Family secrets up on the Moor

Descriptions of the harsh winters when the snow piled up against the inwards-opening back door are not what you really want to read if you are deeply glad that we are finally emerging from the colder months.

But Will Cohu’s memories of the freezing temperatures and the winters he spent on the North York Moors, are enough to make the reader shiver.

Fortunately there is a warmth to the prose – as well as a muscularity and finesse – that makes the passages recounting tramping through the deep snow bearable to read.

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Cohu, a writer and journalist who now lives in North Lincolnshire, was born in North Yorkshire. He returns to the Broad Acres in his memoir The Wolf Pit and specifically to Bramble Carr.

Up in the moors, his grandparents lived in a remote cottage surrounded by miles of heather and a rugged landscape.

It was a desolate place where the local doctor worked an eight mile radius that, when the weather turned as it so often did, could take him hours to serve.

Cohu would visit his grandparents in their remote cottage during the winters and summers of his childhood.

An adult reading the book may be horrified at the descriptions of just how harsh those harsh winters were, but Cohu revisits the time through the innocent eyes of a child.

“That’s where the story begins, from those memories I have of the place as a child,” says Cohu.

“It’s only as an adult that you start to realise how tough it was, how desolate a place it was to live, but as a child it was a wonderful place to be and those harsh winters brought with them a sense of adventure more than anything else.”

It was looking back, as an adult, at those long cold winters and longer hot summers of the Seventies that Cohu began to ask questions that were the seeds of his book.

“The impulse came three years ago when I started to wonder ‘why the hell did my grandparents go and live up there?’,” says Cohu.

“I realised, looking back, that it was an incredibly tough place to live, a difficult place, yet they must have chosen to go there.

“My mother’s family were from South Yorkshire, Doncaster and Rotherham, so there was a reason her parents had moved to North Yorkshire, to live on the moors. It was a burning question and it was the root of the book.

“I began the book three years ago, when I was going through a divorce myself, and at the time had been living in rural North Lincolnshire for about ten years.

“It made me examine the fact that my grandparents had chosen to live on top of the moors which was an exposed landscape and which in turn exposed their relationship to all manner of stresses and strains.

“Why did they do that?”

He began asking questions and when the answers came back he realised there was much tragedy in the family that had forced his grandparents to seek the barren landscape and attempt to make a life, tough as it was, up there.

“There are family secrets that get put in the cupboard, but you soon realise that unless you open the cupboard and examine why people made certain choices, you will continue to make the same mistakes and without that knowledge you can’t make a map for the future,” says Cohu.

The book is as much about the actual landscape as it is about the landscape of relationships and familial ties and Cohu paints a vivid picture of the North York moors that will be recognised by most with the county in their blood.

“The romantic notion of Heathcliff on the windswept moors is just that – a romantic notion – this is about the reality of that landscape.”