Albion

Heather in the blood

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Tomorrow I head north for the Harvest of Being weekend on the moors of Yorkshire, where I take the thoughts of at least one dear friend also ‘in exile’ in the south and instructions to kiss the earth for her. To many that may seem strange, but there is ‘something’ about the hills of the northeast of England that draws many of us. The hills call, tangling hoary fingers in the gut and weaving their way into every fibre of being. For those of us with heather in the blood, that call goes deep and is part of who we are in some intangible, indefinable way. It colours how we see and feel the world and the vibrant life of the earth.

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Perhaps it is the stark, iron grey of the rocks and deep russet tones of the high hills; perhaps it is the traces of our farthest kin who carved upon the stone the strange, arcane symbols that speak to something beyond the intellect; maybe it is that we see a beauty in the apparent barrenness of the moors that takes a keener eye than the lush green of flowered hedgerow and field and seeking that beauty in the treeless hills it comes softly to our eye in other landscapes. Whatever the cause, it is a marriage made in heaven and lasts a lifetime in utter faith.

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In winter the snow reaches up to play with the clouds, white into white while the wind blows bitter and plumes of smoke rise from clusters of old stone cottages that huddle together for warmth. In spring the vividness of young green paints the moors, speckled with scarlet as bilberry leaves strive to beat the unfurling fronds of bracken. Summer comes late and the moors keep the russet tones of fall until the bracken itself clothes everything in emerald, sheltering birds, lizards and small creatures. As summer moves towards autumn the hills wear their soul in all its glory, clothed in the purple of heather. Then their inner beauty is unveiled for all to see. Last time I was there it was so.

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That was a month ago. The brief, regal blaze may have faded now, I do not know. But the streams will run with the iron-rich water that carries a hint of golden light over stones that felt the touch of the ancestors; the earth itself will welcome my step with the embracing softness I have felt nowhere else, as if it carries you lightly across its body and the grouse and skylark will await. And if the heather still blooms I will carry a small sprig back with me for my friend to match the heather in her heart.

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