Saturday, 9 November 2013

Colour in Autumn

Finding Religion 
Prolific colour in autumn
  I've noticed that I seem to inspire a lot of my friends spiritually: Dan was a mate who was a bit religious before we went on a hike over Bleaklow, a hill in Derbyshire. When we got back, compared to Dan, the pope was an atheist. I seem to have this evangelistic potential. I have a recurring picture in my mind of the J.S. lifeboat saving countless struggling souls from the surface of life's stormy sea. Meanwhile, squashed deeper into my semiconscious is a haunting, faded picture: It is of someone looking remarkably like me pushing them off the cliff in the first place.

      The plan was to leave the car at a place called Lady Cross, on one side of Bleaklow, climb up Black Clough to the top, wander across to Bleaklow Stones, then drop down to the Snake Inn via Doctor's Gate and the short length of linking road. Then we'd do it in reverse.

      We completed the first part, had a beer in the pub and ate butties surreptitiously withdrawn from paper bags on our knees under the table (the landlord was always snotty about having to buy the food from them). Then we set out to retrace our footsteps back to the car. What could be simpler? you ask. Well, as it turned out, the discovery of D.N.A. would have been a doddle in comparison.

      The weather had deteriorated while we were in the pub and a thick mist descended by the time we got to Doctor's Gate.

      "We'll need the compass in this fog", said Dan and, to keep him happy, I obliged by searching through my pockets for an implement I'd never possessed.

      "Oops", I said, "seem to have forgotten it. Doesn't matter though, all we have to do is follow the stream to the top, then wander across to Black Clough and follow that down to the car. It'll be a doddle".

      If I ever get round to compiling a book of famous last words, 'it'll be a doddle' will feature prominently.

      Two hours later, having followed one stream up, and then walked down the other one, we found ourselves in vaguely familiar territory. This familiarity was explained when we found a sign, leaning drunkenly and informing us that we were back at Doctor's Gate. We had walked in a circle on the top. By our reckoning, to walk back to the car by road was about fourteen miles and it was only six if we tried again and went over the top, so we decided to have another bash at it.

      Heavy rain  set in as we followed the muddy track along the stream. Looking back now, I think the map may have been faulty, because we followed the stream as closely as possible but didn't end up where we should have. The moment of truth came when the stream had dwindled to nothing and we were walking through a thick wall of mist in the direction we deemed would lead us to the top. All semblance of a path had long since disappeared and the tufty grass had given way to ten foot peat cakes iced with heather. The rain continued in a deluge and we seemed to have walked a lot further than the map thought we should have. In addition to this, it was fast going dark and we were probably miles from civilisation. Dan had gone strangely quiet.

      At this point the storm started. we'd heard it rumbling in the distance, moving closer. Now the thunder occurred almost simultaneously with the lightening, which seemed to be forking into the hillside at an uncomfortable proximity and with frightening frequency. I turned to say something to Dan, to find him prostrate on the streaming peat.

      "Get down", he screamed "lightening strikes things that stand above the ground". I looked down at his now black face and decided that frying was preferable to drowning.

      "Come on", I said reasonably, "it's passing over now. See, the rain isn't as bad".

      As if in reply, the mother and father of all bolts of lightening sizzled to extinction at what appeared to be a few yards distance, accompanied by a crash of thunder which deafened me for a few seconds. My hearing returned with a low drone and I thought for a moment that it had been permanently affected. I needn't have worried, the drone was Dan going through the Lord's Prayer. There may be a bit of a tendency to laugh at this but I didn't, because it worked. The blinding flash of light had momentarily outlined something ahead of us through the mist.

      "There's a post over there", I said excitedly.

      Joe muttered something and I bent to hear properly.

      "Give us this day our daily....."

      "No, you don't understand. I reckon that where there's one post there's probably another, marking the top of the ridge". I said this on the basis that our old ordnance survey map had a line of dots going along the top of Bleaklow. There was nothing to show what they were on the key, therefore they must indicate posts. Got to be. All we had to do was follow them.

      Dan rose slowly and dramatically to his feet like something  Hammer Horror would be proud of.

      "I can't see a post", said this apparition, "you've got a thing about posts. You hit 'em in boats, you hang on to them in lakes, you're a lunatic, you are" (for those stories try this and this).

      His voice was cracking and I could see that he was going over the edge. He always had been a bit highly strung. It was at this critical moment that another flash of lightening illuminated the landscape in front of us.

      "Bloody hell, there's a post over there", said Dan. I don't know what I'd have done without him.

      And here I'm going to end this tale. Suffice to say that we managed to follow the posts to safety, albeit miles from the car, and spent the night in a barn. I heard a few more comments from Dan which I didn't know were in the Christian lexicon and I haven't seen him since. Perhaps I'll outline the rest of the journey in another blog.
Strange winged stems of Euonymus alatus
      A plant which could have been useful in this trip up Bleaklow is Silphium laciniatum, also known as the compass plant. It comes from the U.S. and the flat sides of the leaves always face east and west. Apparently early settlers were able to travel in the dark by feeling them, so perhaps Dan's blood pressure would have benefited from their presence. However, a more seasonal gardening subject is that of autumn colour and one plant which never fails to come up with the goods is Euonymus alatus:

      Unusual for its winged stems, this is a shrub which can reach 6ft high and can spread as much as 10ft. A more compact version, perhaps better suited to the smaller garden is the variety 'Compactus', which only reaches 3ft high. Readily available in most garden centres, it originated in Japan and China but is well suited to our climate. A friend in the north of the Lake District has one in his garden and the fact that it came into colour at least ten days before those in the Manchester area (some eighty miles south) gives an idea of climate difference over a relatively small distance.
Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum)
      Another import from China and Japan, this time much bigger, is the Katsura tree - Cercidiphyllum japonicum. Ultimately reaching about 45ft in Britain (147ft in its native habitat), the foliage changes from bronze when young to orange, yellow and red in autumn. When crushed, the leaves smell of toffee apples or candy floss, depending on your sense of smell. Although it is related to the tulip tree and Magnolia, the flowers are nothing to write home about, being red but minute.
Cercis siliquastrum (Judas tree)
      I used to have difficulty telling the Katsura from the Judas tree, Cercis siliquastrum, which has similar foliage also turning yellow in autumn. Then I noticed that the leaves are usually borne opposite on the main stems, whereas those of the Cercis are alternate. In flower, there is no confusion, because the Cercis has showy pink (occasionally white) flowers arising from the bare stems before the leaves. It was said to be the tree Judas hanged himself on - hence the common name.
Callicarpa bodinieri giraldii 'Profusion'
      Autumn colour can come from sources other than leaves and this is epitomised by the beauty berry, Callicarpa bodinieri 'Profusion', a shrub which can reach 10ft in height, with a spread of 8ft. This has small pink flowers but it is the berries which are its main attraction: a dark violet, they are borne as the leaves begin to fall and, especially on a sunny day, stand out in glorious celebration of autumn. Apparently they are very bitter, so the birds leave them alone unless absolutely desperate and they last well into winter. Cotoneaster, and Pyracantha, on the other hand, are bird magnets which, in my book, is a different kind of advantage. Horses for courses.

      For more on autumn colour and how it works, visit this link


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