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Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts tagged with ‘countryside’

Photo post of the week

Into the woods

If you have a day to spare at the tail end of autumn, and the weather is all damp and misty, what better to do than go for a walk in the woods? In this case, a Forestry England wood just outside Failand, Ashton Hill Plantation. At its centre is a stand of sequoias, looking suitably mysterious in the mist. For a moment you can start to imagine you’re in some sort of supernatural horror-mystery filmed in Washington State.

Grove of sequoias

In the shelter

However, brief glimpses of the rolling landscape outside the woods, showing off the traditional English fear of outsiders, soon remind you where you are.

Keep out

Near the edge of the wood is a fairy tree, naturally beloved by The Child Who Likes Fairies, decorated with several tiny doors and various garlands and trimmings round its base. Further up, I noticed at adult head height, something that seemed much deeper, speaking directly to the fairies themselves, not there to entertain children.

Corn dolly

A corn dolly pinned to the tree with a baby’s teething toy. Some sort of offering; some sort of old ritual; maybe some sort of prayer.

Summer railway

In which we have a trip out by train

Never mind “Spring Bank Holiday”: it’s June, and it feels like it’s summer already: last weekend, we had a day at the beach, and both ended up horribly sunburned. As shorts aren’t an option for work, I winced every time I moved my legs. Yesterday: a bank holiday weekend, and beautiful sunshine again, so we went off for a cream tea and a steam train ride.

The footplate of a steam locomotive on a summer’s day is a horribly hot and airless place to be. Nevertheless, riding behind a steam engine seems like such a naturally summery thing to do. So we travelled down to the South Devon Railway,* for a day’s relaxation sitting in railway carriages and watching trains go past.

The South Devon Railway is, as steam railways go, an unusually scenic one. Being in Devon it’s surrounded by lush, verdant countryside; it follows the River Dart down from Buckfastleigh, past rough, rocky rapids; weirs and once-busy mill-races; finally alongside the more placid deeper, lower stretches of the river, down to its tidal weir just by Totnes station. It doesn’t take much effort for a train to trundle downriver; as we sat in the front carriage with the windows open, we could hear the locomotive clanking its way down the valley with barely any steam on, the vacuum pump making a light chiff noise for each revolution of the wheels. Every so often, a gentle touch of speed was needed, and we heard the deeper huffhuffhuffhuff of the cylinders, four huffs to each vacuum pump chiff. We passed sleepy red cattle, wading fishermen, and groups of wading photographers standing on mid-river rocks to take photos of the passing train.

Country trains often ramble a little, and pause unexpectedly. Midway along the line, we halted in a loop, and waited quietly for another train to pass. Other passengers, not used to this sort of thing, looked around and wondered what the problem was. We were too far away from the signalbox to hear the block bells chiming; but we could hear the rattle of the signal wires as the signals for the down train were pulled off, then we watched it slowly chuff past us before we started on our way again.

This is not Photo Post Of The Week, incidentally. That’s because the photos below aren’t ones I took yesterday; as usual, my photo uploads are far too backlogged for that. These, though, are from the last time I visited the South Devon Railway, about three years ago. The fixed stop signal has been repainted since, but not much else has changed.

Buckfastleigh station

Watering an engine whilst rounding the train

GWR tablet catcher, Buckfastleigh

* Things it is important not to confuse pt. 373: the South Devon Railway, the line from Exeter to Plymouth designed by Brunel, opened in the 1840s, and bought out by the Great Western Railway in the 1870s; with the South Devon Railway, the heritage railway formed in the early 1990s to take over the Dart Valley Railway’s tourist line from Totnes to Buckfastleigh and turn it from a business-oriented tourist attraction into a more charitably-run steam railway. You may spot a problem of similarity with the names there.

Photo Post Of The Week

In which we have history in words, and archaeology in pictures

Over on the bookshelves – but not the bookshelf I talked about the othe day – is an interesting little local book by an artist called Cleo Broda. It’s called Symes Avenue: Building On The Past, and it’s about the rebuilding of the centre of Hartcliffe, and the ways in which public art was involved in the rebuilding; particularly, community art which celebrates the area’s history.*

Hartcliffe doesn’t have a particularly long history as a residential centre in its own right: it was built from scratch in the 1950s and in many ways was and is a typical 1950s council housing estate. Shiny and sparkling for the first few years, the first decade even, it decayed. By the time the term “social exclusion” came along, Hartcliffe was a prime example; so the 2000s plan to knock down the old, mostly boarded up shopping street and replace it with a new supermarket and community centre was definitely a Good Thing. The book concentrates on efforts to preserve memories of the estate, record oral histories of its origins, and generally recapture the optimism felt when it was first founded.

Quotes from the oral histories collected during the project fill the cover of the book. Reading through them, I noticed one in particular:

The stone circles at Stanton Drew are three miles from here as the crow flies

I’d heard of Stanton Drew, at some point in my education. And I knew that Hartcliffe was right out at the edge of the countryside. So – look, I’m finally getting to the point – one day, we went out there. To take photos of the stones.

Standing stone, Stanton Drew

Tree, Stanton Drew

Recumbent stone, Stanton Drew

Standing stones, Stanton Drew

Standing stone, Stanton Drew

Standing stones, Stanton Drew

Speed

In which we drive sensibly

People round here often say: ooh, I don’t like going down to London. I’d hate to drive down there. It’s terrible. It’s so bad to drive around London. All the drivers round there are such bad drivers.

And I say: “hah”. Because I’ve driven round London,* and not had any problems with other people’s driving. I’ve driven round here – a lot more, obviously – and I can hardly go on a car trip without something making me go: “what the hell are they doing?”

In the past 24 hours I’ve driven about 25 miles in total. In that time I’ve had four people overtake me because they’ve thought I’ve been driving too slowly. That is: I’ve been driving at 60mph, on a narrow twisty country road. I drive at 60mph down it, because I know it well; I know where the bends are, where my lines of sight are, and how fast I can go and still be able to stop on sight. And I get overtaken by people zooming past me at 90-ish. On the road past the office, which is an urban road, I drive down it at 30mph and get overtaken by people doing about 50.

Now, no doubt these people would claim they’re very good drivers, and therefore it’s entirely safe for them to drive like that. This is, frankly, bollocks. It’s never safe to drive at 90mph down a twisty country road with a couple of farms along it. These people are living proof of the Dunning-Kruger effect: the more incompetent a person is, the more likely they are to overestimate their skill.

That’s fine when it involves things that don’t concern me. But when I’m driving to work every day, and meeting these idiots every few miles, it bothers me. I don’t want to end up in a ditch, because of your rudeness, idiocy, or misjudgement. If you pass me at 90mph, keep on going – because when you impale yourself on a 20mph ploughshare in half a mile, I want to have plenty of distance between us.

* although no further in than Zone 2; Mile End or Clapham Junction

Landscape

In which people rarely realise just how man-made our countryside is

On the radio this morning, in between interminable political stuff: a piece about conservation, and particularly about conserving a hay meadow near Cambridge. I’m not sure what was particularly important about this specific meadow – I was too busy driving to listen properly – but I did pick up the presenter waffling on about the natural landscape.

The meadow is next to a major road. “You can hear the traffic on the A14 behind me,” the presenter said, “showing just how we’re encroaching on natural landscapes like this.”

Which is utter and complete nonsense! A meadow is, frankly, about as unnatural a landscape as you can get. It’s entirely as unnatural as, say, Langham Place in central London. I’m glad the conservationist she was interviewing didn’t agree; presumably he knew better. There is a general impression people have, that if we let the land revert to a “natural landscape”, it would end up looking something like a Constable painting; it’s entirely false, and that’s exactly why landscapes such as traditional hay meadows have to be carefully managed if we want to preserve them.

Village idiot

In which we try to escape from the yokels

Off on another kissogram-escorting job last weekend. We had a booking in Marthwaite Hill, a little village overlooking Wooldale.

When I was younger, I had one particular type of recurring dream which I found slightly disturbing. It would involve setting off on a journey but never reaching the destination, because the road would get narrower and I’d get more and more lost as the dream went on. And that’s pretty much what reaching Marthwaite Hill is like. We turned off the main road, onto a country lane which went up into the moors, twisting and forking, until eventually we reached a little cluster of houses lodged on the edge of a high hill,* with half the county spread out below.

We trundled slowly up and down the village street – there is only one – looking for the Working Men’s Club. We passed a reasonable-looking pub, and approached a run-down looking building with a small patch of rocky wasteground for a car park. “I hope that’s not it,” said Kissogram Girl.

That was, of course, it.

We were supposedly there for a stag do – but the lad in question looked to be about fifteen. There was no sort of party going on, as far as you would notice, just a typical crowd of people drinking and playing pool. The lad was a drunken tosser, who wouldn’t do what he was told. The crowd wasn’t impressed by the performance, either. “Can I have a word, mate,” one of them said to me. “Is that all we get? Is that all we get for what we paid? Is that it? We’re expecting a bit more than that, mate.”

“Sorry, mate,” I said, trying to work out how many of them were between us and the door, “we don’t set the price.” He tried to get some more of the crowd interested in arguing with me, but fortunately none of them felt like starting anything. We stalked out of the building as quickly as we could, without trying to make it look obvious, hoping like hell that none of them followed us back to the car. And we didn’t look back, just headed straight back to the A-road and didn’t look back until we’d returned to civilisation.

* I checked on an OS map later – the village is on the 1200ft contour