The valley through time

For a year now he had been walking the tow path and exploring the Aire Valley between Apperley Bridge and Kirkstall, a 5 mile stretch of woodland, fields, river, canal and railway. It was part of his physical and mental recovery after the accident that nearly ended his life. While on these walks he found himself reflecting on the fragility of life and the passing of time, and the time he had left that he so nearly lost.

Over the months he witnessed the cycles of birth, death and regeneration. As winter brightens into spring the trees come into leaf, the dappled woodland changes colour, the vivid hues of the blue bells and the brilliant white of the wild garlic. On the canal, the arrival of ducklings, cygnets and goslings, frantically following their seemingly unconcerned parents. As the weather warms, at the weekends the dog and child walkers come out in force, as do the joggers and cyclists. The herons reappear, a figure in still life on the riverbank living in its moment or flapping lazily along the canal to take up its sentinel station at the tumbling weir.

Walking through the fragments of the industrial landscape, he imagined himself as a time traveller, moving through the multi-layered history of the valley. Millennia ago there would only have been the river and, later, pack horse trails. Then turn pikes followed by the canal two and a half centuries ago and, 100 years later, the railway.The towpath would have been the domain of horses towing the barges full of coal, grain and limestone rather than for recreation. The medieval woods below Calverley now hide long disused quarries and the overgrown remains of a prisoner of war camp and, nearby, the ruins of a fire work factory that exploded with tragic loss of life. He pictured the bustling camps of the itinerant workmen, the navvies digging the canal and later the railway construction gangs. He imagined the sounds of their voices and the percussion of their labour floating and echoing across the wooded slopes. Now the hum of distant traffic provides the constant background to his walks through time.

Terry Wassall
14th May 2019

This was the first piece of writing I presented when I joined the Heart reading group in May 2019.

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