High Cup Nick

farmhouse

The North Pennines is a powerful place. A landscape of scarred, runneled, barren moorland. The hills are long, wide and flat, not particularly tall but they emanate a sense of empty, eerie grandness. The valleys – ‘dales’ as dey called up norf – are populated, by very pleasant villages actually, but in between them are moors, proper moor. With those special Moorland roads, ones that are just a winding ribbons of tarmac set down directly on the wild, borderless heathland.

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I love it. Although I’m not sure I could live here, it doesn’t have the archaeological and topographical detail of the moors of home, no real sense of connection to the ocean either but it certainly holds some sway over my sensibilities and I admit that I do not know it nearly as well. Evidently it has it’s own secrets and knowledge to reveal that staying with it would surely uncover.

Remote and sparse, the great poet W.H Auden felt the magic here keenly. Perhaps initiated into its mysteries, he felt the connection we forge to certain landscapes and the names within them. The place names here are indeed evocative;  Rookhope, Cauldron Snout and High Force,  each found their inexorable way into his poems.

I’m living in Durham for the year as I attempt my much waylaid Masters degree and I’m very glad to have this lump of upland close enough for me to escape to. Like many country folk put into the city I crave the freedom of space and ‘The Roof of England’ as they call it has it in abundance. A somewhat overlooked AONB it seems, it is remarkably devoid of ramblers (something in common with Bodmin Moor), passed over perhaps for the high romance of the Lake District and the slightly more civilised Yorkshire Dales.  It does though, have a ski field, forsooth, something that caught me off guard as I drove by years ago in my little van when I was exploring the land outside of Kernow.

Those were great adventures, when I was motivated by my lack of exploration of my own country, something many people share. In New Zealand I often met people who spoke of escape from Britain, from their hometowns, like it had become too much to bear. I know what they mean, I have felt it too but there is something about England.

It is overly populated, ugly and expensive. People are poor and kept that way various forces (we are one of the richest nations on earth yet to live comfortably on ‘minimum wage’ is an impossiblity), there is no ‘wildness’ left, nearly every part of the country shows the damage of humanity; of our toils and efforts, interference and greed. Our biodiversity is shrinking. The cities are largely bland and grey, the new buildings are uniform and uninspired, the high streets homogenised, everything is bought and we need to buy everything, the people can be aggressive, mean-spirited and cruel, lacking imagination, scope and drive, as grey in their souls as pebble-dashed estates. The main roads and motorways are bleak, bland and deadly, clogged arteries, the industrial estates and retail parks that encircle nearly every town are all identical in their bland oppressive atmospheres. But, for all this England is underrated.

There is good everywhere, people are also warm, kind and happy much more than they are mean, they struggle and strive to find their own meanings and live accordingly,  everybody has their hobby, passion and families, if they look of course. The same etches of human toil can be beautiful marks of humanity: churches, hay bales, fields, even the moors themselves.  The cities have their small but thriving pockets of creativity, colour, imagination, rebellion and subversion. It is still so green, the Atlantic ocean of home so blue and clear.  It is cleaner than it was. There are crisp winter days amongst bare oak trees in a park, watching happy people. There is swimming in the Avon river underneath a weeping willow in June, a deserted beach at home, good food, pubs with friends.  There is beauty even in the unkempt scrub of an industrial estate, for there are the largely eradicated wildflowers that have been left to live. There is much to be done, but much to be savoured. Modernity is remorselessly destructive, greedy and ugly but also people are relentlessly creative and loving.

There is a sense I get when I walk in England, even when I drive in it, a connection to the land and history – some would call this land-magic -it is a connection with something much deeper and older than all of the things I list above. As if the land itself has a soul. It has its own taste or aura, spirit or quality, it is energising and is ultimately what brings me back here and when I feel oppressed by negativity and depression, as I suppose we all are at times, I can find it.

So with metaphysical claims about the land aside I will tell of a walk up in these rare hills.

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A few weeks ago I decided to head out to High Cup Nick where not so long back – geologically speaking – the glaciers that dominated England north of the Severn river carved out a rather picturesque, almost perfect u-shaped valley. This is the very edge of the North Pennine upland and the high land abruptly drops into the flat and fertile Vale of Eden.

The walk starts in a small village called Dufton in the Eden Valley and from there you skirt the edge of the looming fells until you turn up into them, coming into the almost perfectly shaped valley of  High Cup and walking up the moorland stream to its irruption from the bedrock. I think I did the walk backwards by the way, it seems you are to descend the ‘Miners Track’, not ascend it but whichever works.

From the bottom
Straight ahead is the Miners Track, I have an image of men carrying rocks up and down this by hand…

It was a genuinely tough climb up, my legs actually gave out, something that has never previously occurred to me, and I had to stop and munch my Greggs sandwich, which it may be fairly claimed to be the absolute worst sandwich I have ever eaten, but I was ravenous. I blame leg day.

It was a cold day in October and the winds that met me when I clambered the precipitous path to the top of High Cup, were fierce, sharp and cold, coming straight from the north.

left hand side

When you stand up here, looking out over the flat valley to the Dales and the Lakes you can really imagine the glaciers. Where only the highest peaks would just be visible. The rest just barren ice.

I can’t say enough about the view here, it really may be one of the most beautiful I’ve seen in England. I plan to camp up here in Summer and wake up to it.

high cup

The walk back was much easier, traversing a wide path along the right hand side of the cup, where it descends (relatively) gently to Dufton. I was happy to choose a particularly beautiful time to return. The sun was setting over the distant jagged crest of the Lake District and the calm, quiet of dusk was with me as I walked through the milder, tamed, sheep-grazed farmland. My boots sending a rare hare skitting into the undergrowth as Foxes started to stalk the fields.

Sounds seem to sharpen at dusk, tractor trailer clank, a car in the distance, bull bellow and sheep bleat. Senses alert and heightened but also feelings in this case; satisfaction and happiness.

 

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Little Beach

If you’re going to write about home then perhaps the best time to do this is after a prolonged absence.

sea

This will likely be the last year I spend any real time here. The squat little whitewashed 1920’s bungalow perched on the hill that I grew up in is being sold and my parents are vacating the county. I severed most of my emotional ties with the house years ago but I confess that I may have been re-attaching some of those in the last few weeks.

Sea Wall

Every year since I was able, except the last, I have swum off what has always been known as ‘Little Beach’ at Pentewan. It wouldn’t be too much hyperbole to say I grew up here on the coarse sands. Childhood, adolescence, adulthood. A number of the formative experiences of those indistinct phases we all encounter have occurred within the confines of this little coastal village.

it’s quite something to have such a constant, taken for granted of course but now this constant has its end in sight I am sensitive to my time here. Finality is a powerful impetus. As I approach thirty whole years of age, I start to see life for what it is, or so I think. The remnants of a sea wall crumbling into the sea built on the shifting sands of a childhood. A glassy sea in June, capable of great violence but now appeased and peaceful. A collection of memories. A mark left somehow, small or large, far reaching or localised, both perhaps.

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So now I am here again, home in a sun-drenched Cornwall in June, battling the same old vices of indolence and nicotine addiction but trying hard to appreciate every sunset, the immensity of the trees in full bloom, every cool swim in the clear sea, forge new friendships, write more things, draw more.

I heard somewhere that the mind is like a soft rock. When water runs over it it forms channels and funnels, paths of least resistance, through which it will flow more easily and erode further as we age. This is a great analogy. I suppose we have to force that water to flow differently. Follow new paths. Carve new grooves. Easier said.

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Greg Hallett: Conspiracist

In a totally different vein to self-indulgent familial nostalgia I will be discussing an author in this post. An author of such titles as; ‘Stalin’s British Training, Breeding Concubines, Paedophiles at War‘ (2007) and ‘Hitler was a British Agent‘ (2005). I find this interesting.

I came across this guy researching an upcoming post on the Knights Templar (they built a church on the moor). If you have ever delved into this Medieval order then you might note that it is quite the  fertile ground for conspiracists.

Greg Hallett is most definitely a conspiracy theorist. His main treatise is a five volume (!) epic based on the premise that the legitimate King of England is in fact a small Portuguese male named Marcos Manoel.

It is not really the content of dear Mr. Hallett’s oeuvre that interests me – although admittedly the Second World War could well have been a mystic simulacra conjured by Nazi Rosicrucians – it is more the sheer volume of his work.

Writing is considerable undertaking, indeed, a sodding enormous undertaking. Effort, time, commitment and sustained application of thought are needed to produce a meagre blog post. This gentleman has produced 15 books over a twelve year period, at a rough average of 300 pages each. 3600 pages. The standard average of words per page is about 250. 900 000 words.

I will also admit that if you are writing completely incomprehensible bollocks then this target might be easier to achieve. But I would still defy most authors to reach such a dizzying output. I fear I would Hemmingway my brains over my spartan room with quivering, RSI wracked fingers if I attempted it.

So clearly Hallett is gently prodded by feverish insanity. I am not the first to point out, with mildly envious tones, the frightening industry of the zealot, David Icke’s biblically proportioned unscripted lectures (or ramblings, whatever) have been met with raised eyebrows previously.

I realise as I write that it is not even the mighty output that really interests me. It is the thought processes, the mental pathways taken by the conspiracist. How are they so convinced in the veracity of their conclusions?

Surety is a strange thing to me, I am a Sociologist at heart. I cannot be convinced by any truth, no matter how convincingly it is espoused.

The mentality of Hallett and his ilk is fascinating, their truth is completely and comprehensively unconvincing to me, yet they are moved to write about it with deep conviction.

So my question would be where does the thought process differ from the religious evangelist, the ardent Marxist, the dogmatic atheist? Does it differ?

The concluding world view differs, greatly, of course. Some are more convincing, it would take a different mind (maybe) to conclude with a Reptilian World Order than with Reductionist Materialism, as the Scientist would (by that I mean a gross generalisation of some modern scientists with one famous, exemplary proselytiser settling in my mind) and perhaps one has more validity than the other.

Nonetheless the part, or process, of the brain that convinces itself of truth, of finding the truth, of that slightly superior discovery of enlightenment over others would remain the same would it not? Would it then be fair to label the titular author as insane as I did previously? Perhaps he just found his subjective truth.

I don’t know, blame Nietzsche, I blame Nietzsche.

Field Thoughts

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Things can sometimes illicit a powerful and unexpected response. This photograph of a field outside of Downderry does this.

A complex mixture of feeling, hard to pin down…

An ideal, a distant desire from childhood; a piece of vivid imagination garnered from some long-lost book or photograph that has become entwined with memory over time. Not wholly my own.

I believe it might stem from the ‘Reader’s Digest Book of Natural Wonders’, a book I once pored over almost daily. I remember an image of the Rocky Mountains, wild, expansive and empty and this somehow now comes with more palpable, corporeal memory of a warm, blue clear sky. The sound of a single propeller plane and the feel of prickly half-dried grass with tiny quick footed wolf spiders hunting amongst it.

It also brings a fleeting, rapid and expansive showreel of a whole life, again not mine, but one I could have had. All the alternative complexities of that in a strobing snapshot of images and imagination.

Like a glimpse through a window of a stranger’s house at night. A glimpse of another life in the walls, paintings and furniture.

The photograph above seems to represent all of this. It’s expanse is melancholy but uplifting. Yearnings to just go, yearnings to settle. A world of infinite possibilities but necessarily only few of them ever to be realised.

It’s an elusive and ephemeral state and I can’t feel it long enough to do it justice. It’s almost as though I exhaust it if I try to keep conjuring it back. So I suppose that will have to do.