Bradford & Wakefield Observer (30/Dec/1847) - Walks Round Huddersfield
WALKS ROUND HUDDERSFIELD.
By George S. Phillips.
I intend in this, my last paper, to point out several beautiful walks in various directions from Huddersfield, which, for want of time and space, it will be impossible for me to describe with anything like minuteness. I think I have said enough already, however, to make my fellow-townsmen proud of their geographical position, and thankful for their native hills and vallies. I hold it to be a matter of great importance, that a people devoted to manufactures, should have every facility afforded them for exercise, and the enlargement of their hearts and sympathies ; and in these respects our privileges are far beyond those enjoyed by the inhabitants of most other manufacturing towns. We can have exercise enough in all conscience, and enlargement enough, if we will only open ourselves to the infloodings of nature. For the hills are steep, the woods, dells, and moorlands are full of beauty. I, for my part, have so much love for nature and her mighty eloquent voices, that I am glad to leave my books and the dry discourses of antique or modern men to go and talk with her in her silence and solitude. It is like going out of Babel and the confusion of tongues into Eden and the Garden of the Lord, where if one have the ears, he may listen to angels and the Great Voice that spake to Adam, "in the cool of the evening." Most men are narrow and limited, but nature is large and infinite, and moves along with her magnificent and shining phenomena, as if there were no such little persons in the world. Nature hates our partial men and half seers worse than the blind men who see nothing, for the former put an affront upon her majesty and wisdom by their petty expositions of her laws, and are indeed altogether out of harmony with her; whilst the latter do not trouble themselves about the laws, but obey them, and so get the work of the world done without any theory about the world. So, therefore, when I see men hotly engaged in any doctrinal controversy, or anti-capital punishment theory, or whatever else may, for the time being, Bend them crazed and mad, I look into the great calm face of nature and say : Thou good old sphynx! how many such fiery smokes hast thou seen kindled in thy life time!
The truth is, that our sedentary habits and foolish civilization have made all men who dwell in cities and towns unhealthy and morbid. Nature has a great dispensing laboratory for all such persons, if they will but take advantage of it. The air on the top of the Castle Hill, for instance, would make even a misanthrope human — and all men who look upon the world as a "vale of tears," would think they had made a great mistake if they walked through the vale of Calder. For nature tells us very plainly — and has told us for thousands of years — that none of her creatures are wicked or miserable but man; and it is very impertinent, to say the least of it, for any one to carry his "miseries" and "tears" to nature, and charge her with his folly. She, however, only laughs the poor man in the face, and points to the woodland and the flowers, the bees, birds, and myriad insects around her, as the significant answer she has for him. I, however, should like to know what business a man has to be miserable ; l am quite sure if he be good and do good, he will be happy. If any one, however, can find it in him to be miserable in this best world that God has given to us, or is likely to give to us in the flesh, all I can say is — Let him be miserable! only it will be just as well — if he wish to preserve his reputation for sanity — that he should keep his whinings to himself.
Of the genus homo, class miserable, there are, I am glad to say, but a very few specimens — I wish there were more of the class beautiful, and still more of the class godlike; for it is only when these two last mentioned are combined in one human form that we can get a type of the ideal man. The mere love of the beautiful will not save any soul alive by itself, nor at all, unless it be united to a divine being, and a divine expression of that being in life and action.
It is said that this is a "mechanical age," and that men's minds are moved by wheels ; that they have become, indeed, a kind of mechanism; so that the great truth of old does not inspire them as truth, but galvanises them as "tradition. In other words, that we do not now dwell in the sphere of the infinite, but the sphere of the dynamical. And if we except the individuals and call "in the nation to give evidence, this hard judgment is true. For society "goes by law, and not by luck," and this mechanical aspect which it presents is a mere phase of its progression — one of the many developments which Protestantism has to bring forth before it shall have completed its mission. It seems to me that man is destined to triumph physically before he triumphs spiritually, and this mechanical age will pass away in good time, and be succeeded by another and a higher age, which will nevertheless owe much to this. In the great government of the world I discern a great expenditure of means to ends, and will trust Providence against the philosophers. And although I wish there were more religion and truth and less of cant and seeming amongst us, still I would not give up my birthright to live in the present age, even if it were possible, but would choose it rather than any of its predecessors. For after all, it is a great age, even though it be mechanical ; and there are, moreover, great truths thrown deep into its heart which have yet to grow, blossom, and bear fruit.
The practical tendencies of the age are, indeed, evident enough, and one cannot sufficiently admire them. How wonderful, for instance, are our public works, our canals, viaducts, and railroads! and what vast interests do they bind together. They are the highways of commerce and civilization, and speak to us of future periods, when men shall contemplate these works with gratitude and joy, whilst they are unfolding a higher and a nobler life. For whatever we may think of a given age, and whatever antagonisms it may seem to present against the holy and the everlasting, there is always an overruling wisdom at work which brings both the Dr. and Cr. account to a true balance in the end. What I have now said about railroads will not be altogether out of place to those who feel interested in the magnificent works of tins description which are going on in our own neighbourhood. The Lockwood viaduct, for instance, is one of the most stupendous structures of ancient or modern times. It bridges the deep yawning valley with its innumerable pillars and tiers of arches, and connects on either side the old hills which have seen sundered since the creation. As you look at it from the Holmfirth road, and see it stretch its enormous length of stone before you, the impression is almost irresistible that it is the work of demigods and giants. One seems to be living in the extinct and forgotten period when the Cloaca was built and the Cyclopean walls of Italy were piled up into heaven. The monstrous cuttings through the hills increase the wonder of the work — and then the tunneling! Look straight over the valley and you will see men at work, boring a passage through the hills — undermining the very town of Huddersfield itself — and thus preparing a way for trade through the primeval empire of matter and darkness, you may call this a mechanical work, if you please — which could be done in none other than a mechanical age — but I honor it as a mightier and nobler undertaking than the building up of pyramids, or the founding of monasteries in any Cuthbert's patrimony. If, O reader! thou hast seen this Lockwood viaduct slowly rising from its foundation, and assuming, day by day, a fresh magnificence, in its progress towards completion, thou hast been present at one of the creations which are fast ushering a new era into the world. I do not know a higher subject for poetry than the mechanical wonders of this age; and the poet who shall one day sing them will find them composed of far deeper elements than those which appertain to mechanics. For the poet is a man who pierces through all manifestations of human thought into the thought itself, and recognizes the great and necessary laws which keep the world in motion and harmony. To him all things are divine, and no work either of man or nature is profane or dead. Not that he looks upon evil as good, or good as evil, but because he sees that evil and good grow, as it were, out of one stem ; that evil is permitted to exist until it has answered the divine purpose, and that then it drops off the tree of life like a rotten branch, the good alone remaining. And so this age of mechanism, with its godless aspects, shall be found at last to be as truly governed by a God as the age of Paul or Luther, and will fall as silently as theirs into the divine harmonies of the world, and read as distinct a lesson to the future.
Deeply interesting it is to me, to watch the hundreds of navvies and masons who> are delving our' railroads and building our bridges and viaducts. They are making causeways into the unknown for the unborn, and laying the foundations for a new mysterious kingdom of God. And yet, if you look at them, how helpless they are in their strength! how ignorant and benighted. The spirit of the work which they do lies high over their heads, and beyond their grasp. Knowledge and truth, and the mighty spiritual empire which man has conquered from the heavens, are sealed up to them, and a wall harder than adamant divides them from these noble dominions. It is a sad sight, and full of mournful reflections. For each one of these men has a soul within him — capable of being unfolded — and of doing great battle against the colossal army of Sphinxes who sit muffled and silent upon the infinite plain of the stars. Each one of them could have won some truth there, and brought it down, like a revelation, for the instruction and guidance of his fellow men. But a hard, inscrutable destiny has forbidden it. Still these men are true, for they are workers! They can do what the higher men cannot do, and they know what these do not know. They get their consolations out of their practical wisdom, — and think — ye who have been down to the abyss and cleaved the vault of the unanswering infinite of thought — think, I say, what these men escape, as well as lose, by their ignorance! Work on then, ye sappers and miners of the Master Builder and Delver. Your woollen caps and tassels, your blue striped frocks and fustian breeches, your hob-nailed boots, your rude faces and gnarled iron hands, are all sacred to me, for there is but one God and one brotherhood.
Before we leave this Lockwood viaduct I want you to go a long journey ; even over four thousand years "of futurity. This viaduct and this age of steam engines and of fire will then perhaps have become mythic! A charge such as no man can conceive will have spread over the face of the earth. England will be a desert, and her greatness known only through the weight of her name, and the dim records of tradition and history. And yet here are you, standing between the past and the future, living not in the myth, but in the reality. Work therefore in, and for the real. Hold fast by" your eternal nature, and let the world drift by you at its leisure.
If you are now disposed to walk, you will find the Holmfirth valley as beautiful and diversified as you could wish. It is full of villages and factories, and is perhaps the richest valley, in point of commercial wealth, in England. The road, too, is very pleasant, and runs between hills and woods, flanking many deep dells, and overlooking many bright streams, all the way. Holmfirth itself is not a pretty town, but it is situate in a wild locality, and I have spent some delightful days in wandering amongst its ravines and lofty hills. The moors are about two miles and a half beyond Holmfirth, and at the top of one of the mountains, on the moorlands, is a curious building, in ruins, which is called "Cook's Study." It is about ten feet square and twenty feet high, and was built by a clergyman, an incumbent, I believe, of Holmfirth, who used to go and read there. It is at present used by the shepherds of the moors as a shelter, and there is a spring of water close to it which is said to possess valuable medicinal properties. From the hill whereon this study stands, you have, in a clear day, a splendid prospect of the moors, with the Isle of Skye in the distance. I have stood on this hill when the clouds have swept past me, charged with hail and rain, and have watched them in all their wild and wonderful transformations ; now resting on the hill tops in huge black dabs and patches ; and now suddenly gathering all their shapes into one ponderous mass of mist and darkness, they have rolled over the moors, like an army of dumb creatures instinct with a strange, weird, and awful life. Then they have been succeeded by others of a lighter and more fantastic nature, dancing, amid rainbows, and faint streams of sunshine. Not far from "Cook's Study" are the "Ramsden Rocks," which, on account of their loneliness and grandeur, remind one of Edom. Descending from the "Study," and crossing many bogs and streams on the moorland, you come to the edge of an enormous ravine, deep, broad, and savage, with a stream running below, over immense slabs of rock. A little to the left of the ravine is the gullet of a torrent, opening between two hills, and in wet weather the waters thunder down the rocks, flashing like the tail of the white horse spoken of in the Apocalypse, especially if seen by moonlight when all the heavens are bare. The ravine, as you advance in the direction of the Isle of Skye, widens, and finally loses itself in the moorland, which stretches far and wide around you, dotted here and there with little hamlets, and the lonely cottages of shepherds.
It is rather a dangerous experiment to attempt crossing these trackless moors to the Isle of Skye, without a guide ; and in foul weather it is dangerous even with one. Many persons have been lost upon them, and have perished of cold and hunger. I was up that way, however, with a friend, one fine summer's morning, and we resolved to venture at all risks. Accordingly we set off, and after clambering down the rocky sides of the Ramsden ravine, we waded over the stream and took the left hand route down the valley, walking under the shadow of the vast crags which frowned above us. On the opposite side were two stone huts, and a man was sitting before the door of one of them, with a large dog at his feet, enjoying the sunshine, and watching the sheep browsing on the burns. I took off my hat to greet the shepherd, and he answered me by putting a flute to his mouth and playing a wild sweet air, which sounded in the warm still morning like the song of an angel. We could hear him play with more or less distinctness until we reached the end of the valley, where we were obliged to strike out a path for ourselves over the moors. I shall never forget these moors. We could scarcely move a dozen yards without finding ourselves hedged in with deep moats of bog, full of black water. Often, in jumping over them, we sunk knee deep in the quags ; and sometimes they were so wide that we were obliged to seek out for a more favourable crossing place. Then we came to higher lands covered with heather, and started every now and then the grouse from their hiding-place. We passed several little villages on our way, one of which was situate at the bottom of a glen. We stopped at a neat little cottage on the opposite hills and asked for something to eat and drink, for we were tired and hungry. The good dame of the house left her spinning wheel, and reaching to the ceiling, where a number of oatcakes were hung upon a string, she took down three or four of them, and laid them on a table which was scoured white as snow : then she fetched us a large pitcherful of buttermilk, and bade us eat, drink, and be satisfied. We thanked her for her hospitality, and stepping to the door, sat down upon a large stone, that we might enjoy the beauty of the scene, as well as the oatcakes and buttermilk. Ah! we do not know how many delightful nooks there are in this district of ours. We have every variety of scenery, from the black, savage rock region — the country of Jotuns and Hrimthursar, — to the wild moors, the sunny meadows, and the quiet vales and woodlands. We have no room here, however, for description, of which I have often said how weary I am! Nor need I say more about the journey to the Isle of Syke than this : that it is full of excitement, of wonder, and of beauty. When you once reach the "Isle," as it is called, you will be awed as well as delighted with its aspect ; and if you are tired after your long wandering, you can climb the hills and gain the inn by the road side, and refresh yourself with ham, eggs, and a flaggon of "brewis," which will have quite a "Skyie influence" over you. You can then walk home by Meltham Moor, and as you sit over your comfortable blazing hearth in the evening, you can reflect with no small satisfaction upon the adventures which have occurred to you during your twenty-five miles walk. And so I wish you a good night.