Lives, Landscape and Literature – happy to read all three of them, and to find them covered in one volume, to find the threads that pull them all together, is an opportunity not to pass up.
It’s the work of William Atkins, and The Moor is the result of extensive research and travels across the country, from Dartmoor to Otterburn, and all wild places in between.
Atkins gives us what he finds underfoot, and in his gaze. And he takes us back in time, to those who lived and worked those lands centuries before. There is shooting amongst the peat hags, of grouse and of tanks, beating and loading. Books have been written.
I was delighted to find myself back in the Plume of Feathers, in the shadow of the prison, at Princetown in the midst of Dartmoor. My memories of Sunday lunch are hazy, for it was a long time ago, and there was Merrydown and Barleywine. We had been entertained – Porrij were the resident band, replacing a small beat combo – you may remember The Wurzels. It was that sort of a place, back then.
The sort of place where drinks had to be passed over heads on the route from bar to wherever you stood, immobile, in the throngs, the change dumped in the last pint. Girls needing a comfort break faced a similar journey, above the heads, hand by hand.
But that was then. Atkins tells us different tales. There are murders and missings, marker stones and memorials. On each moor he visits he takes us to the world of tales written before. Some may be familiar. Tarka’s Henry Williamson was a man of the moors; Jamaica Inn and Lorna Doone; and the land now known as Bronte Country, barely scratch the surface of Moorish writings. Oh and there were Baskervilles, and hounds.
At one stage, South Yorkshire, Atkins gazes east, and realises he will not find land again, at a matching height, until the Urals. That is a staggering thought, the great flat plains of mainland Europe. And I think immediately of these hilly lands in which I sit, and cast my eye north to the peaks and ridges that are so familiar and that we take for granted. Scotland is a special place indeed, as if we did not know.
I have visited too few of those moors that Atkins describes, but there is time yet, I hope. And The Moor has a worthy place on the shelf, to be referred to again. I enjoyed the read, and have added it to The Bookshelf for this year.