The Clough

9 June 2017 // Books //Miscellany

A short story by Joe Devlin. Pictures by David Mackintosh.

Before we start, let us stop, at the church for a piss. I am sure there are outdoor toilets on the consecrated grounds. I took my woolly winter hat off, as a mark of respect. Parish notices tacked to the board in the wooden shack, black paint peeling. Just then the bells marked time. Rusted drawing pins, it never sleeps, unlike them.

As we departed, I asked ‘Did you read the bulletins?’ No, me neither, that is not why we met today. You say let’s walk on. I looked back at the red stone church. This point marked the start of the path down the clough. You commented on the stream at the foot of the slope leading away from the house of worship, indicating they are always built near running water. Water striders skitter. Rotting leaves provide a carpet of sludge. Victorian planted shrubs and litter, line the verge of the stream.

Another walk, under the thinning canopy, winter is close. Tune in to repetitive insight into how rivers are never the same, from one moment to the next they shift and change, a liminal space. You then stumbled across a faded image of pageantry. On your left the spoil tip, a slag heap of memories added to over time, over the wall. A mound of ash trash, phial hill – vial pile, container of clues. The crunch of smashed pots under footfall.

We headed west, towards the vast skies and the steep sloped sandstone riverbank. The swollen watercourse moving at great speed, the flooding had subsided, but the evidence hung high in the trees on the banks. Plastic bags snagged and tangled in the branches, when the wind got up they made a whipping sound. Right now the breeze caused a gentle rustling overhead, some fluttered like ripped and tattered flags flying after battle. One tree multichromatic, almost every colour carrier represented.

Next we made our way to the viaduct, the thirteen arches. The number and the scratched symbols on the brickwork brought to mind ‘The Arcanum’, just then the ghost train passed by. The deck eighty feet above the water, this silent structure a resolute reminder of the past, built from rock-faced stone with brick lined soffits. In the overgrowth at the foot of the overpass a darting deer bolted as we approach. White noise drifts over on the wind, smothering the quiet buzzing emitting from the pylons. Somehow it all fits.


Content to Gather is the first collaborative project between Joe Devlin and David Mackintosh. It takes the form of a book published by Aye-Aye Books, with writing from Devlin, drawings by Mackintosh and an afterword by Martin Holman. Limited to 500 copies. Design by Daren Newman. Priced at £10. Buy a copy here.

Joe Devlin on Caught by the River

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