Saturday, 20 July 2013
Summer in Rookhope
Up here at Rookhope in the North Pennines, we are a thousand feet higher than Durham. The height brings the temperature down by 3 degrees, though that is still unusually warm for these uplands. Below the tree line, Pennine zephyrs lightly rustle leaves and branches. Fair weather cumulus floats lazily across the sky. In the distance, the bluish fells mark the watershed that closes off the dale. Beyond is Northumberland, another country.
The landscape has altered since we were last here in June. The vivid green hues of midsummer are yielding to less saturated yellows, mauves and ochres. The heather is turning purple.The riot of wild flower colour in the hay meadows is subsiding (but instead, come and see beautiful planters and hanging baskets all over our village-in-bloom). The burn runs low and lazy off the flank of Bolt's Law. The school has closed for the summer holiday. Torpor is settling in as August draws near. The land is still beautiful, but in a languid way.
It would take a Delius to do justice in music to the sights and sounds and scents of high summer in the countryside. Not so much 'Summer Night on the River' or 'In a Summer Garden', music we courted to one summer 40 years ago, as my parents-in-law apparently did 40 years before that. One of Delius' less well known works is called 'A Song of the High Hills'. For me, it perfectly evokes long summer days in the Pennines: the fells shimmering in the dreamy heat, the aroma of warm yellow grass, the song of a lapwing momentarily breaking the silence, sheep dotted among the drystone walls running up the steep valley walls. Delius knew the moods, colours and textures of the Pennines from his West Riding upbringing. No-one could paint them better than he does.
Is there a better landscape anywhere in England? This North Pennine wilderness is one of the country's last truly remote places where, if it is what you are looking for, you can be silent and alone as you roam these undiscovered hills under huge skies with just the sheep and the curlews for company.
PS this was yesterday. You have to travel out of Rookhope to get a mobile signal. As I post this today, the sky is overcast. Wisps of mist cling to the fell tops. There is a hint of moisture in the air though it is still warm. You never quite know what the weather will do in these hills.