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.