Country diary: The heralds of war rise from the heather

Howden Moors, Derbyshire: The air is heavy and still, perfect conditions for insects generally

Howden Reservoir is shrunken, its sandy bed exposed, and my feet stir little puffs of dust as I jog towards Slippery Stones. Weary children are being shepherded back to King’s Tree from the swimming hole upstream, still in their costumes, towels draped across their shoulders.

It’s the last of summer, and by the time I reach the bottom of Broadhead Clough, my shirt is damply stuck to my back, so I pause. Bees are working the heather alongside several species of butterfly. The air is heavy and still, perfect conditions for insects generally and for one in particular that regularly drives me to the brink of madness – the midge.

Before they get too numerous, I start striding uphill, heading for the Crow Stones on the brink of the moor, hunting a breeze to drive them off. A small flock of willow warblers lifts with a flourish from a birch, and alights again to feed, readying themselves for their journey south.

Nearing the head of the clough, I see a familiar shape perched on a boulder, a kestrel, which flops lazily off to one side, and then, as though getting a grip, moves more neatly westwards, quartering the ground over the Crow Stones.

I take its place on the rock, a breath of wind stirring the bilberry and heather, and settle down to absorb the view towards the Horse Stone above Stainery Clough and then across Ronksley Moor to the Grinah Stones picked out brightly by the evening sun. It all seems endless.

Suddenly, I realise I am surrounded by a swarm of heather flies, long legs hanging like undercarriage, their upper thighs a vibrant red. The air is thick with them. After a couple of years as larvae, they are having their week in the sun, hanging a foot or two above the ground. These are moorland flies, at home across the uplands of northern Europe. In Norwegian folklore, an unusually large swarm is considered to be a harbinger of war. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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