This month Paula has given us 5 words to spark our photographic imaginations: dawning, condensed, coalescing, verdant and sempiternal. This skyscape view from our house on Wenlock Edge says everlasting (sempiternal) to me, though that could be wishful thinking on my part – to think the world as I know it will always remain the same. I think, with the different cloud formations, this image also covers condensed and coalescing. No hidden verdant though, for this is a winter scene – the big bare ash tree in the corner of the allotment. And it was definitely taken at sunset and not at dawn.
I often snap this view before I dive through the gap in the field hedge and into the allotment. I’ve said before how fascinated I am by the movement of weather beyond the brow of the hill. Sometimes I think it looks as unreal as a theatre backdrop, and especially so on blue-sky days. But as I am writing this, the sky is leaden, and the air full of chaff from the combine harvester as it thunders up and down the hill. Farm machinery these days is so over-sized and overbearing, the wheat cut and threshed in one process. The whole field will be cleared in an hour.
Anyway, that’s beside the point. This is an exercise in photo-editing, courtesy of Paula at Black & White Sunday. This week she asks us to show her a colour photo that has been transformed into monochrome – and ‘after and before’. Below is the original:
Please visit Paula at the link above for more afters and befores.
You can see why this part of Shropshire falls within an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These shots were taken on the viewpoint just past Hilltop on Wenlock Edge and I’m looking south-west towards the Shropshire Hills. You can see, too, why poet, A E Housman called them ‘blue remembered hills’. They seem like a memory even if you have never clapped eyes on them before.
And so when presented with the kind of blissful panoramic views that the Edge provides, it is tempting to try to capture all of it. And that usually does not work, not unless the light is perfect, and your photographic skills are considerably greater than mine. Even this landscape view is only a small segment of the 180 degree vista. I chose it because I liked the visual flow of man-made fields towards the grassy uplands, and the here-and-there accents of hedgerow and woodland; the many shades of green. Also, despite the millennia of human intervention here, you can still discern the landscape’s natural rhythms beneath the pastoral surface.
It’s a soothing scene to look AT. But the portrait version, I feel, is doing something rather different. It invites you into the landscape as if stepping through a door; it is therefore more actively affecting. Just my thoughts anyway. Also a thank you to Paula for stirring us up to think about the different effects of landscape and portrait composition.
A week ago the wilderness garden behind our house was all columbines. They went to seed very quickly and now it’s the foxgloves’ turn – along with the Dame’s Violets and the slender spires of purple toadflax. All self-sown and grown. I’m rather taken with the foxglove on the right, the one with creamy lips. I must remember to collect some seed, though there’s no knowing how its offspring will turn out.
The white foxgloves are lovely too. They have lime green speckles inside each flower.
And finally a view looking out over the garden wall as the sun goes down over Wenlock Edge.
Here in the small English Midlands town of Much Wenlock, we live in the lea of an upthrust ancient sea. (I may have mentioned this once or several times before). As I took this photo I was standing on the petrified flanks of Wenlock Edge – the compacted deposits of shallow tropical waters that teemed with giant sea scorpions, sea lilies, corals, trilobites and all manner of brachiopods in the long ago age before fish, or indeed, before life as we know it.
In fact, as the photo well shows, we sit in a bowl, lodged between several folds in the landscape. It is a place of naturally rising springs, which is probably why St. Milburga’s family of Saxon Mercian princes founded an abbey here in the seventh century: pure water and the presumption of godliness going hand in hand. The town also has several other holy wells besides those associated with Milburga. It seems to have been the equivalent of a calling card. Every saint who visited Much Wenlock left us a well to remember them by. Then in the 1930s the good burghers of Wenlock decided they were a risk to physical well being and had them all capped.
Milburga’s Well, though, had especially enduring powers. As I have also mentioned before, the legends that tell of the life of this Paris-educated abbess, are routinely associated with springs bursting hither and thither. In fact so potent is her association with pure water sources that even in the late nineteenth century, rain collected from the roof of the parish church – a building founded on the remains of Milburga’s abbey, was still considered to be an essential ingredient for beer brewing (never mind the additional mossy deposits). Likewise, water from the actual well was absolutely expected to cure all manner of eye disorders, as well as reflecting in its glassy surface the identity of husbands-to-be to the lovelorn Wenlock lasses who, come May Day, would rush to look there for signs of their future partners.
Anyway, I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that there are certainly great disadvantages to living your life in a hollow. It can limit your vistas in every sense. But there are advantages too. In our case it also means that whichever way you strike out of the town, you are always in for a fresh horizon. In every direction we have them; one for every moment of the day. So here are some of my favourites.
In June to the south of the town we had an outbreak of poppies. It was stupendous:
Then in late summer, standing at the southerly end of the town, among the wheat fields and looking north, I discovered this fine view of the Wrekin. Some trick of the light/perspective/geography has made it seem extraordinarily looming and close:
When it comes to the other quarters, if walk from the town centre, in an easterly direction, down the Bull Ring and out past the ruins of the 12th century Cluniac Priory, you will find the once monastic parkland where the Prior went hunting before the place was asset-stripped and sold off to Henry VIII’s faithful servants, and thereafter to generations of would-be gentry. This photo was taken a few days ago. A winter’s view then:
And then looking east from the north end of the town – this time from Windmill Hill:
Also there are the ever-changing westerly false-horizons as seen from our house that backs on to the foothills of Wenlock Edge:
Finally, if you leave the town and climb on to Wenlock Edge itself, and if you can find a suitable gap in the trees, you can look west across Shropshire and towards the Welsh borderland:
And the reason why I’m posting all these views?
Well, this week the WordPress photo challenge invites us to pre-empt the New Year making of resolutions and post a photo impression of what that resolution might be, or if not a resolution, then of some envisaged new horizon; to look ahead beyond life’s present busyness.
This made me consider my own horizon-watching habit, which daily fills me with a sense of wonder.(For one thing I am very lucky to have the time to do it at all – a luxury of luxuries). It is a form of day-dreaming, or watchful meditation and a good way to rest a racing mind. I also enjoy posting views of my homeland landscapes because I believe we cannot love the world too much. But I’m wondering, too, if we don’t do altogether too much ‘looking ahead’, ‘looking for more/the next/the new.’
The fresh horizons we may be seeking are not really OUT THERE. “Look within to the universal self.” Inside each of us, that’s where all the work needs to be done if we want to see real change. I know I can change myself, though I recognise that I might need some assistance. I also know that I definitely cannot change others, much as I might wish to in these times when too many people appear to define their identities through their fear, envy and hatred of others. If anyone ever wants to know where hell is, then it is there.
copyright 2016 Tish Farrell
Last week I took you on a walk along Wenlock Edge behind our house, and talked about the melting ice fields of the last Ice Age (around 15,000 years ago), and how the River Severn that once flowed north, started to back up against the limestone ridge of Wenlock Edge and so formed Lake Lapworth. And then I said how the expanding melt waters worked their way through the rock wall, and so formed the Severn Gorge, and at the same time created a whole new southerly course for Britain’s longest river. Well, this is where it all happened – at the northerly end of Wenlock Edge.
Off to the left of the photo, and out of shot, is the old Ironbridge Power Station. It’s coming up next in a ‘zoomed in’ shot.
The power station stands on the riverbank at the entrance of the Gorge, and below Benthall Edge, and thus marks the spot where the Severn first headed south. And just to orientate you further, dead ahead to the left of the power station is Ironbridge and Coalbrookdale, and to the right, and below the power station is the road to Much Wenlock. You can just see the house roofs along it. Benthall Edge is thus a southerly spur striking off from Wenlock Edge.
Like Wenlock Edge, Benthall Edge is also composed of limestone strata formed around 400 million years ago when both Edges were part of the Silurian Sea. From the early 1200s the monks of nearby Buildwas Abbey had the rights from Lord Benthall to quarry the limestone, which they burned in kilns to make fertilizer for their farm fields, and lime mortar for building. They also cropped the woodland along Benthall Edge to make charcoal.
In later centuries the Benthall limestone was used in local blast furnaces, tipped in with ironstone, and when fired, acted as a flux which drew impurities from the metal. This was tapped off as slag, and the resulting molten iron cast into ‘pigs’ on the furnace floor. The pig iron was then shipped on to the forge to be worked further into wrought iron, a more durable product than cast iron, which has a tendency to fracture. So now, if you can picture it, see that little stretch of the Gorge by the power station thick with sulphurous smoke, and hear the whole place banging and clanging with forge hammers.
These days Benthall Edge is a tranquil place of hanging woodland and winding paths, although you can still spot the remains of old quarries among the trees. The ‘Lime Trail’ information leaflet of the Severn Gorge Countryside Trust provides an extraordinary statistic about the quarrying. It says that over a period of 750 years an estimated 1.2 million cubic metres of limestone was removed from the Edge. So there we have it: landscape formed both by human and natural agencies – though I’m wondering how that piece of man-made intervention was calculated.
But now to get back to the other feature of note at this spot – the River Severn’s meanders between the villages of Buildwas and Leighton.
I’ve not really done it justice, this looping riverscape formed by silting on the one hand, and erosion on the other; an oxbow lake in the making. I think I probably needed to climb a tree to achieve a better panorama:
It is of course a favourite viewpoint for geography fieldtrippers, and a very fine place to linger, although not for too long on a winter’s afternoon, however bright and beautiful.
As we headed home, the December sun was lighting up cascades of Old Man’s Beard along the roadside; the trailing seed heads of wild clematis making their own festive streamers. Caught here through the car windscreen. (I wasn’t driving).
Today was a golden day – not a breath of air and the landscape lit up by the oak trees that still have their leaves. Here are some glimpses, then, of my corner of Shropshire on a late November afternoon.
If I stand on the bed in my office, I can open the roof-light and place my digital camera on the glass. It makes for some quite interesting twilight effects, and means I can use zoom and more zoom – i.e. as in playing, not writing. But then all writers/creators need to do lots of playing: it’s all part of nourishing the imagination. The knack, of course, is knowing when to stop, and get down to some hard graft. Not today, I’m afraid.
This Thursday at Lost in Translation Paula asks for twilight, and who are we to refuse her.