Sunday, 13 January 2019

Noise pollution

A mile along the towpath I encounter the noise that has been keeping me awake at night. One of the battleship grey industrial sheds that stand between my house and the canal has sprouted a trio of stainless steel silos which emit a low hum, as of an out-sized extractor fan. It's not a loud noise, but I'm sensitive to low frequency vibration and the hum has been disturbing me. Maybe it will bother me less now I know what it is. But if it does this to me, with my not-so-acute human hearing, what does it do the local wildlife?

Monday, 7 January 2019


January fog

There’s a tree on the other side of the road,
But I can’t see it.  I am inside-out,
a coat whose sleeves have turned awkward.
I want to be the right way round.
I want to see the tree.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019


A slight dusting of snow on Blackstone Edge, visible only because I looked for it. 

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

New Year's Day

Today, New Year's day, the towpath is a social space. The world and its dog is out for a walk. I am embarrassed to be dogless, and compensate by politely greeting every pooch I encounter. The dogs are unimpressed. My doglessness is noted. 

Monday, 31 December 2018


As I walked past the small field beside Carriage Drive, I had the feeling I was being watched. It’s a feeling I’ve come to trust: If I think I’m being watched, I am. Who, or what, was watching me?

An animal was crouched in the middle of the field. A cat perhaps. No. It was a fox. Very pale in colour, as though it had been sprinkled with silver dust.  Its ears and tail were too big for its body, and yet, as foxes go, this was a large animal.  I gasped with pleasure, and the fox took off across the field – a fox can run at 30 miles an hour – and leapt over the perimeter ditch, its magnificent tail streaming behind it like a comet.

I stood at the field end.
Deeper in was a fox.

Suddenly I felt myself feared.
It was not a good feeling.

Monday, 17 December 2018



The air still, but elastic,
Throwing back

The quick dactyls
Of a dog-bark

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Poem - Arthritis


My bones are without sap.
The pain strips me of all leaf.

I must make the pain beautiful,
like an old Caledonian pine,

twisted by years of wind and rain,
and now misshapen, but still tree.

Tree, I am tree.
I must remember that. 

A gap of three months

Three months without posting. That means I've been in pain for three months. It's been a bad year. It's not often I can't cope, but this year I haven't coped.  And meanwhile, the landscape has gone on without me. As it should. 

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Willow Warbler

Sand martins hawking over the canal, swallows flying low over the sun-scorched fields. More of each than I’ve seen all summer.

The canal is half-empty, its underside exposed. A lone grey wagtail explores a patch of mud, female mallards sun themselves on a bank of shingle.

Pain makes me walk more slowly. Walking slowly makes me more attentive. I hear, for the first time on these towpath walks, the soft hhooeett hhooeett of a willow warbler. A plaintive, conspiratorial psst psst! I turn towards the sound and see, well-hidden in a hawthorn bush, a small green bird. Sunlit leaves. Sunlit bird. 

Like the swallows and the sand martins, the willow warbler is a migrant from Africa. It won’t be here for long. I feel privileged to have seen it.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

The 589 bus route

Living in the bottom of a narrow valley I sometimes feel a need to expand my horizons, and so today I took a bus up to Burnley. I did so just for the pleasure of the ride, for the 589 bus route is one of the most beautiful in England. I've driven it too, but if it's views you're after, you can see higher and further from a bus. 

Cliviger Gorge, a sinister-looking glacial outcrop of millstone grit, is Todmorden's back wall. Even in high summer the blackness of the boulders is threatening, and I can well believe the old folk tale of a ghostly huntsman sending his hounds on ahead of him at Halloween;  when I come through in October, I will listen out for his horn. 

The gorge opens out through a series of narrow wooded cloughs into broad sweeps of moorland, with Pendle Hill away in the distance. This is livestock country - Todmorden Market sells lamb and beef from the farms around here - and the fields on the lower slopes are full of flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, the sheep recently sheared, the calves still young enough to graze close to their mothers. Higher up, and in the hanging valleys, heather is coming into bloom, but it's struggling against the drought, and is pale and straggly. 

The valley has many listed buildings and monuments, from old boundary stones, to lovely old inns and farmhouses, and even an ice-house - perhaps they had hot summers back in the 19th century too. I can remember as a child being taken to the Ram Inn for 'high tea', a feast of local ham and chicken and home grown tomatoes, followed by a pot of good strong tea and a slice of date and walnut loaf. Now it's scones and Prosecco, and somehow, that doesn't feel like progress! 

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Bees and butterflies

Bee on cosmos
For over a week I've been laid up with arthritis. I can't walk, work or sleep. It not only hurts, it shrinks my world, confines me to my own back yard. 

The butterflies and the bees are a consolation. I wasn't quick enough to catch the peacock butterfly on the buddleia, but I did get a shot of a bee on the cosmos. If this picture had a soundtrack, you would hear the bee purring contentedly. 

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Of quills and pens

As I sit on the bench next to a little hump-backed bridge over the canal, something catches my eye. A goose feather flutters in the breeze. A long tapering wing feather, needing only a nick from a pen-knife to make it into a quill. 

It's goose grey, that colour which is neither grey nor brown, but both. It is darker on the leading edge. I bring it home. I rarely bring finds home, but this feels so apt, so writerly, I must have it. 

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Poet's note: Fire on Blackstone Edge

The traffic on the road outside my house is at a standstill and in both directions. Something is wrong, but I don't know what. 

All around me the hills are parched and brown, a dry, scorched ochre. Drought coloured. Tinder coloured. As I cross the field that leads to the towpath I can see smoke. The moors below Blackstone Edge are on fire and Halifax Road has been closed, hence the traffic.  A helicopter whirrs slowly and loudly towards the source of the smoke. Crows and jackdaws fly up in small, explosive groups, lucky to be flying free of danger. 

The air is humid. I can feel my hair frizz. Drought and humidity, not a comfortable combination. On the canal, all is calm, the fire hidden from view by the slope of the hill. A large flock of Canada Geese paddle slowly by. Swallows swoop low over the water.  The heatwave has produced a surfeit of flies; There are so many buzzing around in my living room that I have bought some carniverous plants, a venus flytrap and a pitcher plant, but I don't think they will rid me of the flies, for the plants are very small and the flies are very large. A swallow would have been a better bet.