Underworld

Dark water marbles the moor. There is deer grass and bog asphodel. Already I’ve sunk my welly halfway up. I look to the wind turbines at Fiscary, but rather than being a comfort – a reminder I’m not alone here – they seem at this oblique angle to be slowing down. Turning to a stop.

Finn McCool by Stephen Reid
Eleanor Hull, The Boys’ Cuchulain (1904); illustration by Stephen Reid

There’s a timelessness about the bog that makes all those stories of giants and fairy people, the ones found in out-of-print books with cloth covers or websites about Celtic spirituality, seem possible. Although no one tells them anymore, I get the feeling the stories are still here, under the surface. All around, the moor floods the horizon, and just as marine birds die at sea, it’s easy to imagine a fallen giant here. The peat can preserve fallen trees for millennia. Their branches decay but the trunks are dug up whole – charred-looking but smooth. I tramp over pink sphagnum with whorls like fingertips. Is this where my giant lies buried, his face covered in moss? I move on, imagining eye sockets, a nose and chin into the hollows and lumps under my feet.

I hear you laugh. The thought of his giant strides shaking your high street is unimaginable. And with bay windows and balconies to catch his ankles, towers pricking his soles, the jumble of houses in the suburbs like walking on shingle, why would he bother? Ahead of me is Watch Hill, a perfect stool for a giant while he dips his feet in the kyle, keeping vigil for invaders.

My welly sinks again. Before I pull myself free, I look around at the bog. Strands of hair blow over my eyes and mouth. And just for a moment I remember how things were in my other life, four long years ago. I see myself walking around an air-conditioned office in my high heels. Pencil skirt, glossy hair, these things feel too real for memories, too distant for reality. That person – defender of budgets, keeper of spreadsheets – is unlikely to exist for me again. She has become a thing of myth.

Raindrops patter my hood. Occasionally a big one echoes like a finger tap but I don’t look round. It is dark when I get into the van, and I put the lights and wipers on just as a heavy shower falls. I feel bigger somehow. The feeling of being out on the moor, where size is meaningless with nothing but mountains for comparison, swells inside me. A small voice whispers. I strain to listen, but it’s just that the radio, turned down low, has picked up a station.

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