We headed for Buxton, passing through the town with its mixture of architectural styles reflecting its rise to popularity as a spa. The waters of Buxton have been thought to have curative properties since at least the time of the Roman invaders who named the place Aquae Arnemetiae, the spa of the goddess of the grove. There is a huge limestone cave complex too, Poole’s cavern, that I would like to visit one of these days, where evidence of human occupation goes back beyond recorded history. For now though, we simply needed to get through it.
“Are we going via the Snake?”
“Not exactly.” I was disappointed. I like Snake Pass. The road winds through spectacular hills and a few miles can take hours, if you are lucky enough to have time. “We’ll just touch the end of it at Glossop.” Oh well… I wasn’t about to complain. We were in Derbyshire, after all, and heading for Yorkshire. There’s not a lot more I could ask for. “We’ll go on the Woodhead instead.” I perked up immediately. “But not for long.” Was my navigator doing this on purpose? I would wait. If we were going on any part of either pass, there would be hills.
And hills there were. We came through Chapel-en-le Frith, a town that bears its Norman heritage in its name, not stopping to look at the faded carvings of the Saxon cross in the churchyard, or even pausing at Dove Holes to walk the Neolithic henge. They would still be there another day. I had seen something that wouldn’t, though… To my utter delight, the heather was still in bloom. Whole hillsides painted purple… nowhere to stop on the narrow roads to take pictures, of course, but even so… Heather. I may have squeaked.
That was it. I was in heaven. The clouds struggled to crest the hills, laying an iron-grey blanket over the world, the russet and olive of autumn vied with summer green and late flowers. Michaelmas daisies counted the days to the Feast of St Michael and All Angels … and many north-facing hillsides were still purple. As soon as I see that colour, my heart lifts, my throat closes and my eyes fill… every time. And I began to hope… perhaps the moors around Ilkley, ‘my’ moors, would still wear their inner heart as a royal robe too.
We left the narrow road of the Woodhead Pass for an even narrower lane that started, almost immediately, to climb. I found a place to pull over, surrounded by hills that rose about us. Even as I raised the camera I knew that the sheer majesty of the hills would never look right on a picture. There is no sense of scale unless you, yourself, are the tiny dot at the centre of that vast panorama. When you are, nothing else matters.
We continued, up to Holme Moss, some 1,719ft above sea level. The border between Derbyshire and West Yorkshire lies across the desolate summit. I stood between the two signs looking back and pointed the camera towards the road just travelled… then towards my home county… smiling at the signs. Where else would motorists get both a warning of a 1 in 10 descent on a winding road at the same time as a warning that they would almost certainly meet a sheep on the road there too? Ten miles away, Emley Moor mast cuts the skyline, a slender, concrete obelisk rising 1,084ft above the hills… the tallest freestanding structure in the UK, one of the tallest in Europe still. Again I had to smile. There had been protest enough at its building, the usual ‘blot on the landscape’ stuff, yet it had quickly become an accepted landmark. We used to release my father’s racing pigeons from below the mast to train them. No-one likes the idea of wind turbines on their stretch of horizon either, yet they would be dwarfed by Emley Moor and serve a far better purpose.
We descended the long, winding road into the valley, passing a valiant cyclist riding up the hill and a heroic photographer dangling out of the back of a preceding transit van to record the mission. There is a pub, the Fleece Inn, just as you come into the village of Holme. I turned into the car park… it had to be lunchtime. We ordered drinks and just a sandwich apiece, not being hugely hungry after the pasty that morning. Had I been in any doubt of where we were, that sandwich would have convinced me… the filling of the ‘doorstep’ being layered thick with home-cured ham and cheese, we couldn’t have been anywhere else but home. The village was well named.
Though I didn’t know the way, I knew the familiar golden stone of the landscape. The slabbed roofs, the Victorian civic pride and the industrial architecture that placed fanciful finials atop mill chimneys… these things are home and speak to me of childhood, just as much as the moors sing to my heart, calling up something older, younger and deeper. Holmfirth, Huddersfield, Halifax, Haworth and Keighley. A sign for Mytholmroyd, a place-name that would convince me that at least part of Tolkien’s Shire was based on Yorkshire, if I needed any convincing. Bingley, where my great grandfather was born, then round the moor to Silsden… and on to Ilkley. There is a point where the outline of the Cow and Calf rocks is visible on the skyline as you come into the town that way. That is the point when a heart already high feels as if it will burst. The weekend was about to begin, and we would spend it here. On the moors.