The Porter Brook flows for about 6 miles, from the edge of the Peak District, through Sheffield’s leafy south-western suburbs and some wonderful parks, before disappearing into a culvert, eventually joining the river Sheaf in the city centre. The dams and former mills along its meandering course testify to its role in helping power Sheffield’s industrial revolution.
Between 1987 and 1990, I used to run along the Porter Brook several times a week, from my student digs in Sharrow. It is often said that one of Sheffield’s greatest attractions is its proximity to beautiful country. I’m not sure how true that is for all parts of the city, but I could certainly run from my home close to its centre and be in the Peak National Park within half an hour.
I couldn’t anymore! The distance hasn’t got any greater, but the time it takes me to cover it has. I went for a tentative “run” along the Porter Brook this morning and although various parts of my body were complaining, my soul wasn’t.
Thirty-five years ago, I barely used to notice the steady climb out of the famously hilly city. It took me through the gothic Sheffield General Cemetery, along Ecclesall Road, to Hunter’s Bar – an area that’s become even more urban-chic since I left – and the entrance to Endcliffe Park. This is where the Porter Brook really comes into its own.
I once walked along the Philosophers’ Way in Heidelberg and following the Porter Brook has a similar quality. For all the many times I ran along it, I never got bored. There are so many criss-crossing paths that it seems impossible to follow the same route twice. As you ascend towards its source, the surroundings become more wooded, your footsteps more muddy, until you breakout into open country and can look back down the valley towards the Steel City.
Today, I didn’t make it quite that far. It surprises me to think that I used to do it so effortlessly, but such is the passage of time. I used to run more quickly, but I noticed far less. Back then, I had no idea of the joy and pain my life had in store, although I do remember sitting by the Porter Brook and weeping uncontrollably when, in 1988, I got the news that my grandad had died. Now, this tranquil river feels, as the Philosopher’s might have said, like a metaphor for being alive: relatively insignificant, with many twists and turns, but part of something much greater and always flowing, while gently moving towards an invisible end.
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