To Walk on the Moor

First, while the sky is still full of stars, you must quickly push your toes out of the warm bed and steel yourself for the pain of warm flesh hitting the floorboards. Quickly jump down and run so fast that your feet almost slip. Fumble for the doorknob and creep out into the black tunnel.

Hands out in front of you, grope for the bathroom door. Now as the moonlight catches the edge of the tap you must wet and soap your flannel and scrub its rough surface over your stinging hands and face. Rub dry with the hard towel. Your eyes will widen as they get used to the dark.

Quick, back to the bedroom now, feet pattering quietly on the wooden floor, your nightie flapping and catching round your bare legs. Grab your knickers off the chair and pull them on. Next, feel for the rough wool of your stockings and pull them right up. Fasten them with your garters. Pull up your heavy skirt and slide your arms back into the body of your nightie. With your arms close to your sides pick up your cotton bodice and push your hands into it. In one swift movement, flip your head up, out of the nightie and into the cold cotton bodice. Gasp and pull the thin woollen cardie round you, tight.

Run silently down the dark staircase, jumping over the squeaky third step. At the bottom of the stairs shove your feet into your boots carefully, in case of slugs. Yank your laces tight. Get your rough tweed jacket down from the hook and slip it on. Drag your scarf up over your head and tie it, scratching its rough worsted against your chin.
Slide back the metal bolt and gently open the front door. Wait a moment to check that no one in the house has woken. Slip out of the door, closing it softly and feel the cold steal your breath. In your pocket find the tight ball of mittens, chilled and damp. Shove your fingers in anyway, as the wet threads bite into your thumbs.

Start to walk quickly up the street, glad of the moonlight. Hear the sound your boots make on the cobbles. Turn right at the end of the street, up the hill, away from the town. See the houses change. These older ones are made of grey stones. They are in a tall,thin row. Their big third floor windows shine and glint like dark water. Their stone changes to silver where the moonlight catches its edges. They sit back from the road. Each house with a tiny strip of land in front of it.

Feel the grass of the Common under your feet. The ground is soft but not muddy. Through the dark, fierce, thorns of the hedge you can hear breathing and once see the smoke of some great beasts’ panting.

At the end of the Common walk faster, almost running past the last, dark building. The old church is tall, thin and grey, like the houses. The graveyard smell is dark and damp and you must try very hard not to think about what is in there.

Up the steep hill the road becomes a donkey track and the hedge becomes a low stone wall. Soon the wall tumbles away to nothing and the moor has begun.
The clouds are rising and under them watch the first, soft, morning light and the grey-green grass. Pass the ruins of the old cottage, step off the track and head along the edge of the hill.

Walk carefully now. This is only a sheep track. Look down to see where to place your feet. It is getting lighter now. Know that you are nearly there. Feel in your pocket to check for last night’s bread and cheese.
At the tussock with the big outcrop of stone behind it grab the corner of the stone that juts out and stand on the tussock to clamber up. Mind the sharp edges of the rock-face as they scrape your hands and knees. Now turn and sit on the cold stone, facing out, away from the moor.
This is why you have come. This is why you got out of bed while the sky was still full of stars. To sit up here in the first quiet, light of the new day.

syke moor
the moor

Look down at all the little houses and streets, crammed in so tight together. As the sun comes gently up behind the distant hills, the little valley is filled with a pink and golden light. Faraway, to the edge, the river, broad and twisting. The mist rises softly over it. The narrower canal draws a line across the valley softened, here and there, by mist.
Get out your feast now, so prudently saved from last night’s supper. It always tastes better up here. Take a breath and smell smoke, of course, but also other fresher, greener scents.
Listen. Over the rumbling of the mills hear the water running, the moorland birds waking up,and the distant clattering of milk churns from the diary. The day is started now.

You have stolen an hour from the day and now you must pay it back. Scramble down from your eyrie. Trying hard to keep your footing, run along the sheep track. Do not go back the way you came. That will take too long. Be brave.

Your route runs down the gully beside the stream. The path is cut in halfway up the steep side. It is just wide enough for you to pass. You must mind your footing on the smooth stones that jut up suddenly in places. Do not slip. You cannot go through the day in muddy clothes and boots. Fast, but not too fast, slip and slide your way down off the moor.

Now you are back on cobbled streets, the houses pressing in on you once more. Doors are opening, people are rushing out. Soon you are a tiny part of a great press of people pushing your way to the mill gate. Others are behind you. Today, you will not be late. The gates will still be open. Today you need not explain about the moor and why your money will be short on Friday.


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