The Nidd Diary

Two Cabbage White butterflies flirt
above the purple firework of a buddleia.
No match, though, for Candy Crush
and the latest football news.

*

A train journey along an unfamiliar line is always a gift. I have a newspaper, a novel and documents from work to read, but none of them pull at me the way the landscape outside the window does. Sometimes the train crawls, giving time to home in on smaller things. Like those butterflies on the rocket-shaped buddleia blossoms. Everyone I can see who’s in the carriage with me is looking at their phones.

Once out of London, fields sweep by and I see these now through the filter of the book I just finished: Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel. The vast acres unbroken where once hedgerows ruled, and the luminous green borrowed with artificial fertiliser. We pass turbines too, eating the wind in silent distant dignity. A man-made sight I mind much less.

The smaller, slower train between Leeds and Harrogate crosses a valley over a many-arched Victorian bridge. There are a pair of red kites wheeling below us. I soar with them for a moment.

Evening just outside Pateley Bridge, a small town in North Yorkshire. I walk through a small lumpy meadow of grasses and thistles. The fuzzy purple heads of the thistles – those still clinging to life – are like miniature artichokes. In so many of them, insects luxuriate. Beetles, flies, hoverflies, bees, other groups I’m ignorant of. A meadow pipit alights on nearby a fence, and I’ve probably seen one of these speckled brown birds before but this one is a joy because I read about them in Meadowlands.

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I leave the thistles to get back in time for a poetry recital, the first of my booked Niddfest events. Carol Ann Duffy and Imtiaz Dharker read while in the background, sheep baa and the dying sun deepens the hillside.

Early Saturday morning, I’m walking along the River Nidd to the rendezvous point for a bird walk. The water chatters and bubbles and tumbles over its cobbles. I’ve yet to find the one true onomatopoeic word for water over stone.

A noise you forget you missed and needed until it finds you again.

The bird walk yields cuckoo – in sight rather than sound for once, though their calls are so rare these days too – great spotted woodpecker, kestrel, red kite, chiff chaff, coal tit and robin. In one bit of field are countless tussocks that our guide tells us are anthills hundreds and hundreds of years old. The grassland here is “unimproved”, and so the ants’ old homes endure. The final spectacle is a huge fallen tree that has become its own continent, covered in lush meadows of moss and small purple flowers.

With plenty of time before my next event, I go like a good little English tourist into the Tourist Information Centre (also the library) and leave with a photocopied map of a six mile walk through the hills.

I get lost ten minutes in.

The treacherous path has lured me into a pine forest that’s silent and dead, except for the two hundred or so juvenile grey partridges that I suddenly run into in a clearing, which I quickly realise is a feeding/rearing station for the game birds. No one’s around, but the unnaturalness of the place makes me hurriedly retreat.

I find the way I should have taken before. From here on it’s a blue sky scattered with cloud, dry stone walls, sheep and wildflowers. My Vivosmart (the Garmin version of a FitBit) is pleased with my activity – all the slopes I scale add up to ninety-nine flights of stairs by the walk’s end. I wish I’d gone in reverse though, when the last forty minutes of the walk is nothing but caravan parkland.

Still.

*

Thistles let their futures fly
to catch with lambswool on the wire.
Foxglove stalks ring summer’s silent end
with their caps of bells.
Swifts and swallows slip away
and cuckoos lose their voices.
Bees plunder the last trembling blossoms
before the long cold sleep.
They will come back
I will come back.

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