If you’re from Cheadle, you’ll probably know about Hawksmoor. If you’re not from Cheadle, you won’t.
If you take the Oakamoor road, just after the turn-off signposted to Rocester, Hawksmoor begins with the funny parking area in front of a big cliff with a wood around and above it. It’s where the fields end and forest begins. When I say big cliff, we’re not talking Dover, but I’d never been near the sea at this point and this cliff was taller than the trees which made it massive.
Hawksmoor is a magical place that has been written about since a Victorian wrote A History of Cheadle (two copies available in Cheadle library for your perusal). I want to say his name was Blant but I don’t want to get it wrong so I won’t. I can’t really check from Ireland.
According to the above book, Hawksmoor got its name from giant moths that live there, and which fly out at dusk looking just like hawks.
Fun fact: That bowl-shaped field on your right as you approach Hawksmoor (the one that’s usually got a car-shaped hole in the hedge because yet another idiot missed the corner) was caused by a World War Two bomb.
When I was about fourteen I’d got a bit bored of walking the dog in the same places over and over, and I started going further afield, especially at the weekends, when I didn’t have school getting in the way of exploring.
I went to school for about 3 years in Oakamoor and every day I’d looked out of the window and wished I could get out and explore the forests along the road instead.
Fair play, my stepdad took us and the dogs walking on the other bit of Hawksmoor a few times. It felt like ours anyway since our blue three-wheeler had broken down like clockwork in that layby on the way to school a few times, and then later our white three-wheeler did it once, too (the white one just wasn’t committed enough at being unreliable). But we’d never really explored that bit with the big cliff.
So it was that on one particular day I walked up the Oakamoor road with my big brown-and-white mongrel dog, past Hales Hall, past Les Oaks’s (you have to pronounce the extra s on the end like “Oakseez”), and reached Hawksmoor.
It sounds like a bit of a trek because it was. But when you’re fourteen and want to be an explorer when you grow up, you don’t really notice distance.
As a teenager, I sort of wish I’d been in scouts so I could have had some friends who liked the same stuff I did, but when I was very little, there was a clear divide that rainbows/brownies/guides was for girls and cubs/beavers/scouts was for boys. I’d met enough brownies-turned-guides to know I wouldn’t have been a good fit. I didn’t know until I was a lot older that scouts had actually let girls join in the UK since 1987 (at which point I joined ranger scouts).
Anyway, I trekked alone because I didn’t know about girls being allowed to be scouts yet so I just sort of made it up as I went (sans risk assessments) which is what led to a lot of the misadventures around then.
I should also add that my parents had no idea what I did when I walked the dog. I think they probably thought I just took the dog around someone’s house and listened to music or went to the car park and smoked/drank like a lot of other teenagers (shout out to the Car Park Crew).
I reached the cliff and it was even better than I imagined. You see, the cliff face wasn’t solid sandstone, like I’d expected. It was what geologically is known as an amalgam, a collection of rocks all held together in a predominant type of rock (imagine the gravel plus cement that makes concrete).
In this case, the predominant rock was the pink sandstone that has been used all over Cheadle and Oakamoor to build Victorian houses, churches and schools (it has aged to a dark brown but you can see scratches in it). I’d expected the pink sandstone. But it was holding all sorts of interesting and surprising rocks in it. Immediately, I let Dillon roam off the lead. Nowadays, I wouldn’t dream of letting a dog loose so close to a road. I needed to see those rocks.
Have I ever mentioned my mild obsession with rocks? I couldn’t go anywhere without filling my coat pockets with them when I was younger, and even now, my husband struggles to peel me away from the pebbles when we’re at the beach. He’s not here now and I might have filled the car with rocks from the beach at least twice.
I walked around the grass to the right of the cliff face and got to the top then looked down. It was a long way down. And there was a sort of pathway I could see between here and there, where I could get a better look at the rocks.
Done and done. I climbed down to the pathway and slowly crossed the cliff face, looking at various rocks. I don’t know why I had no fear. There were loads of big white quartz stones and I really wanted one. I also spotted a green rock. When I tried to get it out, the green one came straight away. It was a powdery sandstone-type pebble. I pocketed it.
I carried on around. I didn’t want just any old quartz rock, it had to be the right one. I found it down the far left side of the cliff-face. Only, it was stuck. And very slightly out of my reach. I tried throwing another rock at it to dislodge it, miscalculated horribly, and the rock I threw rebounded and hit my shoulder.
So I gave up on my first choice of quartz because it was too hard. Instead, I went around and found another one. Also a bit out of reach. I made what might have been the worst decision of my life to that point (don’t worry, I’ve made tons since).
I left the path and climbed up the rock face. I’d seen Cliffhanger and knew this was doable. We’ve already established it wasn’t very stable because you could pull stones out of it. I reached sideways for the rock I wanted. Guess what? It gave way beneath me and I fell.
I don’t know how long this actually took because time slowed down. It often does in these sort of situations. My main thought was, “This is too high, I’m going to die,” followed by, “oh, well.” I didn’t feel scared or sad. It wasn’t bravery or any conscious choice. My brain just didn’t do that on this occasion.
Around this point I started to pass the top of a tree. I reached out and grabbed the branch. By the time my hand closed on it, it was very thin trunk. I expected it to snap.
It bent. And my trajectory changed. Now, instead of going straight down, I was falling in a curve as the tree bent and bent. And the tree slowed my fall.
I landed on the ground and I just stood there for several seconds breathing, in complete amazement that I was going to walk away from that.
There was the small matter of the tree. I was still holding it in one hand in a death grip. I was a bit unsure of how to let go because now I got a proper look, I realised it was a silver birch tree. One of those super-bendy ones. So if I let go would it just rebound? Would it hit me?
My understanding of the physics of what the bloody hell just happened was a bit wooly. For the rest of the day, most of my brain was jumping up and down going, “how the hell did you walk away from that fall?”
I still don’t entirely understand what happened. Except that I fell off a cliff and landed in a tree and somehow then landed on the ground and didn’t die. Not so much as a sprained ankle.
Which was good because this was the watershed when mobiles were taking off but people my age generally didn’t have phones (or if they did, they didn’t have credit. No one in their right mind would have given a kid a phone contract) and there weren’t any phone boxes around in fields and forests, where you’d actually need them since it was a time when nearly every house had a landline.
If I’d needed medical assistance I would have been totally stuck since no one knew where I was and it was such an isolated place.
I would like to say I learned from this. And I did. What I learned was that I was a bit indestructible and that there was an entire world of misadventure out there just waiting for me to stumble into.
So the very next week I almost got stuck in the tiny cave in Cheadle Park (for those unfamiliar, it has a very narrow entrance and I have wide hips, and it was exactly like when Winnie The Pooh got stuck in Rabbit’s home only I had the sense to leave in the direction I got stuck instead of trying to force myself in).
And just like this week, I went home and when asked, “where did you go?” I’m pretty sure I said, “just across the fields.”