Childhood Walks

by frankbeswick

I learned to love the countryside by being taken on walks in it.

I pen this article at a time of pestilence, when much of the world is in lock down and people are downcast at the disruption of their lives by Corona virus. I wanted to write something light, but not trivial, that spoke gently and peacefully about the good that there is in life. What better than to write about childhood memories of walks long done with people long gone, yet still much loved. Memories of this kind are haloed in light.They are of sunny days with smiling people.

Photo courtesy of 9883074, of Pixabay

Werneth Low

My journey home from college teaching took me down through Stamford Park, where I sometimes enjoyed the fern house,down to Stalybridge Station, where while awaiting my train. I sometimes looked up across the valley at Werneth Low, and the memories used to well up. The well of memory delved down more than fifty years, for my last childhood walk there was when I was five. Let me explain the name.  Werneth is an area of Greater Manchester, the Metropolitan County in which I dwell; a low is an  ancient term  for a small hill, now used in this sense only in place names.The hill reaches 291 metres,ideal for a family to take healthy young children for a walk.

We  grew up in a district marked for slum clearance, which we left when I was five.  But like many Manchester  people my parents loved natural beauty. Mother had some books showing us the wonders of places lovelier than the one in which we lived, and father had seen North Africa, Italy and Greece. So to get our experience of nature the small family [four of us, the youngest two had yet to arrive] would catch the bus to Werneth Low for a day out.[we had no car.] Mother would pack a lunch for us, which I devoured with my customary fervour, and we would walk. 

Werneth Country Park covers 80 hectares [200 acres] and is an old farm purchased by public subscription in 1919 at a cost of around £14000 to serve as a leisure facility to allow ordinary folk to enjoy the land for which they had shed their blood in the First World War.  A memorial to the slain was erected at a further cost of £2000 pounds.It consists of a stone pillar within a metal fence inscribed with the names of the fallen. It is large enough to be visible from the valley.

The trouble with childhood memories is that they become bundled up into a generalised picture, so I cannot take readers along a specific day's walk.But I can remember the first time that I saw a rabbit hole. It's strange how children remember events that adults forget! The sky was blue and the sun golden. We had left the last buildings behind and we were walking up a lane whose banks were high over my infant head when I spotted the hole. My parents were behind me and my younger brother Tony was in a pushchair.  I wanted to see a rabbit, but I was disappointed. However, the day was not spoiled by it. We were not far from the summit, where I ran around enjoying the freedom of the open space. But what I remember as my infant self stood on the moorland was a sense of vastness. I became aware that hills were stretching away into a blue distance.Perhaps it was  on Werneth Low that I came to love hills.

    

Reflections

While walking was generally enjoyable the one time that I did not enjoy was the annual Whit Walk,  celebrating Pentecost, a tradition in the Manchester Catholic community. I walked with my school, I was nearly  or just about five at the time, but the journey around the parish, Gorton Monastery, was too long and I felt desperately tired by the end. But I endured. I loved [and still love] the monastery, now a heritage centre, but that was the only negative.

Slum clearance took us away from Gorton, but occasionally I dream of revisiting my childhood home. It is in ruins. We moved to Wythenshawe, a large newly built council estate in land that was once Cheshire. The estate was open and green, but badly deficient in cultural amenities. However.we were near the airport, then known as Ringway, and the lanes around the airport were good for Sunday afternoon strolling. We would walk past the village of Heyhead, still inhabited then, and have a walk. There was a farmer's wife who sold cakes from her farmhouse door, and mother would buy some to eat with our evening meal.The place is changed now, as the airport expanded and was renamed Manchester Airport. There are busy roads rather than lanes, and Heyhead is deserted, left to brambles, ivy and bindweed.

My father gradually introduced us to larger walks when we took holidays in North Wales. We liked to holiday on the coast, but the Clwydian Range, Wales' gentlest and most walker friendly hills, were nearby. so as mother dealt with the youngest two children, Veronica and Bernard, Father would take us for a walk in the Clwydians [pronounced  clooidians]  We used roads, but to a young boy it was an introduction to higher places. I can recall looking down the sloping fields of sheep farming land towards the peaceful blue-green sea and then raising my eyes into the far north west, where I could just discern the Isle of Man.There was a wider world out there waiting to be known.

There were walks on the Great Orme, a headland on the North Wales Coast, steep  to climb, but easy at the top,and I loved the springy, sheep-trimmed turf. But while  the Orme was a great place to walk, it was an invite to go further, for as your eyes ranged westwards over the Conwy Estuary, with its proliferation of leisure sailing craft,they fell upon the stark and enchanting mountains of Snowdonia, blue-hazed in the distance, and they called with a siren song which enticed the soul.It was on the Great Orme that I learned to love mountains.

The vision of distant summits, was blue, but the memories are golden, if golden is an appropriate analogy for treasures not capable of being reduced to economic terms.Treasures that you store in the heart are more precious than gold. 

 

  

Updated: 04/09/2020, frankbeswick
 
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frankbeswick 13 days ago

I know of no difference between gold and silver lions.

Yes, it could be a possibility for Heyhead, but sandwiched between an airport and a large council estate with a rough reputation [where I grew up]does not make Heyhead a dessirable property.

DerdriuMarriner 13 days ago

frankbeswick, Thank you for practicalities and products.
A cursory internet search calls the lion and the unicorn in your product lines respective symbols of England and Scotland. Is there a different association or symbolism for gold versus silver lions?
The American southwest is famous for ghost towns, places once inhabited, particularly during boom mining years. Some business and wealthy people purchase them, for cultural, historic tour money or for private use. Would that be a possibility for Heyhead?

frankbeswick on 03/31/2020

Fortunately, father was never out of work.

Veronica on 03/31/2020

Our parents lived in inner city poverty housing conditions when Frank was young . They appreciated the countryside and nature so much.

frankbeswick on 03/31/2020

Yes, my appreciation of natural beauty began early, but it was encouraged.

blackspanielgallery on 03/30/2020

it appears you have always appreciated natural scenes. And writing this must have uplifted you, for the memories cannot be ruined by the current situation gripping the world.

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