The moors and fells of the Yorkshire Dales and surrounding areas have long inspired tales of horror, fear and the supernatural. The trope on which such tales rely is that of lost souls, wandering the bleak and Romantic misty moors: a sublime and gothic fantasy.
Certainly, when one walks the huge, primarily acidic plateaus of Boulsworth and Haworth moors, the Pendle to Pinhaw ridge, Rylstone and Simon’s Seat over to Nidderdale, it isn’t difficult to figure out where such wilderness literature finds its source. The sense of emptiness, of the inhuman, is palpable. However, even these “wastes” are intrinsically human – managed even – landscapes.
In my short tales (in Abandon Hope, Ghosts and The Wedding Invitation) I have tried to find other locations for my hauntings. These places formed me. I’ve lived in them, and them in me, throughout my life. The moors themselves haunt me, but not in a gothic or macabre sense. Melancholic, definitely, but sublime, no. They are deeply human.
Some of the seeming bleakest moors are in fact post-industrial landscapes, being the sites of lead and coal mines, going back centuries, even millennia. Almost all are farmed, for sheep or grouse shooting (the latter increasingly controversial, as it moves towards something akin to a factory model). These industries – in addition to the wool trade, water management, craft production and, of course, tourism/leisure – have brought people, and with human beings come stories, tales, myths. And hauntings.
From the rock carvings and stone circles dating back to Mesolithic era, through the subsequent “invaders” who made these areas home and brought their own structures (Roman roads, Celtic field systems, Germanic and Norse villages etc.) to the tarmacked roads, mega-quarries, festivals and visitor centers of today, people have been leaving their physical marks on the moors. They also bring with them their energy, their vitality and their traces.
I find, therefore, the ghosts are to be found in this vital humanity. It is in the very busy-ness of these places, not in their bleakness, that stories emerge. Let the skylarks have their freedom. The spirits seek redemption amongst their fellow humans.
(photographs copyright: Gavin Jones and Garner and Jones)