My First Hike, Yorkshire, England, circa late 1960s/early 1970s

With my grandparents and brother, on the way to Greasborough, South Yorkshire, circa late 1960s

This is a difficult post to write because it needs be just right. How do you capture your first hike – at least, the one that you remember? Something there planted a seed. And somehow that has ultimately led me to Cotopaxi, Ecuador, to Kilimanjaro, to Puzzle Mountain, Maine.

It started with the bridle path from Rawmarsh to Greasborough, both in South Yorkshire. My mother is English and my father is from Alabama (don’t even ask), and as they were both English professors, we had the luxury of spending weeks at a time in England during the summers. More specifically, in South Yorkshire, where my mother’s family is from.  Another time I’ll write about the coast and the moors. This is about an old fashioned trail, in the “industrial” north, replete with stiles.

In the late 1960s, my grandparents moved to very nice council housing, outside of their original home on Clay Pit Lane, yes, that’s a real address, in a small town called Rawmarsh, outside of Rotherham, in South Yorkshire. D. H. Lawrence, coal mining, and all that. My parents were married at the Rawmarsh parish church, St. Mary’s, and that’s where I was christened.  There were any number of small villages on the outskirts of Rawmarsh – from Parkgate (home of antique shops and the tripe shop) to Upper Haugh (a collection of rundown houses, at least rundown at that time, ten or so of which made up a village for mailing purposes). Perhaps now they are all rehabbed and are expensive weekend homes for IT people working in Sheffield.

The bridle path to Greasborough, a small village by a lake, was a special walk that entailed a picnic basket, a thermos filled with tea, and sandwiches. As you can see from the photo at the top, my grandmother did it all with stockings and a skirt. And it appears I was wearing a dress! One summer my parents left my brother and me in Yorkshire with our grandparents while they attended the very first Bloomsday conference in Dublin at which my father was presenting a paper on Joyce. (This is the sort of childhood memory you have when you’re the daughter of two English professors.) I’m pretty sure the hike to Greasborough is one of the activities that my poor grandparents used to try to entertain their excruciatingly Amerrican grandchildren.

Just at the head of the trail was an old shop that in America we’d call a general store. I remember my brother and me buying candies (sweets) for the walk from our allowances (pocket money).

The bridle path itself was old cobbled bricks, running through forests and between fields. Where one field bordered another you’d clamber over a wooden stile. See photo below. As I understood it, the stiles were meant to keep livestock from crossing unwanted into their neighbors’ fields. I’d never seen a stile in North Carolina, where I lived when I wasn’t in England.

My Grandmother and me
My Grandmother and me
On the left side of the bridle path was a gully filled with beds and beds of bluebells. I so wish I had photos of them because I’ve never seen them since – at least not like that. Six inch stems with rich indigo bells of flowers cascading down. On the right of the bridle path, if you ventured off, was the old head of a mine. This had been a working world, where many spent the sunlit days hundreds of feet down mining the coal that was fueling the mid twentieth century economy. The hole into the ground looked like an entrance into some magical world to my brother and me. We just knew it was a spot we were told never to go – we could fall down and never come out. Every time we passed the hollow that housed the mine head, we always veered off to have a look.

As you continued on, you eventually reached a lake, and I believe a dam of some sort, and on into the village of Greasborough. If memory serves, we’d stop at that point and get an ice cream or something for the walk back.

In 1985 or so, when I returned with my boyfriend – ultimately to be husband – I think after we hiked the few miles to Greasborough, we caught a bus back to Rawmarsh. He was struck by the public bathroom by the bus stop in Greasborough – a stone enclosure on the side of the road, the facilities of which involved nothing more than a gutter with water flowing through it.

I haven’t been to this spot for at least 30 years. And I’m pretty sure that the last time I went, you could already see housing developments over the bluebell beds, and I’m sure the old mine head had been cordoned off and made safe from incursions of eleven year olds.

But the magic of that old bridle path – and the people who walked it all those years ago – still resonates like some chord left reverberating. And when I climb mountains, or hike in the woods, that’s the fairy magic I’m returning to.