This typical Northern sky, an assortment of clouds – white, grey, black, the purple of some Archbishop’s garments , sometimes even yellow, occasionally a wall of pleated maroon, and patches of divine azure, are the gateway for intermittent rays that illuminate and elucidate the Ribble Valley below and reflect a thin wisp of the heavens above us. They prick out the details an idle or tired traveller close up would surely miss: the dank little stone cottages scattered, the tattered byers, hedgerows broken by straying livestock, a scouting fox, its tongue lolling to one side, the shimmering of the Ribble itself as it separates the realms of Lancaster and York – an artery of English history in itself, some latter-day Tempest Wayman roaming and shabby sheepdogs slipping over the slimy slopes between one patch of worn grazing and the next.

 

…For now my feet are treading the same soil and sheep droppings that they did all those years ago, albeit a little less lithely than even of late. They say that the air is always moving and that it is healthiest that it should do so but it still has the same cold, fresh smell here that it did that day a decade before Old Scots Solomon died , like a mouthful of fresh apple mint after a part-frozen downpour in the early spring. The buffeting wind blows my hair from the same angle although these sparse locks respond differently – so much less of them there are that my hair takes every opportunity to cling to my scalp unlike its untidier behaviour in freer days. This typical Northern sky, an assortment of clouds – white, grey, black, the purple of some Archbishop’s garments , sometimes even yellow, occasionally a wall of pleated maroon, and patches of divine azure, are the gateway for intermittent rays that illuminate and elucidate the Ribble Valley below and reflect a thin wisp of the heavens above us. They prick out the details an idle or tired traveller close up would surely miss: the dank little stone cottages scattered, the tattered byers, hedgerows broken by straying livestock, a scouting fox, its tongue lolling to one side, the shimmering of the Ribble itself as it separates the realms of Lancaster and York – an artery of English history in itself, some latter-day Tempest Wayman roaming and shabby sheepdogs slipping over the slimy slopes between one patch of worn grazing and the next.

I have come back here, partly for you; partly for my own satisfaction, to lay out my memories of an extraordinary man who was seen as beautiful by the sons and daughters of Sion and walked gracefully through that city even as his feet trod only the dung and the damp of this Ribble landscape and its surrounding fell lands. He was not meant for the towns and cities – Manchester and London were as nothing to him although he had passed time in substantial places further north – he was saving himself for one urban landscape alone: that of Sion solely. In the meantime, he chose to grace these poor, rural soils and walk amongst the tillers of the earth .

This is an everyday landscape. I used to refer to it as ‘our’ landscape. Beautiful, rightly enough – at least beautiful ‘in its own way’ and to its own people. I could introduce you to four score Londoners who would find this place odious, unthinkable, unbearable, ironically ‘unenlightened’, uncivilised, rough… who would loathe to stand where I am seated now. But, at this moment, I would not care to be anywhere else. Londoners are a different breed of men, a funny race – effectively inhabiting another country… But I am forgetting my manners, dear reader! You yourself may be from there, reading this as you look out from its smoky, heaving taverns through some cluttered and grime-smeared window onto cramped and filthy streets with people emptying their waste from upstairs jetty windows , pickpockets preying on the propertied, Paternoster Row – a city of mysterious men printing strange pamphlets uttered by prophets – indeed, a world which once captured my own attention very thoroughly; a city of opportunity and diverse opinions, no doubt; full of merchants from every city in Northern Europe, rife with cheap volumes printed in Antwerp and Amsterdam. Indeed, that will all be for later…

Later… a separate volume. Here, however, is a place of beginnings. And this is a Book of Beginnings… like Genesis. It was a beginning for me in 1615 but I was not alone in coming here that year. I came to this place almost by accident – I would say ‘by accident’ were it not impudent to the Lord to decide such a thing. For certain he did not come here by accident that year; he arrived only by design . Up until that time, for me, everything that had been real had been corporeal; it had had body, physicality, some material form. My life had been governed by the simple rhythms of the working day, the cycle of seasons and my requirement for base money since my father’s death – which on account of the fact that I kept my life so simple was far from as great as it might otherwise have been – and for food. My religious beliefs had been handed down to me by those who brought me up and enforced and even, where necessary, corrected, by my country. That was about to change: a small fissure in the physicality of things was about to be levered apart …but I must hold off on that a while as I need to explain to you who I am as it seems perfectly likely that you have never encountered me and for that I must actually take you further back and further downstream along this very river some dozen and a half miles, ignoring the odd bend – back to Samlesbury, a place known as a den of Romish heresy in which I was amongst the exceptions: a boy growing up in the most godly of manners.

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