Country diary: cabin fever on the moors
The true start of winter is often debated, but none of the definitions I know include mid-November. That didn’t stop a razor-edged northerly blowing off the moors from knifing me in the ribs. I stopped to put on my spare jacket, but it seemed hopelessly unequal to the job. “Is that all you brought?” my companion asked. Luckily for me, by the time we emerged from the woods above the Snake Inn into bright sunshine, the wind had moderated. But the sky above was still cold-forged with that intense blue of winter, tinged pink in places in the low-angled light.
Soon we were on the easy trail above the deep notch of Oyster Clough, whose name continues to baffle me. It wasn’t always called this. When the Duke of Devonshire sent his man to survey these moors in the early 17th century, the valley was still known as Nether Clough. Maybe the well-heeled grouse-shooters who appeared more than two centuries later thought “Nether” too boring. Its course has a harmonious curve whose contour lines on a map do suggest the shape of an oyster.
Its pearl, if that’s the right word, is a small stone shooting cabin nestling below the brow of the moor right at the top of the clough. A decade ago, I wouldn’t have mentioned it in print, the handful of such places in the Peak District being, if not closely guarded secrets, then little written about. Now, because of social media, this pearl is out on display and its number of visitors has soared.
As we drew close, I saw it had been spruced up, with a handsome new roof. The old one, I discovered in the visitor book, had been blown off the winter before last and replaced by local mountain rescue teams, a welcome act of generosity.
What struck me most, flicking through the recent entries, was the joy that other walkers had recorded at the psychological release from the pressures of Covid-19 they had found on these windswept moors. Through the window, past a wine bottle filled with plastic flowers, I watched the sun flickering across the white grass and then brought my face close to the glass to soak up its warmth.