THERE are little doorways in our perception of the world and they open and close unexpectedly to keep us on our toes. I’m walking through Teesdale, across a plateau of bog and heather above the river Tees, when I behold a scene – an activity – that has not changed in centuries . . .
About half a mile ahead are two shepherds herding a flock of sheep. They are following the Green Trod – an old droving road. They are driving their sheep along a route that drovers used for hundreds of years.
The Green Trod dates from the days when herds of cattle and sheep were driven through the countryside to feed hungry cities. I once read that geese were also driven in this fashion, their feet being tarred to protect them for the journey. Livestock was herded along the Green Trod and across the Pennines.
And here today, in a barking of dogs and a bleating of sheep, the past meets the present. Or does it? Perhaps that’s just my take on things. Perhaps that’s just me looking through a narrow doorway and glimpsing something that’s happening because it’s continuous and enduring. Are these shepherds part of a long tradition – or are they just moving sheep along the most convenient track?
I catch up with the shepherds and their four dogs as they cross Blea Beck. After exchanging a variety of customary greetings (Now then. Ya reet? Aye, not so bad. Now then. Now then) I discover they are driving their flock over Cronkley Fell to the northern slopes of Mickle Fell, following the Green Trod for several miles.
I skirt around the flock to get ahead, which is no easy task because the leading sheep speeds up when I speed up. It has leadership qualities and an attitude problem. Eventually, I manage to stare it out and it doubles back.
From the top of Whiteholm Bank I spy a third shepherd and two dogs climbing Cronkley Fell. The third shepherd is clearing the fell’s resident sheep to prevent them being swept up in the travelling flock. This droving operation is more organised than it first appears.
I follow the leading shepherd down the west side of Cronkley Fell to the Tees, then I sit by the river and watch the flock pass, with the four trailing dogs scampering behind and the two shepherds bringing up the rear. They continue west along the Green Trod, and I turn east along the river as my doorway in time – or perception – closes soundlessly.
And I would have ended this piece on that note, only when I get home I watch Jools Holland’s London Calling and he’s talking to Damon Albarn about church bells. Apparently, the ringing of bells is the one sound that links mediaeval London with modern London – it’s the one audible constant spanning hundreds of years.
Albarn has a collection of bells, and he’s using them on an album he’s recording. He says to Jools: “What I enjoy is being in the past and the present simultaneously.”
And I think, yeh. That guy’s found a doorway as well.
MANY THANKS to David Forster at Bluestone Images for telling me about the Green Trod droving road.