“Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
This is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.”
Standing on a high hill in Clitheroe, north east Lancashire, I cling to these lines of Alfred Edward Housman as I am brought suddenly to the brink of tears by this, the most beautiful memorial to the fallen of the Great War I have ever seen.
In fact this whole hill, a limestone outcrop above the town, is the memorial. Purchased from the landowner by the townspeople in 1920 to remember their dead.
It’s common now to hear the Great War described as a waste of time and human life. A squabble between all the related crowned heads of Europe that went gruesomely out of control, often being described at the time by those in the trenches as ‘hell with the lid off.’
Well those in the trenches didn’t know what the judgment of history might be. They were doing what they’d been asked to do. Fighting a war to maybe end all wars. Fighting so the children, and the children’s children, could live in peace. And I’m grateful and endlessly respectful to them for doing that. So every time I see a memorial I stand before it quietly and remember what they did.
This then is the story of a day spent in peace. The peace they gave us, the fallen of 100 years ago.
Sarah has been working hard all week, like most weeks, caring for the bereaved families she works with and helping them say goodbye to their loved ones. She loves her work as an independent funeral celebrant but finds it essential to her own well being to have days off and days out like this one. A day to simply be. To do quiet, ordinary things like explore a small town, drink tea and watch people passing by. A day at peace.
It’s a small Norman castle from the 12th Century that was in use up to the Civil War of the 1640s. At the end of that war Cromwell’s victors blasted that hole in the wall to put the castle out of future military use.
Soon we’ll go down and a have a look at all of these.
Apart from having days out like this one, another thing Sarah does in time off from her work is run a blog called ‘Monkey Puzzle Meanderings.’ Where her eventual aim is to catalogue all of these ancient trees, with the help of ‘Agents’ who are spotting them for her. Just a few months in her catalogue already contains 150 or so trees, from all over this country and beyond. And it’s growing all the time, to her great delight.
That’s right, they’re catalogued in order of their finding by post code area. This being the first of 4 ‘monkeys’ we’ll find in the wider Blackburn area today. Much, much more about this monkey over on Sarah’s blog.
We walk down the hill to the town.
To Isabel Robey, one of the ten ‘Witches of Pendle’ slaughtered 400 years ago by the superstitious local nobility. Ten of the many, many thousands of witches killed across Europe in those times.
Admiring a serpent would have been enough to cause suspicion of witchcraft of course, so we move on.
I reflect that though I like football and always want to know how Liverpool and Everton are doing, international football and the World Cup leaves me cold.
In this one they even tell Sarah about another ‘monkey.’
Looking for afternoon tea possibilities I spot these Lancashire Favourites in the chippy window.
All well known things around here, as you’ll see from the links. The last two would even suit vegetarian me. But no. We go to a tea shop.
From one of my favourite nonsense poems when I was growing up. Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’:
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.”
We sit here for a good while, at peace. Noticing how well dressed many of the people are for their Saturday afternoon in town. And though it must have been tempting to pedestrianise the narrow streets over the years, we’re glad they haven’t. The slow moving traffic makes it feel like a proper market town.
Turns out it’s old English for ‘strong ladder’ or ‘strong stairway’. Also turns out it’s been given this name as part of a modern day ‘regeneration project’. More than a few locals apparently think it’s ‘claptrap’.
I always like to do this. Sarah calls it ‘beating the parish bounds’ – as indeed I am.
Wonder if they call them alleyways though? Everywhere seems to call them something different.
Finally we reach the parish church, seen what seems ages ago from the high hill.
A peaceful day then, in a lovely place. And as we leave the quiet church yard, where people have been buried and remembered for centuries, we both think of those other locals, memorialised up on the high hill, who never came home.
Knowing now, from Sarah’s work and our own lives, the importance and comfort of funerals, we feel some of the pain of the families of all the Great War fallen. Many lost altogether on the battlefields and none of them brought home.
For reasons of expense plus the damage to morale of so many bodies arriving, the governments of the day decided to bury everyone near to where they fell. Hence the grief that found its expression in so many memorials. In this case, the whole hill dedicated forever, to the fallen who never came home.
Thank you for our day off. Our day of peace. We remember you.
Liverpool Central Library has recently bought this glorious book of photographs of where the soldiers from all of our countries are buried. We’ve got it at the moment, but it’ll be back in there soon if you want to see where they all are.