Mental space on Ilkley Moor

On Sunday I went up Ilkley Moor, alone. I brought with me my headphones, a laminated map, a smartphone (with a waning battery – eek! ), water and some dark chocolate. I was in search of something, a feeling, a deep whole body breath, maybe something I can’t put into words. I needed nature and to walk. I needed air in my face.

Until that point I’d had a strange weekend, hadn’t slept too well the night before, I instinctively felt I needed to move and ‘get out of the flat’. En route, I popped into Booth’s café, Ilkley’s posh supermarket, for a cuppa, a map read, and a pause. I was feeling slightly apprehensive, as I was going to be walking alone and I don’t have the greatest sense of direction and of course, I was lacking Zzz’s from the night before, but, still, I was enthusiastic.

I parked at the Cow and Calf, which are the rocks on Ilkley Moor, there is a free carpark here. The Calf rock is a stand-alone boulder next to the larger formation, and I knew I needed to walk to the right of that. The thing is I walked WAY to the right of that. Before I knew it, I was lost. I wasn’t too anxious as at this point it was only early afternoon, I had plenty of hours to go before I needed to set off the flares (which I didn’t have) and panic about spending a night on the Moor. Eventually I asked some fellow hikers to point out my location on the map. Somehow I’d walked right over to Keighley Road, which was in the opposite direction of my planned route! At least I now knew where I was, which was a big relief.

It was a beautiful walk from there on, with the anxiety of being lost now clearing from my mind, I started to really appreciate my surroundings. I walked alongside purple heather, with birds flying around, dipping in and out of the flora, under a big cloudy and blue sky. Hardly anyone there, just me, and the odd person running.

I arrived at the 12 Apostles, the remains of a stone circle, and took a breather. It was refreshing and the huge space seemed to help soothe something inside of me, and also give me a feeling of mental space, I felt peaceful and at one with something. It felt like a big refreshing cleansing breath.

I realised that perhaps, now, it wasn’t too sensible to continue on with the original route, I had lost time by taking the ‘detour’ which meant there was less time to complete it. I was alone, had little mobile battery, and couldn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t get lost again and it was nearing 6pm. So I headed back to the carpark and arrived safely.

We are lucky in Leeds, we have many places to walk nearby. I can’t rely on my sense of direction, but I factor this into my decision-making, I know my weaknesses. If you have a map and set off early enough with some safety supplies the risks should be minimal. It’s empowering to walk alone but it’s also nice to have company, and if you have a dog, well that’s a no-brainer! 🙂

I’m really glad I went.

Meanwood Valley Trail, the view of Almscliffe Crag and an Owl.

Since Lockdown began, ironically,  I think I have walked more in North Leeds then ever before.  I’ve also been adventurous in finding new routes.  I do wonder why I wasn’t doing this before? Maybe life was too fast – at least in my head, as fast as the cars on Otley road – which also seem to have slowed down.

I live close to the Meanwood Valley Trail, yet had not really explored it that well, until now.  The trail starts at Woodhouse Moor and meanders through Meanwood Park, alongside the beck and small waterfalls, meeting Seven Arches and ending at Golden Acre Park. It’s a 7 mile linear walk, though you can walk it in little sections and create your own route.

Image: Seven Arches aqueduct which was built in 1840 to carry water from the Eccup Reservoir to the City Centre via Adel Beck.  Leodis Photographic Archive of Leeds.

The trail is absolutely stunning, especially at this time of year along with lovely weather, clear blue skies and chirpy bird song.  I’m still amazed that countryside and woods, so beautiful,  are so close to a city. I moved back ‘up north’ from London years ago and still don’t take for granted how green some parts of Leeds are.   The scenic journey to Otley from North Leeds, provides a stunning vista which includes the iconic Almscliffe Crag, it’s a favourite of mine and it never fails to take my breath away.

Yesterday, when walking back I heard a ‘screeching’ sound coming from a tree, it was so loud and piercing, almost human-like.   I peered up into the tree and to my delight I saw an Owl looking back at me!  This, in the middle of the day.   I felt in awe. Wow.  I mean WOW!   I am wondering if something had disturbed him? Another bird perhaps?  I have never heard a sound like that before, it wasn’t the ‘twit twoo ing’ I sometimes have heard at night.

I’ve had a look on the internet for ‘owls’ and I think it may have been a ‘Little Owl?’    Could this be?  Any bird spotters out there?

I think I am living ‘in the moment’  a bit more,  in lockdown.   I’m noticing more, and paying more attention to nature.

I know we can’t all access the trail, but nature can be found everywhere.   My friend saw a fox in Armely last night by the light of the moon!

Waterfall in Meanwood Valley Trail, taken in 2016 by me! 

Mental Health Awareness week 2016

MHAW16 logo 300x300

This week is Mental Health Awareness week. For anyone who is often emotionally/mentally less than well, it’s a useful time to reflect on how the annual event might help.

Well acquainted since childhood of the shaky mental health of people close to me, and then subsequently my own brush with ‘breakdown’, I might as a result, claim to be ‘aware’. I try to remain mindful however ,that there is much to learn from the experience of others.

Disclosing aspects of my episodes of emotional/mental ill-at-easness feel like a risk ,but one I usually take. It’s also an opportunity to reaffirm that it’s just one aspect of my life experience, and one of which I’m not ashamed.

Frequently, and especially this awareness week, I find myself still reflecting on the ‘language’ the ‘powers that be’ would label the experience of emotional/mental ill-ease, and I assert that emotional response is an appropriate one in a ‘world gone wrong’, and therefore not necessarily a treatable behaviour. It’s useful to remain aware!

The theme of this years awareness raising is relationships. The organisation Mental Health Foundation have a lovely set of free downloadable logos which highlight the different aspects of the value of our relationships, see here

May is also National Walking Month …..strolling with friends new or old is an ideal way to build on any existing relationships , or make new ones. Here is a site for some walking suggestions. Often times people with a common interest just meet up informally , and within our group we’ve been privileged to do that. You can read here about one such occasion.

I lead a sedentary life for most of the winter months but usually get motivated to restart some brisk walking in April. Spring was late this year so getting out seemed harder but May blossom was my wake up call to ‘move it’, as was my good neighbour’s invites to join with her for an occasional walk after work……a welcome gesture.

In an age when relationships appear to be increasingly carried out in cyberspace, and many irrespective of age report feeling isolated, I find the physical proximity of relationships ever more important. Perhaps this week is a good time to think over ways our relationships might be mutually rewarding.

Cheers, Sue


Wellbeing of walking


I was recently diagnosed with diabetes.  One of the things I have to do to keep it under control is walk for half an hour day.  I’ve not been much of a walker for years and so this is a bit of a challenge for me!  My friend and fellow Leeds Wellbeing Webber Su is a big fan of walking, so I interviewed her about this. We sat outside the Abbey Inn pub that borders Horsforth and Bramley and took some photos of the area.

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Many people, if not most, get into a habit of not exercising and have little motivation to change this.  What would you suggest to overcome this Su?

I do struggle with motivation.  Sometimes arranging to go with someone else is enough to focus on doing it, or convincing myself that I’m really not fit and listening to my body. I need to just get on and do it and dedicate myself to it. A practical thing I do is to write a large memo as a prompt and place it somewhere prominent as a reminder that I want to get out of the house and walk.

People often say walking is the best exercise and can raise your mood.  What is your experience of this?

I think that is absolutely true. And there are benefits to walking with other people, for companionship and safety.  I did have a time where I dedicated myself to doing it everyday. I’d do it without headphones and music, take a notebook because solutions to problems that seemed insurmountable would kind of float to the surface as you’re walking. Kind of like meditation.  If you’re doing it by yourself, you can enter into that state.

Where and when do you like to walk?

Because there isn’t always someone to go with, it has to be local.  That’s Leeds 13, Bramley.  When I’ve felt fitter, I have walked from Bramley to Horsforth, across the boundary, the river and canal.  That’s a nice long walk.  I like Bramley Fall Woods and Bramley park.  There is a fabulous view from there.  I like Half  Mile Lane, which borders Bramley and Farsley.  Going further afield, Roundhay Park and Woodhouse Moor are pleasant.  I attend Leeds University and the campus is an enjoyable place to walk, it includes Saint George’s field.

Have you always enjoyed walking?

Yes it was very much part of my upbringing.  We always walked to school, I walked at least four miles a day, to and from Primary School. I always walked to work.  But I’m not a hiker or country rambler, I find that hard nowadays.  I walk to the shops and town.  I keep in mind it should be a daily activity.

To summarise then,  motivation can be improved by having a walking companion, using prompts to focus, walking can help you to think more clearly and gain insight into any problems, Walking is an opportunity to enjoy nature and it’s scenery, it is the best exercise and helps raise your mood.

Daniel Tavet

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.

Urban Walkabout

Sheepscar sky, end of April

I don’t really have much idea what native Australians mean by the term walkabout, but for many years walking around in the city, with or without a destination, has been something that has really helped my peace of mind. Walking places means you have time to think. A friend of mine was once banned from driving and lent me his car for six months. I kept arriving places too soon, my mind still in the last place I’d left.

A couple of weeks ago, before the rainy season, I walked back from St.James to Woodhouse. The air was charged with something special, a kind of promise.

All quiet on Holborn Approach

There was still a little late Spring bite, but leaves and blossom were out or nearly on cherry trees by Thomas Danby. One of the most interesting bits of sea or land is the beach between them, and of the day when it’s just arriving and leaving, like that eve. The city seemed open like the future – exciting, dangerous, for better or worse full of the new…..

Sheepscar sky, early May

Two weeks later I did the same walk, same time of evening, and it was completely different – different light, different feel. The city’s like a beach – you never know what will wash up on the shore of your experience when you walk through it.

Woodhouse apocalypse