If Bristol were flooded.


* Video is my recording of a film shown at Millenium Square, Bristol, on 03/05/2015. The original film Cheers, Drive! can be viewed at: http://www.triplegeek.com/portfolio/visuals/cheersdrive.

* Boat images are of the Withdrawn exhibition in Leigh Woods, near Bristol, described as “an unexpected encounter with a flotilla of abandoned fishing boats installed in the depths of the woodland”. More details at: http://www.lukejerram.com/projects/withdrawn

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On form and fluid – musings from Minehead

Preface

Over Easter weekend 2015, I decided to cycle from Barnstaple (Devon) to Bridgwater (Somerset), wild camping (and, as it turned out B+Bing) along the way.

I might elaborate further on the trip in the future. But for now, here are some thoughts I had in Minehead in Saturday evening as I watched the flow and ebb of the tide.

   * * * 

I’ve walked along the waterfront, from Butlins on the eastern edge, to the west end in the shadow of North Hill. Behind is the RNLI Lifeboat Station, and I’m sat on a trailer for towing boats.

Further down towards Butlins, the beach is sandy but here it’s all pebbles: grey, purple and violet, smoothed to irregular shapes.

Along the shoreline to the left and right stand two fishermen, spending as much time looking behind at the wooded hill and playing with their equipment, as out to sea. A couple sit on a conspicuous shelf of concrete, which seems to be a dried dump of cement; pebbles from the shore embedded within.  

I like watching the tide. A good deal of my childhood was spent in a village that is “the second most inland place in the UK”, according to my mother, though my dad is from Grimsby. The waves crash at rarely a foot high. The larger waves work further up the shore, and as the water recedes, the rocks clatter loudly, as though a smoker is taking a rattly inhale before the next crest blows in.

Sometimes the pebbles don’t rattle, the old smoker missing a breath.

I wonder: is the tide coming in or going out? After several tiny waves, I conclude going out, only for another large wave to come in, confounding me.

It’s seven o’clock, and the sky above the western horizon of the sea is golden. Wales, seen through the haze, is basking in sunshine, too, including the large power station; its smoke a barely-percepitble grey smudge.

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Anthony Gormley sculpture, Leith.

Why are coastal towns so often furnished with sculptures? In Aberdeen, the harbourside paving inscribed with poetry, a sort of concrete poetry, or perhaps better: granite poetry. In Leith, Anthony Gormley’s frozen, rusted anglers-without-poles stand stoic.

Minehead, too. A pair of giant galvanised hands wrestle with a corrugated map, marking the start (or, depending on proclivity and angle, end) of the South West Coastal Path. Even this deserted trailer upon which I sit (a sort of sculptural memorial itself) sits three small pebbles placed upon one another.  

In front of me, 100 or so metres out into the water, two structures I recognise but don’t understand, protrude from the surface. Two seagulls and a crow stands sentinel atop. A large ship approaches from the east, perhaps an oil tanker from the Avonmouth refinery. It floats in languid light, the same golden sunlight that has long been hidden from this sheltered section of harbour.

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Maybe this is why sculptures seem so plentiful on the coast; a desire to make form from the unending fluid of the ocean. Tim Ingold asks of his undergraduate anthropology students to visit Aberdeen beach, and to the consider the nature of place, space (though he’d never utter that word), emergence, surface and form.

In short, looking out to sea we saw a world in movement, in flux and becoming, a world of ocean and sky, a weather world. […Apply this way of seeing to the land, and] it is the solidity of the ground itself that is thrown into doubt

Ingold, 2011, pp131-132

So sculptures: more than just an attempt to fix the sea, but to fix the land too. Perhaps seaside dwellers are used to flux and dynamism: waves, coastline, rising rivers, supermoons, spring and neap tides, rain, fog, wind, but as well as seeing this in the sea, it is seen on the land as well. Groins and piers for the sea; sculpture for onshore.

It’s getting cold, and my thirst needs slaked – so to the pub. But before I depart, I look again at the pebbles in front. The couple have left, but in their stead, a neat stack of eight or ten pebbles. And yes, now I’m sure: the tide is coming in.

Reference

2011, Ingold, T, Being Alive: Essays on movement, knowledge and description, Oxon: Routledge

Where Brackley Castle?

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An opening salvo on my walk from Brackley, Northants, emblazoned on the underpass of the dual-carriageway bypass. It’s an interesting question, though not one I pay much head to. At least, not yet. I am heading on out on a kind of (partial) circumambulatory of the town, exploring the old footpaths, disused roads and abandoned railway lines that are so often found dotted around the countryside of Britain.

I had been living in Aberdeen for 18 months; Scotland in general for some 9 years, but soon I will be living in Bristol. Bristol is in stark contrast to Aberdeen. Aberdeen suffers from icy-cold arctic winds racing in from the east, and a seemingly permanent grey ceiling of dreich sky. The buildings are of grey granite (though touristic interpretations label Aberdeen the ‘Silver City’), and the predominant industry is of that the black-grey fossil-slime of crude oil. Bristol, on the other hand suffers far less from such melancholy associations, with its cream-coloured churches and a more temperate climate. It is also due to be the European Green Capital in 2015; a label I think Aberdeen would struggle to attract (“you’re cycling to work?” asked a colleague in Aberdeen; “We have another organ donor!”).

But enough of the (perceived or real) differences between the two cities. I am staying in Brackley, as this is where my parents bide. There’s a lag between tenancies, so this will act as a stop-gap. In a sense, this town is far closer to Bristol (two hours) than Aberdeen (eight or more), but in a strange way, it is the perfect mid-way point. I did a lot of my growing up just a few miles from Brackley in a tiny village called Lillingstone Lovell. A pretty place, with no public transport, and (at the time) a post office, that sold only stamps. But my mother had been told that this village is the second most inland place in the UK. I have quizzed her about this since, but she doesn’t remember where she heard this, or which place holds the number one spot. I like that the stop-gap is so landlocked: and this is why it feels sort of halfway between. Both Aberdeen and Bristol are saline cities, of tidal patterns and waves, salt air and harbours. Conversely, Brackley has just a small unnavigable river. Indeed, Northamptonshire is said to have no brooks running into the county, only ones flowing out, such is its elevated position.

I need this walk. I lived and went to school for part of my adolescence in Brackley, but coming back, the humdrum, everydayness has vanished: where once it was a place to endure, now it becomes a treasure; something jewel-like, with the golden sandstone townhouses and rolling fields of yellow rape and pastel-green wheat.

I have a loose plan: head for Evenley and its pub on the green, then back to Brackley. Despite its proximity to Brackley, I only recall visiting twice – once for a rave in a barn house (free, but legal, if you’re wondering), and the other for the pub.

* * *

The underpass is behind me, and so too is the River Great Ouse, but soon I reach a flooded section of tarmac path; its elevation too low for the standing water to make it to the river. Clambering through the undergrowth, my unsuitable footwear is soaked through: “I hope this warm weather dries my feet”. A field next, rising up to the old Buckingham Road, abandoned and gated (though I recall a gypsy encampment once sited here). Soon, a bridleway: green and yellow fields; trees in varying states of undress – this is early spring, and not all the trees have reacted. I wonder if some are ash: perhaps they will never come into leaf?

Now, a low point in the track, and the remains of a railway bridge. Brackley once had two railway stations: one demolished (though The New Locomotive pub is a reminder); the other a tyre and exhaust centre.

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Railways and Brackley are a controversial topic: the High Speed rail line looks set to pass nearby in a vast cutting. But I wonder: is the opposition universal? There’s more graffiti in the underpass; a poem called ‘The Signalman’s Lament‘, written by Mr. L. Wills, bemoaning Mr Beeching’s death of the line:

There might be widespread opposition to the new line, but this is the most visual message I see on my walk that makes reference to railways. Does this tagger embrace the new prospect? Or is it a coded reference opposing the new line, being as there will be no new station anywhere close by? Also: is the artist responsible someone I once knew?

* * *

I carry on through rolling fields and left-over copses. A family geotagging (“we’ve gone the wrong way”; “you mean we walked all this way for nothing?”, not realising the irony of their pursuit); a woman eyeing me suspiciously, and me her (a lone young man? In those shoes? could have been one of many things crossing her mind).

Up a cut by some houses to Evenley. I’ve no recollection of the village. It’s archetypal, yet unfamiliar: a large green with cricket played out; a village shop on one edge, the Red Lion on another. I feel uneasy that something so quaint and perfect, and so close to where I went to secondary school, can be so alien.

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A pint of Oxford Gold: it’s nice to get a local beer, and makes a welcome change to have a smooth, mild pint, instead of the hoppy, citrus-infused punch of so many Scottish craft beers. It’s only mid-afternoon, so I set into another, and read Scarp in the beer garden. Labourers jab friendly insults between each other.

It’s time to leave. The warm spring sun, the alcohol, and the miles of walking conspire to leave me feeling drowsy. Not being fond of retracing my steps, I head out along the western road from the village, to patiently cross the burrel and burl of the A43 dual carriageway. The road I follow is straight: could this be an old Roman road? I don’t enjoy walking along here, as occasional cars speed from behind, forcing me to jump into the verge. But soon I come across the gap in the hedge that signifies the start of the path I have chosen to follow. I say ‘gap’, but it’s more of a thinning: spindly hawthorn attempting to reach through the opening, as though to say: “use it, or we take it back”.

* * *

I have become accustomed to follow helpful waymarkers so far, but this path offers no such luxury. My map doesn’t seem to match the terrain I see ahead, so I make my own way. Behind a farm, with wrecked cars in the field, I wonder: “will the landowner be angry at my prescence? Will he or she see my wandering as an act of wilful trespass?” But really, the fuzz of the beer is numbing these concerns. I get a wave of excitement at this tiny deed of impromptu wayfinding, and think momentarily about Kinder Scout, and how I am walking in the metophorical footsteps of those pioneers. But soon I am away from buildings and potential eyes, and such wistful notions vanish.20140416-0046

Brackley can be spotted again now, on its eversoslightly elevated aspect. My brother links the ‘ley’ suffix to ley lines, while Tom Chivers in his Antidote to Indifference/Island Review essay points out that ‘ey’ is a suffix used for islands, particularly is Sussex. Both fanciful notions, in relation to Brackley, but it brings a smile nonetheless.

Another former road-cum-path and to Saint James’s Lake. I have been walking for hours and my first step back into Brackley is named in honour of St James! I enjoy the aptness of this moment, and read an information board. I am jolted back to the memory of the graffiti earlier: this lake is on the site of two small ponds dug for Brackley Castle (though the lake’s now relatively large size is to attenuate flooding at a nearby housing development).

So Where Brackley Castle? Near here! The castle is no more, this much I know, but as I rise away from lake through 60s and 70s housing, I see a road name: Castle Mount. A small mound, topped with blossoming cherry trees. Could this modest bump be the site of the castle? I see nothing else that lends itself as well this, and besides I’m tired. In my mind, I have found Brackley Castle, and the tagger’s query can be put to rest.

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Impression: Afternoon to Gloaming

Today, Aberdeen was blessed with something of a summery day: what will surely be the last sun-and-warmth day of the year. Passing the digital thermometer display at the oil careers office, I was informed that the temperature was 20C. Wikipedia says the average temperature in July is 18.3C, while the highest temperature ever recorded was just shy of 30C. For temperatures to apparently reach 20C in October is quite the achievement: especially considering there was a big snowfall this time last year!

Buoyed by the conditions and soft sun, I decided to take the long route home from work. I work near the beach, so I first set off for the old village of Footdee (pronounced Fittie), so to follow the coast north, from the mouth of the Dee to the mouth of the Don. The tide is in as I start walking. I first start on the tarmac path on the top of the sea wall, and am quickly mesmerised by the waves crashing into the concrete. But these swells and troughs are not the rhythmic breathing of a sea (which have been conveyed superbly by Fife Psychogeographical Collective); these are intermittent, unpredictable. I see the water rising up, and approaching fast, but not always breaking and creeping up the sand. When the waves do break, they crash loudly into a concrete groyne, and I stand mesmerised for some fifteen minutes, as I lean against the wooden fence on the path. I think about what causes this sound and remember watching the extraordinary BBC documentary The Secret Life of Waves.

Mindful of the time, I start to walk. But this tarmac path is too far from the beach. I climb down the steps to the sand and take off my shoes and let the cold foamy water cover my feet. It seemed to be a summery day, but some things give away the autumnal time of year. For one thing, the light has already started to fade. Another: the skenes of geese as they hohn hohn hohn overhead. They are coming from the north-northeast, and I wonder if they are from Shetland, Orkney or even Scandinavia. The amusement park with its rollercoaster and big wheel are also closed for winter, with flocks of birds fly around and through the closed rides.

Hardly anyone is on the beach. Despite the warm sunny day, few people make it down the steps to the shingle-and-sand, although there are more people on the path above. Out to sea I can see gunmetal grey clouds. In the distance, squally showers, that never touch land. There are multiple ships out on the water too, mostly taking heavy equipment to the rigs, as well as a passenger vessel heading north, presumably to the Northern Isles. But I’m not drawn to these long views. My attention keeps coming back to the beach and its pebbles, to the foreshore and the bobbing gulls, and those crashing waves. I notice the changing colour of the water. Out to sea it’s deep grey, much like the clouds above. As it approaches the shore, a water green, and finally, golden-brown as the sand is swirled and swept up.

As I approach Donmouth, the light has dropped considerably; all that remains is a darkened walk along the river’s bank and home. And I smile as I do so, thinking of this final fine walk this side of next Easter.

Donmouth to North Sea, Aberdeen

Donmouth to North Sea, Aberdeen

Pentlands’ water

The Pentland Hills are many things. Destination for walking and other leisure time pursuits. ‘Working’ [sic] landscape for sheep and cattle rearing. Playground for gun-happy soldiers. It is also the key water supply for Edinburgh and urban centres to its east; like the Welsh hills to Birmingham, or the Lake District to areas to its south. That the Pentland reservoirs form such a significant part of its landscape is not up for dispute. But when it comes to Pentland water, what is there? What about other water, beyond the lochs? What of the reservoirs themselves?

Scarred Tree. A spider’s web protects the tiny water pool within. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Tree Ruin. An altogether more filthy tree-pool. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Where water industry becomes cultural heritage. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Water Over Water. Water supply versus river flow. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

One-Time Waterfall. Overflow from Glencorse Reservoir. Water supply engineering projects for Edinburgh mean this waterfall is no longer needed, as the water level in the reservoirs drops. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Abandoned Waterfall Pool. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Waterfall Reflection. Perhaps the waterfall will be served once engineering works are completed? Should it be? Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Waterfall Detail. Dried pleats of algae, or guano? Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Outflowing Stream. So recently abandoned plants are yet to recolonise. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Damn View. Glencorse Reservoir. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Reservoir Overflow with Submerged Wall. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Loganlea Reservoir Damn. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Not Just Water Supply. Fishing on Loganlea. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Sediment Revealed by Dropped Water Level. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Dual Reserve. Nature + water reservoir. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Boggy Thicket. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape