This is a story of a literary treasure hunt that took place over three late summer, early autumn days. The ‘Sites of Meaning’ project, a stone and literature hunt, was dreamed up by the local parish of Middleton and Smerrill to mark the New Millennium. The idea was to engage the local community, craftsmen and woman as well as artists in the creation of poetry and prose engravings that would be positioned in strategic places around the parish.
We drove today to Middleton-by-Youlgreave; a late summer’s day. There was a whiff of Autumn in the air, a cooling, the light softer , the birdsong more subdued, the trees beginning to mottle.
Middleton-by-Youlgreave always seems uneerily quiet. Today there was just a woman sitting in her front garden warming her hands on a mug of coffee, and a man in a checked shirt, arms stretched out on the back of a bench at the bus-stop with his collie dog. He didn’t look as if he was going anywhere soon.
We quickly found the focal stone combining all the inscriptions just off the memorial garden in the picnic area of Middleton-by-Youlgreave. The raised stone with 17 inscriptions spread out like sunrays from a circle. Each line of prose points in the direction of its location.
02 and 01: Roughwood Kerb and Hollow Seat
We headed out the Youlgreave road until we came to a sweeping curve in the road. Soon we came to the first inscription engraved into the kerb. I’d almost missed it by my feet.
Down the dale feel the wet soggy dogs which have just come out of the river. He’s beautiful, golden, white fur, wild, free, ready to come and go as he pleases. (Youlgreave Primary School infants)
To the right, a tree-shaded path led down to the Bradford, home of dog walkers, their Labradors and retrievers. We’ve spent many a summer day, ducking picnic-makers, running children and dogs – shaking off water from the river.
Right next to the engraved kerbstones is the next inscription carved on a stone seat that is set into the dry-stone wall .
In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength. – Isaiah 3
Walking down into Youlgreave, I felt the quietness; felt at ease with the world. Sweet William and wall flowers lined the top of the valley. Stone houses hung on to the hilltop. Below them, the dale-side sloped steeply down to the Bradford. Beyond, wide meadows tucked villages into their folds.
A quick water-stop at the George Hotel and we were heading down the lane into Bradford Dale, plucking fat, juicy blackberries along the way. We quickly filled our bag, dreaming of apple and blackberry crumble.
Most people stop at the wide grassy banks of the Bradford below Youlgreave, but it’s only when you cross the Clapper Bridge and head right that you leave the crowds behind. Here you’ll just find the occasional dog walker and hiker.
This is one of the loveliest dales in the Peak District. The series of dammed ponds created by Haddon Estate (for fishing purposes) are crystal-clear. Usually they are Monet shades of blue and green. Today they held hues of purple and brown. The water was unusually low. Between the waterweed dippers, moorhens and mallards feasted on the weed, bums up, legs peddling furiously. Rainbow trout curved a path between the water plants.
03: Bradford Bridge
We found the next inscription at one of the little stone bridges along the Bradford:
Still glides the stream, and shall forever glide; The form remains, the function never dies (by William Wordsworth.)
The words faded into the white lichen. Contrary to the inscription, beyond the bridge the river had almost dried out; the cascades of water gone, and in its place a tumble of moss-covered boulders.
04: Sheep Dip
The most contemporary inscription stood at the sheep dip just a little further up in Bradford Dale. In late May or June – The farmers brought their sheep – To wash their fleeces – In this deep pool – Burbling, bumbling, bleating – The waters bleat like a flock of sheep it dipped – Dip your ghosts into this hard, cold merky place – Hear their bleat in the water’s rush to escape – The foam like wool pulsates – Damp leaves nothing behind but the trees’ readiness . (Written by the Youlgreave and Smerrill communities)
06: Clapper Bridge
We took a left turn that led up towards Row Dale, fighting back nettles. We crossed a makeshift bridge and climbed a metal staircase stepping over the exposed seabed of a lagoon, the lime encrusted with crinoids. Strange to think of this place – so far from the coast – once covered by the sea.
We found the next inscription at the little clapper bridge in Row Dale. The authorities were initially not happy about marking the ancient bridge but when it came to light that the clapper bridge needed restoration, they agreed to the engraving. And there it stood looking as if it had been there as long as the bridge:
Consult the Genius of the Place in all; That tells the Waters or to rise or fall –
This was our last inscription. We climbed up the rough stone path lined with ancient moss-covered dry-stone walls, ash trees and cliffs.
At Middleton, I took a double take at the unusual guard on a farmhouse doorstep – a goose!
The house is owned by an eccentric character with a love of East German vehicles. Once, the road outside his house was lined with trabies. Today, the East German paraphernalia is hidden behind the house: just one trabant reminds, but there’s also a classic VW campervan and an East-German army truck, all with German registrations on them.
Our circle finished, I’m feeling inspired by the beautiful landscape on my doorstep. My wanderlust need not take me far and this one has filled my day with poetry – in the stone engravings and in the countryside itself.
And it’s satisfying to know there are still twelve inscriptions awaiting me.
When we returned to Middleton-by-Youlgreave one week later, there was more than a whiff of autumn: the air was damp and chilled; the sky low and dark; the birds soundlessly gathering for the long migration south; the scent of rotten vegetation stronger in the nostrils. The chestnut trees were spreading gold and orange – first to revive, and first to die off.
07: Rowlow Brook
This time, we headed off in the opposite direction, down a mucky lane. At first we couldn’t see the inscription; then we noticed the stone partially covered with greenery – The peace of running water to you.
A gift! We stood in the nook of the dale and listened to the bubbling of water in the brook. And indeed I felt at peace as I listened to the quiet sound of running water.
05: Over Rusden
We climbed the steps slotted into the dry stone wall and crossed meadows into Rusden Wood, a dark, secret dale covered over by ashes and sycamore. Kids had made a den across a wide-mouthed cave, covering the entrance with large sticks. I peered inside – there was just a bit of rope and planks of wood; not much of a home.
We climbed up and out of the valley, realising we’d come too far and backtracked along the ridge. I stumbled on the next inscription engraved into cobble stones in the shape of a circle, hidden in the grass.
But when I try to imagine a faultless love / Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur / Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape – WH Auden
We strode up the road towards Smerrill. The parish of Smerrill seemed to be composed of nothing more than a single farm, Smerrill Grange.
On the crook of the road we found the next inscription:
To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour. – William Blake
The large stone had two faces in relief chiselled out of the corners. A mosaic of flowers and the words of Blake weaved over and around the stone.
We had to backtrack down the hill to the elbow, where we took the track up the Holloway, a dip between two dry stone walls. Soon we reached Long Dale. The steep sides of the valley at this point were scarred and pocked by the overgrazing of sheep.
Three roughly hewn stones of different heights marked the next inscription:
We meet to create memories and depart to cherish them
The inscription was taken from a Nepalese Tea House menu.
Further down the dale, swallows circled on the crest of the hill. ‘Don’t go yet,’ Tom called to them. ‘It’s going to get warm again!’
Further on LBJs – little brown jobs – meadow pipets, wheatears or siskins, or some-such-thing, were all a flutter, wings beating in quick time, like black butterflies on the skyline. They dipped and rose and rose and dipped, then scooped down to fly low along the crest of the dale.
We pushed open a wooden gate and continued down a wide flat runway of meadow sandwiched between stone walls and a mixed woodland of ash, sycamore and Scots pine.
Overhead two buzzards circled the sky, hovering on the uplift of air before beating their wide serrated wings.
On the path that was the site of the old Roman road, two slabs sat adjacent to each other, containing the next inscription. The inscriptions mirrored each other, including the reversed script.
The road up and the road down are one and the same – Heraclitus
11. Friden Bends
We found the next inscription on what looked like a contemporary stone road sign at the side of the road. It read:
left – right
quick – march
past – enough
earth – to spy
and beat – the bounds
breathless – death
ere – owns
– David Fine
This was the last inscription.
We headed down a long narrow lane, marvelling at the coral embedded into the stones that made up the dry stone wall; then back down into Middleton, tripping over the empty cases of conkers that scattered the pavement.
It was a fine early autumn walk with the bonus of a literary treasure hunt – but there’s always a down side. I realised half way through the walk that Middleton and Smerrill is a ‘dry’ parish, with not one single pub inside their boundaries. We had to make do with crisps, oranges and a bottle of water.
Oh well, poetry is food and drink for the soul.
It was a time of transition: Summer slipping into autumn; autumn sliding back into summer – an Indian summer. The air was cool but the sun still had warmth in it, the sky a pale English Wedgewood blue, smudged white. The light was intense, the meadows a luminous green. A fair and pleasant land.
The Istrian Karun
We drove to Parsley Hay this time. Before starting on our search for poetry, I walked down the High Peak Trail a couple of hundred yards to see a strange circular building; a dry stone shelter made with a corbelled roof. These buildings were built in North West Croatia in the eighteenth and nineteenth century to shelter those working the land. There are other versions of the Karun found all over the Mediterranean countries and further north as well. There is a version of the Croatian hut in Britain – known here as a beehive.
The Karun was a gift to the Peak District on Croatia’s entry to the European Union in July 2013. It seems an appropriate gift for a part of the land that has a long tradition of dry stone building.
08: Arbor Low
Time, you old gipsy man
Will you not stay
Put up you caravan
Just for one day?
We found the first inscription easily enough on the western edge of the Long Rake. Across from the stone, a farmer was ploughing his field. The smell of the turned earth returned me to my youth, gathering potatoes on my uncle’s farm. Strange how smells evoke the past like no other sense. Much time has passed from my potato picking days … ancient times, when spuds were still picked by hand!
Arbor Low Stone Henge
It seems strange that I’ve lived on the edge of the Peak District a dozen years and more before visiting Arbor Low, ‘The Chatsworth of the Bronze Age’, by husband said dryly.
Arbor Low doesn’t have the drama of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, but it is still an inspirational site. The stones are smaller than those of Stonehenge and they lie scattered on the ground. A gross act of vandalism? The circular arrangement of the stones is echoed by a ditch and high mound. Beyond the peaks and dales stretch out in all directions.
“I’ve noticed the henges are always chosen for sites with wide-open views,” a photographer and henge enthusiast pointed out to me as we took in the views.
14: Cales Farm West
Bright Under Green Limestone Edges. With Queen Ann Lace and Cranesbill in her Hedges
15: Cales Farm East
The next inscription is written on a cube-shaped stone on the edge of a field. I didn’t see any cranebill, but the Queen Ann Lace was thick in the field, drained of colour and moisture, dried out and brown, crackling in the breeze. Nettles, now flowering, made their presence felt on the gate.
The rakes and spoils of man’s hard toil, has shaped this land
Yvonne Vaines, Wendy Andrews, Carol Mansbach
The inscription is found on a slab in the grass between a gap in a dry stone wall. Across the way, is an aggregates company. Employees penned these words. This part of the Peak District is filled with large quarries scarring the landscape. When exhausted, they return to nature and slowly over time become interesting features rich in wildlife. But in the meantime they are unsightly, the land torn-up and clawed out, raped.
16: Long Rake
A dull sky, Feel the cold. Touch the snow, A lonely landscape. Hear the wind, See the hills. It’s freezing cold, And empty. –
Rheanne Smith and Lucy Mead of Youlgreave Primary School
We walked along the geological line of the rake until we came to a junction. At first we couldn’t see the inscription. We wandered around until we spotted each phrase inscribed in stones that were slotted into a dry stone wall. The words were inspired by a vist to Arbor Low in winter under snow.
17: Pen Close
Live as if you’ll die tomorrow
Farm as if you’ll live forever
The lines are inscribed on two gateposts. I don’t know how ‘traditional’ this inscription is, but it is a very modern message. The Peak District is fortunate in its National Park status and the fact that so much that may have been lost has been protected. Environmentalists work alongside farmers to conserve this wonderful natural heritage.
12: Roman Road
AQVAE ARNEMETIAE DERVENTIA
Hvivs viae cvram cvratores viarvm non svscepervnt
We took a turning off the road and followed a lane that deteriorated to raised cobble, loose stone and muddy rut. We passed on by a an old led mine, a kind of hills-and-holes.
The inscription is written where Green Lane crosses a Roman road. The Roman road is no longer visible, but the long line of trees follows the course of the old Roman Road.
I am no Latin scholar and strangely the website doesn’t translate the Latin, but I think the inscription says that the road has not been maintained – neither the Roman Road, nor Green Lane.
So this is the last inscription. Green Lane crosses the High Peak Trail and here we turn right onto the (well) maintained cycle path, once a railway track.
High Peak Trail
No sound of trains now, just the rustle of seeds from the Rose Bay willow herb that line the path, great swathes of feathers that float through the air.
Some flowers are still blooming: thistle, harebell and Granny’s Toenails – Butter and Eggs, Eggs and Bacon, Hens and Chickens – all wonderful names. Take your pick.
So we have completed our walk with poetry – and managed to find every single inscription, thanks to the expert map reading of my husband.
As we walked the roads I thought how blessed I am to walk this earth, walk in this place of beauty; to feel its poetry, with or without the inscriptions.
Note: I would really recommend cycling the last section if you’re a cyclist as there’s a lot of road walking – a bit of a trudge. Green Lane, admittedly is a challenge for all but the most skilled of mountain bikers, but you can always walk this section with the bike.
Map and grid references are found on the Sites of Meaning website found here