Monday, May 26, 2014

More moor

As I am increasingly interested in psychological response to landscape, I often ask people about their preferences for viewing, walking, visiting or living. The responses will invariably speak of water in one form or another or green hills and lush valleys or pointy peaks and mountains. If I do not mention moor, moor will not be mentioned.
The appeal of this wild terrain with its bleak reputation is to a certain sort of person, and not necessarily the clichéd solitary spirit of romantic literature. Moor is rarely obvious, but a landscape of subtle expectations and obscure purposes, often a blend of jarring and sinking that calls for physical dexterity echoed in the mind. Even – or especially - in good weather conditions, many people are uncomfortable with the temptingly expansive liberty of the heath, its very openness mistrusted for a lack of delineation and directive patterns.
The cultural legacy of supernatural danger, disappearing paths and cruel death associated with misty, cloud-bound moors lingers on in today’s world of facile communication and location-fixing devices. Despite the proliferation of arrows and signposts, we fear losing sight and getting lost as the elements descend more now from the context of our comfortable lives than earlier generations ever did.
Our severance from nature is perhaps most clearly seen in the context of moor, which has little time for aspirations. It operates primarily on the enduring horizontal plane, a deficit in a world which admires the easily comparative vertical in man-made structures and natural configurations of landscape. All those little cairns of walkers’ stones patronise the moor with their implications that endeavour is an upward instinct, like the religious faith which placed the megaliths.
A few Bretons, particularly those from the coast, have told me of their almost superstitious aversion to the moor and wondered how I can bear to live there. But the problem for me, as I face the need for moving on, is rather whether I can bear not.


Lucy said...

What marvellous writing, and touching on thoughts I've been having since visiting the Monts d'Arrée. I expected to find it more hostile and difficult to like, but in fact found it re-awoke a love of that kind of landscape which I first discovered quite young, with trips to the York moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor and perhaps especially the Shropshire uplands, and also literature which I enjoyed at that time - children's books probably mostly forgotten about now rather than the overwrought violence of 'Wuthering Heights' - but also even films like some of the Powell and Pressburger Scottish ones. Though I suppose much of this cultural reflection of moorland indicates a taming and gentrification of its wildness. It was a landscape I tended to associate with the fringes of Britain, and didn't quite expect it to be on offer here, but the Breton feelings and myths offer new perspectives.

I'll try to explore this further, I think. I hope your moving on doesn't take you too far from things and places you love.

Bergamote Calvez said...

I quite like moors and i have walked round the Monts d'Arrée a bit.
Moors form the essential backdrop to many novels; Wuthering Heights, The Hound Of The Baskervilles, Jamaica Inn and many others.
I suspect that the fear of isolation and getting lost was far worse before the days of mobile phones and GPS.
Also many people would have had a fear of fairies or worse hiding among the stones or in the clinging bogs.

WM said...

Thanks, Lucy. I thought you would understand.

WM said...

Thanks, Bergamote. The cultural history of the moors you mention certainly still dominates superstitious thinking. This is one of the problems of landscape appreciation - the challenge of viewing nature directly without looking through cultural filters.