Flag Fen Incantation

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Flag Fen Incantation

 

They might have lived damp, hungry, helpless lives

iron working;  dark relations

the first sight of rippled water

its majestic

windbitten substance

secreted in guttered, sombre levels

 

flatland

 

where earth meets sky, where land meets water

elementally conjoined

 

a scatter of stones, or grit

turf roof, bracken home

barren squall

 

owl-haunted paths

offerings –

one for the ring, a tie that binds two

one for the sword, broken in flight

one for the spear, piercing the heart

one for the bowl, for herbs and for life

shell necklace

hairpin

rapier

brooch

bead

skeletal bone

silently bequeathed to the waters,

an eternal reliquary

for corn

for hedge

for sallow

for sedge

for oak

for alder

for peat

for sunken mere

for oaken pier

for restless souls in time’s flight

 

 

Texts & Photography, BGN/ Eijls 2016

 

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Flag Fen, funerary landscape?

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The Preservation Hall at Flag Fen, Cambridgeshire houses a moment frozen in time, the carbonised remnants of an ancient Bronze Age walkway, or causeway consisting of some 60,000 or more timbers that extend for more than a kilometre. The hall only presents a preciously small, excavated section of the walkway, the rest remains enigmatically buried beneath the site and some of its buildings, which have been engineered to “float” above the timbers on a synthetic membrane, in order to protect them for future archaeologists to unearth. The timbers are maintained in damp, artificially “misted” conditions in order to preserve them, and protect them from shrinkage and cracking. Most fascinating of all are the artefacts recovered from deep within the ancient waters, and paleochannels surrounding the site, consisting mostly of shards of bones, horse mandible, pottery, and more significantly broken swords, small pins, brooches,  and shale bracelets, and even the earliest recorded wooden wheel in Europe.

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Something magical, elemental, intangible permeates these finds, the significance of which is only barely discernible. There is an element of ritual here, of earth magic. These perhaps propitiatory, votive offerings which litter the site, indicate that this community consisted of so much more than a simple, agrarian culture. Moreover, the walkway presents itself simply as that, a wooden trackway that people and livestock could easily negotiate. A line of connection,  suspended above this often flooded landscape. It is interrupted by a small wooden “island”, the whole structure consisting of ‘thousands of posts with long pencil-like tips’ through the ‘accumulating peaty muds’ and into the firmer ground below, which then continues off into the distant fen. Dendrochronological analysis concludes that these timbers were set in place around 1365 – 967 BC, and that much of the structure was not local to the area, indicating that there was perhaps some vital religious impulse behind the whole undertaking, not dissimilar to the almost inexplicable, herculean effort that ancients required to transport bluestones from the Preselli Mountains in Wales to Stonehenge.

Part of the site, around Northey Island, is given over to barrows, which house(d) the remains of chieftains.  The site founder,  archaeologist Francis Pryor, initially referred to the area as a “land of the dead”, a theory which has since been challenged and revised, but nevertheless, still open to debate. The fact that this whole area spent much of its time submerged, particularly during the winter months, would indicate that there was a powerful attraction to this place. Doubtless, the surrounding land was rich and fertile, with an abundant supply of crops and water, and yet these people were, on the basis of evidence, intelligent, resourceful, creative and ingenious (analysis of the unearthed log boats from nearby Must Farm will confirm this ) yet still chose to live and subsist in the most difficult conditions, which begs the question, why?

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Having spent only a day at the site, one views the landscape in a different way. An alternate narrative begins to materialise, once all the trappings of the 21st century have been eliminated, and the landscape of the deep past is superimposed upon it.  The topography of the Fens itself lacks definable  contours, it is supremely flat, indeed the earth (water) and sky appear to meet and fuse into one vast, translucent canvas. I have little doubt that the communal observation of sunrise and sunset here at key moments 1000 years BC was a compelling, transcendent experience, and that any religious experience would have been invested with something intense, powerful, beyond words. The site indeed does have a funerary atmosphere to it, which I find difficult to explain, yet in attempting to dowse its energy, it would appear to me at least, that this was a place of greater importance than is at first realised.

When all of the components are combined, it would seem that this site was perhaps central to some arcane belief system, lost in the murky sediment of time. Pryor himself, when interviewed on TV about Flag Fen, further suggested that the causeway itself, far from being purely utilitarian,(or perhaps some form of processional route) might actually represent a barrier, or portal, the dividing line where land meets water and merges with it, where earth meets sky, a mythic horizon;  a liminal pathway that separates this world from the next. Perhaps.

I will be writing more about the area surrounding Flag Fen, to tie in with an ongoing investigation into Britain’s lost pathways, tracks and “Green Roads”. Please visit frequently for further information.

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Blackland, Northumberland

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Impressions of an abandoned lead miners cottage near Weardale, Northumberland, July 2015

The edge of the moor – Blackland

A name that summons the darkening heather. Vast inland sea of changeling flora, plotting transits from purple to leadgrey, then coalblack.

And there.. Isolated.  Lost to the moor.

Solitary. Bereft here.

A Stone Cottage.

Abandoned, dispossessed,  derelict.  Roofless shell.

Deadhusk.

I hesitate on approach. A mire underfoot., foliage ensnaring.

The pulse of the moor quickens. Birds wheel noisily at the wall’s edge.

Cloud gatherers.  The stones their carrion.

Waiting

The sun, a glaring eye, illuminates the scene. Then dark clouds intervene, a screen, a cataract. Obscuring.

Create false shadows.

Trees, Grasses susurrate, then bend –  in deference?

Indifferent.  To my intrusion

I peer through a windowless aperture, hoping to capture

a revenant spark , a glimmer of life. The hearth still warm? distant echo of activity? insistent clatter of hoof on cobble?

Your song, hovering.  Suspended in the land.

Your eulogy, lost to the wind.

Your epitaph, a crumbling stone.

The stark poetry of the riven.

Silent.           Yet sentient.

Put my ear to cold, dark walls. Track the contours, fissured, fractured, contorted. Wait for a whisper, murmur, scent.  Try not to linger on pathos, sorrow, loss. Aching for a memory.

Memorial..  You

Desolate

In some places, these stones would be reclaimed, relocated, dispersed. Disarticulated fragments, bequeathed new life.

Yet these stones lay quietly obsolete. Unclaimed.

mute, anonymous, unavowed.

This crude rectilinear form, agonisingly dissolving, collapsing into itself.

Rotting timber. Shattered slate. Decompose into the soil.

Stoneseeds that propagate the next life.

Copyright B G Nichols 2015

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ROOTS/ROUTES PATTERNS AND PATHS

I have always been fascinated by roots, origins. The pathways that we currently tread have been defined and mapped by people and places from the remote and distant past. In my mind, the very word ‘root’, might be semantically echoed in the word ‘route’, a word that determines a pathway, a structure, a map of regions, and alternative, or potential paths.

My recent project HERENOWHERE hints at roots and pathways previously trodden, pathways yet to be trodden, and pathways that remain hidden, sequestered, abstracted, or imagined.

The physical form of roots is dendritic, and this form reverberates through our physiology, our synapses, blood vessels, lungs, it manifests itself in the physical patterns of trees (above ground and below), the courses of rivers and runnels, leaf structure, corals, etc.

It therefore takes no great leap of imagination to presume that peoples, cultures, are also governed by dendritic paths. The places we inhabit are examples of only one of a multitude of possible outcomes in terms of physical and phenomenological presence.  A slight divergence from one or several potential pathways may have resulted in our arriving at some point, some location entirely different to the one we currently occupy, both physically and cognitively. It might resemble what we know, what we have come to love or hate, but there are differences, some dramatic, some eerily familiar.

Perhaps this is why I feel drawn to the lost, forgotten, abandoned, secreted, simply because these elements hint at paths that may have been trodden, routes that may have been taken, but through the merest diversion, became separated from us, lost in time, contaminated, disinherited, removed from collective memory.

HERENOWHERE offers a fragmented glimpse into what might be, should a different route have been taken – if we had strayed onto another path, another plane of existence. In my fascination with tracing roots and origins, I find the modern and familiar resonating through the ancient and arcane. This, I would suggest is tangible evidence that we have lived before in other guises, alternative forms, on a different path on the same strand of DNA….

Alde Estuary

Aldeburgh and Snape Estuary. 

24th August 2014

National Grid Reference: TM 461595 

Ordnance Survey Sheet 1:50,000:

Area: 534.34 (ha.) 1,319.82 (ac.) 

1:10,000: TM 45 NE, TM 46 SE

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At dusk, the areas surrounding Aldeburgh and the Alde Estuary have a stunning serenity. This stressed landscape, with its mudflats, tide pools, reed banks and salt marshes undergoes constant and invasive transformation through the often brutal agencies of tide and weather. This is a place where coastal erosion has taken a huge toll on landscape and wildlife alike.

The area is heavily protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest,(SSSI)  Area of Natural Beauty (AoNB), and Environmental Sensitive Area (ESA), amongst other designations.

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We traverse a series of meandering, sinuous pathways into the heart of the estuary, a place so supremely flat, that sea, land and sky meet and interlock, like contrasting segments of the same canvas. This is a subtle, relatively featureless expanse, broken only by the steeple of nearby Iken Church, projecting through the undergrowth.

And yet, deeper perception reveals a landscape animated with colour, sound, and the theatre of nature. I am absorbed by the raffia-like reeds, with their muted purples and sages, the rusts and ochres of dying flora, the buttery green-yellow of vetches and grasses, the deep and malevolent gunmetal sky, loaded with storm water, the multicoloured, vegetated shingle spits crunching underfoot, the sodden, grey-green bubbling ferment of the bogs and swamps teeming with microbial life.

From an apparently bland environment emerge multilayered, striated estuarine features, coastal formations, swales, coralline crags, strange inlets and brackish lagoons, some populated with the meagre remnants of recent habitation. And pointing upwards as if in supplication, the dendritic fingers of oaks, stripped, denuded,  bleached and consumed by the encroaching salt marsh, and left in skeletal silhouette, like frozen lightning against the dusky sky.

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This is a liminal place. A place of inconstancy, subtlety and fragility. Everything here seems to be suspended in a state of “becoming”, ready for change. This is a viscous shoreline, shifting and shimmering, balanced somewhere between the fluidity of the sea, and the solidity of the land. Everything here is malleable, a series of endlessly shifting coordinates;  the swaying grasses, the swamp like mudflats, the fermenting bogs, the restless tide pools, the animated shingle, the alluvial, sedimented, eroded edges of the land, constantly in motion.

My intervention here is perhaps too brief for detailed appraisal, too rapid to note the changes and transformations. My eye is perhaps not keen enough to detect the tiny, the intricate, the particulate, as many places that I am familiar with have been subjected to deeper, more detailed scrutiny. It takes time to acclimatise, absorb, and assimilate the nuances of a place, and secrets are not yielded easily. This visit has served to spur me on to see the place with all of its moods, seasons and transitions , and I vow to visit once again.

ALDE ESTUARY – A SELECTION OF FLORA 

Sand Sedge- Carex Arenaria

Heather- Calluna vulgaris

Bracken – Pteridium Aquilinum

Gorse – Ulex Europaeus and Ulex Gallii

Sheep’s Fescue –  Festuca Ovina

Common Bent – Agrostis Capillaris

Lady’s Bedstraw – Galium Verum,

Sheep’s Sorrel –  Rumex Acetosella

Mossy Stonecrop –  Crassula Tillea (rare)

Clustered Clover –  Trifolium Glomeratum. (rare)

On the vegetated shingle there is a gradual transition between the strandline community and the shingle heath resulting from increasing stability and distance from tidal influence. On the open shingle:

Sea-Kale – Crambe Maritime

Yellow Horned Poppy –  Glaucium Flavum

Sea Spurge –  Euphorbia Paralias.

The stable shingle areas support many species including:

Early Hair-Grass –  Aira Praecox

Sand Catchfly –  Silene Conica,

Dune Fescue – Vulpia Fasciculata,

Bur Medick –  Medicago Minima,

Suffocated Clover –  Trifolium Suffocatum

Sea Pea –  Lathyrus japonicus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silchester – A perambulation

Silchester Roman Town

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A walk around the derelict Roman walls of Silchester.

Originally the tribal centre of ancient Iron Age Atrebates (1), Silchester became the large and important Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum. Unlike the majority of Roman towns, it was never re-occupied or built over after its abandonment in the 5th century, so subsequent archaeological investigations give an unusually complete picture of its development.

 

  1. Cognate with Old Irish aittrebaid meaning ‘inhabitant’, Atrebates comes from proto-Celtic ad-treb-a-t-es, ‘inhabitants’. The Celtic root is treb- ‘building’, ‘home’ ( Old Irish treb ‘building’, ‘farm’, Welsh tref ‘town’, Middle Breton treff ‘city’, toponymic relatives in Tre-, Provençal trevar ‘to live in a house or in a village’), which has been linked to the root of English thorpe, ‘village’. Edith Wightman suggested that their name may be intended to mean the people of the (inland) earth to contrast with that of the neighbouring coastal Morini, “people of the sea”

Calleva Attrebatum – A PERAMBULATION

FLINT TOWERS

FOSSIL  TREE

STONE ENCLOSURE

HOT AND HUMID

A GATHERING DUST

VERTEBRAL WALLS

LITHIC MEMORY

VIOLENT STONE PROJECTIONS

A CROW OBSERVER

LOST AMPHITHEATRE

MURMUR OF DISTANT TRAFFIC

GHOSTED INSULAE

SEARCHING FOR WATER

BRACKEN ENCROACHING

NATURE RECLAIMING REVENANT ARCHES

ECHOES OF VOICES

HANDS TOUCHING ARCHAIC STONE

HEARTS OF GRASSES

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