Jacobs Ladder – Joyce Janes

When Jacob was born no one realised what an unusual little boy he would become.  He was a good baby who developed quickly.  It was when he was about a year old that the family began to notice Jacob was different to his brothers and sisters.

He didn’t play like the other children and cried if they tried to involve him in their games.  Jacob preferred to watch people as they moved around, they did things he couldn’t they were interesting.  But he didn’t like people to be aware he was watching and if they noticed he would look away immediately as if uninterested.

He watched everything from the corner of his eyes.  His mother got used to working under the gaze of her young son but others in the family were uncomfortable with this strange child.

Jacob seemed to find communication difficult making himself understood using only the minimum of effort.

Unlike his siblings he washed his hands often and folded his clothes when he took them off, placing them in a neat pile.  He collected things, stones, sticks, acorns, leaves all sorts of things grouping together them in rows or sets. Altogether he was an odd child and most of the family dismissed him as stupid.  His mother was the only one who had faith in her son instinctively she knew he was bright but hadn’t found a way of showing it.

As he grew older Jacob was always looking for new ways to do things, improved ways.  He made mother a beater, twice the size of the original one it did the job in half the time.  He drew pictures of the farm and land around detailing every field, fence and stile.

He took over the job of marking the lambs as they were born inventing his own symbols and keeping a neat record of stock.

When working on the farm Jacob had seen the Jaggers pass, driving the Packhorses through Edale on route to Castleton and Hayfield and beyond.  He didn’t know anyone who had travelled any further than either of those places he liked the idea of going around seeing new things.

As seasons came and went he learned the rhythm of the countryside.  Winter feeding and keeping the sheep from harm, spring tending new lambs, summer shearing, spinning and selling the fleeces.

At shearing time they all had jobs, father gathered the sheep, his brothers sheared whilst Jacob folded and recorded each fleece.

One day Jacob went to his father, ‘if we took our own fleeces to Hayfield we would get a better price and you wouldn’t have to pay the Jagger.’

‘Well lad we might,’ was fathers reply, ‘but that would take time and cost money.’

Jacob had his answer prepared, ‘I have it all worked out.  I will use our own donkey.  I will take him over the top myself by Edale Cross down Oaken Clough.  You wouldn’t miss me as much as the others please father can I do it?’

That was how it all started.  Jacob took their fleeces over to Hayfield and sold them for even more than expected.

As it cost less than the regular Packhorse when others in the village heard Jacob’s idea they offered to pay him to take their wool.

Everyone was happy and Jacob begun to carry other goods as he travelled backward and forward over the hills.

The boy saved every penny he could and it wasn’t long before he bought more donkeys and started to travel beyond Hayfield to Macclesfield.

One hot summers day as he led his packhorses up toward Edale Cross he stopped to catch his breath.  He studied the hillside watching his donkeys treading the familiar route as they trudged slowly up the zigzag path.

A thought occurred to him I could probably send them up alone they don’t need me to lead them.

That gave him an idea.    In his mind he could see himself cutting steps into the hillside, a path leading in a straight line so he could walk that way whilst his donkeys took the longer zigzag route.

And that is what Jacob did.  Each time he passed that way he cut into the hill laying stones forming steps up the steep side of the hill.

This direct stairway became known as Jacobs ladder and many walkers setting off from Edale, on the 260 miles Pennine Way, use this path

The old zigzag packhorse path remains and can still be walked today.

Joyce Janes writer for children

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