Update to research

(1) Discovered an unknown windmill at Foulk Stapleford. GR 485625 Tithe map  1839, 160/Z EDT Plot 198. Bott mentions 2 mills in Ches.Hist., Autumn 1884 No.14 Pt IV. Both froze up during the winter of 1607.

Bott’s reference to Hockenhull Mill puts it in the marsh below Millfield and that it is close to the Roman bridges.

Took the windmill find to the Cheshire Historic Environment Record. It was basically confirmed and would be added to the database.  Also, looked at some possible sites using aerial photos of 1970’s  but not conducive. Sent the same evidence to the Mills Archive in Reading. Still awaiting expert opinion.

Have to check aerial photos stereoscopically at Chester Record Office.

(2) Beginning to assemble possible packhorse and/or drovers routes. The area around Aldford is promising. Lower Lane, just a few hundred metres south of the Grosvenor Arms leads long and wide, lined with old oaks and follows a straight path to Marsh Lane and after a short turn, heads to the Barton Road connecting Farndon with Broxton. It seems to continue southwards towards Shocklach.

Surprised to find  Lower Lane is one of a number of Roman roads in the area. Interestingly, the Romans used a ford to cross the R.Dee just downstream of the Iron Bridge. Now, the possibility of pack horses and drover’s cattle  and sheep may have crossed here as well as the medieval bridge at Farndon.; it too has passing bays rather like at Hockenhull.

Huge numbers of livestock came out of Wales to markets in Cheshire and beyond. There would have travelled by various routes, mostly established centuries before so finding them is a real challenge.

Field-names are invaluable, as our hollow ways, inns with stabling and even smithies. ‘Halfpenny ‘  field or croft means it would have been an overnight stopover for livestock. Again, another source to check.

(3) Yesterday (July 6th 2018) received two Cheshire Life articles, Via Devana 1949, the other, Forgotten Ways, 1958, both by Frank Marriott. The later pictures ‘one of Cheshire’s green roads…as a wide highway’ between Aldford and the Barton  road (A534).

The Via Devana article mentions another green road near Waverton (not far from the drover’s road I located at Hockenhull) as the ‘first glimpse of a fragment of the lost Roman road.’ It goes on ‘On the other side of Waverton lane, again heading for the church, the field shows traces of being disturbed by the remains of this vanished Roman road.’

This could be the link to the Aldford route (above). Also, noted a smithy was next to the White Horse pub in Churton. Interesting. Wonder if the Grosvenor Arms, in Aldford has stabling.  The Romans used a ford across the Dee, above the Telford ‘Iron Bridge’ just above Aldford. It was on a Roman road, perhaps, the Via Devana

***** reference emerged from the paper mountain:  Frank Latham, Tarvin: The History of a Cheshire Village, p.71:

‘Other mills were recorded at Peel, Hockenhull and Stapleford.

Of popular interest noted , in Latham, by Dr.T.W.E. Morton writing in 1900: ‘Three were three fairly good inns at the Sheaf, Stapleford, a small public near the Hockenhull Platts, on the Cotton side of the river, and one close to Ford Farm in Foulk Stapleford.

10th July Yesterday, explored a Hollow Way in Kelsall. It is recorded on the CHER website as possibly part of the route of the Roman Watling Street to Chester and Manchester, or a packhorse/drovers trackway. Expected a deep, steep sided valley, it was, but fenced off with barbed wire.  Did not have time to explore further but will return to battle through the undergrowth!

SALTER’S BROOK: SJ 523676( below Flat Lane) to 505671 (Shay Lane) and SALTER’S BRIDGE SJ 49897 67907 crossing the main A51 near Tarvin Sands, It flows from Barrow Brook to the north to the outskirts of Kelsall.

FROG MILL, Kelsall: no information from parish council though Tithe Field by that name.

27/11/18

Roman Watling Street passes only yards south of Eddisbury Hill. In 1885, below the Scots pines, W.T.Watkin, the Victorian author of Roman Cheshire excavated a section of the Roman road. He found  a 36 feet/11 metres wide cutting with a 10 feet/3 metres wide roadway in the middle. Worn  10 inches/25 centimetres into the rock were the wheel ruts of carts, exactly 4 1/2 feet/1.5 metres apart. (p.71 Bowerman, Walks in Mysterious Cheshire and Wirral.

What is so interesting is this is the standard gauge for railways in Britain and other parts of the world. It is the width of the packhorse bridges, the axle width both of Roman , Saxon and Medieval carts.

Sometimes called the Stephenson gauge as he used it when the ‘Rocket’ did its Manchester to Liverpool journey that heralded the steam age.

An archaeology found the same gauge is during excavations at Pompeii

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9th Dec 2018  Manor in the marsh CHER Ref 1885

Foulk Stapleford. Though not Hockenhull of interest. Manor of Foulk Stapleford. 12th C  south of Walk Mill on the east bank, bounded by leat and the Gowy ( LEAT…..Manor…Gowy). Disused manor by 16thC.

Moated sites most popular in medieval times both prestige and not always as defensive. Some 200 moated sites in Cheshire.

12 Dec.2018   CRO ref DAR/I/40 John Crewe’s Mize book and lists of bridges in Cheshire, their location, repair etc c.1621.  Finding this was to be a real bonus. Sadly, CRO did a search and found no reference to Hockenhull bridge. I was deflated. After here was a bridge on the King’s Highway from London to Holyhead. I have to assume the bridge had gone. This confirmed William Webb’s account of c1621. Perhaps, it was an oversight or the bridge was under another name.

Long overdue mainly because pages rather than update

Beeston Lost Mills: March 2020; After contacted by Wiki regarding the possibility of a relationship between canal locks on the Shropshire Union Canal and mills.  Two mills were found, recorded in Bott’s survey but not recorded anywhere else, at least as I know. They are Beeston Upper and Lower Mills. Typically, a confusion of names didn’t help. Both 13th century and on the Gowy. Full details on page

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June 2020

John Speed’s Cheshire Map 1610:  Born in Farndon, Cheshire 1551

What started as an appreciation of the most famous 17th English mapmaker, grew into another venture altogether. Here, the thumbnail is enough. Basically, Speed produced county maps for England of a quality and decorative standard, overshadowing Saxton’s maps of a few decades earlier. Saxton was a professional survey and Speed used his map of Cheshire, at least, as a template for his. Using coats of arms, human figures and other embellishments and , for the first time, town plans, his maps were works of art.

Both maps depicted features pictorially, giving the maps a comfortable, uncluttered and colourful feel. Neither included roads. Rivers, high ground and woodland lacked the accuracy of the location of settlements. His atlas of Great Britain sold for 40s, well beyond the pocket of most people; a labourer would earn that in a year. He produced a wide range of maps, celebrated in his atlas of the world. Maps were engraved by the best craftsmen in the Netherlands.

He mapped the main rivers. This was the aspect which drew more research. For most commentators, the rivers were not well mapped. The Gowy was, but there was a river from the R Dee meeting the Gowy close to entering the R.Mersey.  Much debated as wrong, it offered a challenge in supporting Speed, and Saxton,. Would they have  shown a river if it wasn’t there?   Such support led to another puzzling feature, again long written  about, called the Deva Spillway/Broxton Gap /Backford Gap. Even today,  opinions remain divided enough for this amateur to delve and make a reasoned defence of these two early cartographers.

Spurstow Watermills : April 2020: Not one mill but two were present in the parish. The known one was at Spurstow Hall, the second, at Spurstow Lower Hall. Apparently, there were two manors in the parish each with a mill at about the same time. Details of these and Beestons are on dedicated page.

 

Hockenhull Mill

Of all the discoveries at Hockenhull Platts ( yet to be  elaborated), one remains tantalisingly out-of-reach. All the research stemmed from seeing a field-name on a tithe map of 1839.

This was a national survey conducted in the mid-19th century. It mapped and produced an ‘apportionment’ of every field in a parish. It detailed who owned the field, its occupier, the field size and usage, any buildings and, for this  research, any mills or relevant field-names. In their own right, tithes are  fascinating, informative, and  offer lots more avenues of research but sadly, not here…for now anyway!

One field-name on the Hockenhull map stood out; field 32, Millfield. Never before had anyone had a notion of a mill being there. There is written evidence to support a watermill or windmill, or both, being by the Gowy. A few doubters believe it to be confused with nearby Stapleford Mill and in turn, this mill is confused with Walk Mill, a little further up river.

Clearly, the case for Hockenhull Mill needs to made. Further research is ongoing but soon the story will be revealed.

The Bishop Bennet Way

In the 18th century, Bishop Bennet carried out a detailed survey of Roman roads  between Chester and Whitchurch.  His route started near Beeston Castle, headed west towards Alford, passed Farndon and then south via Malpas and to his final destination, Wirswall, near Whitchurch, Shropshire.

                Part of the Bishop Bennett Way

It was opened to the public in 1998, a 55 km/ 34 mile mix of bridleways, tracks and minor roads though all are possibly ancient routes.

What does this Bishop’s travels have to do with Hockenhull Platts, packhorses, drovers, Romans and, perhaps more?  The answer is still ongoing but provides another dimension to a this dynamic research.

The River Gowy

Off all the topics covered, the most important needs its place; the River Gowy. Nearly always it is the bridges reaping the attention. Walkers, cyclists, whoever, stop and ask about the bridges or the wildlife, never anything about the river. Yet, without the Gowy, there would be no bridges and no rich history.

The river has a history reaching back  many thousands of years. Then, it may have been a wider, more powerful river only confined within a shallow valley. The  plain it crossed drained its energy and required the river to snake from side-to-side as at Stamford Bridge (below) where until the 1940’s  the Gowy struggled to defy its low gradient.; flooding becomes a regular event and an unwanted affect on human activity along its banks.

At Hockenhull, the Gowy also meandered without the contortions at Stamford where even the high tides of the Mersey reached until the building of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894

The Gowy never had such an advantage nor did the Weaver despite their present-day differences  even though both originated in the same field below the Peckforton Hills.

Today, the three medieval sandstone bridges, connected by a causeway, cross the marshes of Hockenhull Platts. Before the bridges, a causeway in some form, existed here for thousands of years.  Indeed,  I would suggest, the bridges and the causeway were set upon the underlying sandstone bedrock and possibly, the bridges were built on top of the causeway. This, and other revealing matters, such as why build three bridges if not to carry the rivers changing paths, and still more intriguing, did the river flow outside the floodplain we see today?

Such theories and other questions challenging the written record will be considered in the full version. For now, only a flavour of what is a complicated and dynamic story throwing a very different light on the Hockenhull Platts.

The Turnpiking of Hockenhull Platts?

Had a  local newspaper in 1744 headlined

HOCKENHULL PLATTS TO BE TURNPIKED

there would have been both consternation and relief in equal measure. Certain sadness as to the fate of the bridges and Platts Lane, and relief for it signaled the maintenance of the routeway was no longer a local issue.

A small, impoverished parish of some thirty people and the manorial lord never, as far as we know,  managed to meet the challenge of repairing either the  bridges or roadway. But now there were investors with  a local connection to the parish taking the burden off the poor parishioners shoulders.

The invention of turnpikes in the 17th century  grew rapidly in the 18th century as  more turnpike trusts were set up by act of Parliament. Trusts were created to repair and maintain existing roads though new roads were constructed as well.  Interestingly, trusts used  Ogilby’s  Britannia Roadbook (1675) to determine the main roads to be turnpiked.; one of his maps  showed, for the first time, Hockenhull’s  three sandstone bridges.

A turnpike was basically a hinged gate set across the road. A toll had to be paid to pass through with some roads having a number of toll-gates.  The  charges would be displayed on a board fixed to a toll-house at the roadside. Here, the toll-keeper would live with his family. Pedestrians did not pay but all forms of transport were chargeable, as were livestock , including packhorse trains.

The coming of a turnpike was judged, by the investors at any rate, to be a sound, profitable business.; generally, it was not. The Hockenhull Platts route was an extremely busy one with all manner of travellers on foot, horseback, wheeled vehicles (debatable), and the regular passage of packhorses. It was an obvious place for a turnpike, or was it?

Supposedly, Hockenhull Platts was turnpiked in 1744, but the Act does not include it.

Had there been a turnpike the result would be evident to this day. The bridges greatly altered, if not replaced, the causeway much wider and Platts Lane, particularly on the Tarvin side, a featureless roadway without verges and doubtless, devoid of its former charm and atmosphere.

Its fascinating history would have been set aside. The packhorse bridges only a memory and the jagger’s refrain just an echo of a national feeling of discontent.

Jack’s roads are fine, his roads are wide

and coaches will sustain

But not for me the turnpike road,

for a jagger with his train.

The toll-board at the bar-house

spells it out loud and clear.

It’s thruppence for each pony!

We think it very dear.

(Part of Jagger’s Refrain)

The discontent felt by the jagger was widespread across Britain. The poor facing higher land rents, poor harvests, the loss of common lands and the payment of tithes to the Church, were just a few of the inequalities facing rural communities. Turnpikes were an unfair burden to be suffered without any form of discretion, everyone paid, rich and poor alike. In rural Wales, the Rebecca Riots of the 1830’s and 1840’s  showed the desperation and anger felt by the poor in many parts of Britain.

By the 1870’s the days of turnpikes were over. They had created a network of well-maintained roads, allowing much faster, safer and more comfortable journeys.  Now a new transport revolution was dawning . Canals and railways were the new order and across Britain turnpikes were being dismantled .

In Wales, the last  turnpike in the country, at Llanfairpwll, Anglesey, on the London-Holyhead road, was dismantled with enthusiasm

This road  passed through Hockenhull Platts but not as a turnpike, instead the route went via Stamford Bridge, leaving the Platts a quiet bridleway as befits its ancient history.

 

Packhorses

Setting the scene.

Since our ancestors, thousands of years ago, first hunted, then domesticated the horse, the nature of transport and trade changed dramatically. Horses, and later oxen, now allowed large loads to be moved both locally and over long distances. Over time  packhorse routes developed to convey all manner of commodities. The packhorse is rightly claimed to have sustained the British economy for centuries.

In Cheshire, the production and trade in salt became of historic importance. Even in pre-history  salt  was highly sought after and was sent far and wide.  Indeed, throughout recorded history, salt was carried by packhorses and, to a lesser extent, by oxen,  gradually declining with the arrival of turnpike roads, canals and railways during the 18th and 19th centuries.

 

Based on Crump, Saltways from the Cheshite Wiches
HSLC,1939

Saltways radiated from the Cheshire wiches;  a Saxon word for salt town. One such saltway passed through Hockenhull Platts and its famous Packhorse Bridge. Formerly, these bridges were made of wood until they were rebuilt in stone in the 17th and 18th centuries It is one of the few packhorse routes detailed in Cheshire, at least. According to Sydney Moorhouse, in Packhorse Roads of Cheshire (Cheshire Life, Jan.1941) the bridges formed part of a route running between Chester and Manchester.

‘The track appeared to run from west to east and passed through Cotebrook, Whitegate and Davenham on its way to the Peovers and then turned north-west to run south of Mobberley, and so into Wilmslow on its way to Manchester.

Here, as elsewhere, trade in salt and most other commodities reached its peak from about the 12th through to the 18th centuries.

Perhaps, the only early written evidence of packhorses in the salt trade appears in the Domesday Survey of 1086.

Northwich:

 ‘A man from another shire paid 1d for a packhorse load; but a                               man from the same shire paid 1 farthing.’

Nantwich and Middlewich;

‘Whoever carted purchased salt from these two wiches paid 4s in toll if he had four oxen or more to his cart, if two oxen, he paid 2d toll, if there were two packloads of salt.’

The King and Earl of Chester were basically the controllers of the salt trade. There was great wealth to be made and strict rules ensured no one profited at the expense of the nobility. Fines were severe and exclusions , even death for theft  were sobering penalties.

At the heart of the salt trade were the packhorses. Their impact soon went beyond salt and the bounds of local interests and geography.

 

The Packhorse

The map shows just how widespread the packhorse routes (blue dots) heading to London were. (Wheeled vehicles in red)

Packhorse journeys to London in the late 17th century

Imagine the number of packhorses travelling on a daily basis, not only to London but all the markets in other cities and towns. The packhorse really did sustain the economy of the country and their contribution must have been breathtaking both in organisation, effort and volume of trade.

It is reckoned up to 1000 packhorses crossed the Pennines in any one day and one wonders what the total would be across the country. This does not taken account of the thousands of livestock moving mainly from Wales into England. For instance in 1804, some 20,000 cattle from one Welsh livestock market were preparing to be sent along ancient drovers roads to England.

All of this mass movement was going on virtually day and night in some cases. The by-ways , saltways, packways and drove routes must have been a constant flurry of activity.

I will let Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay, writing in 1685, offer his eloquent view of the difficulties travelling in those days.

‘On by-roads, and generally throughout the country, goods were carried by long trains of packhorses. These strong and patient beasts, the breed of which is now extinct, were attended by a class of men who seem to have borne much resemblance to the Spanish muleteers.’

These strong and patient beasts were mostly Galloway horses. Small, hardy and easily managed. Often they moved linked together with a large basket or pannier, on each flank.  There might be up to 50 horses with heavy loads and long journeys to make. Their task was not helped by the state of the roads even if ’causeys’ of flat sandstone flagstones helped crossing soft ground or rocky paths. Again, Lord Macaulay describes the scene:

‘…The great route through Wales to Holyhead [ Hockenhull being part of this, the King’s Highway] was in such a state that in 1685, a viceroy going to Ireland was five hours in travelling fourteen miles, from St. Asaph to Conway. Between Conway and Beaumaris he was forced to walk a great part of the way, and his lady was carried in a litter. His coach was, with much difficulty and by the help of many hands, brought after him entire. In general, carriages were taken to pieces at Conway, and borne on the shoulders of stout Welsh peasants to the Menai Straits.

Travelling by carriage was supposedly a virtue of those of means. Yet, as described, over much of the country the poor state of the roads was the norm. Many had such major potholes that carriages, carts and horses would fall into them, wholly or partly.

Will let Macaulay finish this introduction to the packhorse:

‘It was by the highways that both travelers and goods generally passed from place to place; and those highways appear to have been far worse than might have been expected from the degree of wealth and civilisation which the nation have even then attained. On the best lines of communication the ruts were deep, the descents precipitous, and the way often such as it was hardly possible to distinguish, in the dusk, from the uninclosed heath and fen which lay on both sides.’

Macaulay recalls what existed for centuries. The well-built roads of the Romans were long gone and nothing thereafter compared until the 18th century. The ancient trade routes continued largely as before but now serving a rapidly growing population. The packhorse supplied the needs of people and only the arrival of the  turnpike roads changed their role forever. Yet, in upland areas of the north and in Wales, packhorses continued  with the last trader thought to have been in Cumbria in 1910.

The coming of the turnpike roads improved roads considerably but at a cost and one that penalised the poor man and advantaged those who invested in their construction.  That scenario is one aspect of life that has not changed for centuries.

Read more in the dedicated pages.

NEWS: 19th May

Received email about detectorists finding lots of part and whole horseshoes in a field at the end of Platts Lane near to the eastern bridge. Could this be where the packhorses rested overnight? There may be loads more as the patch scanned was a small part of the field.  Some coins dating from the early 18th century and 19th century were found.

Another mystery to track!

Platts Lane, ‘Hollow Way’

 

Hollow Way (from West to East; OS 1875)

For thousands of years, Platts Lane and its hollow way was an ancient trackway for people and trade. Such tracks formed a network connecting many parts of Cheshire. Most were used on a local basis, others took on a more significant life, such as routes for packhorse trains and livestock drovers. The majority just allowed people to move between neighbouring villages, often ignoring the well-built Roman roads left  centuries before. Today, the majority of these local trackways and paths have  disappeared, are disused, or  bridleways and public footpaths.
Hollow ways are basically sunken lanes set below the surrounding land. Some are clearly recognisable, others shallow paths through woodland, across upland slopes or part of farm tracks.
How they are formed is a matter of debate. I suggest the hollow way here is the result of a natural river valley widened by erosion and deepened by many centuries of human activity passing along it.

Been measuring again!  No, it’s not a new found hobby, just necessary to see if my theory can be confirmed.  Did a stream flow here and in so doing was it used for a purpose not recorded? And yes, there is a bigger discovery in the making.

The hollow way is not uniform in elevation or width. From the river Gowy it climbs 13m to the junction of Hockenhull Lane and Platts Lane. Beyond this point, Platts Lane reaches 31m(102ft) before gradually dropping away towards Duddon.

In terms of width, the holloway varies from 17m (55ft) to 4m(13ft) with a footpath of 1.4m (4.5ft). The enclosing field banks  are about  2.5m (8ft) high at about midway, shelving each way to almost field level.

mid-section of Platts Lane

Moving eastwards, towards Hockenhull, the right-side margin is much wider and more complicated in structure. One section, below the path,  of some 43m (143ft) long forms an almost level area with a winding, shallow ditch below the field bank.

Possible creation of the hollow way

 

The hollow way is not unique to Hockenhull. It does form one element inthe rich story of the Platts; one I will be returning to in full.

Section of Drovers’ Road

A new discovery!

A few miles away is Christleton village.  Plough Lane leads away from the centre to become Platts Lane and it continues after crossing Hockenhull Platts.

Christleton – Hockenhull Platts; Drovers’ Road (OS. 1875)

Platts Lane always made me curious. Why was it so wide? Was it wide all the way back to Christleton? And, more interestingly, it narrowed a lot to the start of a muddy path to the western bridge, so perhaps, it had to do with the packhorses being readied to cross the bridges,  Besides, drovers often shared the same route as packhorses.

Detective work had to be done.  I took photos, sorted a map of the lane and made measurements at six stops using a laser gadget. It saved trying to cross ditches, fighting brambles and mud. Best of all it worked fine in strongish light. Wonder what the sparrows in the hedge made of it!

Anyway, the overall width averaged 12 metres (38ft). Now, that’s on the scale of a Roman Road!  The hedges would add another couple of metres. Rather leave the Romans alone…for now.

You might think, what’s all this measuring business? Well, I needed to check if my hunch was correct. Contacted Bruce, who has a website, (www.localdroveroads.co.uk) a really informative one, about drovers and their fascinating story. Everything about this research turns out to be well … just fascinating.

A drovers’ road has to be mostly straight, with wide verges, usually lined with oak trees (hazel is pretty common too) and, this is a tricky one to get, a very sharp, right-angled bend with a gate dead ahead. Hawthorn trees are a good sign in a hedge beside an ancient or old road. Present-day farmers hard cut hedges so few trees develop. There’s more to all this.

The information I gathered went off to Bruce. He came  back with 99% likely the lane was a drovers’ route, at least a local one and possibly a regional and national one. Indeed, the border with Wales is only about  10 miles from Christleton,. From Wales came many, many drovers of cattle, sheep and other livestock destined for markets throughout England.

Drovers were men who often moved large numbers of cattle (often Welsh Blacks) or sheep over long distances, mostly off-the beaten track. Riding or walking, with trained dogs such as collies and the bigger Cardigan corgi,  these men were highly skilled in their trade and  generally, respected and welcomed by farmers.

These were long-distance drovers. Huge numbers of cattle set out from Wales to all the main markets such as Birmingham, Bristol and London. There was droving on a local scale, from villages to markets in nearby towns. Whether national, regional or local the droving of livestock was a vital part of the rural econony.

The story of drovers is another detailed one. Will return to its rich past another time. I guess just relating the discoveries sets the scene, otherwise there would be pages and pages on a single topic. Instead, another poem to close on.  Another inspiration  as I search these stories

 

In the past year, varied research, including fieldwork has uncovered a wide range of original evidence about the Hockenhull bridges, a hollow way, the R. Gowy, flour mill(s) and hopefully, more is to come. Both drovers,  pack horses, archaeological finds the pre-history of Hockenhull Platts and the natural history, both of the study area and around where I live, will be included. I suppose there’ll be many random  extras!

Most of all, I hope  you the reader,  may find enough of interest to stimulate you to delve into the rich  secrets and stories of the landscape.

STOP PRESS: Another possible drover’s/packhorse route even closer to the Welsh border. Here we go again!

*Scots Pine Waymarkers*

As a guide to drovers’ Scots pines were used to signal a good place to stopover both for men and livestock; drovers often brought pine cones to plant along the way.  An inn or farm might have a single pine or a group easily seen by the the lead drover. Farmers welcomed their arrival for the manure it provided and the  inns for the extra income both in food and drink as well as accommodation for the tired travellers.

Cotton Farm is just off the drovers’ route at Hockenhull Platts. It has a single tall pine behind the farmhouse. Was this such a waymarker?

One can imagine with dusk falling, the distant sound of men calling,  the rumble of hooves in the lane,  the farmer with lantern aloft, welcoming the lead drover and the raised spirits of men coming to a restful night’s sleep.