From Turning Blue, out now via Moth.
Words: Ben Myers
He walks the old Corpse Road. No map marks it as that but that’s what the locals call it. The Corpse Road.
It is the long back walk up from town where coffins would be dragged from the coffin-makers to be buried in plots on the tiny hillside cemetery that is now grown over. So infrequent is its use.
The rocks are frosting and the sky is coming in. It has that weighted feeling like it cannot hold its snow for long. A dusting is already circulating and there’ll be a heavy fall by sunset. He walks slowly.
Up ahead beyond his house wind turbines spin on the valley’s crest. Their blades thrash at the sky.
He picks his way along the top path through the trees. He walks a hundred feet or more above the glistening levels of the river and the slow pools that form as it drops down a series of elongated shelves. There are six falls of varying heights along this stretch and each sounds different. His ears are long since tuned to the wavelengths of the upper end of the dale and now he can recognise each waterfall with his eyes closed.
There are trout in the pools. Perch and dace too. Over the years he has fished them all. Not for a while but. Not for half a lifetime but. There are strange associations with fishing since the last time. Memories of the place have become polluted.
He peaks the valley and walks the final mile or so along the moor-edge. It’s easier than clambering across the rocks that have fallen down the gorge to the gill or scrambling the slippy dirt banks of the wood.
He comes out of the trees and walks up a way then is out in the open amongst the stiff heather and blackened soil. It’s like pushing up through the clouds into a purer more rarefied atmosphere.
The snow is circulating in spirals of light dust that falls to dot the ground; an advance party for what is to follow.
Up top the moors are punctuated by irregular scars. They are half-healed wounds that reveal the bedrock and clay that lie beneath the skin of the earth. They are the negative imprints of houses down in the hamlet built from the rock that has been mined and hewn and dragged and shaped from these gaping holes.
They exist unseen from any distance as the moorland heather around them suddenly plunges away to nothing. Their sides steep and treacherous like waterless tarns or quarries reclaimed by nature. The scars are not signposted. There is no wayfinding for the walkers. They are obscure and occasionally dangerous relics from the industrial past. Hidden worlds. Subterranean.
Trees grow in some of these excavations and in places large fallen boulders lie where they have landed when the shifting of the soil and slurry has unearthed them during the wet months. Rocks the size of cars or larger are set in moss. Rooted and immoveable. Sunken and sculptural.
It is always silent in these many basins. Some do not see people for months or years. In the absence of human disturbance it is the rabbits that have taken up residence. Scores of them in each scar their complex warrens running wide and deep. They are not threatened by humans because they have never seen humans. In others – in the bigger excavations – there are deer and foxes and badgers too and many birds nesting in the steep rock sides around the jagged rim.
Even in winter the wind barely penetrates these remote amphitheatres.
The biggest is his favourite. It is so big it has a name: Acre Dale Scar. That sits further along. A mile past his house up the back way. He will not pass it today.
Acre Dale is its own world. A sunken forest supporting its own infrastructure and hierarchy of animals; its own wet and windless climate.
A child died in one of the base pools there. Years back. Since then it has been fenced off and condemned. Hewn and plundered then abandoned. A doomed space. In his mind he has assumed ownership. He treats it as his place alone. His barren fiefdom.
He cuts through the heather of the moor-lip and sees the chimney of the house as if it is protruding from the stiff earth. A shape against the sky. Home.
Then the sky can no longer hold itself and the snow falls and lays thick. White on black filling in the gaps. He walks towards it.
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Ben Myers on Caught by the River/on Twitter