Thursday, April 10, 2008

Potatoes and salt

click photo to enlarge
The coastline of The Wash on England's east coast has moved over the centuries. And, as the sea level rose and fell, so the salt-makers who worked the salt-marshes around this great bay moved to ply their trade.

The earliest remains suggest that Iron Age man gathered sea salt from this region, and that subsequent Roman invaders carried on the extraction of this valuable commodity. Remains in the areas around Ingoldmells, Helpringham and Billingborough show that clay troughs and fire were used to extract the salt. The later Saxon and medieval "salterns" followed the retreating sea, and are closer to the present-day coast. Bicker Haven was lined with these sites. Here the salt was extracted from the mud of the salt-marsh since it had a higher saline content than the sea water. This involved moving and washing great quantities of mud which were then piled up in "spoil heaps" before the resulting brine was boiled. By the 1600s this activity and the exports it generated had stopped, superseded by sun-evaporated salt. As the sea retreated further, the salt-marshes of Bicker Haven and the surrounding Fens were drained and turned into productive farmland. However, the mounds left by the salt-makers remain today, shallow bumps in this dead flat landscape, clearly visible by their contour lines on today's 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map.

Today's photograph isn't part of a Japanese karesansui garden, but shows a field of newly-planted potatoes near Bicker, the mounds of each row undulating over the ancient man-made hills of the medieval salt-industry. I was attracted by the intersecting patterns that the mechanical planter had made.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 150mm (300mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f8.0
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On