LIFE flows in curves that turn into circles. Even things that should be permanent are part of a cycle. Today I’m walking along the shores of the Duddon estuary with a dog and a granddaughter. I’ve been here before in several senses. I have no doubt the three of us will return at some point if I hold tight to the circumference and remember that Pi equals 3.142 or 22 over seven . . .
One of the constants of my life, something which dominated my childhood and now stands as a marker of sorts or an anchor and a point of reference, is Black Combe, the most southerly fell in the Lake District. I can’t refer to it as a mountain because standing at 1,968ft, or 600 metres, it is just short of making the grade. That’s assuming everyone agrees that the definition of a mountain is a hill that’s higher than 2,000ft (610m).
There was a time when people living in south Cumbria referred to Black Combe as the highest hill in the country. Then Hugh Grant made a film called The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, and that clouded the picture because it concerned a hill in Wales that wasn’t quite a mountain because it was just under 1,000ft (305m) – not 2,000ft.
But the film was complete fiction anyway, and I wouldn’t have watched it if Tara FitzGerald hadn’t co-starred. Never did like Hugh Grant – or Jeremy Irons, Charles Dance or Nigel Havers, come to that.
Black Combe has been round in a circle at least once. It is formed of Skiddaw slate, which was laid down in shallow seas during the Ordovician period about 500 million years ago. Its main constituents are dusts and grits worn down from previous land masses, with a few graptolites sprinkled in to spice things up. In geological terms, Black Combe has been around the block. It’ll probably go round again but we don’t need to worry about that.
I’ve climbed Black Combe twice – once alone and once with my father. I need to climb it again because I can feel the circle spinning. Perhaps I should take the granddaughter and the dog. I tried to climb it with my son one Christmas holiday when he was four, but we were beaten back by hammering rain. It made a lasting impression on him because now he’s a roofer and works in all weathers.
Near the base of this sand cliff is a band of red mud in which are embedded chunks of haematite ore and stones. Ore from the Furness haematite mines was shipped from this place during the early Victorian era and before, so I reckon this is evidence of an ore yard where haematite was piled, and the sand above has accumulated since. I might be wrong but I’m thinking in circles. Drifting sands plagued this area for many decades, blocking drains and yards and filling people’s homes.
One day this seam of red mud and sand martins’ nests will be discovered fossilised in a band of sandstone on the top of a mountain – or at least a high hill that might someday be a mountain. You wait and see.
The tide’s coming in and soon it will go out. One day my granddaughter might read these words and see these pictures and decide to climb Black Combe purely because things go round in circles. She might take a dog and gaze down upon an estuary that has changed from the one she saw today. She might even take me with her.