I’ve got this thing about landscape and resonance and connection, and the call of the moors is as strong as that of the sea. I want to go and walk, and listen, feel, look, be.
‘Such a bloody weirdo-‘ says Stevie. But he agrees to drive wherever I decide and to find us the barest, most forsaken bit of moor possible. ‘And then this afternoon,’ he says. ‘We do the forest mountain biking.’
I try not to think of the seat-bone agony to come, and instead whip out my map. As we drive, I try to tell the daughters about great dramas on moorland, but can only remember snippets of Bronte and King Lear. I’m pretty sure Macbeth involved a fair bit of moorland too, but I don’t think any of them had a particularly jolly time. I don’t feel they communed (Lear may have wailed a bit).
Happily, my ideas of moorland have been shaped by Enid Blyton and Arthur Ransome – I think of it as a place to range free, without grown ups and with plenty of pemmican and chocolate.
We decide to go without the tyranny of Sat Nav and I sit very upright, my finger on the map, directing us out of Cropton. I get a little bit carried away with the sense of adventure, and we leave the sensible A169 to career off down narrow, hair-pin tracks.I mean us to go to Cockayne Ridge, but somehow, inexplicably, we end up on Danby High Moor.
From the bubble of our car, we admire vistas and point out glimpses of farms down in the valleys. The colour scheme is very pleasing – all duns; bark-brown heathers, ochre moss, grasses the colour of milky tea. But it’s not until we get out that we can feel the place. The wind snatches our breath, unclips our hair, numbs our cheeks. It gets in our ears, our noses, buffetting our brains clean and leaving us with the faintest taste of the North Sea.
Stephen has parked the car just off the grey satin ribbon of road and we stand across it, our arms outspread. The moor demands that we bend to the forces at work, that we recognise its elemental power. It’s impossible to stand still, the wind won’t let us, and we run whooping from the road and down a quad track. Pants and Dora are insanely happy, intent on unknowable missions, almost frantic in their need to discover, to know. They send up black grouse every few seconds, barking as the birds whirr low over the ground, their red heads target-like.
The Moors are covered in tracks like these, unsigned mostly, and we’re careful to remember the path we take. The ground upon which we’re walking has been compacted by sheep, skeins of their wool are caught on bushes of stunted gorse. To either side of us are shallow mossed arbours, springy and soft underfoot, as if walking on velvet eiderdown. Reed-like grass grows in thick, brazen clumps, bleach blonde with mousey roots.
After twenty minutes, our eyes are watering and the children are asking for hot chocolate from the flask. We head back to the car, looping around blackened heather.
‘A fire?’ says Ellie, doubtfully. We tell her about men burning with big gas torches, so the grouse can eat the new shoots. She wanders off, mid-sentence.
We leave the dogs out free whilst we huddle back in the car with the flask and a lump of cake each.
Dora is in rabbiting-mode, snuffling ecstatically along tiny pathways made for a her jack-rat legs. She’s much happier than she was in the rock pools of Robin Hood Bay.
Our car windows are down so we can whistle if any cars come, and we can hear the faint calls of sheep on the wind, the peculiar music of wind up our exhaust.
The landscape makes me think of all my favourite childhood textures; close crop of the old snooker table, my dad’s corduroy trousers, the tweedy roughness of hemp sacks in the derelict cowshed.
We finish our drinks, but we still don’t leave. The fells are crossed with the uneven zips of stonewalls, and we can’t see any road but the one we’re on, just occasional beads of cars running along the landscape. Down below, in the valley, we can see copses of un-tellable trees, their bare arms like upended witches’ brooms.
Eventually, the children start talking about mountain-biking, and what colour bikes they might have, and anyway, Mum, how far is it to Dalby Forest? Stephen forcibly requests the use of Sat Nav, and then we’re whistling the dogs, driving away towards the A171.
Stephen looks at me as we turn onto the main road.
‘Happy?’ he says. ‘Did you be?’
‘A little,’ I say. ‘But I’m going to have to come back to be sure.’
This is the fourth of a set of posts, written about our family holiday in North Yorkshire, as guests of Forest Holidays (part of the Forestry Commission for England). All opinions and views are my own.
PS. Thank you to my American friend, and his prod of ‘Get on with it!’