Farewell

On the day I say a final farewell to Manchester, I discover a little of its magic.  There is a place I have a mind to visit before I leave for the last time, but I don’t quite know what I will find there.  I cross the old swing bridge that curves over the canal.  It is battered, busy with traffic and with only a stripe of path for pedestrians the journey feels precarious, but when I make it to the other side, I travel into a forgotten world.

A footpath curves left and upwards, lined by trees, sagging railings and dusted by fallen leaves.  I can already see a large house at the head of it, flanked by a black lamp-post whose lamp has long since gone.  The house is long abandoned.  Boarded, rubbish-strewn, daubed in graffiti.  Someone has scrawled ‘dead inside’ on a rusted door.  But the gilded autumn light softens it, so that the house seems to say, I may be derelict, but I have some magic left for those who care to look.

I crunch through the leaves, past the dereliction, and my eyes are shocked when I turn the corner.  A red gazebo, with elegant fretwork, crowned in a black pointed roof.  It stands vivid against the abandonment, the graffiti visible through its arches.  Gazebo and house are guarded by a large tree, leafless and crawling with ivy.  Behind, the canal is wide and still, reflecting the russets of autumn.  The autumn leaves dust the area around house and gazebo like precious scraps of litter.

I walk up a cobbled path to the viewing point and the reason I am here.  The Barton Swing Acqueduct is the first and only one of its kind in the world.  This battered iron structure carries one canal above another and swings open to allow bigger vessels to traverse the ship canal below.  It’s uniqueness is that it does this while full of water, with gates at either side of canal and bridge, to dam the flow.  This rusting structure, with flaking paint and rotting wood doesn’t look anything special, but it is.  I squeeze through chains coated in oil to gaze along the acqueduct, the reflection of its girders a filigree on the water.  This place is a patchwork of magic: the arcane structures of human engineering against a blaze of autumn trees, the enchantment of dereliction and forgetting.  It has a down-at-heel magic, but magic all the same.

I have had cause this year to reflect on place and belonging.  To re-visit places I once lived, places I spent time.  And to visit new landscapes that I found less welcoming than I had hoped.  I have had cause to reflect on the settling process – what causes us to uproot and move somewhere else – and what it means to settle into a landscape.  I lived in this city twenty years ago.   I grew into myself here, met my wife here, but I never enjoyed living here.  Now our last connection is being broken.  My mother in law is moving north, to be closer to us.  Now it is she who will be settling, with all the excitement and trepidation that brings.  For us, there will no longer be any need to return, no emotional tie.  And so we say farewell.

Later, I walk the path on the lower canal.  A small stretch of land lit up by autumn colours and thronged by Canada Geese.  The last time I was here, for my father-in-law’s funeral, this path heralded the first day of winter, steaming and vaporous.  The last time I was here, I saw my first wild parakeets.  Today the atmosphere is muted.  The geese honk softly and a robin trills from a hidden spot in the trees.  Black headed gulls perch where they can and a cormorant takes off on its low flight above the water.  The memorial tree I found on my last visit is still here, its adornments a little frayed, but still the most vibrant tree on the path.

There is something meditative about hurtling along a motorway, as a passenger, as the sun sets and you move into darkness.  The light is already fading as we set off, though it is only early afternoon.  The hills are misty violet in the distance, the moors shades of sand and russet, green and grey.  Wild and open, leading to rugged hills and broad sky.  This part of the journey is always poignant and a little sinister, because it is on these moors that the Moors Murderers killed and buried their victims.  I can’t look at them without remembering that, yet there are passages where the hills cradle the roadside in a sturdy embrace and bridges soar between them.  As the light seeps away, the colours of the landscape become more vivid, before fading to grey and black.  Strings of gold and silver lights stream towards us as we follow a trail of rubies home.

This little piece of serendipity is just for Teagan, who writes a magical serial by the same name.

Belonging to a place is important to me.  Belonging in the sense of seeing the layers in the landscape and the sense of time passing.  And even in those places where I don’t belong, I seek out touch-points: spaces that speak to me as if they were for me alone.  We all experience places differently.  Our past, our present and our hopes for the future tell us how to speak to a place and how to leave it.  I leave this city with the memory of brooding moors and reflections in still water, the rustle of trodden leaves and the call of geese.  I have re-visited those touch-points already discovered and found the possibility of one that was simply waiting to be found.

 

93 thoughts on “Farewell

  1. OMG! Thitledown is real! 😀 Heartfelt thanks for the shout-out, Andrea — and for the grin this gave me.
    You’ve given us another gem (loved “trail of rubies”). Positive, yet poignant…you reach so many levels all at the same time.
    I agree about “the enchantment of dereliction and forgetting.” I suppose that is what’s at the core of my attraction to such places. They are sad, yet beautiful. Like this lovely post, they cause my ear to strain to hear more even after I’ve stopped looking.
    Hugs on the wing!

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  2. Andrea, your photography here is just stunning. I kept wanting to know how you did it in each one. There is a real city smell in the air here, and a dampness I can feel in my bones.

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  3. Lovely… I thought of my great grandmother, Joyce Gladwin, who died in New Zealand 1907, but was raised as an orphan in Manchester. I like to think she saw some of the things you farewelled and that she too had such reflective thoughts regarding the brooding moors and reflections in still water… It was both nostalgic and full of hope, thanks Andrea.

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  4. How fortunate you found the house, the gazebo and then the swing aqueduct before you left Manchester behind. It is always good to leave a place and take with you a special memory of it. I never liked living in Somerset but I have some very special memories of places I visited and people I got to know there.
    Beautiful post, Andrea.

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  5. Visiting places from our past can be both exciting and unsettling, especially if it may be the last time we visit. But even when we no longer have anything or anyone that tethers us to the place, it sometimes calls us back, and we feel the need to see its streets again.

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  6. I have had to say goodbye to many places but when I say goodbye it’s almost always with the proviso that I will return someday. There’s no emotional closure, unfortunately. So, I very much admire your gentle but firm farewell to Manchester.

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  7. As ever, poignant and thoughtful Andrea. I had a similar (if shorter) experience visiting somewhere I “gew up” and woke up to life and hadnt been back to for over 15 years at the weekend, ssing its hidden gems where all I had remembered were the bones. Dont know if I will go back…dont know if I need to….but very glad I did.

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  8. Hello Andrea, I actually started to day dream reading that and had to re-read a few paragraphs to find my place.
    I was even on the M62 East bound, in crawler gear hauling freight over those hills.
    Thank you for rekindling old memories for me, take care.

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  9. What a wonderful piece….I love canals, with their slightly sinister magic. There is always the sense, for me, that it won’t be easy to escape from the towpath if something threatening happens, but they are also often places of deep stillness. Leaving is often poignant and yet filled with hope too….

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  10. This post really spoke to me in so many ways–I now live back in the area where I grew up, after many years away; I recently visited, for the last time, the place my mother has lived for many years, and have helped her re-settle near me; etc. You’ve put into beautiful words much of what I’ve felt.

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  11. This is so rich I take it in like a sponge but don’t have words to express my response. Andrea, you are a remarkable and singularly talented writer. More than that you live so deeply. One thing I can say is I love your image “trail of rubies”.

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  12. Beautiful anthem to home, place and belonging, Andrea. It has a feeling of nostalgia and not-nostalgia, of knowing when the time has come to let go. And still for all that, your anthem has a bit of a haunting nature to it, in the way of the most powerful ones. Thanks for this. Your writing is lyrical and I love it.

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  13. Magical words and pictures! A joy, as always, to travel at your side in spirit.

    Greetings and farewell to the original Manchester from the Manchester of the East; Ahmedabad. The cotton mills here (as well as in Bombay) are now mostly defunct.

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  14. Beautifully written, Andrea! It is interesting to revisit these places from long ago and see of they have changed over time. Recognizable, but different. I feel we are all from not just a place, but a time in that place. The passage of time changes each.

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  15. Your writing is beautiful and filled with so much content – and in this instance poignancy. I love the old house you found along with the bridge. I immediately think about all the people who might have lived there…what the history is etc. Then your thoughts about leaving one place and moving to another…thoughts I understand very well having made some major moves during my life. Finding a home where we feel a sense of belonging is simply divine….:) It will be interesting to observe your mother-in-law as she make a new life transition. Thank you so much for this….Janet x

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  16. I like the idea of down-on-the-heels magic – well said. And love your photos, too, especially the geese. It’s always amazing to come upon these forgotten and downtrodden gems once filled with life, but unwilling to give in entirely. Thank you for taking me along on your farewell to Manchester. Now I know it a little, and from a unique perspective.

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  17. In August, I visited my 80-odd-year-old uncle who lives far away from me, in a place I don’t get to visit as often as I’d like. I knew that that would probably be the last time I’d be in that place again. It was lovely and haunting at the same time. I remember touching certain landmarks and trees and brick walls with the full intention of remembering that moment. You do such a nice job of capturing each and every detail, making them all equally vivid and alluring. Thank you for bringing us on your walk.

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  18. How beautiful. I love ‘following the trail of rubies home’. We travelled a lot between Oxford and Norfolk when I was a child and I was reminded of being a passenger then and driving back to Oxford and watching the sun set. I associate it with the melancholia of the holidays being over and school beckoning.

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  19. This resonated so much with me. Last night I dreamed that I was back living in my apartment in NYC. It was one of the places that always felt like home to me. And even though it had been 7 years since I left it, I was happy to go back for a while. I love returning to places because it’s never the same me there and yet they still tug at my heart strings for what they were to me. 🙂

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  20. Again your writing has captivated my imagination with stunning imagery! You have a magical ability to transport this reader into your experience. A melancholic experience looking back while traveling forward with an eye to the future. Awesome!

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  21. Lovely post Andrea. A bit of urban decay which always gives pause for thought. That piece of engineering – 150 years ago men would have been constructing that, enthused at what they were creating off the engineer’s designs. They’d have watched proudly as it was put into operation for the first time. They never imagined a time when it would be abandoned and forgotten.

    On my rare trips back to Birmingham I make a point to do a bit of canal wandering, check out the post-industrial landscape, quiet though only yards away from the busy streets. I’d love to be transported back in time for a day and watch people go about their business, their work.

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    • Thanks Roy – on the plus side, although the place seems abandoned, the acqueduct does still work, so although it looks dilapidated, it’s still regularly used I believe. I read a book recently by Alys Fowler about exploring Birmingham’s canals by kayak – I really enjoyed it.

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  22. As always, I read your words slowly, Andrea, eager to soak up everything you wrote. And as always, I was thoroughly entranced. The farewells and abandoned house, the memories of the funeral, and the macabre place of cruel murders all gave a darkness. Then the different accounts of light and bird life, your walk and crunching leaves, offered an upswing. Enjoyed the photos, but it is your writing that creates an indelible story. My thanks.

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  23. A feeling of melancholy does permeate this post, Andrea, making it all the more interesting. Wonderful photos. The aqueduct is remarkable. The murders, of course, do create a sinister tone blending with your more uplifting one. Nice job.

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