From Fiends Fell Journals

by Tom Pickard

6th November 2003

Worked at home until 2:30 pm; it was a struggle between appetite and attainment.  Read a few Border Ballads.

As I walked through the hill mist to Fiends Fell a large bird lifted just high enough above the close horizon for me to see its underside as it peeled back below the escarpment and out of sight.  So light coloured and large that I thought it was a heron at first but moments later it reappeared in silhouette, lifting to the level of my eye – line to assess the danger that I represented.  It was a buzzard.  When I reached the summit the bird was gone.

A reclining limestone boulder patched with buzzard coloured lichen and situated just below the oncoming clouds offered partial shelter from the fast cold Atlantic wind.  There was another rock at its base and together they formed a comfortable chair so I sat and read The Gypsy Laddie, and a few other ballads.  After a while I became too cold to hold the book.

“Tis not Frost that freezes fell
Nor blawin Snaw’s Inclemency;
Tis not sic Cauld that makes me numb,
But my Love’s Heart grown cold to me”

The mist lifted and the sky lowered with a peculiar light that shrouded the surrounding peaks — dark misty blues, with a band of rosy gold on the distant snow line.  I strolled through the heather and whipped grass, stopping occasionally to gaze at the rich green sphagnum mosses near a patch of burnt ground.  Aware of a sudden calm I began to wonder how long the wind had been silent — did I catch the very instant when it stopped, or just become slowly aware of its absence ?  Then I heard a noise like a thin wind rising through reeds, but nothing stirred except the air some twenty feet above me where I saw a fast moving shadow, a wide massive sweep of starlings.  They made no sound save two thousand wings flapping, or flaffing as I’d earlier read in Lord Thomas and Fair Annie:

“There war four an twontie gray goshawks
A flaffin their wings sae wide
To flaff the stour thra off the road
That fair Annie did ride”

They swept out into the mist on either side of me like the hurried rustling of a long silk dress.  Then the silence.  As I moved on the wind took up again as though it had opened to let the starlings through.  I pulled my scarf closely and my hat down to meet it and followed a sheep trail towards a cairn perched on a summit overlooking the Eden valley, intending to enjoy the gloaming from there.  As I approached the cairn a large bird flew up out of the rising dusk silently lifting its dark form to alight.  But when I got there the creature was gone, and I wondered if I had really seen it.  Or perhaps it was the bird from earlier, always ahead of me and just out of sight.