The Ebbing Past

I catch a bus out of the shadowed valley early, up to the song-bright moor. In the cornflower blue sky, curlews keen and wheel, lapwings rasp and wail, golden plovers sigh their heartbreaking lament, meadow pipits glissade down chutes of notes to the heat-hazed heather while skylarks are endlessly suspended in their own song.

A faint path leads me over the sandy swell of Standing Stone Hill to my destination: Reaps, the site of two long-vanished farmhouses. Dating from the mid-16th century, in 1841 they housed 26, but by 1901 just four members of the Pickup family are living at North Reaps, with Reaps Farm unoccupied. In the late 1920s an uproar of navvies arrived to dam the Reaps Water for the construction of the two Gorple reservoirs, living in huts erected on the farms’ best fields for the seven years it took. North Reaps appears to still be inhabited in this 1929 aerial photograph, while Reaps Farm, renamed at some point as Dry Summer and appearing in this photograph, was used as accommodation for navvies and as a place to serve teas to visitors coming to view the spectacle. How much longer they lasted is unclear, but by 1954 North Reaps has disappeared from the OS map.

Today, only a few dressed stones here and a lintel there remain within their barely discernible, rush-obscured footprints. I strain to see the outline of their yards and scan along the jagged remains of their intake walls, and although I find each of their remarkable, and very differently designed, cellars, with so little left it is difficult to conjure this place to life. I find it desperately sad that centuries of lives lived in places such as this leave but names scratched in a census and perhaps a glimpse in the background of a few photographs.

I look up from the past and try to take in the present. On its way to the former reservoir keepers’ cottages, the only dwellings here now, the post van is a bold bolt of red between the sheep-manicured velvet green of the dam wall and the unfathomable blue of the gathered waters. A grey and blue Yorkshire Water Land Rover is crossing the dam of the upper reservoir, while across Graining Water, a green John Deere tractor is turning in to the Westall’s barns behind the whitewashed Packhorse Inn. But beyond this outpost for moorland travellers of four centuries standing, two leaning sycamores which mark the site of Lower Good Greave, and the low ruins of Upper Good Greave, bring back the way this place is freighted with a fading past.

Heading for home along Edge Lane, it is greenfinch and wren, jackdaw and kestrel and curlew that call me back to the here and now. For all that has been lost from memory and record, there is still much of value at stake. If only the contested future of this place were any clearer than its ebbing past, but it seems equally difficult to divine.

Looking back across Knowl Top’s 13 chimneys to Heptonstall’s St Thomas the Apostle Church, on the way up to the moor.
The ever-present Stoodley Pike.
Across the song-bright moor, Clough Head, uninhabited but intact.
Hook in Reaps Farm’s cellar.
One half of the double-barrelled cellar at North Reaps.
The jagged remains of the wall bounding Great Rough Hey, North Reaps’s furthest and largest enclosure, now indistinguishable from Heptonstall Moor which it once kept out.
The dam of Gorple Upper Reservoir.
Post van crossing the dam of Gorple Lower Reservoir.
Fire-damaged trees above Gorple Lower Reservoir, with the Round Stone above Widdop on the horizon.
Far across Graining Water, two sycamores mark the site of Lower Good Greave, and beyond them lie the low remains of Upper Good Greave, scene of the murder of James Shackleton in 1827.

2 thoughts on “The Ebbing Past

  1. I always enjoy your evocations of landscape, Paul. I’m not familiar with the moors in your part of the north, but you could easily be describing mine – the building of reservoirs, abandonment of ancient farms. A terrific read, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Paul, Ive realise I dont have the capacity to accept more of your posts in my email whereas a flagging up would work. I will try to log on every so often. Still love seeing them. portia


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