It’s Time to Migrate

I HEAR wild noises and glance into the sky as a skein of geese passes over the garden. So I light a fire in front of the shed and prepare to move my sheep to winter pastures . . .

We used to migrate, we northern English. We inhabitants of the Danelaw – the Viking realm that stretched from the Mersey to East Anglia and up into the Lakeland valleys – would emerge from our shielings high in the fells at this time of year, gather our flocks and herd them from the upland pastures to more sheltered ground.

It’s an instinct thing that clicks in when leaves fall and geese fly south. Feet twitch and far places beckon. Homelands call. They’re calling now. Is that rain I feel on my cheek, or salt spray cast up by the dragon prow of a clinker-built wave-cutter? Hmmm. It’s rain.

I don’t really have any sheep – just a few hens – but I can claim to possess a smattering Viking blood. The Vikings ruled northern England for generations, establishing the Danelaw (Danelagh, Dena lagu, Danelagen), where their families settled and integrated like model immigrants. My mother’s mother’s family is called Satterthwaite, which derives from the Old Norse sætr thveit and means “the clearing for the summer pastures” – according to Lake District Place Names, by Robert Gambles.

There was a time when we Satterthwaites would have hoisted stripy sails at this time of year and rowed home across the whale-road singing “Leaves are falling all around, it’s time I was on my way . . .” and other songs from the sagas, bearing plunder back to mead halls in distant fjords. But then we settled in the Danelaw and raised livestock, driving our flocks to the mountains in summer and to the lowlands in winter.

That seasonal urgency still awakens a need to gather wood and light fires. It unsettles the spirit. And as I sit here in front of the flames, listening to the thrum of traffic on the Great North Road, that inherited awareness steals back from the past with the night wind in the hedgerows.

There’s snow in the far north and on the Lakeland fells. Chop sticks. Ptarmigan are turning white. Mend sails. There’ll be ice in the hollows at the next full moon. Pull on the herdwick ganzee and lift the beetroot before mice come in off the fields. Then head for the wild places, the high ridges where ancestors worshipped fierce gods in stinging wind.

It’s time to migrate. You might have noticed your calf muscles twitching involuntarily, or felt a sudden urge to reconnect with something earthy and ancient. Perhaps you’ve caught the scent of woodsmoke from a garden fire that reminded you of childhood – only it wasn’t childhood, it was ingrained prehistory. Or, like me, you heard an unfamiliar though familiar sound, glanced up and marvelled as a skein of geese cut south across an evening sky.

Drink in that smoke then gather wood and light your own fire. Feel the thrill of the changing seasons as a red sun sinks beneath dark clouds and uncertain times approach. Winter mountains are calling. Watch those geese. And migrate. It’s time.

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About McEff

Alen McFadzean. Journalist (under notice of redundancy) on The Northern Echo, former shipyard electrician, former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still.
This entry was posted in Beetroot, Great North Road, History, Life, Mountains, Vikings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to It’s Time to Migrate

  1. You’ve just reminded me, I too must have a bonfire this weekend, tidy up the leaves, put the garden to bed for the winter and then after a bath to wash away all the hard work, sit in the sofa and feel good about myself; simple pleasures are always best.

  2. Still got a touch of the Viking look about you Alen :) I like the teapot on the first pic and that got me to wondering what the Vikings had with their roll and pig at breakfast time…..

    • McEff says:

      Hi Alex. That’s got me wondering too. I don’t suppose it was a delicate Lapsang Souchong served in bone china cups and saucers so I expect it was something stronger left over from the night before. Having seen people drinking pints at Newcastle airport on a regular basis while they’re waiting for flights at 6am and 7am, I don’t think this is far from the mark.
      Cheers, Alen

  3. David says:

    Sitting around an outdoor fire with a beer or a brew is certainly hard to beat.

    • McEff says:

      You’re dead right David. You feel like you reconnect to older and earthier things. I might do it again this Saturday. If you see a fire burning about 20 miles down the Tees, that might be me.
      Cheers, Alen

      • David says:

        I will keep an eye out for it:o) To keep with the old ways I think you should light your fire with an ember produced from either a fire drill or a striker/flint. I once proudly showed my niece how to create fire with a fire drill and then promply burned a hole in my trousers when a tiny piece of burning birch bark dropped onto my leg. She found it funny.

        • McEff says:

          I must admit, David, I’ve never ventured further than a box of matches (which were apparently invented by a chap from Stockton) though using a drill would be a useful skill to have. If I see a walker in Teesdale with a hole in his trousers, I’ll know it’s you!
          Cheers, Alen

  4. Hanna says:

    Reblogged this on hannaswalk – ok mostly others at the moment and commented:
    I love your post, it’s inspiring, thanks!

  5. Hanna says:

    I love your post, it’s inspiring, thanks!
    Hanna

  6. scott says:

    If the rain wasn’t actually biblical in proportions at the minute I’d be out the back lighting the firepit thing.

    Inspirational – and not just about burning things. :)

  7. Jo Woolf says:

    Great writing! I’m sure your Viking ancestors went in and watched telly too (the Axe Factor?) when it was raining.

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