Country diary: the mind's associations with moors run dark and deep

Beldoo Moss, Cumbrian Pennines: Brontë, bog-body, Baskerville, Brady – it’s as if we are impelled to fill all that bare, bleak, vacant space

Think of this place and most people see the road: the high crossing road that climbs one side of England’s back and descends the other. A second thought might be of the Roman road that once ran this way, itself over the course of an already ancient bronze age pass.

Moors do much to their observers without much to do it with. No trees. High, stream-veined upland with bones of rock breaking the skin in steps. It’s bare. Bleak, if you like. Associations run deep and dark as the peat. Brontë, bog-body, Baskerville, Brady – the mind’s grasping associations fill all that vacant space.

Grouse moors lie to the north, and generations of heather-burning has scarred the ground like a weird disease. There are stones everywhere. Milestones, marker stones, maybe just stones. Most have homogenised with exposure, so it’s impossible to tell which were placed there by people, apart from the few that clearly were. All have orange and green lichen rosettes. To lichen, they’re all special.

The road is always there. Even when it looks quiet, noise still seems to carry along it like vibrations along a plucked string.

Rocks covered with lichen on Beldoo Moss
Rocks covered with lichen on Beldoo Moss. Photograph: Simon Ingram Photograph: Simon Ingram

More than a thousand feet up, this place gets snow early, and loses it late. Today, on the first warm day of a late spring, this huge view lost the last speckles of its high ground. The season shifted in hours. Now, evening, is the time to be here, the ground full of the day’s warmth, and glowing winter-dead gold. As a prospect, it’s awesome. Boundless-looking, sterile-feeling.

But tonight it’s alive. The ground rises in tiers riddled with holes, and I see rabbit-grey disappearing every time I crest one. Meadow pipits fire from the moss. The sky is blue, cut by an arc of high cirrus.

There are buzzards in it. Four, gliding high on evening thermals. They are keening, a bent whistle echoing in the cavernous air. Black patches on each pale underwing, like eyes watching the ground – a different perspective. We see the road, need the road. To the birds, the A66 is just another dropped wire in a place that never needed it.


Simon Ingram

The GuardianTramp

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