The importance of getting out

Image by Janina Holubecki

This is a guest post from Char March, a local writer who gave a lot of support to Leeds Survivors Poetry in its early days. Char has published a lot of poetry and stories and had many plays on the radio, my favourite being ‘People Come Here To Cry’, the story of a woman (Sue Johnston) who visits a crisis centre. The poems this play is based on were published in Char’s 2011 collection ‘The Thousand Natural Shocks’

I live in a dark damp crack in the earth.  And yes, I have even started to look like a toad – all warty and wrinkly – because of the excessive rain we have had this ‘summer’.

The dark damp crack is called Hebden Bridge.  Actually it is a stunning steep wooded valley with gorgeous walks off in all directions, and a veritable plethora of excellent teashops to gorge yourself in when you get back glowing from a brisk walk on the moors.  Plus there’s dozens of splendid knick-knack shoppies to get all your gift wants for the coming festive season.  We keep winning the Best Independent Shops in Britain prize, so this town really is as special as you often hear.  And we’ve been badly hit by three nasty floods this summer, so there’s yet another reason to come and spend your tourist ££££s here!

However, the valley is steep-sided (all the glaciers stopped at about Keighley, so our valleys were cut with the massive run-off from roaring torrents as the glaciers melted).  So, on overcast days, it can feel like you’re in a tightly-lidded box.

Since I got up and walked – Lazarus-style – from my hospital bed and almost certain death (all I remember from my delirium is the consultant trying to shake me awake to tell me “We don’t think you’re going to make it through the night, so who’s your next of kin?”) I have been exceptionally keen on getting out walking again.  I grew up in Scotland, so the Great Outdoors, and in particular getting out onto the mountains, was formative to me.   So, I took it steady, but I’ve got there.  It took a few months of being bedridden and being looked after hand and foot by my marvelous friends, then a bit in a wheelchair (bloody thing!), then on two sticks, then one, and very gradually increasing the distance I could walk without collapsing, and lo, the hills are once more (12 years later) if not my oyster, then certainly a whitebait starter.

So, getting out of this particular damp dark crack in the earth (no matter how cosy and trendy and full of Reiki healers and Shamanic drummers it is) has become a daily necessity.  I go out whatever the weather – it’s ALWAYS better outside than it looks like it is from the inside!  And now, although I can’t do the mileage I used to do before the consultant shook me, I can certainly tackle all the steep hills around here no problem.

It was a real privilege for me to be Writer-in-Residence for the Pennine Watershed Project last year.  My ‘office’ was the moors from Ilkley right down to Saddleworth, and I could get onto my ‘office’ just three fields up from my house.  Throughout my year, I worked with masses of different groups who had either never been out on the moor, or hadn’t been there for decades, and I took them up there kite-flying, eating hawthorn leaves, cloud-spotting, building sculptures, writing poems, drawing, gathering smells and sounds and textures, and generally filling ourselves with wild moor air and fun.

So, get up there and try it.  It doesn’t matter if it’s foul or fair (and let’s face it, this is Yorkshire, so it’s more likely to be foul!), just get some sort of waterproof on (a bin bag will do!) and get out there, even if it’s only for half an hour.  The moors are elemental, and, I reckon, good for your spirit.

Here’s a poem from my latest collection:  ‘The Cloud Appreciation Society’s Day Out’.  It’s all about my year as Writer-in-Residence of the Pennine Watershed, and you can get a copy direct from me through my website:  or from my publisher Indigo Dreams, or, if you really want to support a multi-national that doesn’t pay any tax, through Amazon.

Nesh    by Char March

Last week they said it was cold in London.

A thin bit of mizzle brought them out

in a rash of umbrellas, much buttoning.

Up here, cold

is the landscape;

rain the absolute norm.

And no pissing about

with mizzle, drizzle, mist –

we shove through solid water,

that holds us lurching

at gravestone angles,

across Heptonstall’s cobbles;

through bucketclanking farmyards;

out onto the moor.

Our air is luscious,

alive, viscous,

slapping us awake

like a wet cod

across our chops.

4 thoughts on “The importance of getting out

  1. Thanks for this interesting post, Char will know of the resilience required to face serious life threatening illness, bravo Char! for conquering,the 12 year struggle to climb those stunning hills, My heart was with Hebden during the floods. Having experienced both major physical and mental illness myself, each with their differing incapacitating aspects was demanding, friends can clearly see your practical needs when it’s physical but not when you are emotionally distressed, Leeds Wellbeing web gives some forum for sharing what helps the contributors to stay well in Leeds and by so doing hopefully encourage others.


  2. Thank you for a touching piece with humour. Your writing is inspirational, and gives insight to the challenges you faced. Although (touch wood) I haven’t experienced such physical illness – I have experienced the emotional kind. An indoor warm sanctuary can quickly become unhealthy as thoughts whirl uncontrolably at times. Braving the outdoors in all weathers certainly helps. I’ve just been to the shop on my bike, the weather is awful – but the rain splashing in my face and the exercise was invigorating and when I come back to the ‘sanctuary’ it makes me feel more grounded. I haven’t lived in Hebden, but I’m sensitive to my environment and also feel that need to feel free and not hemmed in. Sometimes I just need a change of scenery from Leeds, a good walk in the country is refreshing. I have a bad sense of direction, and so sometimes join a local walking group which gives me the opportunity of treking far into the countryside, although sometimes it’s nice to have a quick ramble alone too. Thank you for an encouraging and warm piece. I love your poem… ‘Nesh’ – a word I asociate with the humourous banter of my late Grandad..


  3. Char is so right – when you’re actually out in it the weather’s never as bad as it looked from behind the double glazing, wrap up warm and buy some waterproof trousers!


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