I never left Ribblesdale during the last seven days – as my photo diary testifies. Poor weather for June really, so I kept local. But it all started so promisingly. The dale woke up on Monday to a bright blue sky littered with party streamers – vapour trails, which I blamed on Lancastrians on Facebook. I’d presumed they were sending planes from Manchester to pollute our Yorkshire skies. However, I learned later that the majority of them came from London – even worse.
The early stroll took me by an extremely low river Ribble where I saw a duck with eight cute ducklings struggling to keep up. I ‘m annoyed with myself for not getting a better photo of them but I couldn’t get close enough. The duck stayed hidden as a large grey heron was stalking the riverbank. It flew off as I approached and again I cocked-up the photo.
I did, however, get some some nice shots of cows drinking from the Ribble and spotted this amazing upside down hovering cow. It’s standing on the opposite bank, hidden behind the tree branches, but it’s reflection along with that of the sky is sharp on the still water of the river.
From then the weather took a distinctly downhill turn. I got soaked on Wednesday lunchtime at Helwith Bridge waiting for the Fellsman steam train on the Settle-Carlisle. The engine was Leander 45690 for those who fret about such detail. I don’t – but I love the spectacle of steam. The train makes such a dramatic entrance, full of energy and exuberance. The regular train snappers had taken up position at one side of the bridge but I thought there might be a more unusual portrait from t’ other, and was rewarded with this shot. I drained out what tiny specks of colour remained amongst all the rain, mist and steam.
Later that day I wandered down the Pennine Bridleway near Selside with the double aim of seeing the train on its way back and also to look in on a unique bridge over the Ribble. I was able to get up close and personal with the train as it coasted down the dale, reminding me of an old toy train set.
When I edited Dalesman I witnessed the opening of a special wooden-arched bridge taking riders, cyclists and walkers over the river as part of the 200-mile Pennine Bridleway. At 174-feet long, Far Moor Bridge is said to be the longest of its kind of structure anywhere in the world. I remembered it as a bright, shiny piece of architecture, a little garish for its situation, but now it has weathered and is becoming part of a scene rarely visited by the general public. And apart from a couple of cavorting oyster-catchers there was no other life on this world record holder today.
A record for me was the sight, for the first time, of a fox prowling these parts. I’d no chance of photographing it as it disappeared as soon as we saw each other. It’s pretty rough land here, partly a flood plain, but there were lambs about and I wondered whether the farmer knew of the fox on his doorstep.
There’s also an abandoned farm building here. The land is bleak, the weather was dismal, and the derelict building reminded me of a poem I’d started to write a while back but never really developed:
Memories swirling around
silent stubborn stones
are recalled only by the ghosts
of those who once breathed
within the now crumbling walls.
They opened its doors
with faith and hope
of taming land so barren and wild.
No dreams of great riches —
enough to get by would suffice:
clogs for the children, meat for a pie.
But Nature at its wildest and meanest
knows nothing of sympathy
— or hardship or pain.
The futile battle was lost
and now Nature reclaims
what is rightfully hers.
Once a welcome refuge
for those who toiled the land
lies abandoned and forlorn,
inhabitants long gone —
only their memories swirl around
those silent stubborn stones.