Today I went to Quarry Bank Mill at Styal. Can well recommend it, although for non NT members it’s not the cheapest of days out; anyway, driving along the A34 I thought about driving, briefly; I used to work in the Cheshire countryside and part of my working day was the drive to and from work. Only 13 miles, but through beautiful countryside. There are several routes and I explored them all. Towards the end of my H’s life it lifted my spirits to see the scenery around me. In the weeks after his passing I would take his car and drive. Anywhere. Just point in a direction and go, listening to all kinds of music. It helped, not just to be out of the house, but to be out, alone, driving.
I have since discovered the joys of walking but the two are quite similar, to me....in a way, the drive to a destination seems more significant than the arrival itself; walking and driving along a route seem to sum up our journey through life. I do my best thinking while walking...and yes, when driving; in the days when I did such things, I wrote my sermons and intercessions in my head while walking. The steady tramp, tramp, tramp of walking lends itself to logical thought. I will often take a circular route of some length, and by the conclusion I will have also reached a conclusion to my thinking.
I love the countryside; I love this country, full stop; and I hate seeing swathes of green areas dug up and replanted with horrible matchbox houses and new tarmac roads....and yet, I also enjoy driving along a decent stretch of road. I discovered the new Alderley Edge bypass; it badly needed one but all the same, it’s sad to see the area lost to it. That said, the embankments on either side have been planted with fine grass which is already well established. Not a haven for wildlife, but at least it’s green. There is some significance to me, of roads, that stems back to my childhood, although I have no idea why. I do remember poring over maps and imagining the reality of the areas on them. As an adult I learned to read them properly and now I get a great deal of pleasure just reading Ordnance Survey walking 1:25000 maps and being able to visualise the lie of the land. Sad, but each to his own.
Quarry Bank itself was fascinating; the machinery is still working and still produces cloth; the factory is still partly fuelled by an enormous iron water wheel which is enclosed within the building – something that was new to me; previously I’ve seen waterwheels on the outside with a mill race, but this one is at the base with water from the Bollin River running through it. Damp must have been a problem. Hearing loss must also have been a problem. Children from 9 years of age worked long hours in an appallingly noisy and dusty environment, six long days a week. Sundays they were expected to walk to church and back. It was regarded as a clean, and presumably, desirable, place to work....to this 21st century woman it was just a depressing thought. No real prospects, meagre earnings, a life shortened by hard labour; hmmmm.....we have it so easy now.
These people were part of the basis for our modern capitalist society. I am glad that we have a record of their way of living, so that we don’t forget them, and that we realise how bloody lucky we are to be born now, rather than then.