22.03.2012 - 04.04.2012 22 °C
Returning to ones home town at the halfway point of a 100 day circuit around the planet is an entirely different experience to that of a one off visit. Its almost as if the experience of travel sharpens the power to perceive ones surroundings with a greater clarity and a sharpened sense of perspective.....and I regarded the place of my birth through the eyes of a traveller.
During the extremely short planning phase of my journey , my major determination had been to truly experience each and every place I was intending to visit. Including Harle Syke , the village of my birth .
Im not going to say much about the History of the village...except that at one time it was the epicentre of world cotton production....with no less than 11 Mill chimneys thrusting black and proud and belching prosperity into the Lancashire air. Now only two are left...but Queen Street Mill remains a working museum with the old Mill steam engine "Peace" still proudly operational.....driving the shuttles across looms which helped England become the pre eminent textile producer in the 19th and for much of the 20th century. The Prince of Wales opened this museum in the mid Eighties and its well worth a visit.
It is not this industrial heritage which captures my imagination......Nor is it the solid stone terraced houses...once soot blackened...now proudly maintained and neat as ninepins as they gather in rows down the slope from the twin Pubs and the clock tower of Haggate.
It is the countryside surrounding that draws me...and has to be seen to be believed...challenging the rest of the planet in terms of attraction.
I had purchased a book on the subject of travel writing and before I conspired to lose it in Argentina I managed to cover a couple of chapters . The most important communication was that the writer....to truly do justice to his subject , must open all 5 senses to his experience, and allow his intuition to carry him the rest of the way.
What I saw reinforced what I already knew...the village of my birth is and will remain one of the most beautiful destinations on the planet, and whilst this is my third visit in 14 months to Harle Syke....regardless of the season I treasure my visits here . Not only because I get to spend quality time with one of the worlds most beautiful women....my Mum Ruth.... but also because I am able to catch up with the two girls I grew up with...my beloved sisters Jackie and Jillian and their families..always a great pleasure and a privilege ! considering how busy these ladies are .
I love this place.
This is where the whole shooting match began. My formative years were here.....I took my first steps..tickled my first trout......kissed my first kiss...savoured my first pint...kicked my first football into my dads arms...ran my first run.........all within the confines of this fair parish.
My persona developed here and the ghost of the young Paul Neary is never far behind as I bestride the moors breathing deep the sweet sun kissed spring air whilst the young lambs find their feet in the greenest fields you will ever see,fields nourished by the muck which is spread at this time of year ,the fragrance of which hangs characteristically bitter sweet .
He smiles as I shank my golfball down the sloping tree lined Nelson Golf Course fairway where I used to steer my toboggan when the snow kissed the grass......as I pass the house where I began my life's journey..Then as I walk at dusk across the newly refurbished reckory football pitches ( a sloping arena during my school and Harle syke United days) It calls to mind some of my early sporting triumphs .....alongside players of the calibre of Stanworth , Eastwood, Atkinson,Parker, The Hill brothers , Waterworth and Smith. Warriors in arms !
These are the men I grew up with...and I count myself fortunate that most of them remain friends.
Mick Stanworth and his awesome wife Mel have a permanently open door when I return home.......they are even understanding of my pathological fear of locking in plans ahead of time and are happy to accommodate me at a moments notice. My journey has been such a moveable feast this ability is priceless...so thanks once again for your wonderful hospitality when needed!
Every time I return here I make a point of repeating the training run that the old boys of Harle Syke United used to do when we (infrequently) trained on a Tuesday evening. Five miles and a bit from Harle Syke through Haggate...down through Cockden.....up and over the exquisitely green hills through Roggerham gate...tipping my hat to Boulsworth's round ,fat ,bracken covered slopes......over the fringes of Widdop moor...past farm buildings that were old when Captain Cook first sailed into Botany Bay.
Pendle Hill...the shape of the witch clearly visible on her breast in the blue distance on my right as I stretch out my legs down the hill into Worsthorne....close by Edmund Spenser's cottage.......and touch the back wall of the Crooked Billet pub before turning on my heels and back the same way.
I have been running this route since I was 15...some 37 years....( I am pleased to report that my times remain reasonably consistent with those of my late teens).....yet it is not only for the physical benefits of a challenging run that I continue to ply this route. Quite simply it is in my opinion the most beautiful tract of countryside on the planet...and appreciated all the more because of the infrequency of its enjoyment.
It is during these runs that whatever ragged spirituality lurks within me emerges with new vigour and I feel closer to whatever eternal power rests beyond the borders of my comprehension.
There was moreover a quite unintended symmetry in play here as this latest visit corresponds almost exactly with that point in time when I had spent equal periods of my Fifty Two Years in England and Australia . This commands introspection at the very least and with the whole country wearing its best clothes In this beautiful warm spring weather I contemplate what I left behind in 1986 , and what I left behind was great beauty, brilliant people, a wonderful loving family....the friends of my youth (managed to squeeze in a mini school reunion this visit with the class of 76 ! Thanks girls )...the best Beer in the world....Burnley football club.....tripe.....black pudding and my heart.......which lies buried somewhere beneath the split peat sods at the peak of Boulsworth...under a blue Lancashire sky where the Lapwings dip and soar.
England still remains the country of my birth...Im proud to be British......like most countries on the planet it is not without its fiscal and social challenges but its beauty is unmatched and unchanged and will be here long after all of us are gone.
As I write I am within a stones throw of the perfect, turquoise curling surf of one of the finest beaches on the Eastern seaboard of Australia .....The hill on which I am perched clad with the characteristic majestic pines and gums of the region......Parakeets and Kookaburras visit my sun deck.......the sun shines here...... Australia remains in terms of Lifestyle and opportunity the finest destination on the planet and calls my heart with the verve and excitement of a new lover. I have more chapters to write here.
When we were boys Mick Stanworth, Ian Eastwood and I were thick as thieves . Back in those days Harle Syke reeked of the "old Lancashire" and Old "Sykers" Like Metcalfe Atkinson (Met) and Septimus ( I forget his last name...we called him Sep) strode through its Cobbled streets in clogs ,green gaberdine overcoats and Flat caps...a living link to LS Lowries famous Lancashire landscapes.
In slight awe and with a degree of reverence to these icons of our youth we made a boyhood pledge that when we were old men we would don the requisite clogs, caps and overcoats and continue the tradition.
See you in another 25 years boys !! My shout at the Sun inn.