Although I had seen a catalogue of my family’s former home I found myself increasingly drawn to visiting it to find out for myself just how isolated it was and why my ancestors decided to sell it. There was no doubt of the address and directions because they were clearly set out in the sale brochure, but I was still grateful for the modern invention of GPS when I headed out to the house one morning. It was a warm day in early summer and the drive out of the city was extremely pleasant. The sun was bright and lit up the countryside with an almost golden glow that made the fields and hedges look inviting.
As I drove on, higher onto the moorland to the east of
, the fields became smaller and more angular, hedges gave way to grey, stone walls marking long, narrow strips of land. The cattle of the lower slopes were gradually replaced by wandering sheep that dotted the stony hillsides. I saw many lying slumped against the foot of the walls and it was not until then that I realised the pattern of the dry, grey lines. They had been constructed against the prevailing wind and were designed to provide shelter in a landscape that offered very little natural protection against the elements. This would be a very different place in winter from the scene I could see spread out before me; without the sunshine of a summer’s day it would be truly bleak. Manchester
The roads became steeper and narrower as I continued my journey and eventually I came out on top of a low hill that formed a platform for the rising moorland ahead. I pulled in to the side of the road to take a proper look at the view. Below me I could see acres of farmland with the scar of the city, far off in the distance, marked by a grimy smog that hung over it like a dirty lace curtain. Above me there was nothing, or apparently nothing, except harsh, unforgiving moor. Even the stone walls were missing here, and the sheep were allowed to roam freely, kept in their place by nothing more than a metal grid across the road in front of me. It was possibly one of the loneliest spots I had ever visited.
Large chunks of my latest work in progress are set in the north, among the industrial cities and the tough high-Pennine moors. I think maybe I've been a Midlander for too long!
The photo is actually a long way east of Manchester (in fact it's Yorkshire!).