Day in North Yorkshire
Up early: last night’s rain had gone, and last night’s wind was still
as I set out from Stalling Busk, a small road over the hill.
The air and everything was bright. At last, I thought, a day
in which to be, in present time. Near my left hand lay
the Semerwater lake. Its lucid separateness claimed
a quality from other times, before such things were named.
I walked: and let a yearful of preoccupations slide . . .
though governed by my watch and by the mileage, stride for stride.
Where the road shone with water, I managed to edge past . . .
and wondered if a half-torn sandal-strap would snap, or last.
To Bainbridge, then to Askrigg: a small road, over a bridge.
And there I rested, five miles done, before going up a ridge.
An hour I took off, reading by a old church in the sun.
The road chirped round me, voices, cars . . . the day was well begun.
I climbed far up . . . two birds flapped low . . . some touring cars filed past.
By the roadside six blue flowers found space in a moment that would last.
Up on the ridge the road went, small and private as a front drive.
In the open house of the moors I walked. Each moment was alive
with architecture of clouds; the vivid country day . . . with wind, with birds.
Each second had more in its scope than a folio of words.
On to noon, and twelve miles done. The road unwound itself down
till it crossed a stream. Through Healaugh next; then into Reeth, a town.
My legs hurt, I was ‘over the top’. It seemed I set my teeth
for several miles of aching steps, that last mile into Reeth.
And so to lunch! A pub ahead: and shortly would appear
a plate piled high with pork chop chips peas lettuce . . . a pint of beer.
I sat outside and tasted bliss. After a time it rained
but I ate on. At length, with empty glass and plate unstained
I went back in. A coffee lounge invited, dry and snug.
I fished my book out, took my time and got through a whole jug.
Outside the town were sheepdog trials, pony events, a show.
I idled past to Grinton. Then a long high way to go
hauled me up. I entered, the road raising me, fold after fold,
into a purple sky of heather. Planet young and old
stood still with me, revolved with me. Forwards, backwards I walked . . .
and the brunt of the hills and I had something to say, and there we talked.
“Destroy me not with that conjuror’s bone in your hand, you human being.”
“I cannot prevent – ” “Destroy me not, for you are not unseeing
of the hardness of the rockface, here underneath the heather.”
“I see a paradise on Earth.” I rested, not knowing whether
the deadly bone in the hand of man would ever start to stick . . .
but knowing it would not be done by means of a conjuring trick.
The clouds came. I walked on and down, through a patch of rain.
Then after twenty open miles a tangled avenue came.
I rambled down delighted through the branches and the shadows –
and entered a stone village, as quiet as its meadows.
In Castle Bolton nothing moved. Two villagers were present
but in the same stone spell, it seemed. I looked back at the pleasant
mediaeval stone-winged fortress, relic of something stronger . . .
and stretched out at a signpost. “Rest for five minutes longer!”
I told myself, edgy to begin the last ten miles.
I sat and read, but not my book, but the forthcoming trials
that waited in the air. My sandal would snap . . . a storm . . .
a careless car . . . I got up, started walking to keep warm.
Twenty-five miles were done. The soles of my feet were sore,
but Askrigg tugged me. I dragged on to the resting-place before . . .
ten hours ago . . . and stopped, not of my own accord.
A pot of tea and a teacake, a long-promised reward;
then stumbled on. To Bainbridge first, then home . . . but now it’s pelting.
I find myself in the Bainbridge pub, I find my heart is melting
for grapefruit juice. My legs stick out at angles in a corner.
I feel and look like one of Nature’s less distinguished fauna.
I must go on. It’s nearly dark. Three miles in blinding rain . . .
and find it’s over. So I push my legs off out again
and up the hill, far up the hill, to where, far out at dusk
a farmhouse settlement is perched. Near back at Stalling Busk
the day ends with a miracle. The air is slightly soft
and nearly warm. A lifting breeze. The clouds are packed aloft
with dark and light. It all seems gentle, welcoming, as if
the hill knew I was back. That this is beyond belief
is shown now as the rain explodes, with still a mile to go.
But as I ache along, two things I deeply know
possess me; and I scarcely feel the rain at all.
One is something to do with the road itself, and the wall
made out of a shock of stones, and all things in which man
works carefully out of Nature. I know his best work can
match the destructive finger . . . find a controlling key.
The other thing that suddenly visits me
is remembrance of a relative ill, who though in hospital
could see this walk if I wrote it down, know the good of it all.
It has been a day I’d keep for myself; play back, if I could, at will;
peruse each minute, stop at a thousand frames, keep each shot still;
I’d file it for my own free use . . . but this no mind can do.
Therefore, instead, I give this day to you.