Out in Cheesden there is a track deep cut into the hillside which arches the distance between a brace of mouldering Regency mills sat within the valley basin.

It’s a route that has drawn me in for over a year: a deep gouged passage, scuttled with flecks of patterned encaustic. It curves and rises through the landscape, a snaking repository of two hundred years of subsistence in a valley cut by glacial waters ten thousand years ago.

It’s barely discernible against the faded hues of winter - a darkened line obscured by hawthorn skirting and intersecting its border.

It has been the bony fingered hawthorn that has kept me company amidst the culling of the light on the darkest winter days.

Feral they have become, now that we have shunned their bounding, purposeful intent.

In the winter it’s as if they’ve reacted to our diminishing patronage with rage...

...but in the spring they blossom with joy at the breaking of their shackles.

It might be that the roots of this tree of myth and mirth, this symbol of death and life, knew the warmth of the hands that cut this track. It might be that it benevolently harboured the activities of the road within - a working tree, like a sheep dog, cheek by jowl to human enterprise.

Time-lapse the valley from above for a year, and for a brief May flash (like the revelation of a branched owl by midnight lightning) the boundaries and trackways of our blossoming wants and needs are divulged. It’s as if, for a fleeting moment, the landscape has been embossed with a memory of endeavours gone by.

Cob’s saddled with textiles, heads down, hocks bent, clawing their way in the sun-baked clay. Immigrant workers from another distant county, with families in tow. Scouring liquor slopping in barrels, sidling along the humped foundations of the hedgerow. Carts laden with stone for the chimney at Washwheel. White streaks of lime dissolved into the rutting before its slaking.

The hawthorn is the only surviving witness to the hopes and fears, the prophylactic, evil-warding bottles and bones, the manure and detritus trod into that ground.

This fickle looking bush, bent to our will throughout the land has a mystical taboo that lies deep within the well of human consciousness.

Even in an age plagued by the rational, and not knowing the why and wherefore of it, it takes a brave soul to plant one in their garden, and an even braver soul to keep a blossoming branch within their house.

The Cheesden Valley is lodged between the border of Bury and Rochdale in Greater Manchester.

The Cheesden Valley is lodged between the border of Bury and Rochdale in Greater Manchester.

Andy Marshall

is an architectural and interiors photographer based in the UK.

Link to: The Hovering Place

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