Day-tripping in the Peak District through autumnal moorland and millstone grit
Yesterday I spent the day driving in the Peak District with my camera, taking the slow road, passing turnoffs to Wigtwizzle and Dungworth, as I headed for Hope Valley on this quiet day. This was much-needed soul-food, grounding myself with nature and letting the evocation of timelessness lead. The way took me into a place of wild gritstone edges, beautiful heather moorlands and gentle limestone dales. Fingers of light and shadow darted across the shifting landscape in solitary quietude as the clouds chased the sun, creating compositions of gold and green, red and yellow.
“autumn has always been poets’ weather”
It was a windy day, more so out on the moors. But somehow it heightens the reconnection with our natural world. The cliché is true about it blowing out the cobwebs. It energises, invigorates, releases. You can shout out loud into it, sing into it, fling your arms up and let go of all trapped life-force that needs expressing and freeing. When the winds became too strong, I found that the way to counter against its buffeting force was to move all my energy into a place of rootedness, casting anchor amongst the windswept, but hardy, undergrowth and rocky millstone grit. Being in the windstorm, yet rooted at the same time. Life lessons.
The strong winds reminded me of a recent sightseeing drive I had taken an elderly gentleman on as a favour to a friend, to enjoy a bit of Yorkshire countryside and village life during his brief visit. She’d stayed in the car while he went out to take photographs of the Buckstone cliffs views, overlooking Marsden moor and beyond. The wind was ferocious and unrelenting, and I quickly hopped out as I saw him begin to teeter and sway on his two hip replacements that his two crutches couldn’t hold up. He was a retired engineer and sheep farmer deep into his seventies – a South African sheep farmer from the vast, arid desert lands of the Great Karoo. He was made of tough stock.
Aspects of him recalled my late father – once a boxer, a streetfighter, a car mechanic, with his rock-solid physique who reached the age of seventy-nine before the lightning-fast ravages of cancer reduced his mighty form to shadow and ash. I was not able to see him for more than ten years nor say goodbye, and I said my own farewell from afar. Immigration circumstances at the time were such that paperwork prohibited me from seeing my family (“Headlines say Migrants, we say Global Citizens” – another debate for another day). But, now, here was this old man, this retired farmer, braving but battling the powerful arctic north-winds on the exposed Yorkshire cliffs; and echoes of my father welled up, invoked in an instant.
From the size of his rugged hands and once burly frame, just like my late father’s, I was immediately touched by his shrunken silhouette, vulnerable to the wind’s strength, with the wind winning the battle in staying upright. So I leapt out of the car and rushed down the slope to catch him, daughter-style instincts kicking in. I’d only met him on this day, but I stood with the full force of my body behind him, held him firmly with my arms around his waist, and leant into him so that the wind wouldn’t sweep both of us while he was attempting to photograph the landscape. The spongy peatbog ground shook beneath our feet as we inched ourselves around – four legs and two crutches between us – to head back upwind and towards the car for shelter. Just for a moment, as I leant into his back through his thick jacket, it could have been my father I was holding, and supporting, in his frail months. And I felt gentle joy that I could, symbolically, have this fleeting exchange of familial energy one more time, and being able to give support. It had its own quiet power of closure that was profoundly cathartic out on the windswept moors. But I digress.
“season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”
To me, every season brings inspiration anew, and this year’s pinnacle of autumn is no different. I see a creative world through light, colour, texture, and I feel responses pulse to my calling heart hot-wired for expressions of art. I feel a quickening in my eyes that see through an artist’s lens, and the expansion of my soul into an impeccable lightness of being. It is my mode of being and life’s breath. And with a few days of part sunshine forecast, I found myself in the High Peak, with the full spectrum of an autumn colour palette on my mind and in my artist’s eye. I was not let down. As I wended my way on and off track, vast swathes of vertiginous orange brilliance opened up before me.
Leaving my car behind, I followed a sheep track, greeting my woolly fellow beings in our temporary shared space as I passed. Up ahead, I could see clefts in the surrounding hills piped with treetops of autumn gold and deep emerald. Gritstone formations framed the view to one side, boulders and tors exposed to the weather over eons after arising from an ancient seabed – each aspect representing the layer of grit laid down in just one episode, probably just one tide, or an annual flood. No one is quite sure, but its testament still stands.
Dark peat moors aflame with autumn spread, backlit red-orange leaf tips carpeting the hills as far as the eye can see, sometimes dissected with a piercing shot of fluorescent green of pared farmland patched into the landscape. Interleaving drystone walls criss-cross both landscapes, an ancient marriage of man and nature, sometimes tended, oftentimes forsaken to the elements. A wild and humanised land, transecting.
At my feet, faded traces of moor heather’s late summer purple blooms, now entering recession for the upcoming winter. Gnarled, twisted ashen twigs of bush, shaped for an artist’s heart, and speckled with the last signs of weathered colour, scattered in between a blanket of deep umber.
Birds eye views across the Hope Valley and into distant hills and moors, repeating the bondage between the wild and the tamed. A lone kestrel contends with the high winds in its hunt for prey.
As the journey swoops down into the valley, I come across waterfalls and woodlands, fallen trees bent over streams, bridging banks in canopied forests. Weathered greystone arched bridges, coated in velvet-green moss finery, date back to the 1800’s. Narrow and winding roads, the brilliant, dazzling colours of autumn in its finest reds, oranges, yellows and browns infused with the ever-greens.
My life this year is turning out to be truly defined by blocks of colour palettes. In summer it was the dazzling turquoise of the Ionian Seas of Paxos. Today it’s the fiery peak of autumn oranges and reds. And soon we’ll be in the early winter whites of the arctic north. But, after my autumn road trip for the day, I went to bed with absolute possibility in my artist soul: digital art to create for my wanderlust spirit outlet Urban Rustic Nomad here; canvases to paint, ink colours to flow and shift on paper, a thousand words to describe, orange on my mind and a colourful autumn palette painted my dreams.
“it has been a good day”
Photographs and copy © Karin Rose Dubois