The huge music/ Of sightlines,/ From every step of the slopes – Ted Hughes, ‘The Word that Space Breathes’
Yorkshire treated us really gently today to a 23km day in which the weather was not too warm, not too cold, almost exclusively soft moorland turf and peat underfoot. We could feel our rest day just over the horizon, at the end of tomorrow’s walk to Hebden Bridge. For today we had easy traverses of moors and valleys to end at Marsden.
The landlady at the wonderful family-run Dog and Partridge at Flouch had advised us to take a track called the snow road over the moor (that’s two syllables please; we are in Yorkshire now) and we followed her advice. For a stretch it ran parallel to the A-road. It is a sad thing that one of the sights we are collecting as memories of this journey is the human tide of plastic rubbish washing up at the sides of our roads. Words such as ‘convenience’, ‘disposable’ and ‘takeaway’, should not mean simply ‘throwing out of the car window’. It is hard to fathom why somebody would ever bury a so-called ‘disposable’ nappy under a rock on Stanage edge. There it will stay for hundreds of years.
As always, as we moved away from the roads and the more peopled areas, the rubbish lessened and then ceased to be a feature of what was extraordinarily beautiful wild moorland, unseasonably tinder-dry, with shaded wooded valleys in between.
We came across a dry-stone waller at work. He has plied this trade for his whole working life, and his son has followed in his footsteps. He goes into the surrounding plantation forests to collect stone: he remembers when there were 100-acre farms here instead of the pines. Meeting him was bittersweet. My father was a dry-stone waller in his later years. I can imagine him chatting to passing walkers.
A little further on down the lane from his wall, five stacked piles of stone leaning against the wall spelled out the letters H A D E S. For a while this was an absolute mystery, until we came to a tiny farm on the other side of the stream which called Elysium. We quite liked the humorous balance of place names.
The village of Holme promised a pub lunch stop and it was a horrid disappointment to find everything closed on Mondays. But we paused awhile on the pub’s outdoor tables nonetheless to eat trail food. There seemed to be a very strong sense of local community here. The phonebox has been repurposed as a community lending library with an excellent book selection. We also admired the fact that the local vernacular was to roof the houses, sheds and indeed every building in the same stone with which the walls were built. Gutters were all made of wood.
Our path turned up onto the moor by a house being re-roofed with stone slabs, visible through the pediment of the stone doorway to Yateholme Farmhouse, re-erected in the middle of town as an interesting piece of local architectural history.
From Holme we walked straight out over moorland on a dead straight track which took us onto Black Hill, past curlews and lapwings going about the business of producing the next generation. We found a plundered egg on the path, whether lapwing, curlew or grouse we could not determine.
On Black Hill we met up with the Pennine Way. For us this was a massively significant landmark: it is the oldest and grandest of the British long-distance paths, and we felt it linked us into the great tradition of long-distance walking across our extraordinary landscape.
It is also the Shanks’s pony motorway leading north into the borders. For our journey we have stitched together a bastardised version of the Pennine Way, though, which avoids the infamous peat-bogs and the gruelling summits and allows us more reasonably to achieve our huge distance. A toad crawled across our path; I have heard that in Scotland this is believed to be a good luck charm.
We were now at the easternmost corner of Saddleworth Moor, a place with a troubled history which, despite the bleak beauty of the place, still has a haunting and desperately sad air.
We paused at Wissensen Head to frame the landscape for ourselves, looking and trying to see, and then focusing on the human memories, framed by the poignant ad hoc memorial to poor Keith Bennett, spectacled and grinning in the much-reproduced photograph, abducted 55 years ago. His body has never been found. It felt difficult to reconcile the two views: the uplifting, and the dragging evil.
Thoughtfully, we descended the valley path down to Marsden.