Posts Tagged ‘edge hill’

“IN the pale moonlight, the Wanderer lifted the latch of the field gate and crossing a meadow, passed through the woodland. The day had been an eventful one, the times were unsettled, the markets unreliable–verily it was a comfort to a tired mind to walk the meadows at nightfall.” So begins A Romance of Burscough Priory, a story published in 1928 by that organ of wonders, the Ormskirk Advertiser – collected in book form in Lancashire Legends, republished in 2005.

Reader, I was that Wanderer. Markets are indeed uncertain and days therefore eventful for a marketing director. I walked away from Edge Hill University (my place of employment) with some misgivings, as I could easily have stayed on into the evening doing more work. However with members of the team working away at crafting images of the campus:


and others hosting a social networking event, it seemed allowable to leave them to it and walk a while in ‘the hour for sweet repose and reflection’.

I headed into Ruff Wood and started off in a northward direction. This may turn out to be a one-off evening stroll, or it might be the start of a longer trek – I have a vague ambition to walk to Fleetwood, take ferries to Ireland and on to Stranraer, and walk the pilgrim route down to Whithorn. But later for that. Tonight I was just aiming for Burscough. Beyond the Ruff I traversed bland fields familiar from my lengthened, cardio-friendly commute into work.


I joined Lady’s Walk, down to the crossroads with the disused railway and, like the Wanderer, crossed into the woods.


I had not expected it to be rough going, walking a couple of miles between familiar towns, but I found myself in boggy and confusing terrain.


My clothes became spattered with mud – I felt like Will Eisner’s Spirit in terms of action-packed sartorial disehevelment.

Image source and copyright info

I scribbled some notes about sense of place – thinking how genius loci co-exist, the spirit for a particular field-corner containing those for individual blades of grass, say, then connecting to all field-corners everywhere.


Back in the Romance, the Wanderer ‘became conscious that a hooded figure stood silently behind him’, a ‘ghostly companion’ who explains the history of Burscough Priory, including some very specific details: ‘The nave was nigh upon one hundred feet in length…’ I proceeded in the lengthening shadows, alone but not wholly lacking in ‘a sense of unreality and…a profound stirring of the soul’ as I watched fitful autumn sunlight touching the fields, sheds and railway tracks.


In fact the landscape and the momentum of the walk were so beguiling that I forgot to look for the actual Priory ruins. Instead I walked into Burscough, had a Spar sandwich and found a pub to go to (the Hop Vine, recomended). I sat outside, under a giant hood covering a smoking area. With its windchimes and bamboo lining, this space had a sort of new age feel. Perhaps the smoking places that have appeared outside many pubs inns and taverns have some shamanic purpose – the superficial resemblance to tropical beach bars conceals a deeper identity aligned to sweat-lodges and temples where sacred smoke is shared.


I pored over the map, wondering how I could possibly not have bothered to look at the Priory. (Later I missed another opportunity on the train back.) A stray memory surfaced, of a dream I had back in my 20s. I was in some kind of science fiction mission, in a group exploring a planet, walking through forest laden with equipment. We were welcomed into a community with people in white robes and given nourishing vegetarian food. It was a peaceful place, filled with silence and golden light and (as is the convention) there was temptation to stay forever – but my dream-self was thinking ‘No, it’s too soon – I need to go back, back through the forest, back to earth, back to smoke roll-ups made from corner-shop tobacco, to explore the hidden pubs of Hove seen from trains amongst the house-backs, to figure out why pubs right next to stations are never any good but the next nearest ones are often OK [a vast cascade of such stuff] – not to the best things but to those things.’

And then ‘the dreamer awoke, to find himself in his own century…and the life and history of to-day’.

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In 1900 a book called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published. Author L. Frank Baum stated that he intended to write ‘a series of of newer “wonder tales” in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf and fairy are eliminated, together with…horrible and bloodcurdling incidents’.

Despite this intention I found the film version terrifying in parts when I saw it at the pictures as a five-year-old. Shortly afterwards my parents took me to see 2001: A Space Odyssey, so I guess they had some kind of plan to warp my mind through cinema.

It was on UK TV one Christmas, about 1975. This second viewing impressed me in a different way – it seemed like the kind of fantasy quest tale I enjoyed in books, in a childlike but timeless world. When Marvel and DC comics publishers teamed up to publish a comic-book version, illustrated by John Buscema who also drew The Savage Sword of Conan, I was beside myself with excitement. Despite not knowing what ‘intertextuality’ meant, I was keen on it when it came my way in a four-colour ‘Special Collector’s Issue!!’.

I suppose there’s a deep-seated urge to travel from ‘the great grey prairie’ of the day-to-day to a world of strange wonders. Perhaps this was at the back of my mind when I wagered with one of the University departments that, were they to achieve their targets, I would ‘dress as their choice of Oz character’. Naturally said targets were met, so here I am.


In some ways the Oz stories are works of realism: life is full of surprises and transformations, and sometimes you find that you’ve moved to a new world where everything is different, where people use strange words and things work according to unfathomable rules. But it’s not all good stuff. Cancer, for instance, is an unwanted transformation. It is a world with its own language and rules, but no-one wants to have to learn them. And, sadly, some people don’t make it home again. But many do, thanks to the care they receive and the research that underpins it. With this in mind, this dressing up gig is raising funds for North West Charity Research: click here to see what’s been raised, or to make a donation.

As well as being a bit of random horseplay and fundraising, this is also a serious psychogeographical experiment. I’m looking for evidence of the Emerald City in the Edge Hill campus. In the book, the Emerald City isn’t very emerald. The Guardian of the Gate gives everyone green-tinted spectacles before they enter, as ‘if you did not wear spectacles, the brightness and glory of the Emerald City would blind you’.


But as it turns out, there is plenty of emerald marvel to be seen with the naked eye…


All done now. The journey raised a lot of smiles, helping make the campus a ‘merry old town’ for a while. Got over £500 so felt I had kicked cancer in the ass with my dainty ruby slippered foot.

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Sometimes everything just comes together. Today’s walking was as perfect as I can imagine – great weather, interesting discoveries, fantastic views and the green of spring flooding in. Blossom scattered on the path. A day bursting with life – even though I was headed for a battleground. Today’s walk aimed for the small hamlet of Edge Hill, where the first skirmish of the English Civil War occurred in 1648.

(Update: I discovered afterwards that I had walked close to ‘The largest ammunition dump in western Europe‘, part of the gorgeous vista seen at the end of the day.)

I had a new toy along for this journey – a GPS logger, which has plotted my route and added location data to my photos. If you navigate to my Picasa (by clicking on a picture), you will notice map positions for each photo, and a kind of map-route for the whole album, with an option to ‘view in Google Earth’ if that’s your bag

In the instruction manual it points out that GPS ‘was originally developed in the 1970s as a navigation aid for submarine-based Trident missiles’. Using a weapon-aiming system for creative entertainment seems slightly anomalous – like taking wedding photos with a sniperscope. But maybe it isn’t so odd – I already use Ordnance Survey maps, presumably designed to help get ‘ordnance’ into the right place. However I’m not pulling a gun carriage with me today – just trying to ‘look at the pictures’ in the ‘Book of Life’ and maybe fix some moments of meaning in the crosshairs.


says a sign on the church at Harbury. Today I’m walking and writing – not magic realism, but maybe magic autobiography, placing cutout fairies in the hedgerows to hoax myself…

Most of the day was spent on the Centenary Way, a path though Warwickshire designed to celebrate the Council’s centenary.

After Harbury, there were miles of lanes and fields walked under fresh skies, the weather getting warmer as I went. Broken fences made the runic shapes I love so much for miles.

I brushed the M40, often-driven road to the South, beginning to get views of Edge Hill in the distance.

At Northend, a sign indicated a ‘Chapel of Ease’ which seemed unmissable. The small chapel, made of the deep yellow stone used for many buildings around here, was cool and peaceful. A black binder contained information about an aircrash that happened yards away during World War Two. Earlier I mused idly on navigation by weapons system. Fortunately Trident has not been used in anger, but decades ago death and destruction were being delivered by aeroplane. A B-17 bomber came to earth here, its crew of 10 killed. It was carrying 42 oil-and-rubber filled incendiary bombs which would have gone to Bremen, in a plane decorated with a bomb-throwing Alley Oop flying a purple pterodactyl.

Outside, a lamp-post had a pleasing Unmitigated England look, of Tipton manufacture, a little reminder of the West Midlands.

Walkinghometo50 has made me a connoisseur of canals, disused railways and shopping centres – all of which involve walking on the flat. The cluster of hills above Northend (Bonfire, Windmill, Magpie) were the steepest ascent I’ve made for a long time. I heaved, panting, to the top, thinking I need to do more walking between walks.

Descending, I found Burton Dassett All Saints church, and the adjacent holy well in its Victorian shell.

All Saints is in Simon Jenkins’ 1000 Best Churches book, in which he gives a rousing description of a church in ‘a wild spot at the watershed of three Englands.’

On though more fields to Avon Dassett, where I had lunch in the pub, looking at the village built from more of the yellow stone. Sitting still meant the breeze was chilly so I moved inside, where Sinatra was singing The Tender Trap. Vague musings of the eros-power of the season as mating insects flew by.

Now I actually crossed the M40. I love the contrast between the tracks and byroads that cross the motorways on the dozens of bridges glimpsed by drivers – ancient droveways lined with weeds and covered in the droppings of cattle – and the motorways themselves – newer, faster, busier, seeming to cut through the landscape rather than be part of it. I’m not anti-motorway, I just notice how different they are, and the proximity of very different types of road, seen from the less-usual angle, reveals a complex palimpsest-like quality in the landscape. (I’m looking forward to Joe Moran‘s book On Roads: A Hidden History, as I’m beginning to see dimly the interest that roads offer – vast horizontal sculptures…)

I began my ascent of the Edge Hill escarpment. This will be the third Edge Hill I have connected with this route – the others being the University, and the Liverpool district. When I say where I work, people sometimes ask ‘Where is that?’ often followed by ‘Oh, I thought it was in [insert name of place somewhere other than Ormskirk]’. I can now say (in a Johnny Cash impersonation) ‘I’ve been to Liverpool, Birmingham, Oxfordshire, West Lancashire… and it’s definitely nowhere other than Ormskirk.’ Despite its lack of university, this Edge has the most actual Hill of the ones I’ve visited, making a superb walk with views back towards Warwick.

If the military lead the way in technological development, then the sex industry is never far behind – consider the internet for instance; there are only about ten non-sexual sites and this is one of them. I toyed with the idea that military applications create technologies which are then used to shill striptease shows, and only after that put to other uses. First comes the army, then the camp followers; farmers move back in once they’ve all gone away. A discarded Fiesta magazine in a ditch below the ridge where the Royalists gathered in 1648 offers a hint that this may be an accurate assessment.

More enjoyable walking brought me to my destination. Who needs porn (specially waterlogged fading pages) when celandines are blooming? The satellites may have been built to aim missiles but we can make art with them now and generally mess about. Pikemen are still clashing and muskets being aimed, not too far from here but thankfully not in this place.

At the Castle Inn, a castle/folly-like tower on the ridge, I got a pint of Hook Norton bitter. Normally I spurn outside drinking as the preserve of lightweights and families, but the view of the battleground was too good to miss. I think outside air causes a chemical change in real beer, as it tastes different – one of those evocative tastes. (Presumably I have enjoyed drinking outside in the warm months of past years, even though it has been by accident.) I looked out across the fields, points soon to be plotted on a map, old stories of crash sites and troop deployments, my own meandering, wondering if this moment will be evoked in future years as I sit in yet-to-be-imagined gardens looking out at stuff.

At the next table, a couple of Sealed Knot men were planning a campaign of some sort.
There was an Easter Egg on my table – I’m a week late for the Easter Egg hunt, but I get an undeserved prize anyway.

Map of this leg

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Yesterday I met two writers visiting Edge Hill University, Chris Haven and Patricia Clark, both based at Grand Valley State University, Michigan. Not wanting to meet them without having some idea of their work, I tracked down some of their writing in advance.

I enjoyed Sitcom Mom by Chris Haven, an adventure in unreality of another Dorothy.

Some of Patricia Clark’s work can be found on the internet too, enough to beguile me into buying her book My Father on a Bicycle. Late last week the book arrived from the US – I unwrapped it – and promptly dropped it in the bath. Reading the now-dripping volume, I found this powerful poem, which Prof. Clark has kindly allowed me to reproduce in full.


For another day, I’ve aligned my breath with the river,
laced up my walking shoes and set out,
miraculous, really, some days believing
I could traverse the city, keep on walking,
carry my home on my shoulders, never look back.

Today the river flowed the wrong way, the water
churning and boiling, not much to be done
but stride off my sorrow and try to praise,
if I could, the good green buds swelling at twig-joints,
and fallen catkins, red and spongy underfoot.

Let me begin again as a wet thing wrapped
in hair, let me locate, finally, the triangle of a house,
another house, and then a third. Always on foot, the walk
to Visitation School, to the parish church, and the carefree
walk to the hill, the place that was mine alone.

For another day, I’ve given in to the spangled wet
of the river’s face, to my face, and to the dog’s
unfailing heart, our sixteen year alliance one
of stepping out, of sharing the bright air, of twinned
hearts, if it comes to that, bound with a leash.

A different day looms ahead, and the dog’s gait,
her stumble, foreshadowed it, so slight, though,
it might have been imaginary, let it go now, and some
cooling air breathed us both into action, and we set off
again, almost forgetting, not looking back.

What is it that darkens my way, that swerves me from
the path? A shadowy warp-monster seems to stalk
my steps, keeping me niggling and spirit-small
when that isn’t me. What lodges inside here opens
to embrace the riverbank verge, the fields,

and the willow cracked in half, ruined by the wind
last night. In truth, the hill never was free, or mine
alone. For another day, the compass swings wild
in its case on my jacket, the river the only landmark
to follow, its water a magnetic, quick-moving, force.

From My Father on a Bicycle, Michigan State University Press, 2005
Reproduced with permission of the author

I won’t try and stumble alongside this journey – but I will quote the inscription added to my dry but wavy copy: ‘Thanks for being a poetry fan – & for keeping water in the words.’

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forking paths in the park I walk through on the way to work

the hunched roofs of Ormskirk, which never fail to remind me of H. P. Lovecraft’s Dreams in the Witch House for some reason (?)

at work, another trip to the roof garden – I seem to be the only one ever up there, catching the reflections

at lunchtime, a quick trip to the Wild Wood (well, Ruff Wood anyway.)

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