Essays

2016: Year of the Serpent

December 15, 2016 We take almost all of the decisive steps in our lives as a result of slight inner adjustments of which…

Brexit & the culture of Progress

November 3, 2016 In his introduction to the 1979 edition of his novel Pig Earth – the first in a trilogy chronicling the…

Four poets’ houses

October 15, 2016 1. Dove Cottage, Grasmere, England Until now, poetry has meant nothing to me. I’ve never understood it, or much cared.…

The Call of the Wild

July 26, 2016 We had climbed, slowly, to a high mountain ridge. We were two young Englishmen who were not supposed to be…

The Speaking of the Stones

June 1, 2016 On 23rd October 1642, an army of English Royalists under the command of Prince Rupert of the Rhine was marching…

Planting Trees in the Anthropocene

October 23, 2015 I wish I wish I wish in vain I wish I were a maid again. But a maid again I…

Rescuing the English

March 13, 2015 Some years back, I was driving through northern England with a friend. On a Cumbrian A-road west of Kendal, we…

The Witness

February 1, 2015 The greatest ecological crisis in the Earth’s history began with the emission of climate-changing gases by an organism that had…

In The Black Chamber

April 4, 2014 It is a long walk, or it seems like one, especially if you are taking your small children with you. In reality, it is just over a kilometre; a journey which, on the surface, would take ten minutes or so. But we are not on the surface. We are several hundred feet below the slopes of a limestone mountain, and if we weren't all carrying torches, the darkness would be entire and unending. This is Grotte de Niaux &emdash; Niaux cave &emdash; in the French Pyrenees. The great rock overhang which marks the entrance is visible for miles along the river valley outside. The cave is a scribbled network of tunnels, most of them inaccessible now, at least to the public. As you move past the artificial entrance passage, through the thick steel door which is locked every night, your torchlight hits stalagmites three times the height of a human being, vast bulges and excrescences of rock on the ceiling and walls, dark crevices leading to chambers and side passages, icy black lakes and all the beauty and solidity to be found in the guts of an old mountain. It is cool, even and blacker than anything under the stars.

The Bay

November 29, 2013

I live in a small market town in south Cumbria.

The town sits in a low agricultural bowl, surrounded by rivers which rise from the surrounding hills and flow under, through and around the town and out to the sea. Five miles to the north, the Lake District fells begin. Less than two miles to the south is Morecambe Bay.

Before I moved here, I had no real awareness of the Bay. I knew that Morecambe was a seaside town, but I’d never been there. I heard on the news about the deaths of the Chinese cockle pickers here a few years back, and that seemed grim and strange. But I didn’t know how big and curious and captivating a place the Bay was.

I am, slowly, beginning to get it. I am beginning to see that the Bay is a great entity in itself, a living system; not just a backdrop to human activities but a parallel world. This is the largest continual intertidal area in Britain; more than 300 square kilometres of shifting mud and sand, river estuaries, saltmarshes and sea life. The weather can change its character in minutes, and the position of the sun, the time of year, alters its look and feel. But the sea, above all, sets the mood. High tide down at Bardsea brings the waters almost to the edge of the sea road, with only a barrier of silted rushes between solid land and salt water. But at low tide, everything changes. At low tide Morecambe Bay becomes liminal space, a universe entire of itself.

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