Saturday, 14 October 2017

To Malham and Back

Birthday treat
As part of my 57th birthday celebrations, Sally took me to Malhamdale near the source of the River Aire. I’ve been before and I hope I’ll go again. It’s one of those places once seen never forgotten – whether you encounter it first on the big screen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – or whether like me you were brought here by Geography teachers in mass groups of teenagers to be amazed at the clints, grikes, limestone pavement, sink holes, rocks galore and the realisation that the planet is a heaving, living, destructive, beautiful force of nature.

Malham Cove
It’s at the top of Malham Cove that Harry and Hermione rest and try and figure stuff out. The colossal waterfall that once poured over the top of it is long gone, but the sight of the curving cliff, from below, from above, from the sides and from afar is a wonder of the Yorkshire dales. Enough to make a Muggle marvel. Priest Thomas West in 1779 described Malham Cove as like “the age-tinted wall of a prodigious castle.”

Malham Tarn
No less weird is walking to and around Malham Tarn, the glacial lake which seems to sit like a spooky infinity pool in a flat patch of desolate moorland. An atmospheric place to sit in the rain among the sheep shit and eat your sandwiches…. tasty. Charles Kingsley was inspired to write The Water Babies after visiting the Cove and Tarn – child chimney sweeps forever rejoiced.

Janet’s Foss
As a teenager Janet’s Foss was my first sight of a waterfall in real life rather than in the pages of an Enid Blyton book. And on this trip we happened to visit twice – the second day after torrential rain the night before and the bigger volume of water made the magical place seem like a completely new location. Does a fairy queen live in the cave behind the fall? Is the pope a Catholic?

Gordale Scar
And the other oft-visited place is the terrifying ravine, Gordale Scar. It’s somewhere to visit if you want to feel insignificant – a crack or chasm in the crust of the Earth with humans staring up at the immense cliffs. On our Geography Field trip – back in the 1970s – the teachers led us UP the Scar which is still possible when the two waterfalls are not heavy but at my age now – and having been a teacher – it just seems to be such a reckless, dangerous, impossible thing to have done. But I know I did.

Beck Hall Hotel
After two days hiking (well over 20,000 steps each day) it was gorgeous to come to rest each night at Beck Hall, a gorgeously-sited and whimsical place to stay over a clapper bridge. A fireside snug, jigsaw/games table, hearty food, welcoming staff, a comfy bed and the sound of Malham Beck running by all night, having poured down from the Scar, over Janet’s Foss, through Malhamdale and joining the River Aire to flow back home through Saltaire.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

To Infinity and Beyond

Boldly going....
Bradford’s National Science + Media Museum
Guess what’s on display at the Science + Media Museum in Bradford? It’s the final parachute and the small (savagely-burned) Soyuz capsule that brought Tim Peake back to Earth in June 2016 after his six month mission to the International Space Station. The capsule is remarkable – it looks ancient, it looks small, it contained three crew members! You can take a selfie in an astronaut suit and (book to) experience a Virtual Reality descent to Earth wearing goggles, guided by Major Peake. The display has already been to London and will be going to York, Manchester, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. If you can’t make it to Bradford (between now and November 19th), then try and catch it elsewhere. It didn’t take long to see everything in the display but it filled up my imagination for many days.

"The smells of Earth are just so strong"
Tim Peake’s mission covered a distance of over 100 million kilometres and orbited Earth around 3,000 times. The pictures he sent back for publication were incredible and made a mockery of the ephemeral political intricacies of the human race. Asked how he felt after landing, Maj Peake said: "Truly elated, the smells of Earth are just so strong, just so good to be back on Earth. I'll look forward to seeing the family."

Into the stars
I’m still on a breathing space break from writing my YA trilogy after finishing Book One Draft One but, if I haven’t mentioned it before, I’ll reveal that it’s set on another planet – over a thousand years into the future when Earth has had to be abandoned. I feel confident that I’m writing speculative fiction rather than fantasy because the Tim Peake/Soyuz display and follow up research convinces me that humans could survive on a number of planets in the universe. If we rechannelled the money we spent on arms and weapons of mass destruction to the exploration of outer space we would soon be giving our future destinations names. Maybe one could be called Rhenium like the planet in my book…