Monday, July 21, 2014
Lives Landscape Literature
By William Atkins
Published by Faber & Faber, May 2014
There are some truly memorable books which feature moors, but why are moors so fascinating, so mysterious and so haunting? What actually *is* a moor?
William Atkins has been intrigued by moors since he wrote an investigative study about his local moor and the impact local industry and activity was having on it, when he was studying for his GCSE exams. It was only much later as an adult that he discovered what they called their moor was not in fact one at all, but rather a fen - moors receive moisture via rainfall as opposed to fens receiving water via underground springs.
Nothing daunted, he has continued to investigate the phenomenon of moors and their influence on our culture and our psyche. The Sherlock Holmes story of "The Hound Of The Baskervilles" was based around Foxtor Mire and the infamous Dartmoor prison was actually home to French and assorted Napoloeonic allied prisoners in 1808 and to American soldiers from the war of 1812/3.
Many authors and poets have lived, worked and loved the moors include Henry Williamson, the author of "Tarka The Otter", the poet Ted Hughes and his wife Sylvia Plath, as well as the Bronte sisters who lived and wrote on the Haworth moors.
True moors can only occur at high altitude and Atkins describes the topography, history, literature, customs and notable figures of these areas, including unsolved crimes and how historians, geographers and travellers have viewed moors over the years. We learn of farms in Exmoor which experience heavy rainfall every day from early May through to September with all the difficulties and near tragedies that brings, to the ecological preservation now in place to support those who farm these remote areas as well as the remarkable story of the restoration of Buckfast Abbey and its world famous apiaries.
From grouse moors and their gamekeepers, tragic floods, Ministry of Defence radomes, artillery ranges (Otterburn), child murders (Saddleworth) and bird-watching (North Yorks Moors), this is a great book which springs surprises on nearly every page.