Recent MA Wild Writing graduate Tilly Renyard recounts the nature lost and found in her move from Essex to Manchester. Photo of a common darter © Tilly Renyard.
There is a lot to be said about what is wild in Manchester; in part it is my decision to move here.
I recently moved from an estate in Essex, where tawny owls howled through my bedroom window at night, and by day, there were at least five species of butterfly on the ten-minute excursion to One-Stop.
One-Stop is not the only thing that appeared to stop up north. My pessimism could be fuelled by the near two-hundred mile shift, but more fairly by the transition from summer into autumn, even if I did always claim it was my favourite season.
From June to September I would wake in Essex to the colour of my curtains and instantly know it was a good day for dragons. A track length away sat three modest sized trout pools. All attracted insects in equal bounty. Darters were the most common, yet I had seen hawkers – southern and migrant – and emperors from time to time; even a four-spot chaser. Its short, stout ‘body’ visually sets it apart from the others. The slight yellow-gold glow on the wing, as though stained from exposure to the sun, looks remarkable surrounding the four bold spots that gave it its name.
For another version of wild beauty try behind the trout pools, where the Colne runs narrow and shallow. This is the perfect place to be pleasantly surprised, by British wildlife and by insects, two seemingly uninspiring notions.
The banded demoiselle favours the stream with a gentle flow. The female is slender and bronze, like a brass needle, she rests on blackthorn that overhangs the water and is almost unrecognisable until she takes flight.
The male exhibits the name. His wings, as though blotted with ink, darken before the tip, which is translucent in poor lighting. He is also metallic; his colour changing dependant on angle and light, but it is something between emerald and teal.
It had been six days in the city when I realised I had not seen a slug. There have, however, been a few countable moments that remind me of home. Or rather, remind me that I am home.
I remember the feeling of every butterfly sighting I have had in the city of Manchester, because they were intense and I am dramatic, yes, but mainly because I can count to four.
There was a speckled wood, appropriately, amongst the trees in Heaton Park. It was beating the air where dust caught the light. A vast contrast to the first time I had seen a butterfly in Manchester, a sight that almost knocked me hopeless.
It had been a miraculous sighting of the red admiral. Down a busy A-road, lined with outlet and trade-only stores. It was caught in a whirlpool of traffic movement and fumes, whisked around and sucked into the path of a heavy goods vehicle. It was caught up and against will. A colour-break that excited and saddened me in equal measures.
The second admiral, a few weeks later, in the final days of October, had been basking in a block just parallel to my own. This one was in impeccable condition. It was still, resting on buddleia, and made me late to work.
It was captivating. I saw the city with white spots and tangerine tips. I almost saw the city as beautiful until a gentleman tripped me up to investigate a pill packet discarded in the gutter. I have had moments of romance but overall the city offers an alternate wilderness – a wildness.
By far the wildest creature here is man. At night, he is as active as a city rat and far braver. It has taken time to adjust, to move from Essex, a place where opportunities for intimacy with nature were abundant. I should say farewell to old ideas of nature, and be ready to embrace what it may mean to the city. The word still exists, I just have to describe it.
Tilly Renyard is a fresh graduate from the University of Essex, where she achieved a distinction in the MA Wild Writing. The degree enabled her to complete a work placement at a nature reserve, where she found infinite inspiration through observing the motions of nature. Tilly has always loved the outdoors and uses it as an integral part of her creative method. Her recent move to the city has challenged her previous conception of the word “wild.” Whatever it may mean, she continues to enjoy writing.