Yellow flowered gorse flecks the hill as I climb up to Lyme Cage. As I reach the summit, the wind fair rips my hair from its roots. It’s hard to breathe when you’re facing the wind, it’s like you breathe but the force of a gust pushes the air back inside. It’s a drag of a hill, but the views are spectacular. Lyme Park is a National Trust site bordering three counties in Northern England.
I have a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside. In a blueish haze to the south are the Cheshire plains spreading across the horizon as far as the eye can see; so flat that I can see the brewery in Stockport and the football stadium in Manchester, Lancashire, in the distance. Only the wide red sandstone escarpment of The Edge scars the blue mistiness; it towers over Alderley Edge, a village of mischief where witches and wizards are reputed to roam its Wizard Woods.
I turn slowly clockwise to the west, there’s the track I took to get here and the main A6 road running from Buxton to Manchester. In the north and east are the hills of the Peak District National Park. The purple hue of Kinder Scout, the highest peak in the Peak District National Park looms high above the lower hills and dips of Derbyshire.
The years had shrouded my memory of the raw beauty of this place. As a child it was normal to see green hills all around. The passing of time fades the memory. I came alone. A nostalgic visit back to where I grew up. I swing around from north to east to see Lantern Wood, the haunting place of the ghost of the White Lady, with its lantern shaped building. Down in a nook in the valley below, is Lyme Hall – famous these days as a backdrop for television costume dramas.
A herd of Red Deer gather at the foot of the hill, feeding. There are no other ramblers in sight. The weather is on the change, clouds the colour of blueberries are sailing briskly eastwards. Although I am familiar with these hills, I need to move quickly before a dense fog rolls in from the plain. But there’s one last place I must visit.
Going down the hill, my foot catches in a rutting hole and I stumble to the ground. I’d forgotten the stags make these holes during the rutting season. A little shaken, I run my hands over my ankle, rotate it in circles, it’s ok. I’m extra careful on the rest of the way, but soon arrive at the park gate leading to Red Lane. The gate is tall, wrought iron painted black, and has a turnstile for walkers. Incessant barking from the nearby dog kennels starts when I bang it shut.
A canopy of trees leans towards the centre of the road, blocking out the sky. Their branches twist and bend, making aeolian sounds. It’s an eerie experience and I am their sole audience.
Expensive houses where footballers or celebrities live are dotted along Red Lane. The road leads to the vicarage and then on to farms and open countryside. It used to be a red clay dirt road but now it’s been tarmacked as part of the gentrification project.
As daylight starts to fade and storm clouds gather; hundreds of black crows settle on the fields, before scattering suddenly like a ploughman’s brisk throw of seeds. Their forms are silhouetted against the pale sky before congregating in the tall trees encircling the cemetery.
I up the pace, at least I’m dressed for the weather, a yellow waterproof jacket and walking boots. In my rucksack I have energy bars and a water cannister. I tie my hair back; the wind is fierce and unforgiving.
At the vicarage the road forks, left to the church and right to merge with Green Lane. The asphalt disappears and I veer right onto the stony dirt track which dips up and down across the top of the fields. The faint sound of a choir carries on the wind to escape the church, reaching for the hills.
Pink Wild Mallows grace the ditches, towering over dandelions and daisies. Lead-like rain drops from the overhanging tress plop on my head, I pull up my hood and press on.
Sandstone terraced houses blackened by harsh winters start to appear on the left. Moss covered dry-stone walls line the road, the top row of stones are placed in a vertical position like soldiers guarding a tomb.
‘Hello there!’ A man shouts out from his doorway.
Startled, I mumble hello back, and rush past before he can reply. His voice sounds familiar in some way.
I remember the wooden stile at the entrance to the top field, step on the bottom rung and swing my leg over the top, jumping into the field below with a squidging sound.
I feel my heart beating. A stone wall encircles the quarry. The trees have grown so tall that I can’t see the water. The field slopes steeply towards the brook in the valley. Suddenly I slip in the mud and slide a good few feet ending up on my backside facing up towards the stile.
‘You alright love?’ That man’s voice again.
I try to compose myself, but slimy red mud clings to my hands and my clothes. My eyes are half closed from the lashing rain; the mud reminds me of blood. Leave me alone, I think.
‘It’s a rum time to be up ‘ere with that there fog spilling in.’ He reaches out and pulls my arm. ‘Come on.’
I know who it is. He was there.
‘Hang on love,’ he says, ‘It’s you. Amy.’
It’s all I can do not to let the tears flow. I bite my lower lip and stare at him. It’s been twenty years. But I’ll never forget that day.
‘Aye, it’s been a good few year.’ He says. ‘Come in the house and I’ll put a brew on.’
‘No. I have to visit it.’ I reply, trembling. ‘I have to.’
‘Wait, I’ll come with you.’ He says, ‘I’ll get the key.’
When he returns, together we trample through clods of grass. Clinging to the stone wall for support until the ground flattens out as we reach the entrance to the quarry. The rain begins to ease off and a glimmer of sunshine appears from behind the bruised clouds.
‘Hey up mind that love.’ He unlocks the padlock, careful to push the barbed wire aside.
I feel a heavy weight on my chest making it harder and harder to breathe.
‘Are you sure?’ He asks.
‘Y-y-yes,’ I inhale deeply. ‘It’s ok.’
I see the tiny sandstone Celtic cross we laid there amid the flowering purple Asters with their tiny yellow hearts.
‘The wife sees to the flowers.’ He says. ‘Least we can do.’
‘Thank you.’ My eyes well up, ‘thank you.’ I drop to the ground on my knees and weep.
When I’m done, I turn to see the stagnant deep water surrounded by chicken wire fencing and barbed wire. The water has a reddish tinge. I remember, as a child, throwing stones into it, waiting for the plop, but the stone never reached the bottom.
‘Come to the house Amy.’ He says.
‘I was supposed to be minding him,’ I say. ‘He just disappeared.’
‘It was an accident,’ he says. ‘Nobody’s to blame.’ He puts his hand on my shoulder, ‘A tragic accident.’
I sniff and take a tissue from my rucksack to wipe my face with. ‘I was ten, and Leon was four.’
‘I should have locked off the quarry. It’s dangerous.’
‘I feel like it’s yesterday when I’m here.’ I say. ‘It’s painful’
‘Come on, have a cup of tea. I’ll drive you back to where you’re staying.’
We make our way back up past the quarry to the house. I feel a calm settle over me. I’ve said goodbye to my little brother. Now I can look forward to my future child.
Belgium based writer Sheila Kinsella’s short stories draw inspiration from her Irish upbringing. An avid watcher of people’s behaviour, and blessed with abundant natural curiosity, she lures the reader into a shrewdly observed world via imagery and comedy. Her work has been featured in The Blue Nib Literary Magazine and The Brussels Writers’ Circle Anthology ‘The Circle19.’ Sheila graduated with an MA in Creative Writing (Distance Learning) from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom in 2017.