I left Sheffield a few minutes after six this morning, heading south. That was the plan, anyway. The trouble is that to do that I have to first drive over the top of the moors and the heather is in full bloom. I stopped, inevitably, to capture the morning light as the sun broke through the clouds, streaming honey gold over the landscape and flooding the valley with light. I was lost then.
‘The earth dreamed of beauty…’ a phrase my companion of the weekend had quoted to me last spring; looking out over the purple mist of heather, the earth, it seemed, had dreamed and, manifesting that beauty had given it a soul.
Even now, two hundred miles and five hours later, there are tears in my eyes and I could not speak if I tried after the gift of the morning. I have crossed many counties, seen the green of summer and the gold of harvest through the rolling hills and whispering valleys; seen swathes of woodland sheltering life in their shadowy depths and rivers snaking silver through the fields.England is beautiful, but her soul, that inner heart of Albion, wears purple in my eyes.
On my desk is a tiny sprig of heather, a pale echo of the glory of a mountain that is clothed in the rich depth of its colour. A shard of memory like a lock of hair held over the heart. A million bees, it seems, make the land hum, butterflies dance like petals on the wind and the black wings of ravens catch the light, turning silver in the sun as they fly over the mosaic of earth.
I turned right at the little crossroads towards Curbar, knowing that there would be a last panorama over the painted hills. I stopped to watch a cow feeding her calf. Movement caught my eye and with a heart bursting I saw a family of deer in the bracken, watching. I have no words for that. No flowery periods, no poetry could capture that feeling. Only a prayer perhaps.
I couldn’t leave. There are moments in time…out of time… where there is nothing but that moment. It takes you, carries you like a babe in its arms, holds you like a lover, enfolds and nourishes and casts its benediction over every particle of being. And when it is over it leaves you both blessed and bereft, as if you have been vouchsafed a glimpse of paradise and sent back with whispered words… Not yet, little sister…
It took me an hour to tear myself away from the moors and leave the border of Yorkshire to brave the green hills of Derbyshire. My heart felt like molten lead in my chest as I turned to see that final purple crest on the hills… and turn the car towards the south.