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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, August 18, 2006
    Over Booth Wood
    I woke today deciding that I was going to do some off-motorway exploration about 45 miles away; why 45 miles I don't know. Too much Bill Drummond in my head, perhaps. A grey, rainy and - on the hills - misty day suggested the destination: Moss Moor, the highest point of the M62, the highest point of any UK motorway, a wild place sculpted by extreme weather.

    I'd planned to walk the bridge which carries the Pennine Way over the motorway and which marks the Yorkshire - Lancashire boundary. But the fog was thick on top of Windy Hill, and the traffic heavy with vehicles pulling off the M62 to avoid a tailback caused by an accident above Scammonden. Consequently I twice overshot the parking place to set me on that walk, so decided in the end to leave that for another day. Instead, an expedition under, over and around Booth Wood reservoir and Scammonden Water, two of the area's many artificial lakes supplying water to the villages and conurbations of Pennine Yorkshire.

    Scammonden Water was drained lower than I'd expected, for it was certainly wet up there today. But though it is everywhere, the water seems like the secondary flow in this isolated area. The flow which dominates the sights and sounds of these high moors is that of the motorway. I got enjoyably soaked wading through wet high grasses and along muddy tracks to get some pictures of the scene.

    Above: an isolated farm in the lee of the motorway, washed with wind, rain and - above all - the constant sound of thundering vehicles. This farmhouse stands at the easterly point where the two carriageways rejoin. The Motorway Archive reports that this moorland stretch of the M62 'was built on geologically creeping side long ground and each embankment had to be anchored and benched into the underlying sandstone base. This called for separation of the carriageways over three-quarters of a mile which fortuitously enabled Wildes farm and buildings to be retained together with several acres of rough grazing. Access tunnels were provided under each carriageway for maintenance of the Water Authority catchwater, which also provided access to the farm.'

    This breaks the myth about a curmudgeonly Yorkshireman refusing to give up his land; how many times I have driven that stretch thus deceived. The hoarding by the farmhouse advertises Supply Chain Movement Solutions - an inducement to encourage even more vehicles onto this stretch of road and add to the noise which pollutes the lives of the Wildes and their neighbours.

    Above: eastbound queues pass under Scammonden Bridge; and left, the easterly view from that bridge (some time before the queues began).

    Walking this area brings home a sense of scale - the vastness of the natural features, and the enormity of the human constructions which have been expertly engineered to enable such traffic to make its way through otherwise inhospitable, at times impassable, land. The CBRD's album of Old Motorway Photos records some of these achievements: Scammonden Dam and Bridge, Windy Hill Viaduct, the Pennine Way overbridge, and those famous split carriageways, all so astonishing when encountered at ground level.