A Circling Year

Between 1st April 2020 and 31st March 2021 I kept a journal on this blog of explorations of our patch of the Pennines made in that strangest of years. With it being a year since I moved away from this format of writing, I thought it was time to gather all twelve posts into one place.

Being a car-free household meant our territory was already smaller than many’s and that we were used to being explorers of, as Roger Deakin enticingly termed it, ‘the undiscovered country of the nearby’. But when lockdown was imposed, along with everyone else we had what Amy Liptrot called ‘a hyper-local spring‘. Brief though it seems now our footpaths are quieter again, and although some areas experienced pressures, for us it was delightful to be joined on our normal routes by neighbours rarely seen, out experiencing the paradox that forsaking our cars means that, as Adrian Bell put it, while ‘the circumference of miles at one’s disposal is halved, their content is more than doubled’, with the quiet pace of walking acting as a magnifying glass, bringing forth, with ‘slow, repeated observation’, what Harriet and Rob Fraser called in their own early lockdown essay, ‘the detail of here‘.

And so, since we spent that year circling the nine square miles of West Yorkshire’s upper Calder Valley that we can walk from our doorstep, I have named the collection A Circling Year. This title is a homage to Ronald Blythe, a literary inspiration who is central to a tradition of writers stretching back to Gilbert White that have sought the universal in the parochial, while avoiding the narrowness, conservatism and nationalism of some in the ‘parish habits‘ tradition. As Robert Macfarlane has argued, a ‘progressive parochialism’ is possible. So in the same way that James Rebanks, in titling his first book The Shepherd’s Life, paid homage to W.H. Hudson and his 1910 book A Shepherd’s Life by simply changing the article from indefinite to definite, I have done the same in reverse in order to honour Blythe, whose chronicles of his own small patch of landscape on the Essex–Suffolk border, among them 2001’s The Circling Year, are a constant on my bedside table.

Now that societal mobility is close to pre-pandemic levels, among the challenges that the crisis revealed is of making the places where people live habitable in a rich sense, not least to reduce carbon emissions from transport. If we are to temper our travel habits we must make ‘slow, repeated observation’ of the places where people live rewarding, for only in rich and distinctive places is sustained, absorbed appreciation possible. Judging by the surging interest in contact with the natural world during lockdown, thriving wildlife is an essential component of such places, and this applies to green urban spaces as much as to our wilder rural landscapes. Along with the hundreds of people we exchanged greetings with along the newly-busy footpaths in that year, we were thankful for and acutely aware of the privilege of living in a place which affords frequent encounters with our non-human neighbours. The following 12 posts are my account of that year.


April: Spring Solace

Stasis and cycles – The Writes of Spring – Nocturnal network – I-Spy panorama – Supermoon – Callis Wood palette – Stoodley Pike – Landscape reading – Hirundo rustica!!! – Landscape listening – Treasure in the ruins – Nesting – Foraging


May: The Brief Banishing of Shadows

Common Bank canvas – Banishing shadows – History as thick as the bluebells – The wonder of scrub – Linnets in the heat haze – A rising tide of dusk – Bespoke book bundle – Snipe no-show – Pheasant attack – A puzzle of starlings – Slow-motion snowstorm – Willow world – Dopplering seventies sky synth – Dust and whine of harvest


June: The Greening Aftermath

An auspicious visitor – Co-existence of meanings – A commotion of fledglings – Cumulus pile-up – Honesty Box – Crimsworth view – Swallow grace – Solstice gathering – Blackcurrants, caterpillars, tadpoles and foxgloves


July: Our Local Acre

Reversing the year – Swift swirl – Foster’s Stone beacon – Breakfast with a view – A colourful feast – Forgotten woodland architects – Source – The undiscovered country of the nearby – Swarms – Balsam – A faded dream of order – History and its continuation


August: Hay Time

Reunion – Geocache – Hay – Perambulating pudding – Starling static – Gritstone castles – Sycamores bereft – Raffia-wrapped stones – Amongst the aeliophonic grass – Teddering – Marts, field names and familiarity – Lingering – Rural work? – Sea fret – Antiquity – Mare’s tail –Re-acquaintance – Patchwork – Circumambulation – Our local show


September: A Hush at Summer’s End

Quartering – Rowing up – An intensified quiet – Conker hunt – Mowing – Great Rock Co-op – (Mile)stone skimming – Scent – The lulling afternoon – Buzzard – The landscape’s inner workings


October: Autumn Awakening

The sinking season – Racing sunlight – Ravens on Ingleborough – Willow-bearing – Nature-noticing – An audience for a fall –Antler quest – Caves and boulder-hugging oaks – Conkers and galls – Amethyst deceivers – An early birthday party – Colden Clough – Orchan Rocks – The Wizard of Whirlaw


November: The Failing Light

Gamaliel’s riches – Mysteries in Beaumont Clough – The darkening brume – Pilgrimage to the last birch flare – The unalterable forms of the land – Late foraging – Frozen twilight – Light and shadow – Woodcock – Silent roost


December: Near Horizons

Field grading – Footpath firsts – A millennium of winters – The ice cream walk – School run – Homeward – The plurality of place – A memory – The quiet of land in good order – Great Conjunction – Causey – Redpoll – White Christmas – A shrunken landscape – Released for redwings – Moonrise


January: Frozen Fields

New Year’s Day – A mazy record – Redwings – A little more light to give – Reaching the end of the rainbow – In and out of shadows – Shining fields – Inside a Peter Brook painting – Cuckoos and buntings – A torchlit descent – Fieldfares – Stoodley celebration – Sudden twilight – Glowing gas bars – Slap and splash – Inversion – Mist-graded distance – Gullies – Muted – The smell of warm days – Cascade – Quartz – Long-lost track – The dregs of the day – Blue twilit snows – Brine – Threadbare – The ghost of a treeline – Breakers – Collapse – Serendipity – Dipper – For the birds


February: These Shining Days

A painful hopefulness – Bent and bowed – Liquefying – Last of the hush – Offerings – Slate – Squalls – Drift – Ravens – Hoarding – Catching rays – Unknown horizons – A last icy draught – Shard – Tuning up – Yaffle – Benediction – Pilgrimage – Welcome


March: Renewal

Lavena Saltonstall – Coming to life – 230 steps – Pond – Tree-roar and water-fall – Following the call – A new direction – Quiet work for wildlife – Ancient patterns – Other lights still burn – Humming – Ending as we began

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