Walking Myth into Place: Scorpio

Our series of self-guided walks continues with the water-sign of Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 21 approx.)
You will need the Ordnance Survey 1:25000 South Pennines map. Please note that routes and their condition were accurate at their time of survey, 2017-2020; updates may be made at later dates.
Please be alert to any other quasi-affirmations and correspondences of Scorpio as you walk!


Scorpio is the sign for the onset of autumn, and already the leaves are turning reddish brown, one of the sign’s characteristic colours. It faces the southern side of the valley, which at this time of year is entering a period of shadow; the sun barely climbs above the horizon in the months around the winter solstice, and it’s down here in the shadowy valley that the sign begins for walkers. The walk, from Mytholmroyd to the moors and back to the valley, is quite long at around 6½ mls, though not especially arduous, and the first half is on tarmac – any mud you encounter will be on the moorland section.

Hallowe’en, or Samhain as this point of the year is known to those of more pagan sensibilities, falls in Scorpio. Many consider Samhain the start of a new year, a time of darkness at which to plant the seeds of intention that may grow in the lengthening days after the solstice. Hallowe’en is also a time of a special kind of darkness, a time when the veils between this world and an uncanny dimension are thin, and those from that other (or under) world may be encountered. And just to reinforce this theme of darkness, Scorpio is the time when we choose to turn the clocks back, suddenly plunging darkness into our afternoons an hour earlier, and lengthening our dark evenings. These issues of darkness and change are hard to ignore in Scorpio.

Scorpio [in one of those curious coincidences that abound in terrestrial zodiac studies, in the late 1970s a colony of the inoffensive Central European scorpion was found happily resident on Ongar Station, Essex. on the Scorpio figure of Jim Kimmis’ Ongar Zodiac] is a water sign embodying both darkness and inspiration – associated with death and rebirth, with sexual issues, with contact with the otherworld or underworld, with the unconscious, and it holds the promise of transformation and illumination… All of this is implicit in this gigantic scorpion curled around the Midgley hillside, and to start, we climb out of Mytholmroyd, out of the valley that Ted Hughes called the ‘shadow trap’ [‘The Rock’, in Worlds, Seven Modern Poets: Penguin, 1974, pp. 122-124] along Midgley Road. It is significant that Scorpio was the second sign of the Hebden Bridge Zodiac to emerge; having ‘found’ Sagittarius on the other side of Mytholmroyd, but thinking it was most likely a one-off coincidence, I went to bed, and dreamed of a massive scorpion curling around a hillside – the next day I pulled out the Ordnance Survey map, and after a short time saw the sign twisting above the River Calder just as it had in the dream. And from the location of this second sign, one by one the others emerged in their place. The method of discovery was typically Scorpio, and the house I lived in at the time was just a few hundred yards from the sign.

We cross the canal bridge, and on our left above the canal is the Banksfield neighbourhood, where Hughes was born at 1 Aspinall Street in 1930. Aspects of Hughes’ life have a distinct tinge of Scorpio’s attributes. His first wife, Sylvia Plath, born October 27, 1932, was a Scorpio, and their relationship had an intensity characteristic of the sign, that overshadowed the rest of Hughes’ life. Though he was himself a Leo, typical Scorpio issues like sex, shamanism, otherworld journeys, magic and the shadow sides of existence seem to have played themselves out in Hughes’ adult life. Perhaps the landscape figure exerted some subtle influence on him?

Beyond Banksfield, the Sutcliffe Farrar mill sits on the left. This was originally a water-powered mill, deriving its fuel from Foster Clough that today runs underground along here, but emerges further up to flow beside the road, and further uphill still to mark the line of Scorpio’s head – a reminder that Scorpio is a water sign, with ‘water on the brain’. Shortly after the mill is the old Huntsman Inn; it looks across to the other side of the valley, where the sign of Sagittarius the hunter shakes itself out of Hathershelf Scout. Soon after that we reach Calder High School on the right.

State education has always seemed to me to have a Scorpionic aspect. Education in itself is a positive thing, of course, but state schools offer opportunities for states to instil in young people their desired values and ideologies  – which are often less positive. State education is naturally compulsory, so here the school is clasped in Scorpio’s pincer claws, and the sting in the tail that threatens dissent is poised on the moors above, hidden from the valley but ever present. Calder High School is also home to the Ted Hughes Theatre.

The upper section of the lower Scorpio claw falls on the estate accessed by Hullett Close, the next turning on the right after the school, and soon after, where Midgley Road turns sharply left, a track follows Foster Clough upstream as it delineates the Scorpio head. We keep on the road, and where the driveway to Byclough House comes out is where we join the body of Scorpio. Across the fields to our left, the body stretches uphill to the woods and beyond, on to the moor; looking back, we can see the wooded valley where the clough marks the head climbing uphill towards the white house. To our right, we look over the scorpion’s claw amidst the estate and school, and beyond to the other side of the valley, where Sagittarius rides.

Soon after comes the hamlet of Ewood, clustered around Ewood Hall (demolished in the 1970s), named after the quintessential tree of Scorpio, the yew, the tree of churchyards all over Europe in which in some cases it is said that the tree predates the church. There is no church in Ewood, but there are certainly strong religious associations with leading Protestant figures. From 1471, the hall came into the possession of the Farrar family, one of whose number, Robert Ferrar, fell victim in 1555 to the fires of Queen Mary’s purges; Ted Hughes’ mother Edith was also a descendant of the Ewood Farrars, and her son Ted credited his interest in and familiarity with psychic abilities to his mother. Ewood was something of a Protestant beacon: Charles and John Wesley, William Grimshaw (whose wife hailed from the hall’s then tenants) and others all preached here, and the celebrated local Baptist John Fawcett, who ministered at Wainsgate Chapel, Old Town, and Hope Chapel, Hebden Bridge, established a Seminary for training Baptist ministers at the hall in 1786 and died here in 1816. Ewood is derived from ‘yew wood’; yew sprigs under a pillow were held to aid prophetic dreams, especially in relation to identifying one’s husband-to-be….

Above the old site of Ewood Hall, by the roadside, is the 1878 mansion of Ewood Court. Our route passes this and continues up the slope. At the top, Midgley Road joins the Heights Road, and we turn right into and through the village of Midgley. There are a number of historic buildings in the village; one we come to is Stocks House, and just beyond it the site of the stocks themselves, at Town Syke Well, one of two major wells on this stretch through the village. This and other wells in the village are periodically the site of well-dressing celebrations, a custom instigated in the 1970s, though inconsistently maintained since.

Midgley is also the home of a local variant of the Pace-Egg Play, a folk drama of the stylised ‘hero-combat’ variety that has grown to become one of the most resilient and popular customs of Calderdale. This, too, has a backstory that has Scorpio undertones. Like most such plays, it features a kind of resurrection of a fallen protagonist. Unusually for this kind of mumming play, which are generally associated with Yuletide, the Calder Valley tradition performs at Easter, which also, of course, celebrates a death and a resurrection of sorts. In itself, too, it has suffered from abandonment and revival, dying out more than once, and this still goes on. Since 1950, it was curated and maintained by Calder High School, but around 2015 they ‘stung’ this long-lived community event by withdrawing their support (at the time of writing in 2017, its survival is rather in doubt).[See Eddie Cass, The Pace-Egg Plays of the Calder Valley]

Beyond Great House, a small new road called Yew Trees Croft, accesses the much older Yew Trees Cottages, and then comes the second main village well. Beyond, the road forks at the old Sportsman Inn; we take the left fork on to Thorney Lane – appropriately enough, as here we set foot on the scorpion’s tail, towards the sting at its end. The tail curves around the hillside as it turns into Luddenden Dean, and the lane marks its lower side. Along the way, note various footpaths that lead off to the left up the slope – these paths seem to mark the segments that are a feature of scorpions’ tails. At the top of the slope, walls mark the top side of the tail.

Anything that delves into hidden places, whether of the mind, the soul or the land, have an affinity with Scorpio – occupations like psychologists, undertakers, occultists, researchers, archaeologists, and – particularly relevant for Midgley and for this sign – quarrymen (known locally as delvers, and working in delphs rather than quarries). The sandstone flags acquired from this side of Midgley Moor are from a thick seam of high quality, and one of the properties on the Scorpio tail, Scotland, gave its name to Scotland Flags, which since the 18th century have been valuable for paving and roofing. However, there are quarries all along the upper slopes beside us as we proceed along Thorney Lane.

In time we come to another fork; Dry Carr Lane drops away downhill, but we keep on past the ‘No Through Road’ signs; the tarmac stops after a few yards, and we continue along the dirt track. Embankments of earth become visible to our left as we walk along; behind the banks are two reservoirs that sit right on the tip of the tail, just where the scorpion’s poison should lie. These reservoirs in their moorside tank are a reminder that Scorpio is a Fixed Water sign.

The embankments come down close to the track, and just before it bears to the left, there are steps built into the wall to the left; climb these and follow the path up the side of the left-hand wall towards the moor, across the stream that feeds the reservoirs, and past a sign that reassures you that this is not poison, but drinking water – a reminder from Scorpio that our negative expectations can turn out to be positive, we expect the worst but it rarely happens.

Don’t follow the wall as it turns left, but keep on the path as it climbs a little more, and then levels out to run roughly parallel with the reservoir wall. Here this path and the map outline are different; to follow the map outline, keep climbing the slope to a stile across the wall, and turn left, but I wouldn’t recommend it. This path, though not marked as a right of way, is clearly well enough used and makes a far more satisfactory demarcation of the tail, as well as avoiding a steep muddy climb. Moreover, this small path, as befits a path delineating part of a water sign, is edged on the upper side by a small ditch that helps to keep the path dry. So walk on, and drop down to some ruined outbuildings at the far end of the reservoirs, where you pick up a broad path along the side of the wall to a gate. You are now following the toip side of the Scorpio tail.

Through the gate, keep on (if you followed the map outline, you’d be coming down beside the wall, and would turn right here and keep on); at the next gate, a set of wooden steps take you on to a muddy moorside path beside a barbed-wire fence. If it looks too muddy here, and you’d prefer to sidestep it, go through the gate, turn right, and after about 50 yards there is a stile on the right by which you can re-access the moor path at a drier place. Keep on along the edge of the fence and note as you pass the quarries to the left, as previously remarked.

On the right, in the space between the upraised tail/sting and the body, is Midgley Moor, one of the Calder Valley’s main zones of Bronze Age ritual activity – cairn circles, burial mounds, small standing stones and other remains identify the moor as a place of the otherworld three to four thousand years ago. Inevitably, such sites helped to confer an otherworldly perception of the moor in later centuries. One large tumulus, now known as Miller’s Grave, received its name, according to a local traditional narrative, after a Miller Lee committed suicide after a broken romance. At the time, suicides could not be buried in consecrated ground, so Lee was buried on the Height Road (at a place on this sign), probably in the usual manner – at a crossroads, at dead of night, without coffin or Christian service. Often a stake would be placed through the body if it was thought the spirit might ‘walk’; perhaps this was omitted for Lee, as he did indeed ‘walk’, and that stretch of road acquired a sense of dread for passers-by. Requests for the church to allow reburial in the Heptonstall churchyard were rebuffed, so locals took the matter into their own hands; one night they gathered at the grave and exhumed the body. It was borne up on to the moor and reburied in the tumulus – a ‘heathen’ site that they hoped would suit the unquiet spirit better, or at least was a reasonable distance from the road. But spirits’ feet don’t get tired – Lee passed over the half-mile of moor and continued to haunt the road, until finally the church relented and took him into their ground. Miller Lee’s tale – three burials, supernatural visitation, and physically ‘risen’ twice before finally finding rest, is an adventure with a clear Scorpio flavour. [John Billingsley, Folk Tales from Calderdale Vol. 1, Northern Earth 2007]

The path that marks the outline is very clear along this stretch and no deviation is required. On the shelf of land above the path, almost hidden amidst the heather, are a number of Bronze Age remains, including a cairn circle, cairn field, enclosure walling and a couple of small standing stones; Midgley Moor is one of the primary sites of Bronze Age afterlife activity in the upper valley.

In due course, the wall falls away to the left; here you follow it for a few yards, keeping your eyes peeled just before the wall makes a sharp left turn for a small path that branches to the right, heading straight towards the humps of another quarry, Foster Clough Delphs. To the right, between this path and the Calderdale Way, lie the remains of a Bronze Age earth circle – a ring of banking with an inner ditch; two other known examples exist along the moor edge at roughly this contour, a shelf below the main funerary sites.

In places this path gets a little indistinct, but it becomes clearer when you reach the quarries and it continues through them down to a path by a barbed wire fence. As you reach this point, you are stepping on to the upper of Scorpio’s two pincers.

Keeping the quarries to your right, you get to a finger-post at a stile; cross the stile, and follow the path down to the tarmac of Heights Road. Turn right, and the road marks where the claws join; cross Foster Clough bridge, past the terrace on the left, and on to Rough Bottom on the right. Just here a tarmac track 45 degrees on the left drops downhill; follow that right and you’ll miss Miller Lee’s presumed crossroads grave, where an old track crosses the road a hundred yards or so further on, on the upper side of Scorpio’s top pincer. As we follow the tarmac downhill, just before a small wood you leave the lower part of the Scorpio pincer, and thus the landscape sign itself.

From here you are making your way back down into the valley, or any other destination you choose. Follow the tarmac past the wood and around a hairpin bend to a little cluster of houses. The track goes through them and you come to a massive boulder placed at the top of a drive heading down to the right. Go down here towards the 16th-century Birchen Lee Carr, but head not for the house but a stile in the angle of the wall at the bottom right; through this stile, and a path will take you straight down the hillside to and through Banksfield housing estate in Mytholmroyd, and eventually the main road. You are back in the shadow trap, and the days are already shorter.