by Mike W
A gentle ghost story set in the heart of Lancashire.
It was a fine day for a walk. That morning Harry Warburton, seventy-six now but still as fit as a flea, had packed his sandwiches and his flask into a rucksack, put on his sturdy walking boots and made his way over to Dunsop Bridge, the exact geographical centre of Britain, and just a short distance from his home in Clitheroe. The day was bright but not too warm, with a nice fresh breeze to cool him as he made his sprightly way across fields, over streams and up hills. It was perfect walking weather.
Harry loved walking in the Lancashire countryside. Over the years he and his late wife Barbara had hiked all over the Trough of Bowland, the West Pennine Moors, the Ribble Valley, Pendle Hill, everywhere in fact. Those walks had been amongst the happiest times of their lives together, even when trudging over Birkett Fell in the pouring rain, drenched to the bone, the wind burning their faces. Barbara had always said that she’d felt more alive out on the Lancashire Moors than anywhere else she'd ever been and Harry had agreed.
They'd started walking regularly in their mid-forties and had maintained it pretty much up until Barbara's death five years ago. It had kept the pair of them in fine fettle in their later years. They'd always encouraged their daughter, Helen, to join them but although she had always enjoyed it when she had accompanied them on the occasional walk, she'd never quite caught the bug. She didn’t have the time, she'd say, what with her husband and the kids and work and everything, whenever they'd suggested to her that it was a great way to keep fit when you reached those difficult forties. Instead she'd thrown her money away on gym memberships and dancercize classes that she’d never kept up.
Dancercize! thought Harry, shaking his head. What the heck’s that when it’s at home!
After Barbara had passed away Harry had given up walking for a few years. He’d given up a lot of things at that time. Nearly given up on life itself, he missed his wife so much. But with the gentle encouragement of Helen and his friends he'd gradually got back into the rambling and now it was a source of great comfort to him. He felt close to Barbara again whilst out treading the same paths they had shared so many times over so many happy years.
As Harry made his way down a steep incline he passed two people on their way up: a middle-aged couple, panting and red-faced. He smiled watching them struggle. That was me and Barbara thirty years ago, he thought. It’ll get easier if you keep at it, he told them silently, smiling to himself. They obviously hadn’t noticed him as they pressed on, slowly and painfully, up the hill.
Harry continued happily on his way, enjoying the fresh air and the sunshine.
About an hour and a half into the walk, however, as he was making his way up a thickly wooded hillside, he suddenly started to feel very tired. It was much cooler here, where the sun barely penetrated the thick foliage above. He paused for a moment to catch his breath. Maybe you’re finally getting too old for all this, Harry, he thought ruefully to himself. He felt the weariness deep down in his bones. Still, he was determined to carry on.
At the top of the hill he emerged into a clearing which commanded an incredibly striking view of the surrounding countryside: the Hodder Valley, Stocks Reservoir, Gisburn Forest. This had always been one of his and Barbara’s favourite spots in the whole world. When the weather was bright and clear, as it was today, the view was beautiful.
Standing there, looking around him, Harry struggled to regain his breath. His legs felt weak. His muscles ached. He felt every one of his seventy six years. Looking around, he suddenly noticed a bench, which hadn’t been there the last time he’d walked here, positioned to take advantage of the stunning aspect. He and Barbara had often thought that this would be the perfect place for a bench to enable weary walkers to rest for a moment, eating their sandwiches and Kendal Mint Cake whilst taking in the scenery. Harry was certainly glad to see it now.
He sat down heavily, almost fell, onto the bench, closing his eyes and enjoying the warmth of the sun on his face. He wished that Barbara were here with him now…
He must have fallen asleep for when he opened his eyes again he was astonished to see that the sun was setting in a beautiful orange- and red-streaked sky. He couldn’t believe that he’d slept for so long. His tiredness had gone though and he now felt a wonderful sense of well-being.
It was then that Harry noticed the inscribed plate set into the back of the bench. He read it:
Dedicated to the memory of Harry and Barbara Warburton.
From their loving family and friends.
Please rest awhile and enjoy the peace and the view
in their favourite spot.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” said a woman’s voice beside him.
Harry gazed over at the setting sun. “It certainly is, Barbara,” he said.
“It always was the most perfect of spots,” said his wife.
They sat silently for a moment.
“Looks like it’s going to be another lovely day tomorrow, Harry.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “It’ll be a fine day for a walk.”