National Parks a dying landscape

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It is an odd time in the nations National Parks at the moment, they seem to be confused as to their purpose, their reason for being. It comes at a time when funding is being cut from central government and the political and economic mood of certain ascendant sections of society are for profit.

The latest furore to hit social media is the Thirlmere Zip Wire. People resigning in protest from organisations, business manoeuvring to get their way in the dash for cash. In the Peak District it’s now about false tartan, in plush cafes with cuddly toys on the shelves for the grandparents to buy before they set off back to Sheffield or Derby. Meanwhile the BMC take people out on to the moors at night to educate and illuminate, raise funds for path repairs and generally act as guardians of the park.

Commentators speak about going back to the original reason for the national parks and often quote Sandford in support of one stance or another. One thing that is familiar with the Thirlmere Zip Wire argument is that lots of people speaking against it were never actually born there, but moved there because of its beauty and their own love of the place, they often quote Wordsworth in their argument to keep the Lake District in aspic.

One thing that is striking about the White Peak is how empty the villages are and how many cottages, its always the nice ones, have their doors and windows painted in those pretend national trust colours so favoured by the middle classes. The gentrification of the White Peak is gathering apace, cottages inhabited by retiring oldies who pop off every friday in their Disco’s to shop at Waitrose and come back in their 4×4 laden down with frozen goods to stock up their Wickes kitchens with the granite worktops. Apart from the chintzy names that now adorn the cottages another sign to be seen is the country holiday let. A small plastic holder with leaflets or tiny cards giving the contact details of the owner should you want to book. It usually accompanies an old milk churn, or scythe, something that can add “authenticity” to the “look”. Walk through any village now and you can count on more than one hand the number of such dwellings.

These ghost villages once provided housing and work for young people, who had families and kept things alive. Now the villages are bereft of life, part of a landscape that is now a set in a giant government funded theme park. The locals forced out by low wages and high house prices and no employment. The national park seems to be a landscape that is dying, killed by the very people who profess to be its protectors. It’s now just a photo opportunity and a means to make money.

Perhaps we need to go back to Wordsworth, often quoted in any Lake District battle to preserve what people want as the status quo.

When responding to the proposal to build a railway to Windermere to bring tourists to view the wonderful landscape and bring in much needed revenue for the local economy he said, and I paraphrase, that members of the working class would be unable to appreciate the beauty and character that the area had to offer and concludes that bringing so many travellers in would destroy the landscape.

He may just have been correct.

Tideswell Church – Peak District

Tideswell Church Door. White Peak Walks. Peak District National Park. Author Paul Besley. Publisher Cicerone Press
Tideswell Church Door. White Peak Walks. Peak District National Park

I love church doors and entrance porches. The church door of St John the Baptist, Tideswell in the Peak District is a real beauty. The door is oak, hand carved with beautiful fluting and studding.

Quam Dilecta is from the second line of Psalm 83;

Quam dilecta tabernacula tua Domine virtutum

How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of host!

An indication of what lay on the other side of the door in the Cathedral of the Peak. The church is well worth a visit with some beautiful Poppy Heads showing the stages of a humans life from birth to death.

Poppy Head in Tideswell Church depicting the Baptism. Tideswell. White Peak. Peak District. White Peak Walks East. Author Paul Besley. Publisher Cicerone Press
Poppy Head in Tideswell Church. Peak District

Lead mining in the Peak District

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland. http://maps.nls.uk/index.html

The White Peak area of the Peak District National Park is punctured with lead mines. Often the small indentations in the earth string out along the landscape as the miners followed the lead veins below.

Many have now been lost on the present day Ordnance Survey OL24 map but thankfully surveyors in the 19th century placed many features on their maps, so looking back can reveal places of interest well worth visiting.

White Peak Characteristics – Peak District

Spend enough time in an area and you quickly pick up the distinctive features that make up a places character.

The photo above has many features that characterise the White Peak area of the Peak District National Park. The limestone, and limestone walls. The narrow lanes leading to fields, walled on each side by limestone. The dewpond now covered in grass through lack of use, like many more in the White Peak. The pasture with its green grass, often Italian grass is used for its high sugar content and suitability for silage. The barn, squarish in structure, limestone walls with dressed corners and a stone roof. The ancient trees that denote the line of boundaries prior to walling under the enclosure acts.

All that is missing from this photo is the tiny hamlet or small village with Norman church and the odd sheep staring at the camera.

Trees in the Peak District

This Oak tree stands at the top of an ancient track that leads to Navio from Hope. White Peak Walks East, Author Paul Besley. Publisher Cicerone Press.
Oak Tree. On the track that leads to Navio from Hope. Peak District National Park

There is something solid about a tree. Something that is timeless. Trees do not work by our clocks and it is for this reason that they hold a special place in my view of the natural world.

There is a tree that sits at the side of an ancient track leading from Hope, up through the fields to Eccles House farm. A map from 1880 shows trees lining both sides of the track that led to Batham Gate, the old Roman road.  Now the hedge is gone but the tree remains.

This is the allure of the singular tree, standing like a sentinel over the landscape. It has quietly stood and watched the passage of centuries. People passing by underneath, working on the land nearby. The seasons and ages of weather, warm and cold, wind, rain and drought. Generations of animals and birds will have made it their home, a symbiotic relationship that seems beyond the intelligence of humans. In all that time is has destroyed nothing; spent its energies growing at the expense of no one.

The tree has no view on human activity excepting in one matter and that is its access to food and water and air. We are the only creatures that can affect this, save for a plague of oak eating insects. All things being equal the tree will outlast us and many of descendants to come.

The trees measure of time is aeons.

Mompessons Well Eyam – Peak District

Mompessons Well Eyam. Peak District National Park. White Peak Walks East. Author Paul Besley. Publisher Cicerone Press.
Mompessons Well Eyam. Peak District National Park

Eyam in the White Peak area of the Peak District National Park is well-known as the plague village. Virtually everyone knows the story of a bag of cloth from London arriving with the plague and many of the inhabitants of the village succumbing to it and their subsequent death. You can walk around the village, looking at the cottages with their little notices of who died and visit the graves of the dead.

The villagers were true heroes, every last one of them, for the sacrifice they made. Religion and persecution played a major part in their actions once the plague took hold. Civil war, Royal decrees all had a hand. Strength of character, bravery and responsibility were also present.

There were two vicars in the village. The conformist priest Mompesson for whom the well is named after had replaced the nonconformist Stanley, who had refused to conform to Charles II’s new Book of Common Prayer. Stanley had remained in the village after losing his post and livelihood. As the plague swept through other parts of England the conformists priests beat a hasty retreat leaving communities to fend for themselves and at the mercy of the plague. It was the non conformists priests who stayed and tended the flock, a fact not gone unnoticed by many of the communities in the country. Mompesson decided, wisely to stay and, give him credit, teamed up with Stanley, to care for and guide the community. Perhaps this one single act was the catalyst for the whole village acting as they did.

The two proposed a radical and unique approach to the plague now raging through the village. Contrary to the rest of the country who kept people out and expelled infected inhabitants. The priests proposed sealing the village completely, no one in or out, and thereby protecting the surrounding areas from infection. It was radical and it carried the prospect of almost certain death for the whole village. Every single inhabitant agreed to the proposal, effectively committing themselves to mass suicide.

Arrangements were made with local landowners, for food and supplies to be left outside the village boundary, hence Mompessons Well. This quarantined the village from the outside world. Each day the dead would dragged outside the house and buried close by in the fields, by the remaining inhabitants.

Over half the population of the village died, many from the same family. It must have been a desperate time and by sealing the village off from the outside world a lonely bleak existence.

The villagers selfless act prevented the spread of the disease to other parts of the County, a heroic act by the whole community.