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 TWO

Mummies Are Forever


After about half a mile you can stroll into the UNESCO world heritage site of Saltaire. A model village as long as you signed the no strike clause and the temperance pledge from 1853. Titus Salt was the principal overseer who capitalised on threadbare payments for juvenile labour.

Life expectancy in these woollen mills barely reached 20. Now a man from Hunslet could live until 67. The affluent in Harewood could top eighty years of age.

We are on the route of the national cycle network. Saltaire has become the hub of commercial, leisure and residential life. Flats and the Care Trust housed here as David Hockney displays in the mill.

The village and church on your left. You could stop for refreshments at the canal barge snack bar. Open 7 days a week and waiting for planning permission to continue the trade. On the right is the revamped Roberts Park restored to its former splendour.

Carry on for a few hundred metres to Hirst Wood lock. You will have passed the meticulous manicured tennis courts and bowling green of Salt’s sporting complex. We are escorted by the geared up troops of cyclists. In torrential rain trees are shrouded in mist. Passengers stare unseen in speeding trains.

This route imposes an order, a structure on a memory haphazard in its reflections. We all have our memories in a life crowded with incidents. We have all served our apprenticeship. Memory as lived time entered by downloading our own data stick. Made of memory we build a roadmap of our life. A transparency through which the present can be viewed tugging you backwards.

Searching hidden treasures of precious images in wistful yearning for an age out of reach. You may have a montage of reflections but they are hazy, grainy flashes of still snapshots, hardly remembered. Proust would tell us we failed to register the scene properly in the first place. We do not glimpse memory in strong primary colours. Yet there remains a spirited stockpile bound of poignant moments.

As our future narrows we cannot dodge the present by reminisce alone. Nostalgia becomes a dead end. The vice of the aged where the impenetrable mass of our past cannot be peered at as purely entertainment. Who can swallow up the present and future in memory?

You cannot construct an ego out of evocation. Reminisce traps us in the past. Remember toddlers wipe out their memories in the therapeutic amnesia necessary to energise and embrace the present. Still the olders squander their life in horror of misplacing their powers of recall.

Fear of losing control a trauma experienced in infancy washed away as faded memory. Replayed through adolescent autonomy and finalised in old age as total dependency. Infantilised as a forced renunciation of adulthood. You may wish to die before you become a real basket case. Forgive our youthful self for the plea to avoid dotage. Septuagenarian Mick Jagger boasted in his heyday “I’d rather be dead than still singing Satisfaction when I’m forty five”.

Your last thought will never be remembered. Carl Jung taught us bliss is to be found in looking forward to the next day. When afraid we look back becoming petrified, stiff and exit before our time. Living by memory chills our affections and corrodes our virtue. Don’t fall back for recreation on recollection alone. Don’t be left only with a train of memories. Don’t stand apart in the distance exiled as one clutches on to life’s memories.

As the future contracts avoid the turn to the past. Wittgenstein reminds us that “death is not an event in life”. Staying alive the best antidote to death.

We remain in the land of the living. In a new place where turbulent introspection can only serve up despair and decrepitude. Who said the old should define themselves primarily in terms of who they have been? You could build a new house on ancient foundations.

Let us find distinctive voice, break the mould and design our own older life. We could flourish out of the cult of youth. Emulating 103 year old Moises Braggi, a field surgeon for the International Brigade in 1936. He has now launched himself as a republican candidate for the Spanish senate.

Turn right through the gap in the wall by the lock as the pass leads towards the river. Over the river giving priority to babies in buggies. Follow the concrete flags between houses with trees and bus shelter, turn round in front of you. Cross the Coach Road to enter the path into Trench Wood. Carry straight on between the walled lane. A lengthy drag uphill brings you to the Old Glen House where you can stop for alcohol and refreshments. Opposite is the café for high tea, muffins, pancakes and cakes served by mature ladies.

Reverse back between pub and café to follow the path stretching over Baildon Moor. You could detour behind yourself and cherish the Shipley Glen Tramway. Dating from 1895 it is the oldest funicular tramway in Britain. They will be running Santa specials in December.

On this site was the oldest fairground ride, the Aerial Glide built in 1900. Keep to the paths over Baildon Moor beyond Bracken Hall Countryside Centre on your right. To the left is the ravine and crags of Shipley Glen with great boulders hugging the flanks. Studded with rocks deposited in the ice age laying down territory for boundless games and pleasure for juvenile scramblers.

Baildon Moor looms above on the right, a conical mound housing a trig point at its peak. Its coalmining days hidden from sight. It remains the popular resort for urban workers and their families.

Keep in parallel with the road on your right. After about half a mile you come to a footpath sign where you bear down to the left. You pass a huge outcrop inscribed with “God is Love”. Proceed down to the beck, through a stile, over the bridge and carry on along the lane with the stream on your right. The path becomes a tarmac lane at the side of houses. Becoming Saltaire Road as you pass Willow Cottage and Hunterscombe Court. Come out in front of Eldwick Methodist Church and on to the main road.

Turn right down to a white house at the bottom. Harried by friends on to an illicit course to the next staging post at Dick Hudson’s country pub. It is one of many ways.

We turned left up The Green and beyond the Acorn Inn on the right. Continue on the tarmac surface for a few hundred metres. Turn right into a walled lane just before a farm. Proceed along stone slabs on the old packhorse route where decaying dollops of horse manure still remain. Carry on over the ford by Eldwick Reservoir.

The road narrows upwards as you catch sight of elegant Heron in full flight showing off their span and grace. You can still identify Manningham Mill’s chimney on the horizon to the right. Its luxury flats fallen by a half in recent slump.

Continue uphill to the road and turn left as Baildon Moor sweeps over the landscape on the right. Carry on past the wall stone for Toils Farm. On this stretch you are dodging flashing cars streaking past blind to safeguarding pedestrians. Half a mile on you come across Dick Hudson’s at the junction with Otley Road.

There is a drove of frisky horses, all shades of brown, frolicking in tandem in their own band. Infant rabbits splattered at the side of the road a reminder to proceed with care.

Dick Hudson’s a rustic pub where you can have lunch and lite bites for the gentry. The Victorians and Edwardians discovered the pilgrimage to Dick Hudson’s. In 1923 Frank Hoff led the inaugural walking race from Bradford to this site in less than an hour.

We were overcharged, our fish order mislaid with waitress cold and brisk. Class enmity crackles throughout. You have grandstand views looking over High Eldwick where the Olympic jockey Harvey Smith trained his steed.

Now we set foot on Rombald’s Moor where the fabled giant Rombalds roamed in this bleak and fetching homeland. At Dick Hudson’s turn left to cross over Otley Road. After 20 metres turn right following signs for the Dales way link path up on to the moors through a metal gate. Carry on up the path between the walled lane. Looking back at the expanse of countryside, Holmfirth and the reservoir reveal themselves.

Continue straight across the Moor keeping near to the fence on the right. High on the plateau winds flapping and whistling, buffeting from behind. At the summit you can pick out Ferrybridge billowing smoke from its water towers. I have my hat today.

Proceed through a metal gate and ahead on the well-worn path launching yourself along the open moorland of Ilkley Moor. Onward to the stone path where you could chisel a mark for posterity.

My name is Michael Simes and I am an old man” I never thought it would come to this”. Like Cicero age steals up on you quicker than expected. Plummeting through life to the exit as a novice forefather. Entering the twilight world of memories and dreams as harbingers of an intimate fusion with eternity.

We are witness to the unrelenting tension stretching between respect, revulsion and derision. Our only redeeming feature of spiritual piety. A venerable sage earning enduring respect because of our closeness to God.

Whatever you do you are left with wrinkles and sags as gravity crinkles your skin. Corrugated lines the passport to crumbling assets and extinction. People of my age have no need of mirrors.

With Cicero we are catching sight of land. The final gift of your own vanishing at the fag end of life. “Are you ready for the Big Man”? Now eyeball the world continuing outside and beyond yourself.

You will pass the milestone marking the 3 3/4 miles on to Ilkley Moor. Not many trees endure up here. Only heather and ferns sway contentedly and offer some cushioning. I hardly need fret about the carcinogenic spoors as I brush past. I could hug with impunity. Although a well-trodden path you would struggle in snow.

This is Bingley Moor as the black peat helps you sink and spring in the crunching trudge. Here we meet a pack of dogs sniffing and wagging. You have to urinate downwind to avoid soaking. There is no steady stream as wind splinters into fine sprays.

You will probable not avoid the drizzle. Cyclists and sheep seem unperturbed. After 3/4 of a mile go through a metal gate in the wall. Continue to follow the path ahead on this straightforward route. You come to another guide post to the left of the path which points back to Eldwick, Saltaire and Bingley. Ilkley remains 2 miles in front.

We are being pursued by a moorland monsoon as cloud and mist is whipping over from the horizon. Rain turns seamlessly into hardened hail stones. Spitting flecks of ripened blood brushed aside in perfect symmetry as enforced labour takes its toll.

All that running seeking the secret elixir of life pursuing longevity and life assurance against infirmity. It worked for Fauja Singh: at 100 the world’s oldest marathon runner. He came aboard and kick started his blood pumping and elasticity at the age of 89. With his trademark twinkly smile he has vowed to carry on until he dies.

Following the recipe for long life Lottie Godwin is Britain’s oldest extra at the Woolpack. The eldest worker is Buster Martin at 103. Henry Allingham died age 113 as the world’s oldest man. His long life down to “cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women”. Died in dreamtime with the horrors of his comrades who fell going over the top of Ypres. Now pipped at the post by Jiroemon Kimura reaching 116 in Kyoto.

Longevity lift off is imminent. Eleven million of you will live to be one hundred and qualify for the card and photo from the palace. By 2033 you will be able to count 80,000 one hundred year old car drivers.

You are now on Burley Moor approaching the last summit. Passing a cairn and on to the stone circle of twelve apostles with the grand landscape of Wharfedale. I feel no magic or spiritual warmth in this religious artefact. It may hold some pagan rites but it is not convincing. The astrologists and friends of Ilkley Moor imagine a primitive telescope for observing movement of the lunar landscape.

Carry on along the track with the stone circle on your right. Head down as directed by the Millenium Circle walk sign. About 40 metres on the left is the boundary stone between Burley and Ilkley Moors. Grouse beaters up practising for the glorious twelfth.

In real life there are no signs or guideposts. You remain suspended in unchartered territory. Sixty five plus years from the womb you still cannot find the script for your exodus.

God is an old man with angry cheeks who allocates each a set number of breaths. Bounded in secrecy no-one knows how many you will use. We have lived since the ancients with a finite store of vital fluids. We are reaching the dying age where death comes in different voices – enraged or stoical and paralysed or brave. With care fall into a light doze with no particular place to go. Departing euphoric drifting away into practised eternal sleep. A hearse and mourners there will be.

My mind survives my body in gratitude for small mercies. Dissonance between the ageing body, mind and spirit swells up on you. The ageing persona not embraced as a stranger to itsel.From a ragamuffin to a crusty old buffer.

In the shrinking of the future we are no longer young and raw with the times. You have to keep moving and become greater than the sum of each part. Marching towards the sounds of the guns make time to finish the pudding. We are the not yet dead. We could scrutinise the Egyptian Book of the Dead with its magic spells and incantations for a smooth passage through the afterlife to eternity. The Egyptians not fearful of death but consumed with survival of the spirit. Expressed in mummies perfectly preserved for impending renewal. Your strive for perpetuity becomes the essence of life. Take care there is an old man coming.

Progress on to the double boardwalk of sleepers over swampy marsh. As you descend gently there is evidence of the gallery of shooting positions to bag the grouse. A cull party for the plummy plus fours.

The white golf balls of Menwith Hill glisten in the background: a little piece of Yankee espionage amongst the North Yorkshire Moors.

Continue down to the crossroads of path as Ilkley unfolds. Before you is the famous Ilkley Lido to be admired at a distance to-day. The second set of board walk proceeds through heather, down a tiny stream and up to the Millennium Way straight ahead. Down fragmenting and uneven steps testing the crumbling joints.

Descend down to the White Wells Spa Cottage for a comfort break or occasional tea when flag is flying. Ice cold dips in the spa pool offered at New Year. Immerse yourself in the hydropathic treatment shared with Charles Darwin in 1859. Drink from the tap where the mineral waters promote digestion.

By the gable end trace the steps downhill past the paddling pool and through a wooden gate at the bottom. Cross the parking area and Crossbeck Road turning right down Well Road until you reach the junction with Station Road. You are now in the fashionable Spa town of Ilkley where the resurgence of cream teas is well served in Betty’s. Its residents known as Olicanions after the old Roman fort.

Now in the vicinity of the twisting and winding River Wharfe. A rich source of legends, myths and folklore. It has its own water –deity, the Roman Celtic goddess, Verbeia. Her impression captured in the local Parish Church.

Wharfe the most dangerous river claiming so many lives. Verbeia can be imagined riding her white stallion attracting her victims.