Simon Armitage’s Stanza Stones – Mist.
The scenery changes on our onward Northern drive, deep wooded valleys crowded with solid stone terraced mill houses. Cragg Vale, Mytholmroyd (birthplace of Ted Hughes, Poet Laureate 1983 – 2008) Hebden Bridge, Pecket Well. We start dropping off the moor into Oxenhope when a steep narrow lane brings us back into the hills looking for somewhere to park under Nab Hill.
A muddy track leaves the lane, we check GPS that it is the correct one, a Stanza Stone waymark is soon noticed. Passing small quarries, no soaring climbing faces here, the rock is softer and splits into thin slabs possibly to be used as stone roof tiles common in Yorkshire at the time. We are on the lookout for a larger quarry on the right and then a stone cairn. Wind turbines look down on our wanderings. The problem is that there are several piles of stones on the edge of the moor, when is a pile of stones or a stone shelter a cairn? I dismiss the first stones and head farther towards an obvious larger cairn, ignoring smaller ones on the way. There is doubt in the team. The clue we have is to drop below the cairn to find slabs of rock. Nothing obvious here, how far down the slope should we go? We repeat the process under the other ‘cairns’. JD wanders off to pinpoint the OS map’s indication of the stone with his GPS, that doesn’t help. Clare scouts the lower ground, there are lots of slabby rocks about. I ponder that not being able to find the Mist Stone in the mist would be ironic, we are having difficulty on a perfect day. At last back at the first pile of stones we discover the correct slabs.
The story goes that one slab was lifted in situ for Pip Hall to carve, it had a hairline crack down the centre and as the stone was moved it split, much to the consternation of the workmen. Undaunted Pip carved each one independently to later place them together, so that the lines hopefully read as one. (The picture of the split comes from their book) One has to give some thought to this lady out on the moor in all weathers carving away. These slabs are of a softer grit than the ones previously visited, Snow and Rain, and the lettering paler. Simon’s poem is equally evocative though, looking out over the valleys and moors where the Bronte Sisters once roamed for inspiration. Lichens are spreading out over the letterings giving them a more ancient look than their mere 12 years – come back in another 12 years. Someone’s ashes are scattered around and will slowly be blown across the moor or crushed underfoot.
Who does it mourn? What does it mean, such
nearness, gathering here on high ground
while your back was turned, drawing its
net curtains around?
Featureless silver screen, mist
is water in its ghost state, all inwardness,
holding its milky breath, veiling the pulsing machines
of great cities under your feet, walling you
into these moments, into this anti-garden
of gritstone and peat.
Given time the edge of
your being will seep into its fibreless fur;
You are lost, adrift in hung water
and blurred air, but you are here.
The three Stanza Stones we have visited so far have exceeded my expectations and I can’t wait to return with our team to the Ilkley Area, home of the Literature Festival where the idea was born, to discover the remaining three, Dew, Puddle and Beck. Wouldn’t it be great to find the fabled seventh, but I suspect that will only appear to an alert walker somewhere on the Stanza Stone Trail.
My navigation skills have improved for the drive home, – these are roads I know well up above Wycoller. We even have time to stop off to look at one of East Lancashire’s Panopticons, The Atom. Both a shelter and a viewing point over the valley and to Pendle Hill. I am sure from memory that when it was first installed there was a stainless steel atom in the centre of the ‘Molecule’ – no sign of it now.
(The other three are Colourfields in Blackburn, The Singing Ringing Tree above Burnley and The Halo above Rossendale.)
The day couldn’t have gone better. Sunshine, excellent company and three poems found and enjoyed.