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


cascade creek environment fern
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Slow your pace to a meander
that I may spread my waters
like a sheet upon your bed
here upon my mossy lap take root
and reflect as do I
on the shifting sky
while my babel tongues
hush to still
this moment
trickles through your fingers
and moves on –
a journey ended
when only just begun
I with my spate and flow
gather the rubble from a thousand dreams
pour over rock
seep into cracks
and smooth
and break
and soothe
and make

Kath Sunderland

Names and shapes


Zephyr, Samiel, Williwaw,
my names are many
Yet my shapes are more
A westerly wind I’ll come and go
A will-o-the wisp with wings of snow.
I’ll whisper sweet nothings,
Caress your cheek
Then slap your face and start to shriek.
I’ll rock your boat in a lullaby
Or puff the waves to seasick high.
I’ll marshal the clouds in a fleeting flock
And tell the hours
By a dandelion’s clock.
My playground is this magic isle
a wizard’s daughter to beguile.
And now to taunt the witch’s son.
My song is ended – the story,
Just begun

Kath Sunderland



photo at pixabay / tim hill

Elusive, sharp-toothed
A miniature acrobat
Plays in summer sun

The moors are sweet this day, with the warm sun of early summer bathing everything in light. The yellow gorse and purpling heather stand vivid against the grey-green grass and black-jutting rocks. And above this sea of undulation curlew call cascades from blue sky. Such a day as this belies the moor’s true face: windswept, rain-filled; a place where hardy folk dare only go and then with care.

You peer from behind the sharp-jutting rock with the innocent face of a naughty schoolboy, bright eyes watchful, curious. I know your name though we have never met. First uttered with dark undertones in children’s books it embodies the sly elusiveness of the playground sneak. But here, on this hillside, you are a thing of beauty and wonder. Your lithe body, brown-coated, shades against the hill, slips and slides with lightning speed over rock, stone and grassy tussock to curl into the homes of rabbits and mice. A master acrobat, your leap-curl dance transfixes and beguiles until – a pounce, and sharp teeth close in for the kill.

A moment of communion – and then your tiny body twists you out of sight.

Kath Sunderland



A shape, etched
For future fingers yet to trace
Hunched and wall eyed
I meet your gaze
A flickering moment
and then –
I’m gone.
A turncoat self
I march along
to any song that please my ear.
A frozen statue in a forest glade –
Or assassin lurking in the shade?
Houdini-like I come and go,
A cameo part I play.
But always, still, unseen
My razor tongue, held in,
Catches, flicks around your words
And pulls them deep within.
I taste your thoughts upon my tongue:
A self dissolved
to essence.

Kath Sunderland



Unsure of where my margins lie
Know only that
In my fishy depths strange energies
Tossing me hither and thither.
And yet,
The storms that make me heave and writhe
Pull my tears into the sky
To fall as dew on a rose’s bloom
Or rain on forest canopies.
I, passive,
Am filled by others’ lives
Their stories flowing into my depths
Tranquil now, a mirror, I
Reflect the stars and sun and moon
And, yes, your face.
I cast myself in arching bows
A dove of peace upon my breast.

Kath Sunderland


Dear Molly


Dear Molly

It’s that time of night when fear grows tumours. But it’s also when I find a mental clarity which often eludes me these days.

Before I woke I dreamt of the day we met. Once again I saw you, walking towards me through the mist, your face, unaware of watching eyes, wrapped in a dream. And just as it had all those years ago, the veil of your hair, dew-laden, shimmered as if with a thousand tiny pearls. As soon as I saw you, Mol, I swear – the minute I clapped eyes on you – I said to myself: That’s my girl; that’s my girl.

My heart was racing when I woke and there was an ache I’ve not felt for years.

So here I am, writing a letter I won’t send like an old fool. What happened, Mol? What went wrong between us? We were great at first, you can’t deny that. Those early days, when the bed was our universe, was that love?

Having written the word ‘love’, suddenly I’m not sure what it means. I read somewhere that Eskimos have over fifty words for ‘snow.’ If that’s true then ‘snow’ becomes a generality, the heading to a category, like ‘plant’ or ‘animal.’

Maybe ‘love’ is the same.

I’ve got down the thesaurus you got me that Christmas because you were sick of me saying that everything was ‘great.’

Here are some words for love: attraction, desire, passion, adoration. And yes, in those early days we ticked all those boxes. But what about later?

There are other words in that old thesaurus: affection, kindness, friendship, treasure.

It seems to me, Mol, that friendship and affection somehow got lost along the way. How did that happen? Was it laziness? I think on my part it was stupidity. I guess I thought that as we were a couple it was job sorted. I kind of stopped seeing you, if you know what I mean. You were just a necessary presence in my life, like air or water.

I know now you tried to pull me back. ‘Listen to me! Why don’t you LISTEN to me!’ God, how many times did you yell that at me? But why did I need to listen to what I’d already heard a thousand times or about something that didn’t interest me?

That’s the problem, I switched off sight and sound so what was left?

I’ve just thought of Dante’s Inferno. Didn’t he have different levels of Hell? Well maybe there are different levels of love and if you don’t move from one to another you get stuck in a groove until it becomes unbearable. Once kindness, affection and friendship have been worn out there’s nothing left but indifference and ritual.

I’ve heard that you met someone else and are doing just fine. I’m glad, you deserve it. I met someone too and, yes, I’m very happy. Because I learnt my lesson, Mol, I’ve moved to the next level, to the treasure at the heart’s core.

Kath Sunderland

There is a path

there is a path | photo at pixabay

There is a path: it can be found
A full moon or rising sun will point the way
It is a bridge that stretches across the fishy water
Spanning the distance between earth and sky
Once – love blind – I set my foot upon the way
Trusting another with my heart until
One day from careless hands it slipped
Into the sobbing sea
With each betrayal of naive trust
My heart a little wilder grew
All loving overtures I saw
Were siren voices nothing more
I scoured the deep for shells to hide
and there a mermaid self became
In feral dreams I spent my days
Safe from the lure of love’s bright flame
But time will ebb and time will flow
And something stirs within my soul
I stand again upon the shore
The grey light pearly on the sea
And all is still save the waves that hiss
And wet my feet with a judas kiss
Believe – they whisper
There’s still a chance
That love is more than fine romance
Remember Peter on the water’s face
Running to find love’s sweet embrace
I know not if such things are true
Just this; just this:
There is a path – a hard and rocky road
A full moon or rising sun
will light the way

Kath Sunderland