“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.
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’.