ARCHIVE: LEVELS 18 – THE LANDSCAPE OF MY YOUTH

 

 


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The western end of the Somerset Levels – beneath the sea at Weston-super-Mare; 4 Sept 2014.

Not far north of the parts of the Somerset Levels where I’m usually to be found, these flatlands are cut by hard ridges of limestone – the Mendip Hills – that run away westwards down into the sea at Weston-super-Mare. 

This is the landscape of my youth, this is where I grew up, 60 and more years ago.

On the left is the dark limestone bulk of Worlebury Hill, behind which is hidden the seaside town of Weston.  Worlebury’s last gasp before disappearing under the muddy waters of the Bristol Channel is the little island of Birnbeck,which is attached to the mainland by a Victorian pier – apparently the only Victorian pier to incorporate an island, the others merely jutting out into the sea.

I can remember when this was a working pier, with penny in the slot machines, paddle steamers calling in to pick up daytrippers, and a lifeboat station.  But the whole pier is in a terribly derelict state now.  It has been closed to the public for years, and the lifeboat station has just closed too, due to it now being too dangerous for the lifeboatmen to get to their lifeboat.

And over on the far side of Weston Bay is the long limestone promontory of Brean Down, which had a temple on its crest in Roman times – and which has  a Victorian fort at its end, to guard the Bristol Channel and the approaches to Bristol and Cardiff.  This fort was brought back into operation amidst the fears of German invasion in World War II, but is now derelict. 

The Mendips’ very last gasps are seen in Steep Holm and Flat Holm, two small islands out in the Bristol Channel, but they are not shown in this picture.

This archive presents some of the pictures that I’ve taken on the Somerset Levels over many years.  More context can be found in the first post in this archive – 1 – and also in my first Somerset Levels post, from 2011 – here .  Further posts in this archive are here: 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 .  All of these links will open in separate windows. 

Click onto to this image to see a larger version in a separate window – definitely recommended – and look at where the pier, after crossing the water, meets Birnbeck Island.  There is a tall building with a dark roof there, and a small slipway running down into the sea – this is where Weston’s lifeboat used to launch, to help those in distress on the sea.

Technique: D700 with 24-120 Nikkor lens at 120mm; 200 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the High Key 2 preset and adding a strong cyanotype tone.

SOMERSET LEVELS: SOME KEYWORDS

And finally – some keywords that will often be mentioned in this archive series:

Droves:  to avoid crossing other peoples’ land when accessing their own, the farmers constructed a series of tracks, known as droves, between the fields. Some of these droves are now metalled roads and many persist as open tracks – all of which allow wonderfully open access to this countryside.

Rhynes: the fields are bounded by water-filled ditches – which both drain the ground and act as stock barriers. Hence strange landscapes – where fields appear quite unbounded, except for a gate with a short length of fencing on either side of it, where a bridge crosses the water-filled boundary ditch to provide access the field.  These small wet ditches communicate with larger rhynes (“reen” as in Doreen), which in turn flow into larger drains, e.g. the North and South Drains in the Brue Valley. All of these waterways are manmade and, by intricate series of pumping stations and flood gates, all of them have their water levels controlled by local farmers, internal drainage boards or the Environment Agency.

Pollarded Willows: the banks of the rhynes were often planted with Willow trees, both to help strengthen the banks and also to show the courses of roads and tracks during floods. These Willows are often pollarded, i.e. their upper branches are cut off, which results in distinctively broad and dense heads to the trees. Pollarding keeps trees to a required height, while ensuring a steady supply of wood – more important in the past than now – for fires, thatching spars, fencing and so on.

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