In Autumn, the tide of bracken on the fells recedes, revealing a scattered Atlantis of forgotten walls, enclosures, and tumbledown buildings from long ago. Over there is a wall built by a landowner to protect his investment in Larch, never realised; here the remains of a small hut, perhaps for a shepherd, caught out at nightfall. In Summer, when the holidaymakers arrive in numbers, and the bracken grows tall, these modest ruins are submerged again. Only the sheep and deer venture into the green shallows. (The bracken is unpleasant against human skin, and besides, is infested with ticks.) I imagine the men who built these walls sleeping out on the fells; their backs stooped, hands toughened by the coarse stones that declare someone else’s ownership. Now these old structures have become sunken reefs, soft with moss, daubed with lichen; alive with birds, insects, delicate lizards. Returning from the stand of pines where I have been taking photographs, I follow a track from a badger sett to where it joins the path that is on the map. The track is strewn with hidden stones from ancient boundary lines. I stumble down the slope to the surface of the world.
Autumn, 2018. Sometimes a landscape can be on a small scale.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the effects of erosion—by water and feet—on the landscape, and have been paying attention to the residual signs left behind. In the case of this photograph, taken near Ambleside after storm “Callum” in October, rapidly flowing flood waters have pressed the grass flat, almost tearing it up by the roots. Of course these effects are short-lived—the grass will soon stand up again—but they are a record of immense force.
I’ve been working on a project about the River Rothay in the Lake District for a few years now, and it’s gradually taking shape. More information is here.
It is only when you walk around arable land a lot that you really see how industrialised and unnatural much of the countryside has become; there isn’t much room for nature here. This land is very wet, so there are deep drainage ditches and square ponds like this one dotted around among the fields. I took this picture in early October 2018, just as the leaves were starting to fall from the trees. The farmer had recently dredged this pond, and cleared the ditch that drains into it, chopping down, or grubbing out, many small trees in the process. For some reason, this dead tree was left untouched.
When you get up early enough on a summer morning to see the sun sideways through the trees, and the mist still rising from the river, it feels for the rest of the day as if you have been let in on a secret. This is the river Rothay from the stepping stones, at about 6.30am.