I’m visiting family in England and, as always happens when I’m back here I find myself tramping the same highways and byways that I tramped as a kid.
When I’m in Newcastle I call the water channel that runs down the centre of the Styx Creek “the beck”. It’s a northern word of, I think, Norse origin. This, below, is the very first beck I ever played in, got wet in, made dams in: it is the proto-beck against which all other becks are measured. It has a name, Blea Beck, though I never knew that until I was well into my teens and I saw it marked on an Ordnance Survey map. To me it was just “the beck”.
I crossed the beck every day, then scrambled up this path behind Harry Barker’s squawky, stinky chook sheds, on my way to the school at the top of the hill. God knows what sort of state I must have been in when I arrived.
If you look at the first picture of the beck you can see a dark patch that my iPhone hasn’t been able to focus on properly. Here’s that patch but close up. It’s where the beck’s been boxed in or channelised at some point in the distant past, and so you could say that this is my first ever drain.
One afternoon, in about 1971, me and a friend set off into the dark maw with a torch and wellies that were quickly swamped by the deepest parts of the beck. Sections of the roof were collapsed and it was very exciting (read stupidly dangerous). The first inklings of my desire to sneak around watery places, to go to places I shouldn’t!
The beck leads into the Duddon Estuary. The house where I grew up – where my dad still lives, where I’m sitting as I type this – overlooks the estuary. The low hill in the background is Black Combe and its profile is embedded in my DNA. Many, many hours were spent following Blea Beck down through dales (rows of fields marked out in furlongs) to this estuary, hours of playing in the brackish water where the beck met the tide.
This day, Black Combe had a covering of cloud. Which is a not uncommon event, I have to say.
But it’s gorgeous, whatever the weather.
It’s where it all began for me.