Country diary: treading through the wet dregs of a hard year


Progress was painfully slow, so I leaned on my stick for a breather. On the skyline, about 1,000 yards to the east, someone was standing beside the old medieval cross on Fox Lane. They would be having an easier time of it, I thought, on a good path. I was surrounded by huge clumps of molinia, or purple moor grass, picking my tedious way between them along deep troughs that December’s rain had left slopping with water. Looking down, I saw my boots were now wholly submerged.

The grass itself was white-blond and lifeless. Patches of bracken had gone over, no longer bronze but dull brown and slimy. A skim of grey cloud had flattened the light. I felt myself in the wet dregs of a hard year.

The natural world, meanwhile, was getting on with it. The sky above the old reservoir was filled with goldfinches, 40 or so, as though it were summer and the air thick with insects. A raven flapped north, cronking sourly at the crow vexing it. A kestrel wheeled into a small clump of broken birches to take a view. Every so often small groups of pipits would burst from cover, and once a snipe thrummed out from beneath my feet in an energetic blur.

Clumps of evergreens greeted me as I climbed a low rise: cowberry, the mountain cranberry, dark and glossy, and a large clump of vibrant crowberry. I combed my fingers through its long stalks, feeling the structure of its small leaves.

Crowberries are purplish black, not red, but, like cranberries, are rich in phenols, and good for urinary tract infections. Grazing pressure alters the concentration of these chemicals in their fruit and since these days this moor is lightly grazed I wondered about this, and all the other complex changes I’ve seen here in the past decade, most for the good.

Just then the sun emerged. The moor grass seemed to catch fire, a bright, warm light stretching north towards the horizon that cheered me at once. Glancing east, I again caught sight of the lone figure by the slender stump of the cross. They had lifted their face to the sun, so I stopped and did the same.


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