Cheesden Valley Through The Seasons

The Cheesden Valley is my go to place when I need to wind down. It's situated in the Rossendale Hills in Greater Manchester. A few years back I discovered a strange quirk of nature: a babbling chronograph.

Half way down the valley the brook has cut into a midden which holds the detritus of a hundred years of occupation. The valley is wild and empty now, but it once housed several mills and a terrace of workers houses.

From my diary on a day of mudlarking and discovery:

My walk takes me up and along to Scotland Lane, a muddy track that skirts east to west. I've been told that Bonny Prince Charlie hid here when fleeing back home. There have been times in the past when I ran all the way up to this point to make sure I catch the sunrise, where I’ve had to stop for respite, sucking in gobs of air, trying to steady my hand on the tripod and camera.

Sometimes I’ve arrived too late along the lane and thrown up the drone

Sometimes I’ve arrived too late along the lane, just one hundred meters from the perfect vantage point. Then I’ve thrown up the drone and captured the sunrise from my premature spot. It feels like cheating.

Scotland Lane Through The Seasons:

But, today isn’t one of those days. It isn’t a jaw-dropping sunrise - it’s a soft tinted, mottled and misty affair. There’s a sense of being in the atmosphere, rather than apart from it. The coziness is heightened for a brief moment by a triangle of geese flying beneath me in the valley just a matter of metres away.

Before I descend to goose height and into the Cheesden Valley, I instinctively look out for the chimney at Washwheel Mill rising up from a leafless copse. I can just make it out through a thin veil of mist that’s clinging to the valley bottom. The chimney is the lodestar of the valley - it can be seen from most vantage points. I fear the day it won’t be there.

The lodestar of the valley: the chimney at Washwheel from the packhorse route

Part way down, as the mist starts to clear, the hill opposite takes on the shape of a comfy hat with a russet, auburn and bronze weave. I walk past the mill and start to climb again, along a packhorse route that hugs the side of the valley and then descends into Deeply Vale. I love this road. It’s scoured and scrubbed into the hillside with its edges defined by bony hawthorn.

The floor is layered with history. Tiny flecks of patterned encaustic tile tell of the hustle and bustle that this valley once witnessed. I can imagine it now: 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 Washwheel chimney shadow points to the packhorse lane

I pass the ruinous remains of the former mill at Deeply Vale. Inspite of its industrial gait, it feels primeval. I think that it’s because of the decay; its inevitable succumbing to nature. The complex shapes and forms are dissolving. They look elemental: shrouded and softened by moss and lichen.

The remains of Deeply Vale Mill
Deeply Vale Lodge

As soon as I reach the bend in the brook where the midden lies, I can see that it’s changed its course once again. The embankment keeps collapsing, revealing more of the midden. I spot a cluster of bottles on a fresh collapse, they look as though they’ve been birthed from the earth bank. One bottle still has its contents intact. Then a women’s leather shoe and some lustre-ware; a clay flagon for ginger bear; a Hoe’s Sauce bottle and the base of a jar of Springfield potted meat from Southport. I spend an hour sifting.

Sifting through a century of material culture
The Cheesden Brook and the midden
...they look as though they’ve been birthed from the earth bank
Potted meat from Southport

Then, on the way home, about fifty metres away from the midden, I notice some white bricks cast in the centre of bovine slurry. I make my way carefully over. They are ceramic - more than likely for a utility room. I turn around and realise that I’m besides the backyard of the former houses. Part of the wall remains, beside a lengthy rise of moss covered stone, hog-backed with self-seeding trees. Perhaps the owner of the shoe I found earlier lived here eating potted meat with a dash of hoe’s sauce, washed down with a glug of ginger beer.

It’s all gone now, the life in the valley is shrouded in moss.

As I leave the valley I hear a sideways call like a squeaking door. A deceit of lapwings circle around the remains of the terrace and then move on over the midden to Deeply Hill.

The Midden

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