The Beck Stone

New Year’s Eve with dusk turning to night quickly, Ilkley Moor. There’s a lake in the quarry caused by recent heavy rain. Who could resist walking through it with wellingtons on?

Strong wind has pushed our walking and climbing party back to cars, carrying younger explorers back to the warmth of Granny & Grandpa’s. George, as usual wants to walk down. I do too. So do others, but I get to go which is good as it’s a wonderful half hour or so. He is full of conversation and loves bouncing off up offshoot paths and through trees, the route familiar and variable with pinecones and stones to gather on the way. I love the sense of space to walk and talk, and to be quiet together from time to time.

Each time we’ve done this walk lately we’ve sought out the Beck Stone. To reach the stone requires a short detour from the path, up from the Troll Bridge, through the bracken and then down and across the beck, a fast-flowing stream that plunges off the Moor. 

We reach a large stone engraved with a poem. Part of Simon Armitage and Ilkley Literature Festival’s Stanza Stones project, Beck follows the water here from its inception as ‘a teardrop/squeezed from a curlew’s eye’ to ‘the full-throated roar at it’s mouth’. The poem is beautiful, none more so than when we read it aloud, by torchlight.


Reading Beck by torchlight at the end of the day

Afterwards we pad back to the route down to the cattle grid, talking a while of the poem, and water, before returning to today’s obsessions. It is quite dark but the time we reach home, the orange streetlights seen from the Moor now close up and, if not offering warmth, welcoming us back from wilder territory.


It is all one chase.
Trace it back: the source
might be nothing more
than a teardrop
squeezed from a curlew’s eye,
then follow it down
to the full-throated roar
at its mouth:
a dipper strolls the river
dressed for dinner
in a white bib.
The unbroken thread
of the beck
with its nose for the sea,
all flux and flex,
soft-soaping a pebble
for thousands of years
or here
after hard rain
sawing the hillside in half
with its chain.
Or here,where water unbinds
and hangs
at the waterfall’s face,
and just for that one
stretched white moment
becomes lace.


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