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 FOUR

An Old Man Can Dance


From the Pavillion continue into Strid Woods along the wide path. Here you may expose yourself to ticks in the forest. On the right is Kail hill, site of former lead mines as well as the sulphur well. The outdoor sculptures set on their plinth have disappeared. An exhibition Henry Moore would have inspired and appreciated. Alongside the River Wharfe you can see how it cuts its way to the North Sea.

On the left is the Flying Shavings open air workshop constructed around green canvas. Master Bodger, Richard Law, could show you his carvings. A peripatetic woodman constantly on the move to sustain his craft. His fame mushroomed since he’s been heard on Gardeners World.

You pass through a harvest of wild garlic and fennel – now the peculiar relish of the gastronomic metropolis. After about one mile you can study the Strid full of hissing, ferrous water 30 feet deep huddled by 325 million year old rocks.

After the Strid follow the signs to Barden Bridge keeping within sight of the river. Carry on out of the trees after crossing a wooden bridge. Barden Bridge is ahead with its mock battlements. Before the bridge mount the wooden steps and over the top of bridge. Turn left and down to riverside path. Half a mile in front stands Barden Tower partly concealed in trees on the other bank.

On to the next bridge and along a road. After 30 metres join the narrow footpath through a gap in the fencing. It is now one mile to Howgill where you meet wooden holiday chalets opposite the farm. Carry on round the farm past a rusted, abandoned International Harvester tractor. They trotted off the production line in Idle- now gone the way of the Jowett Javelin. Continue on the track and left over a bridge following the sign directing you to Burnsall.

You could come across a scout camp decked out with tents, zip slide and marquee, flying the flag for Great Britain. The river on the left is slurried with pollution. There is a memorial to Pat Proudfoot of the British Sub – Aqua club who wondered underwater here.

Proceed through a wooden gate into the woods. Stop to marvel the little weir and tiny waterfalls combining in rapids of ozone to draw breath. It is an antidote to the foliage for us with asthmatic and hayfever ailments. Out natural immune system crumbling as we walk.

Setting out across fields there is another camp of verdant tents housing disciples of Baden – Powell. Do the scout masters seek consent?


Laying down by the river warming in the radiance and cooled by the gentle breeze. I can feel the sun of India on my face. If I fall asleep here I may never wake. Alongside David we lie down in green pastures beside still waters. In the company of Mahatma Ghandi and his three monkeys we see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.

Freewheeling into sleep washes away sins and sorrows. A dress rehearsal for oblivion with time to perfect the performance. Where we will spend eternity? Seamless drifting into dreamtime floating between parallel worlds. This is our underlying story being played out. Spinning into sleep in a blend of toxic and life forces. Each breath could be the penultimate conscious intake.

Sleep, sweet sleep as energy and warmth oozes out. You could drop into a descent. This is not hibernation or coma, it is rejuvenation. Remember there are adrenalin reserves to be hauled onside. Keep your strength upwards, get into the swing and inhale deep into the cavities. In youth taken for granted, now merely a fleeting glimpse.

No-one knows why we need sleep. Our new-born kin sleep for up to 18 hours each day. Your elderly take only 7/8 hours. We have a fragmented pattern returning to the rhythm of nomads and hunter – gatherers, nodding as we can.

They put animals to sleep. The tsetse fly induces sleep and narcosis can settle the mind. Let us beware of sleeping our life away. Testament to a half-life in the shadows, waiting for activation.

Scouters have their own canoodling. On your right is the aptly name village of Appletreewick. Keep on the side of the river and alongside the village camp and caravan park. These are the real Dales with proper Limestone.

Follow the path on to Burnsall, site of the world famous fell race. Years ago repeatedly won by a local farmer of legendary status and vigour. He could dash from his farmstead and sprint over the fells boosted by his bursting lung capacity.

Carry on past farm buildings and cross over the footbridge spanning the stream. Burnsall and The Red Lion stand out in front of you. This is an oasis for paddling bathers and water babies. Straight ahead across the field below a well serviced toilet block on your right. On to Burnsall Bridge as the sun pops out to welcome your entrance.


Time out for spotting the signs, the body clues of our muted and flawed pulsation. Extreme fatigue, flu symptoms, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, indigestion, neck and jaw pain. A real roller – coaster of symptoms to diagnose. A ticking time bomb not so much silent, more a loudhailer deafening in its resonance. Yet these are the rumbles and afflictions of life. In youth minor irritants but in aged perspective more prominent, invasive and portend of incapacity. Our nostalgia alert to life extinguishing itself by successive changes.

As we have preserved ourselves when can we begin again to inhale and take sugar? Our new regiments of olders have reservoirs of strength in collections of time. Don’t become a dead weight. You could choose to wallow in the dreariness and barreness of old age.

Accentuate the positives and shovel the negatives to one side. Ellen Longer found merely encouraging frail olders to act as if young led them to standing straighter with walking and posture more flexible.

There could be a resurgence of creative energy. You could blossom once straight - jacket of age ruptured. Activity will unlock the stereotypes. Advance to old age as if setting foot in an opening filled with radiance and promise. Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Picasso, Beethoven and Yeats all shared a fruitful late period. Make way on your cluttered bookshelves for the latest editions. Our youth have time to visualise, to focus and enter the zone of future frailties and enfeeblement so we can tame as it crops up.

At the end of the bridge turn right and back on yourself on to the ancient path by the riverside. There is a bench commemorating David Cooper whose spirit still rumbles along the dales. Through two kissing gates where above is the historic church of St Wilfred which has been serving Burnsall congregation for a thousand years.

The Dales Way was constructed in 1968 in the footprints of Anglo Saxons, Vikings and Normans. The stone tomb covers, crosses, and fort evidence of their settlement.

We meet elderly trampers shuffling onward admiring the exposed limestone rocks imposing at close range. Take note that “tents will be shifted” if planted here. Carry on through another gate and rise above the river on your right. A wooden gate awaits as you behold grazing cattle dotted around the field giving each other space to munch.

Through another gate and on to the suspension bridge. The more adventurous could tackle the adjoining stepping stones. The lateral swaying could induce vertiginous motions. Turn left keeping on the path at the other side of the river. Here you weave between tame Wensleydales. Their black heads fixed on grinding away indifferent to passing ramblers. Look out for heron gliding overhead.

Absence of food with no defecating stops. Once you have emptied bowels it has gone. Never to be caught short again- what a relief!

Quenching your thirst remains a sensuous pleasure to savour.


The walk of death divesting oneself of life. A destination reached through wilderness where the return ticket would be an extravagance. This is merely a single encounter gradually blending of life and extinction. Old Father Time rides on deserting a dissolving self meandering between birth and death. You forfeit your identity as you become other people’s memories.

Your existence and attachments tugging you back where life is worn loosely around your frame. This is meditative walking suspended in space yet trudging the terrain as the devoted stoic confident the mind can conquer adversity.

Walking sedately breathing in the vapours of life sensitised to the visible world. An inner ripening radiating flowers, trees, waterfalls and resounding bells. Proust taught that everything has its own magic, if only you can stop and stare. “Deconstruct the moment, pick over the elements and find the right words for things”. You could be walking profoundly relishing each moment as the madness of the pleasure seekers move on. Trees inanimate but symbols and earth and fertility linking heaven and earth. We could plant a tree and harvest apples in five years as if the future were guaranteed.

Stirling Moss disclosed that movement is tranquillity. Hold the silence of nature as the spirit level of life. When young barely saw the landscape even with youthful vision. As you age birds have something to tell you if only you could hear.

This is grief walking, self-medication for relieving despondency and angst setting you in a humbling and wider perspective. Now a man of three score years and more living on borrowed time. Born in lonely solitude but quickly caressed, cuddled and swaddled in warmth. Appearing in the world as harbinger of hope and ignorance but learning rapidly to be subsumed into the darkness. You bring your own demise in to this earth.

A cause of so much misery but source of great intimacy. Our divine moment will be a phase of attainment as we take on the world’s anguish. Cleansing our transgressions becoming a cross that others may live. Purgatory should be a gentle dip for soothing of sins before Paradise. In our pride we recall few misdeeds.

In Divine Comedy man must pass through 9 rings of Hell. “Abandon all hope ye who enter here”. For his vision Dante cruelly exiled and destined to wander the Italian countryside for eternity longing soulfully for his home. Inferno and purgatory is for others.

You have seen the entrance, now there is a chance to live the links. Complete as you have a beginning and an end. Blossoming under the foreshadow of your downfall. Joining your accomplice as a form of deliverance. In our vital living remain alert in the dialogue of misdemeanours and triumph.

Continue ahead through 3 wooden gates and over a footbridge to gate with a footpath sign to Grassington in one mile. If you wish you may visit Linton Church by the stepping stones over the river. Carry on the wide track around the farm and Mayfield Bed and Breakfast on the right. There is an advert for the bay to bay walk between Robin Hood’s Bay and Morecambe.

Coast to coast where our blood survives in the deep.Whispering birth and death we should start and finish by the sea. Dragging in the last whiff of ozone. We were all sailors, mine merely a quick skirmish. The place in a moment of ecstasy where you can draw a line in the sand. The sea yields bookends for your life.

You become aware of the parched mouth as the body dries, internally sucking out the moist. In antiquity they discovered human breast milk with honey and wine would rejuvenate and make an old man dance.

Body swings erratically from heat to cold, immune to the environment. Your thermometer unstable, surging up and down the scale. There is the spectre of self – indulgent mourning. Each milestone become little tombstones marking the way. Time has become precious not to be wasted on bile which just squeezes out all the vitality we shall need.

Brow Well farmers have been breeding Rainbow and Brown Trout for many years. Continue up the walled lane for 250 metres and enter a gate on the Dales Way. Cross the field towards the stone houses of Linton. You may cower at the thundering of sound by fighter pilots practising for combat. Over the wall stile and through a gap where you can watch Linton falls and limestone rocks as the bones of these Dales.

The landscape layered down 300 million years ago when the shallow tropical waters hosted creatures such as Crinoids and Goniatities whose remains formed into the limestone.

Continue by the riverside following direction arrows to Grass Wood, ignoring the sign on the right to Grassington. Here there are two artificial weirs built in 1790 for the local woollen mill. You may envy the line of geese preening themselves as they straddle the edge seeking sensuous delight in the gurgling between their legs. A lovely spot to paddle and picnic.

Continue past a row of houses above on your right to a road bridge. Turn right up Station Road for the centre of the village. Eventually turn left into the attractive cobbled square. You may be disturbed by the chaotic swelling traffic system. Congested and polluted it mocks the fresh air of these Dales.