Pilgrimage

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kath sunderland | pilgrimage | judy woods south of bradford

Every year, when the air becomes sweet and warm with Spring’s green promise, and trees burden themselves with blossom and birdsong, my mother would take us on the pilgrimage. Sandwiches packed, the youngest crammed into the pushchair, we’d set off on the 5 mile round journey.

Stopping only once along the way we entered the municipal cemetery, and my mother would begin to unravel Time. Pointing to this or that headstone we learned our lineage and paid homage to ancestral bones.

Leaving the Joshuas, Jeremiahs and Sarah Annes to enjoy their eternal rest we headed west, through the council estate. And every year my mother pursed her lips and grumbled at the litter and told us in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t like this in her day, when fields stretched as far as the eye can see.

So it was with a sense of relief when we finally reached the track to the Hall and the green pasture of the farm. Surrounded by the familiar She would settle into the tale. This was where she had spent her childhood, an arm waved vaguely in the direction of the Hall giving us a false sense of ownership. Passing by the wall that separated the Hall from the farm, she pointed to the ivy covering virually every brick.

“I remember that being planted,” she’d say.

Awed by our mother’s great age we barely took in the row of cottages opposite where my mother and her sister spent the first years of their lives. And then, at last, the woods green and beautiful and effervescent in a bluebell haze.

Sitting by the beck she kicked off her shoes to rest weary feet on a flowery cushion and the stories would begin.

“Look, over there, that’s where Grandad found us the day we ran away because we’d lost half a crown on the way to the shop.”

Two little girls dabble sticks in the brown water, wrapped in a dream. And again we see them scooped up into their father’s arms, hugged close and carried home, their arms curled around his neck.

Passing Snotty Hill where She and her sister go shrieking down on a home made sledge we stop by the ruins of two tumbledown buildings. And another story, this time of the Victorian skirted grandmother who lived in one of the once-upon-a-time cottages. I gape as Little Red Riding Hood comes to life.

When, at last, we reach the path which runs through the centre of the wood, there is one final story. She and my father join other couples to walk out, arm in arm on a Sunday evening. Once more we see the girls in their Sunday best arm in arm with their uniformed beaus – for this is war time – heads close in happy conspiracy.

The last time my mother came here she was in her eighties. But as soon as she stood under the trees a younger self emerged. Spinning round on her heel, arms spread out she smiled up at the trees.

If she haunts any place, it is here in Judy Woods where on a windy day the trees sigh her name: She-Shee-She-lagh.

Kath Sunderland

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