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 SEVEN

Advancing To Senescence


Follow the Dales Way sign right up the metalled track to the side of the farmhouse, Winshaw House. Climb up the steep narrow track. The boggy path barely discernible as you scramble over streams and several stiles, Pen-Y- Gent is behind you.

Eventually you meet another footpath where the Way sign is broken and discarded, Take the path to your left passing a series of sink holes and grouse butts. Carry on along the bridleway over Blea Moor.

Pass through the gate with Dales Way sign on the post. At the road turn left and down to Greenbanks Bridge. You will soon come upon the striking struts of Dent Head viaduct. One hundred feet above spanning 200 yards with its ten arches. The diminutive old packhorse bridge dwarfed at the bottom of the arches, the one-time transit for natives.

The Dent Head metal emblem reported missing, the third occasion of it’s pilfer. We have entered Cumbria. It was Yorkshire soil when our forefathers settled as Irish –Norse invaders in the 10th century.

Continue on the road admiring the belted Galway cattle as you catch distant rumble of train over viaduct. Look out on the left for a notice welcoming Dale’s walkers to pause under a tree where bench and table set for picnic and recuperation. You could even have camping at Cow Dub farm. On the left is the white washed Sportsman Inn at Cowgill where Sandra Martin offers family fayre.

As you continue over the bridge the River Dee is now on your right. An appealing creek on a bed of black marble of fossilised ebony and limestone. All you hear is the wind blustering down in the dip as you survey the rolling hills surrounding you.

Eventually coming to Lea Yeat meeting house built in 1702. We cannot dodge the deviation of the famous Dent Station. We turn right at this junction and up the sharp incline to the highest mainline station in England. Part of the Settle – Carlisle railway built between 1869 and 1876. The terrain can be the bleakest and most ferocious in England.

The construction could be stalled for months as frozen ground, flooding and snowdrifts took its toll. We have a living monument to the 2,000 navvies who built 72 miles of track, 325 bridges, 21 viaducts, 14 tunnels and 21 stations. At its height ninety trains a day rattled along. The station now a luxury holiday retreat. You can stay in snow huts once a refuge for workers abandoned in inclement weather.

Closure notices posted in 1984 but the crusade of the friends of the Settle Carlisle line led to restitution and restoration of its decaying tunnels and viaduct.For all ages an enduring debt owed to our friends.

In our reverie we confess to greed for a long life. In Cato’s circle “everyone hopes to attain old age; yet when it comes they all complain”. Whoever does not wish to die young is destined to advance towards senescence...

Subscribe to the double bind departing without leaving a forwarding address. Contemplating the eternities within us while cradling the world.

In our passage we are eye witness to ferocious coots turning on their own brood. You wonder which misdemeanours ended its life in pathetic squeals as it was pecked to its last breath. Head bowed in painful, screeching throes of death. Fellow coots puffed up in proud merciless execution. Admired in awesome detachment by its own brethren. Queuing patiently as though there is a natural pecking order. Died alone, a sorrowful victim with no mates.

In my mind’s eye rekindles our own despair.Black plastic bags functional for household waste and flitting. In this case a weapon of asphyxiation as you drag in the last suffocating gasp. Almost a sensual, exhilarating side show, extinguished and croaked to divine grace as sex drive mingles with the death wish. Your magnificent adrenalin rush to death in fear, dread and climax. All of this a practice for time out from this earth.

Returning downhill to the meeting house we re-join the Dales Way. Over Ewegales Bridge and immediately right through the gate marked with a footpath sign. Carry on with river on your right. Seizing on the air bound gushing ozone. Through the wall stile and across the meadow shared with tents and campervans.

After the next gate stile by the bridge join the road up to the farm. After 300 metres go left through the gate as foot posts guides you to Laithbank where the Norsemen put down roots in the 10th century.

Continue through the budding conifer plantation as Whernside emerges in front of you. Proceed past the farm on your left, through a gate and straight across as directed by the yellow Dales Way arrow up to a fence stile. Round about here it would be easy to lose the Way. Continue past the barn on your left and up to a wall gate at the corner of the walls. This woodland donated in the memory of Andy and Vera Rome.

Keep to the path by the wall, over the wall stile and left along a concrete track. After 30 metres an upturned yellow bucket shows the way to the next stile. We are now following in the foothills of the peak of Whernside.

Across the field to the next stile , left up the lane swinging to the right and over a stream. You pass a large stone house on your left. Go through the wall gate as directed by the Way yellow arrow and through the stile. In this field our route barred by gambolling steed frisked with spring fever.

Following the path alongside the wall which leads above the white washed farm. Yellow arrows point the way by the wire fence. Down to the next stile, over a stream and up towards the farm. Continue along the track and through a wall gate. Hill drizzle saturates you to the bone.


We feel the horrors of physical decline waiting for us. We creep into another life passing amongst them unnoticed, exploiting the discontinuities. Rendered unseen as if in preparation for our eventual disappearance.

Now we inhabit old age we live in the consciousness of our own frailty. Somehow we can feel the finite number of heartbeats. For us veneration and contempt compete and co-exist.

You can see old age coming heavy – legged with wearines.Facing relentless negative depictions of old age. An age of deepening despair but for others a call to arms. We need not close down the options. Fauja Singh has now completed the Hong Kong 10K to celebrate his 102nd year. Old age has an afterlife of its own making. We abandon pleasures prematurely, recklessly shelling cherished activities.

Age has shifted the parameters shunting us into dependency. They have made an old man of us as we strut and fret our hour upon the stage. A life strayed into overtime with the Peter Pan market worth 57 billion.

As life drains you are due small gestures of kindness from foreigners. Remember we are the only species without a universal language. Put a gorilla from Africa into London Zoo and it can still chatter to its mates. We are open to being moved. Seek out our conversations between age and youth. We could share that a prolific old age can make up for a barren youth.

We drag an accelerating ageing community living beyond our fertility, outliving our own procreation. Some strive for rejuvenation joining Freud in a vasectomy to rekindle his appetites. Replete with vim and vigour longing for the first virgin feelings.

As we observe rivers flow to the sea we are becoming simply part of the natural scenery. Moving forward we could find our own footprints.

Down to the gate, over a stream and proceed round the barn. Over a stile by the field gate and turn right down the track as directed by Way white arrows. At the road turn left past a white washed house. Through an iron gate signposted to Lenny’s Leap. Down steps over a stream and follow direction arrows on the post. On to a wooden bridge over the river erected in 1967 by aircrew from Finningley. Wonderful glistening limestone moulded by the flow.

Turn left as directed by footpath sign to Dent in two miles. The river remains on your left. Over a ladder stile, through a metal field gate to another stile to a ladder stile. Follow directions uphill and across the field. Way on your right Dent Church rests in the valley. It brightens as we skip along this glacial plain.

Continue along the metalled road after the bridge you are soon directed right to Church Bridge. Through a gate with river now on your right.

Through several gates passing stepping stones and a narrow ford. You see lambs and sheep slipped away by the wayside. Proceeding through gates you will be walking on a raised bank, flood defences with a hard core path. Dent emerging in front as you pass tangled webs of branch and thicket. We are directed away from the river and over a footbridge by Keld Habitat Enhancement.

Turn right through the gate as directed by yellow arrows. Through a metal kissing gate and along to the road bridge nodding in the vicinity of the medieval metal chair erected in the memory of Alan Meakin who loved Deepdale.

Sun breaks out and lights up those surrounding lofty fells. As we detour and enter Dent our traffic management skills put to use in the narrow cobbled streets. There in the village high street is the rock solid memorial slab of Shap granite dedicated to Dent’s most famous son, Adam Sedgwick. He split his devotions as Professor of Geology at Cambridge with his position as Canon of Norwich Cathedral. Charles Darwin was his student and friend. He taught him all he knew. Darwin despatched him rocks from his adventures on the Beagle. The origins of species was read by Sedgwick with “more pain than pleasure”. The fast knitters of Dent took a different view.

Returning to road bridge proceed down the steps on the left signposted to Hippens ½ mile. River and elevated fells peppered with wisps of swirling mist clasping the summits. We walk on the edge of the narrow path lifted above the river. In the steep decline there’s a caution not to cascade down into the river. Keep legs strong and taut. Don’t wobble or you will be sliding down before your time.


In our mass walk out there’s a lifelong journey running concurrently as monologue in your head. Stories told in footmarks gathering treasures in gentle, unscarred contemplation of your excursion. Hear the silenced metaphysical rhythms of the pedestrian as stretches of path clutch our memories.

Absorbed and sleep walking out of kilter with the world. Conscious of scattering tales along the way as you touch your Kith and Kin. Our neural courses laid out before us as signatures and archives for others. We become cartographers in our own right.

Landscapes draw people into sacred intimacy with the switched on canvas offering enduring attachments. As with John Masefield we can recognise the outlook is “thronged by souls unseen”, engaged in one long hushed conversation. On this plain departed souls cruise innocently on auto pilot in the zone where senses razor sharp. I could be dead already. At these times there’s no need of a buddy. You are never alone in the footfall of others.

Through the next gate and stile admiring the different perspective on Dent. Beyond the kissing gate signed Barth Bridge in ½ mile. Now the valley stretches ahead bathed in sunshine enticing you forward.

Through the gate and over the wooden bridge and beyond two gates. Swing off to the left away from the river towards Barth Bridge.

Passing the gate mount the steps on to the bridge and down to the river path. Over a stile bridge and down to the river path. Over a stile and through 2 more gates. Farmers do not repair stone walling. Gaps camouflaged with branches and trees woven together in traditional layered hedges. You think they would do better for the tourists.

The signs are generally splendid as it is Waymarked all the way. You will not get lost if you keep to the markers. We catch sight of one of our black lambs cuddling with its pale sibling.

Over the wooden bridge and through a kissing gate. All you hear is the river trundling along its way. There’s a romantic refuge seeking respite from the torrent and tumult of this world.

Wild garlic thrives in patches for harvest. We would appreciate Chaffinch, Dippers and Wagtails if only we knew. A twitcher we will never be.

Watch out for the yellow direction arrow by the river pointing you left to the stile across the field and on to a metalled road. Helm’s Knott above on your right. A natural attraction sited to capture the sun. We have a welcome relief from boggy terrain as we enter firmer ground.

Carry on past wooden bridge on the right. Look out for tiny embossed structures in the wooden constructions along the way. On the long stretch of road mind the occasional car put through its paces for the grand prix. Beyond the river and round on your right stands the grand house of Gate Manor.

We chew the cud together as we are beginning to touch the Lakeland hills. After gently rising the road continues down to the river. You have accompanied the motley selection of birch, beech and sycamores. Turn right over Rash Bridge as you leave the Dee for the last encounter.

Proceed up the road to the junction. Here you are alone as no evidence of way markers. Turn right and left through the metal gate after about 100 metres which is signposted to Millthrop ¾ mile. Climb the field past a post with yellow arrow directing you to top of the field. Looking back you see where you’ve come from. Living your life without being everybody.


Disorders of longevity and disparity hover as breathlessness, muscular atrophy, malignancy and senescence linger to attach. Treatments set in motion the droop and the drool. We prefer reliance on tree bark and manuka making the sole contract with producers.

It could be a grim time to be aged. Plato lived a sleek old age completing his final work and dying at his desk at the age of 81. In Britain by 1901 ten per cent of us old men survived in the workhouse. Shut down at our birth 16 million had trudged in dread through the doorway. Five million never came out witness to a lingering death of debilitating shame and derision.

Remaining compos mentis age can be rapt in self –absorption exposing an expanding indulgence as we become what we think.

In our steadfast podiatric effort we blow away the fear and fog of jadedness in regaining our inner balance. Wordsworth walked 180,000 miles on his knobbly knees. The love of movement lifted his mood as he walked away his sorrow. Packing up his troubles in his old kit bag. It is life and death conducted mostly as a pedestrian.

On this cake walk of contemplation we make our tracks giving birth to new thoughts. Scientists and poets find surprising solutions. Darwin assembled his own thinking path to solve his scholarly puzzles.

Some of the fells dark and gloomy. Beware you may detect the elusive tree creeper. Over the ladder stile as you will be fortunate to avoid clumps of congealed sheep waste. Head towards a patch of woodland and cross the wall stile at the edge of the coppice. Continue left down the track signposted for the Dales Way.

Through the gate and along the broad grassy track near the wall. Lakeland fells stand in greater clarity before you. After another gate straight ahead down to Millthrop. Geography changes as slate takes over. Stone track buckles ankles as we look in vain for firm footing.

On reaching the road direction arrows point you to the right. Guide books announce left but locals confirm to turn right into the village. After the telephone box turn left down to the main road. Go right and cross the road bridge. Immediately turn left as the signposted footpath directs you to Birks. Round topped hills shaped by the glacier surround you.

We divert to Sedbergh, the book capital of England. All these places never seen. A land of stone cottages and intriguing complex of alleys and ginnels. There stands Weavers Yard where Bonnie Prince Charlie hidden after the stalled rebellion of 1745.

Sedbergh closeted up to our old Norse hill of Howgill. Home to the 10 mile Wilson Run held annually since 1894. The privileged Sedbergh School founded in 1525 for the education of pauper children.