Daunting and defiant, it seems that these empty uplands haven’t yet been tamed, and as William Atkins strides out across the backbone of Britain, he finds that they echo with tales of lonely landscapes and the people who live and work there.
This is a personal journey inspired by childhood days spent exploring his local moor (although strictly speaking, it was a fen) near Bishops Waltham in Hampshire. The author remembers it as an isolated and mysterious patch of ground, covered in soggy tussocks, but as he travels from Bodmin to the Scottish Borders, he explains how the fierce landscapes we associate with Wuthering Heights and The Hound of the Baskervilles are often far from being raw, untouched wilderness. He digs below the peat and the heather to tell tales of monks and priests, gamekeepers and miners, solitary birdwatchers, lonely farmers and even prisoners held high on Dartmoor.
The lasting impression is that our moors remain moody and wild. Tracks might cut into hillsides and turbines slice across skylines, but the terrain puts a stop to most encroachment.
Britain’s CO2 emissions could double if we lost five per cent of our moors and there are now concerted efforts to restore damage. Whether such work would have repaired the vast bog burst above Haworth, as witnessed by the Brontës on a dry summer’s day in 1824, is debatable. Bridges were swept away and rivers turned into black ink as the moor reminded everyone of its secret power.
THE MOOR by William Atkins, Faber & Faber, £18.99