Spring was revoked after I saw Jim, and the dark side returned, in all its frightening nude whiteness. I walked outside my front door to call Clifton, and I felt a natural hostility to the air unlike anything I’d ever felt near any house I’d ever made my bed in. It was as if the night had fangs. The house loomed behind me, like two tall and ashen undertakers. Beyond the old barns I was peering at through the gloom, hoping that Clifton would skip out from a low wall over there that she sometimes sheltered under, was the lost valley: hundreds of acres of wild ground with no public access owned by my landlord and his wife, scattered with derelict buildings, streams, rocks and jagged remnants of walls whose purpose nobody living remembered. Beyond it: untold numbers of unmarked graves, filled with plague bones – old bones from a different universe, but bones that in fact did their growing only thirteen or fourteen generations ago. Next to a small lake, the tall scarecrow skeletons of last summer’s giant hogweed stood strong despite the snow. Martin told me a previous tenant once swam in the lake and almost froze to death. “Which part of the year was that in?” I asked. “July,” he said.
Martin had been working on the farm for decades, and – being a vegetarian, and a thoroughly nonmaterialistic soul – feeling different to the culture around it for just as long. Unlike my landlord, he took a passionate interest in all the nature in the wild ground behind the farm. It was why he was really here. He often spotted stags down there in the lost valley. Confusing paw prints in the snow had been reported. There were rumours of a large creature, like a cat, but not quite. It was unmanaged, elemental land: a taste of what will happen when were are all gone. When I was down there, I was astounded by the scale of it all, the way the trees and dead vegetation swallowed you. It pulsated as the sun fell. It was the kind of place where you could die a spectacular death of a morning and no-one would know. Besides Martin and me, nobody went down there apart from the foot hunts my landlord welcomed onto his property. While I sat up in bed, listening to furniture moving in a loft where there wasn’t furniture, it seemed that all the wild ground behind the house was breathing, under the ice.
This is a small excerpt from the Peak District section of my new book, Ring The Hill. The section tells the real story of my time briefly living high up in Derbyshire, the winter before last, which also inspired the made-up story that opens Help The Witch. Ring The Hill can be ordered here from Waterstones or here from Amazon or here – with free worldwide delivery – from Wordery. Alternatively you can order a signed copy, with a hare bookmark made by my mum, for cover price plus p&p by emailing me here.
There is also going to be a concept LP based on Help The Witch, featuring some amazing musicians. You can pre-order a copy here and help with its funding. All profits from the LP will be going to musicians and the label, not me.