Today I met one of the world’s greatest travellers.
I found him hunched down behind a bench, just round the corner from my local Tesco. It was a foul night for a walk, with the rain siling down and gusts of wind flinging it in your face, but it didn’t bother him one bit. He’s seen far worse. This isn’t proper weather.
I wouldn’t say we’re friends, but we’ve met before. I first found him lurking in the bushes about 20 feet away from here, back when I was walking home from school, when I was not much more than a pair of shorts and a mop of brown, tangled hair. I was closer to the ground back then, but I still had to crouch to say hi…
And then – I’m ashamed, so ashamed about this – I cleaned my shoes on him.
What he’d call proper weather, if he was capable of speech, is something way beyond my feeble imagination.
Around 80,000 years ago, this part of Yorkshire was locked in ice. Global temperatures dropped, the world slid into one of its many, many Ice Ages (for reasons we’re still somewhat unclear about), and the glaciers crept south, extending crushing fingers of ice down the eastern coast of what would become England. If you imagine a wave breaking downwards over the UK, then East Yorkshire was the furthest south it could reach, the high tide mark, a place for leaving things.
That’s how the traveller got here – but it’s not exactly an easy piece of deduction.
He’s something of an eyesore, being lumpen, an unhealthy shade of grey, and weighing well over a tonne. It’s almost impossible to imagine a body of ice strong enough to lift and transport a rock this big hundreds of miles south, from where he crumbled out the side of a Scottish mountain a staggering amount of time ago…
But then, it’s impossible to imagine a single journey lasting 50,000 years.
What’s that bloody great rock down by the garage, I’d say to friends.
No idea. It’s just a rock. It was always there. Why do you even care? Come play football, you’re such a loser, they’d answer.
This attitude always disturbed me (not being called a loser – they probably had a point), and now I think I know why. To those friends, this rock was invisible (and to many people still is, even though it was moved to its own display area with an information board). It was so relentlessly there that they ceased to see it – which is the exact thing I’m fighting with this series of walks. If it’s hidden in plain sight, I’ll learn to look harder at it.
So, I’m adding geology to my list of things to learn about – with Richard Fortey’s magnificent (and aptly named) The Hidden Landscape as my guide.
But for now, I show respect to one of the world’s greatest travellers in the best way I know how. Nearly three decades after I first did it, I go round to the back, where nobody can see me, and clean my muddy boots on him.
Once a loser, always a loser.
(The Hornsea Erratic, as it’s locally known, is now a celebrated local landmark – and has been turned into a geocaching site. All that said, it’s not exactly a stirring sight. It’s just a rock. However, Tesco is just round the corner and you can get a can of Red Bull, sit on the rock and wonder what the hell you’re doing with your life. I urge you to try that sometime.)
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