Tag Archives: walking

The Chiricahuas in the Clouds

The Triangle T ranch looks pretty good in the daylight, and it’s cool to walk in the footsteps of Glenn Ford — here’s part of the set from 3:10 to Yuma:

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We drove down Dragoon Rd to the mountains, had to pull over between the stalked rubble of harvested corn fields filled with hundreds of Sandhill cranes. I have never seen anything like them, beautiful and all massed together in mid-migration, their backdrop the waste produced by human need for energy. I wanted my canon SLR more than anything, but didn’t have it, so this is as good as the pictures get.

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Despite the sunshine, a handful of low clouds gathered along the Chiricahua mountains, and we drove up into them. Land of the standing-up rocks and of the Apache once, before white soldiers spilled their blood into the ground, stole this land. Stole these rocks, Rhyolite carved by ice and water into beauty.

These are taken from the Echo Canyon trail, which was unforgettable and I cannot believe we have never done it before…

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A climb through the grotto…

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…then down through a land of wonder.

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Down a passageway that almost looks like cut stone and out again…

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leaving the cloud for the sun (rather than the cloud leaving us, as Mark first thought — I’m usually the one to say things like that).

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Down into the valley and looking back out where we had come from and where we would return…

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Then around to look deeper into the Chiricahuas, and loop back around to the car.

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From sun to cloud and ice.

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The day didn’t quite end there, but this post is.

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Arthur Machen’s The Imposters

The Three ImpostorsIt was a fine autumn evening, and a faint sunlight shone on the yellow walls of the old deserted house, and showed the patches of gangrenous decay, and all the stains, the black drift of rain from the broken pipes, the scabrous blots where the bare bricks were exposed, the green weeping of a gaunt laburnum that stood beside the porch, and ragged marks near the ground where the reeking clay was gaining on the worn foundations. It was a queer rambling old place, the centre perhaps two hundred years old, with dormer windows sloping from the tiled roof, and on each side there were Georgian wings; bow windows had been carried up to the first floor, and two dome-like cupolas that had once been painted a bright green were now gray and neutral. Broken urns lay upon the path, and a heavy mist seemed to rise from the unctuous clay; the neglected shrubberies, grown all tangled and unshapen, smelt dank and evil, and there was an atmosphere all about the deserted mansion that proposed thoughts of an opened grave.

What is not to love about such gothic prose? Arthus Machen’s The Imposters is quite splendid all round, not least because Machen does not lack a sharp edge to him. On Dyson and Phillips he writes:

By the mistaken benevolence of deceased relatives both young men were placed out of reach of hunger, and so, meditating high achievements, idled their time pleasantly away, and revelled in the careless joys of a Bohemianism devoid of the sharp seasoning of adversity.

What I loved most about the book though, was how it moved between city streets and country villages in ways such books rarely do, but people do all the time. It moves from haunted ruins in deep countryside to London carrying the same atmosphere but now describing streets I know. Though of course, this is not as I know them, the gibbet-like contrivances and pantechnicon warehouses are all gone …

I went out and wandered rather aimlessly about the streets; my head was full of my tale, and I didn’t much notice where I was going. I got into those quiet places to the north of Oxford Street as you go west, the genteel residential neighborhood of stucco and prosperity. I turned east again without knowing it, and it was quite dark when I passed along a sombre little by-street, ill lighted and empty. I did not know at the time in the least where I was, but I found out afterwards that it was not very far from Tottenham Court Road. I strolled idly along, enjoying the stillness; on one side there seemed to be the back premises of some great shop; tier after tier of dusty windows lifted up into the night, with gibbet-like contrivances for raising heavy goods, and below large doors, fast closed and bolted, all dark and desolate. Then there came a huge pantechnicon warehouse; and over the way a grim blank wall, as forbidding as the wall of a jail, and then the headquarters of some volunteer regiment, and afterwards a passage leading to a court where wagons were standing to be hired. It was, one might almost say, a street devoid of inhabitants, and scarce a window showed the glimmer of a light. I was wondering at the strange peace and dimness there, where it must be close to some roaring main artery of London life, when suddenly I heard the noise of dashing feet tearing along the pavement at full speed, and from a narrow passage, a mews or something of that kind, a man was discharged as from a catapult under my very nose

And this…this is what all of long for sometimes is it not? For the strange, the weird, to irrupt into the daily humdrum:

“It is all more strange than I fancied,” he said at last. “It was queer enough what I saw; a man is sauntering along a quiet, sober, every-day London street, a street of gray houses and blank walls, and there, for a moment, a veil seems drawn aside, and the very fume of the pit steams up through the flagstones, the ground glows, red hot, beneath his feet, and he seems to hear the hiss of the infernal caldron. A man flying in mad terror for his life…

It seems ever harder now for this to happen, London of Machen’s time seems to lend itself to such possibilities much easier. Perhaps though, as Raymond Williams writes, each generation turns from the ugliness and meanness of the present towards a nostalgia of the past. But some things don’t seem to change, it is still true that almost everyone comes to London at some point — and if not London, then the big city near their town or village. Youth from all over the country come to be part of the action, to remake themselves, become something they can’t become within the confines of small tight communities.

I felt that there was nothing for me to do in the country, and as usually happens in such eases, London drew me like a magnet. One day in August, in the early morning, while the dew still glittered on the turf, and on the high green banks of the lane, a neighbor drove me to the railway station, and I bade good-bye to the land of the broad moors and unearthly battlements of the wild tors. It was six o’clock as we neared London; the faint sickly fume of the brickfields about Acton came in puffs through the open window, and a mist was rising from the ground. Presently the brief view of successive streets, prim and uniform, struck me with a sense of monotony; the hot air seemed to grow hotter; and when we had rolled beneath the dismal and squalid houses, whose dirty and neglected back yards border the line near Paddington, I felt as if I should be stifled in this fainting breath of London. I got a hansom and drove off, and every street increased my gloom; gray houses with blinds drawn down, whole thoroughfares almost desolate, and the foot-passengers who seemed to stagger wearily along rather than walk, all made me feel a sinking at heart. I put up for the night at a small hotel in a street leading from the Strand, where my father had stayed on his few brief visits to town; and when I went out after dinner, the real gayety and bustle of the Strand and Fleet Street could cheer me but little, for in all this great city there was no single human being whom I could claim even as an acquaintance.

For all its lure, there is something lost. There are desires unfulfilled, hopes destroyed, lives that never reached their promise.

It takes a long time to know it, much less achieve anything there.

“You were wrong to give in so completely,” he said, when I was silent. “A month is too short a time in which to feel one’s way in London. London, let me tell you, Miss Lally, does not lie open and undefended; it is a fortified place, fossed and double-moated with curious intricacies. As must always happen in large towns, the conditions of life have become hugely artificial; no mere simple palisade is run up to oppose the man or woman who would take the place by storm, but serried lines of subtle contrivances, mines, and pitfalls which it needs a strange skill to overcome. You, in your simplicity, fancied you had only to shout for these walls to sink into nothingness, but the time is gone for such startling victories as these. Take courage; you will learn the secret of success before very long.”

Machen does not just sharpen his wit on Dyson and Phillips, but on London’s monotony and mean streets as well, never losing sight of this veil of gothic prose and imaginings that he is pulling over it.

I also love this dig at Paris, and it resonates entirely with what I felt while there, under that veil there really is something after all…

“I see you can find the picturesque in London,” he said. “To me this great town is as I see it is to you, the study and the love of life. Yet how few there are that can pierce the veils of apparent monotony and meanness! I have read in a paper which is said to have the largest circulation in the world, a comparison between the aspects of London and Paris, a comparison which should be positively laureat, as the great masterpiece of fatuous stupidity. Conceive if you can a human being of ordinary intelligence preferring the Boulevards to our London streets; imagine a man calling for the wholesale destruction of our most charming city, in order that the dull uniformity of that whited sepulchre called Paris should be reproduced here in London. Is it not positively incredible?” … They had lingered at the corner of a street on the north side of the Strand, enjoying the contrasts and the glamour of the scene. Dyson pointed the way with a gesture, and they strolled up the comparatively deserted streets, slanting a little to the right, and thus arriving at Dyson’s lodging on the verge of Bloomsbury. Mr. Burton took a comfortable armchair by the open window, while Dyson lit the candles and produced the whiskey and soda and cigarettes.

And this paean to a suburb? This evocation of phantasy and gothic horror in such surroundings left by everyone else to everyday staid graspings after economic prosperity and their meanness?  The chance happening of adventure here? Happiness.

Nay, I will say that he who has stood in the ways of a suburb
and has seen them stretch before him all shining, void, and desolate at noonday, has not lived in vain. Such a sight is in reality more wonderful than any perspective of Bagdad or Grand Cairo. And, to set on one side the entertaining history of the gem which you told me, surely you must have had many singular adventures in your own career?”

Before me was the long suburban street, its dreary distance marked by rows of twinkling lamps, and the air was poisoned by the faint sickly smell of burning bricks; it was not a cheerful prospect by any means, and I had to walk through nine miles of such streets, deserted as those of Pompeii. I knew pretty well what direction to take; so I set out wearily, looking at the stretch of lamps vanishing in perspective; and as I walked, street after street branched off to right and left,–some far reaching to distances that seemed endless, communicating with, other systems of thoroughfare; and some mere protoplasmic streets, beginning in orderly fashion with serried two-storied houses, and ending suddenly in waste, and pits, and rubbish heaps, and fields whence the magic had departed. I have spoken of systems of thoroughfare, and I assure you that, walking alone through these silent places, I felt phantasy growing on me, and some glamour of the infinite. There was here. I felt, an immensity as in the outer void, of the universe. I passed from unknown to unknown, my way marked by lamps like stars, and on either band was an unknown world where myriads of men dwelt and slept, street leading into street, as it seemed to world’s end. At first the road by which I was travelling was lined with houses of unutterable monotony,–a wall of gray brick pierced by two stories of windows, drawn close to the very pavement. But by degrees I noticed an improvement: there were gardens, and these grew larger. The suburban builder began to allow himself a wider scope; and for a certain distance each flight of steps was guarded by twin lions of plaster, and scents of flowers prevailed over the fume of heated bricks. The road began to climb a hill, and, looking up a side street, I saw the half moon rise over plane-trees, and there on the other side was as if a white cloud had fallen, and the air around it was sweetened as with incense; it was a may-tree in full bloom. I pressed on stubbornly, listening for the wheels and the clatter of some belated hansom; but into that land of men who go to the city in the morning and return in the evening, the hansom rarely enters, and I had resigned myself once more to the walk, when I suddenly became aware that some one was advancing to meet me along the sidewalk. The man was strolling rather aimlessly; and though the time and the place would have allowed an unconventional style of dress, he was vested in the ordinary frock coat, black tie, and silk hat of civilization.

I did love The London Adventure, but this to me stands hands above it, both in terms of page-turning story but also psychogeographic evocations of the city, and these — the places we find for ourselves in our cities where it is not quite so mean or uniform, where gardens and fragrances can cheer us though poverty:

Amongst the many friends who were favored with the occasional pleasure of Mr. Dyson’s society was Mr. Edgar Russell, realist and obscure struggler, who occupied a small back room on the second floor of a house in Abingdon Grove, Notting Hill. Turning off from the main street and walking a few paces onward, one was conscious of a certain calm, a drowsy peace, which made the feet inclined to loiter; and this was ever the atmosphere of Abingdon Grove. The houses stood a little back, with gardens where the lilac and laburnum and blood-red may blossomed gayly in their seasons, and there was a corner where an older house in another street had managed to keep a back garden of real extent; a walled-in garden whence there came a pleasant scent of greenness after the rains
of early summer, where old elms held memories of the open fields, where there was yet sweet grass to walk on. The houses in Abingdon Grove belonged chiefly to the nondescript stucco period of thirty-five years ago, tolerably built with passable accommodation for moderate incomes; they had largely passed into the state of lodgings, and cards bearing the inscription “Furnished Apartments” were not infrequent over the doors. Here, then, in a house of sufficiently good appearance, Mr. Russell had established himself; for he looked upon the traditional dirt and squalor of Grub Street as a false and obsolete convention, and preferred, as he said, to live within sight of green leaves. Indeed, from his room one had a magnificent view of a long line of gardens, and a screen of poplars shut out the melancholy back premises of Wilton Street during the summer months. Mr. Russell lived chiefly on bread and tea, for his means were of the smallest; but when Dyson came to see him, he would send out the slavey for six-ale, and Dyson was always at liberty to smoke as much of his own tobacco as he pleased.

What better way to grasp the feeling of a London still being built into the form we know today, the feeling of wandering through them in the night, the sights and sounds of the local pub, the mystery of moving from high to low, grace to squalor, darkness to light:

He had turned, without taking note, to the northward, and was passing through an ancient fallen street, where now notices of floors and offices to let hung out, but still about it there was the grace and the stiffness of the Age of Wigs; a broad roadway, a broad pavement, and on each side a grave line of houses with long and narrow windows flush with the walls, all of mellowed brick-work. Dyson walked with quick steps, as he resolved that short work must be made of a certain episode; but he was in that happy humor of invention, and another chapter rose in the inner chamber of his brain, and he dwelt on the circumstances he was to write down with curious pleasure. It was charming to have the quiet streets to walk in, and in his thought he made a whole district the cabinet of his studies, and vowed he would come again. Heedless of his course, he struck off to the east again, and soon found himself involved in a squalid network of gray two-storied houses, and then in the waste
void and elements of brick-work, the passages and unmade roads behind great factory walls, encumbered with the refuse of the neighborhood, forlorn, ill-lighted, and desperate. A brief turn, and there rose before him the unexpected, a hill suddenly lifted from the level ground, its steep ascent marked by the lighted lamps, and eager as an explorer Dyson found his way to the place, wondering where his crooked paths had brought him. Here all was again decorous, but hideous in the extreme. The builder, some one lost in the deep gloom of the early ‘twenties, had conceived the idea of twin villas in gray brick, shaped in a manner to recall the outlines of the Parthenon, each with its classic form broadly marked with raised bands of stucco. The name of the street was all strange, and for a further surprise, the top of the hill was crowned with an irregular plot of grass and fading trees, called a square, and here again the Parthenon-motive had persisted. Beyond the streets were curious, wild in their irregularities, here a row of sordid, dingy dwellings, dirty and disreputable in appearance, and there, without warning, stood a house genteel and prim with wire blinds and brazen knocker, as clean and trim as if it had been the doctor’s house in some benighted little country town. These surprises and discoveries began to exhaust Dyson, and he hailed with delight the blazing windows of a public-house, and went in with the intention of testing the beverage provided for the dwellers in this region, as remote as Libya and Pamphylia and the parts about Mesopotamia. The babble of voices from within warned him that he was about to assist at the true parliament of the London workman, and he looked about him for that more retired entrance called private. When he had settled himself on an exiguous bench, and had ordered some beer, he began to listen to the jangling talk in the public bar beyond; it was a senseless argument, alternately furious and maudlin, with appeals to Bill and Tom, and mediæval survivals of speech, words that Chaucer wrote belched out with zeal and relish, and the din of pots jerked down and coppers rapped smartly on the zinc counter made a thorough bass for it all.

This sums up so many of my own walks in a way: ‘…he made a whole district the cabinet of his studies, and vowed he would come again…’ I wish Arthur Machen had made more money, had not inhabited this shadowy place of Grub Street writers, had been able to write more of what he wanted to write. But perhaps then I would not have loved it quite so much. He tries to escape with us the dirt and dreary realities of the city, the hackwork. I think he succeeds here.

But we both of us know all that we are escaping is still there.

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Around Clevedon and Cadbury Camp

This couldn’t quite compare to our lovely Pensford ramble, but was a pretty good walk none the less. We started in the town of Clevedon — once an agriculture village, but Victorian times transformed it into a seaside resort. It’s now home to the awesome Curzon Theatre, but we didn’t catch a film. The pier was nice, its cake mediocre. Climbing up the hill from there was quite beautiful, however, with stone walls along one side, water on the other.

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We came back down through a bit of the town, across rhines draining the levels reminding you that once these were all marshes, and fields where we saw deer leaping away through the grass. Under the motorway, which was actually quite enjoyable, and then up and up towards Cadbury Camp.

Aerial view of Cadbury Camp taken in 1946.
Aerial view of Cadbury Camp taken in 1946.

Occupied from the 6th century BCE through the 1st century AD, this was probably also contained a Roman settlement. From the National Trust site:

The Camp was built in the late Iron Age, probably by the Dobunni Tribe who lived in the Somerset Area. They dug out ditches and threw back the soil to make high banks for the fortress to protect them from any invading forces. They added a high timber fence on top of the bank and a complicated entrance to make it difficult for anyone to attack.

The name Cadbury meant Cada’s fort. Cada was an early Anglo Saxon personal name.

The site itself is lovely, with splendid views.

Clevedon Walk

But sadly there was more building along this walk, closed pubs, signs of rather obscene and unfriendly wealth in the form of high walls and no trespassing signs and things like this:

Clevedon Walk

Clevedon Walk

Not quite made up for by these rather more enjoyable examples of weirdness:

Clevedon Walk

Clevedon Walk

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Stanton Moor

This was perhaps my favourite place, though words like that cease to have so much meaning in an area as beautiful as this one. We came up through the woods

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

We knew we were close to where we wanted to be, but we weren’t on the path we were supposed to be on, so looking for the nine ladies stone circle we found this instead:

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

No one quite knows what these are apparently, this one sits along the ‘Duke’s Drive’, possibly part of an effort to transform the moor into somewhere to visit and enjoy following Parliament’s Act of Enclosure in 1819.

Enclosure breaks my heart, but stone circles are a joy. The nine ladies (and a tenth stone face down was found after a drought some years back) are lovely — but quite small. It makes for a very different effect from the standing stones I know, or a circle like Stanton Drew or Stonehenge.

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor in its an entirety is a beautiful Bronze Age ceremonial landscape, covered both with monuments but also somewhere archaeologists now believe people to have lived and worked the land. From the conservation document detailing what is here to be preserved from the sandstone quarries that still encroach upon the moor:

The prehistoric monuments which survive on the moor include an unusually tight cluster of ceremonial sites comprising three embanked stone circles, a standing stone, and at least one (possibly two) ring cairns. A fourth circle, Doll Tor, lies to the west, just 250m outside the limit of the modern moorland. Close to these monuments lie more than 120 cairns, many of which appear to be primarily funerary (Figures C5 and C6). Again, the survival of a cairnfield with a very high proportion of funerary cairns is rare in the region, where only two or three other (much smaller) sites have been recognised (3.4.3.2). In addition, early 20th century excavation on the south-western fringe of the moor (2.5.1.4) revealed a large number of funerary urns and cremated remains in what may have been a fl at cemetery (Storrs Fox 1927).

It is an extraordinary place, made even more beautiful by August’s purple heather and the green hills beyond.

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

One of the beautiful and larger mounds, with evidence of the stone cist that used to sit in the centre, containing the mixed bones of ancestors

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

We followed the sandy path along the curve of the hillside

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

Sat for a while here, to rest and look out over the landscape

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

A standing stone — the Cork Stone — towers over us, behind it an old quarry. Going up one side are metal staples and footholds dug into the rock. We didn’t climb it.

Stanton Moor Walk

Here it is looking back

Stanton Moor Walk

The edge of the quarry, picturesque now covered in golden grass and heather

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

Coming up to Stanton Peak’s trig point

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

Then back down the far side of the moor, back down into trees past old walls and lined pits

Stanton Moor Walk

Across fields

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

To what must have been another burial cairn

Stanton Moor Walk

A sheep with the hair of a greek statue

Stanton Moor Walk

And into Alport, lovely but we thought there was a pub, badly needed a pub, and there was no pub. Not until we walked up another very big hill into Youlgreave.

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

But it did have scenery and chickens

Stanton Moor Walk

Youlgreave was lovely, but we were too tired to explore it properly…

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Black Rocks — From Wirksworth to…Wirksworth

We climbed up up up the hill, past this sign that made me happy

Wirksworth Walk

Through the vertical village of Bolehill, catching glimpses of hills through the buildings

Wirksworth Walk

Finally up to the sun and the common, open spaces that I so long for when in London and Bristol”

Wirksworth Walk

A look back across the valley through which we had just come:

Wirksworth Walk

The panorama of light and shadow, sunshine and dark cloud that I love

Wirksworth Walk

Into the glorious woods

Wirksworth Walk

And finally to the Black Rocks trig point. It was quite a climb, I confess:

Wirksworth Walk

A look out across the world towards Riber Castle (a ‘new’ gothik castle built by mill owner John Smedley in 1862 — we walked beneath it coming back into Matlock, and visited his mill, but more on that later)

Wirksworth Walk

We came down the other side to meet the High Peaks Trail.

Once a lead mine stood here, the Cromford Moor Mine, shafts up to 128 metres deep where 100 men and women worked. They estimate the mine produced lead from before 1615 to about 1850. It opened again in the 1920s to mine white calcite — we remain so dependent on the mineral wealth we pull from the ground.

We followed it down passing old evidences of industry:

Wirksworth Walk

Wonderful rocks

Wirksworth Walk

The remains of the Cromford and High Peak Railway — power originating from the engine house pulled steel cables to haul wagons out of the pit and up the steep inclines. A giant wheel pulled the cables

Wirksworth Walk

Wirksworth Walk

It is a beautiful walk, this archway wonderful from this approach

Wirksworth Walk

My gaze quickly filled with awe as I walked through it, pictures cannot do it justice

Wirksworth Walk

Unlike some of the other places we visited, I feel I failed utterly here to capture how beautiful and mysterious and eerie it was.

Up we continued and up, a gentler climb but still climbing to the engine house:

Wirksworth Walk

The memories of the railway

Wirksworth Walk

Wirksworth Walk

Unexpected wildlife

Wirksworth Walk

And then down into the quarries. Here is Middleton Mine, the only limestone mine in Europe, and also this funny story: An the organ grinder would come to play his organ at the midday break and send his monkey down a deep hole to where the miners sat to collect money — one day the monkey escaped however, and was never seen again.

Perhaps its ghost still roams, like the pickpocketing chimpanzee in Glasgow’s Panopticon.

The quarries contain a wonderful succession of warning signs involving stick figures in peril, including ballet dancers:

Wirksworth Walk

Wirksworth Walk

Wirksworth Walk

Also, some naughty boys throwing rocks. Which made me laugh. Had I grown up here, I know my three brotehrs would undoubtedly have been stood in the exact same place throwing rocks into the water.

Wirksworth Walk

Then back down into Wirksworth’s lovely winding streets and alleys

Wirksworth Walk

Wirksworth Walk

Wirksworth Walk

Wirksworth Walk

Wirksworth Walk

And our first glance of their truly wonderful bookstore

Wirksworth Walk

and the beautiful church in its grounds

Wirksworth Walk

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Lumsdale Valley ruins

After a brief and beautiful losing of ourselves, we arrived exactly where we had been going — a series of two ponds in the Lumsdale Valley created to power the mills below, a centre of industry for several hundred years.

This whole area just south of the Peak District is a centre of industry, the springboard for the industrial revolution — though you would never guess now.

Cottages stand where an old lead smelter once sat, along with a counting house and ore house, from 1749 through the 1780s. One of the mills is perhaps from the 1600s, and a cycle of uses, from saw mill to paint mill to spinning and bleach — all of it happened in this stretch of buildings.

Starting with the old saw mill and moving through the valley — it no longer felt so important to recognise old uses, try to understand old processes and imagine what this scene looked like several hundred years ago:

Matlock Walk

Instead I wished I looked upon it with a practiced eye, so the layers of meaning and history could be sifted, brought forward in turn to form a whole. At no point in this place do you want to treat it as a museum. We didn’t linger long at the informative boards, and I am glad they remain few.

Matlock Walk

An early bleach trough, where they bleached skeins of yarn (and I imagine how toxic it all was, continues to be though you would never now guess):

Matlock Walk

This is never how I once imagined sedate English woods.

Matlock Walk

Matlock Walk

An old square paint trough, I think, I am looking back now with charts at these pictures, they don’t quite match memory, but that is all right. To the left a tunnel that once led to a bridge across the stream. A curiosity now. A place to hide from other visitors and pretend they are not there.

Matlock Walk

Matlock Walk

Matlock Walk

We wandered down the valley through one building and then another, alongside the stream for a while and the series of waterfalls that once brought power. It is hard, now, for me to imagine waterfalls as useful.

Matlock Walk

Matlock Walk

The Bleach works, with an old millstone.

Matlock Walk

Matlock Walk

The smithy:

Matlock Walk

I left the valley sadly. From there we climbed and lost ourselves again briefly through poor walk instructions, then wandered along the curve of a hill to looking back over Matlock from another angle:

Matlock Walk

Finally arriving at Starkholmes, and a well earned meal. And a cat.

Matlock Walk

then back down the hill to the bus, through a gimlet of holiday makers enjoying Matlock Bath. The Paignton of the North. Which I might ignore, but the country’s first pleasure parks were there? I meant to look into that a little more…

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Antediluvian Quarries, Peak District

We climbed stone stairs no one had tread regularly for a very long time…

Matlock Walk

we were off our path but we didn’t yet know it, because we were on someone’s path — though no one in the past few days perhaps. We followed faint traces to climb through heat and humidity, nettles and brambles stinging against our legs. Drawing blood. The valley opened up beneath us and we entered into pine forest — the first we had been in this trip.

Matlock Walk

A lovely, open pine forest scenting the air and full of light, not the close packed replacement and industrial forests. We had strayed from the way, but it didn’t matter because we found this.

Matlock Walk

A beautiful, eerie landscape

Matlock Walk

where stone-built walls and quarried stone faces mingled, all of it swallowed by moss and pine needles and trees so the natural world and the human one were almost indistinguishable.

Matlock Walk

Great slabs of stone, whether tumbled down or piled up almost impossible to tell, alongside great chimneys of rock.

Matlock Walk

Matlock Walk

Ferns of a green I still find hard to imagine, coming from the desert. The green of my dreams as a little girl.

Matlock Walk

Enormous mossy stones in piles

Matlock Walk

Sunlight streaming down through the trees, and everywhere a verdant landscape spilling across the distance. And us there, up above it in this place of human effort and labour swallowed up by the forest. This lonely place of memory now, and stillness.

Matlock Walk

Happy accident that brought us here. We followed this track back down the hill, and then found our way.

Matlock Walk

Of that more tomorrow…

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Pensford to Stanton Drew and Back Again

One of the best walks we’ve done in terms of things it threw up for further investigation, but I thought I’d start sharing the photographic journal of rambles through the wonderful English countryside made accessible through the networks of public ways. One of the things England should be proudest of, I think. We started in Pensford, it’s lovely:

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An old orchard between fields, I love these reminders of how we live well on the land:

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Then on the stone circles at Stanton Drew, a reminder of how long we have been here and of very different ways of being:

Stanton Drew Stone Circles

(and much more on these stone circles here). The old church

Stanton Drew

with the monastic farm next door recalling a different history in its glorious medieval windows

Stanton Drew

and reminders of what once was half buried in the graveyard soil:

Stanton Drew

These graves also quite fascinating, both in carving style, and in their poetry, which I confess to have only realised was there after reviewing my photos:

Stanton Drew

The masonic triangle being rather more arresting:

Stanton Drew

I love village post boxes:

Stanton Drew

winding paths through cathedraled ceilings  of ancient trees:

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Another medieval memory in the form of an old bridge

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Trees that somehow remain standing when you can see through them

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Open fields:

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Amazing old oak trees:

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Unexpected memories of home:

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the excitement of climbing something as beautiful as this to see what is on the other side:

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Phacelias (I think), which also unexpectedly reminded me of home:

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The haunting ruins of the old colliery:

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and back home over concrete stiles put in for the miners in the 1930s

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Industrial detritus scattered along the old train tracks

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and sadly, too late for tea:

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Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks

Palestinian Walks - Raja ShehadehThey would take a few provisions and go to the open hills, disappear for the whole day, sometimes for weeks and months. They often didn’t have a particular destination. To go on a sarha was to roam freely, at will, without, restraint. The verb form of the word means to let the cattle out to pasture early in the morning, leaving them to wander and graze at liberty…a man [my only sadness that this was mostly men] going on a sarha wanders aimlessly, not restricted by time and place, going where his spirit takes him to nourish his soul and rejuvenate himself. But not any excursion would qualify as a sarha. Going on a sarha implies letting go (2).

Palestinian Walks is wonderful. Heartbreaking. Some of the same themes, of course, as the talk Raja Shehadeh gave some months ago, but the writing voice was a little unexpected somehow.

We share desert, though not the same one, loss and struggle, though not to the same degree, a refuge and retreat from struggle in writing, though mine mostly unproved. So many thoughts in this book echoed so exactly with mine, but born of out such a different reality. I love this invitation to walk with him, wish I could have known these hills before their fencing and their destruction.

I find the Arizona desert impossibly beautiful, full of life even if harsh. You know what bites scratches stings. Always what has scared me more are people, they are never this simple in their stinging. I understand Shehadeh’s incomprehension when people from outside call his land barren and violent and ugly, and know his anger when they ascribe these perceptions of the land to the people who live in it. This is what I hate most about Westerns and this particular gaze–it is not my land that created the terrifying levels of brutality, but the conquest of it. The genocide of Native Americans that took place there. The conquest of Palestine is clothed in a different language of manifest destiny, but that is still where the violence comes from.

It is also carried out through a different form of land occupation — occupation by luxury villa, though still defended by guns. Routes through the landscape go from this:

Built many years ago by the owners of the land, the path was a few metres wide and bordered by stone walls. It sloped gently along the side of the hill then turned down and headed downhill. It had been carefully designed. Had it followed a straight line down it would be washed out in winter, unusable, more a canal for water than a footpath (44).

To mazes of concrete, straight roads blasted across hill tops, their refuse filling the wadis and causing flooding and erosion. Developments destroying the hills. I watch this in my desert and there too it breaks my heart. Why can’t people sit easily on the land? Instead they conquer it. It was the same in L.A. It is the same here in London where investors build skyscrapers of luxury apartments to sit empty as investments at immense environmental and social cost while people sleep in the streets. I was at the Bishopsgate Institute this evening listening to the inaugural C.R. Ashbee  lecture on the Seven Dark Arts of Developers (a play on Ruskin’s Seven Lamps of Architecture) given by Oliver Wainwright — it was very good so I am still quite furious.

On the hillside outside my old house, there was always time and space to think and always my capacity for thought was deeper there, the superficial more easily stilled:

The further down I went the deeper the silence became. As always the distance and quiet made me attentive to those troublesome thoughts that had been buried deep in my mind. As I walked, many of them were surfacing. I sifted through them. The mind only admits what it can handle and here on these hills the threshold was higher.

The other day I had to plead with a soldier to be allowed to return home (50).

In my desert it is immigration, it is unmanned planes flying overhead seeking families fleeing to a better life, it is checkpoints and motion detectors, prowling four by fours. They churn up the roads, destroy the fragile plants, ensure you never feel secure, never feel safe. There is no space for thinking, they close down the horizons. When I was little we did not need to own the land to feel safe there, to open yourself to the world there, but now in so many hills you do. You have to have a reason to be there. Papers. There is almost as much loss in losing this as there is in losing home and land. We would not need to own things or have borders at all if justice and this need for space and freedom could be respected.

This does not compare to an occupied Palestine, the suffering of their people being steadily forced further and further from the lands they love, their old and sustainable forms of farming made impossible, water and the peace simply to exist both stolen, treasured generosity to strangers unable to survive. The cynicism of Israeli property development is also far ahead of our borderlands, for all that we now have the same horror of a wall. This book illuminates the lived experience of the development and planning strategies so well laid out by Eyal Weizman in Hollow Land. 

I realized that the beautiful Dome of the Rock, for many centuries the symbol of ancient Jerusalem, was no longer visible. It was concealed by new construction. This was by design. Not only had Israeli city planners obstructed the view of this familiar landmark — they had also constructed a wide highway along the western periphery of Arab East Jerusalem, restricting its growth and separating it from the rest of the highway. Highways are more effective geographic barriers than walls in keeping neighbourhoods apart. Walls can always be demolished. But once built, roads become a cruel reality that it is more difficult to change. No visitor would now sigh, let alone fall to their knees as many a conqueror and pilgrim in the past had done… (105)

God I hate highways. Huge roads impassable to pedestrians. Los Angeles pioneered this and Los Angeles broke my heart too. Every American city drove highways right through African American and Latino neighbourhoods, destroying communities and cutting off those that were left from white people and the resources they kept. To add insult to injury freeways allow commuters to fly right over the inner cities as though they don’t even exist. Seems that Israelis have perfected the system, creating massive roads that Palestinians aren’t allowed to use, blocking entrances to villages, destroying more of the mountains. A symbol of power.

Roads have so much to answer for. I too like them best when they are humble, two lanes, and wind along the curve of the hills.

I don’t understand how this is the world we have inherited.

And so there must be struggle — I learned a whole lot here about the particularities of Israels expansion into the West Bank and just what the Oslo Accords meant. I didn’t learn nothing about how law facilitates the rich and powerful taking what they want, know too much this feeling that what you are up against is just too big, this questioning of why it is you fight.

For many years I managed to hold on to the hope that the settlements would not be permanent. I had meticulously documented the illegal process by which they came to be established, every step of the way. I felt that as long as I understood, as long as the process by which all this had come about was not mysterious and the legal tricks used were exposed, I could not be defeated and confused and Israel could not get away with it. Knowledge is power….I had perceived my life as an ongoing narrative organically linked to the forward march of the Palestinian people towards liberation and freedom…But now I knew this was nothing but a grand delusion. ..It was only my way of feeling I was part of the rest of struggling society, a way of enduring hardships by claiming and holding on to the belief that there was a higher meaning to the suffering–that it wasn’t in vain…

But the Oslo Agreements buried my truth… (123)

Writing saves me too.

There is so much more in Palestinian Walks, natural and archeological history, stories of family and friends, walks through country I have heard so much of. This is a deeply personal meditation of little romanticisation, aware of its flaws, with no hiding of discomfort or conflicted feelings and ideas. No hiding at all. This is absolutely the book I would give someone who wanted to understand why in the face of all news propaganda I hate the occupation, why I think it has to end, why I support the Palestinian cause. Maybe even if they didn’t want to understand.

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