Vacuum flasks, hawks and bilberries: Nick Small reviews Richard Carter’s ‘On the Moor: Science, History and Nature on a Country Walk’.
Not to be confused with William Atkins’ book of the same name, which is an exploration of moors in general and their place in our cultural history, Richard Carter’s book is about exploring one patch of South Pennine moorland in particular. The moor in question is Midgley Moor, high above the Calder Valley towns of Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd. It’s a moor that would have been a prominent feature in the lives of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Nowadays, Mytholmroyd’s literary giants (and denizens of these pages) Ben Myers and Adelle Stripe look out onto it from their home. And it’s also a place I know well, as I’m one of the maniacs in shorts and fell running shoes that Richard seems so curmudgeonly about as he ambles his way through the heather up on High Brown Knoll.
Whilst Richard does write about the nature of our moorland, the high plateaus clad in heather -farmed specifically to provide cover for our native game bird, the Red Grouse, so that it can be shot – the titular Moor is actually a venue for Richard to digress, knowledgeably, into more involved subject areas: plate tectonics, geology, anthropology and, most often, Darwinism. Richard is a huge fan of Darwin…and much of the book’s interest comes from the gems of knowledge that have clearly been unearthed as a result of this obsession. There’s barely a page without a surprising fact…whether it’s about a vacuum flask, a hawk or a bilberry.
If you’re looking for a guidebook, look elsewhere.
But, if you’re likely to be captivated by the idea of a tiny ecosystem opportunistically establishing itself on the top of a moorland post, simply because it’s where a bird chose to make a faecal deposit, then this book is for you. Begin the book as you would a moorland walk, happy to put the route map away and just follow where the sheep trods take you – then you’ll likely find the surprising turns and unexpected views a suitable reward.
More information on the book, as well as a link to purchase, is available via Richard’s website here.