The Ammil

The Ammil

Above – detail from The Ammil, text works in progress, entitled Site Composites, a study of landscape elements,  B G Nichols, Place Editions. Text sourced from A Perambulation of Dartmoor, by Samuel Rowe, 1848. Revised and reprinted 1896.

Ammil, from old English ammel, meaning “enamel”

Rowe commented on the singular appearance of a spectacular ammil event in January 1868 that covered the length and breadth of Dartmoor, and it was quickly announced by moor-folk that “the ammil was on”. The only known document of this event was written by Mr J N Bennet of Archeton-

“..the ammil continued for two days and two nights. The effect of the sun shining upon this coating of ice, every point on which the eye could rest, giving forth prismatic colours, dancing and sparkling in the breeze, was beautiful beyond all description. A holly tree, between Princetown and Tor Royal, full of leaves and berries, was an object of wonder and delight to all who saw it..”

Probably the most famous ammil was that of March 1947 which has become known as ‘The Great Ammil’ which is described in Harvey’s and St. Ledger Gordon’s book – Dartmoor, p.199:

For two months white Winter had allowed his artistry full scope, as displayed in fantastic snowdrifts and frozen waterways, but the climax came with light rain, falling with the thermometer well below freezing point. Every bush, tree, sprig of heather, bracken frond or reed, every rail or post, each inanimate object, was sheathed in ice as though in a glass case… The tors, usually stern and grey, now stood like mighty glaciers, towering above a tumbled sea of crystal. Under the cold bright sunshine, each wooded combe of the foothills was a shining wonderland where great trees stood, as if rough-carved in ice, and nothing seemed alive or real but the chill wind which rattled the branches and now and again brought an over-weighted bough crashing down to snow level with a roar like falling masonry.”









LEAF ASCENDING, New text works 2015



The central vein

the swollen base

a secondary axis

the proximal portion

paired scales, spines, glands

a separate blade

embryonic shoot

united by filaments

adnation of stamens

anthers connected

a whorl of carpels

the cavities located

an additional structure

an umbel, a corymb

meeting along the margins

an inflorescence

Anemophilus – wind pollinated

accessory structures

describing the arrangement

Immersed, indehiscent

opening at maturity

growth ascending

falling away after its function is completed

bending downward

of two different forms

occuring on the ground

living in rivers or streams

flowering before the leaves emerge

like a rosette

growth patterns

roots that form another

accessory buds

cork, phloem, vascular cambium


distinctive stem


spaces between nodes

an extenstion of the cortex


terminal scale bud scar

a strand of wooded fibres

Blade see lamina

calyx persistent


Copyright BG Nichols 2015 – word-assemblage, sourced from selected publications relating to plant morphology. From a series of new text works, commencing August 2015

I recently completed reading “What a Plant Knows”, by Daniel Chamovitz, Oneworld Books, 2013. This provided the impetus for me to think in a new way about plants. We perhaps barely comprehend the mechanisms that allow them to follow sunlight, eat insects, respond to sounds, feel pain, how they locate themselves, how they remember, how they respond to the seasons. It became obvious to me that plants have more in common with us than we could possibly imagine. The line of separation between species is finer than ever.  This world beyond our normal perception is at once revelatory, visionary, arresting, and thought provoking. With that very much at the forefront of my mind, I began exploring and experimenting with text, not as a poetic response, rather a more arbitrary, stochastic, impressionistic prose. A field of images, flashes, word -trails, which might endlessly combine, and coalesce, a gathering of energies – text as alchemy, word as DNA, a discursive summoning of new forms.

” It appears to me that certain attributes of mind, as it occurs in Man, are common to plants…”

William Lauder Lindsay, 1876

“..the oaks and pines, and their brethren of the wood, have seen so many suns rise and set, so many seasons come and go, and so many generations pass into silence, that we may well wonder what ‘the story of the trees’ would be to us, if they had tongues to tell it, or we ears fine enough to understand..”

Maud van Buren – Quotations from special occasions


















“….Over the last few years, my increasing interaction with ancient and archaic stones, structures and stone objects, led me to ponder whether my long term general interest in the mythology and folklore attached to stone, and its place in human experience might be explored through the prism of a putative “Lithic Memory”….”

“…In setting out to research selected written and anecdotal records relating to our intimate relationship with stone, it became increasingly obvious that the magical, religious and folkloric power of stone is inextricably linked to the presence of the observer, and subsequently to the human perceptual mechanism.  This centres around interesting questions arising from human perception of subtle energies believed to reside within stone,  and the role of stone in the core functions of many ancient (and modern) societies which appear to depend upon such perceptions…”

“…It would not be beyond the realms of scientific reason to recognise that stone, at varying levels of complexity, possesses electronic properties, which may or may not give it the ability to store information, and therefore possess a form of “lithic memory.” Further research into the energetic properties of stone, and it’s ability to “record”;  to literally store echoes of past events, and subsequently to act as a focus for expressions of sanctity, began to accumulate as a murky synthesis of solid state physics, mythology, and psychology…”

“…Lithic, can therefore be viewed as an artistic/poetic/exploratory questioning of the nature of our relationship with stone, focussed upon arcane or archaic monoliths, walls, objects and monuments, and how this “lithic memory” might potentially be decoded and interpreted…”

“…Perhaps the reason that I’m drawn to the lost, forgotten, neglected, ignored and abandoned, [apart from a certain dark, melancholic aesthetic conjured from memory and loss], is that these places act powerfully on the imagination. I see the capturing of images, and coalescent sense impressions as acts of retrieval. My work is most often a futile attempt at reconstructing a half-imagined past, breathing life into that which is inert, giving voice to that which maintains enigmatic silence, re-enchanting that which has fallen by the wayside, obscured,  and mundane….”

“…People talk of “ancient stones” and their associated power, but surely all stone, by it’s very nature, is ancient? Are the stones that line the mountains and valleys not as mysterious, as powerful as those hewn and set down by ancient man?  Perhaps the frequent ritualised interaction of man and stone imbues the stone with some other, hitherto indescribable energy..the life-force of the genius loci? ..”

“…Having visited many ancient, sacred or significant sites, it is interesting to note that for many people, initial contact with such places is tactile. There is something innate that compels us to touch stones, to feel a vibration, a revenant perhaps, or simply to tangibly connect with that which has passed through the centuries?  This is not hard science, and makes no claims at scientific rigour. For me, this is a form of divination, dowsing, something approaching the poetic and impressionistic, listening to the voices within, and trusting the intuitive, the instinctual, and allowing it to flow and permeate the work…”

“..Doesn’t stone, possessed of longevity, endurance, durability, bear all of the outflowings of our creative imagination? Aside from pure utility, as waymarker, grave marker, the ceremonial, the monumental, the sacred;  stone has also been the canvas upon which the first and last humans will scratch, daub, etch, chisel, and imprint their potent imaginings, preserved in perpetuity…”

All text excerpts from “Lithic”, some selections have been edited and reduced, and are therefore not representative of final copy.

copyright B G Nichols, Place Editions 2015










Frosted and fissured rock faces, Iceland, 2011, Lanzarote 2012

I have, for many years been photographing old walls, fascinated by their patina, intrigued by the narratives that can be constructed or intuited from patterns of erosion, decay, graffiti etc. More recently, I have photographed the crumbling walls of old churches (As Above), and the old obelisk near to my home, and the ancient standing stones at Arbor Low. On our numerous travels, myself and my wife have been subconsciously drawn to volcanic areas such as Iceland, Lanzarote, Santorini, and have trodden paths and caverns that many have followed into areas of volcanic activity, volcanoes being to a great extent, the birthing place of stone.Sepia Wall Detail Door Patina Treated

 Aging  and Graffitied walls at Delapre Abbey, Northampton

Whether consciously or not, I have accumulated a body of photographs that intimately describe a personal relationship with stone. Stone is elemental, monumental, perpetual, mythic, sacred. It is embedded into our existence, a universal constant in the form of walls, paths, highways, grave markers, way markers, sculpture, jewellery, and so much more.


I have recently re-read an old book by Don Robbins, “The Secret Language of Stone”, in which he argues compellingly that stone has within it the capacity to “record”, or “store” fragments of conversation into it’s crystalline lattice, and that stone inherently accumulates, and transmits psychic information. Given that stone, crystal, and it’s derivatives have properties conducive to the storing of memory in computers ( the word “silicon” has etymological roots in the Greek word silex – hard stone or flint), then it would take no great leap of the imagination to assume that this might at least in principle, be possible.


Robins’ argument cycles through a variety of scientific explanations, which eventually evaporate towards the end of the book, and leave me with the impression that at best, this is still only conjecture, rather than a well constructed scientific theory. The book itself was consigned to the now somewhat pejorative ranks of New Age thought and belief, and Robins’ theory became outmoded and forgotten.

The wall as palimpsest

Archaic graffiti on the old obelisk at Obelisk Rise, Northampton. This obelisk was built in 1764 by Lord Stafford of Boughton Manor, in memory of the then Duke of Devonshire

Something of Robins’ notion, for me still clings though, if only poetically. If stone has the capacity to subjectively record fragments of conversation, how might it do this? How would it actively select, or de-select those fragments? Would there have to be a particular frequency of voice or sound that it sympathetically resonates with? Would voices have to be loud, violent, or simply more dramatic and imposing? And how would it “play” these fragments back, and under what conditions? How much memory would it have, given that the majority of stones have existed for many millennia, and must have been exposed to millions of frequencies and conversations? This inner questioning throws up so many questions, but so many possibilities, and potentials for me as an artist.


On our recent visit to Arbor Low, and from previous experiences with ancient monuments, I have often noted that one of the primary human impulses on being confronted with these monoliths is through touch. We seem to be inexorably compelled to make tactile contact with ancient stones and monuments. At Arbor Low, I observed a woman and her husband caressing the recumbent stones, and “hugging” some in a way that arguably exhibited the desire for intimate contact with the ancient past. Perhaps there is that need within all of us, to re-connect with our past, to re-establish pathways and bonds with our forefathers?

During most of my encounters with the ancient past, whether it be in built form, or in the form of caves, caverns,rock faces, volcanoes, grave markers etc, I have also felt compelled to intuit or imagine the activities, conversations, and lifestyle imprinted by their occupants,  Perhaps this “Lithic Memory” is hard -wired into all of us, if only we knew how to summon it from within the stones themselves?