A lone journey through a Dark Peak Clough.

A Memoir

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An amalgam, a collection of hazy half-remembered recollections from the last sixty years or so, of my lone explorations and adventures in the beautiful cloughs, moorlands and remote wilds in the high southern pennines of the north midlands of England.
 Not of one particular day or of one specific clough, just fading memories from some of the most magical moments that I’ve had, over half a lifetime of tramping and scrambling my way through them.

For me, it’s been a lifetime of joy and pleasure, to be able to escape into them.  And, an even greater privilege to be allowed to share them with the wild plants, animals and birds that somehow manage to scratch out their tenuous living, from what is one of the few genuinely wild and lonely places left in middle England.
 Most of it situated less than ten miles from two of the largest cities in the country.
Though a whole alien world away.

A land sitting on the Edge. 

   Leaving the Redmoss Road at Dale Head, quietly, ignoring a Private Keep Out sign !  I slip over a crumbling drystone wall, set close by the side of an old worn packhorse bridge.  Leaning precariously, hard over the loud urgent surge of the Black Beck, as it pummels and forces its way through the narrow dank fern draped pillars of its ancient arch. The sharp ticking of a wren and clattering scald of a blackbird, loudly announcing my trespass into the gloom of their forest.

A crouching passage, under the low drooping branches of tall spruces and the spring green foliage of larches, made easy by the bare and deep needle covered forest floor, soft underfoot, my steps muffled by the insistent low murmurings of the beck.

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Clinging to thin stems of short springy hazel coppice I manage to scramble my way down to the side of the beck, it stained gravy brown from a long journey through the groughs and cloughs of the dark peat moorland above.
Startled by the sudden loud staccato Cack, cack cacking, of a skyrocketing pheasant as it breaks cover from the deep shadows under the lower branches of spruce,
I start to slowly wind my way up the side of the clough.

 
   Easy at first, walking over the slippery exposed gritstone slabs and moss-covered boulders of a light denuded woodland floor, following a vague path as it weaves its way between broad clean trunks of tall mature Sitka-spruce before tunnelling on through the damp dripping yew like foliage of western hemlocks.
 Male ferns and bucklers spill out of the cracks and crevices in the exposed underlying bedrock, pale toadstools and yellow honey fungus exploiting the woodland gloom, eerily littering the bare forest floor, a clean musky primaeval smell of pine needles and the old decaying bones of long-dead tree stumps invading my nostrils.
All the while the beck continues to urgently crash its way over a bed of hard green grit’, doggedly pummelling between low, narrow buttresses and submerged boulders before cascading over short stone sills in a sparkling rainbow of bright glittering spray.

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   Pushing through into a wide-open clearing, the beck ebbs, slackening its pace as I find myself picking a way through crowds of tall yellow-flags and coarse tufts of juncus rush, all thickly lining its banks.  In the middle of the stream standing on a rock,
I spot a pair of dippers.

   Smart birds with black tailcoats, russet brown head and shoulders set above a milk-white breast that they display by bowing and dipping, contrasting with the orange and ochre brown lichens decorating the rocks and boulders that they stand upon.  Unblinking, one of the dippers turns its head to stare at me, the jet black beads of its eyes glinting as it gives me the once over, before slipping into the beck and disappearing under the flat shallow current.  Spreading out its wings, it walks submerged up against the flow while clinging to the stone bedrock of the stream, turning over gravel and small stones to flush out its aquatic prey of insect larvae and small fish.  I’m fascinated as they continue to dive and dip, only to reappear further upstream,  bright, sparkling silver pearls of water rolling down their backs and sides.  Not a shy bird at all and they seemed to willingly accept my intrusion into their small watery world; for me a gift, a privilege.

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   Once out of the clearing, the sides of the clough start to steepen and close in, the urgency of the beck increasing as it pounds its way around the enormous green boulders standing in its path, only to hurl itself over high steep steps and thundering falls before resting beneath, in swirling foam-flecked, ink-black eddies of unknown depth.  Making any headway at all is slow, and I’m forced to gingerly slide along narrow, fragile moss-covered ledges, as I cling onto the steep slime oozing stone walls that lean hard over them.  In other places, I risk climbing above them by pulling at the stalks of old leggy half dead heather, or grabbing onto handfuls of bilberry, while kicking steps into the soft fern-covered flanks of the beck.

    Climbing above the falls, I leave the conifers behind, and as the sides of the clough gradually fall back, the stream widens and becomes more sluggish, its banks overhung with a rough mixture of old knurled black-alders, silver birches and ancient wind-blown rowans.  The woodland behind developing into a dense thicket of low scrubby oaks, blackthorns and overgrown hazel coppice.
Overhead, flitting through the open crowns of the alder’s, I hear the thin chittering song from a flock of siskins, as they urgently work at teasing out tiny winged seeds from small hard black cones, that hang in profusion from the alders topmost branches.  Joining in with this frantic workforce, a few brightly marked goldfinches and a solitary red-capped, redpoll, all industrially stripping the alders and birches of their winter bounty.  The siskins were a delight to watch, small yellowy olive green-finches with striking cream wing bars that lit up in the spring sunshine, as they performed their circus acrobatics while swinging from the cones of the alders.

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   Sticking close to the beck, I find myself stumbling into a low lying sedge filled carr, the bog sucking hard at my feet,  boots belching and slurping as the mire releases a fetid stink of stagnant rotting vegetation.  Slowly I sink up to my knees until eventually, I managed to haul myself out of the pit by pulling onto the stout stems of goat willow.  Grey sallows that were so thickly grown and so intertwined it was almost like trying to push my way through the woven thongs of a withy sheep hurdle.

   At the edge of the marshland, on either side of the beck stand two tall weathered gritstone pillars,  guardians over a narrow portal into a secret enchanted woodland glade.  The clearing heavily overhung with the gnarled distorted shapes of ancient stunted oaks, trunks bent, their contorted limbs draped with long hanging beards of phosphorescent emerald green Lichens, boles and branches adorned with delicate symmetrical combs of dark green polypody ferns.  On the rocks and woodland floor deep cushions of mosses, that by April are sprinkled with the bright white flowers of wood sorrel and a soft mauve blush of wood-anemones,  its sunny banks cheerfully sporting sweet buttermilk yellow primroses.

DSC05639The dell a complete enchantment;  A Middle Earth.

Once I’d entered the glade, I sank down onto one of the dry soft cushions of moss, took my ringing wet boots off and squeezed the black filthy pungent slime of the mire from my socks.  It’s not too long though before I’m fast away with the fairies, and soon I find myself drifting off to sleep, the thin spring sunshine that seeps through the dappled shade of the oak trees casting its warm magic spell on me.  As I lie there sprawled out, warm comfortable and half asleep on my comfy pallet of moss, slowly a descending flute-like song enters into my consciousness, gradually drawing me back into the land of the living and lifting me out of my dream-like state.  Gazing up into the flickering green canopy above, I spot flitting about on the delicate green foliage of the lower branches of an oak, a small slight bird with an olive back, yellow undersides and a pale-yellow eye stripe.

   The willow warbler seems oblivious of me as I lie there intrigued watching its acrobatic circus act while listening to its sweet sonorous descending carol.  Hanging upside down, the tiny bird worked feverishly hard at examining the underside of each newly emerged oak leaf, in a quest for aphids and insects to feed upon.  This diminutive scrap of a bird a sheer pleasure to sit watch and listen to, as it goes about earning its living and it never fails to amaze me how such a tiny speck of life can have travelled up to five thousand miles from Sub Saharan Africa to visit this place, build a nest rear its young entertain me.  Only to once more in the autumn fly the five thousand miles back to Africa.  An annual miracle that in the scale of life, time and distance makes me feel very small and very insignificant.

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   Ruminating on all of this, and lulled by the warblers sweet song, the gentle warm spring sunshine made me drowsy again and I soon found myself nodding off.  Until suddenly, the shrill alarm call from a couple of jaybirds drew me back into the land of the living.  Stiffly, I managed to haul myself up from the comfort of my woodland bower and reluctantly leave the magical enchantment of the fairy dell behind.  Walking on through low open scrub and windblown trees I soon reach the upper edge of the woodland to where I find, raised above a shallow ditch and half-buried in the bracken mush the old bare black bones of a partly collapsed dry-stone wall.  The ancient dyke, bank, and boundary stones that marked a transition from forest to moorland.

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  Once over the wall, I gradually begin to gain altitude, the clough becoming more open, the sides shallow, and the trees on either side short and scrubby.  Bracken fills the bottom of the valley and in places grows so lush and so high that it reaches up to my chest and I’m forced to follow the sheep tracks that tunnel beneath.
It’s almost like walking blindfolded, I can hear the beck splashing and gurgling close by, though I can’t see it.  Inevitably the tracks run out, and I resort to slavishly trying to push the ferns apart, or half lying on them in an effort to trample them down, all the while trying not to fall into the hidden course of the stream.  This tiresome performance goes on for several hundred meters so that by the time I finally find my way through the deep maze of ferns, I’m bushed and more than pleased to see the bracken giving way to a patch of short sheep cropped mountain grasses and sedge.  A tiny oasis cheerfully sprinkled with sun yellow tormentil, gentian blue milkwort and the little white pearls of eyebright flowers.

  Close to the side of the beck, on the edge of the pasture stood the lean bare bones of an ancient stone hovel, the ribs of it roof trees bent and broken, propped up by the sad remains of its crumbling walls.  The door pillars still standing and supporting a massive roughly carved stone lintel that I have to stoop under to enter, before crunching my way over broken fragments of gritstone slates and the deep layer of dry sheep shit that littered the bothy floor.  In the far corner of the dwelling sat a flat slate thrawl set by the side of the fallen chimney; its breast stained black by the smoke from generations of smouldering peat fires.

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  I decide to hunker down next to the stone thrall and away from the chill wind, set up my tiny stove, brew tea and eat.   As I sat by the hearthstones under the old chimney breast, while ferreting around in my sack trying to dig out my billy cans, and beginning to feel the meagre warmth that slowly radiated from my tiny stove.  I started to sense ghosts.  Ghosts of all the many generations of shepherds and their families, that like me must once have huddled for warmth around the glowing embers of their sad turf fires.  The children cuddling and giving the bottle to their orphaned cade lambs.
A substance living though never hunger, or a wanting one; there would always be a lamb to kill.

  Shooting out from under the thrall, the long copper brown streak of a weasel flashed across the floor of the bothy and as if made of quicksilver, poured itself down into a dark narrow cleft in the shattered remains of the wall opposite.  I settled down to watch and wait and knowing the habits of its kind, that if I waited long enough, curiosity would get the better of it, and eventually, would poke its head out of a nearby cavity to give me the once over.
  Sure enough, just as curiosity killed the cat, this intelligent little assassin stuck its head out.  The two bright black diamonds of its eyes fixing me, as though trying to weigh me up as it held my gaze for the eternity of what was probably only a couple of seconds, before melting back into the crumbling labyrinth of the wall.  I didn’t have to wait too long though before once again it began to worm its snake-like way in and out of the cracks and crannies.  Bolder now, occasionally rolling and tumbling before standing erect onto its hind legs, flashing its creamy white waistcoat and belly towards me.  These mad antics carried on for some time, as though putting on a special performance; and just for me.

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 If its plan was to mesmerise and deceive me, as it does to the small rodents birds and young rabbits that it preys upon, just before it goes in for the kill, by latching on to one of poor creatures throat and severing its jugular vein.  Before gorging itself on the animal’s flesh and drinking its warm thick blood;  it had succeeded !  Unfortunately for the weasel most gamekeepers are aware of this habit, and know full well that if they see one dive into a wall, all that they have to do is stand and wait for curiosity to get the better of it and sure as eggs are eggs, the poor gullible creature will pop its head out again, giving the keeper an excellent chance to give it a full barrel from his twelve-bore shotgun !

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   Weasels and their larger cousins the stoats, really are a hostage to instinct and habit, keepers know this and take full advantage of their built-in weakness.  Spring-loaded Fen traps sitting in wire tunnels are set on logs lying across the cloughs, while others are sited by the side of the groughs, placed under artificial passages carefully constructed out of pieces of flat gritstone.
Weasels, being weasels are unfortunately and fatally for them unable to resist the urge to investigate a nice dark
warm and inviting tunnel !
The strangest thing is though, quite a few of these traps seem to have been sprung without catching a thing.  Quite odd that !!

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   Kicking myself up the arse to brave a biting cold spring wind, I left behind the warm comfort of the byre.
Keeping on a line close to the beck, the moor started to pull in tight on either side, and I soon found myself wading and floundering through knee-deep heather and bilberry, the only respite the few outcropping slabs of bare gritstone that I thankfully managed stand on to get my breath back.  Before I get too far, the banks of the beck become so steep and so overgrown with heather that I’m forced to slide down into its bed to risk boulder hopping, or in places just wading on straight through it.  Only a meter or so in width now, it becomes sluggish, slow running, full of treachery.   Slippery green rocks and deceptively deep dark black sumps lie in wait for me, the soft peat that made up the low sides of its banks deeply undercut, making them steep and challenging,
to climb in or out of.

   Many springs and shallow groughs began to feed into it, all confusingly leading up on to the moor, the beck itself no more than a narrow rill feeding low boggy areas of juncus rush and deep sponges of emerald green sphagnum moss.  In places, the stream noisily disappeared altogether to flow under the peat and I try to follow its passage as it slurps and babbles its way beneath the heather, only to reappear again further on.   I have to keep my eyes open for hidden sinkholes, these heavily camouflaged by the deep heather and bilberry, some thigh deep with the stream running beneath and all with a leg-breaking potential.

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  Again, I make the decision to leave the clough, and taking to the heather above head for a distant group of enormous gritstone boulders that I see standing out on the skyline.  Scrambling out of the clough and up on to its heather crest, I’m suddenly startled by the harsh scalding Leck ! leck lecking, from a covey of red grouse, as they explode from beneath my feet, wings rapidly whirring as they skim low over the moss before abruptly wheeling and falling sharply, to once more melt back into the
bleak blackness of the moor.  

  Taking a compass bearing up on to the High Stones, I set off stumbling my way through heather and heath, over the beautiful and sombre wilderness that was laid out before me.  Until eventually, clinging knee-deep heather forced me to slide down on my arse into the bottom of one of the deep high sided peat groughs.  Just one of an endless confusion of water-worn wounds, deeply carved into the course and calloused skin of the moss.
Its arteries and veins slowly bleeding the moor of its own thin watery blood.

Some folk never learn !  From past experience, I should have known better, and that blindly following one of these grikes was not a good plan.  A clough may appear to be heading in the right direction, but they’re devious and can deceive.  Once in and free from the boot clinging knee-deep heather of the moor above, the walking can be reasonably straightforward, especially if the bed of the clough’s frozen or as is often the case in the summer bone dry.  By simply contouring round the dry, bare peat on its sides or walking over the exposed grit’ pavements that the moorland sits upon, can all make for a very easy and seductive delusion to follow !

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  They beguile you into taking a false trail, and in the end, you get hopelessly lost confused and disorientated.  Maybe some of the 2000-year old bodies of the peat pickled, red-haired bronze age men, that are occasionally discovered sticking out of the bogs and mires of these northern moors, made the same mistake !
Perhaps blundering over the harsh moss in dire winter weather, they got hopelessly lost and taking their eye off the ball fell foul to the cruel elements, sinking into the quag’, only to be discovered several thousand years later.

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Their skin and features plain to see, the veins and hairs on their muscular arms still pronounced, fingernails still intact.  Some seem to have been hanged or ritually garroted before being lowered into the swamp, leather thongs tight around their necks betray this, and it’s hard to see that they could have hung themselves in this treeless barren desert.  Though two to four thousand years ago, the moor was a forest and ancient tree stumps, just like the bog men occasionally rise to the surface.

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  Following the line of the clough, as it twists and turns for a further hundred metres or so, on rounding a bend, bursting out from under my feet and still partly clothed in its white winter coat the large piebald shape of a blue hare leapt out from the shelter of its scrape.  The form set away from the wind and warmly tucked away under a thick tufted clump of juncus’.  Taking a tremendous athletic leap the hare left me standing, and with a restrained grace, all the while reserving its energy, it elegantly strode out along the hard peat lining at the side of the grough, before disappearing around the next curve, to once again become part of the vast labyrinth.

   I like to think I have a good sense of direction, but take the sun or the horizon away from me like most folks I’m stuffed, and end up hopelessly lost and disoriented.  So to re-set my bearings, I decided to climb up the near-vertical side of the grough and take to the heather again.  Slipping and sliding, I start to kick steps up the steep ten-foot-high wall of peat, and after several failed attempts, eventually, reach the deeply overhanging cornice at its summit, and by grabbing onto handfuls of heather just manage to do an undignified belly flop over on to its crest.  As I lay, flat out on the lip of the crevasse gasping and trying to regain my breath, in the far distance I could see more wheeling coveys of grouse, their black silhouettes rising and falling on rapid wing beats as they strafe the moor.  The harsh staccato sound of their machine gun like leck lecking, drifting over the moss towards me, until abruptly they fall, curling steeply down to once more fade and disappear into the darkness of the heath.

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  Aloof, and frowning the High Stones glower down on me from their lofty stone throne, set high on the dark eyebrow of the moors edge.
And, it didn’t take me too long, before I realised that the line of my clough had led me wildly astray, taking me at least a quarter of a mile off course, so I cast a second bearing.  Only this time decide to stay out of the grikes, and stick religiously to the compass.  Here the
 heather was shorter and the peat dry, making the walking much more straightforward, this in part due to excessively large areas of old burnt Heather from the previous autumns burning.

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  On the high grouse moors, the practice of heather burning, or Muir-burn as its called in Scotland, is traditionally carried out by the gamekeepers in the autumn. Large patches of old and leggy ling are fired more or less in a rotational fashion, in what is supposed to be a controlled burn !  The excuse for this act of vandalism is that it promotes the growth of young shoots from the base of the heather, these shoots are the primary food source of the red grouse, and in theory, it increases their survival rate; more young heather shoots equals more chicks, equals more grouse, which in turn equals a bigger bag.  Its simple, boils down to pounds shillings and pence.
Fuck all the fried voles ! Fuck the brown lizards, grass snakes toads and adders along with the thousands of tiny invertebrates, it’s all down to returns, £,s,d, my boy.

They call it moorland conservation ? I call it corporate vandalism !

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  In places, wide tracks had been flailed out through this burnt-out war-zone, all leading up to long lines of shooting butts.  The butts neatly and expensively made out of dry-stone’, and sods of peat.  Each of them provided with the thoughtful addition of a built-in seat so that the clients can park their fat corporate arses while in hiding from the grouse, until on the keepers whistle, they valiantly pop up to shoot the living shit out of them.  {On the Whistle boys, shades of the first world war; the officer classes giving a blast before the poor buggers went over the top}.
 They really do think of everything though, in addition to all of this, a conveniently placed shelf has been provided in each trench to stand their hip flasks on, just so that they and their posh mates could make a toast to their brave and heroic acts of slaughtering by grapeshot a few man-eating game birds.  Nice touch that.

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  The arseholes that engage in this yearly activity that they call a sport ? Are invariably wealthy corporate businessmen, and in the main mostly townies out in the countryside for a days jolly.  They arrive dressed in their ridicules outdated tweeds and waxed jackets, park their fat arses onto a row of seats on a specially designed trailer, only to get towed up to the line of butts by a 4×4 of some description.  When having spent a few hours filling the carcasses of a few game birds with shot, they get hauled off down again to stuff their own hulks with fine wines and a corporate din-dins.  For the privilege of all this, they can easily pay up to £1,200 per peg, and in addition, a group can expect to fork out around £2,500 for lodge accommodation.
Authentic country folk this lot though !  Take the 4x4s and the keepers, {minders} away from them and the whole lot of them would be stuffed, just the shock of having to use their own legs would give most of them a coronary.
Sorry about that; Rant over !

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  Following the line of butts as they trail up towards the squat black shapes of the stones, obscured fleetingly by shadowy skeins of grey mist, swirling and weaving a thin luminescent grey shroud around them, forcing me to keep my eye to the compass’s needle.  I work out a rough line linking up the dark scorched patches of burnt-out heather, and leaving the butts behind start to scrunch my way upwards through the seared charcoal black stalks of dead ling and out onto the watershed of the high moorland plateau.

  I’m nearly 2000 feet up now, and the vegetation changes from moorland heath to a low windblown tundra-like landscape, the heather short and patchy, taken over by thick mats of crowberry and the pale pock-marked leaves of cowberry.  Large areas are overgrown with bog cotton and dotted with hares tail, patches of tiny moorland sedge’s glow deep orange, contrasting with erect golden candles of bog asphodel.   On dry raised areas lying prostrate, just above black bootlace like rhizomes creeping just beneath the surface of the peat, I stumble over the broad green, crimson edged bramble shaped leaves of cloudberry.
This high arctic-alpine member of the rubus family is a shy flowerer and is even shyer at fruiting.  So it was a pleasure and a gift to see sparsely scattered amongst its flat mulberry like leaves, standing upright on thin vertical stalks a few of its pure white blackberry-like flowers, their central cluster of delicate pale, gold-tipped anthers 
glowing brightly in the weak hill sunshine.

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  Head down, pushing against the cold wind, I carefully work out a rough line through dense swards of bog cotton and hares foot grasses.  Fluttering white flags leading me on up towards the High Stones.  I soon discover that the plateau is a swamp, soused with an oozing network of shallow reed-filled gutters, all slowly weeping and seeping their way down through a moor that turns out to be more water than a bog.  Many of the dykes feed into a myriad of small still ink-black tarns.  Black mirrors, loosely covered with a floating veil of three-leaved olive green bog beans, their margins adorned with delicate wreaths of tiny, ivy-leaved pond-weed.  Others, entirely blanketed by a treacherous quilt of bright green orange-tinged sphagnum, a rippling multi-coloured shroud draped over malevolent, bottomless boot sucking sumps.  I find myself gently creeping and edging my way around them, all the while prodding with my pole for a solid piece of ground, in places leaping and not always successfully from the sanctuary of one isle of juncus’ to the next, in a mad desperate arm-flailing effort not to be swallowed up by the swamp.
Doing my best to avoid being discovered in two thousand years as the sad peat pickled remains of a twenty-first-century bog man. 

  Finally, I manage to gain a low shoulder of high ground leading me up and out of the morass.  From where in the near distance, fleeing from mean shallow seats scraped out of the dry peat, hanging under the deep sheltered hollows that littered the flanks of the ridge, not yet fully pupated into their grey summer coats, I see more mountain hares start up.  Jigging from one side of the rib to the other, as they swiftly lope away from me, their scruffy piebald blue and white forms disappearing, then reappearing as they course in and out of the peat hags.  Only to once again, melt back into a far distant haze of gold and purple heather.
The odd pair of them breaking off to court and play tag, chasing one another around in ever-decreasing circles, occasionally pausing with their long black-tipped ears erect to stand bolt upright onto their hind legs, before squaring up face on to sport and box.

An ancient vernal love affair, a pairing prescribed in heaven.

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  Huddling hard under one of the peat hags, sheltering out of an idle cutting wind while watching the pair of pugilistic lovers slugging it out, gradually, lonely monotonous piping began to worm its way into my consciousness.  And, doing my best to keep a low profile, stooping, I carefully crept my way along the side of the hag, heading in the rough direction that the sound appeared to be coming from.  Confusingly though, as soon as I get to where I think the call comes from, Houdini like it immediately seems to be coming from somewhere else, and it took me some time before I clocked that there were two sources for the bird call and that they were both trying to pipe me away from a nest.

  Golden Plovers.  Liberace birds, that’s the name a good friend of mine decided to christen them, so named on account of their magnificent jewel-encrusted summer raiment, it being, the very height of avian fashion for that particular season. The outfit, comprising of a gilded sequin spangled waistcoat smartly edged with a white border and all set to advantage above a nicely cut midnight black undergarment;  all very sexy.

The thing is, despite this audacious show of bling, until taking to the wing, they really can be quite tricky to spot, merging with and hidden amongst the gold-tipped leaves of bilberry and crowberry of the heath.  All the same, I didn’t have to wait too long before one appeared, it was only about fifty meters away perched on a low grit boulder on the brow of a raised part of the moor, standing stock still while continuing to chant its insistent, haunting lament. 

Close up of an European Golden plover in wetlands in Bressay, Scotland, UK.

  I knew that I must have been getting close to the nest site, as the plover allowed me to get more or less on top of it before feigning an injury, by flapping and hobbling away low to the ground, wings outstretched and tail down in an effort to draw me away from the area.  I played along with this farce for a few more meters or so, until eventually, the bird flew off to find sanctuary on the top of a nearby cairn of stones, all the while continuing to pipe away at its sad mournful air.  Almost as soon as it had left me, its understudy flew in, taking over the star roll in what was part two of the second act, and gave an equally fine and exceptional performance; in fact, a mirror image of the first.  Eventually, tiring of the drama, I decided to draw down the curtain onto their grand production, bring an end to the show and start to search for the nest. 

  Keeping an eye open as to where I placed my feet, I set about quartering the short sheep cropped heather at the top of a small raised hillock that the plovers seemed to be desperately trying to draw me away from.  
It took a while, but when I eventually did stumble across the nest, it was nothing more than a shallow scoop built out of small fragments of heather and lined with a warm, soft cushion of dry moss.  It was almost invisible, blending in with its surroundings, just another part of the moorland.

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Finding it had turned out to be a tiresome and tedious task, especially as the eggs had hatched and the nest with its four tiny fledgelings feathered in, almost completely with the short sheep cropped heather and its mossy under-storey.
The chicks themselves a marvel of evolution, enchanting fluffy green, gold and black scraps of life that when disturbed play dead, lying stock still as if frozen, making themselves almost invisible to see set against the heather lining of their nest; as if just four more tiny, withered and ragged fragments of windblown moss.
I didn’t linger over it too long though, as the parent plovers were getting increasingly agitated by the minute, putting ever more effort into their frantic displays and almost throwing themselves under my boots, so I thought it best to quickly move away and leave the young brood to the care and protection of their heroic parents.

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  Sticking hard to the compass, I found myself thrutching up into a steep, shallow north-facing cwm, that hung high up below the northern edge of the plateau.  Here the heather gave way to short sheep cropped mountain grasses and sedge.  A wide fan of wet rills, glittering and crystal clear, suckle the infant clough way down in the deep shadows of its bowl.
Forced to follow faint, indistinct sheep tracks as they contour steeply up through a band of bare clattering screes and loose grey shale, out from under a thin scattering of yellow-sedge lining one of the ice rimmed wet flushes, I set up a brace of snipe.  I watch them as they fall, erratically zigzagging steeply down onto the moor; lost.  Only the occasional flash from their swift white-edged scimitar wings and the odd harsh, rusty creak of their alarm, echoing, to break the deep silence of the fell.

The Swans of Blood.

Scrambling along one of the narrow sheep runs, on a steep part of the head-wall, I end up making a slow deliberate traverse across seams of unstable moving scree and large tottering blocks of grit’, all tightly squeezed in-between towering bands of crumbling orange-grey grit’ crags.  Halfway along one of the terraces, sat on an untidy jumble of a nest, roughly made up of twigs, flotsam and gleanings of sheep wool, all crazily perched high on the lip of a narrow white-washed ledge on one of the tors.  I startle a pair of ravens.  Who, with the scarcely disguised indifference of a pallbearer, turn their great black beaks towards me, gazing, casting their cold pitch-black eyes on and through me; undertakers eyes, the scavenging dead eyes of the sweepers up after a death.

Raven - Corvus corax,   portrait and social behavior

One man must ride the gaping gallows,
hang to death, until his soul-hoard,
his bloody bone-coffer becomes broken.
There on the gallows, the Raven takes his eye,
the dark cloaked one tears at the soulless;
nor is he able to ward off that evil,

that loathsome thief of the air.
Old English Poem.  The fortunes of men’.
 From the Exeter Book.

Shuffling and puffing up their plumage to make themselves appear twice the size, lazily they stretch open their broad wide wings, and issuing a loud deep Kronk !  Peel away from their high stone throne.  Folding back their wings like the barbs of an arrow they steeply drop, disappearing into the deep dark depths of the void, tumbling and pirouetting as they fall, their deep cryptic Kronks echoing around the crags.  Only to once more return, as though deciding; giving me a second chance.  Twisting and turning in the air, looping curling and rolling around each other in a mad clinging play fight as they plummet, before again peeling away in a wild wide arc.  The sun flashing and glinting off the backs of their perfect oil black iridescent plumage.  Calling to me, they turn their heads to look, staring, entering my mind; searching deep into my soul  

    Breaching the edge, I found a steep rubble-filled gully that led sharply up towards a deep dark narrow cleft cleaving two of the main tors, that from below looked as though it might just be a passage leading me up and out onto the high plateau.
Guarding the entrance to, and barring my way into the rift, horizontally wedged across its base lay an enormous jagged chock-stone, that by some contorted grovelling and crawling I just manage to squeeze my way under into the dark depths of a dank, damp and ferny cave behind.  Only to find its floor littered with the sweet stinking remains of a dead ewe, that somehow must have slipped and fallen down into the chasm from the moor above.  Smashed and bleeding, it had been unable to escape from its dark stone prison cell and in the end,
slowly and inevitably starved to death.

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Holding my breath !   Strenuously, I bridge and thrutch my way up the back of a narrow slimy green passage leading up and out of the cave, to pass through a small round window of daylight in its roof.  Gasping, eventually the chimney spat me out, to thankfully fill my lungs with the cold fresh upland air again.

Standing guard, close by stood the dazzling white pillar of a triangulation point.  Stark and bright against the clean gritstone pavement that made up the flat grey summit of the highest,
High Stone.

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 Here, cowering out of an idle cutting east wind and sheltering in the lee of a roughly built stone ring cairn, the wind tears at the swirling wraiths of mist, pulling them apart. Exposing the brooding wild expanse of the moor, a vast multicoloured map of wildness laid out beneath my feet.  Sunlight and shadow race, tagging each other across its wonderfully bleak patchwork of golds, purples and browns.
Scarred only by the charred blackened remains left behind by the
heather burners.

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 Cleaving its way through the centre of all of this, my clough.  Its sparkling beck, the main artery of this complicated wild landscape.  Lingering, it slowly worms its torturous way down through the moor, the delicate thin fingers of its capillaries branching off and leaching the lifeblood from its black sodden flesh.  Before, finally crashing and tumbling on its long journey through the distant meadows and ancient oak woodlands that clothe the green and fertile dale that lies far below.

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All of this stunning beauty shared, by a miraculously diverse flora and fauna that has amazingly, and despite all of the odds, somehow evolved to take advantage of it and learned to scratch the rudest of livings from the scantiest of all provisions.

Man just an unwanted intruder into their wild world.

Black White Bl W Pic Vig To EX

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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