Becoming a writer

 

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Image courtesy of Mark Richards. By permission

I am moving to the point of becoming a full-time writer, currently I have a small part-time job which pays for a few things, but it isn’t a job that is satisfying. Having just delivered my first manuscript to the publisher, the sense of fulfilment this has given me has pointed the way forward. Walden said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation”, very true.

The book was commissioned by Cicerone November 2015 and had to be delivered by 30th June 2017 so quite a long project. I got the commission by one of those acts of fate. Sometime back I thought it would be good to take people out on a walk and then have an evening meal and a guest speaker. It didn’t come off, but in approaching a speaker I struck up a friendship with guide-book author Mark Richards.

It was Marks wonderful book of the High Peak that I had picked up in 1988. I loved the hand drawn pictures and the hand written text. So Mark was a natural choice to ask as guest speaker. As I say the event didn’t take place, but Mark wanted to explore the Peak District again and asked if I would like to accompany him. We had a few days out, a memorable one on Bamford Moor where I dragged Mark through chest high bracken to have lunch on a stone, whilst all the time hoping he didn’t realise that I had lost the path.

One day Mark broached the subject of me doing the new book. I couldn’t believe it but grabbed the chance. A walk and a meeting with the publisher and then a contract landed on the doorstep and I was off a running.

Lots had changed since Mark wrote High Peak. CROW for one had opened up many new areas, including Bamford Moor. Environmentally the moors were changing too. Now it wasn’t about draining them and denuding the land. Today it is about regeneration, seeding, natural species, wildlife. So lots to do.

I deliberately did not read Marks High Peak book or any other on the subject. I wanted this to be a personal view. Hopefully that is what I have achieved.

The image above is from Marks book and shows a volunteer Ranger stood by the Ashway Cross above Dove Stones. I remembered the image and thought it would be nice to recreate it as I am a Ranger too. So I hung around until three old boys came along and agreed to take the photo.

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Me by the Ashway Cross. It didn’t look safe enough to lean on!

Weirdly, one of the old boys said, “There is an image in my guide-book like that”, and out he got Marks book, the only guide he needed. The image in the book is the one at the top of this page. The photo below shows the man holding his treasured possession, Marks High Peak Walks.

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So there you have it. The whole thing comes full circle. I cannot thank Mark enough for launching my writing career, having faith in me and most importantly penning those beautiful books that started it all off.

If you want to view Marks work, visit his website here

The colour of peat

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Peat got me thinking the other day and then a post on Facebook about a dog disappearing down a sinkhole on Kinder got me thinking more. I guess it all has to do with the guidebook now it is nearing completion. Wanting people to get some pleasure out of a walk, one that they are doing because I have written about it, puts questions in a writers head. The main question on Saturday was how do you teach someone about peat and all its devilish incarnations.

I was walking from Crowden to Chew and back, a nice walk across moorland. How I thought do you explain what peat to walk on and what not. The grough in the picture above is a nice example of one to walk on. Milk chocolate brown, dry and a bit of springiness too. No problems getting out of that grough.  The slick oily black peat often found at the bottom of deep groughs is the stuff to watch out for. Its deep and has terrific suction, once in you are not going anywhere too quickly. That’s the two ends of the spectrum I guess.

I like the dark brown, bordering black peat that looks like one of those puddings with the melting centers. It has a consistency of a sponge pudding with lashings of chocolate custard, little lumps and a glistening surface. Getting down into a grough when this is on the sides is easy once you know how. Basically, you allow the peat to ease away from under your boots as you descend. It is remarkably stable. Getting out requires a different plan. You have to take a run and do not under any circumstances stop. Bit like a motor hill climb even except no one is bouncing on your back. Hands quite often come in to use, desperately clutching on to a piece of heather. Go for the stalks not the leaves. Failing the availability of heather it is often jabbing fingers into the soft gooey peat and clawing your way out.

Then there is the peat slick. As flat as a snooker table and completely smooth. It looks beautiful. But it is the wild mistress of peat. You can tip toe across it sometimes and others you are going in. The only indication which way it will treat you is the presence of foot marks. Surface ones and its fine. Deep churned up footprints and its a bunny boiler. Keep out.

Peat with water on top. Stick to the tufts of grass. Step on these and you can skip across. I always find its best to hold my breath as well, just to reduce the overall weight pressing down on the delicate platform.No grass, then its trouble. A long walk around or a gazillion to one chance that it isn’t knee deep. You take your pick.

But the worst is the stuff that looks ok. Years of walking in the Dark Peak have honed your ability to spot a trap from 50m. You pick your way across the moor in a weird little bee dance, connecting minute islands of firm ground into a trail. You scout for any footprints that might lead the way and it works, until you come to that last grough. congratulating yourself before getting over this last obstacle is the fatal error. You have to stride, just a little too far and the peat has you. One leg sinks in up to your thigh, whilst the other remains behind you on the surface.

The peat once again is victorious.