Monday, February 27, 2006

The Making of the English Landscape

Would it be sad to say that one of my 'comfort' books is 'The
Making of the English Landscape' by W G Hoskins. I think I read in the flyer that one critic said that it was rare that a single book comes along and heightens your consciousness of your surroundings. That's why every now and then I have to dip back into it to bring me back to that ethereal state of awareness - or else I'm in danger of being numbed by the effects of today's busy and stressful lifestyle.

I think the book was originally written in the 1950's but it is still revolutionary in its outlook - with its main tenet that even the wildest moors of Britain have been shaped by the hand of man. Even more remarkable is the fact that with a little insight you can still see the marks that our ancestors left over 10,000 years ago.

Boundaries are one of the most lasting features in our landscape, as are some field systems.

The photo above of
Cheesden Pasture in Heywood Lancs shows a largely rural scene which most would expect to be completely natural. But we have a field boundary of stone; a cultivated pasture to the right; a tree (which is at the base of the ruins of a house and probably planted by man); just off photo, some larger humps and bumps were created in the late C18th and early C19th when water was diverted to a lodge to run a water powered mill. On the side of the hill in the background there survives a series of ridge and furrows which are only visible when the sun is low (from what period I don't have a clue). The main ridge in the photo leads to a hill which has had human activity for thousands of years with stone age flints being found (possibly a place of ritual) Nearby across the Edenfield Road we have a bronze age burial site which lifts the field boundary aloft like the dip of a roller coaster. Only a matter of yards away the head of a bronze age axe was found during excavations for a reservoir.

Indeed it wouldn't surprise me to find out that this area of North Pennine Moors was teaming with life several thousand years ago and that the location of my home town would have been no more than a clearing swamped and surrounded by trees.


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