Roger Ratcliffe: Escapes to landscapes locked in hearts that warm the soul

The tip of Spurn Point is one of Roger Ratcliffe's favourite "soul landscapes".
The tip of Spurn Point is one of Roger Ratcliffe's favourite "soul landscapes".
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Amongst the flotsam that makes up much of what appears on social media you can sometimes spot little bits of treasure. My latest find is the word “sielunmaisema”.

Okay, it’s barely pronounceable and unlikely to ring a bell with most readers - not least because it is Finnish - but I think the word deserves a wider currency given that there’s no real English equivalent.

The closest we can get to its meaning is “soul landscape” or “soul scene” and according to the writer Robert Macfarlane, who tweeted it as his Word of the Day, a sielunmaisema is a particular place that a person carries deep in the heart and often returns to in memory.

Thus explained, many will find it easy to connect with the word’s meaning, and perhaps feel the power of scenes that are conjured up in their minds, places which fit their understanding of a “soul landscape”.

So where is your sielunmaisema? I have three of them, and the first is right on the edge of Yorkshire - the tip of Spurn Point. It is more of a soul seascape, I suppose, but the location meets the definition of a sielunmaisema as far as its spiritual power is concerned.

I imagine gazing across the mouth of the Humber on a fine day, thinking about how that silty brown water I can see flowing into the North Sea has been gathered from almost every inch of the Dales and Pennines.

And I think about how the gap between Spurn and Lincolnshire has seen almost every important event in Yorkshire’s history, from early Bronze Age settlers arriving in boats like those found at North Ferriby, to the Romans and Vikings, and then great ships carrying Yorkshire goods the other way to the outside world.

That feeling of interconnectedness with distant lands is still evident at the tip of Spurn, whether it is the river traffic moving in and out of the Humber or the multitude of rare birds which refuel there while on migration from all points of the compass.

Another landscape I have often returned to in heart and mind for more than 40 years is the rippling chalk hills and plunging valleys of the Yorkshire Wolds.

I visualise walking along the eastern ridge above tranquil Millington Dale in June and dropping down to the aptly named Sylvan Dale, which is as pastoral and spiritual a place as you will find.

My third soul landscape is a scene above Wharfedale between Grassington and Conistone, again in summer.

Here is the perfect composition of gleaming limestone scars, emerald pastures and meadows, hanging woods, a glittering river and cluster of houses on the valley floor that looks like something from the pages of a child’s pop-up picture book.

In my memory, out of the fields below rise the piping of oystercatchers and cries of curlews, while around the bird’s-foot-trefoil - also known as eggs-and-bacon plants - dance common blue butterflies.

On grey, bone-chilling winter days, thoughts of these places can warm any soul.