If Saturday had started fine, Sunday was not planning on being as kind. By the end of Saturday evening our company was much reduced; the flooding in Cumbria had called half the party to return to their various homes, some quite severely threatened with being cut off if they delayed. Stuart and I checked out of the hotel and wandered down to Rivington to wait for news from the rest of our party whose road north had already been flooded on the way to the workshop.
The rain battered the roof of the car and the call, when it came, was no surprise. Sunday was rained off, our companions sensibly heading southwards. Which left just the two of us in a very soggy landscape with little desire to get out of the car and get drenched.
We would head back and salvage what we could of the day…
We didn’t fancy the spray and stress of the motorways and we had plenty of time, so after a brief drive around some of the reservoirs and sites at Rivington, my companion got out the map to navigate us cross-country back over the Pennines and into Yorkshire.
I trust my navigator; we have driven thousands of miles together now and he had something in mind… but we were in what was once the industrial heartland of Lancashire and the towns are not the chocolate box variety… and we are neither of us overly fond of built-up areas at the best of times. Still, we would have to cross the hills and that would do nicely. I had no idea which way we were taking until he said a couple of magic words… Holmfirth and Saddleworth. That meant we were going over the moors.
There came a point when I could resist no longer and pulled over. With surgical precision and anticipation the camera was placed in my hand… he knows me so well and the clouds were hiding the peaks of the hills. From that point onwards my conversation diminished into squeaks and oohs of delight as we approached the Dove Stone Reservoir, sheltered in the valley beneath Dovestones Edge.
There was no help for it, and there was a parking place… I pulled over and got out. The hills towering around us were shrouded in a veil of flying cloud, hiding and revealing new facets of the landscape with every passing second. Pheasants ran and fluttered in the mist. Below us, the great mirror of water reflected the sepia hills and iron sky of the north that I love so very much. Beneath my feet… for I had barely waited… an outcrop of stone overlooking the valley.
It is a strange mixture of wild and tamed land. The hills are old and hoary, pocked with the scars and wrinkles of time, weeping waterfalls fed by the sky and crowned with wind-carved stones. Yet across this ancient beauty man has left his mark. The waters of the reservoir are channelled and caught, the hills themselves wear the concrete veins that bear the lifeblood of earth to man’s service and the argent surface of the lake is borne in the chalice of the goddess.
We had begun the day in an artificial landscape where the hillside had been shaped to the will of man. Undoubtedly beautiful, yet lacking the majesty of this place. At Rivington the will had been that of one man who shaped nature to his heart… a romantic story that married young love and success. Here, however, although the concrete is the same and just as artificial, and there is still the will to write upon the face of nature, Nature is bigger than desire and you can feel her depth in the rock and earth beneath your feet.
The beautiful terraced gardens worked nature to answer desire, this landscape harnessed nature to fill a need. Both provide a haven for wildlife and a place of delight to the eye. The gardens required too costly a maintenance and now begin to be reclaimed by the earth… the reservoir at Dovestones must be far more costly, yet it serves to maintain the life of many.
It seemed in many ways to be a perfect illustration of some of the things we had talked about on the previous day as we shared the landscape of the Prisoner in the Tower with our companions. The will fuelled by personal desire may create a temporary loveliness, but can only lead to eventual decay and an imprisonment in bars of its own making. The will at the service of a greater good creates an environment bigger than itself and filled with the possibility of a wild beauty that shows something of its true origin and essence.
When we, as individuals, use the will to serve ego, we may create something that, to the outside world, looks fabulous and incites envy. To maintain what we have created we must pour more and more of ourselves into what we do until eventually we will begin to see areas that feel empty. When all that we are is placed in service to something greater than ourselves, it seems that we become more than ourselves… and less… and in that stripping away of self we find we have lost nothing except the bars that could have held us.
To stand with such a landscape is to feel so small and insignificant that self melts away into joy. To stand within such a moment is to know yourself to be not just an observer, but part of a greater landscape of overwhelming and untameable beauty.