Tag Archives: landscape

Steps in Tyne: Walking to know the Flow

By Leona Skelton

High Level Bridge

Sunset Bridges (Photo: Leona Skelton)

People have been enjoying north-east England’s River Tyne for centuries. Thomas Bewick, the renowned eighteenth-century engraver and author of A History of British Birds (1797), was raised on the south bank of the Tyne at Cherryburn near Stocksfield. As a child in the 1760s, Thomas ‘persuaded his friends to crowd on to a huge piece of ice, which they steered downstream opposite the Parsonage garden, enjoying the sight of the Revd Gregson raising his hands in despair’.[1] He spent most of his adult years living and working in Newcastle, near his workshop on The Side, but he walked back upriver to his original family home many times. While Bewick’s art was universal in its appeal, his biographer, Jenny Uglow, has highlighted that it is also ‘rooted in Northumberland and in the valley of the Tyne’, elaborating that ‘all his life he walked the banks of the river and he knew it in all its moods, sleepy under early morning mist, driving on in flood, ruffled by wind’.[2] Many of Bewick’s skillfully woodcut vignettes feature people crossing and working alongside the river. He knew his river intimately, and it undoubtedly shaped his life’s work.

Fog on River Tyne

Fog on the Tyne at Low Tide (Photo: Leona Skelton)

In 1859, a librarian of the Royal Society, Walter White, embarked on an extensive tour of Northumberland, including a walk from Alston along the South Tyne and then along the main Tyne to Tynemouth. After having ‘to cross a few acres of turnips to get to the point where the South and North Tyne meet together in one broad stream’, he described Warden Rock (also known as Waters Meet) as ‘a wild spot’.[3] White left us a highly detailed account of the Tyne riverscape, having studied the river’s changing character intently, stopping at many places en route. At Alston, he described the South Tyne as ‘a shallow mountain river, in a bed filled with big stones’.[4] Walking from Haydon Bridge towards Hexham, White described the main Tyne as ‘a smiling vale beautified by cultivation and foliage … rippling cheerfully in reply to the salutations of the leaves’.[5] He was explicitly aware of entering a new and different zone of the river in the estuary, which he called the ‘smoky region’. On reaching the outskirts of Newcastle, at Newburn, he discerned ‘a route that revealed to me a disagreeable variety of dirt and disorder … the great army of industry’.[6]

Dunston Staithes

Dunston Staithes from the South Bank (Photo: Leona Skelton)

Both Bewick’s woodcuts and White’s descriptions of the Tyne resulted from innumerable observations during riverside walks, the former’s of one relatively small section repeatedly over the course of his life and the latter’s during one linear walk from source to sea. Many of the people I interviewed over the course of researching my forthcoming book, Tyne after Tyne, shared their own surprisingly deep and intimate experiences of walking along the river, seemingly repetitive journeys along quite small sections as often as twice a day to walk pet dogs or to commute to work. In the course of analysing these oral history transcriptions, I realised that the walks were far from repetitive because each day, and often every hour, created a necessarily unique riverscape, as the water interacted with widely different weather conditions, different wildlife and different human activities. While reflecting on my interviewees’ stories, I realised that, while I had spent two years researching the river’s archives, grown up near the river and knew the catchment fairly well overall, I was nonetheless unable to talk about even one section in anywhere near the depths achieved by so many of the interviewees. In his influential The Making of the English Landscape (1955), William Hoskins likens landscape to a ‘symphony, which it is possible to enjoy as an architectural mass of sound, beautiful or impressive as the case may be, without being able to analyse it in detail or to see the logical development of its structure’.[7] I wanted to understand just one section of the Tyne in depth, perceiving, as Hoskins advised, ‘the manifold subtle variations on a single theme, however disguised it may be’, so that ‘the total effect is immeasurably enhanced’.[8]

Tyne Bridge by night

Still River (Photo: Leona Skelton)

Since starting my new role as Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in the Humanities at Northumbria University in September 2016, I have been able to commute to work each day (a six-mile round trip), walking most of the distance along a riverside footpath between Dunston Staiths and the Swing Bridge. Some people have asked me, “don’t you get bored walking along the same small stretch day after day?” Each walk is unique and it teaches me something, however small, every day. Even over the course of the last seven weeks, I have seen the river in innumerable moods. I’ve seen it contrasted starkly against and blended smoothly with a wide range of different coloured skies and clouds and I’ve gazed at this powerful, seaward force interacting with the flora and fauna which calls its banks, water and infrastructural installations home. One morning I saw a silvery curved flash jump out of the water and dive straight back into it and realised I’d witnessed a salmon leaping right beside me. Another evening, crossing the river, I looked down at every minute detail of the Tyne Bridge laid out beneath me, as it was reflected on the still, glassy sheet of dark water. That night, I stretched out over the bridge railings and saw my own face reflected in it too. On a bracing afternoon, I saw and heard animated waves crashing down towards the sea as I struggled to keep my eyes open against the strong

Tyne by night

Night Tyne (Photo: Leona Skelton)

wind. I could easily write a book about the Tyne’s natural beauty, about its engagement with the climate and its flora and fauna, but, as my environmental history research revealed, the river’s true story is not that simple. The Tyne is not a natural river, but neither is it entirely a human creation. Inextricably entangled with the river’s so-called ‘natural’ aspects, I have witnessed paddle boarders, speed boaters and anglers interacting with its flow. Nobody can ignore the colossal, multi-layered infrastructural monuments which pull us back to its industrial era of smoke, factory hooters and a hubbub of ships. This infrastructure, too, is merely a compromise between human aspirations and the river’s natural forces and expressions.

Tyne Bridge

The Tyne Bridge (Photo: Leona Skelton)

Appreciation and deep understanding of a micro-scale environment is only possible when one communes with it very regularly, year after year and even decade after decade, usually facilitated by someone living very close to it. For example, Nan Shepherd’s A Living Mountain leaves the reader in no doubt that she visited the Cairngorms a great number of times over the course of her life.[9] Similarly, John Lewis-Stempel’s The Private Life of an English Field: Meadowland, which describes the micro-scale processes and interactions between a farmer, his family and the flora and fauna in one meadow in Herefordshire over the course of one year, confirms the author’s exceptionally intimate relationship with a very small-scale environment.[10] A relatively early and important example of one particularly intimate relationship with the flora and fauna of a local area, Gilbert White’s Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789), was based on an incredible 43 years of nature and weather diaries detailing fastidiously the minutiae of the area around his parsonage in Hampshire.[11] As a historian, I am trained to search for discontinuities, marked and important changes over time which I can explain using documentary evidence. Walking along the same section of the river for over two hours each day has taught me that this formidable river is forever changing, in obvious but also in subtle, complex and unfathomable ways. It is quite literally ‘wonder’-ful. Even focusing on a two-mile stretch of the river, it would be impossible to explain its true complexity in a book. Writing the Tyne’s environmental story over five centuries was a worthwhile and productive task. But it provides a framework which can and should be rendered more complex than words can express by getting out to walk its many sections, time and time again. I’m still hooked on my first two-mile section, and plan to walk with and against its flow for at least another two or three years until I, perhaps, begin to ‘know’ it.

Metro Bridge

Dusky Tyne (Photo: Leona Skelton)

Notes

[1] J. Uglow, Nature’s Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick (London: Faber and Faber, 2007), p. 15.

[2] Uglow, Nature’s Engraver, pp. 402–403.

[3] W. White, Northumberland and the Border (London, 1859), p. 41 (ch. 6).

[4] White, Northumberland and the Border, p. 26 (chapter 4).

[5] White, Northumberland and the Border, p. 40 (chapter 6).

[6] Ibid., p. 51 (chapter 6).

[7] W. Hoskins, The Making of the English Landscape (1955), p. 3.

[8] Hoskins, Making of the English Landscape, p. 3.

[9] N. Shepherd, The Living Mountain, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2011).

[10] J. Lewis-Stempel, The Private Life of an English Field: Meadowland (London: Black Swan, 2014).

[11] G. White, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789).

 

This blog was originally published on the website of the White Horse Press. Leona’s book, Tyne after Tyne will be published by The White Horse Press in March 2017. 

Somerset, a ‘green and pleasant’ energy landscape?

Hinkley A

The decommissioned Hinkley Point A nuclear power station in its rural Somerset setting.
Image: Adrian Flint

With its agro-pastoral landscape of hedgerows, fields, and rolling hills and levels, often-sleepy Somerset may be the very picture of rural England – the quintessential ‘green and pleasant land’. To reinforce this, the area gained a variety of landscape and environmental designations over the course of the twentieth century, including Exmoor National Park and the Quantock, Mendip and Blackdown Hills Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs).

At the same time the Somerset region is a twenty-first-century hub of energy production that faces further intense energy development, both renewable and non-renewable. It is the site of the Hinkley Point nuclear power stations A and B, and, potentially C, as well as new supersized transmitter pylons. It is also increasingly – often controversially – dotted with wind- and solar-power projects.

To what extent are the two faces of Somerset in conflict with one another? After all, Somerset has a long, proud record of historical energy provision, if its coal mining and other industrial activities are taken into account. How is it that inconsistencies between public expectations of landscape beauty and energy security have developed?

As a historian of the Universities of Bristol and Cambridge, Jill Payne has worked on the historical dichotomy between energy provision and the aesthetics of landscape and environmental protection in South West England. In this episode of the Exploring Environmental History Podcast series, Jill explores what people have come to expect in terms of energy security and how this squares with the issues involved in the desire to protect and preserve landscape and environment in ‘green and pleasant’ England.

Further reading and resources

Jill Paynes blog posts on the Power and the Water website.

Quantock Hills blog posts on the Histories of Environmental Change website.

Luckin, Bill, Questions of Power: Electricity and Environment in Inter-War Britain (Manchester University Press: Manchester, 1990).

Nye, David E, American Technological Sublime (MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachussetts, 1994).

Williams-Ellis, Clough, England and the Octopus (Geoffrey Bles: London, 1928).

 

Music credits

Marcos Theme” by Loveshadow, available from ccMixter

Out in the rain” by offlinebouncer, available from ccMixter
Exploring environmental History podcast

 

This podcast was simultaneously published on the Environmental History Resources website as part of the Exploring Environmental History podcast series.

The Lost Workscape of Tyneside – a video

Note: This guest blog is by Hunter Charlton, a 2015 graduate of Bristol University’s History Department. Hunter, who grew up in Bellingham, Northumberland, wrote a final year undergraduate dissertation entitled ‘Landscape and Change: Shipbuilding and Identity on the Tyne’. (If interested, you can access his dissertation through this link:  http://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/history/documents/dissertations/2015charlton.pdf)

When I heard that Hunter was planning to make a film based on his dissertation topic, I was keen for the ‘Power and Water’ project to be involved (especially since he’s surfed the Severn Bore on at least one occasion, and tells me that Bristol’s proximity to The Bore was one of the reasons he chose to study here). The project is delighted that it was able to cover the cost of including film clips from the North East Film Archive (NEFA). Hunter’s film is entitled ‘Scorched Earth’.

Peter Coates

 

Scorched Earth

Memory fastens on sight. I learnt this while speaking with Frank Duke, a shipwright who had worked the length of the River Tyne and spent his working life building super tankers. It was not simply the loss of his job, but the changing relationship with the industrial landscape of Tyneside that led him to feel alienated by his surroundings, the past and a deep loss of identity.

Scenes of demolished shipyards, redundant and vast open spaces, haunt the landscape along the Tyne from Hebburn to Tynemouth. As one resident of Wallsend told me, ‘the absence of ruin often demonstrates the ruin’. The last vestiges of the Tyne’s industrial prowess are now in their final stages of decay and a decade has elapsed since the last remaining shipyard on the river, Swan Hunter, closed shop.

The loss of industry’s visual record from the landscape is shocking for two reasons. Firstly, we live in a heritage culture which dismisses monuments of the working class, whether in the form of coal, steel, shipbuilding or engineering works. Secondly, in their transience, industrial ruins betray a sense of permanence granted by the materials out of which they are constructed: concrete, iron, steel and brick.

Every single shipyard I visited was an exhibition in decay. They felt haunted, quiet and beautiful in their contorted state of ruin. Even in the archive footage from the 1980s that I included in my film there seems to be an attempt to eulogise these monumental structures and venerate a dying industry.

Today, as we walk through regulated cities, the site of a ship launch or the view of decaying berths at Hawthorn Leslie are untrammelled in their unique oddness. For someone like myself, born in 1992, who never witnessed these industrial landscapes in their prime, I find the site of industry captivating in its bizarreness. In making a documentary about these themes I wanted to better understand how people adapt to deindustrialised spaces and how such alterations become internalised by communities which inhabit the boundary between “industrial wilderness” and modulated environments.

Hunter Charlton

Into the mud

Severn Beach

Location of the workshop at Severn Beach. Photo: Marianna Dudley

‘Into the Mud’ (21 June 2015) was an outdoor workshop organised by Marianna Dudley, from the University of Bristol’s Department of Historical Studies as part of a collaboration between ‘The Power and the Water’ and ‘Towards Hydrocitizenship’ projects, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Summer Festival.

Artist Tana West ran the workshop which used clay extracted from the Severn riverbed at Aust. Tana is interested in exploring the intersections between nature and culture by using materials at hand.

The location, at Severn Beach, was ideal to work creatively with mud from the river and to make connections between object, processes, origin and materials, by creating a temporary manufacturing base on the riverbank.

Here, two workshop participants, Mireia Bes and Ana Miguel, reflect on why they attended the workshop and how it has changed their understanding of, and relationship with, rivers.

 


Mireia: I found out about this event at Festival of Nature and immediately decided to join. I’ve been doing pottery since I was a kid, but I rarely have the chance to do pottery with clay that comes directly from the landscape, it was always detached from my surroundings. There´s something quite primal about sourcing your own clay and doing pottery on the spot that really attracted me.

Ana: I found it fascinating as it brought together some of my passions: research, the environment and pottery. My experience with academia and the university has been through a formal approach of seminars and lectures. In this case, the location, format, material and topic were integrated in an innovative fashion. We engaged in a natural and relaxed way which allowed us to increase our creativity. Pottery is a recent discovery in my life. It allows me to connect with my creative side and disconnect from the daily life. I loved the idea to be outdoors with clay in my hands from the mud of the river.

Mireia: It was a luxury to be doing pottery at Severn Beach. The mix of the natural landscape left behind by the tide with the industrial buildings and the lack of people despite the sunny day, gave it a bit of a dystopian feel. For me the actual trip there, was as interesting as the final destination. Leaving the centre of Bristol and seeing a new landscape emerge and change until we got there. Sometimes we just jump into a train and get out at the final destination without even paying attention to the landscapes we see through the window. I had the chance to share the trip with Peter Coates who told me about the history of the area and that totally changed the experience, I felt I was more connected to that landscape.

Ana: The bank of the river Severn was the perfect location for this workshop. We were in the Severn Estuary which is one of the biggest estuaries in Europe. It was an impressive location: we could see the windmills and a really long bridge. The colour of the water is brown which created a real connection with the mud. We were surrounded by mud and different varieties of algae.

For me one of the most important aspects was the (de)contextualisation of the workshop. When I think about a pottery class, the image is of a room indoors. However, ‘Into the Mud’ was an outdoor workshop. We were surrounded by the origins of the clay, working with mud from the river and learning about the environment. Being in this new location generated an atmosphere, relationships and conversation completely different from a normal class.

Working with clay

Ana and Mireia working with clay. Photo: Marianna Dudley

Mireia: The clay actually came from Aust and it was there when we arrived, which was a relief as I didn´t have wellies! It was funny to work with that clay because it has a different texture. It was interesting to change this idea of the clay as something that comes in a bag for you ready to use to something that you can actually source from nature and work it to transform it into objects. We were also constructing something together, working as a group, which is not something that usually happens in a pottery studio.

Ana: Being so close to the clay’s origins connected me more with the environmental aspect of pottery. I have never thought before about the relevance of where the clay comes from and also that it was so easy to get clay from natural resources near me. We used the mud from the river to construct a waterpipe. We also used some objects around us to work with the clay such as algae or plastics. A key aspect in this process was that the researchers from the ‘Power and the Water’ project were explaining us the history of river Severn, the landscape and the connection with their projects.

We took some clay/mud to our pottery class, but all of a sudden it was decontextualized: it smelled and it felt wetter and stickier than when we used it on the beach. Our fellow potters didn’t really engage with the new material… but Mireia and I will use it anyway, we now have a special connection with this material.

Mireia: I really like cities that have rivers because I feel they create spaces for social interactions and connect you with other lands and people that the same water will touch. Obviously rivers are very important from an ecological point of view and for the societies that grow around them, but at a personal level I had never experienced a direct interaction where the river was actually providing me with something that then I could transform into an object that could have a function in my day to day life. It was a new way to look at rivers.

Ana: My main contact with rivers has always been from tourism and leisure. I have enjoyed the rivers with activities like canoeing or having a bathe. Another aspect of my relationship with rivers is from the point of view of the lack of water. Coming from a country [Spain] where we experience frequent droughts, I have experienced water cuts and the close monitoring of water levels in rivers and reservoirs in the weather forecast. This generates a completely different relationship with water than someone could have in England, for example, where there is a lot of rain, water and recent problems with floods. Since I have been living in England, for four years now, my relationship with water and rivers has been transformed.

 

As a result of the day we learnt things about pottery, history and landscape, and the relationships amongst those. But most of all it was a reminder on how important it is to create spaces to have proper conversations with people and how much you can learn from those. All of us had something to say about water and our relationship with it.

We really valued the opportunity to learn about the research that is taking place at the University through a workshop like that. Research is usually presented in a more formal way such as lectures or seminars and it is more difficult for the public to access. We also felt that the collaboration with other disciplines, an artist in this case, was key for us to engage with the research in a meaningful way through a practice that is relevant to our lives. It offered an opportunity to experiment, collaborate and learn in a relaxed way.

 

What’s in a name? Life, luck, and Derbyshire mine and sough names

By Carry van Lieshout

Beans and Bacon Mine, Horse Buttock Mine, Stop Thief, Hie-thee-home, Danger Level, Peace Forever: these are just some of the many evocative names of old Derbyshire lead mines and soughs that I encountered in my research. Robert Macfarlane’s recent book on the relation of landscape and language, Landmarks (2015), celebrates the idiosyncrasies of regional words for particular natural phenomena and features. The Derbyshire landscape is full of such unusual place names emerging from its mining heritage, which evoke a sense of people’s relationships with the landscape and their workplace, as well as with the unusual and unfamiliar spaces of the underground world.

While there were many mines that were simply given the name of their owner, or were named after local features or landmarks, others provide a glimpse into the lives of those who named them. Some mines reflect the everyday experiences of the miners, such as Dirty Face mine (and Dirty Face sough), or the challenges of working underground, as evidenced by the Danger Level, and Watergrove, which suggests a mine in need of drainage. The Lousey Level on the other hand seems to indicate an occasion where this drainage did not work as well as it should.

A Dragon Shaft, in the vicinity of an engine raising water from the mine, conjures up a sense of the smoke and fire of the steam engines required in mine drainage – ‘dragon’ was an established metaphor for early steam technology, also seen in a pamphlet against York Buildings Waterworks’ engines in central London.[1]

Many of the mines carry names that allude to the element of luck involved in the metal mining industry. A mine was named and claimed on discovery, at which point it was still uncertain how rich it would prove to be. As a result, some of the names reflect the hopes miners would have had for their mine: Good Luck mine and Luck at Last evoke the ‘eureka!’ moment of a miner hitting a vein, while Who can tell grove and Hit and Miss mines were perhaps named by more weary miners.

Similar hopes are reflected in naming a mine after existing mines which were very successful. This explains the presence of the Potosi mine and sough, and the Golconda Mine in the middle of Derbyshire, both named after far-away places that had a mythical attraction to miners hoping to find similar riches. Luck and fate were important aspects in a miner’s life, as hitting a good vein could make the difference between poverty and riches. Signs and premonitions were taken very seriously as a result: Stafford’s Dream mine refers to a miner who had a dream of where the lead would be found – and indeed, there was a vein at the dreamt location.

Some mines seem whimsical and poetic, such as Peace forever, Stand to Thyself, Buy the Truth and Sell it Not. Others convey a sense of humour: Beans and bacon mine refers to the nearly Bacon vein, which was likely named after a miner (Bacon was a local name). Finally, in a 1980s case of premonition, there was a Wham sough and a Crimbo sough quite closely together – this cheered me up to no end!

Other names remain mysterious, such as Water Leg, Catchflee, Dogskin, and Sing-a-bed. Any thoughts?

 

Source: all mine and sough names were found in Dr J.H. Rieuwerts’ 4 volumes of Lead Mining in Derbyshire (2007-2012)

[1] Anonymous, The York-Buildings Dragons (London, 1726).

Podcast: Environmental history of a hydrological landscape: the soughs of Derbyshire

Under the Peak District of Derbyshire is an subterranean network of drainage tunnels, the so-called soughs that were used to drain the lead mines of the region.

Up till the 16th century most lead mining In the Peak District done on the surface and miners followed horizontal seams. By then the surface seams were exhausted and miners had to sink shafts to reach rich underground seams. By the 17th century most mines were down to the water table. To prevent the mines from filling up with water drains or ‘soughs’ were cut through the hills to a neighboring valley. The construction of soughs changed the hydrological landscape of the Peak District, both below ground and above. In some cases the soughs not only drained mineshafts but also the small rivers above, which as a result were dry most of the year. The construction of soughs also reduced the flow of watercourses powering the mills of the early Industrial Revolution. This led to legal conflicts between sough builders and others who relied on the availability of water. Petitions were submitted to the courts and many of these court cases rumbled on for decades.

During the 20th century the soughs were largely forgotten but recently the soughs have been rediscovered for their industrial heritage on the one hand, and their detrimental effect on the hydrology of the landscape, pitting heritage values versus ecological restoration, creating a new battle ground of interests.

This edition of the Exploring Environmental History podcast examines the environmental history of the Derbyshire Soughs with Carry van Lieshout, a historical geographer at the University of Nottingham. She works on a research project that investigates the environmental and cultural history of the Derbyshire soughs in order to inform understandings of this largely forgotten cultural landscape and to develop management and conservation strategies for underground heritage.

Further reading

From Lead to Tail: an Environmental History of the Derbyshire Soughs. Poster presented by Carry van Lieshout at the World Congress of Environmental History in Guimarães, Portugal, July 2014.

Peter Coates, Who killed the Lathkill? (or, when is a river is no longer a river?), The Power and the Water blog, 5 Nov. 2014.

D. Ford and Rieuwerts, J., Lead miners’ soughs in Derbyshire, Geology Today, 23 (2007): 57–62. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2451.2007.00604.x

 

Music credits

Like Music (cdk Mix, 2013 & 2014)” by cdk, available from ccMixter

Watch the video visualisation of the introduction of the podcast:

Exploring environmental History podcast

 

This podcast was simultaneously published on the Environmental History Resources website as part of the Exploring Environmental History podcast series.

Jill Payne collaborates with artist Eloise Govier for Bristol Bright Night

On 26 September, project team member Jill Payne collaborated with the Bath-based contemporary fine artist Eloise Govier in the creation of a large-scale public art installation in the water spaces of Bristol’s Millennium Square. The installation, Ticker-Tape: Waterscape, formed part of the Bristol Bright Night event hosted by the At-Bristol Science Centre and was designed to challenge viewers’ perceptions of energy production in the landscape. Visitors were encouraged to walk around the artwork, a floating sculpture of 500 fluorescent bricks accompanied by a 5-minute visual soundscape broadcast on the BBC Big Screen overhead, and discuss their perspectives on art and energy landscapes with Eloise and Jill. Jill also provided an accompanying public lecture at the nearby Watershed.

Ticker-Tape: Waterscape is part of a series of Ticker-Tape installations created by Eloise Govier to spotlight and generate discussion on areas of contention in the public domain. Ticker-Tape was launched in April 2013 and has been executed in various sites across Europe, ranging from the Welsh/English border to a UNESCO-protected modernist housing estate in what was formerly East Berlin.

Bristol Bright Night is part of the annual ‘Researchers’ Night’ programme, an EU Commission-funded project that aims to engage publics across Europe in celebrating the latest and most stimulating research at a local and international level.

Art Installation

Ticker-Tape: Waterscape, Bristol’s Millennium Square (photo: Alex Dowson/Eloise Govier)

Northumberland’s ‘Hardest’ Geordie forces us to think about Landscape Art and the Definition of a Beautiful Landscape

By Leona Skelton

During my summer holiday in Northumberland, I visited the relatively new land sculpture, Northumberlandia, near Cramlington. Northumberlandia could certainly handle herself in Newcastle on Tyne’s drinking and clubbing centre, the Bigg Market, containing 1.5 million tonnes of rock, soil and clay, towering 100 feet high and measuring a quarter of a mile long. Changing with the seasons, and designed to mature over generations, she reflects the local people’s relationship with the environment, providing a welcome sanctuary for dog walkers, tourists and hill walkers, notably to the exclusion of cyclists. This ‘Lady’, covering a 46-acre, free access, community park, and containing over four miles of footpaths, is certainly worth a visit. As can be seen in the photos, she is perhaps best appreciated from the air, but the majority of her visitors don’t own private choppers, so they wander the ground – under her nostrils, along her fingers, over her brow and down her legs. It certainly makes for an unusual (and completely free) day out.

Northumberlandia’s Face

Northumberlandia’s Face (Photo: Leona Skelton)

The landowner, the Blagdon Estate, with the Banks Group, a Durham-based land development and mining company, funded the £3 million project privately to sugar the pill of restoring the neighbouring Shotton surface coal mine, which is now back in operation, feeding the UK energy industry. The site is now maintained by the Land Trust, with the support of Northumberland Wildlife Trust. Inspired by the adjacent Cheviot Hills, which are renowned for their gentle curves and majestic presence as they watch over the county, Northumberlandia was designed by her creator, the American born architect Charles Jencks, to celebrate the female form. Jencks describes the site as a ‘cosmic setting’, explaining that through his work, he attempts to find relationships between ‘the big and the small, science and spirituality and the universe and the landscape’ – quite an ambitious brief!

Northumberlandia’s Right Hand

Northumberlandia’s Right Hand (Photo: Leona Skelton)

The tourist attraction, which presents a very tangible and graphic example of a human impact on the landscape, inspired me to think about: landscape protection and damage; the definition and definitions of a beautiful landscape; nature, sculpture and art; and how we have forged, continue to forge and, indeed, to express our ever-changing relationship with the environment. In December 2013, shocking statistics were aired in the media, confirming that UK golf courses took up more land than UK homes. To take golf courses as an example, does constructing them damage or enhance the environment? It’s a hugely controversial and ultimately subjective question. Many golfers would argue that a well-tended and pristine golf course is a form of landscape beauty in itself, as they genuinely appreciate, admire and enjoy the environment of manicured fairways and greens, artificial lakes and ponds and sculpted bunkers filled with clean and soft sand, the hallmarks of an impressive golf course, for which a substantial number of golfers are prepared to pay large sums of money. How many golfers, however, object to the extensive use of pesticides, weed killers and machinery to obliterate nature and effectively sculpt the landscape in order for them to play their apparently land greedy game? Can both a golf course and wild flower, moorland wilderness be beautiful, admired and cherished? The answer is yes, but the respective groups of admirers, I guess, would be almost mutually exclusive.

Northumberlandia reminded me of the land art which appeared across the beautiful, albeit agricultural, landscape of the Yorkshire Dales during Le Tour de France in July 2014. The project, Fields of Vision, produced twelve pieces of artwork, which were created on the hillsides visible from the cycle route, with the intention of entertaining the cyclists and spectators, as well as showcasing Yorkshire proudly to the world in no uncertain terms. Co-ordinated by Pennine Prospects, a rural regeneration company for the South Pennines, the artworks were produced by artists, young farmers, scientists, cyclists, communities and landowners. The giant images included a flat-capped farmer, one man and his dog, a poem and the image of a bike, literally worn into the hillside by a plethora of cyclists following a designated track in the shape of a bike.

Transforming the landscape into art is not a new concept, having been an expression of human relationships with the environment since ancient times. The giant man engraved into a chalk hill above Cerne Abbas in Dorset is believed to date back to the Iron Age. If we are to develop our understanding of human relationships with the environment, perhaps these very obvious expressions of human culture, installed into the landscape to communicate a particular and enduring message, using the land itself as a medium for communication, might be a good place to start.

Finally, as I can’t possibly write a blog without referring to my current Tyne project, the Jetty Project’s ‘Cone’ sculpture, recently erected on Dunston Staiths, is also well worth a visit. It dominates the Tyne riverscape in a powerful and deeply symbolic way, I’m sure you’ll agree.

 

Links

http://www.northumberlandia.com

Aerial View of Northumberlandia: http://www.lbc.co.uk/britains-newest-and-biggest-tourist-attraction-59229/view/26887

http://www.banksgroup.co.uk/banks-group/banks-mining

BBC Magazine: ‘How much of the UK is covered in golf course?’ [24/12/2013] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24378868

http://letour.yorkshire.com/news/fields-of-vision

BBC News, England: ‘Aerial artworks for Tour de France in Yorkshire’ [09/06/2014]

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-27768253

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cerne-giant/

 

http://jetty-project.info/art/cone/

Getting a feel for the landscape: the Peak District

By Carry van Lieshout

Peak District

Landscape of the Peak District.
Source: wikipedia

My first two months working on the project started off with several expeditions to the Peak District. These included a visit to the Mining Museum at Matlock Bath, where I stocked up on books and explored inside the Temple Mine; a talk on the geology and mineralisation of the Peak District at Buxton; and a visit to the Derwent Valley Mills UNESCO Heritage site to see Richard Arkwright’s cotton mills, the first of which made use of the Cromford Sough. These fieldtrips also allowed me to visit the lovely Chatsworth estate, where I learned about water landscaping and enjoyed the autumn colours.

Arkwright Masson Mills

Richard Arkwright and Co, Masson Mills, Derbyshire. Source: Wikipedia

Getting a feel for the physical landscape and the sites I will be researching provided a good background to help me get stuck in the literature on soughs and the history of Derbyshire lead mining. Much of the work on soughs is written by geologists who surveyed the mines in the 1960s and 1970s, when they were still active as fluorspar mines. They collected a wealth of knowledge about the physical characteristics of the soughs, but no environmental history drawing out the connections between trades and people that these features represent. At same time, and still ongoing, I am reading about the social history of the Peak District, especially its mining industry and the mills and cotton legacy along the river Derwent.

On 12 November Georgina and I had the honour to meet Dr Jim Rieuwerts, who has been researching Derbyshire mines and soughs for 60 years and is still going strong. Jim imparted some of his encyclopedic knowledge on everything related to the history of Derbyshire lead mining to us, and proved great company to boot. He was very supportive of our project and suggested several cases of conflicts surrounding the soughs that we can use as case studies to look into the different stakeholders involved. In the afternoon we took Jim to the University of Nottingham’s Special Collections for him to see an early eighteenth-century document he hadn’t been able to access before, which made the trip useful for him as well. Jim was an absolute wealth of information and I am still following up on leads that came up during this meeting.

On 3 December Georgina and I visited the Peak District National Park Authority’s office in Bakewell, where we met Ken Smith and John Barnatt.  The PDNPA have agreed to collaborate on the sough-strand of the project (together with the Derwent Valley Mills UNESCO heritage site). Together we identified which soughs would be useful for them to know more about. As there are current issues around the implications of soughs around the Lathkindale Site of Special Scientific Interest and how they affect the water level of the river they are keen to hear about its history and how changes in water levels affected local people. This site was on our list of conflicts from Jim so it will definitely become one of our case studies. Ken and John also showed us some of their collections. The PDNPA has conducted research into landscape changes over time in the Peak District, and has tons of information available which they were very happy to let us have access to. I did not realise that institutions like these did so much original research so this was a great discovery for the project!

The last week before Christmas will be spend on identifying appropriate archival sources for the soughs conflicts that we aim to focus on, and I am looking forward to get into the archives in January.