Huddersfield Chronicle (12/May/1894) - The Monster Oak, Fixby Links, and Grimscar
THE MONSTER OAK, FIXBY LINKS, AND GRIMSCAR.
(From Our Correspondent "Cid.")
I have a standing invitation to Fixby Links. My friend is a well-known and able exponent of golf, and I have on several occasions availed myself of his kindly courtesy. This time I take Bright Eyes with me and am soon at Fartown. To a Huddersfieldian, Fartown is ever suggestive of football, racing, cricket, and manly games. The winter game is now, however, as dead as Queen Anne, or, perhaps, I ought to say suspended, as only the English Rugby Union can suspend anything. There may still be sundry backyards and open spaces where paters engage their off-spring in a life and death struggle for tries, drops, penalties, and goals, and are worsted by the boy internationals and quickfooted droppists, who outwit their clumsy fathers at every point. These individuals have no more fear of nor respect for the suspending laws of the Medes and Persian Rugby Union, than if that body were composed of old women. Fartown reached, true to the golfing instinct, we go in a zigzag direction to Fixby. Passing the Grammar School we, like a boy in a train, want to look on both sides at once, and the crossings and re-crossings performed before Netheroyd Hill Road is reached, are uncountable. There is now a rich profusion of beauty about, while the air is full of sweetest perfumes. I catch a glimpse of the Belle Vue at Sheepridge, and the thought strikes me that, when they get the trams, it would be a great relief to many if the two-legged residuum of New Street and Buxton Road could be taken there, or the Workhouse, and locked up from 6-30 p.m. to 10-30 p.m. on Sundays. After a good stiff pull Netheroyd Hill is reached, and then some lovely scenery is visible. Spring has put her best garments on, and the gardens to right and left give promise of reward for love's labour. A party of men and boys are playing at marbles, and remembering one's youthful dexterity in the ever delightful game, one feels tempted to have a go with them. We, however, march on up Lightridge Road, and have the pleasure of sweet full breaths of newly-upturned soil, which are very refreshing. Passing a peaceful farmstead where beauty is at her toilet in the open air, we might well be startled by the Monster Oak, close to the road, which is glaring at us, its stumpy arms outstretched, and its maw gaping widely, while with its gnarled and knotty eyes it looks like a hobgobling. It is a wonderful tree, indeed, I doubt whether Huddersfield or it was born first. Many generations must have passed away since it swayed in the breeze as a sapling, and the eyes that have gazed at it since must be innumerable. What a marvellous story it could tell if one could but understand the language of the trees. What tales of love in the lanes, what joyful words of endearment, what prattle of children beneath its branches, what warbling among its boughs it could reveal to us. It might also tell of strifes and terrible threats, vile plottings, and wicked designs. It is an extraordinary tree. I notice two boards nailed to it, presumably with the object of telling trespassers they will be prosecuted, &c., but they for shame have wept their warnings away. If the owner of this tree were a Yankee he would make a fortune by advertising it and charging for the sight of it. I inspect it and find that it takes 12 good strides to go around it. I also find it to be completely hollow. A family of six might stand inside, and if they were acrobatically inclined at least a dozen might stand one another's shoulders before the highest looked out of the top. Can it be that in the early part of this century, during some dreadful storm, the fire of heaven burned out its heart of oak? It is both dead and alive. One half is budding, while the other has had its day. Its sturdy branches are mostly broken close to its trunk, while its interior is worm-eaten and slowly decaying. It is a marvel of ugliness ; a knarled and frowning object. It must in the shade of evening have frightened hundreds, and made even the brave hesitate and feel flesh-creepy. When covered with snow it is a ghastly ghost, in leaf an uncanny spectre, while in the late autumn it is a monster of shapelessness. Don't miss this old tree. You have no need to trespass as you can almost touch it from the road, I while its surroundings are charming.
I have no sooner emerged from the yawning oak than a cuckoo flits by and emphasises its identity by cuckooing for me. It is immediately answered in every direction, half a dozen sending forth their double notes in rivalry. We are now in the fields and Bright Eyes has made me a bouquet of whites and yellows before I have time to guess what she is about, and she is as quickly in pursuit of a butterfly. The chase soon becomes fast and furious. She no sooner fancies she is about to capture it than it has eluded her and is laughing at her discomfiture from the wood beyond. Undaunted, however, she bounds over the wall and is lost to view, and when I reach the dell she is revelling among bluebells, wood anemones, and yellow mary-buds, heedless of the terrors and penalties of the law. There is here a harmonious monotone of insect life and song. The robin trills its little heart out in ecstasy, the thrush and blackbird top the chorus,, the chirping plaintiveness of others beats time, and wood pigeons join in, while a couple of pheasants over the way "cur, cur," their bright plumage glinting in the sunlight and sparkling in the shade as they disappear in the hollow. We enter the park and are soon gathering the flowering greens out of a crystal stream which shows in its meanderings the varied properties of a full-sized river. It has the same windings, eddyings, bubblings, swamps, waterfalls, is full of life, is fed by babbling springs, carries on its bosom the fallen leaf, has its floating duckweed and cresses, smiles in the radiance of the sun, and reflects the clouds as they sail over it. Forgetful that I have gone to see a golf match, I waste my precious time in binding up the beauteous gatherings of Bright Eyes, when suddenly a white ball drops and rolls in front of us. At a distance a variegated company of ladies and gentlemen, youths and maidens, is advancing like an attacking regiment, and before I have well grasped the situation I am surrounded by greybeards, the prime of life, youth blending into manhood, and the greater charm of nascent womanhood. Off we go to the bottom of the park, led by two fine specimens of male humanity, who are armed with play-clubs, long-spoons, mid-spoons, short-spoons, baffing-spoons, driving-putters, putters, sand-irons, cleeks, and niblicks or track-irons, with attendant caddies who carry the clubs and the tees or balls. To play the game well requires long practice, and few attain to great excellence who have not played from their youth. Still anyone may in a year or two learn to play fairly well, so as to take pleasure in the game, and for all who have once entered upon it, it possesses no ordinary fascination. It has the advantage over many outdoor games of being suited both for young and old. The strong and energetic find scope for their energy in driving long balls, sometimes over 200 yards at one stroke, but the more important points of the game, such as an exact eye, a steady and measured stroke for the short distances, and skill in avoiding hazards are called forth. In addition to the muscular exercise required, there is a mixture of walking which particularly suits those whose pursuits are sedentary, while the locale of the links is generally on a breezy common, and under circumstances which make it far more beneficial than those unacquainted with golf imagine. I notice that all are greatly interested in the game. The players are evenly matched, and their putting and driving are seen to perfection, while strength, accuracy of touch, and the judging of distances are remarkable. Away we go. I soon realise that I am shoulder to shoulder with two magistrates, and involuntarily think of my past misdeeds and wonder how long I shall escape another and more solemn acquaintance with these able and well-known administerers of the law. I, however, find them men like myself. Indeed, were it not for the frost of age their erect and lithe figures would suggest youth in its blithesomeness. Thus on we go the links around. I at once find myself as interested as anyone, and also passing remarks about the game with people to whom, under ordinary circumstances, I should not have dared to move my lips. What a grand leveller common interest is. Golf is a wholesome and healthy game, and one wonders why it has been so long in settling in Huddersfield. It has at last come to say, and no better or brighter place could be found for it than Fixby. The first round is finished and we start on a second. It seems to be the duty of all to see every stroke and put made by the players, and though by diverging from the track one might cut off a quarter of a mile, still none cross over, until I, being lured astray by Bright Eyes, who has found a large daisy of extra beauty, lag behind. This turns out disastrous. I am spotted by the man whose duty it is to spot strangers and intruders, am found guilty, and firmly shown the way off the links. After the first surprise I regain my composure and, by a few diplomatic questions, engage the man in conversation, and having some knowledge of farming I deftly draw my accuser, and in a few minutes we both forget that I have no business there. I have him telling me the price of stock, the prospects of the season, the pedigree of his cattle, and their qualities in quick succession. Wanting refreshments I find his farmstead near, and instead of being brought before the magistrates, who are with the golfers, I find myself before a bench of eatables and drinkables. Refreshed, I keep the footpath this time when I re-enter the park. The scene from the knoll is worth going to see, while the larks sing here as they sing nowhere else. They have a fuller tone, a richer harmony, and more lengthened notes than I have noticed elsewhere. In fact, when a youth I was so charmed with them that I never think of larks without thinking of those at Fixby. I verily believe that the present songsters there are the lineal descendants of those of my boyhood's days. Resting on the wonderful root of a tree, while Bright Eyes dances and rolls upon the springy grass, I am delighted as she is joined by a group of innocent, merry-go-round children, who enjoy themselves as only children can. Again we move onward. The pathway is so wide that it is difficult to find a beaten track, indeed it seems all footpath, and what is better there are no "keep off the grass" boards about. The pathway is all grass. At ease with myself and the world I fully enjoy the fresh and breezy air. I am, however, very soon convinced that there is danger even in golf. Cries of "ball, ball," ring through the air, and before I have time to realise their meaning a white bullet whizzes past my ear, through a group of half-a-dozen others, and ends its course against one of the rails protecting a tree, making a report loud enough to be heard throughout the park. If it had struck me I doubt whether I should have been writing this. I involuntarily put my hand to my head, and wonder what impression would have been made on my cranium if it had received the blow instead of the wooden stake. What I liked amongst the golfers as much as anything was their gentle and kindly treatment of the boys who attended them, and the happy responses of the lads. Yet, if you want to fully appreciate golf, you must see two ladies play the game. Dressed in the proper dishabille they are charmingly picturesque. You will find there is no mistake about their being interested and rivalrous, and to see two ladies interested and rivalrous is the most interesting sight on earth. I leave them a thorough golfer in theory if not in practice. Here is a park, unlike Greenhead and Beaumont, with nothing but the ground for a seat. You have to pass through no file of sprawling, grinning, prurient youths and silly, giddy ninnies, who monopolise the seats in the town's parks, nor be forced to overhear their senseless and disrespectful remarks. Before you leave the links don't forget "Faith, Hope, and Charity," the triune sycamores. Seen at a distance they are truly three in one, and are as lovely as the virtues they represent. It will puzzle you to tell which is the greatest, and probably you will conclude with me that they admit of no comparison other than of the superlative. Before you pass the gate turn and fill your lungs with the breath of life, and you will be sure to be thankful that there is such a park as Fixby near your town.
Don't forget to have a peep at Fixby Gardens as you pass to the high road. Just now you will see a profusion of blossom in all the tints and hues that nature can show, and you will have breath of perfume, so delicate, so rare, and so sweet. Along the highway you may feast your eyes with a landscape worth going miles to see. As you proceed you will find springs in the middle of the road, and if you want to see bubbling beauty bend over them. You will then notice a thousand pearly pebbles boiling and dancing themselves away in the perpetual motion of the water. I call to see mine host, and find him as merry and chirpy as ever. The subject is stock, and I soon know the history and the price of cattle, how to make a good bargain, how to be taken in, where there is a good filly, a capital mare, a thorough-bred he will back against the world, and the prospects of the district generally, as well as have a taste of excellent liquor. As I leave he is singing "I love Jesus," and he completes the verse before I am out of earshot. This reminds me of hearing "Jesu, Lover of my soul" in an hotel on the opposite hill and also of hearing a victorious football team on their way from Fartown singing "Rock of Ages," the man who was holding the cup lustily leading the rest. This must sound strange to those who refuse to admit that any good can go in, remain, or come out of a public-house. There are worthies who speak sternly of that evil thing the juice of the grape, and even of the amber wine of malt ; and in order, I suppose, to remove "evil" out of the way of poorer men, they kindly get hold of as much of it as they can well afford, and hide it away in big bins under their dwellings. Setting your face towards Huddersfield there is another treat for you. If you are ever near Grimscar, don't miss that lovely place. It is the essence of beauty, of quietness, and of comeliness. Seen when May has all but hid her sombre underclothing, it is a veritable paradise, so shielded, so calm, and so serene. The bridge among the trees is a fit place for lovers. It might well be called the Lovers' Bridge, as I rarely pass the place without seeing a couple who act as if not one could see them. On this occasion, however, Bright Eyes and I have it to ourselves, so we lean over the parapet and watch the stream gambol, see the wild flowers return our recognition, and note with what gladsomeness they offer us their lips to be kissed. On looking round, surely enough, there is a couple close beside us, billing and cooing, lost in each others eyes and conversation, regardless of our presence. We may go or stay. They have come to stay. We are the goers, so away we march on both sides of the road again, finding new wonders and new beauties everywhere. At last we see the tram and of course run as if there would not be another that day. We are several minutes too soon and have plenty of time to reflect how foolish it is to hurry from the Place Beautiful.