dispatch from yorkshire: climbing the moor

Posted: May 19, 2012 in Travel
Tags: , , , , , , ,

At a glance the Moor does not seem all that daunting, although the distance straight to the top is difficult to gauge. Is it 200 feet? 500? 1,000? No, certainly not 1,000. That would be 100 stories, like climbing the Empire State Building. It is not that high, is it? Is that possible? Unlike a skyscraper it rises on a slope. Yet the more you look at it, the more you think about it, the more you realize you cannot estimate the height. Maybe geology and geometry are colluding to lure you to climb, projecting an illusion of hope through a seemingly manageable rise in the earth.

You quickly learn vertical height doesn’t really matter. What matters is the whole of the climb, an illogical maze of horizontal and vertical zigzags scratching the land. Some bring you to the apex, a well defined slash across the sky like a mountain sliced perfectly in half. Some take you through a complex series of small ascents and descents which never reach the summit. Others simply skirt along the base keeping the looming plateau far above you. You cannot be sure where a path leads until you hike it. Even then you are constantly presented with alternate routes, routes betrayed only by slightly trodden grass. And from those alternate routes shoot other alternate routes. So you never know where you are headed, not really, until you climb.

The first thing you notice, even before starting, is the enveloping murmur of running water. Streams are everywhere. It rains often in this part of the world and that water needs to drain, it needs to reach the lowest point. It flows down the Moor in a never ending symphony, Mother Nature’s crystalline soundtrack.

This time of year the heather lays dormant and the ground is covered with bracken and bluebells. The undergrowth twists and turns in ancient patterns. Because the ground is soggy you decide upon a well-defined path where the puddles are navigable and the way up appears clear. Within 20 minutes (and with surprising ease) you reach what seems to be a halfway point, a small clearing with a few benches for rest. The air is crisp, refreshing as a shot of pure oxygen. You look to the far hills to the north where large sheep pastures are segregated by crisscrossing stone walls. You look to the town below, surprised the buildings are smaller than you would have imagined.

Ahead a staircase hugs the rocky cliff. The reality of what remains becomes bracingly clear as you approach. Each small victory to this point was mere folly. The staircase is made of large stones haphazardly thrown together to provide egress from this last middling point to the top. The steps range from a few inches to a foot and a half in height. They are long and narrow, broad and flat. They look as if they were built by the people who roamed this area 3,000 years ago. What seemed like the halfway point a short while ago clearly was not. You are now at the halfway point. Maybe. The remainder of the climb is compressed into a sharp upward incline. You zip your coat for protection from the ever-present and increasingly harsh wind.

You consider heading back. This last bit is impossibly steep. How badly do you need to reach the top? Is it really the top or do other surprises await you? It looks like the pinnacle, but you now know how easily you are fooled by appearances. Climbers at the bottom look unbelievably far away. Have you really traveled that far? Will you be thwarted by this final obstacle?

No, you will not.

Your endurance is put to the test. You use your arms and legs, hands and feet, to move ahead. You step aside to let those coming down pass. You envy their foresight illuminated by walking sticks. You imagine yourself a great mountaineer, scaling the craggy face of Everest without proper equipment or provisions. You no longer look back. You no longer look up. You take each step as a distinct challenge. And you climb. When you feel as if you cannot climb another step the stairs suddenly end and a new path emerges. You are almost there! You scramble up the remainder with the excitement of a child.

Up here the wind is insistent and omnipresent with nothing to block it. It is the wind from 16th century maps, a giant cloud in the sky, puffy cheeked and angry, blowing great gusts across the land. You let it embrace you (what other choice is there?) and look around. To the south, east and west the Moor stretches flat, the long grass waving and fluttering. To the north the sheep meadows have receded deep into the horizon. The town has shrunk to the size of a child’s train set. You realize how far you have come, how high you have climbed. You realize it is certainly much closer to 1,000 feet than 200, but the vertical height doesn’t really matter, does it? You tuck your hands deep into your pockets, brace against the wind and think, “Like hell it doesn’t.”

  1. rangewriter says:

    Those stone steps at the top reminded me of climbing Machuu Piccu last spring. Only, I love your description of the wind, a phenomenon I am well acquainted with.


  2. kayjai says:

    Nicely done, John. You’ve described the landscape as being very close to what I see in my neck of the woods. Hope you had a lovely time….


  3. I like the description without the picture first. That way I can tell how far off my mind was from the actual image you captured.


  4. Pictures, please!


  5. MysteryCoach says:

    Nice… I’m sore. 🙂


  6. A masterful piece of writing that allowed me to climb to the top of the moor with you. I can hardly wait to see the pictures because I know you must have taken your camera with you.


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