Whenever I’m exploring the history of the boat or the ambiance of a small town, it’s about ghosts rather than tangible reality. Any site is composed of echoes, of ‘resonating emptiness’, of memories, associations, emotional responses, question marks, hyphens or even the odd exclamation mark.
It’s as much about empathy and open-mindedness as detective work, tracing a finger across long-gone events, weaving the mists of time into a form that speaks to now and connects now with then through scenes or the stories of people I never met, the voices I never heard, of lives unknowable.
Take Pic Tor.
It’s little more than a short wooded walk between a line of minor limestone tors and the waters of the Derbyshire R. Derwent.
It’s a scrubby path, dog-sh_tty, and all but ignored. The lamp-posts inevitably carry broken fixtures, the waste bins overflow, the metal fence along it is broken and patched with picket fencing, itself trampled and snapped back. I’ve know the path all my life, it’s a quiet connecting route between Matlock Green and Dale Road towards Matlock Bath…
But this path, like so many paths in fact – or places, routes, vessels – GENERATES so much associative information, their very ordinariness providing a blank canvas on which to play remembrances.
Along Pic Tor I…
“…heard the voice of Mr. Wood a geography teacher opining on the formation of limestone with utter conviction and utterly wrongly; enjoyed a shiver of apprehension in slithering exploration of the dark, chill adits that puncture the Tor; experienced the thrill of the hunter as, rod in hand, I stalked (but rarely caught) fish, clambering river boulders; recalled the scutter of hands and feet in the struggle to cling to the greasy sides of the steep muddy slope that rose from the riverside path to the graveyard of St Giles on the rocks above; re-visited my great grandmother’s grave ‘Let memory be the golden chain linking us ‘til we meet again’; and remembered the countless walks to the War Memorial Cross that surmounts PicTor, it was a place of pilgrimage in the summer months after my dad’s early death; and in the decade before it had been a place of courting away from adult eyes – sex, life and death in such close proximity!”
These days I walk the same path with my children, and the memories crowd in noisily. It’s a welcome cacophony, often bringing a private wry smile and enriching my walk. We hold hands and talk, and they explore as I’d explored, and they begin to build a room within their personal portable museum of memories.