Thursday, December 8, 2016

The boy in the Hollow

It has taken me a long time to write again. There is a story I won't bother telling, of two years during which all confidence, all desire to write evaporated. I grew increasingly wary of the blank page, the knowledge that I had nothing to say, nor words with which I could say it.
But I could walk. I spent as much time as possible on the hill, in all weathers. I tried to see the land clearly again, to feel the assuredness of the ground beneath my feet, oblivious to the rhythms of language which pressed insistently at my shoulder. And gradually I told myself stories to understand what was happening.

I grew up in a village in the flatlands. The ancient lanes of the village tangled around the church with its tall thirteenth-century spire, its mottled colours of pale, fragile limestone. I learned that the spire was in a style known as 'English Perpendicular', without knowing what this meant, although it seemed to carry a stern, protestant image of the rightness of the Church, and smelled somehow of beeswax floor polish and musty prayer books.
That spire marked the lodestone of our world; the only tall feature in a flat land. From it, we began our childhood explorations of brooks, field edges, copses of slim trees; the unkempt margins of the land. We drew maps, named each feature as though it was part of a world we had made specifically for our enjoyment, imagined our ramblings as mythic journeys into unexplored lands. We were given a freedom almost unknown in our modern era, staying out late into summer evenings in our mud-spattered bliss; I can remember scrubbing my hands and knees in a basin of soapy water in the front garden, too filthy even to come indoors to wash.
The world of a child, I realise, is shaped like the branches of a tree: each known path from home splits and splits again as new ways are discovered, as the net of knowledge is spread wider and wider. My mental geography of the land around our village extended to perhaps a mile or two, but it became increasingly textured with detail: the rounded cobbles which loosened from the clay banks of the stream; the knee-length grasses wet against my legs in the ungrazed meadow; the umbellifer-headed wilderness of the abandoned railway line, fading into fields of barley and wheat.
In the land behind the village school we discovered a hollow; a shallow crease in the soft folds of the land, at the base of which a small beck flowed into a brick-lined trough. It had been built from those dense blocks known as 'blue bricks', but which in fact have the dull iridescence of a beetle's wing. Perhaps it was used for washing cattle, or as a source of water for some long-forgotten agricultural practice, but to our nine-year-old minds it was a Roman baths, an ancient ritual site, a never-discovered archaeological prize.
Standing by the edge of the pond, overhung by willows and screened from the sight of the church spire, I experienced a sense of mystery that was both thrilling and unsettling; a desire to know and not to know, for the land to be explained to me whilst retaining these odd places which did not fit my mental map. On that day, it seems I made a pact with the world which traded mystery for wonder: in which the desire to know must be weighted against the longing for uncertainty. It has been the fulcrum on which my life has balanced ever since.

A few weeks ago, my son and I took a walk across the hills on a day touched with the early signs of autumn; the moor-grass bleached like dried kelp, the air promising of decay. We plan our walks in an impetuous fashion, leaving the path to delve into moss-lined valleys or dense hillsides of untrodden heather. We are drawn to contours rather than footpaths.
Around midday, we rounded the broad spur of a hill which sloped into a deep corrie, penned by tall pillars of crag slicked with the remnants of rain. A bank of shingle hid a mossy hollow which may once have held a small tarn. The wind stilled to a soft breeze. We paused for a while in this still, damp place, listening to the echo of the wind in the crags above. The sense of peace in that place of moss and rocks, hidden by the bigger mountain above, drew us both to an attentive silence. We were waiting, not for anything to happen, but for that sense of nothing happening; being in a place where time passes outside of any human intervention. Somewhere in the distance, the empty hiss of a stream marked the passing of the day, slowly.
I realised afterwards the extent to which I am drawn to these places, these clefts and hollows, valleys and gorges, from some ancient compulsion; a desire to feel small in a big landscape, to feel cradled by the mountains as though held in the folded crease of an arm. To be still in a breathing landscape. To experience a moment of empowering insignificance.

Sorting through some papers and documents at my mother's house during the summer, the house in which I grew up and from which I took those rambles, I found a packet of old photographs from my childhood. They were taken mostly on family holidays; running beside my father along the street of a seaside resort; smiling for the camera in an early school photograph, when the knot of my tie still conformed to regulations; shivering in my swimming trunks on a beach beside my sister, plastic buckets in hands. I realised that, although I could identify the boy in the pictures, I could not recognise him. My memories have become shaped by the person I am now, not the person to whom they happened.

At the age of seventeen, my life shifted away from these flat lands with their muddy becks and disused railways, away to places where I felt more at home, where the landscape spoke to me in ways I would not understand until much later. What I did bring away with me, however, was the sense of wonder which that boy in the hollow experienced on that day some forty or more years ago. It is the place at which the hurrying, explaining mind gives in to wonder; the still point in the turning universe. A prelude to a life seamed with mystery and wonder.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Bearing Witness

bear witness that there is a Way of Life that does not depend on the abundance of the things possessed
Quaker Faith & practice, 23.61

On the train north as the sky flushed pale and translucent, as it does in the space before the darkening of the evening. On a copse of ash trees, harsh against the sky, a plume of rooks billowed into unsteady flight, their final turning before snickering down to roost; the noisy, familiar prelude to an autumn night. I watched until the train turned from view, trying to remember the printed shape their bodies made against the sky, feeling blessed to have witnessed this moment. On the seat opposite mine, a young woman jabbed irritably at the keyboard of her laptop; a man whose tie had loosened during the journey still chattered into his mobile phone, wearing that vacant look that people have when their minds are elsewhere, locked in some office difficulty, some problem which will disturb their evening. I noticed no-one else staring from the window.
I was reminded of a passage I read recently by Kathleen Jamie, in which she describes a friend telling her of a time he saw hundreds of geese flying above the city streets of Edinburgh. 'And not one person looked up!' he said, 'Not one!'. It is as much as many of us can do now, to look up.
I was thinking about that moment with the rooks as I took the bus home from the railway station. The darkness had come upon the sky, like an ink stain bleeding through a sheet. Above the ridge of Helvellyn, a single star hung like the last fishing boat left beyond the harbour wall, a lonely light in a darkening ocean. The snow covering on the hills glowed in a memory of sunshine, reluctantly letting go of its light whilst all else around had succumbed to night. I sometimes have the feeling, of an evening, that the world has exhaled a weary breath, and has now paused in its preparations for night. It is the loveliest time of the day.
Seeing these moments in the slow turning of the world fills me with a sense of sadness and responsibility. There are moments we witness which seem so suffused with meaning, so fragile and transient, that I believe our only response can be to watch, to listen, to hold the moment in our minds for as long as we can. I think of the phrase to bear witness; as though to see something of such painful beauty can be a burden, a responsibility, that we must carry on behalf of others. It is a phrase which has two distinct meanings; both to prove (to demonstrate, to show clearly that something is the case) and to attest (to give one's solemn word of the truth). Both of these are implicit when we are confronted with the beautiful, the numinous, the unexplainable. It is as if we have been given some fragile, precious object to hold, and which we are required to carry through strange, perilous lands.
So this, now, is what I will do. I will bear witness to the monochrome beauty of a winter evening on the hills, to the poetry of a single star in a cobalt sky, to the mystery of birds flushing from leafless trees. There are events and knowledge too vast for communication, too complex to be reduced to words on a page. I will bear witness to a world slipping from our view like the disappearing margins of an arctic ice flow.
There is something of import in this responsibility, something Quakerly and dutiful in this need to see, to tell and to preserve. We have become like a tribe of people whose surroundings have changed, or perhaps we have wondered too far from our familiar hunting grounds and have strayed into a dangerous place. We have with us the artefacts of our elders which we must hold and protect, and which we are required to carry, vulnerable and delicate, through a hostile place peopled with strange creatures of the night, under a sky darkening with the uncertainty of perpetual evening.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Still life with pebble

On my desk, two pebbles lean together like eggs in a nest. I take one and turn it in my palms, run my fingertips over its surface. It is smooth, not unlike an egg, covered with the chalky dust which rises from the knapped surface of stones. I breathe on it to blush the dulled surface, and the structure of crystals flickers in the dampness. In this warm summer air, the bloom fades as I watch.
Since I was a child, I have returned from places with a stone in my pocket. They have been a source of comfort to me; smooth and slightly flattened, warm from my touch; a piece of the earth to remind me that all is well. As I position this perfect oval of quartzite to take a photograph, I think of days on western winter beaches, spent listening to the grind and squeak of stones as they shift together beneath the swell of incoming breakers. I think of storm berms warm beneath my palms on summer evenings. I think of islands, spilled onto the metallic surface of the sea. I pick up the stone again and I think of the stone bank from which it was lifted, only a week ago, above a beach of almost perfect grey-white, the colour of the pebble itself. The beach cusped the edge of a bay on the western shore of a small, isolated Scottish island. The pebble is my talisman; my memory of the place.

We arrived on the island in a slack westerly wind, the evening sun striking off the buff-coloured cliffs of skerries and islets. We had passed the journey staring into the spaces between the surrounding islands; the tidal races named by fearful fishermen in their small, fragile boats: The Corryvreckan, The Grey Dogs. The sea remained inscrutably calm throughout the voyage, only the oily slicks of unrippled water hinting at the shifting of currents beneath the surface. Gannets boobed on the gentle crests of waves, as pristine as plaster ducks.

On a small island, the sea is a vague presence; an absent reminder of the darkness beyond the margins of the land. On clear days, the view extends to a horizon shimmering like beaten zinc, where distant lighthouses hinted at rocks and reefs patient beneath the surface. Each one, each submerged hazard, has its own signature, its characteristics and foibles indicated in the area's sea chart: breaks heavily in south-easterly gales; overfalls during a falling tide; or The Great Race: Dangerous Tidal Streams. I search the chart looking for more ominous signs: unexplored region; uncharted waters; here be dragons. I am woken at night by dreams of drowning, and through the open window I can hear the sound of gulls, the hushing of the wind, perhaps through the trees, perhaps across the ruffled surface of the sea.
Each morning, I crossed the ridge outside the village and followed the traces of an old track downhill, through bog myrtle and dwarf willow, to a cusp of beach wedged between low headlands of grey rock. The Paps of Jura float above the surface of the sea, draped in cloud most mornings, bleached white in the sun. The night's high tide has flensed the beach, re-ordered the strand line of kelp and bladder wrack, freshly tipped the ripples with shimmering flakes of mica. I arrive on the beach like a penitent, grateful for the chance to step my feet into the shallow, freezing cold water. I listen to the silence.

On a day bleached with the intensity of the sun, we crossed the mile of open sand flats to the semi-detached island of Oronsay. For two hours each side of low tide, the strand emerges from the sea mud-wet and dimpled like the skin of a flayed beast. Shoals of empty cockle shells drift onto sand bars and mud flats, an accumulation of death, their paired shell halves opened like a prayer book.
The lodestone of the island is an ancient Priory, its ancient walls dated to the 13th century. It is said that Columba stopped here on his journey from Ireland in the 6th century, but that he would not settle until he was no longer in sight of his native land. It is also said that Islay was visited and left for the same reason.
The Priory, on this day of intense sun and gentle northerly wind, is pooled in shadows from the high walls. The grass which now grows inside the old cloisters is littered with daisies. It is a place of utter, profound peace; a reminder of the other-worldliness of the islands, the way in which they appear as 'the thin place', where the veil between the corporeal and the spiritual worlds is so thin as to be transparent.

Leaving the Priory, we climb the low hill of Beinn Oronsay. Below us, the land falls through banks of heather, runnels of bog grass studded with orchids, through mosses and cotton grass, to the shimmering strand of open sand. We turn and turn in the afternoon sun, naming the islands which surround us, picking out the beaches on which we have walked earlier in the week, listening for the echoes of saints.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Millstone Grit

Turning across the park, the path is puddled with the aftermath of the spring rain. The smell of wet cut grass mixes with the stale almond smell of the lime trees. Late afternoon sun spills across the skateboard ramps.
I am in the city for only a day and a night, the first time I have been here since I was eighteen years old. Before arriving, I had struggled to place any memories, any of the local geography, but being here, now, the walk along this cracked path is like a peeling-back of the years; a litany of places I passed each day, set out in front of me like the stations of the cross. I am amazed by the capacity of the memory to hoard and hide; to surprise and entice. I worry that too much is coming to the surface, too soon.

The tarmac of the path is pocked and uneven, just as I remember it beneath my adolescent feet. I must have walked this route almost every day, sometimes more than once; to and from lectures, from pubs, from sessions at the climbing wall. For the time I lived here, I walked whenever I could, simply to feel the breathing city bustling around me, the noise of traffic and the whitened canyons of the buildings alien and unnerving. I came to the city like an ingénue, wide-eyed with wonder and distaste, appealed and appalled by the light as it slanted off limestone walls, by the noise of cars and buses, the narrow lanes and steps, hiding and enticing. I would walk with my head down, my neck thrust forward, and pause occasionally to look up at spires and turrets, pediments and porticoes, realising the city existed on many levels, each rarer, purer, quieter than the one below, as though the highest rooms above the noise and dirt of the street, the attics and lofts wedged beneath slated eaves, were inhabited by gods and angels.
I look up from my memories, and a place ambushes me. The cluster of red brick buildings at the park corner seem exactly the same; the pub where I drank during my first, nervous days in the nearby hall of residence; the telephone box where I phoned my parents to tell them, a year later, that I was leaving the university and going to do something else, something different, without knowing what it might be. Thirty-three years, I think to myself. Almost two-thirds of my life. I am surprised I can remember any of this at all.

The summer before I moved to Leeds, I had been reading Glyn Hughes' Millstone Grit; a memoir of coming of age in the debatable lands of the high Pennines, its wide moorland and deep, shadowed valleys. Growing up myself in flat lands of wide skies, the book helped me to understand how the geology of a place leaves its mark on the people who live there, as though they are shaped from the rock itself, chiselled and rough-dressed.
I had found the book on my grandfather's bookshelf, wedged between his 1896 edition of The Times Atlas (the one where swathes of the Arctic were still labelled as Unexplored Region) and his fading copies of Wide World magazine. The book interested me as a Geologist – it was the subject I was going to read at University, the one which had spoken to me amongst the drear familiarities of school – but it explained to me something else; something about our connection with the land, the ties which bind us to place. My grandfather spent almost sixty years of his life in a form of exile, estranged from the northern cities in which he had grown up, still remembering roads in which bicycle tyres could get trapped in the tram lines, and where queues of working men and women jostled for spaces on Sunday returns to the coast, away from the smell and heat of the mills. In moving to Leeds, I was reliving, in a way, his memories; I felt drawn to a city I had never known, experiencing a form of vicarious nostalgia; a yearning for a place I did not remember, but which was somehow coded in my DNA; it was part of the collective mythology of my family. I needed to live there, in the same way that I needed to leave home, to move away from the familiar boundaries with which I had grown up.

At the northern edge of the university quarter, I pass the students' union building. The tarmac road where I queued outside in the chill winter night to see Doctor Feelgood or John Martyn or Judie Tzuke is now replaced with clean flags of a pale, indeterminate limestone. A blue plaque above the door indicates that this is where The Who recorded Live at Leeds in 1970. Across the road, something tugs at my memory; some significance of place that I cannot yet unravel, some association with this road junction, this 1970s block of student flats.
The rear of the building overlooks a green place; a park of sorts, although clustered amongst the laurel trees are gravestones and memorials. In summer, I remember how students would sprawl across the grass with cans of beer and stick-thin roll-ups. Today the grass is damp with spring rain, the air misted with haze.
The ground floor of the flats is faced with square-cut blocks of gritstone, sheltered from the weather by the overhanging canopy of the upper floors. It has an enclosed feel; a stone-faced walkway with one open wall facing onto the park. The mortar, I recall, had weathered between the blocks, leaving finger-size indents and pockets. The keenest members of the climbing club had colonised it as a training wall, a place to harden the fingertips on wet days and winter evenings. I can see the familiar smudge of chalked hand prints at the starting corner; further chalk marks continuing the full length of the wall; the bigger holds identifiable by the larger smudges, places to rest and shake out aching arms, to chalk up the fingers before moving on. Two people are training there now: the familiar tense balletics of rock-climbing, at once fluid and controlled. I watch for a while, and a whole part of my youth spills out of my memory: weekends hitching down to the Peak District; the smell of Sheffield bus station on a damp Friday evening, the warmth of evening sun on the gritstone edges which overlook the soft valleys of Derbyshire; evenings spent here, on this wall, in the fading light, practising the same moves again and again until they are fluid, perfect, remembered.

I reach out my hand, and before I touch the rock I know exactly how it will feel: that roughness beneath my palm, the temperature the same as my own skin, so that it feels neither warm nor cold. I sense the tenderness in the pads of my fingers that I'd feel at the end of a long day on the crags; the sore dryness that felt cool against the damp sheen on the outside of a pint of beer. I turn my hands over in the summer sun, expecting to see the familiar scars on the knuckles from a day spent on coarse gritstone, but noticing instead the darkening spots of age, the wrinkled skin, the mis-shapen joint of a broken finger; a relic of a climbing accident during those years in Leeds. It is an injury which still pains me at times; it aches in damp weather or at the end of a day of manual work. There are scars that will never heal, I think to myself. We are marked by the places we live, the people we once were. I think of the friends I climbed with; the closeness which comes from sharing an intense physical activity with others; the invincibility of youth; the fading smudge of chalk on a gritstone wall.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A year of words, a cloud of electrons

It feels strange to be here, in the half-light of a northern winter, bent over the glow of the screen again.  I draw words from the heavy soil, listen to the roar of the wind in the trees, stand on the step at the front of the house and watch the moon rise over the clouds which are tipped with white, like the edge of an Edwardian napkin.

I want again, as I did last year, to release some of these words into the void of the night, into the dark space of the world-wide web (how long since I have heard it called that?), hoping that somewhere they will stick, that they may find a temporary home.

I have collected together a variety of essays and prose pieces which have been published in other places in the last twelve months (plus the odd unpublished one), and present them here as an e-book.  The link beneath the photo below (or simply by clicking here) will take you to a pdf version of the book, stored on Google Docs.  Please feel free to download it, to pass it on, to print it, or simply to look at the photos.

With thanks to all of you who have commented, tweeted, or otherwise supported my faltering efforts to write in 2013.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Fractal geometry and the river of life

From my ledge of moss, I gaze at the hillside across the valley. The grey of the scree is broken by remnants of grass and heather; patches of green in an ocean of stone. All lines tend towards the stream which flows from a couple of springs emerging from the scree; the starting point of mountain becks which gather and build westwards; springs turning to streams turning to rivers turning, finally, to the sea.
I have been indoors for too long, kept from the hills by the endless legions of low pressure systems which barrel in from the Irish Sea, one after another, like racehorses loosed from a starting gate. The wind has been almost constant; an aching drone in the fabric of the house, a hushing in the trees above the garden; it is a restless other, a presence in the dark of the night, a reminder of the force and omnipotence of the weather. From the hillside where I now sit, I can see the gathering dark of storm clouds signalling the arrival of the next weather front. I turn my eyes back to the hillside.
I am thinking of fractals; that geometric phenomenon where each whole is made up from ever-diminishing smaller versions of the same shape. As I look at the flank of Skiddaw, grey beneath a greyer sky, I lose the scale of the mountain, so that I could be looking at forests in a stone desert, or green patches on a hillside, or tiny lichenous growths on the side of small fragment of stone. A few days prior to my tea break on Skiddaw, walking across the fields at the edge of my village, I had flushed a hundred or more starlings from the skeleton of an ash tree, watched them billowing into flight, hurled sideways by the buffeting of the wind. I was struck again by the way in which birds behave in a flock; that ability to turn together as though connected by invisible threads. It is as if the birds know their position in the flock, as though they are each a single feather in a complete, beautiful sweep of wing. In the past few days, I have noticed again and again the enigmatic ability of nature to replicate itself at all scales: the way in which the individual trees in a wood lean together like the limbs of a single tree; the pillowed perfection of storm clouds as they build above the house, huge plumes made of smaller plumes; the mazed lines of map lichen on a slate boulder, looking like a landscape viewed from far in the air.

The final months of 2013 were a trial for me. I had worked too hard and too long, and fell into an extended period of low-level illness, burnt out and exhausted, incapable of seeing anything beyond the end of my bed or my desk, unable to write, spent of words. My mind retreated into a form of hibernation, dulled by the futility of communication, smothered by the incessant clamour of the trivial. This walk on the local hills, this gazing at a hillside of scree, seems part of a wider process of rehabilitation; learning to see once again, learning to taste the texture of words in my mouth once more. I yearned for periods in which I did not look at a book or a screen, but could gaze to the far horizon, as though 'longing' became a metaphysical desire for distance, for wide views of far hills, paling in the grey of evening.
Learning to write again has involved learning to see. In the depths of my tiredness, I could barely endure the effort needed to gaze into the distance, as though the perfection of the world outside was more than the soul could bear. In climbing this mountain today, I realise that it is not only my leg muscles which have grown tired through disuse. The muscles of my eyes need training, too; they need to scan slowly and carefully across these open hillsides, to pick out the details of rocks and mosses, to dwell absently on the changing colours of a winter hillside. A fractal set has been described as 'the same from near as from far'; a reminder of the changes in scale we need to make our lives whole and complete.

I descended from the hilltops by a narrow stream gorge; a deep moss-filled ravine thick with the viridian lushness of woodrush, largely untrodden by people. The stream rises from a bog pool on the moorland I have just crossed; a black sedge-lined pond from which a thin runnel of peaty water tips over the edge of the moor and gathers pace as a mountain stream. It gives me a strange satisfaction, this knowledge that I have followed the stream from its source, watched it build in volume and pace, heard the hiss of running water turn to a rush, to a roar, to a deep echoing hush. Rivers often appear in stories as a metaphor for the turns and pace-changes of an eventful life, and I believe in a moment of fancy that my purpose is no more than to follow this stream downhill, noting the falls and meanders, until, climbing the heathery sides of the gorge, I can gratefully send it on its way, downstream, beyond.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Cartographer

Let me tell you how easy it is to lose yourself.
I grew up believing that I always knew where I was. I placed my faith in the maps I learned to read as a child; the fine lines of stream and footpaths, the neat precision of churches with spires or towers, or bus stations and railway stations. I imagined the land around me laid as as though from a map: the hills ringed with brown contours, the forests arranged in neat rows of lollipop-shaped trees. I saw the narrow yellow road leading northwards from the village of my childhood, and knew that I could travel that way with certainty, protected by the knowledge folded between the salmon-coloured covers of the map I read each evening. I travelled in my mind.
I studied maps endlessly. I believed that they held some inexpressible truth; that everything we knew and did could be codified by these symbols and colours. I looked for perfection, and found it more clearly in the paper representations of the world than in the untidy, chaotic land which sprawled about me. I wanted a map for every purpose: to find my way in an argument, to find a thing I had lost, to find love.
The more I placed my faith in maps, however, the less they seem to explain what I could see around me. They could not tell me why the walk along this lakeshore can be so different in sun and in rain, or why the path through the little park can seem like an eternity to a child, yet only an instant to a pair of young lovers. They could not tell me how to truly find my way in life.
I know now that the land is made from layers of memory; strata of dreams and regrets, romances and discontents, which accumulate over the years like the soot which blackens the walls of the buildings in this small town. I know that there is a strange and tragic history between its streets, and yet I still listen for its stories of hope, its echoes of love.
I sometimes wished that everything in the world could be mapped, so that it might be possible to follow the traces of tears, the nodes of heartbreak, the thin glowing threads of ambition woven like fairy lights between office and home, between restaurant and hotel. I picture these layers of emotion, stacked one on top of another, so that it is possible to see everything that has ever happened in this place; layer upon layer of meaning, the colours blending softly from marble white to slate grey, from ochre to sienna, like the thin salty residue left when tears dry.
I drew maps of my own. I listened to the whisper of lovers at dusk, and traced the lines of their heartache with my pen. I visited park benches and mapped the people who sat there, their hopes and disappointments. I watched the swifts sketching patterns in the summer sky and imagined that these, too, could be mapped: a web of shrieking, mercurial paths, each one random, beautiful, fleeting. I watched my love walk away from me, and I etched her slow walk across the fields with a line of the darkest grey.
I knew, finally, that I needed to get off the map. I left home without planning a route, walking a path which left the town through dense woodland, shaded from the heat and pungent with the summer smells of moist earth and the citrus tang of resin. At each junction I did not look at my maps, choosing instead the route which seemed the prettiest, the most interesting, the least trodden. By this way I walked towards open country, where no footprints pitted the baked earth. Standing at the edge of an expanse of bog and moss, I saw at last the delicate colours of summer in the hills, rather than imagining the contour lines which I knew would have circled around this basin of land like the remnant paths of circling peregrines.
I slept the night in a ruined sheepfold. It was a mild summer's evening, but as night thickened and grew colder, I unfolded the maps I carried and spread them over my body to keep off the chill of the dew.
When I woke, the sun had risen above the mountains and my quilt of paper had dried and wrinkled. I folded each sheet carefully and left them stacked in a shallow niche in the stone wall against which I had rested my head. I picked up the shallow beginnings of a mountain stream and followed it downhill, knowing that soon enough it would join another, and then another, gathering pace towards the beckoning river.

'Cartographers', a play co-written by Kim Moore, Lindsay Rodden, Joe Ward Munrow and Ian Hill, directed by Stefan Escreet, will be at the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick on 7 September 2013. For more details, see here