This wintering land presents itself in the skeletal shapes of trees and light that comes and goes with the skudding clouds. The wind is a roar through the leafless oaks. The sun is warm, though, and I heat up quickly once we start walking up hill, a gradual ascent on a balcony path from Hartsop towards Boredale Hause.
I unzip my coat and turn to face the wind – in doing so I face the sun, streaming into Deepdale from the west: it shines into me with the fresh blast of winter air and there’s no way I can’t grin. Rob is chasing the light, camera poised, and I can tell by the look on his face that he’s loving what he sees.
Walking up is slow going though, and as we gain height the wind becomes ever fiercer. My view, for the most part, is channelled down to the path of tiny stones, earth occasional grass. I begin to think of life as a gradual unfurling of small and often unremarkable events, rather than a series of dramas; I am in a slow, sure rhythm of breathing, placing one foot after another, making one small decision after another, pressing on against the swirling force of a forty-mile-an-hour wind.
We came out today with the intention of watching the moon rise and witnessing darkness cover the land from the vantage point of Place Fell. By 3.30pm the moon is visible above the fells in the east; its our constant companion now, along with the wind. The higher we get, the stronger the wind feels. At times, the walk becomes a battle, and I have to support myself using my stick, or sit down and wait for the gusts to pass. We’ve come to a section of path where there’s some shelter, and we take a break. I can hear the wind roaring around us and close my eyes; it’s as if I’m on the coast, listening to vast waves crashing white and hard against rock. Yet I am 650 metres above sea level.
We reach Place Fell around 5.30pm, but I can’t reach the summit cairn directly: I am knocked off balance by the wind. I crouch down and reassess, and, with my body low to the rocks, pick my way towards the highest point. Then I find a spot out of the worst of the wind, facing east, and watch the sky pass through a spectrum of pinks. The land glows softly, as if it’s made of felt. I smile at the intensity of this wind, now that I’m relatively stable again: it’s worth getting out to feel this, to be blown sideways, to get a sense of the elements, to feel small and insignificant. Next time I drive on the valley road and look up I will have a sense of how inhospitable this place can be to humans, and I’ll know how a raven can drift on the gusts and can turn, with the smallest tilt of its tail, to pause and look directly at me.
The wind on the small tarns up here is making oceans of them, water blackened then silvered, and thrown to the air. Rob has been photographing, and returns, his mouth full of wind and racing clouds, eyes carrying the day’s last fire. Together we rest a while longer and watch the deepening blue, the moon becoming brighter and brighter, craters smudged across its pearl face. But the wind is insistent, and hurls icy blasts at us. We become cold, and decide to head down, and into the coming of dark.
The clouds easily pinch out the light of stars but the moon is so bright tonight that even when the clouds blow in front of it, it is not lost – it throws a sheen of creamy oranges and greys into the night sky, an alternative rainbow. Below us, lights in houses, hotels and barns in Glenridding and Patterdale are glimmering, and I can pick out every fell beyond them. The moon, veiled by clouds, is lighting up the entire valley. I’m dumbstruck by its colour – an eerie pearl-brown that defies description – and by my own sense of being here, small and unseen, in near-darkness, a tiny speck among hills and lakes and a night sky raging with clouds. The wind has dropped, and the air is quiet, but through its colour the land somehow sings, and like the song of seals, I can’t find words to describe it. Perhaps there is a music, or I will find a poem when I search through my memories of this moonlit night.