Tuesday, 1 June 2004

'Startling Stars'

Last Sunday (16th May) our Church Choir went "on the road" to sing Compline at St Luke's Church, Grimethorpe.  I decided to join them but I thought I would go "off road" on my bike.  It seems a long way round in the car and by making use of some of the many dismantled railway tracks, I thought a much more direct and interesting route could be taken. 
I set off at about 4.45pm on a glorious afternoon, along Kingwell and up behind St Thomas's to cut through Bank End.  I was surprised to see a huge blue tent pitched at Maltas Court and also that more people weren't out on their front gardens enjoying the sun.  I cut through the snicket from Monkspring to White Cross Lane - I always get speed up past the farm because there's sometimes a huge dog there with an intimidating bark!
Along the small road past the idyllic setting of Swaithe Hall; slowing up for a handsome ginger cat which stood in the gap where the path suddenly narrows - it took a few steps and vanished into the undergrowth.  Here Cork Lane sinks down between hedges and under leafy trees forming a secret tunnel that is only just navigable.  Last time I went through I was amazed that joyriders had managed to get a car in there before burning it out.  Luckily it has been removed now but at what expense and effort? 
Away to the right there are acres of rapeseed, vibrantly coloured and heavily (though still just pleasantly) odorous.  I had recently looked across at this great swathe of yellow from the top of Mount Vernon Road.  In contrast, the fields near Round Green were deep red, making the huge sweep of the Dale look like a giant arena where Barnsley were playing Norwich.
On again past what looks like a disused chicken farm and over the remains of the canal;  what a shame that we are not able to see narrow boats plying their way up here as far as The Wharf.
I turned left along Wombwell Lane, passing an odd little footpath sign marked "Geological Marine Band Display” (any explanations?).   A bit further, opposite Tesco I got onto the railway track and after going over Stairfoot turned right onto the branch that goes north beside Grange Lane with Views of Monk Bretton Priory.  Next came a beautiful stretch where the railway track sweeps in a great curve above the meandering River Dearne.  With the ubiquitous May Blossom and a herd of cows statuesquely chewing the cud, it is as scenic a spot as you could wish for.  I was just revelling in all this when I nearly had to ride into the verge to avoid being mown down by two off road bikes and two quad bikes travelling at speed.  The din soon passed, but for the next half mile or so the air was full of fumes and dust.  Before it had cleared I had to be on my guard again - luckily I heard the sound of air rifles (being shot across the track) before I was left to the mercy of whether they had noticed me coming or not!
Leaving the track at Wood Nook, I went along a lane to reach the outskirts of Cudworth and Ring Farm where the magnificent Police Horses were out in the paddocks.  Then it was on the roads briefly before finding the track that leaves Cudworth in the direction of Grimethorpe.  To start with it was lined each side with about every item of household rubbish you can imagine.  But soon I was away from it all again, though only briefly before reaching the devastation of Ferry Moor Land Reclamation Site - rusted steel rods twisting out of half smashed concrete beside pools of water that is just a bit too green to be natural.  Now it was across the bypass and up the hill to find St Luke's where the choir were just getting set up in good time for the 6 o'clock service.
The priest, Father Peter, introduced the service, telling us that the office of Compline is one of the oldest services of the Church, going right back to the early Church itself.  Once the monastic system had developed, with the services of Mattins in the early hours through Lauds, Prime, Sext, None, Terse and Vespers (Evensong), Compline was the final service, "completing" both the day and its cycle of prayer.  Fr Peter had himself lived as a Friar in a Franciscan community for 25 years, singing Compline every night.  Now, however, only his dogs join him for the service on a regular basis and they don't sing, so he says the office instead!  The dogs were present in Church for this particular service, prompting some of the Choir members to ask for a "church dog" too.
The Choir sang beautifully.  The priest followed the service with Benediction and described our visit as "a startling star" in their centenary celebrations.
On leaving the Church, it was one of those really ambient evenings where everything that can absorb the sun's heat is radiating it out again, carrying the scents of blossom and cut grass with extraordinary intensity.  Shirts were off all over the place and someone had carried a settee out into the park, thronged by youngsters.  I decided to go home by a different route along a little track and lane almost to Great Houghton before plunging down through a magnificent beech wood to join another track into Little Houghton.  A tarmac path crossed the river and took me to Darfield.  Here and there the tarmac was worn away to reveal the cobbles of what must have been a much older surface.  It’s quite enchanting to ponder all the little routes like this which must have been so important before we whizzed everywhere in cars.  Unfortunately the path also provided good access for the systematic dismantling and theft of stone from a wall which runs alongside it.
Through Darfield I found another little path along the river that eventually got me to the Dove Valley Trail.  After avoiding another posse of air riflers (one again shooting in a dangerous manner across the track) I was able to get a last burst of speed up to return towards Worsbrough Bridge and finally up Vernon Road and home. 
Now that all the choir have their new robes, perhaps we should save up to buy them each a bike too.  The journey certainly added to my enjoyment of the worship.  Or maybe next time they are out and about you should join them.  If there are no spaces in cars I can always offer a “seater”.

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