As I swung the car into Station Road and the long drag up to Hangingstone Road I remembered how many times throughout my life I had walked this way. In joy and sorrow, in times dark and bright, alone or with beloved faces, themselves now only a memory, with my sons as children…but always with this breathless anticipation, this rising flame in my chest, this knowing that soon, very soon, I would set foot upon the yielding earth of the moor.
There are more beautiful places, more spectacular landscapes. There are, undoubtedly, wider vistas, taller hills, wilder places… But for me, there is nowhere that feels like this small stretch of moorland above Ilkley.
The visit was unplanned… a gift… a joy.
We arrived mid-afternoon in sunshine to a landscape that whispers to me no matter where I am. Parking the car we headed for the Cow and Calf pub, already high on the moor, and a cold drink before stepping onto the short, dense grass below the rocks. There isn’t much… other plants rule here.
The earth underfoot is resilient, cushioning each footstep. Centuries of bracken have given it a unique texture and it is gentle and welcoming. Bracken perfumes the air with its sharp pungency, fresh and stimulating. Bilberries hide dark berries beneath ovate leaves stained with red, tall reeds punctuate the landscape like blades… and it is August and the heather is in bloom. In places it is all you can see, a purple blanket across the world.
I think of a friend, another Yorkshire lass in exile, named for the flower that runs in our blood and carry her with me up onto the moor.
We climbed to the top of the cow and calf rocks, the paths sparkling with eroded sand and the quartz from the stone there. The rocks are carved with grafitti from all ages… names and dates, stories long forgotten and yet preserved here, echoes of times and faces unknown and unremembered. There are many carvings on these moors, the rock art dates back to the earliest times.
We looked out across Wharfedale at the blue distance while around us the Bank Holiday visitors played in the sunshine. Behind us the quarry is an alien landscape, a chalice of heather with a single outcrop of rock rising in the centre, bordered by the rare deep green of firs. There are no trees higher on the moor.
We headed for the hilltop… further up and further in…over to Backstone Beck where I built pebble dams as a child, making little pools amid the boulders where the amber water flows pure from its source. Where my own sons had built dams. As it filters through gravel and stone, falling in a thousand tiny falls, we drank from a stream I have known all my life.
We found some of the hundreds of ancient carved stones, cup and ring marks, lines and geometric shapes that have held their enigmatic messages for silent millennia. I showed him the Planets and the Idol stones, the Haystack and Pancake rocks and told some of their legends. This landscape has known the life of man since the earliest times. I showed my friend the giant frozen in stone, the places where those old ones dwelt and worshipped, one of their circles of stone and their carved gods.
I have taken few people to Rombald’s Moor, yet there is a joy in sharing these special places with those who feel them. We went high on the moor… not to the top as the sun was dipping low, then there was no more time and we had to descend. There is always a pang as I take that first step downwards again.
But we stayed a little while longer, dining on the terrace of the pub, watching as the sun went down behind the great rocks. And still it brought tears as we drove away.
My friend is right. I need be within striking distance of this place I love. To go home. One day.