A Grey Day in the Graveyard

Over the course of last winter I attended a creative writing course exploring the Shropshire Meres and Mosses. The work that was produced is now published in a book called ‘Reflections’ (for sale at the Shropshire Wildlife Trust offices)

Summer is officially over today so here is a flavour of winter on Whixall Moss…

At the edge of the nature reserve car park is a tin shed. Inside is an old digger with steel tracks and a toothed bucket that was once used to rip and tear through the peat. It has made its final journey and now corrosion slowly creeps over it. Under a grey sky I make my way along the track to a field where more machines of destruction have met their end. Their wheels have sunk into the damp grass, their windscreens are broken. Their cables and arteries are exposed.

Man takes what the bog provides, a spadeful at a time.

Bill Allmark and the other peat-cutters are long gone. Their voices are a mere echo, a rustling of the wind in the alder catkins. Where once they toiled trees now grow. Beyond the trees I emerge onto the open moss. An icy rain falls on this lonely place. The vast landscape stretches out ahead of me towards distant snow-covered peaks. Beneath my feet the lush green sphagna shakes and shimmers.

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I stop by a ditch and stare into the oily depths. Blackness like I have never seen before. I allow my mind to wander. I am sinking through the layers of peat, cutting through the layers of time. The earthy smell fills my nostrils and chokes me. The acid stings my eyes. The ghostly face of a drowned soldier appears. Still I sink. I can hear the gloop of the wet mud swallowing me up. I see the leathery remains of sacrificial bog bodies, frozen in time. Eventually I reach the bottom, deep beneath the peat. I am sitting on a tree stump from a Roman forest.

A sudden burst of movement snaps me back to reality. A pair of mallards take flight from a pool. The water is slowly returning to this place. The roots of birch trees are being drowned. Soon they too will die and slowly sink into the graveyard.

The bog takes back. It is all-consuming.

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Countryside Ranger, Ecologist and Natural History Writer wandering the hills and valleys of deepest Shropshire

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