This session took place on the 18th of December at Chorlton Library where we were joined by special guests from The Migrant Destitution Fund.  We shared some mince pies and brews as we got to know each other, then swapped memories of times spent walking in the wintertime. In this post, you can hear recordings of some of what was said during the session, read the reflections written after it, as well as see some contributions from some members of the Stories of our lives group who were not able to attend on the day.  This blog contains a wide scope of tales from the poignant, inspiring, funny, personal and evocation that will likely get you thinking and remembering your own recollections of strolls in the cold.  I recommend you get comfortable and cosy with a warm drink before you start to get the maximum benefit!

Jean reflects on memories of growing up and the harshness of winter, plus her year-round walking habits, cold or otherwise!

Tenneh talks about how she has grown to love walking outside, though once she was more reluctant!

Eden reflects on how difficult the cold air of the UK felt after growing up in Africa, plus other hardships she has overcome.

Mariatu shares her story of growth and learning, brought on by a very challenging winter spent without a home.

Robbie talks about being a teenager at winter and how terribly chilly he thought it was at the time (though he has his doubts looking back about the truth of that!)


I grew up near lovely countryside and we often went out for walks as a family, but not in winter, as far as I remember.  Like Robbie, my memories of winter then include waiting on the station platform in the cold, getting warm on the train, followed by the mile’s walk to school in the rain or sometimes snow.  Itchy chilblains were an inevitable result!

As an adult however, like Jean, I love going out for rambles in any season.  Well wrapped up, you soon warm up walking in the winter.  You can be rewarded by some stunning views of the countryside, seeing further without the leaves on the trees.  The day after we met, I went for a walk at Quarry Bank Mill in Styal and although it was chilly and misty, it looked magical walking by the river.  

The sun is behind some evergreen trees on the right hand bank of the river, casting a glow through the mist.  There are bare branched trees on the left hand side, through which you can see the outline of the mill chimney and the red-brick mill itself.  The bridge over the river to the mill is silhouetted against the background, and there are reflections of the trees in the water.
Styal by the river

It was a surprise to see a tree in the garden, wrapped in a blanket of knitted squares, and decorated with skilfully knitted Christmas ornaments. 

The tree is silhouetted against the grey sky, with a misty view of the garden beyond.  The red, green and white knitted squares are wrapped round the trunk of the tree and its two main branches.  Knitted baubles, Santas and Christmas trees hang off the bare branches.
Knitted Christmas decorations

Nature can bring its own winter surprises and splashes of colour too.  I loved the vibrant red stems on this Cornus (common name dogwood).  It was like a firework, heralding the New Year. 

The bright red stems on the Cornus stand out against an evergreen bush.  Behind them, the high red-brick wall of the walled garden and the gardener's cottage, with a Tudor style black and white timbered frontage, are visible.
A cornus in Styal garden


A walk in Middleton

Over the last 3 months, a friend of mine has been researching my family tree. Having found out that my great grandparents were married in Middleton at St Leonards Church I took a trip to Middleton to take a picture of this church.

I have some very good memories of Middleton as a child. My grandma and grandad lived on Durnford Street just next to the Boars Head public house, another long standing piece of history in Middleton.

After getting off the 17 bus from Shudehill to Middleton, I then continued to walk up Long Street; just off Long Street is the Boars Head public house and St Leonards Church. The church was up a very steep hill through Jubilee Park where the library and a very old band stand is situated. It was cold and raining but at the top of the hill was St Leonards Church, Middleton, a church built over 900 years ago. The view from the church was breath-taking; you feel like you’re on top of the world. It stopped raining and the sky turned blue in time for me to take my photograph.

A view of the unusual church through closed wrought iron gates.  The clock tower has a wooden, roofed building on the top with a golden weather vane.  The steps in front of the railings and the paths leading between lawned areas leading to the church are shiny and wet following the rain.  But the sky is a lovely shade of bright blue.
St Leonards Church, Middleton

I can’t imagine what type of wedding it would have been like between my great grandma and grandad in the 1920s in this church. It must have magical; I would have loved to be there.


A walk around Chester

A view of Chester Cathedral through bare branched trees.  In the foreground there is an old-fashioned street lantern.  A few people are walking along the paths between the lawns in front of the cathedral.  They look tiny, which shows the huge scale of the cathedral in contrast.
Chester Cathedral

As a way of celebrating my good friend Andrea’s late December birthday, we journeyed together to Chester and took a walk around that historic city.  Despite the low temperature and a biting wind, we both enjoyed taking a lot of photographs; a task considerably easier in these days of digital and phone cameras! 

During a very pleasant couple of hours, we also shared some of our older memories of the place.  My friend showed me the site of the shop where she used to work, commuting three times a week from Manchester!  I shared the stories of how I managed to get lost not once but twice in two separate previous visits to Chester.

The first was while on a trip with my family I somehow contrived to lose contact with my parents. A policeman took me in hand and eventually I ended up at a police station where I remember being given a Mars bar and sat on a counter to look out of the station’s window. I was a very relieved little boy when my mom and dad arrived to collect me.  One odd thing, which is indicative of how attitudes have changed, was on hearing I was from Manchester the Policeman flagged down a passing lorry and asked the driver if he was going to Manchester!!!

The gold surrounds of the ornate clock shine in the winter sunshine at the top of three flights of four steps, on the narrow walk way between two buildings. One of the buildings is red brick with a distinctive window overhanging the steps.  The other is white stone.  There are wrought iron railings leading up to the top of the first flight of steps.
The Eastgate clock from the city walls

The second occasion was on an excursion with my primary school to Chester Zoo.  I got so engrossed looking at some of the animals that I failed to notice that the teacher and the rest of the class had moved on.

Apparently, I still have this trait as, true to form, I was separated from my friend several times several times after I had stopped to look at some “history”.  You could say that, but for the existence of mobile phones, I would have been “lost” for a third time in Chester.

The photograph shows reflections of a red brick old building along the left hand side of the canal, and of the bare branched trees behind and further along round a bend.  There is a moored narrowboat painted white and green just before the bend.  On the right hand side is an old stone wall.
The Shropshire Union canal from Cow Lane bridge


Wounded Healers

I enter the woodland purposefully but attentively. I am enjoying being in the fresh air, pleased for the mild, dry weather after several days of cold rain; enraptured by the smell of leaf litter and damp woodland

As I take in my surroundings, a tree calls to me.

I have practiced devotion in natural spaces and walking at the pace of my attention.
I have practiced listening to voices that range far beyond human speech.
I have learned, through this practice, when to allow myself to be drawn to something.

The tree is an oak, though in unusual shape.

It clings to the top of a steep embankment, overlooking the stream at the bottom of the clough. The oak has been struck by lightning – a good many seasons ago by the look of it. A vast section of the tree’s interior is missing, leaving a space that is more than big enough to stand in; so, I do.

Here I notice that some portions are all but collapsed, rotting alongside the remaining parts of living wood. A tree that is clearly still able to thrive, following events that would have been catastrophic for almost all other creatures – be they plant or animal. The fact that this oak still lives, clinging firmly to such a steep slope, is awe-inspiring.  

Along the edge of the missing section of trunk, the bark has curled inwards, forming a lip around the wounded portion. A protective edge that joins the age-old toughened bark with the lightning-ravaged interior. This oak stands with its most inward, vulnerable heart exposed to the world.

A living parable.
A wounded healer.
Resonant with beauty and suffering and giftedness.

A view of the interior of the huge oak tree from below, looking up towards the bare branches and the grey sky above.

I See this tree as
this tree Sees me.

Healing is a lifelong path, and here is a prime example of one who is prepared to demonstrate this. Twenty-first century humans in the west are especially resistant to this idea. Uninitiated, and culturally moulded to believe that everything has a quick fix, we struggle hard against the idea that – for some wounds – there is simply no cure.

After five years of chronic fatigue, I have struggled with this notion long and hard.
Because of this wrestling, I walk with a limp. 

The reality is always that the Gift is hidden deep inside the Wound.
Carl Jung put it like this: “Genius hides behind the wound”
Centuries before him, Rumi stated: “The cure for pain is in the pain”
They both knew a thing or two about life.

The wounded healer in me greets the wounded healer in oak. We honour one another. We give and receive our blessings. We share freely in our suffering and in our gifts.

Through a crack down the tree, you can see the green of bushes beyond.  The two halves of the tree look like faces talking to each other, or about to kiss.

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