How long does a two and a half hour journey actually take? Well, three and a half if you go the back way and get a clear run. Four if you stop somewhere… Five if you find a good church or two… Yet I still seemed to have an hour or so left before our rendezvous… Granted, I had left in good time, but I had been to work first too. Even so, I dawdled along towards the crossroads above Baslow thinking I had plenty of time to wander over the top there and drink in the hills…
It had been a good run. There had been hawks, kestrels, kites and buzzards… I’d lost count somewhere back in Leicestershire… mostly perched watching, apart from the kites which like to swoop low over the road.
I nearly lost the car as I came round the bend, astonished at what I saw. I had seen deer close to this spot once before… a magical encounter at dawn last August, where I had been blessed to watch a small family in the bracken. But not a whole herd… not mid-afternoon on a January Thursday just outside Sheffield! I couldn’t believe my eyes. And I couldn’t stop either. They probably weren’t deer anyway. More likely a dark coloured flock of sheep. Far more likely.
Up the road… find a place to turn… come back. Yep. Definitely deer! Still nowhere to stop and watch. Find a side road… too narrow to turn or park… gnaw fingernails and turn anyway… bear in mind these are tiny country lanes…
I finally find a farm gate about half a field away, where I can hide behind a wall and just watch. I must have stood there for half an hour watching them play in the stream and graze. I lost count of how many and gave up trying… ‘lots’ of them… somewhere between thirty and fifty… They were just too far for really good pics… and just too many to get them all in!
Time was beginning to get on and the light on the western horizon was already showing the first gold of sunset. Reluctantly, I bade the deer goodbye, grateful to have watched them and met the eyes of their watchers. As happens so often with these gifts it seemed as if they were invisible to everyone else on the road. Cars drove past without a pause… no-one stopped or slowed in all the time I was there, and the main road is a busy one. Perhaps it is a question of attention… maybe people are too busy concentrating on what is in front of them… or perhaps not everyone feels that sense of wonder when the natural world opens and invites you in. I don’t know.
We have seen red kites with sharp talons and wingspans wider than I am high, swooping down right beside an oblivious mother with a toddler small enough to be prey… we have stood gawping at huge birds too big to miss that were, it seems, invisible to everyone around us. I don’t understand it but I won’t question the gift of their presence. I am simply grateful. Such moments carry with them a sense of reverence for the life around us of which we are a part.
It was with that lingering awe that I rejoined the road. I had no desire to face the city roads quite yet, and there was still time before our meeting to take the long road over the moor behind Barbrook. Unable to park where I had intended, I found myself close to a hillfort we have yet to climb. Carl Wark waits for slightly warmer weather; looming over the moorland, an enigma yet to be unravelled. It is an intriguing spot and has begun to call lately… its age and purpose are unclear to archaeologists, though it seems to have been in use by the Iron Age, so it has at least three thousand years of human history to share.
I parked across the valley and watched as the sun began to sink… seeing strange, unearthly rocks against the skyline carved by ice and erosion, we are told, in ages even deeper in the past; listening to the beck chatter in the valley… or perhaps I was hearing whispers of stories yet untold. Finally, I turned the car towards Sheffield and dinner with my friend.