A Hundred Gourds 4:4 September 2015

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Claire Everett - UK

The Road Most Travelled

There aren’t enough daylight hours to explore new routes, but at least we are leaving town while the world and his wife have taken to their cars and are heading this way, like iron filings to the magnet that is the commercial madness of Christmas.

sheep jockey for position
at the hay manger

We’re riding into a headwind, increasingly amused by the constant stream of grim-faced drivers wrapped up snug and warm in their metal cages. A gust takes our laughter and carries it away over the stubble until it’s lost among the sonorous flight-calls of a broken vee of greylag geese coming in to land.

The hawthorn hedgerows are at their festive best, decked with berries for passing flocks of waxwings, redwings, starlings. What appears to be the beginning of a murmuration turns out to be a clamour of fieldfares which, eerily, makes its presence known only as a salvo of sunlit wings.

In unison we remark on a dead cormorant at the side of the road seemingly unscathed and eerily beautiful like something alien that fell clean out of the sky. Looking up again, I see the clouds are moving so much faster than us, and a vast contrail, etched as if by a skate on ice, appears to be speeding left as the clouds skim right, creating the illusion that the material world ends here, now here, no . . . here.

Back on earth, bare armed trees are haggling with the wind for a brief taste of green, a swatch of those far flung bolts of velveteen.

blackbird song . . .
everything old
is new again

Morning Worship

We’re deep in the Dales when the chimes begin, steeple to steeple across the blue.

shutters up
the shop door bell
to Sunday

There’s that scent again. It’s wafted from hedgerow and wayside these past few days. And now we’ve pinpointed it to those leggy flowers with the white umbels, similar to cow parsley, and worryingly, not unlike nightshade. It takes you back to aniseed balls, you say, while, in my mind’s eye, I’m unwinding treacle-black spools with my teeth.

one more twist
for the bag of liquorice . . .
Sweet Cicely

Even as we travel, I’m like a child, nose pressed to the glass of every view yet the adult in me knows that just as the confection is for display purposes only, the hills only roll when they’re yonder; the moment it fills your boot cleats the promise of there lies somewhere else.

the greens all the greener
for this blue, blue sky

My mind has wandered into some gamekeeper’s territory. And he, in turn, walks in the shadow of Viking, Roman, Brigante. The tandem’s shadow scuds across the fields and I wonder if it has yet crossed the Corpse Way along which the pall bearers carried the dead in wicker baskets to sanctified ground in Grinton. It wasn’t until a small thatched chapel was raised at Muker that the practice changed. This was sheep country; the living were dyed-in-the wool and the dead were buried in it, for a linen shroud would incur a fine.

shimmering heat . . .
two rams spark horns
at the water trough

Almost noon we’re climbing the hill to Reeth once the most populated village in the dale on whose green it was said, on market day, you could buy anything from a pin to a pig. Now we have slipped inside the frame and are travelling a picture postcard road, one that on this sun-dappled flower-stippled day might have been painted by Monet. And the skyline, like the velvet of a sleeve brushed against the nap, calls, not for a scrawled wish you were here but believe you are here, in cursive. This is Gunnerside, once the summer shieling of the Norse chieftain, Gunner, one of the heroes of the Sagas. The dry stone walls, the barns and dwellings (the latter built south-facing to make the most of the sunlight) were all a product of Enclosure. If Quaint were a quarry it would be all but spent. Time was, the people here spent their winters mining lead, their summers tending the land.

sun on the hills
a cottage called

Downhill with the wind rushing in my ears it’s not difficult to imagine the trudge of miners’ feet along the gill, nor the echoes of hushing, from which the landscape bears the scars, when dammed water was let loose as a torrent to slough away the debris and expose the rich veins. It is said that the roof of the Vatican has its share of Swaledale lead. So many lives, but a stone’s throw away, and somewhere among the ripples, are the voices of those who, during the Persecution, made their cloisters in the caves behind the falls.

Now Muker beckons. The Norseman’s ‘narrow acre’, carved by glaciers, dabbed with flowers, the home of hand-knitting and the Silver Band. The breeze fair smells of scones and teacakes.

the old telephone box
russet apples


Muker: the venue for Darrowby Flower Shop in the television series “All Creatures Great and Small” (based on the novels by James Herriot). CDs of the Muker Silver Band are available from Swaledale Woollens in the village.

*shimmering heat: The Heron’s Nest 16:4, December 2014

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