Winter beginnings

Wednesday night was Hallowe’en or Samhain (pronounced Sah-win) if you’re more of the Celtic persuasion, a night when belief has it that the boundary between our world and the next can be more easily crossed, and according to Celtic tradition, a time that is half way between the Autumn and Winter solstices which marks an end to harvest and the beginning of Winter.

For small daughter, this means pumpkins, dressing up and collecting her own bodyweight in sweeties.  I’m not so keen on the modern traditions that go with Hallowe’en although I really enjoyed Hallowe’en as a child.  I can remember bobbing for apples and running round the garden trying to scare my brother which seemed like great fun at the time, but trick or treating was always something that we read about children in America doing and didn’t happen in our little village in England.  Small daughter isn’t impressed with the idea of getting soaking wet to try to catch floating apples, so instead she goes out with her friends for what has become a fun evening in Winwick eating more sugar in one night than I would generally approve of.  I don’t mind too much – she only goes to the houses of people who are expecting her, isn’t out too late and thoroughly enjoys herself, but I’m not overly enthusiastic about it all.

To make up for being grumpy (or boo humbug, if you like!) about the whole thing, I bought her the biggest pumpkin that I could find at the farm shop and she had a wonderful time carving it out.  (That’s something else that’s changed – I had to make do with a swede and it wasn’t nearly as easy to carve! 😀)

She’s pretty good at it too, although she wasn’t interested in creating anything other than a scary face despite my suggestions that she should look for internet inspiration for something else.

I much prefer the idea of celebrating the seasons turning, and that we may be closer to loved ones no longer around than at other times of the year, but that’s only something that has come about as I’ve got older.  I like the idea that I’m closer to my Dad (although he may not be too pleased at his quiet life-on-a-cloud being disturbed) and it was a poignant surprise on Thursday when I was out with the dog to discover a footpath that we’d never seen before.  How we’d missed it, I don’t know.  We were at the Lyme and Wood Pits Country Park, created from a landfill site which in turn was created on the site of old coal mines, that we visit at certain times of the year (we have to avoid the place when the fishing season starts as the dog pinches the fishermen’s bait.  It’s always very embarrassing.) and we had the place to ourselves.  The grass meadows had been cut and there was a pathway that I’d never noticed before so we followed it.

We rounded a corner …

and came out at a slag heap from the old mines that reminded me so very much of the one at the end of the road where I grew up and had played as a child.  The familiar blue of the slag heap (often called spoil heaps elsewhere) caught my breath, and the oak tree on the top was just like those that I had climbed so often when I was younger, although the heaps I used to play on weren’t as conical (don’t worry, they were quite safe and are still in regular use as part of a footpath today).  Perhaps you can imagine what I did next …

It was like being on top of the world!  The slag is made up of waste from the coal mine and when it’s compacted it’s quite easy to walk on.  It’s not like scree on a mountainside that shifts and slips under your feet; rather, this is more like solid mud which can get stuck to your boots and makes you feel like you’re trying to walk on the moon, but it’s safe enough to walk on.

You can see the remains of the old mine workings tangled up in the tree roots, a reminder of the area’s past which still clings on even though Nature has done her best to reclaim it.

And the slag almost as far as the eye can see …

It’s quite a scar on the landscape as it will never rot down or go away although natural erosion will take some of it over time …

I hadn’t considered until now just how much mining in the area I grew up in had been part of my life as nowadays we often tend to associate coal mining with the North East of England, but there were pits and drift mines right across the country.

This particular part of the North West of England had a lot of mines (this is a great websiteto look at if you want to see the spread of them across the UK), and one of the last working pits in the area was close enough to our house for me to go with my Mum when I was very small to watch the lorries collecting the coal and the lift shaft wheels turning to bring men up and down to and from the surface.  My friends and I knew to be careful to avoid certain areas when we played out because of old mine workings, and a house across the road from ours was built on the site of an old ventilation shaft; ton after ton of rubble was swallowed up by the ground as it was capped off to be safe enough to build on.  Even when we visited family friends out of the area, we would see slag heaps and mining works near to their houses as the industry spread right across the North West.  It was just how it was and I never thought twice about it.  Landscapes like this one are part of my heritage – not the most attractive sort, perhaps – but nowadays areas like this are creating habitats for birds and wildlife to live where people never will, and there are far worse legacies that can be left behind by industry.

Naturally, in running up the hill (these things are always best tackled at a run!) I hadn’t considered how I was going to get down.  The dog bounced down easily on four legs and I had visions of going down less easily on one backside, but finally decided that the best thing to do was what I had done coming up, and tackle it at a run.  Wheeee!  No backside-sliding involved, you’ll be pleased to know!

How strange, I thought, to have found this place today of all days.  I spent so many hours playing around the footpaths, woods and the blue shale slag heap when I was young and I found it happily nostalgic to find somewhere so similar.  Was my Dad any closer than he might usually be?  I have no idea – some people will say that it’s all nonsense and that’s entirely their choice, but I like to think that just maybe, he might have been.

As for Winter beginnings, it’s an excuse to light the fire and spend more time knitting, isn’t that right?  Don’t forget I’m going to be at Peak District Yarns in Tideswell today from 11am to 1pm to admire socks and answer questions – and also, a huge thank you to everyone who has left a review of More Super Socks on Amazon for me.  I am very grateful! xx

Bring on the Winter knitting!

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7 Responses

  1. Deborah's Blog says:

    Beautifully written not a fan of Halloween either….but never thought about lost ones closer thank you..also lovely to read how much fun you had xx

  2. Lenore says:

    A lovely post Christine. Xx

  3. Unknown says:

    I tend to think that your Dad probably was not very far away from you that day in that place. There are times when I too feel my Dad, gone these 38 years past and my Mum gone 18 years ago are close. Growing up in Swinton I was aware of slag heaps too but not quite on my doorstep. We had a coal fire and remember going with my Mum to Swinton marketplace to put in the order for another coal delivery. When Dad cleaned the chimney I had to go into the garden and shout when the brush appeared out of tbe chimney. Thanks for taking me down memory lane.

  4. Judith Comfort says:

    What a wonderful post! The pictures were great. How sad these slag heaps mar our countries. But as you say perhaps they can provide homes for birds and other wildlife. Thank you for your enjoyable blog.

  5. Janet says:

    Brought tears to my eyes. Made me feel nostalgic. The mines and slag heaps reminded me of my home country of Wales and reminded me of the Aberfan Disaster of '66. I was 9 years old. You write beautifully Christine.

  6. Julie says:

    I would be inclined to think dad was walking your pathway with you today and helped to enhance your childhood memories. A lovely post that warmed my heart tonight. x

  7. Luisa Munoz says:

    Although I am originally from Catalonia, everything related to the coal mines it resonates with me as my partner belongs to a family that had many miners in it including his grandad. And he is from the Northwest of England too, where we are currently living.
    I am 100% sure that your dad was walking besides you and smiling while you was remember your childhood.
    Nice post : )

    Luisa xx

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