Wensley Dale – Peak District

Wensley Dale in the White Peak area of the Peak District
Wensley Dale in the Peak District

I walked into Wensley Dale in the Peak District one afternoon. It had been a hot day and I was looking forward to finishing my walk. As soon as I entered it I knew I had found a special place. Its wide flat bottom rises almost imperceptibly towards the west; a dark green line of fresh grass indicating the central and lowest point. It reminded me of the keel of a boat.

Scout made for the shade of the northern slope and hugged the cool of the tree line for as long as he could. Sheep were taking rest a few meters in to the trees, and some moved out when they saw Scout but others stayed where they were, too hot and tired for a game of chase. Scout ignored them. Every now and again he would emerge to check my own position and progress then dart quickly back in to the shade.

I took my time, enjoying the gentle slope but not the heat. There were a few limestone outcrops all covered in bramble and tree, offering no shelter or comfortable seat on which to sit out the heat of the day. I could do nothing but press on. I kept to the line of the keel and perhaps this put the notion in my head of a Saxon burial, complete with boat and golden hoard.

Wensley Dale sits in an area that is rich in ancient sites, barrows, cairns and stone circles freckle the landscape. The land is also at the centre of druidic influences giving rise to a great deal of soul replenishment on midsummers day as those in concert with nature prepare for winter.

Dawn first touches the dale as it clears the rocks of Ravensnest Tor in the east, shining a beam of light directly down the length of Wensley Dale’s upper reaches that lay on an exact east-west axis. It then crosses the ancient Portway near Elton and hits the tumuli of Gratton Moor in the west. Each side of the life giving sunlight is littered with tumuli, barrows and lows, including the two most famous, Minninglow to the south and Arbor Low in the north. In the evening this process would be reversed as the light draws in and dusk falls along the dale from the east.

I could sense some strong connection with natural forces, but I was too far entwined in the modern world to be able to place a finger on its pulse.

Living within the landscape

The Long Causeway on Stanage Edge. Peak District
The Long Causeway on Stanage Edge. Peak District

I spent time walking up and down a 580m length of the Long Causeway last week. I wanted to get a feel for the old packhorse route, to see if today there was any resonance of the past, any connection that placed me in the same sense of being there as someone two hundred years ago.

The section between Stanage Pole and the junction with the bridleway from Stanage Plantation is still beautifully paved with the original stone setts. The setts have a concave surface, worn by hundreds of years of cartwheels as they trundled between Sheffield and Hathersage. The causeway is a strong feature in the landscape, a line placed by human hand but perhaps following thousands of feet before.

Stanedge Pole graffiti. Dark Peak. Peak District National Park
Stanedge Pole with the inverted VM for Virgin Mary

Stanage pole bears the mark of the Virgin Mary, VM, a signifier of a place of worship by the Roman Catholic community who in the time of the reformation sought out of the way places to practice their faith. Three and a half miles directly south as the crow flies sits Padley Chapel where priests were found celebrating mass. For their pains, they were hanged, drawn and quartered at Derby. Directly north of Stanage Pole is said to be the place where the Catholics worshipped, a rock. It has yet to be found. So there is much that resonates in the surroundings.

The line of the causeway must have been surveyed for

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The boundary stone marking the edge of Hallamshire and Yorkshire today.

the setts form perfect lines running slightly off an east-west axis away from the boundary of Yorkshire and Derbyshire, Mercia and Northumbria. The same boundary exists today, has existed for hundreds if not thousands of years and much nearer to our own time. A little further along Stanage Edge is a stone bearing the markings, CP96, a boundary stone that had to be beaten during the annual perambulation by the great and good of the Lordship of Hallamshire accompanied by members of the church. They would have first called at Stanage Pole, beaten the rock with their sticks, said prayers then moved on along the line of the Long Causeway to the rock sits near High Neb. It is a route thousands of people walk today, perhaps we never walk anywhere new, but are guided by unseen ancient hands.

 

So as I stand there thinking all this and looking, walking back and forth along the stone way I wonder if people back then thought someone in the future would be trying to touch their existence. I wonder if in two thousand years time someone will try and touch my thoughts and feelings that day. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_88b7I headed back east towards the pole and my eye was caught by a small homemade plaque screwed to a fence post. It was beautiful in its simplicity. A memorial to John Hartle facing south-west over Stanage Edge. A modern-day signifier of who had gone before me. I wondered who he was, a runner perhaps, maybe a walker. Why in this age of data and information do we know so much about the past yet so little about today?

Is this an indication of our disconnect with the landscape or our relationship with it that defines it as an amenity to be used and enjoyed at our will. Did the Mercians, Catholic, burghers of Hallamshire view it in much the same way? Is this the connection I have been looking for or have I missed the one I truly wanted, not the people who used the Long Causeway but those who made it?

 

 

Clouds on Bleaklow – Peak District

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I set off from the tiny car park at the bottom of Doctors Gate. Storm Hector was battering Scotland and had its tail curled around Bleaklow shoving great volumes of warm damp air across the moor.  In these parts ‘Gate’ means ‘Way’, coming from the Norse people who inhabited these lands, their Wapentac, administrative districts connected by ‘Gates’ that often followed the old Roman ways and before that Neolithic man, who used the lay of the land, commuting between settlements and hunting grounds. It is rare to be the first in this land. Time and the land mark this animal’s progress.

In my mind I see a vicar, Doctor Talbot, travelling along this ancient path on horseback. Why would you travel from Glossop to the Snake Pass up a steep Clough and across windswept moorland? What was there to visit?

Tracking a stream northeast, skipping across sphagnum moss, a patchwork of yellow, lime green, grass green, dark green, trying to make sure that I step on the dark green and hoping for it to be solid. I follow a shallow grough, shallow enough to step down into, the water has not yet cut its way to bedrock, the floor of the clough is soft tussocks of grass. Where the grough climbs out of the landscape I find a strange device sticking out of the ground. Aerials and solar cells festoon its tiny structure. A board tells me it is part of a project by a University to log the levels of peat erosion on the moors that surround the Peak District. Moors for the future, the EU funded body that is restoring the moors had planted billions of sphagnum across the moors in a bid to soak up water, a tiny plant that could save a city and restore peat growth.

This monitoring station sends data about theUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_88e0 teeming clouds via the clouds in the ether.
How many drops of CO2 does this make to calculate how much CO2 we generate?
Data centres are now a major contributor to CO2 emissions and who knows, climate change, global warming.

I think back to Doctor Talbot walking along his gate to see a patient in some remote farm on the flanks of Kinder Scout. See him battling the wind and rain. Breathing out his CO2 that is immediately dispersed by the wind and rain to be captured by the moorland grass. Perhaps he was heading to the tiny chapel at Gillott Hey.

I was walking on the eastern watershed; this water would eventually work its way via the rivers Derwent and Trent into the Humber and then out past Spurn Point into the North Sea. Hundreds of millions of years ago the water had flowed the other way and brought silt and sand from what is now the Rhine and deposited it at my feet for it to become gritstone. Later as trees and vegetation rotted and piled up layer upon layer, the gritstone disappeared below hundreds of feet of peat. A millimetre at a time for hundreds of millions of years.

I navigate between groughs, some with water; down narrow spits of land that curve down towards the Cloughs that run north-south in these parts. My aim is to keep my feet dry and not waste energy climbing out of the groughs. I’m heading east so the wind swirls from behind curving around my body as I move, a cylinder of water, carbon, data moving eastwards towards the water’s destination.

For a time I sit and watch the Cottongrass UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_88e9heads swaying in the wind. Large tufts of white candyfloss indicating wind direction. I’m amazed that they don’t fly off but they tenaciously cling to the slender stalks. Sometimes the air is filled with salt from the Irish Sea, but not today. Today it is laden with moisture, the sky filled with Mares Tails stretching for miles above my head.

I’m not far from Hern Clough and Alport Dale. It makes me think of Hannah Mitchell. Is this the way she came when she escaped the tortures of her troubled mother in Alport Valley and walked across the moors to a new life? Did she tread the stones of Doctors Gate, of Doctor Talbot, of the Roman Legionnaire, of the Norse warrior? Am I going not where I want, but where others take me?

Microsoft subsea data centre

https://news.microsoft.com/features/under-the-sea-microsoft-tests-a-datacenter-thats-quick-to-deploy-could-provide-internet-connectivity-for-years/

Data Centre Power

https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/data-center-virtualization/unified-computing/white_paper_c11-680202.pdf

Moors for the Future

https://paulbesley.blog/2017/04/27/moors-for-the-future-peak-district/

Hannah Mitchell

https://paulbesley.blog/2015/12/04/alport-hamlet/

 

Art and literature in the Peak District

There is a growing sense of place within the Peak District by the people that live, work and visit the area. The new millenium created some of that impetus, an urge to mark the momentus occasion. But I also think there is a need for place to be marked by people.

This does not have the markings of heritage, it feels more like a longing, a desire to say “This is us”. There is a need for connection to the landscape to reach backwards and touch the old ways.

Walking around Middleton by Youlgrave I started to come across inscriptions carved in stone, part of a millennium project to mark the seventeen ancient entrances in to the village. Some are close to the centre of Middleton, others are further afield and some quite remote.

Visiting the sites gives a sense of what it was like before roads, cars and modern-day communications. It also illuminates what and where was important in the past. The old routes were the major form of communication, once lost and now resurrected.

I spent some time at the remote Long Dale stones. Three tall shards of local limestone engraved with motifs and a saying from a Tibetan teahouse. An odd thing until I learned the saying was brough back by a local explorer to the Himalyas. The site at Long Dale is an isolated place, sitting below Smerril Moor at the junction of bridleways parallel to the Roman Road that runs south west from Buxton.

I sat and reflected on the people that may have used the routes for perhaps thousands of years, travellers, miners, trades people, perhaps even those bent on destruction. And once again I was reminded that we all leave an imprint.

You can read more about Sites of Meaning here

 

 

The daily life of a Magpie

Jake, our resident magpie has been hanging around the garden a lot lately. He spends his day driving our two terriers mad, tormenting them from various bits of house and landscape.

One of his favourite taunts is to walk along the roof gutter. He starts at one end, always announcing his presence with a call to arms that get the dogs barking and jumping up and down in a mixture of excitement and frustration.  He walks along the edge of the gutter, gaining maximum exposure until at the other end he drops down onto a neighbour’s roof. From this vantage point, he is tantalisingly close to the dogs but far enough away to be out of their reach. Perfect for strutting and shooting them cheeky looks. The dogs spin around and run up and down the garden maddened by his display of hubris.

After a few minutes of this he gets bored and hops his way up the roof and without looking back goes over the ridge and out of sight.

Such is the daily life of Jake.

Mental Health Awareness Week

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Back in 94, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, I’d had it awhile but not realised what it was. I think my brother suffered as well, his way of dealing with it was to lock himself away in his room for 7 years. I chose a different, more physically and mentally destructive path that eventually led me to a doctor who prescribed me some drugs and 3 days later I was stalking around the house like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. It wasn’t good, or healthy. I asked to see a psychiatrist or is it a psychologist, and Kathy Whittaker at Rotherham General saw me for 6 weeks and bingo I was back to what could be classed as normal. Kathy has all my thanks for that.

The depression never went away it just lessened in the degree to a point where there were days I didn’t notice it or feel its effects on me. I saw it as a black Labrador dog, probably because I’d read that’s how Churchill saw his. It IS real in my mind. Most days I don’t see it, but I do feel its presence. Other days I see its shadow walking down the corridor to my room and sometimes it stops at my open door and looks in then walks away. I’ve learned that this has connections with the levels of stress I am experiencing in my life at that time, so I try to take steps to reduce the level to keep the dog away.

But this time that hasn’t worked. This morning the dog walked into the room and came right up to me; he’s here by my side now as I type this out. The depression is back.

Looking back I can see the pattern forming a year or so ago.

There is no single thing, rather a collection of seemingly disparate events, things and people. It started with lack of trust in an individual and organisation along with a feeling of not being in control of my own life. I was subject to some trolling, both online and off, from someone I thought of as a friend but in reality, wanted to inflict harm on my well-being. Financial worries played a small part, but only when large bills presented themselves. There was nothing, taken in isolation, that would cause any great concern, except perhaps the trolling, but taken together they flipped the switch.

One of the ways I have of dealing with this is talking about it honestly, something that has helped me in another area of my life for decades. So that is what I am doing now. Keeping things bottled up leads to people harming themselves or others, sometimes both. I’ve seen it happen and I have lost far too many friends to suicide to think it cannot happen to anyone.

Another action that helps my depression is removing negative and destructive influencers on the equilibrium of my daily life. I started doing that a month or two ago, there is still some way to go, but already it is having positive outcomes.

I have just spent an hour with a friend over coffee and cheesecake. He doesn’t know it but the chat and the laugh we had together helped me in my day enormously. For a brief period, I felt positive and normal. Spending time with friends like that is something I need to do more because I have begun to isolate too much.

Taking more time with my wife is something I need to do because she is my best friend. Other than my parents Alison is the person I have spent the biggest part of my life with. She really is the one great stabilising influence on my life and a great example of how to live

Lastly is walking. I love to walk. I am fortunate to write about walking in the countryside, two things I love to do. There is always a point on a walk where I feel everything is just right with the world, it’s a physical as well as mental feeling. Walking gives me pleasure and a different view of the world. If I am lucky I get something new to see or experience too. I recently walked through woodland and felt, then saw, a Barn Owl gliding silently across the open space I was in. I have thought of that moment many times.

It took me many years to learn that good mental health was everyone’s right, and no one has permission to take that away from a person. Sometimes it has to be fought for and that is a battle for the individual. If they are lucky it’s a battle fought with the help of good friends and loved ones.

Scout Trainee Search Dog

Scout at 10 & 12 Weeks Old

Scout has been with us two years now. His training to be a search and rescue dog in Mountain Rescue began when he was 12 weeks old, that’s him coming through the tunnel on his very first day of training.

He has a lovely nature, gentle with people and other dogs. Conversely, he likes to work hard, loves rough terrain and harsh weather does not seem to phase him. Training involves learning to go and find a body by detecting scent then coming to tell me, his handler, and guiding me back to the find spot. His reward is a game of ball, preferably a ball on a string that he can have a good game of tug. His favourite body Paul really gets into the game and Scout loves that, it gives him so much enjoyment, he really likes searching for him.

There have been a couple of milestones along the way. The first is a registration test to actually become a trainee dog. This is basic obedience and a stock test to make sure he does not chase livestock. Pass these and he get’s the coveted trainee badge, it’s all about badges! Next milestone is the indication test, where he has to find a body and come back to tell me, then lead me to the find spot. Scout has completed all these tests.

Now, Scout and I are learning to cover an area efficiently, find multiple bodies in varying situations in the day and at night. Scout now accompanies me on my walks and this builds his stamina and strength as well as increasing the good bond we already have. He is a joy to spend time with and walk with for a day.

The training, the game, has changed over the years, now we are trying to develop some directional control, with some success too, he is a quick learner. Scout has an excellent record of finding bodies, in fact, there have been only two occasions when he has failed and this has been in the same area on Baslow Edge each time, we call it Nemesis now. It’s an area where the wind can do all sorts of things and there are lots of boulders around, so it will be interesting to see how we crack it.

It’s not all training for Scout there are other duties and delights too. He is a big draw at the fundraising events, especially at Sheffield train station, he is also starting to join the team on training exercises and events. He even did some avalanche training a year back and loved being inside the snow holes. But mostly he likes to be out in the countryside with people and other dogs and he likes a good game of tug.

Scout
Scout. Trainee Search and Rescue Dog. Photo Mark Harrison