Days of rain and more on the way narrowed our walking options. Dog and man left Marsden in waterproofs which stayed on slowly steaming all day.Bright dots of moving colour became soggy slightly surly teenagers on Marsden Moor.The D of E kit list turned into high heavy backpacks.Hoods ups and day dreaming of supermarket loitering the tables had turned.
Beyond Marsden Moor the Pennine backbone slips a disc and is squeezed by an urban tide mark.The M62 is a loud black contour.A tropic of tarmac which must be crossed like the doldrums to fairer,wilder winds.
I scent frying bacon and coffee but the Rishworth Moor tea van is a moorland mirage only real Monday to Friday.It’s puddled layby is fly tipped and wind lashed.Amongst the breeze block remains of home improvements a girl in skinny jeans dances like a leaf on the wind.A man takes pictures.
Above wagons roaring “Every Little Helps” a skylark trills for the wild.Only drowned by the screaming revs of thick tyred motor bikes stuck in peat.Nervous we cross the Pennine Ways airy walk way over the M62.Thoughts are collected out of the wind.I write them down and we walk on to Blackstone Edge.
The dog is blown away but comes to no harm.This is a wild place high enough above urban floatsam to keep lonely qualities and clear views.In a small quarry here I turn to see a group of women in white robes.Hands to the clouds chanting at the weather.I steal a phone photo and walk on.
The wind screams ever louder and we walk onto an airy moor of utilitarian graffitti. By a chain of brown reservoirs I see a draughtman’s hand in a sweep of pylons which runs away beyond the horizon.Each concrete foot pencil placed in the peat. It’s as clean a sweep as any curve of Pennine hill or moor. Victorian stone masonary has softened in time and I cannot imagine these places without this artwork around reservoirs and conduits.In the turning white of turbines we’ve added more. Unlike stone or pylons these new industrial tattoos move with the weather and reflect the landscapes light and dark contrasts.
As the days last rainy blast receeds we are on an escarpement and look down on Calderdales nitrate green meadows and steep stone walls.In deep cloughs black trees are catching the green too.Newly laid flag stones carry us across some deep peaty bogs and figures black on the horizon are made smaller still by Stoodley Pikes dark stone monument.Arriving somehow feels like being on holiday.Tired legs are lifted on.
Coming down off the Pike in a stone walled corner barely out of the bitter wind two ewes have just given birth.The lambs ,wet and yellow, stand hunched and miserable by streaks of red afterbirth steaming on the field.A quads purr approaches and a lad has come to take them in
Leaving Holme chimney smoke rises to a stand still.We walk in long cowboy shadows past High Noon sheep.On Issue Edge a dog barks below.Grouse comedy cackle drowning the Curlews sublime song but higher heart breaking Plover call unseen from sour peat haggs where not even I walk.The cold bite of night falls giving shudders as it’s damp hand touchs warm skin.The Moon swings like a pendulum between Jupiter and Venus.The Comedy Club Grouse says “Go Back!”
This is a night out up at Wrigley’s Cabin which perches high on Issue Edge.A place to see sunset and rise within the space of a few hours or a turn of the globe.Here lights wink in the valley.Cars like slugs in pools of light move on roads below.Seen but not heard.
The cabin is roofless but it’s four walls protect from wind and allow coffee to be brewed in comfort.It’s squat stones make good seats outside from where the moorland world can be watched.
Below a moulting Mountain Hare sits on brown bracken.The wind strokes his grey white coat.Ears up but unaware. His nose twitches.A wild contentment about him that I can only guess at.Behind me out on the peaty plateau the wild calls.Somewhere dripping in gold and wrestlessness a Golden Plover grinds souls with it’s song.
At 5.45am my alarm sounds and I get to the hard part.Wrestling out of my sleeping bag into cold boots and a frosty moor I go to meet the dawn which already knocks on a pale eastern sky.
A few peat haggs away lights still wink below.Emley Moor Mast and Castle Hill are gateposts for dawn to rise through.Fingers of mist creep up the valleys but cannot reach this moorland knuckle.Chimney smoke rises to full stops in the stillnes and streetlights begin clicking off as day takes night away.
On the edge of dawn. A soft frost. Owls and snow pasted fields. Kids at home in bed. Headlights creeping down Holme Moss. I hear the soft pad of a hare on snow and look to see his brown coat on white field. Holme Moss Transmitter gives a false dawn in the West where red warning lights splash on moorland cloud. Vile wet snow lashed these fields late yesterday and into the night. Woodhead Road closed by an icy slash of weather. Escaping traffic choking tea time Holmfirth.
Now the cold calm where thoughts dropped are heard before they touch this white ground. A still silent respite from rattling winds.
Whatever lands here lands on sheep who now lie at wall backs. Wool snow plastered. Breath condensing they wait for light and food. In these conditions neither I nor the little dog bother them much. A sheep’s personnal space up here extends 10 yards and I can place tripod and camera about there with only a sideways look from the nervous.
The sound of a purring Honda and it’s yellow coated rider’s call kicks off long lines of sheep who shake off snow and trot towards the days calorific supplement. He knows me and lights a fag whilst sheep crunch all around us. In the 20 years we’ve met like this his never got off the quad.
Leaving Holme the cloud crept lower down off the moors towards us. The Met Office had suggested it would be going the other way. We were wrapped in it’s dark damp blanket on Issues Road and thoughts of just an afternoon out surfaced. These doubts were brief and slowly lifted with the cloud which seemed to back off with each footstep.
By the Pennine Way my eye was caught by a scattering of white bog cotton like blooms on black peat. I was only a stride away when I recognised not bog cotton but plucked downy pigeon feathers blown on the wind from the bloody remains of a Falcon’s meal. Unlucky.
The wind howled over Black Hill and into the peaty expanse of empty moorland beyond. Here shards of light began slashing black clouds. Shredding and tearing at the November gloom. Black wet moorland turned warm and red by this assault of low autumn sun. My mood lifted as this light filled in every clough and crag.
We reached the craggy knoll named “Castles” to bivy overnight. Pitching our tiny tent behind a contour and so out of the rattling wind. Brewing up a pot of tea with a few biscuits just before dusk the wind died and we were able to appreciate our surroundings in the grouse broken silence of evening.
Soon stars twinkled and Orion rose in the moonless wintry sky. We watched cloud form on the moorland edge and slip silently snakelike into steep black valleys below. Fingers of this cold white condensation pointed towards our bivy but could not quite reach us.
The little dog prefers to curl up in the sleeping back uninterested in my November muses but I sat outside studying sky and fog sunk valleys past midnight.
Only brief flirtations with winter so far this season. An afternoon on West Nab the closest we have got to her.
Although the surrounding valleys were snow free the Nab had a top coat of white. Peat bogs froze solid and creaked underfoot. That magical December sun snook in under black showery clouds. Her low light giving only an illusion of warmth on patches of orange bracken breaking the snow cover.
The sky black and oily was torn with white grey snow showers moving slowly over the hills.
Nearby a pack of Beagles were keenly hunting the blue mountain hare which I watched escape into familiar boulders. My presence seemed to put off any further pursuit.
Disturbed by baying hounds grouse party popped out of the snow to cackle off to quieter ground.
I’m not used to company up here and was glad when the hunt and it’s straggle of followers left for an hour in the pub.
December is an almost silent time.Usually only the daft cackle of grouse or a wind picking up breaks winters emptiness. The soul of the moors heard somewhere in a Curlew or Plovers song is missing and longed for at times.
Yet the light and atmosphere of a late snowy December afternoon on a high empty moor is worth many fine summers days to me.
Top Mere Road topped off with snow. Cold breath condensing in the darkness just before dawn. Dog scatty with excitment and legs pumping steeply uphill out of Kettlewell into a winter day on an old favourite. Buckden Pike.
I’ve lost my half descent winter coat and have been using a fairly lightweight summery effort which seems to be keeping out wind and cold in a fashion. I knew today up here the wind chill would be pretty evil so the fact I’d also lost my bombproof winter hat and was using one of the kids further weakened my defences. Plus I looked dafter than usual too.
The sun struggled vaguely over my Eastern horizon whilst thick bruised cloud belted in thuggishly from the West to mug her as she got out of bed. I forgot about the cold.The landscape had drawn me in and I was absorbed by the struggle willling on my fragile sun.
In theory daylight follows dawn but I watched dawn disappear and an almost dusk like light fall as those black Western clouds inked out the day for a few more minutes of night.
Light and dark became today’s story. A violent contrast between the two. Ever changing speed dating weather.
With the dark episodes came hail like shotgun lead on a lean into wind. Not good on eyeballs. My lost hat has a peak which would have kept it off. My kids replacement opened the door and let it in. Kept my mind off my draughty coat.
With light came the poetry of snow plastered hills. Black drystone walls etching out contours,distant glimpses of coming weather or summer walks and the hulky shoulders of the Pike above. We’d have some fun up there.
Lie of the land and walls was set against us on the way up and there was no good shelter to stop. The need for a brew found us half out the wind against a wall surround by frozen soft rush.
A cold jog followed up and away onto the moorland ridge which rises from an empty area of bog and heather. Now behind a high stone wall I weather watched a while as black dark and yellow light chased each other in an endless race to the North Sea.
The top was a place to leave as quickly as it was possible to do so.
Back down in the dale we wandered through muddy fields from Buckden back down to Kettlewell. Looking upwards often at the wind and snow above.