The main footpath up to the cove is busy with folk as we join it. Monty skips and jumps, full to the brim with child-simple joy - shouting to all who'll listen, 'I like dogs!'. I'm not sure if he's trying to get people to let him pet their dog or whether he's just enjoying the game - but it's interesting to observe some people smiling with him, whilst others look away. Eli seems out of sorts so I point out to him the wobbly silver lines of dry stone walls snaking across the hills, some now no more than fallen and heaped rubble, bleached by centuries of exposure. He looks and nods but he can't seem to shake his subdued mood until he sees some water. The stream that burbles at the bottom of the flat approach to the cove is shallow and inviting and the boys wade and paddle their way upstream towards the sheer face of the cove, little legs pink with stinging cold. Jackdaws sit in gnarled, still-bare ash trees at the water's edge.
We stop to chat with a couple whose teenage children are chasing their dog through the water; the parents look wistfully at Monty and talk of how quickly time passes. I can see watching him play they miss little voices and limbs; my thoughts fall forward to a time too soon approaching and I can't help but wish that just sometimes we could all slow the bitter-sweetness of growing children.
Walking on, we find that just before the cove the RSPB have set up a viewing station for spotting peregrine falcons high up on a treacherous ledge. The man tells us they are being shy today but when I step to the telescope I see a bright eye, a beak and a turning wing, 'I see him!' I shout, and turn excitedly to see doubtful faces; perhaps they think I am mistaken or lying. They come to look but he is gone - I keep looking for a while longer, fruitlessly hoping to catch another glimpse of the elusive raptor.
We start to ascend the long stone staircase to the top of the cove; the rocks are slippy and worn and I worry for the boys who are racing each other up and up. I worry too for my sprained and swollen ankle, still tender and delicate - making me move slowly, like someone older, forced into frailty. I wonder whether you can measure sprightliness by the staircases you can climb? These giant steps are impressive, made of hefty rocks and slabs. It must have taken so much strength, time and commitment from people who had probably been volunteers - lending their limbs and spirits to lift and perfectly place one stone after another to make the high limestone pavement accessible instead of muddy and dangerous. As I climb higher, able to see further and further, I silently thank these willing strangers.
At the top, we can't see how to proceed. It takes a moment or two to adjust to this strange landscape, I hobble over the treacherous surface, scared again for my ankle and for the little legs clambering beside mine. But children are mostly sure-footed, having not yet learned to mistrust their bodies, their confidence often keeps them safe. I look into the gullies, searching the grikes between the slabs for plant life - remembering in The Wild Places, Robert McFarlane and Roger Deakin on their bellies in Ireland - peering into the fertile life of the gully, finding wild worlds in miniature. I'm not sure it's quite like that here, perhaps the crisp packets and plastic bottles distract me from the plant life, although I do spot some wood sorrel, herb Robert and stunted ash saplings amongst the ferns. It's hard not to compare these rocks with bones - long spines of ridged rock, each knobbly clint a vertebra or a knuckle. Teeth too point up from the surface - a true dinosaur graveyard for little minds ready to make stories and see monsters. There is a kind of magic in the contrast between the green tufts pushing between the bony platelets of the stone, all suspended on this high platform beneath the clouds, above the valley.
Monty treads carefully beside me, holding my hand. A family passes anxiously with a dog, his paws clattering and slipping on the rippling stone. I point them to safer ground and notice the parents looking wistfully at Monty, they gesture towards their own children and joke about big boys and big smelly feet. They miss cute, they say; and I understand...I am to treasure these moments, remember this day.