‘Landmarks’ and the Stroud Valleys (a local perspective on Robert Macfarlane’s new book)

Robert Macfarlane writes of topograms,
Descriptive signifiers of the landscape
That act as tiny poems, conjuring ‘scenes’,
With words that act as ‘Landmarks’,
Nuanced terms that evoke the uniqueness
And particularity of a landscape,
A lexis both descriptive and figurative,
Where words are much more than just ‘referents’:
A fusion of history, land and aesthetics,
A fusion of the intellect and sensuousness,
Of William Blake and William Wordsworth;
An exploration of localism and landscape,
An in-depth understanding and sensibility,
Using a ‘Counter Desecration Phrasebook’:
Not mere archaisms, but also a modernist
Multicultural lexis, with space for your own
Imaginative and self-invented neologisms,
‘A glossary of enchantment’
Rather than ‘landscape’.

So the next time you are out walking
Around Stroud’s hills, valleys and edgelands,
Check the map and scenery for any of the following
Gloucestershire, Cotswold and West Country terms
(And don’t forget to invent your own words too):
gallitrop (fairy ring); hope (hill); toot (isolated hiil); linch (small grassy precipice); pill (hill);
pill (place for mooring a boat); sill (the glassy fall of water at a weir); spout (spring);
plash (small pool; stank (dam/dammed pool); warth (flat meadow close to a stream);
scort (footprints of cattle, horses or deer); plim (to swell with moisture);
bray (hay spread to dry in long rows); jogget (small load of hay); frith (wood); brash (light, stony soil);
chissom (first shoots of a newly cut coppice); crank (dead branch of a tree);
eiry (tall, clean grown sapling); droxy (decayed wood); holt (high wood).
Now for some inventions:
severnset (view west to sunset beyond the river);
windridge (winter light indicates medieval ridge and furrow);
frost-furrow (ground frost indicates medieval ridge and furrow);
roof-rime (an urban air frost) …
This is work in progress on a landscape-lexis:
Oh brave new world that has such referents in it.
A glossary of terms from local citizens for whom English is not their first language to follow

A Picture of Stroud

To see the picture of Stroud that has prompted the piece below, please follow this link.

It’s harvest time up towards the Heavens,
Up there, by Holy Trinity Church in Stroud:
The quiet serenity of late summer,
In the year of our Lord, 1839,
When everyone ought to know their place:
‘The rich man at his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly
And ordered their estate.’

There is a threatening bon-fire, it’s true,
Just beyond this imagined Eden,
The smoke of the recent past and near future,
Reminding us all of Paradise Lost:
The Stroudwater weavers’ riots of 1825;
The Captain Swing riots of 1830;
The Chartist mass-meeting on Selsley Common,
Just a few months before, at Whitsuntide;
The 1839 Miles Report on
‘The Condition of the Handloom Weavers’:
‘The weavers are much distressed; they are wretchedly off in bedding; has seen many cases where the man and his wife and as many as 7 children have slept on straw, laid on the floor with only a torn quilt to cover them…has witnessed very distressing cases; children crying for food, and the parents having neither food nor money in the house…These men have a constant dread of going into the Poor Houses…witness has frequently told them they would be better in the house, and their answer has been “We would sooner starve.” ‘;

The march of mill chimneys through the valleys;
The tread of the treadmill in the workhouse;

There’s a conservative mythology here,
A pictorial confabulation,
A seeming misrepresentation:
Of glowing Cotswold stone longevity,
The silver steady flow of the Severn,
The shining immanence of Doverow Hill,
The ancient tracks, bridleways and pathways,
Of this sequestered, pastoral, dreamtime,
Without a hint of industrial red brick,
Or factory, canal, turnpike, railway,
Or Darwin, Matthew Arnold, Edmund Gosse.

Quietly flow the Frome and the Severn,
Through Arcadia;
But the fires still burn,
In the hearts of the weavers,
And the hearts of the spinners,
All along the valleys and the hillsides.

Railway Time

Do you remember that lazy afternoon
Back in August 1958?
Well, I bloody well do mate.
We were sitting on the bunker
At the end of platform four,
Just by the giant semaphore signal,
When 5050 The Earl of St Germans
Came steaming, Brunswick green and brass dome gleaming,
To a shrieking, whistling halt;
And you showed me how to record the numbers,
In a three-penny red memo book
(Weights and measures on the back),
And how to underline name and number
In my half-crown Ian Allan train book,
And you opened the door to magic:
Happy years at the Iron Bridge, the Greenbridge,
And the Bunky Bridge on the Highworth line,
On Vickers Armstrongs outings with our badges,
And trapping your thumb in the leather strapped door,
And the milepost says it’s seventy eight miles and a furlong
From Swindon Junction to Paddington;
Or sneaking on to the station
When you couldn’t afford a platform ticket,
Staring at the Five Boys Chocolate,
And the machine that stamped your name for a penny,
Or watching the trains from the Milk-bank,
Or a signal box with its clunking, clanking levers,
Then taking me inside the Railway Works
On a school holiday Wednesday afternoon,
Queuing to walk through that hallowed entrance,
Then along the tunnel into a Wonderworld
Of mechanics, machines, girders, cranes and grease,
And odd bits of steam engines, with the numbers
Chalked on steam-pipe, or funnel, or wheel,
And it counted as a cop –
You told me it wasn’t wagging and so it wasn’t!
And do you remember the men pouring out
From the Works and Pressed Steel at lunch time,
A river of men on bikes in full flood
In a frantic rush for grub and a fag,
And do you remember seeing 70030,
William Wordsworth, strain and slide
In snorting steam on ice cold winter days?
Or seeing sunlight shimmer, gleaming
On endless heat-hot railway lines,
Until they at last disappeared
In far off main line vanishing point;
Or waiting for the Cheltenham Flyer,
Studying the semaphore signal
In the sun haze squinting distance;
And you showed me all of this Ian Allan
ABC world of names and numbers,
This alphabet of railway alchemy:
You showed me the right way, the railway,
The Permanent Way –
So you’ll always be sitting beside me
On the wooden fence near Standish Junction,
As Jubilee class, 45609,
Gilbert and Ellice Islands steams into sight:
Railway Time,
Keith Time,
Brother Time.

The Incinerator at Javelin Park

We got up too late for the revolution,
And a winter walk along the lanes
Meant we missed the demonstration too –
The one in Stroud against Balfour Beatty
(‘Balfour Beatty is a multinational infrastructure group with capabilities in construction services, support services and infrastructure investments’),
And the proposed incinerator at Javelin Park;
So no more star gazing on frosty winter nights,
Or westward reading a history of time,
In River Severn or Sugar Loaf mountain sunsets;
No more fossils in Cotswold quarries,
No more holloways and Neolithic earthworks;
No more sluice gates, weirs and water wheels,
No more factory, forge or railway stations;
Instead, the taste of a new monument,
A monument to the Holocene Era,
And to the Anthropocene.