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  • Writer's pictureBeth Morgan

Digley Reservoir

Ferocious. The wind assaulted my senses upon the first step into the landscape from the comfort of my car. It howled across the open space, carrying distant sounds, water droplets and leaves from afar across my path and into the valley below. The main track, and best view, to the reservoir meant I had to walk on the road. Although a quiet thoroughfare, there was a couple of times in which I needed to move from the even tarmacked surface onto the gutter, mud squelching underfoot from the oversaturated ground being placed under pressure from walkers’ boots. The closer I came to the reservoir, the more violent the wind. My hair being blown in all directions, obstructing my vision and distracting my senses; strands of hair in mouth. I paused for a moment to try to gather my thoughts, and actually see some of the landscape which I came to see. The reservoir felt vast, its expanse stretching far into the distance – but the other side was visible, an attainable goal that I could reach. The wind was causing the water to hurtle in waves directly towards me. Frothy swirls of deep, almost black, water rolling in a cyclical motion, droplets being thrown at me above. I couldn’t decide whether it was the wind or the water that was making a strong, guttural noise that vibrated through my chest but, upon reflection, I believe it was the wind overpowering every other element around me. Continuing along the road beside the reservoir, holding my hat on my head to stop it blowing away, I quickened my pace hoping for some shelter from the intrusive gale.

The creaking of an old wooden gate signified a new stage in my walk around Digley Reservoir. The wind quietened, reducing itself to a breeze and the ground underfoot was somewhere in between hardened soil and soft mud. The sign that led me here said something along the lines of ‘shortcut to picnic site avoiding the road’ which, after dodging 4 cars to get to this point, felt comforting. This path was more sheltered by trees, a bank of plant life leading up to the road above. The plants, and ground, to my right were blackened and burnt, their thin branches scorched by some recent fire. The pattern of this seemed controlled, as if this burning of nature was somehow on purpose – a human means of controlling wild nature. The water was still in sight to my left but had been slightly obstructed by smaller shrubs and greenery that formed the reservoir bank. I continued in this direction, noticing that a set of wooden stairs was appearing in front of me. These stairs were large and wide, the step up requiring me to bring my knee high up above my hip, pushing on my thigh to bring the other leg up to the same level. This staircase curved round to the right, and then to the left again, each step harder as my energy drained. I reached the top, after what felt like forever, with aching back and legs to the summit which was in fact another carpark, and could have more easily have been reached by following the gently sloping incline of the road – I’ll remember that for next time!

An illustrated map detailing the Holme Valley was a key feature of the ‘picnic area’ which in reality was a carpark with grass in the centre for people to sit. I continued along the path, moving ever further away from this to explore the surroundings of the reservoir. To my left stood tall conifers which totally obstructed the view of the water, with heather and smaller plants flanking either side of the path. The breeze causing them to swirl and pulse, intertwining one with the next. A large sign came into view, its size and colouring suggesting it warned of some upcoming danger – I was right. Upon closer viewing, it warned of a sheer drop into a nearby quarry. The quarry had been overtaken by wildlife, meaning it was actually quite hard to see its edges. Stepping very slowly and carefully, I edged further towards the drop, conscious of how strong the wind had been but also incredibly curious to see the bottom. I got to a distance that I felt was close enough, bubbles swirling within my stomach and knees starting to subconsciously lock from travelling any further. Keeping my feet firmly on the spot, I gently leaned forward to take a peak. The bottom of the quarry had piles of rocks that had obviously fallen from its sides, vibrant yellows, oranges and greens covered their outer shells as the mould overcame them. Weeds burst from cracks in the sides, their roots causing pressure on the already weakened stone, forcing it to open more as the plants grow in size. The crashing of branches from the trees behind forced me to step back from the edge, visions of the wind pushing me too far forward flashed in my mind, encouraging a retreat. Turning my back on the quarry, and being a very safe distance away from its abyss, I continued further down the path into growing darkness.

My thighs and calves burned from the slight incline, and uneven surface, of the pathway that led further into the conifers mentioned earlier. A dry-stone wall lined the path, stones missing or removed making breaching its boundary a possible common occurrence. The weather was very grey, with the sun’s light straining to breach the large expanse of clouds, but under the canopy of conifers the light was dramatically reduced, giving a sense of almost sundown. The path split, leading off uphill to the right away from the trees into lighter pastures, or left further into the darkness with glimmers of light appearing every now and then reflected by the water. I chose to walk right and discover the wonders close to the waters edge. The ground below felt spongey underfoot, burnt orange emanating from the pine-needles that carpet it, keeping the mud at bay. A couple with a dog warned me about the mud as I entered this area, but it wasn’t as bad as first expected. A large tree had fallen, its roots ripped from the banking, cascading it across to rest in a horizontal form across the rest of the still standing trees. I believe a branch from this tree had been snapped off in the trauma, landing in the water below. These branches seemed to reach up from the waters depths as if growing into a completely new tree of their own, like a large hand reaching out to its creator.

Although still very windy, I felt calm in this environment. Standing as close to the water as I could, I took a moment to watch it as it lapped up to the shore, the way in which it parted for the fallen trees and formed again in small waves. It had taken on the colour from the landscape around it, oranges, reds, sienna, yellows; autumn in liquid form. The small frothy waves had a hint of green, and its cyclical, repetitive flowing process was mesmerising. I stood for a while, just watching. My ears began to ache under my hat, the wind finding gaps within its woven surface to bite at the skin. They felt as if they were burning, a prickly feeling starting to eat away at my cheeks. Although sheltered by surrounding trees, the water was still being captured by the gale and thrown at me, my clothes becoming more and more damp the longer I stood at the water’s edge, so I retreated back the way I came and began my trek up the path into the light.

Water from a neighbouring farmer’s field flowed out from the grass and across the pathway, creating a puddle to avoid. This small stream cut across the walkway and could be seen flowing down the bank and into the reservoir, a free-flowing water source reaching a large reserve. After walking uphill for a while, the path headed into a decline and a man-made staircase came into view. This staircase was like the previous one, incredibly steep steps which felt slightly treacherous to traverse. Either side was a metal bannister, there I assume to help the walker steady themselves on the descent, however both of these wobbled under the slightest of pressure. Tensing all my muscles to try to stay balanced, I carefully stepped down the stairs, breathing a large sigh of relief when I reached the bottom. The water appeared again, a further break in the trees to reveal more of the bank of the reservoir. This time the view was clearer, the other side of the landscape clearly visible across the way. One eyesore to this serene spot was a Yorkshire Water sign declaring ‘cold water kills’, presumably placed due to the high numbers of people who try to swim in reservoirs in the height of summer. ‘I certainly wouldn’t want to be swimming in there today’ I thought to myself, a shiver of remembered experience; cold showers when the heating was not working.

Walls flanked either side of the path, nature hidden by their tall stone structures. I had not seen too many people on my walk so far around Digley Reservoir, however a large fluffy dog appeared into view carrying an incredibly large stick. I recognised this dog, it belonged to the couple who had warned me about the mud not long ago. The dog trotted along towards me, a proud glint in its eye – it had concurred the giant stick. Its owners appeared from around the bend, the man trying to wrestle the stick from the dog. I continued to walk, the wrestling match continuing until they were out of view. A landmark erupted from behind one of the tall walls, a large tree that had been obviously set on fire recently. The way in which the branches had snapped and crumpled reminded me of lightning strikes, remembering how trees that had been hit looked when I had seen them abroad. I leant against the wall to capture a closer look. The trunk was crazed and warped, remnants of smaller branches formed as piles of ash below. This felt different from the scorched nature I had seen earlier, more accidental and spontaneous rather than as a means to control.

A large muddy puddle blocked my way, requiring a pause for a moment to mentally plot my route to ensure that I didn’t get completely covered in dirt. After deliberating a few options, I decided on one and proceeded. I was doing well until the last moment when I lost balance, my boot plunging into the water causing a splash that soaked the bottom of my trousers. There wasn’t really a view at this point, with trees and walls becoming a repetitive visual feature. My body started to tire, and this lack of visual stimuli made me think more about the aching in my back, the coldness of my face, and how heavy my feet in my boots had become. The slight incline ahead was taking its toll, my pace becoming so slow that it was almost a stop, I had very much given up for a while when I decided to lift my eyes from the ground below and look out across a vista of hills and water that had appeared. The path took a steep decline towards this view, so I paused for a moment at the very top to just take in the surroundings. The grey sky above contrasted with the yellow, green and purple of the surrounding hill sides. The water turned a vivid blue, finding some deep saturated colour from somewhere in the dull sky. The wind strong, battering my body as I took in the landscape, yet I somehow managed to block it out while I fully absorbed the scene. Once fully satisfied that I had experienced all details, I continued down the hill.

A sharp turn to the left and I was met by a small, black cocker spaniel puppy. Its ears were blowing about in the wind but it didn’t seem to mind. It sniffed around for a little while before running away into the distance, the call of its owner carried on the wind. The beautiful view I had just experienced now absorbed me. The distant hills ominously close as I stood upon a bridge that cut across the reservoir. A Yorkshire Water sign appeared again, this time with the words ‘Bilberry Reservoir’ emblazed on it. This was a different reservoir, separated by the bridge I was stood on. I stood with my back to Digley and looked out across Bilberry. It was much smaller in size but was cocooned by large hills, creating a curve that guided the waters edge. The wind roared across the water, pushing my body forwards with its gust. It was incredibly strong and I had to utilise all the strength in my muscles to counteract its force to continue to stay stood up, never mind walk anywhere. My hair was being pulled in all directions, covering my face one minute and pulling me in the opposite direction the next. A brief lapse in this assault occurred and I moved with haste across the rest of the bridge and into relative shelter under the trees opposite.

A steep incline greeted me, this time with no man-made staircase to help. Stone protruded from the solid ground creating natural steps however some were loose, causing me to lose balance a number of times. I leant very far forward to try to keep momentum, stretching my legs to reach the next rock. I was very out of breath by the time I had reached the top. Deeply inhaling to try to retrieve lost oxygen to recuperate my stretched muscles. While taking a moment to breath, a Golden Retriever came running up to me, stopping dead in front of me to demand a pat on the head. Once said pat had been supplied it happily ran off with owner in tow; a quick hello and smile from her as she past. I slowly walked the rest of the path, noting that to my right was a sea of bushes that all seemed to be the same height. Flowing movement like water across the hillside. This side of the reservoir was much higher, allowing views above the treeline. I continued along, moving quicker than I had done the previous side as the wind seemed to continue to get stronger and stronger, with an introduction of rain into the mix. This rain was encapsulated within the air, not noticeably hitting the skin yet I could tell as my clothes and hair became more and more saturated with water.

A field of cows was a welcome sight, remembering this field as being next to the carpark. They were all huddled out the way, under any shelter they could find to try and protect themselves from the weather. I thought about the walk I had just done, noting on my watch that I had only really been walking about 40 to 45 minutes. It would be interesting to do this walk again, but under different weather conditions such as that of the dry, warm climate of summer. I wondered to myself how different it would be, and how long it would take to complete this walk – I believe it would be longer as I would be fully able to take in the view. Walking past the cows I turned the corner into the carpark, where I was greeted by more walkers preparing for their battle with Digley Reservoir. Relieved to nearly be out of the wind, I took in one last look at the surrounding landscape and got into my car.

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