Feature by Mark Sutcliffe - interview with Tony Stott
Name: Tony Stott
‘Tony the Post’ as Bowland residents know him, has been delivering the mail, come hail, rain, sleet or snow, for the last two decades
Home town/village: Clayton-le-Moors
How long have you worked in the Forest of Bowland? 20 years. I began delivering in the Bowland area in 1997 on the Slaidburn, Newton, Dunsop Bridge and Bolton-by-Bowland rounds or ‘walks’ as we call them at the depot.
What does a typical day look like?
I work from 7am to 3pm and my route covers 65 miles from Clitheroe to Whitewell and Dunsop Bridge via the Trough, Brennand Valley and Whitendale. It takes about 90 minutes to sort the post and six hours to deliver it.
How does the job change through the seasons?
It changes dramatically. In summer the work can be hot stifling and dusty on those remote farm tracks. I have to keep the van windows shut and we don’t have air conditioning! In winter, bad visibility and icy roads can create hazardous driving conditions and the last few winters have seen some serious flooding.
In December 2015, when I stopped at the top of Hall Hill, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This spectacular view, which seems to encompass the whole of Bowland, had changed beyond recognition: the entire valley floor below me was a lake stretching from Whitewell to Dunsop Bridge. We pride ourselves on ‘getting the mail through’ no mater how bad the conditions – that was the first and only time I didn’t manage it. Just a week later, the opposite happened. It started to rain heavily while I was in Dunsop Bridge; all the roads leading there were flooded and I though I was going to be marooned overnight in the church. Luckily, the floods subsided after a few hours and I got home.
What are the people who live in Bowland like? Is there a distinct sense of identity?
I am on first name terms with everybody. I rarely take any parcels back to the depot as neighbours look after each other. The staff at the Inn at Whitewell are always cheerful and Glenda and Tony at Puddleducks are so helpful and considerate. All this makes my job so much easier.
How has Bowland changed over the years?
HM the Queen’s visit in 2006 prompted a lot of improvement work by the Duchy of Lancaster – a lot of the farm tracks were resurfaced and gates replaced by cattle grids and roads are better surfaced now – although new Tarmac seems more slippery in the winter!
What does Bowland mean to you?
Paradise – I love it! I always planned to retire at 60 – the traditional age for postal workers – but I decided to carry on working because it is such a pleasure working in Bowland and looking at stunning views every day – and getting paid to do it!
Every day is different: the lighting changes, the colours of the hills change. The progression of the seasons is very noticeable, especially with the arrival of different birds and the cycle of the flowers. I love the liquid call of the curlew in spring and the noisy oystercatchers. In May, the slopes of Mellor Knoll are glazed with bluebells. The hills are verdant in summer, with fresh bracken, then purple with heather in early autumn. As I drive around in this sublime scenery, where nature abounds, I sometimes forget I am actually working.
Most magical experience in the Forest?
In 2010 I drove through the snow to Whitewell via the ‘low route’ along the gorge because the ‘top route’ was blocked. The trees in the gorge were laden with snow and as I reached Dunsop Bridge, the snow stopped and the sun came out and the fieldss were pristine white against a deep blue sky. There were no other cars on the roads and it felt like I had got all of Bowland to myself.
That day was the most magical experience of the 40 years I have worked for the Royal Mail… and most of the mail got through!
If you had to relocate to anywhere else in Britain, where would it be?
I have travelled to many places in Britain on walking and cycling holidays, but there’s no other place in the UK I would rather work than here.
What is your favourite walk?
I have two favourite walks: up the Langden Valley to the castle then up onto Totridge Fell. This is best done in very cold or very dry conditions when it is easier to cross the peat bogs. The second is up Whitendale to the Hanging Stones and on towards Wolfhole Crag. The view down the valley towards the Hodder is mesmerizing, as is the one from the summit, beyond Bowland, to the Lake District and Howgill Fells.
Where’s the best viewpoint?
Just past the Inn at Whitewell, on the road to Dunsop Bridge, there is a gap in the beech trees where there was once an old footbridge across the Hodder. The view from here changes dramatically with the seasons, but on a summer’s day, with just a gentle breeze blowing and cumulus towering in an azure sky, it’s a truly beautiful sight. Framed between the beeches, the Hodder is an intense blue reflecting the shadows of the clouds as they drift slowly across Totridge Fell. Stay long enough and you might see a kingfisher flashing sapphire upstream. Stay even longer and what’s that? A salmon leaping into the Bowland sky!