A storm on the moors

Posted: October 21, 2014 in Notes from Hebden Bridge
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Stoodley Pike from across the valley in Blackshaw Head, my home village.

Stoodley Pike. Taken from across the valley by Great Rock in Blackshaw Head, my home village a few days ago. The hill is the pike, not the monument. A common mistake. The hill is 400 metres, the monument 37 metres.

Today, I went to the top of the moor and stood in the face of the gale.

The tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo paid a visit to the Pennines, and I went purposefully up the mountain to swim in the rain and the wind.

There was no one else there. Only sheep chewing grass unconcernedly, and cows huddled in the lee of walls. Leaves that flew like birds, birds that were blown like leaves.

This is why I love Yorkshire. Every inch of Britain has felt the touch of man. There are no pristine landscapes here. The wildest seeming – often these are the heaviest handled. Made by our ancestors unintentionally, and tended to maintain that form today. They are unintentional gardens, wilderness in error.

Although no one can call the landscapes of high Yorkshire natural, they are at least honestly wild. Mankind’s hand sits but lightly on the moors, and on days like today it appears to withdraw entirely.

Some find it bleak. I was born in this part of the world. I can see the grimness of it, the endless dun hill tops and grey crags, but I enjoy that very bleakness. For its sense of defiance, if nothing else. Defiance of the worst the Atlantic can throw at it, defiance of the people who sought to change it. Even as the forests make a stealthy return to the valleys, the high moor remains more or less as it has been for millennia.

To be home is to belong. I was smart enough to realise early what I wanted in life was right under my feet, wise enough in a callow way to know I had to go away to find it. I was away too long, perhaps. I am glad I am back now.


Rainbow over Hebden Bridge, taken today below Erringden moor.

This has been a poor week. My wife suffers in her career. Everyone is stressed. My son has slipped a little at school, most certainly because of the move.

This morning that did not matter.

Yorkshire is called God’s own country. To go outdoors here for a while… Every walk is a minor exercise in mountaineering. To ascend quickly, if breathlessly, then look down from great height. There is a sense of Olympian detachment to the view. No wonder Yorkshiremen are so opinionated.

I say to my wife as often as needed that there is always a way out. Sometimes I find it hard to believe what I say.

But not on days like this, not on days when the world is hand-tinted by the season. When rain falls over the valley in visible fusillade, dark as bombs, and the sun is mysterious behind the veil of it. When golden grass whips in the storm, ferns are of pale bronze, oak leaves are copper, birch are of brass. Today the world was a treasure box. Trite, I know, but invigorating to experience, and I feel like recording it.

I became a writer to be free. I value my freedom. I am not naive enough – or perhaps not optimistic enough – to think revolution can free us all. I have known several revolutionaries. They are usually confounded, and often angry. Instead I have worked quietly to free myself. With the promise I would help others when I could, but a selfish aim nonetheless.

Freedom is a rare commodity in this age. Fate turns against us all, ruthless cogs of circumstance and culture that brook no dissent. My stock of freedom is precious, and dwindling.

But on the moors, alone with the storm, there is a freedom that is always there.

There is always a way out.

  1. Stuart says:

    I envy you and your gorgeous scenery. Lucky devil.

  2. The Hob says:

    ‘…wilderness in error.’ …mmm, I like that, I do.

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