Rising from a bed of ragged dreams I strode into the morn.
The whole village slept, even the cars, tucked in, bumper to bumper along the narrow lane; curtains drawn in cottage windows and me, strolling along the middle of the road, under a dawn sky fading from blush to blue.
Passing the woods, I stood and held my phone aloft to record the morning chorus. From every corner of the valley different sounds, a cockerel, wood pigeons, rooks, blackbirds and so many more I didn’t know. Not a dog barked, not any sound at all but birdsong. Why oh why, didn’t I do this more often when I couldn’t sleep?
Crossing the beck I cupped my hands under a little waterfall, the peat softened water dropping from my fingers as I splashed my face. Did my ancestors do the same long ago? Sheep stared as I started the climb, calf muscles pulling deliciously.
Sitting on a stone stile atop the field, the morning stretched before me, the blues and greens and greys of this northern rural landscape, old as time. Lapwings soared, curlews pee-witted and a tiny but brave little bird landed on the wall only feet away from me and considered me gravely.
Boulsworth is a tough little hill and from Trawden, you’ve already walked a 2 mile gradual incline before you get to the foot of it, so once on the hill proper, I didn’t feel too bad stopping every hundred feet or so to have a breather and inspect the view. This was I admit, the earliest in the day I have ever climbed Boulsworth. I came up once on New Years Day around 9, but I’d not been here at 6.30!
What can I say? The peat was slightly frozen, my boots crunched and squished into the soft mud below, last year’s heather scratched, moorland tufts of grass tickled, wind found its way inside my collar. My legs ached, my lungs gasped and my heart blew itself wide open with the sheer joy of it all.
I startled moorhens, their throaty cackle echoing across the wide expanse. But other than their indignant call, all was silent. I headed for the huge boulders that dominate the ridge. From the village they appear to be no more than 4 equi-distant piles of stones, but as you climb you realise the might and size of these glacial boulders. The path I’d chosen to climb this morning was the most direct one, practically straight up to Little Chair Stones, where the formation of the boulders provides a ledge tucked away from the wind and up there this morning, the wind was chilly. After days of unseasonable warm weather in this last week of March, that had seen youngsters baring shoulders and legs, I was only just warm enough in thermals and a woolly hat!
I love the walk across the ridge of Boulsworth; the black of the peat, the grey and rust of the coarse grass, the views as far as the Lake District to the North and nothing but moor after rolling moor to the South East. It’s a place to feel alone but never lonely. I leaned on the trig and gazed across to Pendle hill, its outline soft in the morning haze, my first hill at age 3 or 4 and the hill I’d seen in the moonlight above me as I camped out many times with friends in my early teens. Where have all the roaming teenagers gone I thought? Where are the kids building dens and messing in streams. You just don’t see that anymore. Will they one day walk and climb and find joy in the outdoors like me?
“Hello Dad, Hello Mum.” I said out aloud to my long lost parents. I turned and made my way back to a sheltered spot and lost myself in thought as I sipped hot coffee.
Skirting the boggiest bits, with the wind behind my back, I was soon at the start of my descent. The Countryside ranger’s land rover was parked half way up the hill and I remembered choosing my A levels many years ago, Geography, Biology and Maths, because I dreamed of being a forest or countryside ranger. How I ended up as a Finance Director is another story.
Gradually down, all the while with that glorious long distance view of flat topped Ingleborough and the haze clearing from a milky sky. Zig sagging down as Dad taught me many years ago, reaching the old roman road that skirts the moor and leads to Wycollar, I sat upon a big slab of granite that I call my thinking stone and poured another cup of coffee. It was 8am. I’d been up and down a hill. The tension has drained from my body through the soles of my boots into the very earth and as I scribbled ideas for poems in my little notebook, the countryside ranger made his way down the hill in his land-rover and drawing level with me, he wound his window down to say ‘Mornin’ and I grinned and said “Good Morning to you too.” Never a truer word.
If you'd like to hear the birds as I did, for a glorious 2 minutes, please follow this link.
Waking in the morning after a night filled with dreams, where I was years younger, I still feel tired. I know I’ve woken several times, once for at least an hour, and that’s normal these days, during which I made tea and toast and read chapters of a good book, before settling back down for another two hours.
It’s aching bits and pieces that lead to the waking, mostly shoulder and neck, so there’s a lot of turning side to side and folding pillows into comfy shapes. But this body has folded and carried and borne and raised children and cared and lifted parents and driven thousands of miles and sat at desks for hours, so it deserves a few aches.
The year is ageing too, trees mulberry against grey skies, fields sodden between wet walls, dark at four. But the years have led me to this window, this view and for this, and the coffee in my favourite cup, my heart smiles.
Strange, that as the body becomes less flexible, my mind becomes more so. The years have lain down experiences like layers of sand and as I dig through the layers and stir the memories, they shift and mingle, giving me new perspectives and reflections.
The greatest gift of my ageing, I feel, is an appreciation of time.
When I was young and cramming all of life into every day, with a body strong and an ego racing, each day was both short and a competition. How much could I achieve, how many tasks could I tick off my list, how many more clients could I gain? This was the normality of 20th century ambition. Better car, larger house, more holidays, nicer restaurants. How shallow it sounds. But it was the way of middle class grammar school educated young things, born of UK post war striving parents. Their version of a better world was security. Their rules were work hard, get a good job, get a mortgage, progress in your career, try to make a difference, never give up. The conditioning of the baby boomers.
Might as well have said, you will wear yourselves out, as the world changes its priorities and leaves your loyalty behind. And the world needed to change and more so today than ever.
But my loyalty and graft was not wasted. It was a lesson to my children. They sat with X boxes in front of MTV and dreamed of freedom. They watched my tutorials and chose to write their own, filled with exploration, openness and generosity. I watch them fly.
To the present then. To classical music and rooks rising over the copse and letting the emails wait for half an hour.
To hearing birdsong through the open window and saying thank you for another day. To starting the day slowly, with a coffee in my favourite cup.
To the memories of six of us in the kitchen, fighting for the cornflakes, falling over trainers, slinging sacks on backs and slamming doors, stacking pots in dishwashers, grabbing briefcases and car keys.
Layers upon layers of life and now some time to consider the lessons learned.
Time is finite and infinite. Time is both fast and slow. There are 60 minutes in every hour and hopefully another 25 or so years in this life of mine.
As I walk a little slower, I find I have the time to look at the life around me. As I sit on a boulder half way up a hill, I have time to drink in the view. As I soak in the bath, without interruption, I have the time to reflect on the day.
This having time to reflect is revelatory. It settles and centres me. It helps me make rounded decisions. It gives me the space to wonder rather than judge. It is something I fear many of our young are currently unaware of, this gift of consciousness that sets us apart from other animals. I hope in time, they will switch off their screens and lift their heads to look each other in the eye.
I always have had 24 hours in a day I know, but the preciousness of them was never so apparent as it is this Spring, as we emerge from lockdowns and losses.
As many of us once again combine work and home, I encourage you to take a little time, to stand back and watch the scene play out in front of you, to say nothing, just to let the seconds slide once in a while, while you silently thank the Universe or your God or whatever or whomever you believe in, for your safe passage through a year like no other. May this year bring an world wide end to the pandemic and a beginning to the realisation that love and time are our most precious commodities. May we value care above capital, people above profit and sharing above share value .