There is a place the heart calls home, I think, for each of us. Sometimes we are lucky enough to live there. Sometimes it simply lives within us and pulls at the heartstrings, calling us. It may be the place you were born, a place you were happy, or a place that takes hold of your heart and begins a romance that lasts a lifetime long.
These are the places where the innermost self touches the heart of the land and Mother Nature herself reaches out to us, drawing us to her, teaching us her ways and letting us listen to her heartbeat as we lay our head upon her breast in silence and wonder.
For me, it is that ancient range that forms the backbone of England, the Pennines. These weathered hills run northwards, separating East from the West, rising in Derbyshire and running to the end of England. But this is not a geological essay. It is, quite simply, a love affair.
There is a magic about the moors for me. The rock and iron grey of the clouds may not fire everyone’s imagination. Many cannot see their stark winter beauty. But I defy anyone to be unmoved by the rising of a pale golden sun from the purple mist of heather that blooms from horizon to horizon in a brief burst of glory.
The sons of dawn will greet the liquid Light,
Lustral gold on heavens canvas glowing.
Painted magic banishing the night
Gilds the dream of every Seeker’s knowing.
Wings of morning flutter on the breeze,
Crystal raindrops scatter diamond bright,
Feathered choirs haunting in the trees
Bear the Seeker’s soul in joyful flight.
These hills run in my blood. The oldest members of my family that I remember, my great grandparents, were born in their shadow. One of my earliest memories is of walking the moors with my great grandfather and my mother, a bar of chocolate in one pocket, an apple in the other and water from the many streams to drink. He would tell of courting my great grandmother and walking the ten miles across the moors from his home near Bingley to hers in Ilkley. They would meet for a brief hour and he would walk home the same way in the dark. His heart, he said, rising to sing with the skylark.
Later his son, my grandfather, taught me the lore of the moorland. He showed me the ancient stone circles, the figures carved in the rock, eroded and softened by time. We speculated on their origins and meaning as we searched for fossilised seashells high above the valleys and found flint arrow heads among the heather and bracken.
I learned of the old people who had called the moors their home. He taught me the legends and folk tales and we tracked the barguest’s footprints in the soggy ground beside the sparkling becks as we walked.
It was to this little patch of Yorkshire my heart ran when it was hurting as a child and through my youth. I would walk alone and never once felt fear. The moors took me in and healed the hurt. The tears shed there were dried by the wind and kissed away by the touch of heather as the moors opened their heart to me and held me. There was a day with my own sons, full of love and laughter and adventure that shines in memory still, sparkling as fresh as the water in the beck as we built a dam with pebbles. And a day of grief when I took my partner home and gave his ashes to the winds
The magic runs the length of the Pennines for me. There is something in the very stones beneath your feet and the way the clouds come down to play amid the bracken and dry stone walls. But there is a tiny patch that calls to me in spring more than any other. Today, as the sun shines and the first hint of spring warms the air, that longing seeps into my very bones and calls me home.
I live far south of Rombald’s Moor, but a little piece of my heart wanders there still. The edge of the moor where the Cow and Calf rocks hum with tourists in summer marks only the edge of a magical realm, where altar stones are carved with ancient gods and the profile of a Giant Rombald himself juts out from the moor to watch over the valley. Of course, some folk call this the Pancake Stone, knowing it only as a glacial remnant or as a rocking stone only an honest man will ever move. I know different. Here sleeps the giant after whom the moor was named.
This is the landscape I have been writing of in the new book. It was for these stones and legends, this love, that I began it, wanting to preserve and share the essence of what was handed down through the generations of my own family. Reading through and editing, in front of a computer screen far in the south, my heart, like my great grandfather’s over a century ago, rises with the skylark in joyful flight over the moors of home.
Tall the cliffs of stone
That mark the entry to my heart’s domain,
Wild and empty in its vastness
The solitude of living earth.
The wind lifts the heart
And bears it through the storm
To where the lichen crusted rocks
Cling to the clouds.
Part of my heart remains there
Scattered with the ashes of a lost love
Mingled with the joy and pain of memory,
Of childhood wonder and a lover’s kiss.
Deep the roots which bind me to that land,
Like the weathered pines that cling for life
To the purple hillside…
Genuflecting, but standing, still,
Naked in the mist.
Or the great stones,
Ice carved in aeons past
Into a landscape of dreams,
Marked by ancient hands
With figures of Light,
That I may stand beside them,
And recognise my kin.