Poetry on Pule Hill – the Stanza Stones trail

A sky sodden with grim intentions. The grass-blasted upward sweep fuelled by white noise. You pulling ahead, like you always do, snout down. And the whole time – the static pop pop pop of rain on my hood. Filling my ears.

Oh aye, poetry in motion (mine and Brodie’s, heading uphill). Actually,  really bad poetry, I know.

But I was getting into the poetry vibe and making up some stuff as I trudged (walked would imply a care free demeanour) up the slopes of Pule Hill on Sunday, in search of one of the Simon Armitage ‘Stanza Stones’. My appetite had been whetted from the walk across to my Dad’s recently, when we saw the ‘rain’ piece that had been carved into some rocks next to the Pennine Way. I’d heard there was a piece up on Pule and being a local boy and also not wanting to go too far a walk I headed up there. I’ve read a fair bit of Simon Armitage’s work over the years and I like his writing. And it was actually good (perversely) that the weather was so awful.. I needed to get into a stoical mindset just in case the trip to Rum next week is in equally foul conditions.

So, we headed up the flank of Pule Hill  from the Mount Road side, not the side that is approached via a lay-by on the always-busy A62. The higher and more exposed it got the wilder it was. I was glad I had taken winter gear, the weather was disregarding the fact that May is so near! In fact it was so horrible that I didn’t want to stay too long on the top without moving – it really was too cold and wet for Brodie. Before we dropped down onto the quarry side of the hill though, I walked up to the highest point where there is one the Heritage Trail Marker Stones (#14 as it happens). I know this is a pet moan but I really can’t find a definitive guide or map of where exactly all theses stones are placed .. and why they are sited specifically where they are. Yes they all have views associated with them but I’m sure somewhere there’s a guide or key as to what each location signifies. Historically, geographically, geologically, sociologically even (industrial revolutions hotspots and all that). Anyway, no. #14 is probably a nice place to sit and look out on a drier day than we had!

Marsden Moor Heritage Trail Stone 14
Marsden Moor Heritage Trail Stone 14 – slightly blurry as taken through the cover of my waterproof phone bag.

Actually Brodie could have sat just below it for longer than me.. fixated as she was by some sheep and lambs far below us:

Dog watching Sheep below
Not sure they show – but there’s sheep on them there slopes

Back to the poetry.. We dropped down off the summit and walk north along the length of Pule Hill, along a fairly well defined path just below the impressive cliffs of millstone grit (note: will check my stone types later).

I wasn’t sure but I guessed the work would be within the large quarry area itself.. I couldn’t see it on the road-facing cliff faces  above me, so we walked up part of the rampart (where the old stone-laden trucks would have trundled down) and had a look about. When I found it I thought it was really good and arresting to see a chiselled typeface on such a large scale in a quarry.. and makes a change from the vacuous scratched greetings you normally get 🙂

Whilst I’m thinking , here’s a video giving you an explanation of the Stanza Stones project :

I really admire the skills of the carver, Pip Hall, very talented : http://www.piphall.co.uk/gallery/landscape.php 

A lot of people have been involved by the looks of it (and I hadn’t realised till I saw the video but that includes my friend Tom Lonsdale, Landscape Architect (http://www.placecraft.co.uk/).

Full details of those who have invested time and funds into the project are here : http://www.ilkleyliteraturefestival.org.uk/test/stanza-stones-key-partners/ .

And whilst I’m adding some links – one of the funding partners is Pennine Prospects. I hadn’t really come across the organisation much before but coincidentally they got in touch with me recently about the Walk and Ride festival happening in September in my region, which hopefully I’ll take part in. I like the website and the aims of it – and there’s some walks on there I’m going to make a note of. I’m not sure who did the photos on the header section but they’re great.

The umbrella group / raison d’être for the whole stanza stones trail thing seems to be the Ilkley Literature Festival and Simon Armitage’s part in that. I like Ilkley and have been to the festival in days gone by. But I’m not so sure about having the Ilkley connection both prominently and also kind of ambiguously displayed up in an old quarry in Marsden though (more of that in a minute).

The actual Stanza Stone poem installation / piece itself is tucked into the quarry, you have to have a mooch to see it. And it’s really good and ‘sympathetic’ .. e.g carved into the old stone, the poem itself evokes the winter conditions of the moors (it would read as well in a book of course but being in and off the landscape when you read it is pretty powerful). I’m all for this project and for getting ‘Art’ into spaces used by many.
And the trail itself would be a good one to do at some stage to see all the Water based poems in their respective locations.

My camera phone doesn’t really do a great job but you’ll get the gist of the piece :

Snow - Armitage poem Stanza Trail detail
The poem runs either side of this Title stone..
photo of Stanza Stones - Snow
A stitched photo to give you a sense of the sweep of the work.. the rocks to the right are on the edge of the quarry looking over the standedge area

So , a really nice idea, skilfully executed.

But .. I’m really not sold on the other installation / intervention up in the quarry.
Some new stone (I think) has been brought in to make a curved wall with an integral seat as part of it. I really like the shape of the wall / seat and it is placed at the front of the quarry so you can rest and gaze across the moors (towards Ilkley I presume.. cognitive map says yes). But it kind of jarred with me for a few reasons – new yellow stone isn’t that appealing (I know it will weather in time), it reminds of the faux stone used in housing new builds. Bringing stone into a quarry feels a bit non-green, As in it takes effort / fuel to do that? Unless this was surplus stone from elsewhere and brought in by  horse / cart (not being sarcastic .. why not?), then that would be cool. And the words ‘Ilkley 45 1/4  miles” carved onto the front of it. I know (through post-walk research) that it refers to the literature festival and the trail you can follow from Marsden to there. But an information plaque about the whole project would have maybe been more helpful. And it kind of has an element of cultural imperialism about it. Aspire to travel to Ilkely! Why not mention where more local landmarks are? Yep I know it revolves around the actual Stanza trail project and I’m being a bit bah humbug now, but it felt a bit brash compared to the poem / stanza stones themselves and a pretty unnecessary addition I think.
Moan over.
Blame the weather.

photo of Ilkley flag stone built into a wall
The incongruous Ilkley marker stone

But as for the stanza stones themselves .. I’d like to see them all.

6 thoughts on “Poetry on Pule Hill – the Stanza Stones trail

  1. Good post, Mark

    I know what you mean about lack of information on sites of installations – some years ago I spent ages trying to locate some of a series of scultures on the River Eden in Cumbria called ‘Benchmarks’ – you would think it was all ‘need to know’ stuff!! Anyway, by hook or by crook I did find ’em all. Eventually!

    • thanks Paul
      It’s poor planning at the start of initiatives.. not taking the user’s / visitors view e.g .. if someone is walking here and hasn’t got a leaflet or been online first will they get what this stone / plinth / artwork is about?
      And can they easily get a leaflet / info with a clear explanation of what it’s all about (offline or online) if they are looking to visit?
      I think with the Stanza Stones there is one that’s been ‘hidden’ or not actually detailed in the literature of the trail.. so you come upon it ‘accidently’. That’s a nice idea .. and all the others are documented 🙂

  2. That curved wall almost looks a bit too neat and tidy perhaps – not your typical farm style wall! Been years since I’ve been up Pule Hill – actually bivvied out there a couple of times. The poetry idea does seem quite nice though, could inspire me to seek some out in fact!

    • hi Chrissie, not a fan of the wall, it feels a bit like Astroturf at Stonehenge.
      Yes I think the trail is a great idea. I like the idea of a themed hike 🙂

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