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The Land Incanted featured in the Learned Pig

I was honoured to be included in the ground breaking  new and radical nature writing exhibition, Radical Landscapes at Plough Arts, Torrington. A small feature here at The Learned Pig:





























Towards a lithic memory

“…if we desire to discover what was the distinguishing motive of the long-headed Neolithic man, we shall find it in his respect for the dead; and he has stamped his mark everywhere he has been by the stupendous tombs he has erected, at vast labour out of unwrought stones..” 
From “A Book of Dartmoor”, by Sabine Baring-Gould, Methuen 1900


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 locus for expressions of sanctity, began to accumulate as a murky synthesis of solid state physics, mythology, and psychology.

For me, there is a continuous, ongoing inner questioning of the nature of our relationship with stone situated around 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 written 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. Yet there is no sure way of determining whether noumenal voices from the outside are penetrating my internal solitude, or whether an inner silence is feeling for the hidden life of the outside world.  

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?  One has to reside in a place for an extended period of time,  fully immersed, making frequent, and sustained contact before it starts to unfold.  It requires attuning and calibrating the senses, allowing images and sense-impressions to accrete.   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. 

Yet surely, this is not unique? Not exclusively my domain? Haven’t stones been the vector, the conduit through which our imagination flows for millennia? 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.

 People talk of  the mysticism 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?  Is a “new” building not merely constructed from “newly formed” compounds,  amalgams of ancient clays and stone material ?  Perhaps the frequent, ritualised interaction of man and stone imbues the stone with some other, hitherto indescribable energy – a subtle transfer, the essence of the genius loci, the root of sanctity? Perhaps sustained engagement with ancient places, combined with an open mind, and fine tuning of the senses, might facilitate the unlocking of such accumulated energies, that we might literally connect with the voices from the past? 

BGN 2019

The wall as palimpsest

River Placement


An assemblage of seed heads, allium, thistles, grasses. Taken from the edgelands of Barnes Meadow in Northampton, to be re-situated after a storm at the source of the River Avon, near Naseby, Northamptonshire.

With this assemblage, I have added a kora incantation – “river courses into cloud, raw, elemental, a mighty arc, wild, ashen, fielding intangible narrow throat- sweeping, scouring.” from a new text piece entitled Hyperborea.

Following on from work recently published as Laments and Incantations, this assemblage of seed heads is the completion of a cycle..returning words to the landscape that begat them. Here they will decompose, and re-seed the land at the source of the river.


























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