Monday 28 May 2012

Journeying with the jaggerman, by K.M.Grant

j is for jaggerman*

my mother and Muffet on Exmoor
My mother was mad about packhorse trails.  And I mean mad.  ‘Shall we go for a ride?’ was not an invitation wise people accepted lightly since it often meant upwards of thirty miles in the saddle, scrambling over unmapped hill and uncharted dale, picking over lethal bogs, fording swollen rivers, getting lost, getting found, being miserable in the drizzle or burning in the sun.  On one occasion we had to jump over a pig. The horses loved it (except for the pig).   My father did not:  Parisian restaurants were more his thing (still are).  But my mother’s madness had a purpose, which was to rediscover, remap and re-open all the trails used by packhorses over the centuries.  The alternative was to lose them behind fencing and ‘F-OFF’ signs, or equivalent.  My mother was having none of that.

singing ringing tree at Crown Point
By the end of her life – felled by cancer at 65 – there was little she, or we, didn’t know physically about either packhorse trails or the weather their users endured.

I know for a fact that it’s always blowing a gale where the Langfield Long Causeway rises to Stoodley Pike, just above Hebden Bridge; that the horse able to trot all the way from Walk Mill to Crown Point must be fitter than any flea;  that whatever the weather, man and beast are equally grateful for the watertroughs at Mankinholes; and that feeling you’ll die if you don’t get home soon doesn’t mean you actually will.     

watertroughs at Mankinholes
There was something very special about those long, rough rides.  They were not, let me say quickly, a chance for a mother/daughter talk.   My mother was far too busy gleaning information from Ancient Creatures in tumbled farms untouched since the Flood, and the going was usually too untrustworthy.
Stoodley Pike

In any case, on these adventures her horse, Miss Muffet, a sparkling brilliant creature on whom I based Hosanna in the de Granville Trilogy, was her real companion - Muffet and the ghosts of the jaggermen and packanimals whose leather or iron shod feet had, over the centuries, worn the causeway stones to treachery. 

solid going
My mother loved the tracks for their importance to the living and their value to the dead.  For the living, particularly for riders of horses, they offered an escape from the tarmac road into wild country where the world looks quite different.  As for the dead, she liked nodding to the long trails of horses, panniers creaking and bells jangling to the plodding rhythm of old-world commerce.

not such solid going
Not that plodding meant peace.  Far from it.  The packhorse trails were busy as the M6 and noisier.   From Sue Hogg’s masterly introduction to Seen on the Packhorse Trails (Thornber, 2002) we learn of trains nearly 1000 horses long regularly carrying cloth from Lancashire and Yorkshire to Stourbridge Fair in Cambridgeshire, and that the Staffordshire trails constantly rang with the thud thud slither of horses and asses hoiking coal, ground flint and clay.  Imagine the swearing of the carters.

packhorse bridge at Wycoller
Emily Bronte based Thrushcross Grange
in Wuthering Heights on the hall
I’ll bet it was pretty exotic, particularly as carts and wagons soon reduced the trails to a ‘boggy mass of ruts’ (xvii), not helped, I imagine, by the herds of sheep and pigs en route to London, or the 40,000 Highland cattle descending on Norfolk for fattening.  In 1750, who would not have rushed to see 150,000 turkeys crossing the Stour at Stratford?  And who can cross those Billy Goats Gruff bridges – arch, hump-back, saddle, clapper, clam – without sensing the scuffle and jostle of ancient hoof, paw, foot or webbed paddle? 

my mother's memorial stone
I ride the trails infrequently now, but when I do, along with the ghostly horses, turkeys and cattle I see my mother hung about with camera, pen and paper, and Muffet, ears pricked, tail clamped against the rain or riotous in the breeze.   I see them clearly but I never call out.  It’s perfectly obvious from the lick they are going that they’re far too busy to stop for me.

* packhorse driver
the Mary Towneley loop, named after
my mother
Thornber, T. (2002) Seen on the Packhorse Trails, Todmorden: The South Pennine Packhorse Trails Trust
images from the web, apart from my mother and Muffet


JO said...

What a great post - and what fun you had (except the pig).

Jane Borodale said...

I loved reading this post - your mother sounds indomitable. And wanted to know MORE about the pack trails... thanks.

H.M. Castor said...

Have only sat on (/clung to) a horse as it is led (slowly) round a field, I am in awe of both you & your mother. And what a fascinating project! I'm feeling all Flambards-ish all of a sudden...

Penny Dolan said...

What a dauntless mother - and what an interesting story. You really do give a sense of how busy these lonely trails once were. Feebly, I always find it much more comfortable to read about serious riding than to do it. Thanks!

Honestly, each day with History Girls is like an everlasting advent calendar full of small treasures. Still need to have a proper read of yesterday's post. How delicious.

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous post! And what wonderful riding! And brilliant memories of your mum.

This has just so inspired me--and I always appreciate so much when space is given to talking about a horse-drawn society and what *they* knew.

Susan Price said...

Thank you for this beautiful post. I so enjoyed it. Some of those Highland cattle were swum across from Skye, and then droved down from the Highlands as far as London. The drovers bled them, and mixed the blood with their porridge! And I've heard that the drover dogs were left to find their own way back to Skye - to save their fare on a ship!