stranger might have the opportunity, because while the men were shut away in the mills the women liked to stand on their doorsteps. This standing was what they did. Recreational pursuits were for men: football, billiards, keeping hens. Treats were doled out to men, as a reward for good behaviour: cigarettes, beer at the Arundel Arms. Religion, and the public library, were for children. Women only talked. They analysed motive, discussed the serious business, carried life forward. Between the schoolroom and their present state came the weaving sheds; deafened by the noise of the machines, they spoke too loudly now, their voices scattering through the gritty streets like the cries of displaced gulls. Treeless streets, where the wind blows.
Consider their outdoor (not doorstep) dress. They wore plastic raincoats of a thick, viscous green, impermeable, like alien skins. Should it chance not to rain, the women rolled these raincoats up and left them about the house, where they appeared like reptiles from the Amazon, momentarily coiled in slumber.
For shoes, the women wore bedroom slippers in the form of bootees, with a big zip up the middle. When they went outdoors they put on a stouter version of the same shoe in a tough dark brown suede. Their legs rose like tubes, only an inch or so exposed beneath the hems of their big winter coats.
The younger women had different bedroom slippers, which relatives gave each other every Christmas. They were dish-shaped, each with a thick ruff of pink or blue nylon fur. At first the soles of these slippers were as hard and shiny as glass; it took a week of wear before they bent and gave under the foot, and during that week their wearer would often look down on them with pride, with a guilty sense of luxury, as the nylon fur tickled her ankles. But gradually the fur lost its bounce and spring, and crumbs fell into it; by February its fibres were matted together with chip fat.
From the doorsteps the women stared at passers-by, and laughed. They knew a joke, when it was pointed out to them, but for the most part their entertainment lay in the discernment of physical peculiarities in those around them. They lived in hope of seeing a passer-by with a hunchback, knock knees, or a hare lip. They did not think that it was cruel to mock the afflicted, they thought it was perfectly natural; they were sentimental but pitiless, very scathing, and unforgiving about any aberration, deviation, eccentricity, or piece of originality. There was a spirit abroad in the village that discriminated so thoroughly against pretension that it also discriminated against ambition, even against literacy.
Off Upstreet was Church Street, another steep hill; it was unpopulated, lined with ancient hedgerows, smoke and dust forming a perpetual ash-like deposit on the leaves. Church Street petered out at its summit into a wide track, muddy and stony, which in Fetherhoughton was known as the carriage-drive. Perhaps sometime in the last century a carriage had driven up it, conveying some pious person; the drive went nowhere except to the village school, to the convent, and to the Church of St. Thomas Aquinas. From the carriage-drive, footpaths led to the hamlet of Netherhoughton, and the moors.
Atop one of the smaller village streets sat a Methodist chapel, square and red, and about it was its cemetery, where chapel-going people came to early graves. There were a few Protestants sprinkled through the terraced rows; each yard might have some. The Protestants’ houses did not have, pinned to the door of the cupboard in the sitting room, a coloured picture of the Pontiff with a calendar beneath; but otherwise, their houses were not readily distinguishable.
And yet the Protestants were quite different, in the eyes of their neighbours. They were guilty of culpable ignorance. They refused to take on board the precepts of the True Faith. They knew that St. Thomas Aquinas was there, but they refused to go in it. They refused to turn over their children to Mother Perpetua for a good Catholic education, and preferred to send them on a bus to a school in another village.
Mother Perpetua would tell the children, with her famous, dangerously sweet smile: “We have no objection to Protestants worshipping God in their own way. But we Catholics prefer to worship Him in his.”
The Protestants were damned, of course, by reason of this culpable ignorance. They would roast in Hell. A span of seventy years, to ride bicycles in the steep streets, to get married, to eat bread and dripping; then bronchitis, pneumonia, a broken hip; then the minister calls, and the florist does a wreath; then devils will tear their flesh with pincers.
It is a most neighbourly thought. (11-13)
I found this quote too from Hilary Mantel in an interview with Jessica Jernigan.
HM: As I say in my author’s note, Fetherhoughton is not to be found on a map, but there is a close geographical match in a village called Hadfield, in the Peak District of Derbyshire, where I was born in 1952. Hadfield has a twin village called Padfield, smaller still and nearer the moors. When I was 4 years old, the bishop of the diocese ordered the statues removed from the church, thus becoming a local hate figure. Earlier than this (my mother tells me) there had been a very popular young priest who disappeared overnight. So you might say I’ve amalgamated two parish legends. I remember that my mother was planning to offer a home to St. Gerard Majella, who stood six foot and was black all over, and is credited with offering special aid to women in childbirth. I heard adults talking, in the air above my head. One said “What are they going to do with the statues?” The other said “Bury them.” A horrible shudder went through my infant frame. I know what I heard, but don’t think they did bury them, and St. Gerard never did come to live with us. It’s a mystery really.
We had gone to Hadfield for a walk, we were thinking about a longer walk up across the moors to Glossop but left late then still missed the train so ended up walking around the reservoirs, with a touch of the moors at least.
The reservoirs weren’t quite beautiful for the most part, but rather full of fascination.
But we also escaped up, into the semi, sort-of wilds:
found a field of the tamest sheep I have ever encountered, all with their mouths open and tongues hanging out which is a funny look for sheep. Also, some damn cute lambs…
We passed a bronze age earthwork, bisected by a stone wall.
Found ruins and my favourite view of an aspirational sheep.
Another sheep with its flock of chickens, and an old trough
We skated in front of the rains
Not until we were almost back to the village did it suddenly occur to me where I knew the name Hadfield from, and that it was in fact the village of Fludd fame and where Hilary Mantel grew up. A matter of minutes later we found this sign about Brosscroft Road:
Strangely no mention of Fludd, but it did mean we could stop a moment in front of her old house and number 20:
walk down the street and have a pint in the New Lamp, stare briefly at the street where her aunt and uncle lived but the rain discouraged any exploration.
Still. A wonderful day. To end, my favourite quote of all from the book:
At midnight Fludd went out alone. It was cold, clear, still; a dried-up half-moon was skewered against the sky. The upper air was full of snow, the year’s first. He could hear his own footsteps. He let his torch-beam loose among the trees, then brought it back to his side, as if it were a serpent he were training (129).
It’s felt such a long slow start to the year, with so many hours of work into late hours, work in slow motion and nothing much finished and much stress so no time for blogs until we went on strike. It is still so confusing that is already almost March.
Mum was here for weeks after we got out of hospital, getting better from pneumonia before she could fly home. I worked from home, and weather permitting we wandered slowly slowly. Unable to walk very far we circled around and around. With her on my arm, I saw things I had never seen before, found nooks and crannies and allies and corners. Cobblestones, just down the row from me.
More cobblestones along the alley behind my yard, an alley I had never seen before, but which suddenly makes this part of the world like something out of Dickens, despite the modernity of the debris down the far end. It goes nowhere, we know, because we followed it all the way down. Stepped over the garbage. Neither of us can resist a cobbled alley, though on my own I would not have braved the last bit.
Continue and there is a triangle of grass, I could almost call it a common and perhaps it was once, a little semi-detached that still has the Victorian wood porch and that I quite love. I could not find an angle to do it justice.
Walk a little further and there are ruins, stairs to nowhere, and the most beautiful of fish.
To continue in this direction is to move back and forth in time, from council flats to terraces of varying classes. An Orthodox church with a bulbous dome. We came to an ordinary home with an enormous front yard full of the first crocuses and snowdrops of the year. A little path to the right through some trees and another church, continue down the street and you see that the church is now a mosque.
This was the furthest edge we reached. We circled cramped between the massive roads that have carved my neighbourhood into pieces and made it unfriendly. Turning, we walked past odd decisions, money run out, speculative building mishaps.
Everywhere these cobbled alleys though. In many places blocked by metal gates, no longer open to wander. Sometimes filled with fascinating discards, if I could have taken these home I would have. Put seats between, like a fancy old cinema…
I can’t imagine they are anything else, but so odd to find them there.
Some streets are very simply, very working class, two up two down, no frills. This one is a step up, with it’s fancy windows.
My street, a bit fancier still. I’ve gone up in the world a bit maybe, but it definitely has come a long way down.
I’ve been missing my mum now recovered, flown away. She tells me how warm it is in Tucson, while I stare at the snow. Working hard. Going on strike. Not looking forward to the day I face tomorrow and Friday when we’re off strike momentarily, but next week — ahhhh. Striking is pretty ace, except the not getting paid bit.