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
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.
My favourite Sunday walk was straight up the road beyond Greetland Church, then right along a lane called Moor Bottom where the wind always whistled tunefully through some telephone wires going to the last house of Greetland proper. I felt so good up there where the wind blew, the shiny grass blew flat, the birds blew about, into and out of the trees that had been planted round the last house in an attempt to protect the occupants from the blast. We didn’t often meet other people out walking once we were away from the houses. Many years later when I was visiting my parents at Elland, George and I went to a rugby Union match in a field on Moor Bottom, and certainly it was as windy as I had remembered. It must have been impossible to find a field further down the hill; they would never have had that field as their first choice!
A little way along Moor Bottom we turned up an overgrown tummocky track and passed Bilberry Hall. What a wonderful name! We were on to the Moor then, and its many delights. The open moor was difficult to walk over, as the heather in most places was old and tall; the surface underneath was very uneven, with quite deep holes at times, so it became quite interesting when you couldn’t see your feet or what they were landing on. I enjoyed walking through the heather though, and some parts were ‘swealed’ or burnt, I didn’t understand why. When the heather had been burnt, the thickest old twigs were still standing but were brittle, and the lovely snappy sound and feeling of walking across those patches was one of life’s pleasures. Where there were paths, it seemed every little hollow filled up with beautiful silvery grit, coarse or powder-fine. Sometime up there we would see a group of men playing knurr and spell which intrigued me but I never got near enough to discover quite what they were doing. The game was played with white, pot noggies which were, I think suspended in little slings on a stick, above the heather, and then whacked. How they ever found them I don’t know but when they weren’t playing we often found a noggy or two. Some things don’t change, the heather smelt wonderful as you walked it, and it sill does.
Dad, me and Maurice on Norland Moor
The Game of Knurr and Spell
Watch a video of Knurr and Spell being played (courtesy of Yorkshire Film Archive Online)