Saturday, 10 January 2009

The peace and quiet of the countryside

This part of the world was once heavily quarried for ironstone to feed the iron and steel works which many towns had. Much of the excavated land has been reclaimed and used for farming or latterly building. Sadly, many of the larger quarries have been steadily filled up with rubbish, which seems both undignified and a waste of an interesting and relatively wild and unusual habitat. Quite apart from the ongoing ecological impact of the practice.

But quite a few sites remain and I expect a lot of people enjoy walking in them, around them or to them. It's certainly a lot quieter these days than when they were worked. Explosions, excavators, dust in the summer, mud in the winter, and of course the inevitable railways, the tracks for which were laid on a temporary basis and then moved to follow the seams. From what I can gather local people seemed to accept the net effect of this 'rural industry' on their lives in a way which the current residents of Ironforge Close probably never would. Personally I find the modern replacement, large distribution warehouses, a blight on the landscape. Other people think they're tidier. We differ.

My regular weekend walk with my father takes in some old ironstone workings, now overgrown as they were closed in 1932, coincidentally the year he was born. The signs of quarrying are still very visible though as the land was never reinstated, just planted with trees, 'hill and dale'. It makes an interesting walk whatever the season. In winter though, on a day like today when the ground was as hard as iron, the leaves gone and all the grass laid low, it is at its least compromising and most revealing. We stand and look and wonder how the job was done and look for remnants. A glass stopper ball from a 'spruce' bottle here, a piece of railway track there.

The picture at the top of the post was taken at a different quarry by my Dad in 1968, but it could have come from any year during the previous 80, which is some kind of statement given that Apollo 8 was orbiting the Moon at exactly the same time. The picture was taken on Christmas Eve of '68 and is one of my favourites. Technically speaking it's not the greatest picture in the world and I'm afraid it didn't scan too well. But it captures the essence of the makeshift and basic nature of the industry, and gives an impression of the rural setting of this almost forgotten side of what was everyday life. What you may also sense is the cold in the air, the smell of the coal smoke and steam and the sound of the engine and wagons, squealing up the track. That I can't convey these to you is a current limitation of blogging, but maybe one day Google will add a gadget to fix that.

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