By John Bromley
Walking towards Nab Hill from a south-easterly direction at first felt like passing through a bland landscape without an obvious end point. But, looking around, the area is criss-crossed by old tracks used for passage between Halifax and the Worth Valley. Some paths, presumably, were used between places of work, farmsteads and homes. To the left-hand side on Ovenden Moor is the captivating sight of a large wind farm.
Reaching the 450 metre summit of Nab Hill is a final and stunning surprise: – views northwards across Leeming Reservoir, into the Worth Valley, to Upper Airedale and, in the hazy far distance, the Dales.
The north-western slope of Nab Hill holds additional surprises with several curving stone cairns and a shelter which with its bench seat and views was comfort against the scything wind and cold temperature. All the structures are pleasing with their unique graceful ‘presence’ in that location, as well as being a tangible manifestation of human skills.
Having taken up dry stone walling as a hobby in 2014, – working often with poor uneven stone in different parts of England and Wales – I was, frankly, very envious of the stone around Nab Hill. It has a fine grain and regular coursing which, apparently, makes it excellent for roofing slates.
A further surprise, – even more unique – is one of the six Stanza Stones, the rugged repositories of poems written by Simon Armitage; spread from Marsden to Ilkley across the South Pennine watershed. ‘Mist’ is the carved poem at Nab Hill and along with the other Stones what he now thinks are ‘part of the Pennine furniture’.
After my packed lunch and a warm drink in the shelter I tentatively ventured out to find ‘Mist’ on its nearby ‘double page’ slab. The words on the stone match perfectly the terrain as well as the damp atmosphere that surrounds it for much of the year. References to ‘drawing its net curtains around’, ‘its fibreless fur’ and ‘its milky breath’ convey the idea of being enveloped by the damp subtlety of mist, which condenses to water, enters the soggy moorland and eventually drains into several embracing reservoirs.
Stanza Stones is a great concept, borne out of a collaboration between Ilkley Literature Festival and Simon Armitage and linked to the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. The poems were carved onto substantial pieces of Pennine gritstone by Pip Hall and apprentice carver, Wayne Hart. Pip in almost poetic words has referred to the ‘coarse texture and undulating contours’ of the stones. Landscape architect Tom Lonsdale was responsible for the locational planning and organisation. The background story of this epic creation is told in a beautiful illustrated book. Stanza Stones has stimulated much other creative activity such as writing, dance, film and photography. In Tom’s words: ‘… everyone I asked thought the project a peach’.
Following my visit I was intrigued to learn more about the area. I found a report of a survey undertaken as part of the Watershed Landscape Archaeology project, into the history of quarrying activities around Nab Hill. Looking at Ordnance Survey map OL21 for the South Pennines I was puzzled by the reference to ‘delphs’ all over the hill but found from the report that this is the local name for small quarry excavations. From the process of ‘delving’ also came the trade ‘delver’. A subsequent book, ‘Riches of the Earth’ is an overview of the Nab Hill survey, and of similar surveys undertaken on Baildon Moor and Todmorden Moor.
Looking south from Nab Hill and within a quarter of a mile is Warley Moor Reservoir. I remembered that I had first got to know the area in the 1980s when for a short period I had acted as crew member for a friend who sailed an Enterprise dinghy on the reservoir, which amongst locals is called Fly Flatts. I would guess most of the other dinghy sailors, were oblivious to the small settlement that had existed between the hill and the reservoir to accommodate the quarry workers and their families. Looking down today from Cold Edge Road it is possible to see some slight undulations in the landscape indicating the remains of the old buildings. Knowing that on warm evenings with little breeze the damp landscape can be clouded with biting insects I do not envy the people who in the past had to live there and perhaps explains why the settlement was called Fly.
‘Stanza Stones’, (2017), Enitharmon Press, Simon Armitage with Pip Hall and Tom Lonsdale.
‘Riches of the Earth: Over and under the Pennine moors’, (2011), Pennine Prospects