Country diary: No camera can capture the multi-sensory assault of this waterfall
Janet’s Foss, North Yorkshire: The light at this popular spot plays with the air around you, as the water burns the skin
I forget that October brings a relief as potent as the coming of spring. I forget that summer gets just as old and weary as winter, and that autumn begins with birds in new plumage, freshly motivated to sing.
I forget that on some mornings the sky will be so blue and sharp you could cut yourself on it. That the season starts with scarlet hips, haws and rowanberries. That beeches begin their elaborate farewells with outbreaks of amber and gold months before they actually shed their leaves, while ash foliage drops early and green, with no ceremony, like the friend who slips from parties without saying goodbye. No offence, that’s just how they are.
Similarly, I forget the magic of this place until I go back. The beauty of Janet’s Foss, in the Yorkshire Dales, is no secret. Everyone stops for a picture, but the light here does things their camera will struggle to record – it tinkers with water, gilds mist and turns gnats into flecks of airborne fire. Even if you manage to photograph all that, and to record the complex fog of sound, much will be missing.
Then there is the tactile burn of cold water – a sensation we interpret as pain purely because we rarely stimulate the largest organ in the body in its entirety. And the smell – just as the water here is clear enough to be its own true colour, aquamarine, it is also clean enough to have its rightful scent. Fittingly, for a flow that will become the River Aire a few miles downstream, the smell is equal parts river and atmosphere: the simplest of ingredients pounded to an aerosol by a pestle and mortar of gravity and rock.
I find the aroma has a brainstem effect – like the skin of a baby or a lover; like petrichor; like the sea; like a sweet wild rose. It stops me in my tracks, lenses other senses, sharpening and colouring vision, enriching sound.
I taste it and feel it, on inner surfaces and outer one, and I hope I never tire of being reminded. Seasons and places, like friends old and true, are always best met in person.