Posts Tagged ‘ormskirk’

“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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Although I don’t go in for New Year resolutions, I have decided to do do more local walking in between the main legs of the trip, which will tend to be less frequent as the start-points get more distant. My first idea is to walk to Liverpool along the Northern Line train route, hiking station to station (which suggests a Bowie soundtrack: ‘Got to keep searching/and searching/oh what will I be believing/and who will connect me with love?’)


There being no time like the present, I ventured out from my front door at 6.30am on January 1st, to walk from Ormskirk to Aughton Park stations.


It was quiet after the midnight firework cannonades and party laughter of a few hours ago. A heavy frost turned objects such as cars into white sculptures of themselves. I crossed the park and walked up to the town centre, passing a couple returning from a party. With their hoodies and quiet talk they made me think of monks on the night stair. Rags of pre-Christmas snow still occupied odd corners, like the remnants of the old decade overlooked in the frantic Cava-fueled cleanup.


The clock tower was surrounded by broken bottles, the compass set in the pavement glistening with glass as well as frost. Ormskirk’s municipal time- and space-equipment had obviously been the site of revelry…


I had a fantasy of stumbling on to the last moments of a party – in Burscough Street I heard music and thought this was coming true, but it was just the muzak of the covered shopping alley, playing cheerily to an absent audience: Prokofiev’s Troika with a calypso beat.


I reached the station. No trains were scheduled until 8.20, removing the temptation to do this walk backwards from Liverpool. I took pictures, under the gaze of the CCTV cameras, vaguely anxious even at this unpeopled hour that someone would object to my photography. Many things have become forbidden or compulsory in the years running up to this new one; frontiers shift and multiply; our bodies and the spaces they move through become contested and unprotected image-taking seems to be on the forbidden list. Can I mix my own data-spoor with a public park? Or was pulling these shapes into my camera some form of transgression?


I walked on, replaying my normal walk back from work, an unwise man going home by a different route. The first bit of terra incognita was a right-of-way alley alongside the railway line.


Here I found the Significant Object of this walk: yards and yards of unspooled videotape, lying in the frost. I traced it to its source and found, of all things, Fantasia: a film that is nearly three-score-and-ten years of age, that I saw over 40 years ago, and that has been through numerous restorations and losses of original elements. Now this particular copy decays into the frozen verge, a magnetic version of Rite of Spring slowly sacrificing itself into the brittle grass, the servants of the Sorceror’s Apprentice coming to rest in the roots.


Back on roads, Black Moss and Long Lanes, I walked around the outskirts of Ormskirk and into Aughton, cold fields to my left.


Birds began to sing. There was a Subway delivery van outside the Baptist chapel. A young woman was dropped off at a house. I walked through a faint cloud of her perfume.


Unexpectedly, I reached Aughton Park station. Someone had tweeted me an excerpt from a poem: later found to be ‘The Gate of the Year’: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

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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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It occurred to me that, by adding ‘spurs’ on to a couple of bits of the walk I’ve already done, and when the time comes navigating to a particular site in Warwickshire, I could join up Edge Hill (the University) with Edge Hill (the Liverpool district) and Edge Hill (the Civil War battleground.)

With this in mind, I walked from my house (which is on the Southport to Brighton route) to the University (as I do many times each year to go to work and earn a living.)

There are pictures here. Our home is in a standard suburban street, spookily similar to the one I was brought up in.

(In 1974 a dog jumped in the garden of one of these houses, a moment I know through the random ghost magic of Flickr.)

I walked through a park, which has some municipal wildness

and a bandstand that for some reason reminds me of workaday American small towns, perhaps because there’s a bandstand in the film Groundhog Day

I passed Morrisons

where someone had left this flower

walked down St Helens Road and entered the University campus, where trees dating from the 1930s surround new buildings

and the architecture has created miniature Zen gardens, such as this little area, where leaves have been massaged by the captive wind into a temporary heart shape.

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Later in the walk, getting to start points will present difficulties. However as the previous day’s leg finished at my house, I had zero travel time to the start. I headed out over the small hill at the back of where I live, territory I only know from dark early morning trips to the paper shop – seeing it in daylight (albeit dark and drizzly) was a novelty. Like many people, I have made surprisingly little headway exploring the immediate vicinity of my home on foot. Little wonders like the Gorse Lane Nature Reserve, a few yards from my house, are less familiar to me than places many miles away…


(Local Scouts have done some good work contibuting to the upkeep of the Reserve and working towards their Tree Hugging badges.)

A good thing about a purposeful journey like this is that there’s no pressure for it to be ‘nice’, ‘pretty’ or ‘spectacular’. So walking in gloomy mud and rain was fun and didn’t feel like a waste. It played havoc with my stuff though – the map has turned to papier mache and I came home mud-spattered. I recently bought a nice pair of black Berghaus boots, so smart that I’ve worn them in their pristine splendour as my main leisuretime footwear, even to work, a sort of ‘I may look like a regular guy strolling along the high street but I could head out for the hills at a moment’s notice – and my feet would stay dry when I got there’ look. Now they look like something Grizzly Adams would discard as being insufficiently stylish.


I had a vague idea of getting over to the Cheshire Lines, but once I reached the Leeds & Liverpool Canal it seemed best to stick with it, virtually all the way to Maghull.


In Lydiate I went looking for a packet of crisps. An off license looked like the best bet – it had a glass wall inside, with hatches for handing over money and receiving purchases. Superficially resembling a museum display or Damien Hirst installation, presumably this is a security feature like the metal grilles I saw in bunker-like off-licenses in Belfast and Glasgow 20 years ago. I took this to mean that this was a relatively deprived and/or high-crime area. However, the houses backing on to the next stretch of canal were very large, detached, distinctive residences with enormous gardens, sometimes with boats moored outside, suggesting a well-heeled neighbourhood. Perhaps the big-house residents are wealthy to the point of incandescence, their money transfomed to a deadly light, so that the off-license staff need to be protected like scientists at an A-Bomb test. (A more prosaic explanation could be that Merseyside neighbourhoods of wildly different types exist side by side.)

Finally came into Maghull, past St Georges Church, where a shrine still carried some winter green and the walls an unfortunate message:

no entry

The walk took nearly three hours. The train journey back, 10 minutes.

> All photos from this leg

Distance: 7 miles approx

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