Author : Peter Haynes
It’s a long winding tramp from the Ship Inn (formerly the Coachman) to Shapwell Ghyll where the spacecraft rests. At what is widely accepted to be the route’s start, I watch walkers of the Nordic bent de-telescoping and chatting as the first rimy sleet begins to cut in.
They have just returned; we are yet to begin.
She meets me by the chain-linked concrete bollards, where the tarmac of the Pass Road breaks down into clumps. Oftentimes, Shapwell Pass is closed for snows or high winds so thrill seekers don’t get a fatal shove down the scree to their skittering doom. Not today. Bikers tear by, taking advantage of the open season, followed by a trundling old Ford — engine under mounting pressure — with the barely-glimpsed shapes of kids in the backseat, ear buds in.
We leave the roar of traffic behind and begin the many-mile trek to the downed ship. The path we follow tilts down and away into the grey, past a rolling shoulder of land shawled in layers of dwarf grass and gorse.
She talks about it as we go. As it sailed down, she says, it clipped the tops of ancient calderas and dragged a mass of stone with it to dam the valley. The prow (if prow is the right word – sometimes amiable discourse must take a back seat to watching my footing) now rests in a pool of loamy run-off from the ghyll itself.
I experience first-hand how some conspiracy of the Shapwell valleys obscure and open a rambler’s perspective. Not to mention that from further out, along or above, the ship might as well not exist. It abides in a constant mist of its own making.
Eventually, as promised, the light grey cloud is superseded by the slate-dark looming of the ship’s hull. It is as I have heard – the sheer bulk of the thing just is. That it is psychically apparent through its perpetual caul is the craft’s defining feature for those who have made the trip. Was it ovoid or square-sided? Impossible to tell. Too vast to take it all in, too shrouded to mark out edges. What we see is a shape defined by the rough-sided gorge in which it has come to rest. Some of its vastness spills out of the valley head to hang precipitous.
I am forced to look elsewhere.
“Over here,” she says, walking toward a short stump of concrete about knee-height, dotted with lichen and clumps of moss. A previous visitor has scraped the worst away to reveal carved words on its face:
2019 Manzoli-Kraber Award
“I suppose because of the walk,” I say, turning from the stele and the ship.
“Well, yeah. You have to want to see it,” she replies. “When you get here, you usually can’t see anything. Still.”
“Yeah. Impressive.” I’m beginning to feel nauseous.
“So there it is. Told you you’d make it.” She stamps from foot to foot for a moment. “Any blisters? Boots behaving?”
“No trouble at all. Should we be getting back?”
“Yeah. After you.”
I feel the ship pushing down all the way out of the valley, right up until we step from the mist. The sleet has turned to snow; simple weather reasserting is a great relief. My appetite returns. We’d better pick up the pace – the Coachman used to be one of those pubs that closed in the afternoons.