In which I say goodbye to Ma’s sledge

Two years ago, we moved into Shrewsbury, into a sensible house with a small garden, and a lot less space to stash clutter. Last weekend, sorting out the garage (which will never house the car), I finally caved in and accepted that it was time for my mother’s 1930s sledge to leave us. My grandpa built it, and had the Settle blacksmith put steel runners on it. In the deep snowy wartime years, my ma and my uncle thundered down the hills above Settle and Langcliffe on it. It weighs a ton. In my childhood, we sledged on it in Cumbria, but we were near sea level, and what I remember is the sound of its grumbling over light snowfall and rocky fields. Later, my sons used it in Scotland, in deeper snow. But they preferred plastic sledges, much lighter to drag back uphill. The sledge hung in the barn for another decade. It rusted, and picked up woodworm. Then I took it down to Shropshire.

Perhaps someone would like it? Perhaps it could become art? Ask me.

Mary Bland on the beach at Morecambe – the family used to cycle there – and back again – from Settle.

As it happened, I wrote a poem for my ma and her wartime sledging just a year before her death at the grand old age of 88. She was pretty fearless.

Sledging Nights

Built in the thirties, my mother’s sledge
Is hardwood heavy, its metal runners
Blunted in the tip and race of hills

Run down the slopes of three generations, how
It rumbles on our thinner snow
Low undertow of older, colder winters

When the Bland bairns ran the limestone hills
Of Settle, ma with boys’ shoes
On her long, narrow feet

None other being available
With coupons, not even
In Leeds. Picture half

The village out after dark in the crisp
Weight of January. The hauling
Of homemade sledges up the snowlit fells

And at the third field’s top, ma saw
The drystone walls become the bones of hills
Lay face forward on the sledge, kicked off

And carved a glitter with trailing toes
Clenched mittened fingers tight on rope
And gathered speed

On whited hulks of hills
Came shrieking, steering
Veering down through propped gates

And told me how in Yorkshire, in the war
The sledging nights
Were blackout dark, and full of falling stars

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