The moor turns purple

20 Aug 2023

August is the month when the moor turns purple with flowering heather. The air is full of heady scent and the sound of bees busily gather nectar. In his poem ‘Heather’ Ted Hughes called them “a sea of bees, meanwhile, mapped by the sun”. 

The dark blue bilberries are ripe and my favourite thing to do on a sunny August day is sit on a high rock above the moor with a handful of bilberries, eating them slowly one by one whilst soaking in the scent and sound of the moor in bloom. It's a good time for reminiscing and this is the story of a train journey I always associate with heather flowering time.

I was on a train to Edinburgh sitting in the quiet coach reading my book. It was one of those summer days that are rain one minute and sun the next, which made for a pleasant reverie of reading a bit and looking out of the window a bit. 

If you’ve ever travelled on the northern part of the East Coast Line then you’ll know the track goes close to the sea between Newcastle and Berwick with stunning views over beaches, dunes, islands and castles.

During the most scenic part of the journey a baby started crying and the mother tried her best to quieten it down. But it kept getting louder and louder, as babies do when they’re in the Quiet Coach. The mother was getting more and more distraught, apologising to passengers around her.

Then a young man sitting nearby stood up and lifted a guitar case from the luggage rack. He took out a guitar and started playing the Scottish ballad ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’. He sang sweetly and gently. The whole carriage softly joined in the refrain.

And we'll all go together, 

To pull wild mountain thyme, 

All around the purple heather. 

Will you go, lassie, go?

And the baby stopped crying, snuggled into its mother, and went to sleep. With the baby now settled, and the quietly sung song reaching its end, I looked out of the train window and there was a double rainbow arched over the seascape.

So now when I sit on the moor surrounded by purple flowering heather I hum that tune to myself and remember that extraordinary moment on the train when music, passengers, mother and baby all came together.

Have you ever had an extraordinary moment that brings back good memories from time to time?

In case you don’t know the song, here’s a version by ‘The Corries’ with the audience joining in: 

Rowan on the moor

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