Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Couple of Days Oop North

A little trip to Durham included a couple of walks and bit of thinking.

The coastline around Seaham, once occupied by coal mines, spoil tips and ironworks, has had a serious makeover in recent years.  From a seriously polluted mess a haven for nature has emerged.  Almost all trace of the old industries has been removed, though some of the beach is still covered by a thick layer of ash and other waste, so rich in sulphur in places that the ground is yellow and there's a distinct smell.  Given a few more years and the sea will have washed this way too, but for now the area is utterly devoid of plants, save for what I presume is a coating of prokaryotic life.

Well done people for the clear-up.  Whatever possessed you people to make such a mess in the first place?

On a walk of a couple of miles along the cliff-edge in late May 2013 we found a fair few wild-flowers.  Those actually flowering were:

Birds-foot Trefoil Ground Ivy
Black Medic Herb Robert
Bluebell Hawkbit
Buttercup Hawthorn
Cow Parsley Mouse Ear
Cowslip Ramsons
Cranesbill Red Campion
Crosswort Red Clover
Daisy Ribwort Plantain
Dandelion Speedwell
Dogs Mercury Trift or Sea Pink
Early Purple Orchid Violet
Gorse Wild Strawberry
Greater Stichwort

And the next day we added a few more to the list form Gibside, a National Trust property:

Lady's Mantle
Yellow Pimpernel
Wavy Bittercress
Wood Sorrel
Wood Speedwell
Cuckoo Flower/Lady's Smock
Lords and Ladies

A couple of days later on a walk round Nidderdale, we added a few more to the list:

Bog Stitchwort
Lady's Bedstraw
Lesser Celandine
Marsh Marigold
Water Cress

A curious thing struck me about the Durham landscape.  It's a beautiful area of countryside, but is, here and there, interrupted by estates of pretty dreadful houses, apparently just placed any old where.  Of course these are the mining villages.  Wherever a coal mine was located, the miners's homes were, sensibly, built within walking distance.  Almost all traces of the mines and associated industry has been wiped from the land, leaving the estates as anachronistic blots on the landscape.

But here's the thing.  Travel a little south, out of the coalfield, and one finds just the pre-industrial revolution landscape of farmland gently developed over the centuries;  farmhouses, farm cottages, the occasional country seat and more modern housing that largely blends in scale, proportion and architecture with the older vernacular.  Frankly, it's a whole lot nicer looking.  And there's a direct relation to house prices.  The former coalfields shout out poverty, deprivation and ugliness while away from the once industrialised areas, the appearance at least, is of affluence and gentility.

Obvious, you say.  But hang on.  Think about it.  The coalfield area was 'blessed' by enormous riches, the ground endowed with fossil fuel that delivered vast wealth that powered an empire.  The surrounding farmland was the poor land, only offering a living from the farmer's toil.

So why the reversal of fortune?  Where is the wealth that came from the coalfield gone?  It seems to have been more than stolen from the land, but left the land impoverished in a way that the surrounding areas were not.



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