Tagged: heather


It is said the British Isles account for three quarters of the world’s heather moorland so although not unique to these islands if there is a landscape that really has a ‘made in Britain’ stamp on it then this is it (because it is of course a ‘made’ ecology as most of the country was once wooded and wild and heather is very much a managed affair). I don’t know, therefore, why as a nation we don’t celebrate the flowering of the heather in August more, in the way perhaps that the japanese venerate the cherry blossom or even as folks here will exitedly announce their first snowdrop of late winter or bluebell of spring. Maybe we could get some of those hippy new age druid types up from Stonehenge to do a chant or something. I suppose it’s because the heather presages the coming of autumn, a great big fat purple reminder that summer’s over folks so better get sorting out your sweater drawer, and then there is the whole grouse shooting thing of course, but it is a real shame heather suffers from associations we make for it which are beyond its control, just being a woody shrub and all, because to me it’s a special time of the year even if nobody else feels the same.


The unmistakable croaky cry of the red grouse is as much a natural accompaniment to my bike rides as the sound of whirring tyres on a wet road, the clanking of fluffed gear changes, and the reassurances of ewes to their lambs that it’s alright pet, it’s only a cyclist, it’s them ramblers you mustn’t turn your back to. Grouse seem unperturbed by bike riders and perhaps that is because we have so much in common. Like bike riders, grouse can be found on the high moors in all weathers when sensible folks are huddled by their fireside, like bike riders the grouse’s legs get hairier in winter, and like bike riders, wealthy executives, for the price of a few grand in lawyers’ shooting fees can kill them at weekends with no stain on their conscience, criminal record or overall loveliness as a human being. I’ve never really understood why some people have it in for the grouse. They just hang out on the fells chilling, chewing the heather and living off the image rights royalties from those whisky labels, which is another thing which links us as I confess to an occasional dram after a winter ride to try and restore feeling to my fingers and toes. In this I share something with the shooting fraternity as they also like a sneaky slug of the hard stuff but in their case it is to try and surpress their feelings of being human rather than restore them. I don’t know how grouse became the term for an exclamation of complaint or discomfort, as in those simply hilarious duck or grouse signs found on low beams in olde worlde pubs but I sometimes wish the grouse would stand up for themselves a bit more; perhaps tie a hand grenade to those big hairy hobbit feet of theirs’ or inter-breed with golden eagles or something. The grouse is definitely a bird that needs to kick ass more and quit being such a heather-smoking hippy. I wouldn’t love them any less and their relationship with the people who think blowing a turkey-sized semi-flightless ginger vegetarian bird out of the sky at short range with a powerful shotgun resting on a prepared position to which the birds are driven by people waving big sticks and blowing whistles makes them feel better about themselves and about the people they’ve just spent the working week screwing surely couldn’t get any worse.