Panorama Wood lies alongside Heber’s Ghyll and I recall from my childhood hunting there for carved stones with my grandfather. It was a magical place for a child… a perfect place to walk with a consummate storyteller who could people the landscape with fairies, boggarts, barguests and the occasional griffin. We, however, were looking for stones.
Stones we found… great boulders and strange, angular creatures. We didn’t find carvings. Perhaps they were higher up? One of our companions got out the pendulum to try and track them down. She was led higher and higher up the steep, difficult slope, but we knew it would be too much for her. One by one, we followed, some simply climbing up the hard way, choosing to tackle the sheer and rocky path head on, others meandering behind. It was a steep climb, and there were more stones. If they had carvings on them, we would not have seen them for the thick pall of emerald moss. The wood had a forlorn feel… like Fangorn, we felt. Somehow abandoned and unloved. I found it a sad place, where once it had been full of magic. The beauty, however, remained and the trees seemed aware of our passing.
We climbed higher still up the prohibitive path and finally most of us had reached the top. Our dowser and her escort remained behind… it was far too difficult a climb the way we had come. Except… it wasn’t! The beaming smile said it all. It sounds a small thing… but it was, in fact, a triumphant moment we all shared!
We searched and searched.. and finally admitted defeat; either the stones were gone or they were lost to the undergrowth and dumped rubbish that littered the top of the hill. A beautiful spot marred by its proximity to man’s habitations. We found a safer path down a steep flight of stone steps and headed, disappointed with our search but happy for our friend, back to the town.
It had been suggested we visit the museum, housed in one of the most perfect old buildings you can imagine and containing ‘wonderful things’. Last year there had been a superb catalogue of the carved stones… we could perhaps find them there. Sadly the museum looked to be shut. Closer inspection revealed it wasn’t just shut, it had closed! Later research revealed that it was the victim of funding cutbacks and the beautiful, historic Manor House that had been donated to the people of Ilkley now stands empty, its exhibits in storage and its future currently bleak.
A second disappointment then, and a major one for me at least. I wandered disconsolate to the site of the old Roman fort beside the church with its Saxon crosses and looked out over the river. It was decided that ice-cream was a necessity and a convenient ice-cream van was parked on the bridge. Duly supplied, we debated the course of action. We agreed on the stepping stones. One of our companions, hearing of last year’s blindfold
lunacy escapade, wanted to challenge herself to cross. Providing there were no blindfolds involved this time. The Wharfe is wide, the stones uneven… not the few, carefully placed stones over a narrow stream our companion had imagined. Nevertheless… she faced her trepidation and crossed the river… both ways… returning triumphant!
The contrasts were not lost on us and the lessons they held were debated as we sat outside the hotel watching the play of cloud iridescence above the Cow and Calf before dinner. Would the disappointments merely have been annoyances without the triumphs of our two companions? Would those personal triumphs have been muted by a spectacular ‘find’? Without the two poles of experience, would we have appreciated either the wild and unkempt beauty of the woods or the serenity of the river?
It was a perfect evening with clouds teased out across the horizon. We talked over wine and ale as the sun began to set, watching the silhouettes against the changing colours of the sky. The soft pastels deepened, leaching colour from the garden so there was nothing to distract us from Nature’s Technicolor magnificence unfolding, moment by moment.
The last of the walkers were leaving the rocks as the sky flamed; the many faces in the outcrop open to imagination’s eye. One silhouette looked remarkably like the Egyptian god of wisdom, Thoth… and though from the garden we might question the wisdom of climbing in the dusk, we had done the same that morning and would do so again at dawn… As for me, I wished I was up there with them.
There was a moment of aureate glory before the shadows fell and swallowed the world. A moment when the moor was her own again, the walkers gone, the tourists departed… you could feel it sigh and settle, drawing the power of its beauty and mystery around itself for the night. Tomorrow would be a brand new dawn…in more ways than one…