WHARRAM PERCY (a deserted village).
but more accessible to heaven
than when the pious previously prayed,
a saved-from-crumbling church shell
and weathered letters carved in stone,
are what remains above the ground.
Below, the countless generations
cry out from mouldered mouths
to ask why ancestors do not remember.
There are two ways to get here:
On a good day,
when the clouds are high
and moved by gentle winds,
from the west you’d come by Thixendale,
up through Cow Wold,
where earthworks tempt the gaze
before the hard-drawn gasps of sea-blown air,
and burning calves and heart at Vessey Hill
bring you to the chalk-strewn ridge.
The way is gentle, then.
Below, the head of Deep Dale
sinks and broadens to a flattened floor;
a spring creates a cloud-strewn pond
and this, in turn, tumbles to a crystal beck.
Here, the solitary church
seems quite incongruous,
for nowhere within sight
is any dwelling left
from which a congregation could be drawn.
The way is easier from the east.
A path made hollow
by the trudging feet of years
and flanked by hawthorn,
still white in June,
and cow parsley and buttercup,
slopes gently down before White Hill,
whose open folds stir
curious, deep-seated memories
that emanate the age of earth.
Here four springs converge
and must be crossed,
for better or for worse,
before the lost, once-welcoming haven
meets the wondering gaze.
How many soles have walked this path?
How many souls have passed
on their last journey to the grave?
Many more than there remain memorials
to mark the dreadful truth
that once men’s lives
were valued less than sheep.