Friday, 8 October 2010


This is a Mudhoppers public information announcement: There are some places for which photographs and words could never do full justice-certainly not through the medium of a blogspot.

The walk up through Ponden Clough and then up some more to Ponden Kirk starts easily enough: about three quarters of a mile of tarmac road past the Old Hall and through a couple of farmyards, then across a field which leads to a well made and maintained track. This track, despite being part of an international tourist trail (the signposts are worded in both English and Japanese) is not kept so for the public. For at the far end of the clough, where two high waterfalls run down the hill to join Ponden Beck below, the local water board have built lock gates on each one-presumably an emergency measure in the event of flash flooding. As the track ends abruptly at the works it is clearly to enable easy access for water board vehicles. Beyond this it is stout walking boot country, more suited to Mudhoppers and sheep than to coachloads of tourists.


Getting up to Ponden Kirk should, in theory, also be easy. Alongside of one of the waterfalls stone steps have been set into the steep hillside and a wooden handrail is in place on the downhill side. But the stones were only ever going to be temporarily secure: the soil beneath them has gradually washed away and they now tilt every which way and wobble. This means the handrail is indispensable for making the ascent, a good climb for all that (so long as you keep looking ahead, if you have no head for heights the backward view will send your sphincter into overdrive) and attaining the top step is enough to make even the most complacent feel smug. When we walk up here today visibility is good and distant hills spread across the horizon. But it is the closer scenery which grabs our attention. The heather across the moor has lost the purple blanket of its flowers and the bracken on the hillside is turning brown. These dull colours, under a bright mid-afternoon sun, are a blaze of autumn glory (Wordsworth can keep his daffs!) The air here is full of the time of year too, these wilting flora mixing their earthy aromas with that of the rich black soil-this last made more prominent by a good soaking in the recent rainstorms. With the steep drop to one side and the chance of encountering a quag on the other we find the path to the Kirk, a path which in places is no more than a rabbit track. Keeping to the track is therefore wise, but difficult to do whilst unable to stop yourself from looking all around for the sheer pleasure of it.


The small outcrop of rock known as Ponden Kirk is named for a church, though the reasons for this are lost in the mists of a time long before churches were built in this country. There are folk tales surrounding it (which can, arguably, be held to be the most accurate way of learning of our history-if you can sort the wheat from the chaff) that tell of the wedding ceremonies which took place here. These tales are so enduring that it would be hard to not give them credibility as the reason for its name. Also associated with this rock are methods which would ensure that a desired marriage will take place-either by a couple hoping to wed each other or a single person wishing that, before they pop their clogs, someone will turn up who will be the ideal partner in the enterprise. All of these tales involve climbing around the rock to its base and squeezing through an opening known as the Fairy Cave (and this name also suggests legends from a pre-christian era). Not needing these services for ourselves, we are content to sit upon the flat top of Ponden Kirk for a while and enjoy the peace and calm. It is a very special place, a one-off and time spent here gives a reality to the old tales. And can this statement be qualified? Yes, in that all of us know that there are times when, for one reason or another, there is magic in the air.

Having negotiated the wonky stones to get up here we let discretion be the better part of valour and do not attempt to go down them. Instead we follow the top of the hill, which crosses the top of the other waterfall and leads to a more gentle descent (plus this second waterfall is even more photogenic than the first). If the walk up was relaxing due to the clough shutting the rest of the world out, this downward path is inspiring for exactly the opposite reason-the sense of space and of place is immense. We are walking on top of the world.