Bleara Lowe

The weekend before last, making the most of a sunny November afternoon, I walked two hours from my home to the moors above Earby on the look-out for ancient tombs. Bleara Lowe is just one of these ancient sepulchres dotting Bleara Moor. As well as seeing the ancient sites, I wished to try out my new walking boots, which were quite literally baptised in a bog, which went as high as my mid-shins. Although down below was sunny and mild, on that bleak moor with its browned heather and low clouds, it was as though I entered the very realms of the dead. Occasionally, a moorland bird would shrill as I approached, abruptly flying off, making me jump. The tombs were not easy to find, covered as they were with decayed vegetation. Furthermore, an old mine close-by had made such a mess of the surface that any number of graves could have been disturbed or concealed. 

On my hurried march home to beat the darkness, I reflected on why these ancient folk would wish to be buried in so dreary a place. Had I visited in summer, I dare say it would have been prettier, with cloudless blue skies gleaming above the green valleys below. Back in the bronze age (2000-700BC) the climate may have been warmer, the moor rather more agreeable. Still, a more superstitious man might have claimed the afternoon a mystical experience: the swirling mists, biting winds, screeching fowl, lifeless heathers. The views were concealed by low cloud and the place seemed both hostile and lonely. I had certainly strayed from the public right of way onto private land, so I felt unwelcome on a number of levels.

In most ancient cultures, the places of the dead were often gloomy and morose, pale imitations of earth’s vivacious fields and valleys. The Greek Hades, the Finnish Kyöpelinvuori and Japanese Yomi-no-kuni, were all shadowy, wraith-like abodes, lacking heaven’s beauty and hell’s heat. Like the Hebrew sheol, such murky underworlds were called the grave, the pit, even hell. 

So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. (Job 14)


Job might well be speaking for these ancient chieftains who on Bleara Moor lie buried:


My days are past, my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart.

They change the night into day: the light is short because of darkness.

If I wait, the grave is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness.

I have said to corruption, Thou art my father: to the worm, Thou art my mother, and my sister.

And where is now my hope? as for my hope, who shall see it?

They shall go down to the bars of the pit, when our rest together is in the dust.

O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! (17:11-16)

Our modern cemeteries and crematoria may be less morose than this bleak moor, but the end is essentially the same. Death’s withering grip will be as hard on us as our bronze age ancestors; our neat plots will become as overgrown as theirs. An old English folk song proclaims:

Why weep for me, for I'm anxious to go,

To that haven of rest where no tears ever flow;

And I fear not to enter that dark lonely tomb,

Where our Saviour has lain and conquered the gloom.

Our Christ conquered death and smashed the tomb. Its victory is nil and its sting is null. Let’s hope those interred descendants of Japheth on that dreary moor had called on the name of the Lord before He called them to account. The God of Melchizedek would have still heard cries for mercy even from our distant, misty isles.

Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;

Lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom;

let the Church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing;

for her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting.

Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son,

Endless is the vict'ry, thou o'er death hast won.