Looking back, it’s been a good summer. At times it’s been an exceptional summer – even in the chilly Peak District. And after a winter that stepped on and froze the toes of spring, it’s been an outstanding summer for cotton grass and the elusive cloudberry.
We have had barbecue spring days a plenty, balmy evenings shared with friends where vegetarian ‘chicken’ tikka was cooked over hot coals while we watched the setting sun. We’ve had weeks on end in early summer when it was too hot to pull on our walking boots and make the sweaty pull onto Bleaklow, or the stiff but short climb onto Kinder Scout, burdened with heavy metal cameras and weighty glass lenses. It was too hot to do anything but find a shady spot and enjoy something frozen.
We’d emerged from a long winter that rebounded again and again, closing roads, scuppering plans, heartbreaking us all with its blizzards that buried sheep and Welsh mountain ponies and sent nervous seedlings to retreat under a blanket of earth.
But this winter of icy bursts left something magical in its wake, combining with the barbecue heat of spring to bring moorland plants bursting into life. By June there were whispers of the grass on the eastern moors. Photos appeared – vast swathes cotton grass nodding at the setting sun. And though this iconic moorland plant was putting in a late appearance it bloomed as never before, slapped in the face of the intensity of the seasons. Mimicking spring snows and barbecue ash in a veil of white that covered the moors as far as the eye could see.
These plants are hare’s tail cotton grass, so prolific this year that I mistook them for the common variety, though if you take a close look there’s no mistaking the meaning of the name. (But they do move mightily even in a light breeze so you might have to use your imagination).
There were cloudberries too, at this time of year little more than clumps of leaves I’d not seen before. Then flowers burst out and I began to see them everywhere.
Later, in August there was heather, but though I’ve been up and looked at my favourite heather clad moors, it felt more like business as usual. Perhaps the heather slept through winter, unaware of the fight between ice and fire or the need to fight back with prolific purple blossoms.
When I look back on other years it’s the heather and bilberry I remember.
This year’s crop of memories will be punctuated by cloudberries but shaped by cotton grass nodding in the breeze.
(More of the Peak District’s fine show of cotton grass here on Flickr)