What remains

Today Lachlan took Lyra and me to the Ford Moss nature reserve, just over the border in Northumberland. We saw an old friend on the approach. The Cheviot sits smack bang in the middle of the view from the front of our house and it was slightly strange seeing him from a different angle as we climbed up to the gate. The nature reserve itself sits in a natural depression amidst the hills, a bit like a belach, and has evolved into a natural peat bog. Thankfully though, the last few days have been sunny and it was mostly dry underfoot. (Yours truly has a poor record with peat bogs. I am inexplicably drawn to the deepest slurpiest sections and have often disappeared up to the hip on family walks in the highlands. My favourite boots ultimately dissolved as a result of repeated immersion in acidic slurry. Our children learned early on that their best approach was to watch where I was going and take the opposite route).

The flora, unsurprisingly given the soil, was reminiscent of the western highlands, heather, bracken, vast swathes of blaeberries and sprinklings of yellow tomentil. There was also a mystery cream flower I have so far been unable to identify and any suggestions would be very welcome. Wild ponies, Dartmoors I think, peeped out at us solemnly from the tussocky grass and Lyra startled both a young hare and a red deer but, on the lead on account of the ponies, didn’t attempt pursuit. We heard cuckoos calling and there were lots of fluttery pale orange butterflies of the native type that don’t linger long enough for identification. (Compare and contrast the migratory types that preen and pose at length for the papperazzi on the buddheia).

Incongruously, a tall brick industrial chimney protrudes from the middle of the site, part of the remains of an old colliery, which extracted coal until around the 1920s. Almost nothing remains of the pit village itself, but Lachlan (who has made several forays) tells me that you can tell where the cottages were from the rampant rhubarb, the lingering remains of the colliers’ gardens. Thinking of our own garden, I can well imagine that millennia from now the rhubarb will still be going strong when all else has crumbled.

Further along we made a distinctly vertiginous descent to see a waterfall. Lyra splashed in and out of the water and explored the caves under some huge rocks whilst I admired the sleek mossy stones and luxuriant ferns. It was quite the land that time forgot. I would not have been at all surprised if a stegosaurus had poked its head around the corner. Further along we came to a large slab of volcanic basalt, presumably deposited by some ancient glaciation but now marooned in a grassy glade incongruously surrounded by ever encroaching rhododendron. Like the miners’ rhubarb this also bore a message from the past. Some ancient artist had patiently carved many whirling patterns into the stone’s surface. The meaning of these may be long gone, but for me still there was a moment of connection. The stone was pocked here and there with lava bubbles and someone had carved an outline around them to create a head with a bulging eye and a spotted body and then chipped away a clawed foreleg or paw – an imaginary fearsome beast or a just very dodgy rendition of a favoured pet I wonder?

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