It was our last day in the north and the sun was shining. Stuart and I had breakfast in the park before collecting our friend, then the three of us set off to enjoy the morning, starting with the beauty of the high places we love. Not very far… just a few minutes’ drive… and you are out of the city. The moors wrap themselves around the road, putting the small lives of man into perspective. We drove past Barbrook, where a week before the rain and wind had pelted us in horizontal fury. But today the lady beside me had sunshine and we turned towards Curbar Edge.
It is a short walk to the edge of the moors, from here the wide valleys, walled fields and small villages are wreathed in hills and stone. From here the distance turns blue and mists the horizon. From here all you see is beauty. Carpets of speedwell nestle in the wiry grass, cuckoo pint and buttercups catch the sun, fronds of bracken unfurl like strange creatures, tight spirals of a summer to come. We sat and looked. A robin sat beside us on a wind-bent tree. Crows flew glossy in the sunlight, ladybirds and butterflies brought the ground to life. The hills are old; you can feel their wisdom and depth, the slow growing of stone. In spite of our roads and boundaries, the place has wildness and a passion that smoulders just beneath the surface waiting for the answering leap of a listening heart. We simply looked, and loved, and that was our morning prayer. It was enough.
Later we drove through the beautiful countryside to Tideswell, an ancient village of mellow stone where time seems written in happy wrinkles on the faces of the cottages. We wanted to revisit the church… the Cathedral of the Peak. An impressive building for a small town, but not particularly interesting from our perspective, we said. We’d been there a couple of weeks ago and had been disappointed. We expected little.
Wrong again. Last time we had just been working at high octane and evidently not in the right frame of mind to notice things. This time we didn’t even make it inside before we saw the first green man… then the porch was full of symbols… and inside was a revelation. The church is simply heaving with Stuff we will have to investigate properly for the books! There was even much of the sacred geometry Stuart is working on for Doomsday in there… let alone all the marvellous beasts… and you should hear what he had to say about the pulpit when he managed to drag me away from the woodwork… And that was before we got as far as the chancel!
The woodwork in there is incredible, fantastic in all senses of the word. In the centre of the tiled floor is a tomb from the 15th century, the pierced sides showing a cavity where the deceased is carved in stone, his head flanked by angels upholding his chin. The windows alone need a book to themselves and the statuary is unusual, let alone the reredos! We were, inevitably, there a while.
A short drive took us to Cressbrook Dale where we stopped to tell Diana the stories of our last few visits and point out the landmarks then we drove on to the Barrel Inn for refreshments and the fabulous view over the dale. We sat outside in the sunshine, talking. There are a lot of memories in this area, these days. From there it was a descent through Foolow to great Hucklow and the Queen Anne where we felt obliged to stop again, even though it was only minutes away… That too holds memories and we found that Diana had never been inside the old place. We sat in the garden, talking some more. A lot more. Emotions ran high as I told the story of the girl I had ‘met’ on the moors and how that was unfolding in an odd reality.
Eventually, we left and headed off once more… even though the next stop was to be a pub too. We simply couldn’t drive past the Three Stags without calling in and we were in luck, as the clear soprano voice greeted our entry. The tiny place was fairly empty when we arrived. We must have timed it beautifully for it wasn’t long before it had filled as the music continued and everyone joined the song. You could see human history in action… the hearth fire was a pub table, but the music flowed, the chorus was learned in seconds and a camaraderie grew organically as the voices and music carried us away from time and place into simply being.
But the clock was calling again. A leisurely drive to the Peacock for dinner, a short drive back to Stu’s for coffee, proper Bakewell tart and to collect luggage… then it was time to hit the road for the final two hundred miles of the day. For once and for speed this time I was taking the motorway, but not before we had seen the crooked spire of Chesterfield, no before a heron had flown over… and a suicidal squirrel, the third of the day, had tried to throw itself under the car. As we drove an owl lifted silently into the darkness and we left the north behind with that ache in the heart one gets when leaving home behind.