Heptenstall, Tony and the Cat
Heptenstall, Tony and the Cat.
On a Heritage walk in Heptenstall my sister and I waited. Waited for our Guide to take our money and tell us all how to avoid falling on slippery tree roots.
We followed like marching ants down the streets and beyond the dry-stone wall border of the mountain village. Padding through a wooded track watching the branches skyline clouds and the brown forest floor slip down to tiny streams. Suddenly we see the Valley with its long reach wave into distant hills and he tells us about its history and how the wind shifts like blizzard sheets, once autumn comes, slapping faces, raw and shocked.
Up the green corridor of cow parsley, blue and yellow flowers to Slack bottom.
In the 1800s Slack Bottomers had it rough. A combination of bad water, no work, not much food and bad housing caused babies to die and everyone else an early grave too. I turned to you, you were walking beside me, I expressed how I would pick up my kit, if I had any, and walk the hell out of there, to Halifax or anywhere to escape the curse of Slack Bottom.
You smiled and questioned whether I would have the strength to walk all the way to Halifax and I confirmed I would, even if it killed me.
We paced up the hill to Mytholmroyd, the ground parched and yellow. The Guide told us this was Ted Hughes parents' house which, in winter, was often 'out at sea all night' tossing and turning on the Calder hills. The poor Hugheses they would have needed a good roofer and gable end cement renderer. Yorkshire is a financial black hole for weather wear and tear repairs. The tragic story of Ted Hughes and his spouses, the unbearable pain, sizzle and spit in the summer heat, falling into the green ocean.
You picked up a piece of coal from the ground which you crumbled and we both realised a mine may have been here. A mine had been here, a shanty town with men toiling like forty niners in the gold rush but coated in dusty black and lower paid.
You didn't say anything but enough to make me wonder, to make me take a breath, to make me curious. Curious as the cat they walled alive in Heptenstall church walls. Yet, somehow, I knew this curiosity wouldn't kill me it would make me seek more and put another of my love lives at risk. My lives left were in small number, I reckoned by now, and with so few left, could I risk another? We looked at the headstones in the graveyard, devastating in the relinquishing of choice to finality. So maybe one more cat's meow was due.