Getting back to my roots
Feb 20th 2021 – Saturday
We’ve been working hard all week. It’s half term and I’d decided to step away from work completely and shift to working on the house. The kitchen overhaul has been dragging on for a while now and we both wanted to get it finished. Our work has paid off but it’s taken all week. Now it’s the weekend and I’ve again taken the decision to step away, this time from both work and DIY. This compartmentalising of life is becoming an easier thing, a necessary thing especially at the moment where most of life is lived in the same space. Healthy balance takes more intention than it might do usually where our routines carry us from space to space, each one heralding a different way of being. I like it this way, intentional, it feels better somehow. I think these habits of mindset will prove beneficial after lockdown is over but only if I notice them and intend to carry them with me. Intentionality is one of my words for this year, Discipline is another. Two areas of focus that I intend to develop and see where it takes me.
And so we find ourselves walking this morning. It feels good to be out, literally blowing the cobwebs away. It’s not until I’ve started to feel them go that I realise how many cobwebs have gathered. Coming back into a career has set me back into unhealthy habits that I thought I’d kicked for good before and during travelling. But stress knocks the best of us back into our script and two years of teacher training will certainly add stress. And that’s saying nothing of the ocean of change that the last year has brought. I understand better now that certain things will always be a part of me - resistance of what is, attempting to control things that aren’t in my control, over-working to over-perform - they bring my biggest strengths as well as my greatest weaknesses. There is no getting rid of it or rewriting it without reimagining who I am. I begin to see that it's not about building a bigger boat to weather the storm, it's about learning to navigate the boat you have more skillfully. This last year has provided space and time to explore, notice and develop those skills where they're needed and although there have been a few stumbles that felt like steps back at the time, I recovered faster from them and have found a degree of balance within the ever-shifting landscape.
Dad had mentioned that we might find the graves of some relatives in a local church nearby in Guiseley so we consult the OS map and find a footpath route over to the neighbouring town that takes us on routes not yet walked. Even better, we’re both craving a bit of exploration right now having missed several trips away that we would have usually taken. The route there is pretty straight forward, heading round Ellar Ghyll and hooking off the main road through Menston at the railway bridge to cross a few miles of surrounding fields, punctuated by the occasional farmhouse. Thankfully all footpaths are clearly marked and are clearly separated from the farm buildings, eliminating the slight trepidation of coming across an unfriendly canine gatekeeper. We gradually rise up over the surrounding villages to gain a good view of the surrounding region. On a clear day you can see most of the way to Skipton from here. Dropping into Guiseley we pass through Parkinson’s Park (https://parkinsonspark.co.uk/), a greenspace on the side of a hill which, an information station informs us, is home to a good array of wildlife as well as a tree with decorated hearts and ribbons tied to it and a friendly dog who races up and stops to look at us expectantly. The owners laugh that she has to make friends with everyone and pass by with a smile and their dog following. Two minutes later though she is back dropping a stick at our feet. Even the dogs are starved of contact during lockdown it seems!
We loop out of the park and into a ginnel lined with sandstone. The stone is tainted a rich black-green patina created by the blending of sand, industrial grime and the ever-present, prolific deep green moss. This is such a quintessential feature of the landscape in this area, the offspring of an intensely damp and cool climate with the region’s industrial past. Ginnels carry us through residential streets bringing us a far more interesting route than roads could, and giving our journey a secret, almost conspiratorial air. A half-forgotten memory of childhood fancies surfaces in which I travel through town unseen through secret alleyways in a Narnia-like way. I don’t know how many towns have such set-ups, but I feel I see them more now I am back in the North again. Perhaps they exist everywhere and it’s just that I notice them now… A small library further adds to the feelings of fancy and I can feel pleasure bubbling up – is there any greater joy than escaping the world in the real world? Finding a bounty of riches on your doorstep just waiting to be discovered. Even better, when you thought you’d explored all there was to see from your doorstep and you find a whole direction of unplundered loot. We locate the church, passing a cute bakery and sweet treats shop with the now familiar queue of masked, socially distant people outside it. The graveyard is an old one and typical of many. We pass under an archway which commemorates those who lost their lives in the first world war. There is a Jennings listed, who may be my great, great grandfather. We pass under on into the yard itself.
As I crane my neck on tip toes to read the gravestones away from the path, it takes a few moments to shake off the notion that I always experience in graveyards that I should not walk on the grass (I think perhaps a throwback from childhood when I wanted to run over the flat stones themselves and was told not to). We wander, reading the stones and I imagine stories for the people named on them. One that stays with me, for the station master of Guiseley tells me that he lost his infant daughter, his 6 year-old son a few years later followed by his wife a year on from that. That seems a lot for one man to bear but perhaps he found happiness in the community he served since his headstone mentions his profession.
We find several headstones that carry my family name but will need to wait for confirmation as to whether they are relations or not. It feels grounding to know my family lived here a hundred years before me or more, it’s not a feeling I’m accustomed to having moved around as I have. We eat a quick snack and then head over to the war memorial across the road, still ordained with poppies and crosses from November. Again, we find Sam Jennings listed as a Guiseley man who gave his life in the Great War.
We walk back a different way to the way we came, which provides us with high spirits and laughs along the way. For around half a mile we track a small beck. Along the side of the beck runs the footpath which would be more accurately described as a half foot deep valley housing a stream of mud. The mud and standing water are ankle deep and the treacherous nature of the ‘valley’ banks means that attempts to stay out of it are met with slippery slides back down again. In places there is a thin ridge between valley and beck that can be navigated if you are willing to gamble with the fact that the slide down into the mud is the most agreeable of the two directions to slide in. Finally, on the opposite side to the beck there is a wire fence (barbed in places) that offers some sanctuary to those with a firm grip and sliding feet so long as their grip aim is well considered; the barbs in the wire are not inviting. Having tried all the various options, I decide that muddy ankles are the least objectionable of the options and that at least down in the bottom of the valley I’m on flat ground, if not terra firma, and so less likely to slide sideways and end somewhere I’d rather not. Of course, mountain goat Mickey hops from side to side seeming to have very little issue. I almost have the last laugh though as he offers me a hand (whilst filming me, I might add – don’t be fooled by his chivalry!) and with a yelp slides down the bank into a squat…at this point I thought it was a foregone conclusion and was already giggling wildly. Somehow though he managed to right himself and find firm ground. How he stayed upright I don’t know.
From there we descended further into wild fits of giggles, which made navigating the whole quagmire even more difficult but did improve the quality of the journey markedly. After several more near misses and mirage endings to the mud we emerged onto higher and drier ground at the top of the Chevin opposite the Chevin country forest car park. By the time we were halfway down the Chevin I had a knack which very much sums up recent lessons from lockdown: don’t fight the slide, go with it and make use of it. Every time I slid, my body tensed and I lost my footing further. Once I relaxed and expected the slides I slid and stepped smoothly. Funny, but I remember writing about a similar thing whilst we travelled. It seems I need a bit more practice at this lesson yet.