In the latest issue:

Short Cuts

Jonathan Parry

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Fox and CrowDavid Craig
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
The Moor: Lives, Landscape, Literature 
by William Atkins.
Faber, 371 pp., £18.99, May 2014, 978 0 571 29004 8
Show More
Show More

What​ do moors sound like? Like a universe of bees, whose unison is only a few notes higher than the singing of our own bloodstream, which we half-hear, half-sense during the small hours between sleeps. What do they smell like? Like honey, steeping the sunshine. What do they look like? Like a brown and purple cloud-shadow spread out across the uplands, described by William Atkins in characteristically fine focus when he says of the North Yorkshire moors that ‘the new blooms were silverish specks; they were pale grey, beige and mint green. I picked a sprig, but the moor-purple visible from a distance was not a colour you could take home. That would be like hoping to capture a sea’s blue in a dunked glass.’

RAF Fylingdales Early Warning Radar Station, North York Moors (1963)

RAF Fylingdales Early Warning Radar Station, North York Moors (1963)

The sounds and smells I think of as moorland are those of Aberdeenshire, and Atkins doesn’t get that far north. His beat is from Bodmin Moor in eastern Cornwall via Dartmoor, the Peak District and the Calder Valley to north-east Yorkshire and the Borders at Otterburn. Endearingly, his native moor was not even a moor at all, but a fen scattered with carrs, the sourceland of the Hamble, south-east of Winchester, where as a boy he went, often alone, sometimes with his father, to watch and photograph the deer and kingfishers and herons when they broke cover.

So that is where this book welled up and spread outwards, in ‘a kind of reply to the portion of myself that remained uncultivated’. These great uprisings of nature – beyond the cities and the villages, cleft by roads, quarried and mined, burned over to nourish grouse for the guns, fenced off by missile-tracking stations, pounded by military shells – exert a massive, quiet pressure which was once actual: the upward surge of molten granite created the batholith which surfaces at Dartmoor, Bodmin, West Penwith and Scilly. Without such landscapes England would be wholly civilised, a terrain transmuted and fine-tuned for the making of livelihoods. To be sure the moors, too, are worked for human advantage, whether to provide stone for prisons (at Princeton or Peterhead), or lead for piping (at Nenthead in north Cumbria), or fodder for wild animals ‘preserved’ to be shot as game, or used as wasteground on which tanks and artillery can try out their machinery of destruction. The moors continue to assert their otherness, whether you are splashing through the rusty pools of Dartmoor, marvelling at the extent of Sutherland, where the rivers look as though they might well have risen in Tibet, or passing slowly through the massifs of the Cairngorms, where the moors are a shallow quilt of peat and heather clinging onto the colossal rock-forms of the mountains.

The beauty of The Moor is that it sees our shaggy and stony uplands as wholly entangled in human life, not as weird lunar nowherelands. In 1681 Charles Cotton dismissed them as ‘Nature’s pudenda’; in 1775 Dr Johnson was ‘astonished and repelled’ by their ‘wide extent of hopeless sterility’ (though he at least had the hardihood to go and see them for himself); in 1826 Noel Thomas Carrington accused them of ‘shaming the map of England’ with their barrenness. Such was the outsider’s or townsperson’s notion of the moors, expanded to a visionary plane by Shakespeare in Macbeth and King Lear. The weather on the heath is, naturally, atrocious, fraught with thunderstorms and tornadoes, and it’s peopled by wandering madmen and by witches whom its earth and ‘foggy cloud’ secrete like bubbles. In King Lear, supremely, the elemental force of such places, ‘the to-and-fro-conflicting wind and rain’, is conjured up by the crazed king as a polar opposite of the human elements that have turned against him.

For Atkins, the moor isn’t a barbarous antithesis of our human selves, or the idyllic place envisaged in the sublime last sentence of Wuthering Heights, when our troubles and disquiets have been laid to rest amid ‘moths fluttering among the heath and harebells’ and ‘the soft wind breathing through the grass’. He has frequented the moors through printed records as well as his own explorations, and in story after story he brings us close to the motley human lives that have been at home there. He tells the story of Charlotte Dymond, a farm servant at Penhale on the north edge of Bodmin Moor, whose throat was cut by her workmate Matthew Weeks in 1844 (several thousand people turned up to watch him hang); and of Christopher Atkinson, vicar of Danby in Cleveland, who walked 140,000 miles to visit his parishioners and to carry out his own investigations. Atkinson wrote an observant account of his moorland charges (with chapter headings like ‘Bee Customs and Notions’ and ‘Calf Burying’) while he was minister of a church whose font was like a ‘paltry slop-basin’ and whose organ-stop couplers had been eaten through by mice.

Atkins is not a connoisseur of the outlandish. The histories he has pieced together of each moor amount to thorough and beautifully detailed chronicles of fundamental developments in our countryside. At one point he surveys the evolution of the moors from the retreat of the glaciers through the shrinking of forests to the forming of peat and the moorland’s present condition as ‘a harsh place for summer grazing, cultivated for crops only by the extravagant, stubborn or desperate’. At another, he tells us exactly what the Fylingdales ballistic missile early warning system (BMEWS) was built for, along with its counterparts in Thule in Greenland and Clear in Alaska: to give the US twenty minutes’ warning of incoming Soviet missiles and the UK four – ‘the system’s efficacy would only be proven when the country was already an irradiated slagheap.’

Although he takes us where necessary into these contentious areas, he never blusters or hectors. He is a fine reporter, not exactly impartial, letting the details speak for themselves. The moor near Saddleworth, just south of the M62, inevitably features the Moors murderers. Ian Brady is defined with characteristic justice as ‘pouting, imperious’, with a ‘facility for barbarism’. The land round Fylingdales is pocked with craters left by artillery exercises which are now rife with tadpoles and newts, while the moor supports fox and crow and peregrine because it has been ‘spared the shoot and the dogs, the managed burn, the swiping, the keepers’ constant ministrations’. Atkins is as even-handed – as attentive to the real world in its fine detail – in his treatment of the ways we have ‘improved’ wild land as he is in his evocation of its original state. You could, if you wanted, use The Moor as a guidebook and be led by it along a hundred paths and tracks. On Alston moor:

I went east along the moor edge, passing alongside another small plantation, redolent with pine scent and, inside, as lifeless as a derelict warehouse … The land was scattered with lead-mining shafts, indicated by ring mounds, turfed calderas ten feet across … being made of upthrown limestone [they] supported a greener, more succulent grass, and sheep were often loitering on them as I approached.

The prose is careful and inventive – ‘calderas’ – and only once lurches into a conceit, when a lapwing is likened to ‘a paperback blasted from a cannon’. He is not writing to show off at the expense of the material; he is writing to be clear about the plethora of observation, history and science we need if we are to know the moors.

Like the ground under its feet, the book is a little uneven. Bodmin Moor and Exmoor came over to me rather more in scraps than as wholes, and Dartmoor is oddly treated, with a lot of space spent on Atkins’s sojourn at Buckland Abbey, where he ‘attended each of the abbey’s offices, the horarium – Matins at 5.45 a.m., Lauds an hour later, Mass at 8 a.m., Compline at 9 p.m. – and breakfast, lunch and dinner in the vaulted refectory, while a novice wearing a headset microphone read from a biography of Dickens.’ It would have been good to have more of the thing itself. When I walked from Ivybridge in Devon the 32 miles north to Okehampton, I was deeply struck, and gruelled and weighted down, by the tracts that rippled away on all sides: purple moorglass glistening with a silvering of condensed fog, pools where we had to balance from one tussock to another between clumps of orange sphagnum, contours so gradual that I pined for landmarks. After sunset ‘civilisation’ was at last on hand – some miles of tarmac laid down by the military – and this was torture, because I had long since taken off the borrowed boots that had flayed the skin off both heels and was walking in socks (three pairs). In the darkness, time after time, unseen gravel chips drove like nails into my soft footsoles.

The whole thing had encapsulated what I had come to realise after many years of hill-walking, that the moors are formidable, exacting, but they have a human scale. Atkins tells the story of Frank Elgee, a museum curator in Middlesbrough and the author of The Moorlands of North-East Yorkshire. He had been deafened by scarlet fever and pneumonia had ruined half a lung. Wheeled about in a bathchair by his mother, he looked intently at redstarts and peacock butterflies. When he was able to struggle through the peat haggs himself, he wooed Miss Harriet Wragg BA, who recalled ‘watching him, diminutive, frail as a plant, standing at the base of a hard, rocky cliff, his white hand resting on its face as it might rest caressingly on the face of his wife, and I knowing that he loved four hundred square miles of moorland with the same reverent intimacy.’

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.