Saturday: a walk starting jut outside the town of Marple. This is to be a walk planned by our friend Paul, and we don’t know the route we will be taking. We’ve opted for a late start, and even setting off at 1 pm the temperature is struggling to rise above -2 degrees. By the time we leave the warm bubble of the car and set off along a wooded path, flakes of snow have begun to spiral around us. After the optimism of spring-like walks a few weeks ago, the land is frozen and silent again.
We follow the path through quiet trees and down to a small hall. We briefly explore the still bare and sleeping gardens, and press on, past a moss lined natural well and up towards canal paths and isolated farms. It’s strange; hereafter, there’s no clear chronology of this walk. Moments and places form, swirl and dissipate. I know there are pebbly, field lined farm tracks and long straight sections of canal, but I can’t join them up; they remain dream-like, shrouded in cold and swirling snow.
We visit, leave and then re-visit the canal throughout the day. There are parts that run through towns, populated by swaddled dog walkers, walking swaddled dogs. We slip through egg shaped tunnels, explore dark hollows that house mossy, rubbish strewn lock gates, discarded wrappers, broken condoms. Everywhere we walk, there are crumbling canal walls: water swollen, ice blasted and at last fallen, drifting down and lost to the canal bed. We walk the remnants of a collapsed tunnel, walls rebuilt but the narrowed water open now to frozen air. Before, or perhaps after that, we cross the top of an aqueduct, enjoying the height, the elevated view and feeling the blast of the wind borne snow. The constant snow.
Easter is late this year, but it’s already here. More ancient than its Christian assimilation, and one among many resurrection myths: the Christian Jesus, the Sumerian Inanna, the Egyptian Horus. Eostre, Ostare: the celebration of the ancient goddesses of fertility and of warming earth. It is ingrained within us, buried deep. We all of us feel the land awakening, but not yet, this year.
This is a meanwhile time. We are suspended at the whim of a stubborn slip stream, until it drifts south, we will remain here, frozen. The snow is imbued with ancient folklore, with still woods, with fur and teeth. It is silent and dreaming. It fills the air with cold pine scents, with ivy and holly plants, blood red berries, guttering candle light. It is eons old. It has no place here now, and while in its right time, it fills me with wonder, transports me through centuries, now it feels wrong. So steeped as I am in this cultural imagery, this inherited folklore, I can no longer connect. It feels invasive, violent: fresh growth withered, new-birthed lambs smothered, pressed against the hedgerows, already dead.
It seems right then that this becomes a time to look back. We happen upon an archaeological dig at a mill site. There is broken tape here and there, but no real restriction, and so we respectfully explore: here a waterwheel pit, here a cobbled courtyard, here a half excavated tunnel. Finds are bagged here and there: pieces of twisted metal and slivers of finger-thick glass. A bottle, stained but complete stands on a wall, the words “co-op Corporation” emblazoned along the side. There are trenches hidden throughout the woods, narrow pockets of time, and we spend a long time exploring them; finding foundation stones, walls, another wheel pit. I find what appears to be an excavated midden: filled still with broken ceramics, glass pieces, bone and shell fragments, filling now with snow.
We have a torch between us, and so head off into the darkness of the tunnels, finding the end of some, finding others too flooded, and us too unprepared to continue. It is a fitting and engrossing find and we explore for a while, dipping in and out of the past.
Further or earlier down the path: another dream space. We walk a poplar lined path to a cafe window on the edge of a lake. We buy hot drinks to warm our frozen fingers and sit beneath a shelter of rusting corrugated metal, the snow drifting still beyond the lip. We share our shelter with a depressed looking peacock, resplendent and shivering. I think of the last peacocks I saw in their native India, these too in the freezing hills, so ostentatious they seemed as out of place there, as here. Peacocks feature heavily in mythology: they are the all seeing, the proud, the messenger. Their feathers renew every year, and as such, in some mythologies they too have become synonymous with rebirth and new beginnings. He eyeballs us suspiciously, turns his back and stares, like us, out into the cold.
Christ, now it’s freezing. My fingers stiffen; pain begins in the tips of them and slowly spreads. We wonder to the edge of the lake to watch the few black headed gulls, the mallards, a diving grebe, and then back out into the white of the dreamscape: a path, and then, something. I cant quite remember. The land is still dreaming, waiting to wake up.