Death On The Pennine Hills
It’s the 1st September, outside the Cat & Fiddle Inn at 1689 feet. The temperature is 12.5C. We walk south across the moor and in 5 miles will not see another human. The dense cloud smothers the sun. It’s a tripartite world. A grey sky above, the solid ground below and, in the space between, a wind wafting the flowing moor grass. We walk in the wind, not quite warm enough. Looking out we see rolling grey hills blend into infinity. It is a foreign world, one in which everything is failing. The plants are not growing, fenceposts look bleak, stone walls tumble and no birds call. We drop steeply to the right, down a valley. Water appears, a trickle, then a stream. Death on the Pennine Hills seems far away.
The shock is the sudden appearance of human endeavor. A causeway, walled on the side over the stream. A small quarry where they cut out the slabbed, finger crushing, gritstone. The walls of a building, a bothy to warm the labourers. All is collapsing, great blocks lie precariously in the stream and speak of the sheer futility of man. We reach the ford on the map; no ford exists. The right path is signed to Wildboarclough. We go left and a dead sheep lies on the verge. It is picked clean. Four shiny, black hoofs lie motionless. The fleece protects a skeleton, a bony skull sticks out, defiant. We cross the watershed and descend below a farm called Holt. The River Dane appears, sparkling and joyous. Conversely, another dead ewe, more recent. Foam droops around it’s mouth. The eyes have gone, a snack for the ravens that cronk overhead.
Death on the Pennine Hills
We climb steeply into Danebower Hollow. A ditch cut to the left exposes the peat, here 15′ deep. Heather, a lover of the loose, acid peat, puts out some flowers. Cottongrass (see photo) fills wet damp spots. Off to the right, Whetstone Ridge is the skyline. Beyond is Tinkerspit Gutter. As we climb, the depth of peat lessens and the heather disappears. The wind bites our faces, the moor grass trembles, and the Cat & Fiddle sits beyond the flat dreary scene. That night, I lay in bed and reprise the walk. The drama is overwhelming, the seclusion, the old place names, the grinding human labour writ large. The dead ewes, emblematic of how we exploit animals and despoil the land.