Exposure

On Crow Hill*

A world of white, and rock and scrub and tufted moorland grass, and below us, stone walls, naked trees, and Height Road winding away down to Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd and Cragg Vale. We have walked up from the bridge across steeply-wooded Fosters Clough where there is a sitting out place for bonfires under the stars. The track is icy and we alternate between holding hands for security and letting go to grab at rocks and grasses sticking out of the snow. But there have been so few others up here since the snow fell thick and soft that there are not many places where crushed snow has melted and refrozen, and for once I can be cold, outdoors and relatively nimble (or what passes for nimbleness in me). What causes me to cry out is not fear of falling, or pain, or cold, but my first ever sight of icicles! Oh! Delicate but dangerous (imagine one falling fast and far, with an arrow’s dedication, towards you.) Hard, stilled, but just a moment or two more of light away from melting.

And now here we are, breathless almost – breathing hard. We look out over the snowy slopes: on the higher hills the snow is still thick despite sunshine, and even under the light grey clouds the fields and moors glow white. The wind whips our faces and we turn into each other, hold each other close. We are standing in the protective curve of an amphitheatre formed by a long-ago quarry. Icicles hang from the huge steps hewn out of the rock – not into it, for this was made by extraction; the small hands and small tools of people removing great hunks of stone to build tidy cottages to shut tight against the harsh climate. We are breathing into each other, your breath in my face and neck warm and the wind against my cheeks cold, like two notes playing with each other, and a third note the sense of warm-cold contrast; these unheard sounds join the music echoing lightly, dancing around the stone amphitheatre, a concert hall for a performance of this gentle symphony of tinkling, trickling icicle drips and the whistle of the wind whispering over the snow. I lean towards you our warm lips press together, then our cold cheeks brushing; and then the crunching of my boots on the snow as I shift my weight is a cadence bringing this phase in the music to a pause.

We turn to fill our eyes with the horizon across the Vale and the clouds part – and the sun shines through bathing the further snowy slopes in a gleaming light; like a burst of applause, silent, perhaps because too beautiful to be heard by our exposure-numbed ears.

* On this map I think we were at a point just northeast of where Height Road crosses Foster Clough. Crow Hill is actually marked on this map.

This has been my winter of moorlands, in the Welsh Borders, Yorkshire and Derbyshire, called by a longing for the wild feelings they inspire in me of Possibility and Freedom, of Anywhere and Whenever. The bleak beauty of what T calls ‘our deserts’, though they are far from barren and lifeless (though as he points out, sandy deserts themselves are neither barren nor lifeless). Our moors are the places that rivers start. There is no national protection structure or strategy for moorland, but many local partnerships

And on the subject of snowy moorland, check out Julieanne Porter’s beautiful snowy Peak District pictures.

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