Wendy recently posted a fine meditation on the psychology of landscape and people's response to a moorland, which more often than not an uncomfortable one: 'its very openness mistrusted for a lack of delineation and directive patterns'.
I was expecting myself to struggle more with a sense of fear and hostility to the landscape of the Monts d'Arrée, but I was curious to find out. Wendy points out that the kind of person to whom the emptiness of moorland does appeal is 'not necessarily the clichéd solitary spirit of romantic literature'. In fact the one of the people who encouraged me to go there was my knitting buddy Soize, with her busy small town life and all its networks, her lively family, funny dog and hobby 2CV, but whose eyes kindled when she told me how she loved the desert landscape of the Monts, as did those of her cherubic twins when they showed me the photo album they'd put together of the trip and told me with glee that it was 'the Gates of Hell!'
And when I came to walk in that landscape, it was like a return, and I remembered that in fact I had loved moorland as a child, from chasing ponies on Dartmoor and Exmoor, to marvelling at the slopes of the Yorkshire moors (hoping vainly to see a merlin), to falling in love with the uplands of the Long Mynde in Shropshire on what turned out to be a sad family holiday (which I wrote about here, a long time ago).
Childhood literature fostered this rather, many of the adventure and pony books I remember reading (I was not a precocious reader, when I was a child I read as a child, so the menace and melancholy of Wuthering Heights, Hardy's Heath, and even Jamaica Inn I didn't come to till I was older) featured moorland as exciting and full of adventurous possibility, and somewhere often to which the characters ascended at epiphanic or transitional points of the narrative. I remember a description in (I think) an Arthur Ransome story where the moor is described as like a ragged counterpane thrown over the skeleton of the earth, with the rocks as bones showing through in the threadbare places, and a passage in a pre-war pony book, Jerry the Story of an Exmoor Pony (a hand-me-down from who knows when which I held in such nostalgia that I recently sought out and bought an old copy on-line) where the eponymous equine and his young rider follow a stag hunt, to a high and desolate part of upland where 'the moor looked wild and, even at this time of year, rather stern. Colourless too, for there was very little heather, only crisp wiry grass. The very sheep looked different...' Everyone the boy knows has been left behind, including his father who has tired earlier with an injury, he is among strangers. A sudden storm washes the landscape, the hunt is abandoned, then the stag appears, to the boy's eyes only, from a thicket, but he says nothing, allowing its escape. Yes, yes, I don't like bloodsports either but that's kind of mythic, isn't it?
No stags where we were in the Monts, that I know of, or even many sheep, though the last wolf survived there until 1906, but it is good horse country; we saw more evidence of horse riding and pony trekking her than elsewhere we've been in France.
For me though, much of the appeal of moorland, I think, is the juxtaposition of vast to small, macro to micro, the wide horizons and long views,
set against the fine detail of the flora and fauna and stone, detail which would be lost in a mass in a lusher landscape,
the counterpane may be threadbare, but it is nevertheless finely bejewelled and embroidered. Much of my delight in the heathlands I discovered as a child was in the rich texture of the heather and in finding the succulent tiny jewels of bilberries, though it was too early for those now, in fact moorland comes into its full beauty perhaps in late summer, when more fertile country is often overblown and past its best.
On such an open and austere canvas, marks and lines, whether natural or man-made
acquire drama and power, indeed, human constructions and objects become quickly weathered into abstracts and emblems:
It's worth rediscovering the moor.