Walks and Thoughts

of Michael Simes

An old Man's Tale:

Shelf

Brighouse

West Vale

Clay House

Ripponden

Cragg Vale

Todmorden

Heptonstall

Pecket Well

Luddenden Dean

Jerusalem Farm

Catherine Slack

Stone Chair

It's Just Like Home:

Hong Kong

Auckland

Rotarua

Napier

Picton

Marlborough Sounds

Kaikoura

Milford Sound

Sydney

Manly

Blue Mountains

Northern Beaches

Thailand

A City Of Revolution:

Paris

Versailles

Sacré-Cœur

Notre Dame

CHAPTER FIVE

As Old As The Hills


At the Town Hall turn left along Church Street. After a few hundred metres you will meet Bank Lane with a footpath sign to Kettlewell in 5 ½miles. Continue along the walled lane passing through a large gate. Avoid signpost to the left which was the old way through the farm. Carry on to the fells with Linton down below hemmed in by limestone dry stone walls.

At the end of the lane proceed through the gate and follow the path forwards. We traced a lone cow scouting the path, bursting with udders of milk. There is room for confusion here as there are an array of mown paths. Keep to the path ahead towards the summit. We followed a family of four from Heaton on their way to Kettlewell. Their taciturn dialogue hesitant and suspicious.

Limestone ridges puncture through the grass veneer. Disused mineshafts on your right remained undisturbed for many years. Broken rocks dotted around this landscape forming its own natural sculpture park.


A debt owed to the mass trespassers in 1932 who opened this countryside, laying siege to private exclusions from my land. They knew exercise was liberating. According to Dr Madden physical exertion significantly improves elasticity of blood vessels. We are all as old as our arteries. He says we underestimate what older adults can achieve. At 80 years old Maisie Allan was not listening. Alongside Osteoporosis she continues as the Iron Lady and marathon champion. In her 89th year Hilda Mitchell is still running her exercise classes. Centenarian Agnes Kingsman skips every morning and competes at table tennis several times a week.

In the UK we have 12,000 centenarians, due to double by 2050. The most rapidly ageing nation invented the intelligent toilet and remote analysis of stool.

The world’s longevity hotspot can be located in the village of Ogimi accommodating more centenarians than anywhere on earth. In the 6th century the renowned mathematician Pythagoras lived on to 111 on a unique diet of vinegar and sea onions.

Some of us will not make it whatever. As a member of the omega generation I am the first paternal male to be awarded state retirement. They have paid for my pension with their lives.

At the end of the lane proceed through the gate and follow the path forwards. Continue onto a ladder stile with steps dedicated to Raymond Parish, a man of warmth and humour. Carry on through a gate in the wall and over the next wall stile. There’s a hushed tranquillity apart from the practising Tornados.

Here is the remains of a 150 year old lime Kiln on your left where the farmers fertilizer was manufactured. You can perch and imagine the ghosts of workers with a few tales to tell.


You can visualise the quest for immortality recognised in ancient fictions of Shangri-La, Hunza and Caucasus through elixirs and fountains of youth. Only flatworms, anemones and coelenterates can be immortal species. We know there is a natural regenerative mechanism for repair and replication of brain cells. Some reptiles swell but do not age. Mukherjees research located left overs from Adam. Cells capable of immortal regeneration if only we can learn to ignite and activate. Some tell of a mixed blessing. The struldbruggs fated to live forever descended into gloom and defection as they became invisible and lived, according to Swift, as foreigners in their own country.

There’s a doctrine that sin begat mortality. The old biblical Patriarchs stumbled into the millennium years. Adam survived for 930 years, Noah for 950 years and Methuselah lived to 969 years. A vengeful divinity progressively shortened our seditious span with impatient haste as it tumbled at three score years and ten.

By the 6th century St David was living only for 147 years. Merlin ordained he would brawl with the devil and prevail. He lived on bread and water and stood in icy water up to his neck as penance. He fitted his monastery with angels. Five hundred years later his tomb plundered and shrine pillaged.

In our God fearing orthodoxy some of us saunter slowly grappling the ascension into paradise. Every century we accumulate an extra twenty years. Our finite number of beats to discharge.

In our lost decades during the age of austerity prudent gambling on swelling life expectancy has become conventional wisdom for your assurance. All bets are off as confidence limits curbed by penetrating penury. Strangling of life supporting utility service and modernisation programmes where you work till you fall by the wayside Our actuarists will be stricken as workers end up bottom of the pile.

Transgressions are woven into our bodies as they degenerate in comparison with our immortal souls. Paul discovered that as our outer man is wasting away our inner being is renewed day by day.

For some lucky few immortality is merely a click away. Disney has developed computer technology which slices years off the ageing performer. The wizardry allows Harrison Ford to play a rejuvenated Indiana at the age of 68. We could admire the 80 year old Sean Connery resurfacing as James Bond. We are destined to remain a fading hologram. Yet the Druids and Pythagoras calculated that the immortal soul is indestructible as transmigration secures a living vessel.

The wind sweeps over here wild and untamed. Over the next stile with signpost directing Dales Way trampers on to Kettlewell. The outlook becomes barren and rough-hewn with its rocky scars, gullies, clefts and scree. The rugged pinnacle of Coniston Pie and Coniston Dib can be cherished. We are all old as the hills.

Down below are the overhanging faces of Kilnsey Crag shadowing the famous trout farm. The bare bones of sheep scattered along the way testament to the unrelenting hostile environment.

Our upland excursion is over as we pass two French ladies smiling politely. Now we begin our gentle slope downhill. Blunt Yorkshire farms spread-eagled across the valley where they raise bumptious and reactionary farmers deriding the subsidy but clasping the shilling.

Continue over a procession of four wall stiles passing a sprawling scree on the right. Above the parallel valley it is stormy and murky, shutting out our sunshine..Carry on towards the conifers. Kettlewell could be lit up down below and left in front of you.

The sheep are neat and tidy and clean, not caked and soiled: shows it can be done. Pass through the gate and into the wood following the sign to Kettlewell down the track into the valley bottom. Through two wooden gates, on to a metalled lane and turn right. Peep through the trees above to reveal Scargill House, a Christian retreat founded in 1959. On the left isolated in the midst of the field is the Monk’s Barn.

After a few hundred metres take the signposted path to the village through a gate in the wall and across the field. Follow the footpath sign through the gate stile. Continue by the field perimeter to another gate stile and left as directed by the Dales Way sign and down the grassy lane. Meeting a wider lane proceed right and into Kettlewell.

Kettlewell an original Anglo Saxon settlement called Cetel Wella or bubbling stream. In the age of the stage coach it harboured 13 ale houses. Now its scarecrow festivities have to be celebrated in the trio of remaining public houses.

Keep going past two pubs, over the bridge and round to the next bridge after the village garage. Turn right at the end of the bridge.

You could enjoy a detour to St Mary’s Church. An ecclesiastical edifice founded by relatives of the Percy’s with windows by William Morris.We are still in the Diocese of Bradford where the church organ originates down the road in Buttershaw.

In this devout space of worship we could prostrate and reflect, wrestling with God about what it means to be an antique and relic. Drifting in to the contemporary obsession with age. In the olden days we had little concept of discrete life stages, only different duties and capacities. We had to be distinct before we became problematic. The older person did not exist as few survived beyond forty five.

The rigours, ripeness, wrinkles and moral panic of old age spew out a bewildering range of introspections and competing portrayals. Our heads bursting with a diversity of stories but the narrative told by others in the language of lamentation.


The invective against old age has a long pre- history. Ageing a relentless force to be repelled, a penance to be paid for material pleasures. The wages of sin is death. The aged body a symbol of worldliness, sin and decay soiled with the filth of avarice. Old age lurks in the doorways offering liberation and enslavement.

You could follow the nomadic tribes of the Druze, when at the birth of the first grandchild they relinquish active supervision of their flock and vineyards to devote themselves to prayer and contemplation. We know that old age ushers us nearer to God. Or in Erikson’s construction, we approach cosmic communion with spirits of the universe. There is a duty of care in repaying the debt of nurture.

French revolutionaries initiated the national festival dedicated to honouring the older person. We are the elderly transmitters of tradition, guardians of ancestral values and continuities. Old age as an amorphous boundary between finite and the void at the very edge of the grave.

We are deemed impotent, warranting full throttle relief only from a shaft pleaser. Consolatio the final sex game evidence of a spark of libidinal lifeblood. Dante felt abating of libido frees us from the sins of the flesh. We have grotesquely swollen but flaccid genitals best kept to ourselves as copulation is deleterious to the ageing frame. The elder’s wisdom predicted on sublimation of physical desires, and subjugation of carnal lust. Daily survival and trivial quests prescribed for the olders.

Becoming old is to mislay social and sexual visibility. Destined only to become a mystic or voyeur.. For Aristotle sexual abstinence, an abundance of flesh, being a woman and living in a moist maritime climate all contribute to a long vigorous life. With Dylan Thomas amongst us we would be better to “rage, rage against the dying of the light…… and grapple with death as if in a bar room brawl.

Older people surface in the debit column rooted in a self –made sub culture of our own values, life styles and interests. The door clamped behind with no exit from the cul-de – sac. There cannot be a future waiting impotently for oblivion. We could untangle our shackles and make other interests our own. Beware of the temptations of idleness and inactivity. It does not have to be joyless inertia. We should harness the future before the final touchdown. We need youth to revive and carry us along the infinity of what lies ahead.

Now we have 7 million Britons in their 70’s. In our silver bulge we could shift from the margins to the hub of economic dynamism with alternative values and practices. The middle aged have held sway for too long. There is another way of rescuing ourselves. It is overdue to unload all the ancient anecdotes and resurrect the public and community.
Martin Amis would have us all march obediently into street corner booths huddled for a muted extinction. It is not yet time to be a corpse. May we transcend ourselves beyond the rigidities of ageing? Save each other from an effete old age. We could seize the vanguard alongside the young turks.

Vivien Westwood embraces the ageing process as life becomes richer. Bernard Shaw was enchanted with the freedom, adventure and irresponsibility.

You cannot harp on about the miseries of old age as a desolate region of life where the unyoung survive a hapless, gloomy and debilitating existence. Submerged with the unholy trinity of confusion, immobility and incontinence. Beware we could dwell in the dwindling domain of our command. Our history registers the simultaneous swelling of legions of both robust and chronically ailing older people.

It is young people who are plagued with mental distress. They are 5 times more likely diagnosed with mental illness than your 60 – 70 year bracket. We need not reside in voluntary exclusion where we feel safe as our horizons shrivel and wither. Exile but inhabiting the same commonwealth.

Michael Jackson departed this world clutching on to his Peter Pan syndrome. A song and dance man and icon of the age. Horrified by ageing he retreated to an oxygen tent to cheat, searching never ending youth as a contemporary Dorian Gray. “When I find that I am growing old, I shall kill myself”. Mangled from cosmetics he crumbled before our eyes. Dying before he disintegrated completely. It does matter if you are black or white.

Jean Amery sounds a clarion call to rebel and revolt. He committed suicide in his 50’s before reaching the threshold. Jean Ziegler reminds us that of the 62 million deaths worldwide, 36 million died of hunger and related diseases. They were not seized by old age, senility or decrepitude.

We should prevent older people disgusting, discomforting and frightening the youth. No longer a laughing stock slumped in slippers drooling and babbling. Revulsion to be cast aside. Let us disturb the visual field of the young by our presence. We could dump the theatrical props of old age laying down our pills, our crooks and ailments. Make sure you are fit to be seen.

Our bodies a social construction not just down to the spin of the roulette wheel. We need not abdicate our health to the yield of the pharmacists. Gore calculates that we languish 8 years in hospitals and surgeries. If you choose you can be processed, weighed, measured, tested and diagnosed to your heart’s content. Tempted in to realise prophecies of impending decline and despair. We know always that hospitals were predeceased by Dickensian workhouses. We are not just empty vessels, we have reserves. Life is not for decay but squeezing out each drop of pulsating vitality. There is time to be engaged. Ecclesiastes reveals that there is a “time to love and a time to die”.

Go through the wooden gate and follow the Dales Way direction arrow down the narrow path to the side of the river on your right. Proceed through 3 gates and along a walled lane. As you pass electrified fencing you may vault giant cow pats. There is a short deviation through a gate and over a wall stile. Coming to the point where paths diverge, carry straight on.

Back at the riverside the Dales Way sign directs you forward. Turn right towards the corner of the field wall where the footpath sign signals you ahead. Over the fence stile, through a wall stile, and carry on by the river. Straight on for Buckden as directed by the signpost.

You could step over the bridge for a sojourn at the old Norse settlement of Starbottom.

The white-washed Fox and Hound deals in Timothy Taylor’s championship beers and company. More of a hamlet than a village. Naïve political economists share their conviction that “you cannot live on borrowed money”. We learn that capitalism survives intrinsically and precariously on the debt mountain. In Starbotton you enter into the air of comfortable antiquity.

Over a stream, through a gate, along fields, over a gate stile and continue by the wall on the left. Yellow painted and fainted blobs every so often confirm you re on the right lines. This cobbled way takes its toll on ankles rocking over, disturbing your rhythms. On through a gate and over a wooden bridge proceeding on the path laid between the walled track.

Another gate leads to a path keeping you away from bog holes. Now we are on the edge of Buckden in front of you. There is the tree covered bank to your left. Carry on through a gate by a large barn. After 200 metres you are sign posted down across the field on the right. Through a gate and right downhill and round the edge of the field. Continue on the path just above the river.

On and over a sequence of giant slabs of stone. Through a gate and on to Buckden Bridge. Hereabouts Army Chinooks rehearse their martial arts and low level assaults. Cross the road and through a gate with the footpath sign pointing to Hubberholme in 1 ¼ miles.

Buckden could be a stop over where Norman aristocrats hunted for wild boars, wolves and deer. This is the entrance to Langstrothdale with Buckden Pike 720 metres above. Here you can discover the famous Buckden dance, the Huntsman’s Chorus. You need money in these dales, they do not cope with cards.


Old age is laying there loitering in the shadows, looming ahead like a calamity. The bleakest catastrophe you can imagine. The fading figure proof of compression of spinal discs, bowed spine, muscular atrophy, sclerosis, osteoporosis and heart rending malignancy. The waxing and waning of physical prowess as crumpled by time to become mere scrag end of flesh, not yet rotten. We need to perfect the art of falling apart. We need not be observed as living corpses decomposing before their time, at best an animated carcass.

Old age becomes an embarrassing secret concealed in a conspiracy of silence. Old people circling dumb in the shade. Now we dwell amongst the ruins ostracised and overlooked. No longer wise sages but embodiments of shame and revulsion. Some stuck in the replay of the old rock refrain “what a drag it is to be old”.

The longevity crusaders survive. John Hodgson from Cookridge, a centenarian soldier took up rowing at the age of 90 after he retired from competitive running. John is world record holder for the 2,000 metres in the one hundred plus category. Your rivals tend to run out.

At 97 Jack Bairstow, crown bowler continues to organise the world bowls tournament for the over 90’s. Carmen Herera became a famous artist at the age of 94. As soon as she begins painting all her aches and pains disappear. Forgetting your ailments you become vibrant with the fullness of life. Old age is a surprising place. Old age sneaks up on you but you could live 7 years longer if you view ageing in a positive light.

Lorna Paige became a virgin author at 93. Her terrific yarn down to her “being such an antique”. Cecil Chapel has celebrated over 82 years’ service as a cornet player with the Castleford Brass Band. “I will not be quitting any time soon”.

Bill the tortoise became a dad at 100 following a 15 year courtship with Tommy, sixty three years his junior. “He’s a frisky little fella”. Tireless Ted the 90 year old paper boy began in 1942 delivering half a million copies. “I’ll go on until I’m 100”. The oldest dad in the world is 96 year old Ramjeet Raghau. His self-proclaimed virility down to almonds, milk and butter.

The mantle of world’s oldest man claimed by Feroz –Vah – Din – Mir who has lived in the mountains of Kashmir for 141 years.