Caught by the River

The Quiet Moon

22nd January 2023

In ‘The Quiet Moon’, Kevin Parr discovers that a year of moons has much to teach us about how to live in the world that surrounds us — questioning whether we should embrace the way of the ancient Celts and reconnect to the moon’s natural calendar. Read an extract below.

The sun hangs for a final moment. Bloodied like a bruised orange, but sharp-edged and spent. I can look straight at it, the dying ember of a flaming day. Its energy remains though. The still that surrounds me remains thick with the heat. Not a breath of wind, not even here where there is always a blow.

A bead of sweat drops from my eyebrow onto my cheek, smearing across the lens of my glasses as it falls. Suddenly I am aware of the damp around the neck roll of my T-shirt and the small of my back. ‘It’s good exercise,’ I remind myself, reaching a tissue from my pocket to buff up my glasses. I’d almost swapped my shorts for long trousers before I left the cottage, but this evening is one of those fitful high-summer nights when the whole world has to stop.

There it goes. As it meets the horizon, so the liquid of the sun begins to ooze like the yolk of a perfectly poached egg. Smearing into the silhouette of Lewesdon Hill and then spilling in a lava bubble that sparks and fizzes and forces me to squint and blink my gaze away. A glorious sunset, although not as blazing as some. The haze and low cloud have diffused the dusk colours, softening the yellows and golds into mauve. It feels appropriate to the mood, though. The thick air that has plumed from the Sahara has brought a bout of brutal heat – even here in the west Dorset rolls where the fresh of the sea usually keeps the temperature in check.  But I like it. I like the unusualness. The sun has all but set and I am feeling over-dressed in a T-shirt and shorts. There is a flavour of the Mediterranean in the air but with a serving of local seasonal vegetables. And the smell of this evening is the thing that I am finding most extraordinary.

Around my feet is a carpet of colour unlike I have seen on Eggardon Hill. There are harebells and birds-foot trefoil, red clover and lady’s bedstraw. There are thistles and grasses and a multitude of other plants that I cannot name. As I first stepped through the gate and onto the fort, and the perfume tickled my nostrils, I bent down amongst it all to try and find the actual source. There was no singularly distinctive waft, something powerful like a honeysuckle or lime, and none of the flowers or seeding grasses that I put my nose to seemed to have any great scent of their own. Instead, I was smelling everything – from the pollen and nectar down through the sun-warmed leaves and the exposed soil and desiccated sheep-shit. It is power in numbers. All of the most subtle odours teased by the heat and then allowed to simply hang. With no breeze or coolness to dissipate, I was probably even catching the whiff of the miniscule eggs that the marbled whites were scattering. All of these things coming together to create one glorious infusion. I was smelling the hill itself, the millennia of change in geology and ecology that had led to now. And even as I looked west at the setting sun I couldn’t help but be distracted by the unexpected intensity that was provoking a different sense.

I hadn’t come up here to smell the air. I came alone but wanted to share the sunset. Or rather, I wanted to look at the sunset as others might once have done. The people who first took tools to the earth of this hill over 5000 years ago, building ditches and ramparts, creating sanctuary in altitude, structure among the wild. What must they have thought to watch the sun disappear only to leave a trail of colour in its wake? Would they have cared? They would surely have stood as I do now, drawn unconsciously towards the fading warmth. Not least because of the connection with Lewesdon Hill and Pilsdon Pen that stand in the west. Both were topped with forts such as this one, as so many of the hills in Dorset are. Perhaps they would see the dance of flames from the homes of their counterparts. Fires lit to cook and communicate. A sense of visual connection they shared with the light of the sun itself. 

I smile. I like the thought of standing where those people stood. At moments such as this I feel my own connection with them. An appreciation of a moment – this moment.


Extracted from Kevin Parr’s ‘The Quiet Moon: Pathways to an Ancient Way of Being’, just-published by The History Press. Buy a copy here (£14.24).