“That would make a good title,” he said as we watched the flock of birds swimming across the surface of the hidden lake. We had failed miserably at finding the chambered cairn of Five Wells and the prospect of a speculative climb in the chill, showery weather had not been too appealing; the resident we had asked about the site had seemed unwilling to talk about it and we had both thought back… way back… to Children of the Stones.
We had, however, found Fin Cop… not that it was easy to miss, you understand, with its looming presence. We just needed to be far enough away to be able to identify it as it is so big. On the other hand, the elusive footpath was not forthcoming here either. We had turned down a lane marked Priestcliffe, an intriguing name by any standards and been met by another likely looking hill with a hawk hovering beside it… always a good sign. Following the road further the sign had said there was a well dressing in Blackwell, a tiny hamlet you would miss if you blinked.
We parked and headed off in the direction indicated by a hand drawn sign to a well that seemed to be in the field at the bottom of a garden. A chair held a donation box and leaflets and there wasn’t a soul in sight. Rounding the corner, however, it seemed we had timed our arrival perfectly as a small group of people clustered round the vicar in the corner of the field. They looked towards us expectantly, as if they were waiting for us… they weren’t of course, but it felt rather weird walking towards the curious, smiling faces. The late arrivals arrived a moment later and we joined the al fresco congregation for the well blessing service.
This was the Black Well that gave the village its name. It was another of those gifts… a tiny hamlet, an ancient well hidden in the corner of a field and a vicar who began with a prayer and a short sermon on the lilies of the field passage that accords so well with what we teach about living in the moment. The service was short and beautiful. We had no qualms about joining with them as they blessed the trees and fields, the wells and the animals… it was a perfect, if slightly surreal moment. Speaking to the vicar later it transpired that Taddington was also in his care, although he had yet to see the beauty his parishioners had created for the well dressing there.
The petallers were there, of course… the three women who had created the picture from petals, seeds and moss, continuing a tradition that transcends time as much as the service had transcended the illusive barriers of faith, and we were invited back to the house for tea and cakes, with typical northern hospitality. We did not join the group, however, as we still had a lot we wanted to do. Turning the car back towards our destination, we were finally granted that unmistakeable view of Fin Cop. If we could find a way up it was going to be a hell of a climb!
We stopped under its shadow to investigate a footpath… going the wrong way, but nevertheless… we found an unexpected treasure; a watermill with rusting iron wheels and a mill race green with moss. Following the path to the weir, we found where the race had been dammed. It is a lovely place and the square miller’s house by river Wye, far from any other habitation, would be an ideal place for me… We can all dream sometimes. Yet the green canopy, the silence and encroaching vegetation also give it an air of strangeness in its abandonment.
Following the path we saw a herd of young bullocks; an unusual silhouette, they looked as out of place here as the highland cattle had looked the day before, seeming more suited with their adolescent angularity to warmer climes. Then the river opened out and we found a lake teeming with ducks.
We stopped and watched them for a while, playing in water that reflected the vivid green and as we reached the far end of the lake we finally got a glimpse of the sheer scale of Fin Cop. My companion braved another field full of bullocks to get pictures before we turned back. We still needed to find that footpath… and it was getting close to lunchtime. The sun was bright once more and this was thirsty work… and the pubs would be open…