Field Studies #01

Horsehold Wood | In a still, shrouding vapour, birch flare and beech smoulder. Despite the lack of an early, colour-intensifying frost, the autumn colours have been spectacular. Among the dying flames, long-tailed tits swing and pivot on twig ends; a nuthatch assumes an uncharacteristically upright pose in a crook of limbs; on an altar of rock, a blackbird cocks its tail at a great spotted woodpecker, twirling around a birch branch. Wood pigeons delve into deep embers of mast, then launch among a swirl of beech leaf sparks. Three roe does bound, stop and scan, and bound again, weaving between the boles. The clough stream threads a ribbon of green – bucklers; woodrush; moist, mossed-over boulders – through the gaudy yellows, and down this ribbon a dipper glides, tossing the glint of a one-note call onto the bank to glow amid the gloom.

The Susurrations of Trees | Just as the last of the leaves are falling, this wonderful BBC Radio 4 programme offers a reminder of the sounds we are about to lose. Presenter Bob Gilbert and producer Julian May explore Thomas Hardy’s claim from Under the Greenwood Tree that ‘every species of tree has its voice’. We hear of whispering elms and hissing ash, whooshing pines and rattling London planes, raining aspen and silent yews. Poet Alison Brackenbury talks of John Clare’s dialect words for the phenomenon, and fiddle-player Lisa Knapp unveils specially-composed music to conjure the arboreal sounds the winter will soon silence. Listen here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000cnc4

Goose Gate | I have an ongoing project – the Upper Calder Valley Farm Map – to document the loss of small farms in my local patch of the Pennines. Central to this project is determining the last date of habitation for the 80 or so abandoned farmhouses in the area. The state of the buildings themselves can provide surprisingly misleading evidence as to this date, with some houses last inhabited in the 1880s remaining more substantially intact than some only left to the elements since the 1960s, so we must turn to other sources. Goose Gate, squatting in the shadows at the edge of Callis Wood and now only a few courses of stones high, with its 1749 lintel tumbled within its willow-colonised chambers, provides an example of this range of sources. We have an aerial image taken by the RAF in 1948, in which the roofless outline of the house can clearly be seen; an 1860 painting by John Holland (noted for his fidelity to the landscape) featuring the house crouched under the backdrop of the Horsehold hillside; an undated photograph in the Pennine Horizons Digital Archive of a family posed outside the house together with a tragic account of the loss of a young boy in a barn fire, and another undated photograph (but certainly post-1925) in a local Facebook group, both of which confirm the accuracy of John Holland’s depiction of the house as whitewashed; and the 1911 census, enumerating the widowed sewage works labourer Frank Stansfield and his six cotton-weaving and fustian-cutting children. Together, these sources narrow Goose Gate’s date of abandonment down to a 23-year window between 1925 and 1948. Subsequent releases of the census will narrow it down further, but I also hope to chance across a story handed down among local families, which are always richer than dry records. For now, its stones, a few of which bear faint traces of the unusual whitewash that once made Goose Gate stand out among the valley’s rain-darkened gritstone, keep their secrets yet.

Native | Patrick Laurie, a genial, young Galloway farmer, is an exceptional writer. His equal determination to preserve not only traditional ways of farming, including his rare riggit Galloway cattle, but also the imperilled curlews and black grouse on his land shine forth in dazzling prose in this Wainwright Prize-nominated book.

Curlews stood for an ancient slackness, they were bound to the old ways…We drew them into us with a steady, hard-won roll of patience and labour which ran for generations, and now their death feels like a death in ourselves.

Patrick Laurie, Native: Life in a Vanishing Landscape

Climate Landscapes | On errands in the town, I bump into my friend Jon and am delighted to learn that he has been appointed to the new role of Climate and Biodiversity Coordinator for Hebden Royd Town Council. Having declared, like many local authorities, a climate emergency, it is good to see this post being created specifically to drive forward their Climate Emergency Action Plan. We talk about the huge changes which are coming which will alter upland landscapes such as our valley, particularly the vast sums which are now being offered to incentivise tree planting, and how the balance between biodiversity, farming heritage and carbon sequestration will have to be sensitively handled. In this regard, I’m glad to hear that he has engaged with the draft Heritage Strategy for the intriguing, newly-declared South Pennines Park, with whom he will undoubtedly have to work in his new role. I look forward to staying in touch with how his work progresses.

Landings | Richard Skelton’s definitive work of densely textured bowed strings so strongly evokes the West Pennine Moors that it seems to have emerged from the austere earth itself. Partly recorded in mournful ruined farmhouses in the parish of Anglezarke and incorporating field recordings of the landscape, it is an album that captures a sense of place like few others.

Stoodley Pike | The first frost. The frigid morning air is misted with steam from the canal and woodsmoke from its community of narrowboats. Charcoal sillouettes of newly-bare birch and ash are etched against the pale sky. We ascend, moving through deep shadows in frost hollows, emerging into piercingly bright sun, then back into shadow. We stop and talk to the resident of an old farmhouse rescued from dereliction a decade ago. Did they know Mary, our friend who grew up there in the 1940s and knew every farming family in two parishes? We would put them in touch. Up on the radiant plateau, we have Stoodley Pike Monument to ourselves, its monolithic shadow draped across moor and field. For once it is only the curvature of the Earth and not the atmosphere, as pin-sharp as I have ever seen it, that limits our view. On the way down, fieldfares chatter at Height Gate, a trio of jays screech at Burnt Acres, mistle thrush rattle in Lodge Clough, buzzards wheel above Oaks. Later in the day, we look across to the monument from the other side of the valley, basking in the last light of this perfect autumn day.

Gallery |

Charlestown and Knott Wood from Horsehold Wood
Rochdale Canal
Stoodley Pike Monument shadow
Path down from Stoodley Pike
Callis Nab and Langfield Common
Stoodley Pike from Dark Lane
Sycamores, Dark Lane

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2 thoughts on “Field Studies #01

  1. Hi, have I missed some blog posts? I was only thinking the other day that I couldn’t remember when I last saw one and so couldn’t remember your name or how to get in touch! Thanks for this post, it sums up how it’s been for the last couple of weeks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Before this post I had not written since March, so no, you haven’t missed any, Sue. I have been searching for a new format. Glad you found a connection with this one.

      Like

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