There was often a wooden bench where we went, which would always be used. Stone Lane had one, and although it was only a few hundred yards from home, we sat on it for a minute or two at least. The best on e was at the bottom of Norland Moor, where there was a high wall and a stile up and over. From that bench we looked out towards Halifax, over the Calder Valley, with Copley to the left and Salterhebble to the right, and Greetland Station below. Stations were busy then, especially with trucks of coal and other goods, and we would count the trucks as these small, distant engines chuffed along below us. We could watch signals change and guess which trains would leave Copley and go up to Halifax, and which would turn for Greetland and go on to Elland. Between Greetland and Elland stations was the large hump of Elland Wood, which had two great black ‘chimney pots’ above the tunnel, and at times there was a lovely white cloud of steam rushing out of first one, then the second one. We could read the time on the Church clock across the valley, on Skircoat Green near Wainhouse Tower. We could see tiny men moving about their hen pens, and tiny dogs sniffling about hither and thither: sometimes there was a distinctive Halifax bus, cream and orange, crawling between houses, away into the town centre. There was always the time to watch and notice. I didn’t always understand what I saw, and for years loved the moving shapes of purplish colour that spread across the moors and fields, sometimes hardly moving, sometimes fairly galloping along, without realising what caused them.
Stony Lane was one of my favourite places; it seemed to have lovely flowers and blackberries late. I didn’t go there on my own as far as I remember, but seemed to often be there with Dad, Maurice or the gang. One day I was out with Dad, and for once picked some magnificent buttercups along the lane and lagged behind. When we turned into Scholes Lane, I ran very fast to catch him and show my flowers, but unfortunately fell and really hurt my knees as the road had recently had big chippings spread. I always had a blackish mark on my right knee as a result, and I howled and howled. The thing that caused my heartbreak however was the sight of the smashed golden petals, smeared over the sharp granite chips.
The Dead Dog
The two boys from the big house on Shutts Lane took the gang one day to the mill they owned near Stain Bridge, (called Stain Mill) As usual, the ‘getting there’ was the important part and took a long time. When we came to the canal near the bridge, the boys saw a drowned brown dog in the water. I was very saddened by this and puzzled by what ‘dead’ was. At least it prevented the dog from barking at me, or knocking me over. Someone who lived near us had a large, floppy spotty dog, which certainly knocked me over once, up Stony Lane where we were picking blackberries – I was very frightened and took some calming down. That was the start of my fear of dogs, and I went to some trouble to avoid them for about forty years, until we had Bramble, and I began to understand dogs.
I have always enjoyed rain and wind; it seems a wonderful thing, to have clear cool water gurgling and tinkling and rushing down all the lanes and roadsides, – why couldn’t I play out in it, instead of being kept grizzling indoors until it had stopped raining! Water that just lies there not moving seemed somehow sinister to me.
The Norland stream must have had some waterfalls I think as it tumbled through North Dean Wood and emerged above Copley in the gentle slopes of green fields, and joined itself to the Calder. My Mother had grown up in Copley, which was one of the string of ‘valley bottom’ villages beside the Calder; it had been built as a model village, planned and built all at once which seemed a very unusual idea then. During the Great War there was a munitions works there, where picric was produced, which I think was something to do with gas. My Mother worked there for a time. Near Copley was Stern Bridge across the river, which was said to be the setting of Wordsworth’s poem ‘Lucy Gray’. I always felt worried down in the bottom of the valley there, it was too near the river which caused that strange smell, a mixture of woollen industry pollution and the jungle-like waterside weeds. The water in the river was dark and sluggish and menacing, added to which there was a canal very close by which was equally sinister. But before Norland stream finished its journey down to the Calder, while it was still beautiful, gurgling and sparkling, it provided another picnic place for us; a place of lush grassy banks and smaller boulders and waterfalls, perfect to play about in. I still preferred the moor above; even then, – the higher and more exposed the more I felt happy and content.
More about picric – The Low Moor Picric Explosion
The Toilets at Rabbit Farm
Where the road crossed the stream there were huge slabs of bedrock and boulders, which caused interesting stream patterns and little waterfalls – there were so many simple, free pleasures. Just below the Ladstone at Norland, there used to be a sort of tea-room in a big field, I think it might have had swings. Certainly it had toilets, which were a most horrendous place; – the ladies had a long wooden construction, like a cupboard with no doors. In the top surface were round holes it seemed to me there were a lot, perhaps up to half a dozen, maybe more, and there was no privacy for the large or old ladies who were to be found there. I hated it mightily and doubt whether I ever co-operated. Further along towards Barkisland was a little group of wooden chalets for people to spend their weekends in, and the looked so attractive, rather like doll’s houses that you could actually live in, I always hoped we would grow rich enough to have one, and stay up on the moor the longer. The tea room place was called the Rabbit Farm, I don’t remember why, but the buses used to run the extra way up to it beyond Norland. At weekends it was so popular for families wanting a picnic and fresh air. I preferred to head off up on to the moor-edge above, it wasn’t interesting just being in a grassy field – anyway, the further away from the toilet I could get, the better.
I have described Greetland Moor, but if we walked a bit further we could cross a road called Turbury, near Norland Village and continue on Norland Moor: we didn’t go there as often but it had a nice feature, namely a suddenly steep slop down to the road, and further down, down, down, small bright green fields and black walls, eventually disappearing into the trees along the valley bottom between Sowerby Bridge and Ripponden. There was a similarly steep slope on the opposite side, so the moor edge was a lovely viewpoint, and very breezy. At one point among the large boulders which marked the edge, was a very large flattish stone which seemed balanced rather precariously and was called the Ladstone. There were lots of initials carved into it. If we intended going to the Ladstone, we would try to catch a bus to Norland, walk to the stone or beyond it to Barkisland, and then we could walk all the way home as well, probably going along the top of North Dean Wood instead of through Greetland Moor and Bilberry Hall. The Turberry Road had a steep dip down to cross a lively stream at one point, I think it was called the Red House, and there was a sort of wooden bungalow nearby: the stretch of road uphill to Norland had a paved channel at the side which usually ran with clear water and was a delight.
Our favourite picnic place was near Bilberry Hall, perhaps a quarter mile further, on a silver-sand twisty path, single file. There were several high earth banks, maybe fifteen feet or so, long and deeply covered with heather and bilberry. Away across the other side of the path were small round hillocks, with a hollow on top, and an opening towards the long mounds. These had been constructed during the Great War, for shooting practice, and there were said to be many little souvenirs to be found on those banks. The only things I found were bilberries and ladybirds. We would settle on the hollow top of one of the round mounds, and each do what we wanted. Give me a little blue sugar bag and I was happy all day, gathering a few ounces of bilberries, breaking off my search briefly for bread and butter and a banana, some milk, and some feather cake – always bananas!
There were definitely different coloured ladybirds then, some were quite pale yellow, some orange, scarlet, and quite a dark red. If there were a lot about, I might gather all I could find, carefully carrying them back to our hilltop hollow, hoping they would settle there long enough for me to go off and find some more, and get a spectacular crowd of different colours.
Very rarely, an aeroplane would slowly chug across the sky, perhaps I saw one or two in the whole year: I associate the sound and sight with the moor picnic afternoons. I used to be tired walking home and was notorious for lagging behind – there always seemed to be large bilberries beside the path when we were supposed to be walking home, and would always end up stopping for something far too amazing to ignore, and then running to catch up with the others.