We moved to Huddersfield in 2005. We joined a walking group and went on a couple of walks around Marsden. It’s great to get out and walk on the moors. They are kind of bleak, but there’s plenty of variety too, with canals, hills, reservoirs. Here’s some of the bleakness:
I’ve also been on a few walks on my own. My usual walk starts from Marsden and takes me up a long hill to the ridgeway on the Pennine Way. The hill takes me past some the beautiful Wessenden reservoirs, starting with Butterley:
I’ve done this reservoir walk in various weathers, maybe 5 or 6 times. It takes me up to the high ground, and ends up on Saddleworth Moor. But I’ve only very recently realized that I’d been on Saddleworth Moor, having found the name on Google maps. That was in July this year, 2012. And then this Christmas, a week ago, we watched a documentary about the Moors Murders. I then started to make the connection to Saddleworth Moor more strongly, saying to my brother-in-law ‘ah, I’ve been on Saddleworth Moor!’, and wondering how close I’d been to where the children were killed.
So I looked up where the children’s bodies were found. I’d walked right next to where the bodies were found, and without knowing at all. My walk takes me near to where the bodies were buried, and takes me right through the areas where the police have searched for Keith Bennett.
And what strikes me hard is that I’ve wandered through the same places as Hindley and Brady. Hindley and Brady would have parked in the lay-bys and walked the same paths I’ve walked, looked out over the same views, stood where I stood, occupied the same space. It’s this occupying of the same space that actually disturbs me. It only separates us by time. If I was there 46 years ago, I would have seen them. I might have passed them on the road or stumbled upon them on the moors. I hadn’t fully felt the horror of the Moors Murders before. If you live in the UK, the Moors Murders are a part of your history. They are just there, much like WW2 or Big Ben. They are just there, like a fact, or an object – things that I have grown up around, things I don’t have to actually comprehend as new, or even fully real. They are part of a historical landscape. But to have walked on Saddleworth Moor, I can now imagine the killings in a much more tangible way. I can imagine passing Hindley and Brady on a path. I can see how the landscape makes these killings somehow possible. The peat is soft. No-one around for miles.
Another thing that now strikes me is that a lot of the walking group I walk with have grown up in this area, and many of them would have walked on Saddleworth in the 1960s at the time of the murders. And none of them had mentioned this to me. No one has so much as spoken about the murders. It must go without saying, and is no doubt resistant to easy chatting. Maybe the important things in life tend to go unsaid.
Next time I walk on Saddleworth Moor I’ll be carrying this sense of place with me. The walk will be different because I’ll know what I’m walking through. I don’t know if I want to know what I’m walking through in life. Michael Herr, describing his experiences of reporting on Vietnam reflected that we are responsible for what we see. In some sense we are perhaps also responsible for what we know, and what we choose to think about. I might avoid thinking about the Moors Murders!