This is a tale told in the shapes of licking flames, in whorls of smoke coiling in a stove . . .

The Pilgrim shared this story on a night when children stared into the fire and the night cold made stars pin-sharp and plentiful. She spoke in a quiet voice like telling a secret just for them to hear:

I haven’t left the dale yet. Me Nan says I’m too small, and besides, there’s plenty to explore down here.

So I do. I explore. I go everywhere I dare. Push the limits. I have to be careful in the woods – especially under the beech trees with all that deep leaf litter beside the beck. So much dry crackling, fragments flying up in a swarm at the least swish. I’m allus glad of the fast-flowing water to cool my thirst.

Best of all is hopping from one side of the beck to the other – rock to rock, I’m all but flying. Me Nan says folk built little winding canals to steer the water to the mills. That’s why there’s walls on both banks in places. And that’s why the stone is black wi soot, she tells me, and why you can allus find coal. They burnt it in their engine houses.

I love the smell of it, me. Coal. I can track the smallest seam down. I find hints in ferns and mosses, and being so low down, I can sniff it out easy. I have to be careful, mind. As little crunching as possible. Dig porper quiet. No snorting nor laughing wi delight no matter how tasty. Don’t want anyone stalking after me, do I?

That viaduct wi the tall arches curving from one side of the dale to tother- so tempting. I hide like I’m told, but when I see trains pass o’er, I think what it’d be like to race em.  Mi Nan says no. Her word is law. Not even the fully-scaled lads wi hoards of their own argue wi her. She’s flames as can melt steel, so you wun’t, would you?

I can’t wait while my pinions are that big I’m allowed into the next dale. There’s reckoned to be wild sheep for the taking on the high fells. Trouble is, I’ve yet to prove I won’t set heather on fire. No giving our location away, says me Nan. What would the wingless ones do if they caught me?

Well nob’dy’s getten me yet, have they? I reckon I could hunker down in the coal tender at night, snug under all that steam and smuts. Just to cross from Munchcliffe Wood to Long Royd. Keep tucked in through Bromleys Tunnel. Have a bit of an explore. I won’t leave the dale – not really.



header image by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

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