Traveller's tales

Friday, June 30, 2006

The walling off of our land

The Enclosure Act - what it did to the countryside and its population

The Enclosure Acts marked the end of a way of life in rural England between the years 1760 and1780 and between 1793 and 1815. Previously, the poor could graze any animals they had on common pasture; they spent their days on common land, played on it, grew food on it, grazed their animals on it, lived on it and off it.

In the Highlands of Scotland, for example, the amount of land for each village was not fixed, and if measured at all, it was according to how many beasts could be kept uupon it. The arable land around each towsnship was kn own as a 'davach', and its area was indeterminate. when it was measured, it was done like this - on beasts pastured rather than on distance or acreage.

8 oxgangs = 1 ploughgate
4 ploughgates = 1 davach

This measure of land was never universal.
(A History of Scotland - J.D. Makie)

High cereal prices motivated farmers to enclose land in order to produce a greater amount, thereby earning bigger profits. Where land was enclosed, landlords could charge tenants higher rents.

Enclosure of arable land, waste and common by private Act of Parliament became common from 1750. There were soon so many Acts that the first Public General Act was passed in 1801.

Prior to that Public General Act, which simplified the procedure and saved Parliamentary time, farmers and other landowners had to publish petitions of their intention to enclose land. This petition was then presented to Parliament and an Act passed to enable the landowner to go ahead with the enclosing of land by walls or by hedges.

The other, more notorious thing the enclosure acts did was to force peasants off the land, which happened just when manufacturing industry, then in its infancy, needed manpower in large quantities; not having land to graze animals and grow crops to eat or to sell, peasants found a living as machine hands in the factories that were springing up in and around the towns.

The landscape was changed by the Enclosure Acts, and so was rural life – forever.
Robert L. Fielding

Rain (not Fog)

Rain, up the valley, down the valley – rain in the city centre – rain in the suburbs of this great and very wet city. Rain filling drains running into swollen rivers – Goyt, Etherow, Tame and Irwell. Rain by the bucketful, rain cracking the flags, coming down in stair rods and wetting streets and squares, roofs, and chimney stacks that are lost in low cloud that envelopes the city on this wet morning in a calendar of wet days – the wettest May on record.

Locals are used to it, sunny one day, wet the next, wearing clothes for yesterday’s weather, making sure you don’t get caught out – commuters carrying rolled umbrellas on fine days, unrolled today as rain tipples from a sky that looks as if it’s still got plenty more left to drop on shoppers, fed-up with rain, but who will complain it’s too hot tomorrow a half hour after the sun comes out.

Acid rain gnawing at Queen Victoria’s impassive features - washing bird lime off her - keeping pigeons off till it stops. Rain streaming down shop fronts, masking special offers and cheap holiday offers to pedestrians dreaming of sunfilled days on beaches or beside swimming pools in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, the Italian Riviera.
Robert L. Fielding

Thursday, June 29, 2006

First impressions: Glasgow

Nothing in the rolling countryside of the Borders prepares you for the huge city of Glasgow, heart of Scotland, though not its capital – Edinburgh.

Traveling up from Carlisle, over the border into Scotland, one is immediately struck by how less heavily populated Scotland is, as is Wales on England’s western flanks.

Mile upon mile of rolling hills, dotted with sheep, crossed with rivers and dammed into hydro-electric schemes, the borders of Scotland are beautiful – not as majestic as the Highlands – less austere, more cultivated, but with a charm that all rural areas in the British Isles possess.

Rushing headlong through the town of Motherwell, with its defunct steel works – the slogan ‘Save Scottish steel!’ surviving the weather, and reminding passers by of what has long gone, the train starts what is almost like a descent in an aircraft, slowing through the urban towns on the fringes of Scotland’s biggest and busiest city.

As we near Glasgow Central, the spires and towers, and the monoliths of Victorian wealth come into view. Here though, the stonework is different – a sandstone with a reddish hue in building after building, proclaiming the city’s importance and the origins of its wealth – shipbuilding, heavy engineering, and imports and exports to and from an Empire that once fed this teeming city and its people.

Of course, today, having the preoccupation of my visit to inhibit my wish to look round, that and my day return ticket to speed me round before final whistle sounding the exit of the last train for the south, I have to make do with fleeting glances down streets and along the Clyde.

George Square flashes past, its twelve statues beckoning me to alight from my taxi and read their names – Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and then James Watt, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns standing much lower, as though the Waverley novels were piled under Scott to elevate him above Burns and Tam o’ Shanter.

The last name I noticed as we left the square was Robert Peel (was he Scottish, I wondered), founder of ‘bobbies’ called Peelers in memory of a sometimes less than popular Prime Minister.

In Livingstone Tower, my destination, I found a statue of a sitting Dr. Livingstone; I presume, waiting for the unexpected arrival of Stanley, no doubt. I also found a welcome from the man I had come up to talk to, as well as friendly chatter about Italy’s chances in the World Cup and the like from cheerful Glaswegian taxi drivers talking almost unintelligibly to my untrained English ears, and the right amount and quality of information from security staff at gates and in offices in reception areas.

Leaving on the 4.10 to Plymouth, no less, I recalled some of the names of Glasgow’s thronged streets – Montrose Street, Dobbies Loan, Gordon Street, and of course, that most well known of all the city’s thoroughfares; Sauchiehall Street. Speeding out of the conurbations, I found myself wondering at the pronunciation of Cambuslang and Millheugh.

Luckily, I will be returning to Glasgow to learn more about a city that has been out of sight and out of mind for me, until today, that is.

Robert L. Fielding

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Jebel Hafeet , UAE – an island peak

Looking down Jebel Hafeet from the poolside terrace of the Mercure Hotel – 5000 feet below- a patchwork of orange peel sand, dark green squares of trees and arrow straight lines of dual-carriageways, punctuated by pink-roofed, white villas, and farms, lies the city of Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates - an oasis surrounded on three sides by desert, and on the fourth by the mountains of the Sultanate of Oman.

Jebel Hafeet, rising straight out of the plains of the desert in the north east of the Abu Dhabi Emirate, is surrounded by huge capital projects – horizontal ones, unlike their vertical equivalent in Dubai – forests of young saplings, recently planted, watered by miles of pvc pipes siphoning water from desalination plants inland to a million thirsty trees – cement factories fuelling the multitude of buildings flying upwards around the country.

Jebel Hafeet, a recumbent monster trailing a jagged ridged tail – a spur of mountain stretching like the petrified vertebra of a huge marine mammal – nudging into the town of Al Ain, dividing neighboring suburbs, forcing detours around football stadium size boulders, or else dynamited right angular defiles through living rock – cordited canyons with sides fluted like cathedral walls of pink, yellow and white limestone.

Black, freckled squares of young trees, spaced by the precision of machinery – row upon row like so many aces stretching out in a casino table of forest to slow the desert’s unceasing, unrelenting crawl over everything.

The far distance obliterated by the heat haze that won’t go away much this side of darkness of evening. Night falls – humidity rockets without the sun burning it – desert vistas become clear and sharp – colonnades of street lighting – red tail lights of endless taxis and Toyota Land Cruisers burning into the retina of nightfall.

A twinkling of house lights, a waft of the faded remnants of the half-imagined roar of the city floats up on the cooling air.

A feeling of coolness – so rare at this time of the year as a breeze that has picked up the fragrance of an orange grove flows over us – nature’s air-conditioning that has a little moisture still left to enter grateful nostrils and wet arid eyelids.

Without the sun to limit the climb of the humid air up the sides of the mountain, a trip in a car beckons, promises some airy relief from the hot stillness after the refreshing zephyrs have slowed almost to a standstill.

The day at the top of the mountain is over and only lizards and night watchmen on security rounds enjoy night air on the island peak of Jebel Hafeet.

Robert L. Fielding

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Observations in a shopping centre: the visible effects of supermarkets on our town centres

Whilst wandering more or less aimlessly around Stalybridge shopping centre this afternoon, in the time honoured manner of pedestrians everywhere, I happened to notice that quite a lot of shops had shut; had the shutters up and had the look of being more or less abandoned.

Looking more carefully now, I noticed quite a lot of rubbish in the pedestrianised part; Melbourne Street. Nothing new in that, I hear you cry, but it was. I come to Stalybridge, a small town on the edge of Manchester, actually in the county of Cheshire, and once the home of huge steelworks and a major junction on the Manchester to Leeds railway line, once a year and never miss. I notice such things because I look out for them.

I like to say to myself, “Nothing much has changed – none for the worse, and in a few ways, usually for the better.” A few years ago, for instance, I was amazed at the changes wrought by opening the canal straight through the middle of the town, slicing in half what had been a factory making electric cable, together with its car parking areas for its shift workers. So changed was it on that occasion, I remember, that I actually had difficulty orienting myself. It was only when I found familiar landmarks – Trinity church, the market hall, and a few public houses, that I realized where I was and quickly mind-mapped the area.

I look at the changes in the shops and their bright fronts, noting happily that some remain exactly as they were when I lived in the town; too many years to recount now.

This time, I noticed the obvious; a few more public houses have opened, the Palace cinema is now ‘Rififi’ a night club in which you are invited to watch England play Sweden or eat chilli con carne over a glass of Rhennish.

The less obvious takes a little longer to sink in, but I found myself kicking crisp packets, Coca Cola cans and the like, together with that most ubiquitous of unwanted substances; second hand chewing gum.
“There’s more rubbish,” I thought, and looked harder at the town I love.

Sure enough, if you look for something, you find it. Driving a Volkswagen Beatle years ago, I found the whole area choc-a-bloc with them. Changing my VW for a Toyota Corolla, I discovered that half the town’s population of motorists had done the same. You see what it is you are looking for. I searched for more rubbish and saw it everywhere. I wish it were otherwise, but that’s the truth.

Now, the impression I had gained from the closed shops, plus the increase in rubbish (which suggests a corresponding decrease in persons working for the town’s cleansing department) was of a less popular, less populated town centre.

Once I notice a change, even an imagined change, like that one, I start to think of reasons for that change. Changes like that don’t just happen for no reason – people behave rationally, are creatures of habit, and have well formed routines they adhere to, week in, week out. –there must be a reason.

If you travel around the north of England as I do every summer, and if you talk to folk on buses and on park benches, as I also do, you will soon discover an increase, almost amounting to a biblical plague, of new supermarkets and their larger, more-well stocked versions, hypermarkets.

All the usual suspects, as everyone says at the drop of a hat, are there; Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons. There must be a need for them, or they wouldn’t open them, or at least they wouldn’t survive in that most cut throat of all competitive markets, the rush to get shoppers through their white sliding doors into their brightly lit, air-conditioned aisles. People eat, they have to buy food, but it doesn’t end there, as you know.

These days, and for a long time now, if you want anything from a pin to an Axminster carpet, you can find it somewhere under the yawing roof and wide bays of a supermarket, and what is more, you know you can find it.

Gone are the days when you wandered around a town centre looking for your shagpile or a needle with which to darn that hole in your left sock (who these days darns socks anyway?). Instead, you get the car out, pile the family in and off you go to the same place as half the town – you go to a supermarket.

Returning now to our somewhat neglected town centre, the question I now ask is this: Who goes to the centre of town, and why? The answer is a simple but instructive one, particularly when trying to find reasons for its gradual desertification. The only people who go into town centres are people who have to: chaps on their way home from work, women who work in the shops there, tourists (in this case, people off canal long boats, who, not knowing the area, pick up what bit of shopping they forgot at their own supermarket prior to joining the boat), and blokes like me; browsers, and loafers, that’s s who! Your determined, bargain driven shopper goes nowhere near.

To be fair about this, you really can’t blame the deserters of the sinking ship; the shops close just before they get out of work, there’s nowhere to park – nowhere that’s free, that is, and even if one or two shops are still open, they sell stuff you can get much, much cheaper in the aisles that are brightly lit and air conditioned.

The advent, the massive advent of supermarkets has sounded the death knell for town centre shops – for any other type of shop, for that matter.

Further out of town, the corner shop is largely becoming a thing of the past. The motorist is king in these outlying suburban sprawls of des-reses, and the supermarket caters for all; Mum can get her hair done, Dad can buy his favourite tipple and the kids can gloat over what children gloat over these days: computer games, DVDs, CDs, computer games (I’ve said that once, haven’t I) and the like.

But don’t take my word for all this; have a look next time you’re in town – sorry, you don’t know the right exit on the motorway to get there – that figures.
Robert L. Fielding

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What would Ammon Wrigley have said?

Sitting on a picnic bench next to the converted railway goods yard in Greenfield, a village in Saddleworth, and the one I grew up in, I started to think about what local writer, Ammon Wrigley - he wrote in the early years of the 20thy Century - would have said about the way we live our lives in the 21st Century.

I thought about how Saddleworth has changed since my mother and father, myself and my younger sister used to walk across from Royal George to my grandparents house on the other side of the Tame valley.

Of course, everywhere has changed – I know that – but the changes in Saddleworth hit me more than do the changes I see in other places. I suppose that’s because Saddleworth played an important part in my life for more than 40 years. It still does, but these days its place is not as prominent as it used to be. I visit every summer; and it’s a bit like visiting an old friend or a close relative, and seeing new wrinkles on their brow; seeing that they are growing older reminds me that I am also growing older, and I suppose that’s what makes returning to Saddleworth so poignant. I feel this way every year. I think it is called the human condition.

He’d have looked around, looked at all the rushing about and all the building that’s going on and perhaps he’d have said something like this:

(NB. Written in the dialect of the Saddleworth of Ammon Wrigley's day)

“What’s all this rushing about for – folks can’t speak to each other while they’re rushing everywhere like they do.

I’m asking thee t’ question, but I reckon I already know th’ answer – it’s all about brass – money – makin ‘ more and more of it, but you know you canna take it with you, and you haven’t time to spend it, so what does tha need to mek more and more of it – that’s my real question!

Now, I’m sure that a lot of folk as live in all these new houses are bringin’ up young uns – childer. Now, I’m not so old er so quaint as to think you don’t need brass to do that – you need plenty of brass to feed and clothe kiddies, but mekin’ more brass than tha needs, that’s summat else entirely besides getting’ enough to bring a young family into this world.

Makin’ brass has taken over, it’s getten its own momentum, so that how much brass tha makes sort of determines how other folk look at thee. But that’s no road to judge a man, or a woman either, for that matter.

If tha’rt goin’ to do that, tha needs a lot more to go on than how much a bloke’s worth – you need to know what’s in his heart and in his mind – how he sees himself and what he thinks his life is for and how he goes about it – you need to look at how he is with his fellow man – with his neighbours – and if he’s God-fearin’ and true to what’s reet, not what’s wrong in this mixed up world of ours.”

Robert L. Fielding
20.06.06 (my Dad’s birthday)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Chesil Beach and Portland

Thomas Hardy called the Isle of Portland, ‘the Gibraltar of Wessex’, and like its more southerly doppelganger, the Isle of Portland is connected to the mainland. To its west lies Chesil Beach, a shingle bar several miles long, and up to 40 feet high in places.

The sea has piled up Chesil Beach in such a way as to grade the pebbles and stones that make up the beach; the nearer Portland, the bigger the pebbles. It is said that a fisherman from these shores can tell exactly where he is even when landing in the dark, by the size of the stones at his feet.

Walking along the beach here is a laborious ‘one forward and two back’ affair; walking along the cables that lie lengthwise on the bar is the only way to proceed without exhaustion setting in long before the 7 mile beach terminates under the cliffs of Burton Bradstock.

Behind the bar is a sheet of water, usually mentioned in guidebooks as ‘ brackish’ and known as the Fleet. At one end lies Abbotsbury Swannery, the long necks of mute swans waving like so much white corn in a windswept field.

High above Abbotsbury is a long ridge that begins north of Weymouth, Victorian watering hole, now a minor port and holiday resort. The Hardy Monument sticks up from the western end of Black Down (mentioned in Hardy as Black’n), like a landlocked lighthouse. The monument commemorates Hardy the admiral in Nelson’s fleet, rather than the local author, Thomas Hardy, whose monuments lie nearer to his birthplace, Higher Bockhampton, north of Dorchester, and in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey in London.

Most of Portland has been quarried for Purbeck marble, used by Sir Christopher Wren to build St. Paul’s Cathedral in the capital, the rest of the ‘isle’ is occupied by a naval base, and the dwellings that make up Portland; with the bit that pushes insistently into the English Channel known as Portland Bill.

Robert L. Fielding

Monday, June 19, 2006

Black death in Derbyshire

The roses of Eyam: the delivery of death to a Derbyshire village

A parcel of clothing from London delivered to a draper in the sleepy village of Eyam in 1665 was the source of an epidemic that killed many people in the village. Only the heroic and farsighted efforts of the vicar, Rev. Charles Mompesson, whose wife died, prevented the plague from spreading to other nearby villages in the north. He encouraged the villagers to stay in the village, and left money for food brought from neighbouring villages and farms by leaving coins on a stone beneath the surface of the water in what has since become known as Mompesson’s Well.

Further south, in London, the ‘black death’ –a form of bubonic plague, and spread by rats, decimated the population of the capital. Only the Great Fire of London ended the reign of the deadly disease.

In Eyam, the people weren’t so fortunate; five out of six people in the village died from the plague. Today, the Riley Graves mark the spot where the members of the Riley family, most of which were infants, were buried.

It is claimed that a well known nursery rhyme depicts the tragedy. You will probably know the rhyming lines that follow, but are you aware of their meaning betraying their origins?

Ring a ring a roses - It was said that the first signs of the plague were sores (roses) around the neck.
A pocketful of posies - Apparently, a faint smell of perfume accompanied these first signs.
Atishoo – atishoo - Self explanatory, the victim sneezes or displays the signs of being ill.
We all fall down! - The victim falls down and dies.

Every year, on the last Sunday in August, the villagers of Eyam commemorate the courage of Rev. Mompesson’s and his parishioners in an open-air ceremony.

Today, the village of Eyam hides its dark past; its inhabitants are cheerful and welcome the many visitors who take the little turn off through a small gap in the sheer limestone walls of a nearby dale. It is worth remembering that had these villagers not obeyed the request of their vicar, the population of the north of England might have been decimated, as happened in the squalor of the city of London.
Robert L. Fielding

Friday, June 16, 2006

Comments on too much building in Saddleworth

Nay, what’d Ammon Wrigley * 'ave said?

Well first, he’d a looked at his good book to see what th’ Almighty had to say about all this building what’s goin’ on in his beloved Saddleworth.

Aye, an’ he’d find that th’ Almighty ‘d have plenty to say too. He’d ‘appen a turned to Leviticus Chapter XXVI, where he’d a read this.

Ye shall make ye no idols nor graven image,
Neither rear you up a standing image,
Neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land,
To bow down to unto it: for I am the Lord your God.

That’d mek him think on what were goin’ on in his vales an’ on his hillsides as he loved to walk on an’ set his mind to summat he were thinkin’ o’ writin’.

He allus wanted peace an’ tranquility afore writin’, but ‘appen he’d not get any today with all this noise an’ commotion, all this getting’ an’ spendin’ as goes on I’ Saddleworth an, all round these parts of his beloved England – this part he know’d, anyroad.

It stands to reason, he’d a said, that man must have time an’ space to think, to be an’ peace an’ quiet to work out everything in ‘is ‘ead, afore he does summat he’d a rather not done.

If your goin’ to ‘ave space and peace, why, it stands to reason you shan’t go puttin’ up ‘ouses an’ shops in every little corner o’ Saddleworth, fr if you do, ‘ow art folk as live theer goin’ to fare bout the essence o’ their lives, which is to look at God’s greenery iverywheer they looks.

An’ another thing Ammon Wrigley’d a said, he’d a said all this buildin’ is too much for our little part o’ God’s acre to cope with. What folks as live too close do wi’ the stuff they’ve done with, I mean all their peelin’s an’ all their stuff as they think is o’er an’ done with, that stuff, what are they goin’ to do with all that if they live too close?

God din’t put us on this Earth to muck it up for those as ’ll come after us. He meant for us to look after what He provided, not to plunder t’treasures of His labours. An’ what are we doin’? We’re ignorin’ all his handiwork I’ Saddleworth, all fer t’ sake o’ brass and getting’ an’ spendin’. There’s more to life than that, tha knows. An’ if tha doesn’t know owt, it’s time tha read t’ good book agen afore it’s too late.

And if ye walk contrary unto me,
And will not hearken unto me;
I will bring seven times more plague upon you according to your sins.
*Ammon Wrigley was a writer who lived in Saddleworth at the turn of the century before last.
Robert L. Fielding

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Capped hills

Grass: the great survivor

It used to be said that the scorpion was the greatest survivor in the natural world; scorpions were supposed to have survived the testing of nuclear weapons in the deserts of Australia. But I think the title, 'the world's greatest survivor' should go to a much more common form of life.

Ubiquitous, even in deserts and frozen wastes, by seashores and salt flats, grass has managed to adapt to practically any condition on Earth. The only organism better able to cope with climatic severity is lichen, but grass covers most of the land on our planet.

Like familiar lanscape, grass is often overlooked, not noticed - it's just there - everywhere. And yet grass, in its different forms, can adapt to conditions which are too acidic for most plant life, too saline, too dry, or too wet.

Next time you walk across a patch of grass - on a lawn, a putting green, a football pitch, a golf course, a meadow, a lea, a field, a common, a village green, or else clutching precariously to a sand dune, or being flattened by a roller, cut by a mower, stored as sillage, dried in a haystack, being ruminated by cows, eaten by sheep - sit down and look at it - look at the different types, and marvel at one of God's Creations - grass!

Robert Leslie Fielding

What lies beneath: how geology influences scenery

Someone once remarked that if you don’t care for the weather in Britain, then wait a minute and it will change. What is true above is also true below; the landscape of Britain changes with every mile traveled.

Driving from anywhere you may wish to start, to any destination of your choosing, you will be forced to pass through countryside and over rock of greatly differing age and origin.

Sitting on the edge of tranquil Malham Tarn, in the Craven district of the Yorkshire Dales, you might be forgiven for thinking that the countryside rolls gently in all directions in similar fashion, as it undoubtedly would in a more unified, larger land area. In Britain, anything is possible. Walk due south from the tinkling stream leaving the Tarn and you will soon be made to be aware of the very opposite.

Just downstream, though paradoxically not the same stream that issues from its foot, is the mighty Malham Cove, hundreds of feet of sheer and often overhanging limestone. The stream that empties the Tarn reappears at the surface a distance down from the one trickling out at the foot of the Cove. After its innocent course, the stream that drains the Tarn drains into what are known as ‘swallow holes’ marking the very edge of the Tarn’s supporting band of slate and Silurian clay.

Carboniferous limestone, that most pervious and permeable of our native rocks begins where the clay and slate end. From now on, gorges, collapsed cave systems, dry valleys and ‘clints and grikes’ criss-cross the land; any gentility is lost to precipitous calcium carbonate and the result of the action of water upon it.

Adjectives to describe the scenery change with it. Now, instead of using words like ‘gentle’, ‘rolling’, and ‘undulating’ we use words like ‘ragged’, ‘steep’, ‘craggy’, and ‘rough’. The clints and grikes I mentioned earlier are the eroded joints of the limestone, here called limestone pavement.

This is typical ‘Karst’ scenery; the word comes from the former Yugoslavia, where it was the name of a region of weathered and heavily eroded limestone.

In the space of just a few miles, the ‘chalk and cheese’ of Britain’s geology is exemplified and illustrated. You don’t just need to have rainwear ready on fine days in England, but sturdy footwear too.
Robert L. Fielding

The lost counties of England and Wales

The White Horses of England

Egdon Heath: a face upon which time makes little impression

Egdon Heath, the setting of the opening chapters of Hardy’s ‘Return of the Native’, or at any rate, that tract of land Hardy had in mind when writing arguably his greatest novel, does not really exist as an entity.

The land between the town of Wareham and Dorchester, Hardy’s ‘Casterbridge’ is actually much vaster than is apparent in a reading of Hardy.

Willful, headstrong Eustacia Vye, a sea captain’s daughter, waited for her lover, Damon Wildeve on Egdon Heath, the reddleman Diggory Venn crossed it plying his colourful trade, and the native himself, Yeobright, lowered himself in his wife’s eyes by cutting furze on it.

This wild tract, dealt with in so much detail in that first, most inaccessible and enigmatic of chapters, comes to exert an enormous influence on the lives of everyone who dwells on or near it.

Eustacia abhors it, dreams of escaping from it forever, Yeobright, recently returned from foreign parts, yearns for the simplicity, the timelessness of it as he takes up work upon it. Diggory the reddleman, seems ambivalent to it, taking an almost matter of fact view of the land he crosses to sell his red dye to the shepherds of this part of Wessex.

Gustav Holst met Hardy briefly, and composed his enigmatic piece, ‘Egdon Heath’ to portray what Hardy had portrayed in words. Its opening bars are slow, mournful, entirely in keeping with the opening lines of this darkest of all Hardy’s opening chapters.

HMV and other recording companies, invariably place this short piece on the same album as Holst’s ‘Perfect Fool’. It is almost as if Holst is placing his commentary on the comings and goings of the protagonists of what is Hardy’s most tragic work after ‘Tess’ and ‘Jude’ next to his drawing of the setting in which Hardy's tragedy is acted out.

Actually Holst’s altogether lighter piece has nothing whatsoever to do with Hardy’s characters. Presumably only Imogen Holst, protecting her late father’s interests, was persuaded to conjoin the two into something of suitable length to merit the production of a publishable recording.

Looking for evocative images to sell the packaged versions, successive recordings have taken various bucolic scenes from whatever source, to woo the reader away from her book to look upon a cover that accords with her impression of the setting she has just been reading about.

W. Holman Hunt’s ‘The Hireling Shepherd’ tempted printers and publishers alike, and it has been used to cover both books about Hardy and the country he used to furnish his characters' inevitable downfalls.

The Hireling Shepherd though was more suited to images conjured up by Milton than by Hardy. A neglectful and self-serving clergy fell in for just criticism from Milton before his eyesight failed him. Accompanying Hardy, the symbolic connection is lost. Hardy dealt with malevolence of the gods rather than any vicarious activities on this Earth.

As Tess found out to her cost, and as Eustacia later discovered, the baleful landscape is only representative of her own dilemma, and really is a neutral element in the tales, as only Diggory Venn and Weatherbury’s Gabriel Oak were sensible enough to realize.
Robert L. Fielding

The Isle of Purbeck

Chesil Beach and the Jurassic coastline of Dorset

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Whin Sill appears and then disappears

The Whin Sill is a 294 million year old dolerite (basaltic rock) intrusion that appears at various points in the counties of Durham and North Yorkshire. When it does appear above the surface, the results are spectacular.

When building Hadrian’s Wall, from Solway Firth in the West, to Wallsend on the east coast of England, the Whin Sill came in very useful. The crags to the north and east of the village of Haltwhistle in Northumberland provide a massive natural wall against would be invaders from the north.

At High Cup Nick overlooking the Eden valley and Cumberland, now Cumbria, the Whin Sill forms a huge row of cliffs frowning above the enormous U-shaped valley scoured out by glaciers in the Ice Age.

At High Force on the River Tees, water tumbles over the Whin Sill, forming England’s largest waterfall. Higher up the Tees valley, near Cow Green Reservoir, which has taken a lot of the spate out of the beck (stream), Cauldron Snout provides yet another appearance of the granite intrusion.

And downstream from High Force, the aptly named Low Force shows its teeth as the Whin Sill surfaces briefly again.

Happily, Pennine Way walkers meet up with the sill again and again as they step towards the border of England and Scotland.
Robert L. Fielding

A4 Pacifics on the East Coast route to Edinburgh

We called them streaks when we saw them at York Station, impatient to be on the way to Edinburgh Waverley Station, or Kings Cross in London. The image of a raging bull stamping its feet and snorting is one that always reminds me of these magnificent locomotives.

Housed at places like Doncaster, where I once saw a row of them, they mainly plied their trade out of London, through Peterborough and York, on their way to Newcastle Upon Tyne and the Scottish capital, Edinburgh.

At Waverley Station, which is all but hidden in the valley that slopes down from Princes Street and the Scott Memorial, ‘streaks’ would send columns of steam high into the air, putting pigeons and crows to flight, and disturbing people sitting reading newspapers on benches nearby.

At York, they would stand while passengers alighted to investigate the Roman city outside. Others would step into liveried carriages to be taken post haste to the bustling capital to the south.

‘Mallard’ still holds the record for the fastest speed attained by a steam locomotive, a startling 123 mph. Its streamlined boiler would have certainly helped.

Robert L. Fielding

Butterflies in the park

Butterflies, moths, fratilliaries are common in all but the most frozen climates, or the most arid ones.

On the cliffs of Dorset, they are everywhere, cabbage whites, red admirals and hundreds of smaller fratilliaries – their frequent but brief flappings among the flowers of the chalk uplands dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s above the white horses of the English Channel.

In Taman Tasik Perdana, Kuala Lumpur, they are much larger and more colourful. Topped with netting, the butterfly park is in the midst of the greenery of the city.

Home to 6,000 butterflies from over 120 species, the park is a stone’s throw away from the city’s vertical central business district, and provide a nice distraction from shopping malls and the verticality that is modern KL.
Robert L. Fielding

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