Monday, December 18, 2006

Walls and neighbours

click photo to enlarge
"Something there is that doesn't love a wall", Robert Frost (1874-1963), US poet

Robert Frost was right when he penned this line for his poem "Mending Wall". His father's words in the same poem, that "Good fences make good neighbours", is a view to which many would subscribe. But Frost's poem is not about walls as such, rather it is about the barriers that we erect between ourselves, and the need for those barriers to be taken down if we are to establish proper relationships.

What would he have made, I wonder, of these drystone walls threaded across the undulating ground of the Yorkshire Dales, walls that are widely admired, loved even! Many of them were built following the Enclosure Acts to delimit each farmer's property, but also to subdivide the holding into manageable areas for grazing sheep and cattle. Interestingly, many of the elongated fields, and individual farms, stretch from the edge of the River Ribble (just out of shot below the lowest trees) up to the exposed summits of the lower hills with their outcropping rock, cliffs and scree. This shape is deliberate, and ensures that each farmer has a share of the good "bottom land" near the river (the best pasture), the mid-range land that responds to improvement by clearing and fertiliser, and the exposed higher ground with its rough grazing, suitable only for foraging sheep.

It was these drystone walls, lines across the landscape that look like they have been drawn with a child's unsteady hand, that prompted my photograph. It shows the west side of the valley of the Ribble between the hamlets of Stackhouse and Knight Stainforth. The prominent limestone knoll, the seeming destination of the longest wall line, is Smearsett Scar, beyond are the cliffs above Wharfe, and the high peak of Ingleborough is the tallest summit, its head invisible in its wreath of cloud. I took the shot from below Blua Crags above the market town of Settle, using a long zoom lens at 300mm (35mm equivalent) rested on a drystone wall. The camera was set to Aperture Priority (f6.3 at 1/200 sec), with the ISO at 100 and EV set at -0.3.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen