Saturday, 21 May 2016

Field research

One of the attractions of researching landscape history is the opportunity to combine a range of sources of evidence: direct investigation in the field, archival documents, maps, aerial photography and satellite imagery, and the testimony of people both in the past and the present through their remembered experiences, art, stories and perceptions. When studying a largely agricultural landscape a rich coming together of all of these elements can be found in the seemingly prosaic study of the names given to individual fields and enclosures by those who have worked the land. 

This is of particular current interest to me as I am working through the tithe maps for one of my PhD case study areas, the cluster of medieval manors on the edge of the Black Mountains over which Llanthony Priory had lordship from the early twelfth century until its dissolution in the mid-sixteenth century. The production of tithe maps for most parishes and townships across England and Wales was a result of the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 which sought to rationale the archaic system by which communities had to provide their local church with a tenth, a tithe, of their agricultural produce and related resources through the replacement of this ancient practise with its roots in the Anglo-Saxon period with a cash payment. In order to implement this change the Herculean task of establishing who owned and farmed what land had to be carried out so that the new payments in cash could be calculated, and thus an accurately surveyed map and accompanying apportionment schedule recording land-use, who owned what and who occupied which farmsteads down to every last field, acre, perch and rood was produced for each parish over the following twenty years or so. These magical remnants of typically Victorian thoroughness and efficiency provide a latter day 'Domesday Book' snapshot of the agricultural landscape in the mid nineteenth century. A rich historical record that acts as an invaluable bridge between what we know about the 'in living memory' changes in the landscape over the last hundred years or so and the more dimly lit centuries that preceded the upheavals of the later nineteenth century.

Section of the tithe map for the parish of Upper Cwmyoy (showing Llanthony Priory), produced in 1852 (courtesy of
As they proceeded around each parish the tithe commissioners undertaking this exercise not only allocated a number to each field they mapped but also enquired of and recorded any names by which they were locally known, in order to reduce any ambiguity or confusion when the maps and schedules were examined by the farmers and land-owners of the parish. To the twenty-first century observer it is these field names that particularly help to bring the landscape of the time alive; though with some caveats: firstly not all fields had a name recorded (either because there was no such name, it may have been forgotten by or not be known to the current occupier or perhaps simply not followed up as the deadline for completing the survey loomed); and so, for some parishes, this data-set can be frustratingly incomplete. A more mundane characteristic of many field names is that they are often, well, rather mundane; for the very good reason that farmers did not allocate names to fields for the benefit of excitable landscape researchers and local historians, they did so to aid everyday working, communication and planning. Hence the proliferation of 'Big meadow', 'Field above the barn', 'Four acre field', 'Little croft' and many other similarly descriptive but rather uninspiring monikers. However, amongst this functionality can be found hidden gems that enrich our understanding of land management, landscape change, the vernacular lexicon of place words and terms and sometimes provide clues to the lost history of a particular patch of land.

Section of the tithe apportionment for the parish of Upper Cwmyoy (courtesy of
In my own research area there are many fields with a name but no number and no shortage of 'Upper meadow's, 'Lower orchard's, 'Big wood pasture's and the like. However, I have also found many leads to help provide a clearer picture of how the landscape has developed, with the added twist/ frustration that, hard on the border between England and Wales, some names are 'standard' English, some use Herefordshire dialect words, some are 'Gwentian' Welsh (a largely lost variation of Welsh from the south-east border area of the country), some a hybrid whilst others have morphed into strange corruptions of their original meaning, often through mishearing or incorrect transcribing on the part of those recording the information struggling to understand the mumbled or heavily accented oral testimony of the local farm workers.

'The Mote' field, Trefeddw farm.
This exercise has enabled my inner landscape detective to follow multiple pathways. The strange sounding name 'Poorcas' (or variations of) proliferates, mostly attached to large enclosures on the higher valley sides, and led to much initial head-scratching. A possible derivation is from the Welsh words por meaning pasture and cae for field: a finely-grained venacular descriptor for this topographically specific enclosure type. Other names are helping in the task of tracing the landscape of earlier times. For instance, within a field called 'The Mote' (pictured above) lies what remains of a motte and bailey fortification rising out of the fertile red earth, a remnant of the westward advance of Anglo-Norman control in this borderland region during the eleventh century which may be the foci of the medieval manor of Redcastle, now lost as a place name in local memory. A mile or so up the Vale of Ewyas lies the hamlet of Cwmyoy and within the cool stone of its quiet church can be found an impressively intact medieval cross with a carving of Christ still standing out in clear relief (pictured above). Local lore has it that this artifact was dug up from a local field over a hundred years ago. A few minutes walk from the church lies 'Cross field' (pictured below), under the turf of which the cross was perhaps hurriedly buried before the iconoclasts of the Reformation could bring their hammers to it, its likely original location further uphill at the cross roads of 'Groes Llwyd' (holy cross).    

'Cross field' occupying the rising ground below the hillside with the church of Cwmyoy behind the trees to the left.
On a more utilitarian note, a number of mills are recorded for Llanthony Priory's medieval manors in the area. The built remains of a number of later mills may occupy the location of an earlier manifestation, however the tithe maps provide further possible sites at 'Cae hen felin' (old mill field), 'Cae pandy' (fulling mill field) and 'Old mill meadow' that, when visited, provide field evidence of probable use as a mill; activity in the landscape long forgotten by the time the first edition Ordnance Survey map for the area, which makes no reference to any of these sites, was produced. Field names can also be used to help to piece together the routes through which people and livestock moved through the landscape before the modern metalled road network developed. Names such as 'Cae Rewen' (from rhiw meaning steep road field), 'Field above the road', and 'Whiels' (from heol meaning road) hint at the previous importance of now backwater field paths and tracks. One such holloway track, now disused, leads up to the common grazing land of the higher slopes of Hatterall Hill from a large field called 'Bugley meadow' (pictured below), a pleasant but incongruous sounding name until it is realised that this is probably a corruption of the old Welsh word for shepherd, bugail. This meadow, which visitors to Llanthony's ruins drive right past and also holds the annual Llanthony and District Show, contains an earthwork platform that may have been the site of the Priory's sheepcote for holding its flocks when they were brought down from their upland summer grazing. As for 'Caden will', 'Pic', 'Ropine' and 'Sole figin', their meaning remains mysterious; conversations with local farmers may illuminate some, but others are no doubt lost to history. 

'Bugley meadow', Court Farm, Llanthony
A listing of some of the more interesting or distinctive field name elements in the Llanthony area can be found in the table at the end of this piece (with some meanings still to be uncovered: if anyone can shed any light on these then please let me know).

Original tithe maps and apportionments are generally held at county and national archives and many are now digitised, with all for Wales available on the Archives Wales website.  

A particularly useful resource in the study of field names generally is provided by, the now out of print, English Field Names: A Dictionary by John Field (who else!). The book not only collects the many regional words for different types of enclosure but also demonstrates the more esoteric and playful side of naming different plots of agricultural land: 'Babylon' - remote land beyond the river; 'Chemistry' - land on which artificial fertilisers were used; 'Cocked hat' - land shaped like a tricorne hat; 'Lazy lands' - a derogatory term for unproductive land; 'Thousand Acre' - ironic term for small field; 'Unthank Bottom' - land occupied by squatters; and hundreds more such inventive names conjured by our clever but largely illiterate forebears, who knew the land around them literally by name. 

Field name element
Bank/ banky/ banc Slope English/ Welsh
Berrion/ errion/ errewan Possibly from y berllan = orchard Welsh
Beach Beach trees English
Beak Land reclaimed for ploughing English
Brake Waste covered in brushwood English
Brink Possibly from bryn = hill Welsh
Bagley/ bugley From Bugail = shepherd Welsh
Bushy Land covered in bushes English
Caden will ? ?
Cae Field Welsh
Caer Wall (or cae'r = field of the) Welsh
Canol/ cenol Middle Welsh
Carn Crooked or stony hillock Welsh
Cellan Possibly from celyn = holly Welsh
Chwarel  Quarry Welsh
Coed Wood Welsh
Common Common land English
Cover Overgrown field for game English
Croft/ crofty Small enclosure near house English
Crooked Crooked English
Cross Cross English
Crow Crow English
Cwm Valley Welsh
Cwrgy  Cwr = edge or cwar = quarry Welsh
Darren Rocky cliff Welsh
David Possibly from dafad = sheep Welsh?
Delyn From telyn = harp Welsh
Dingle Deep wooded hollow English
Dol/ dole/ dolu/ dolau Meadow Welsh
Draining Well drained English
Duelt  Possibly from ddu = black, dark + allt = woody cliff Welsh
Errion/ errewen/ errule/ erewin Possibly from y rhiw = steep path, hillside or slope Welsh
Farthing Fourth part English
Fawr/ vawr Great Welsh
ffynon/ ffenno Spring or well Welsh
Fine Possibly from ffynon = spring or well Welsh?
Fierben? ? ?
Flat Flat English
Garrivel  Possibly from chwarel = quarry Welsh
Garw/ Gwrw Rough Welsh
Glas Notably green or marshy Welsh
Glwydd  Bank or ditch Welsh
Gorgy ? ?
Grazing Grazing English
Green Notably green or marshy English
Grone Possibly from gronyn = grain Welsh
Gros Possibly from groes = cross Welsh
Gruffdupin ? ?
Gunters Local personal name Welsh
Gwillen/ guillen Possibly from Gwillim personal name Welsh
Gwyn White Welsh
Holly/ Holleys Holly tree English
Horse Land on which horses are kept English
Horsley Possibly land on which horses are kept English?
Isha/ Isser Lower Welsh
Kiln Lime kiln English
Leak ? English
Lluaddu Possibly from lludw = ash Welsh
Llwyd Brown or grey Welsh
Loney Possibly from llwyn = grove Welsh?
Loom ? ?
Maes Meadow, field or ploughed land Welsh
Markel Possibly from mark = boundary ?
Mawr Big, great or large Welsh
Mellin From melin = mill Welsh
Nant Stream Welsh
Narrow Narrow strip of land English
New ground  Land newly cultivated or enclosed English
Newydd  New Welsh
Oak Oak tree English
Old wood Previously wooded land English
Orchard Orchard English
Orles Land on which alders grow Welsh
Ox Oxen English
Pandy Fulling mill Welsh
Park Parkland English
Pasture Pasture English
Patch Small piece of land English
Peck ? ?
Pen End or top (W), or small enclosure (Eng) ?
Penhead end or top head Hybrid
Perkins ? ?
Perrott/ Perrow Local personal name Welsh
Perthy Hedge or bush Welsh
Pic ? ?
Piece Piece of land English
Pikey Pointed piece of land English
Pin Fir or pine, or pin, or pen Welsh
Pistil/ pisty/ pestae From pistyll = spout or cataract Welsh
Pleck/ plock Small piece of land English
Plot Small piece of ground or allotment English
Pool/ poole Pool or pond English
Poorcas/ porkin/ pulcas/ puscas/ porking/ poorcat Possibly from Por = pasture or grass + cae = field, or poor field? Most tend to be large enclosures of pasture on higher slope Welsh
Porth Gate Welsh
Put ? ?
Pwillen Possibly from pwll = pit, pool or pond Welsh
Queer Unusual? English
Restree Possibly from rhes = line or row Welsh
Rick/ rickhole/ ricket Hay rick English
Rider Possibly from rhyd = ford Welsh
Rocks hill Rocky land English
Ropin/ ropine ? ?
Rotten Poor quality English
Salpot Possibly from sallow = willow + pot = deep hole, land covered in holes English
Serth Steep Welsh
Sheckwell ? English
Sheep walk Upland sheep pasture English
Shop Shed English
Skybor/ scybor From ysgabor = barn Welsh
Slang Narrow strip of land English
Slip/ slipper Small strip of land English
Slottick Possibly from silotog = productive, abounding in seedlings ?
Sole figin ? ?
Soundr ? ?
Square Square English
Tilley Possibly from tillage = land enclosed for arable use; Or corruption of name of nearby farmstead of Tylau ?
Tir/ tyr Land Welsh
Troustree ? + possibly tri = three ?
Tump/ tumpy Hillock English
Ty House Welsh
Tyle Slope, hill Welsh
Tyning Land enclosed with a fence English
Ucha/ ushaf Upper Welsh
War Possibly from gwar = above Welsh
Warheal Possibly from gwar = above + heol = road Welsh
Warren Rabbit warren English
Well Land by or with a well or spring English
Wern Elder trees or watery Welsh
Whiels Possibly from heol = road Welsh?
Whirrell  From chwarel = quarry Welsh
Weir Land by a weir English
Will Possibly from heol = road Welsh?
Worlod/ wolod/ walod/ gwrlod Meadow Welsh
Yew Tree Yew tree English
Ynis/ ynys Water meadow, rising ground or island Welsh

Friday, 22 April 2016

Ultima Thule

'Concerning Thule, our historical information is still more uncertain, on account of its outside position; for Thule, of all the countries that are named, is set farthest north. 'Strabo, Geography, 1st century BC

The term 'Ultima Thule' was used in Classical and medieval geographical writing to describe mysterious places in the distant north beyond the known world of trade, empire and civilisation. Since the first use of the concept by the Greek explorer Pytheas debate has raged as to whether the phrase refers to Norway, Greenland, Iceland, Orkney, Shetland or, perhaps more likely, an amalgam of all dimly known northern climes. Having just spent several days in the unambiguously epic and often thrillingly peculiar landscapes of Iceland I can only back its candidature to be the very embodiment of Ultima Thule.

'It is no use trying to describe it, but it was quite up to my utmost expectations as to strangeness: it is just like nothing else in the world.' 
William Morris on his first visit to Iceland (1877)
As with Morris, my words can only pale in the face of a first sighting of Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, and the other wonders of the trip, so here is a visual montage of 'the place where the sun goes to rest.' (Geminus of Rhodes, 1st century BC).

'Thule; an island in the Ocean between the northern and western zone, beyond Britain, near Orkney and Ireland; in this Thule, when the sun is in Cancer, it is said that there are perpetual days without nights.'
Servius, 4th century AD

'By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named Night,
On a black throne reigns upright.
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule –
From a wild weird clime, that lieth, sublime,
Out of Space – out of Time.'
Extract from Edgar Allan Poe's poem Dream-Land (1844)

'(Auden) said that Iceland was like the sun that had set, (but) you could see the sunshine on the mountains: Iceland followed him like that - the colours of the setting sun on the mountains. He said that he was not always thinking about Iceland ... that he was never not thinking about Iceland.'
Simon Armitage and Glyn Maxwell, Moon Country (1996)

Friday, 11 March 2016

Landscapism dispatch #1

Bloody hell! A PhD takes over your life. Expansive blog posts unrelated to my PhD research are probably going to be few and far between over these three years. So landscapism dispatches will have to be brief; no bad thing. 

A good number of interesting things have been kindly brought to my attention or stumbled across already this year, and here is something of a cartulary (damn, can't shake off my research head!).  

As soon as I finish reading Rob Cowan's excellent Common Ground (a distinctive voice in the somewhat crowded territory of 'New Nature' writing) I hope to plunge into From Hill to Sea; the work of the ever-engaging Fife Psychogeography Collective in book form. Those Fifers know how to find the strange brew that soaks the hills and flows to the sea in their kingdom above the bridge.

"And I rose up, and knew that I was tired, and continued my journey”. Artist and composer Martin A. Smith has produced a new film, Secretly sharing the landscape with the livingexploring part of the Icknield Way in Buckinghamshire, following in the fecund footsteps of Edward Thomas:

You can find out more about Martin's work here.

The daily on-line posts from A Year in the Country provided twelve months of eclectic imaginings on the unsettled bucolic a while back and in April comes an album of sonic accompaniment featuring a goodly mix of collaborators, The Quietened Village: "a study of and reflection on the lost, disappeared and once were homes and hamlets that have wandered off the maps or that have become shells of their former lives and times".

Further audio reports from the landscape edge come in the shape of Justin Hopper's poetry and sound project, I Made Some Low Enquiries, featuring none-other than folk legend Shirley Collins and available from the English Heretic website.

Radio has become my day-time company in recent months, through the fountainhead that is BBC iPlayer. Melvyn Bragg curating In Our Time, 6 Music's Freak Zone, Radio 4's aurally-charged production of The Stone Tape, Late Junction eclectica on Radio 3, The Children of Witchwood and old Sherlock Holmes episodes on Radio 4 Extra; the list goes on. Current enjoyment is provided by music journalist Laura Barton's exploration of the relationship between landscape and music across the British Isles in her Radio 4 documentary series, as described further here.

The music of the crags and cliffs of Red Daren and Black Daren is a song of stone. Here in the Olchon Valley is found the geological rim of England as western Herefordshire sheds its Anglo-Saxon facade and bleeds into the Black Mountains of Wales. A recent Sunday morning jaunt amongst the Old Red Sandstone passed through this hushed borderland, climbing to the Hatterall ridge; Hatterall, perhaps, bastardised from At y Heu: 'towards the sun'.   

And back home the summit of my books to read mountain has moved further out of reach with the addition of Time's Anvil: England, Archaeology and the Imagination by Richard Morris, Bloody Old Britain by Kitty Hauser, Anna Pavord's Landskipping, John Lewis-Stempel's Meadowland and The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Right, back on the Monk's Trod now for me.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

PhD research paper #3. Further landscape perspectives: experience and perception

From time to time I will post 'bite size' chunks of the material I am preparing for my PhD thesis: works in progress, but content which I feel may be of interest to a wider audience. All will be very much draft versions, not necessarily - probably not - reflecting the final wording that will eventually appear in the Thesis. In-text references are included but a full bibliography is not. This paper is based on a section of the initial literature review and follows on from my research paper #1 and research paper #2

Further landscape perspectives: experience and perception

Literary and artistic representations

‘A humble chapel of David the Archbishop (St David) formerly stood decorated only with moss and ivy … a situation truly calculated for religion and more adapted to canonical discipline than all the monasteries in Britain.’
(Gerald of Wales in Thorpe 1978, 96-7).

In the above description of the location of Llanthony Priory in Monmouthshire Gerald of Wales is not simply reporting the topographical features that he observed, his words are heavy with symbolism. Allegorical descriptions of the landscape and setting of monasteries were common in contemporary writing during the monastic period. For instance, Clarke (2006, 68) has shown how the fenland houses of Glastonbury (Somerset), Ely (Norfolk) and Ramsey (Kent) exploited the symbolic potential of their local watery landscapes (and the practical transformations through drainage and cultivation which they were enacting) in twelfth and thirteenth century texts and pastoral conventions which ‘transform the realities of topography and monastic land management into allegories of spiritual cultivation and triumph’. Later representations of medieval monastic life and landscape in art and literature that go beyond using monasticism as a suitably archaic and esoteric setting for mystery and Gothic intrigue[1] are relatively sparse. One writer who spent much time in monasteries across Europe during the middle twentieth century was Patrick Leigh Fermor. In his vivid and empathetic prose can be found descriptions which evoke the imagined monastic landscape of the Middle Ages. This account of his arrival at Abbeye de la Trappe in Normandy is worth quoting at length as illustration:
‘It (the abbey) dwindled off into farm buildings, and came to an end in the fields where thousands of turnips led their secret lives … Among the furrows an image mouldered on its pedestal; and under a sky of clouded steel, the rooks cawed and wheeled and settled. Across the December landscape, flat and waterlogged with its clumps of drizzling coppice and barren-looking pasture-land, ran a rutted path which disappeared beneath an avenue of elm-trees … Isolated monks, all of them hooded and clogged, at work in the fields, ploughing or chopping wood, dotted this sodden panorama and the report of their falling axes reached the ear long seconds after the visual impact. Others were driving long herds of cattle to graze. Two of them would converse for a few seconds in their extraordinary semaphore, and then ‘Viens, la blanche!’ or, ‘á droite, grosse bête!’ would break the silence as a cow or a laggard cart-horse was urged through a gap in a hedge. Then the stillness fell once again’ (Fermor 1988, 67). 

More generally, the combination of landscape, nature and sense of place with language, music and imagery is one of the most potent and enduring alliances within artistic and literary practice. As Grigson (1984, xiii) has noted, it is artists, folklorists, poets, musicians and writers who are often able to most memorably articulate ‘an immediate record … of observations, of something seen, something sensed, something or other felt and enjoyed, in the country around them’. Here we can see another largely untapped potential confluence with landscape archaeology practice.[2]

Academic analysis of art and literature has tended to view the landscape as inferior and subordinate to the main subject of the work (human activity, buildings, animals and so on). Landscape, as background, organises or frames the subject to give context or definition, but interpretation of its intrinsic significance is often overlooked (Andrews 1999, 5-7); an echo of the aforementioned peripheral position of landscape in the study of monastic sites and their history until relatively recently. In an art history context, for instance, the traditional position presupposes a straightforward relationship between landscape, or a good view, and art, with the painterly image as the prime expression of this.[3] The artistic representation elicits an instinctive human response, which may be culturally influenced but essentially comes from within. A more sophisticated constructionist view has since become dominant, emphasising how we select, edit and interpret what we see. In Andrews (1999, 1-3, 15) formulation, the process of producing an artistic representation of a particular scene is twofold: ‘Land into landscape; landscape into art’, achieving a combining of the actual terrain in view and the pictorial image; in effect ‘the dissolving of the two together’.

A particularly fruitful exemplar of the symbiosis between art and landscape is Romanticism, a new way of looking at the world aesthetically (the gaze or view) and the relationship between nature and humanity which developed in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth century, influenced by, but also reacting against, the scientific rationality of the Enlightenment period (Johnson 2007b, 18-33). A transformation in envisioning that still resonates: as Austin (2013, 4) points out: ‘The monastic ruin is a key graphic, literary and architectural component of that change still strongly influencing our management and visiting of monuments in the contemporary landscape’. A number of notable figures associated with the Romantic Movement produced work in and about places and landscapes in the study area (as explored in Knight 1999; Moore 2007). William Gilpin is often credited with energising the popularity of notions of the picturesque and sublime through the publication of his Observations on the River Wye and Several Parts of South Wales in 1782, after which the Wye valley was firmly established on the domestic Grand Tour circuit for those who were both fashionable and wealthy. Gilpin (2005, 40) describes the landscape setting of Tintern Abbey in classic romantic terms thus: ‘The woods, and glades intermixed; the winding of the river; the variety of the ground; the splendid ruin, contrasted with the objects of nature; and the elegant line formed by the summits of the hills, which include the whole; make altogether a very inchanting (sic) piece of scenery’.

It was on a walking tour in 1793 that William Wordsworth passed through the Wye valley and was inspired to write Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, the final poem in his ground-breaking Lyrical Ballads collection with Coleridge (Daiches and Flower 1979, 119). Wordsworth focus was less on the narrow aesthetic vision of Gilpin and was guided by a more physical and emotional immersion in the landscape, to him the ruined abbey resonated with ‘the still sad music of humanity’ (Hardyment 2012, 76). The ruins of monastic houses featured regularly in the prodigious output of JMW Turner and he painted Llanthony Priory, Tintern Abbey and other topographical sites in the area. Of course, Turner and other landscape painters of the time were not seeking to develop an accurate documentary record of what they saw. Nevertheless, their work provides not only much topographical evidence (see Figure 1) but is also of value to the historian as a nuanced commentary on the tensions between the emerging new world of agri-industrial process and infrastructure and the buildings and land-use of earlier ages (Hamilton 2003, 11).

Figure 1: Llanthony Abbey, Cwmyoy, Monmouthshire by JMW Turner, 1794. The painting shows the surrounding hills higher and more precipitous than in reality, with a similarly romanticised river scene in the foreground. However, also clearly represented is the still now extant curvilinear enclosure on Loxey Tump above the ruins, which may originate as a medieval sheep corral operated by the Priory.
Both Llanthony and Tintern have continued to be the subject of much artistic work, inspired by the combination of romantic monastic ruins, a legacy of spirituality and dramatic landscape setting.[4] The study area as a whole also has a rich heritage of poetry, prose and folklore with a strong sense of place, a repository recording encounters and experiences captured whilst moving through the landscape which can help to bridge the gap between landscape archaeology and cultural theories of identity, memory and perception embodied in the landscape (Dunham 2007, 183).[5] There is also, as Macfarlane (2014, xxviii-xxix) highlights, a more esoteric legacy: ‘Perhaps because of its combination of wildness (high ground) and habitability (rich valleys), the southern English-Welsh borderland is a region that has bred a peculiar number of seers, savants and mystics’.[6] For instance, Alfred Watkins fieldwork in pursuit of his fanciful and discredited ley-lines theory during the 1920s can be seen as, in Matless’ words, ‘… an eccentric mirror-image of field archaeology’ as it was being developed and codified by Crawford and others at the time (1998, 82). An additional relevance is that most of the topographical descriptions and illustrations that appeared in Watkins’ book, The Old Straight Track (1925) are of the south-eastern Welsh Marches. The symbolism and referencing of temporal heritage within the landscape in artistic and literary representation, specifically in relation to the monastic legacy of the study area, would seem a fruitful evidence-base for further investigation. 

An example of an evolving literary conceptualisation of landscape that can also be drawn into this discussion is found in the flowering of what has been, somewhat misleadingly, called the New Nature Writing of the last decade or so (Procter 2014, 78). Perhaps in contradistinction to the long tradition of British natural history and topographical writing which has provided a balm of rural idyll for an increasingly urbanised population, contemporary writing on nature, landscape and place is in many ways coaxial to the cultural geographical responses to landscape discussed later in this section. Iain Sinclair has described natural historian Richard Mabey as ‘the unacknowledged pivot’ between an earlier tradition of environmental and nature writing and both the more experiential ‘new nature’ genre and those described as psycho-geographers (Hardyment 2012, 183; Mabey 2010, 11).[7] All share a rejection of the narrow confines of subject-specific discourse and a recognition of the interplay between human culture and the natural environment,[8] reviving the cadence of earlier generations of British writers such as John Clare, Richard Jefferies, Thomas Hardy and Edward Thomas (Procter 2014, 78).[9]

As this brief and partial synopsis has shown, sense of place is a vital component in a remarkably wide range of artistic and literary work. Topographical knowledge of the places and landscapes that form the subject matter can certainly assist in our understanding of art, music and writing (Daiches and Flower 1979, 7). However, the relationship is reciprocal: an analysis of art and literature inspired by or interpreting place can help our understanding of how these landscapes, and perceptions of them, have evolved over time.

Cultural geography and landscape

A return now to Johnson’s (2007) assertion that well-established empirical techniques and post-modern experiential approaches need not be mutually exclusive when studying historic landscapes. Both, in fact, embody the ancient Greek notion of theoria: to look, to contemplate, to speculate; or, in Walter’s (1988, 19-20) words, ‘a complex but active mode of observation’. The rich potential, largely untapped,[10] to blend cultural geographical discourse on how places are perceived, experienced and remembered with a more conventional landscape archaeology approach, as advocated by Fairclough and Johnson and outlined in my research paper #1 will now be examined (with due regard to the sage warnings from Fleming and others on the need for a bedrock of empirical context and substance when considering landscape perception).

A central concern of the New Geography that developed during the late 1960s and through to the early 1980s was to reframe notions of space, place and landscape through the prism of experiential perspectives, as articulated, for instance, through the concept of phenomenology. This approach viewed the environment as more than just a passive backdrop or external object of the spectator’s gaze; providing a challenge to more traditional ideas of landscape as simply a way of seeing the world or a repository of empirical material data (Creswell 2004, 12-13; Tilley 1994, 10; Wylie 2007, 144). Such a paradigm drew on European philosophy concerned with the nature of existence, in particular the concepts of dwelling, being in the world and embodiment, the intertwining of self and landscape as the basis of experience as espoused by philosophical theorists Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (Tilley 1994, 13-14; Wylie 2007, 140-151).

More recently Tim Ingold has revived this questioning of the notion of landscape as a way of seeing the world and the Cartesian duality between culture:nature and observer:observed that has traditionally informed cultural geography, anthropology, archaeology and Western philosophical thought as a whole (Ingold 2000, 189; Wylie 2007, 145). His challenge to this order is to build on Heidegger’s ‘dwelling perspective’, binding nature and culture together whilst also recognising the dynamism inherent within landscape processes: ‘It is through being inhabited that the world becomes a meaningful environment’ (Ingold 2000, 173).[11] Thus a ‘human ecodynamic’ approach is constructed, requiring an integrated research methodology (McGlade 1999, 465).

That raw spatial entity becomes landscape through perception and memory has been a central concern of anthropology and cultural geography in recent times (Wylie 2007, 191). Landscapes are increasingly seen as ‘a form of codification of history itself’ and, as such, embody remembrance and invoke the past (Stewart and Stratham 2003, 1); or rather, the physical and perceptual remains of multiple pasts, including those more distant and open to different interpretations (Holtorf and Williams 2006, 237; Shama 1996, 10; Tilley 1994, 11). However, as Holtorf and Williams (2006, 236-7) have identified, landscape archaeology ‘rarely considers how memories (including mythologies, genealogies as well as cultural, community, and personal histories) were inherited, inhabited, invented and imagined through the landscape’. In reality, physical experience of the landscape and local social customs, relations and memory are indivisible. Furthermore, topographical reminders have often been fundamental as a way of spatial remembering and interpreting in times of social and economic change (Walsham 2011, 7; Whyte 2009, 2, 9)There is, therefore, considerable scope to more effectively connect and cross-reference the recording of material traces through archaeological fieldwork with evidence of how landscapes have been remembered and reappropriated by successive generations, through the interpretative layers provided by oral folk memories, antiquarian investigation, Romantic artistic representation, the modern heritage industry and so on (Holtorf and Williams 2006, 238-242) (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: The Stony Way, Tintern, Monmouthshire: A major routeway connecting Tintern Abbey with its outlying granges and manors during the monastic period, now a backwater recreational path but with the remnants of its engineered medieval surface still clearly visible and echoed in the name of the path; its past also remembered through inclusion in the Cistercian Way long distance walking route (Author).

A phenomenological approach to landscape, based on experience, memory and perception has manifested itself widely across the humanities and artistic practice, demonstrating its practical utilisation as a distinctive form of landscape study that can supplement other approaches (Wylie 2013, 57, 61).[12] In an archaeological context, phenomenology has been particularly pioneered in prehistoric studies (see, for instance, Bradley 2000; Tilley 1994, 2004, 2010), where a coalescing of anthropology, archaeology and performance practice has emerged (Wylie 2007, 169).[13] This can be seen as part of a broader exploration of the social and political dimension of landscape now firmly established in the archaeology of prehistory and its management as a heritage resource (McGlade 1999, 459). For instance, as illustrated by Darvill’s (1999, 116) advocacy of a ‘space-time-action model’ in which the analysis of the physical distribution of sites and features is a starting point for investigating social action and experience across the landscape rather than an end in itself.

As most comprehensively practiced and explained by Christopher Tilley (2004, 219), the phenomenology of prehistoric landscapes is characterised by a tactile and field-oriented approach, foregrounded by direct in situ encounters that go beyond the standard interactions with artefacts, sites and landscapes of drawing plans, photography, mapping and excavation: activities that disembody the evidence from its landscape context through conversion into text and imagery, producing what Thrift has described as ‘dead geographies’ (Wylie 2007, 171). The aim is to reclaim landscape as a holistic term embracing body, place, perception and the relationship between people and place, to identify an ‘intelligent landscape’ in which the topography and physiography of land and thought are distinct but linked (Tilley 1994, 14; 2004, 25). An approach Ingold (2005, 122) has described as ‘a manifesto for a genuinely outdoor archaeology’, a response to the paradox that much of the writing up, analysis and theorising of archaeological fieldwork takes place indoors i.e. away from the experience of being in and inhabiting the landscape under scrutiny, through sight, sound and other senses and feelings.

Criticisms of the phenomenological approach to landscape

Such approaches have not been without their critics and sceptics, indeed phenomenology in particular has been viewed with suspicion by many in the academic disciplines in which it has been practiced (Wylie 2007, 180). There has been a perception that it amounts to little more than an ambiguous abstract theory, removed from practical experience, lacking a clear and valid methodology[14] and dislocated from environmental, socio-economic, historical, and indeed wider landscape, contexts (McGlade 1999, 461; Wylie 2007, 139-140, 180-1). Such claims are strongly refuted by its advocates who counter that everyday experience and field-based practice are central tenants of the approach. In Tilley’s (1994, 11) words it requires ‘a continuous dialectic between ideas and empirical data’. In relation to its archaeological application, Fleming (2007, 89) has questioned how well the fieldwork methodology of the phenomenological approach has been established, in contrast to the more clearly formulated and tested techniques of modern landscape archaeology. More specifically, the veracity of claims made about the siting of, for example, certain Neolithic monuments following phenomenological research has been queried (Barrett and Ko 2009, 275).

More fundamentally, the charge has been levelled that there is an underpinning romanticising of rural, pre-modern and non-Western ways of experiencing landscape, with a simplistic and nostalgic view of the ‘more authentic’ engagement of the past in comparison to modern, detached, objective interaction (Wylie 2007, 181-2). In reference to the medieval period in particular, Bull (2005) has outlined the many pitfalls of applying a modern value system or even a mock medieval interpretation to how people thought and acted during the Middle Ages, an unconscious trap that it would be easy for a phenomenological viewpoint to fall into.

The tensions between landscape archaeology and post-modernism in the form of phenomenology and other post-processual theory were recorded in the series of exchanges between Fleming and Johnson previously alluded to in research paper #1. This is a debate which could perhaps run and run, but to the outside eye Fleming’s (2008, 76) even-handed conclusion that, as with other disciplines across the humanities and social sciences, post-modernism can bring refreshing innovation to existing landscape archaeology praxis rather than replacing it seems to be a judgement that most could agree with.[15] Such a view seems to fit well with Wylie’s (2007, 186) assertion that the phenomenological approach has ‘identified new topical grounds and new forms of research practice, at once enriching and diversifying the ambit of landscape studies’.

Psycho-geography and deep topography

A further layer of cultural geographical thought will now be brought into the discussion: an approach to landscape and place, psycho-geography, that has to date had limited convergence with phenomenological ideas and practice, let alone those of landscape archaeology. In its archaeological and anthropologist incarnations, phenomenology has generally concerned itself with a rural context. In contrast, with its loose origins both in the English literary tradition of radical commentary on the underbelly of the city, largely centred on London,[16] and the dérive (unplanned journey) of the Dadist and Situationist art and intellectual movements of mid-twentieth century Paris, psycho-geography has largely remained resolutely urban in focus (Coverley 2006, 12). The common ground between the two is the focus on direct experiential engagement with spatial surroundings, generally through the agency of walking.

Perhaps because it is quite nebulous and resistant to definition, psycho-geography has become something of a catch-all term, a meeting point for a number of ideas and traditions with interwoven histories relating to the convergence of psychology and geography: the impact of the geographical environment on the human mind, emotions and behaviours (Coverley 2006, 10-11). In essence, psycho-geography provides a fresh way to read and interpret geographical space and bring together normally disparate subject-matter.[17] The work of Iain Sinclair in political perambulations through contested spaces in and around London has proved particularly influential (see, for example, Sinclair 2003, 2011), but perhaps the magnus opus of a contemporary emerging landscape philosophising that can be loosely aligned with the psycho-geographic tradition is W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn (1995). Sebald recounts a ground-breaking narrative of a long East Anglian walk that becomes a portal for evocations of and meditations on an array of times, places and people.[18] Young (2010, 24) has commented that: ‘Both these authors are adept at springing out the hermetic and esoteric histories lying latent in the landscape’.

Nick Papadimitriou is another writer who has been labelled as a psycho-geographer. In Scarp: In Search of London’s Outer Limits (2012), he defines his approach more specifically as Deep Topography. This terminology could also be used to describe the work of writers and researchers, largely operating outside of the academic arena, such as Keiller (2013), Robinson (1990) and Self (2007). Exponents of a more nuanced counterpart to psycho-geography, less shackled to its conceptual and urban prescriptions though also an even less theoretically sharpened approach.[19] Self (2007, 11-12) has described deep topography as ‘minutely detailed, multi-level examinations of select locales that impact upon the writer’s own microscopic inner-eye’, combining ecology, history, poetry and sociology. As Papadimitriou’s ventures into deep topography throughout the Middlesex-Hertfordshire boundary lands and Sebald’s long existential walk along the East Anglian coast have demonstrated, any landscape can in principle be opened up to what Sinclair has described as: ‘psycho-geography lite. It was a long way from the Situationists but it suited the English sentiment about walking, deep-topography, historical scavenging’ (Kobek 2014, 7).[20]

Although psycho-geographical texts and practice have attracted academic interest in recent years, this has tended to be within the confines of cultural geography and literary studies and focused on the urban experience.[21] There has been little interaction with other disciplines traditionally concerned with landscape: ecology, history, archaeology and so forth. It is perhaps worth speculating that the critique of and suspicions around phenomenology outlined above would be equally manifest in relation to psycho-geography and deep topography, particularly as it is generally practised outside an academic or professional setting. The underpinning philosophy and praxis here is perhaps though closer to more established approaches to landscape and place than one might initially think as archaeology, ecology and local history are all disciplines partially dependent on a dedicated cadre of amateur enthusiasts. Self (2007, 12) has proclaimed that practitioners of psycho-geography are ‘really only local historians with an attitude problem’, though often viewed with suspicion, if noted at all, by those in professional landscape study fraternities.  

Experience and perception in the study of historic landscapes

The adoption of the types of approaches that explicitly examine experience and perception considered here has been somewhat under-developed in the study of historic landscapes, despite the fact that there would appear to be considerable scope for greater application in considering how people moved through and engaged with their surroundings (Gardiner and Rippon 2007, 6; Gilchrist 2009, 391; Holtorf and Williams 2006, 237). Examples would include Altenberg’s (2003) comparative consideration of space and identity in case studies drawn from perceived marginal areas of medieval Britain and Scandinavia, and Johnson’s (2002) adoption of a phenomenological approach to underscore his study of the role of castles as elite stage settings, reflective of a focus on symbolism when considering designed medieval landscapes. Nicola Whyte’s Inhabiting the Landscape: Place, Custom and Memory, 1500-1800 (2009) can also be cited as a novel example of landscape archaeology research that foregrounds understanding and integrating people’s perception, memory, interpretation and experience of landscape, rather than focussing more narrowly on economic and environmental factors to explain landscape evolution, rooted in evidence from detailed local case studies. As Whyte (2009, 5) contends: ‘Understanding the landscape, as it was ‘inhabited’, should not be confined to prehistory’.

As Walsham (2011, 5) observes, people in the early modern period did not have a polarised view of nature and culture, they were indivisible in the landscape: ‘A supplementary source of revelation’, imbued with meaning and memory. A recurring and on-going phenomena that Tuan (2013) has characterised as ‘topophilia’, the connection and interrelation between people and place. This intertwinedness can also be given a voice through the combining of some of the perspectives drawn from cultural geography identified here with landscape archaeology practice; providing a freshness to the analysis of landscape and place, through the enriched understanding of environment, culture and meaning that interdisciplinarity can encourage (Cosgrove 2008, 3). The rich and varied afterlife of the monastic estates in the study area for this project, coupled with the artistic and literary output and folk memories that they generated, has particular potential for the application of this more expansive landscape perspective.

[1] For instance, The Monk: A Romance (1796) by M.G. Lewis, generally viewed as one of the first Gothic novels; M. R. James’ ghost story, The Treasure of Abbot Thomas (1904); Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (1983); the Cadfael (1977-1994) historical murder mysteries of Edith Pargeter; and Casper David Friedrich’s painting, The Abbey in the Oakwood (1810).

[2] For instance, landscape archaeology, is not represented amongst the contributors to the multi-disciplinary discourse on landscape and art context in DeLue, and Elkins edited volume, Landscape Theory: The Art Seminar (2008).

[3] As articulated, for instance, in Clark’s Landscape into Art (1966).

[4] As detailed in the hand list brochures for the Sites of Inspiration: Tintern Abbey and Llanthony Priory exhibitions at Abergavenny and Chepstow Museums in 2014. The Llanthony valley has been a particular foci for artists, notably during the period in which sculptor and typographer Eric Gill established a bohemian artistic-religious community at Capel-y-ffin in the 1920s.

[5] Evidence for which would include a rich corpus of Anglo-Welsh folklore tales (Palmer 1998; Simpson 1976); the late nineteenth century country diaries of the Reverend Francis Kilvert; the fiction and non-fiction of Raymond Williams: see, for instance, People of the Black Mountains I: The Beginning, and II: the Eggs of the Eagle (1990a,1990b) and The Country and the City (2011); and Bruce Chatwin’s On the Black Hill (1998), Owen Sheers Resistance (2007) and Iain Sinclair’s Landor’s Tower (2002): all novels underwritten by their Welsh Marches and Black Mountains locations.

[6] As illustration, Macfarlane name-checks William Langland, Thomas Traherne, Henry Vaughan, John Dee, Arthur Machan and Alfred Watkins. Macfarlane has written of a contemporary convergence of psycho-geography, ecology, archaeology, mythology and hauntology more generally in British culture in his article, This Spectred Isle (2015).

[7] Mabey’s prolific output includes a 1986 biography of Gilbert White (eighteenth century parson-naturalist and author of the Ur-text of British natural history writing, Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, 1798), The Unofficial Countryside (1973), a seminal exploration of the nature in urban edgelands, and Nature Cure (2005), a treatise on the positive impact of the natural world and sense of place on the human condition.

[8] For example, see Deakin (2007), Macfarlane (2007, 2012, 2015): evidence of a synergy with the deep topography and psycho-geography of Papademitrou, Sebald, Sinclair and others discussed further on in this section.

[9] Books such as Jefferies’ Wild Life in a Southern County (2011) and Thomas’ The South Country (2009), chronicled not only flora and fauna but also the human life of communities whose everyday lives were immersed in the landscape, based on intimate knowledge and capacious walking.

[10] For instance, the overview of methodological approaches and practical guide to investigating medieval rural settlements in Christie, and Stamper’s edited volume, Medieval Rural Settlement: Britain and Ireland AD800-1600 (2011), contain no mention of phenomenological or other cultural geographical approaches (Jones and Hooke 2011; Lewis 2011).

[11] Somewhat puzzlingly, Ingold used a painting of a medieval scene, The Harvester by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1565), rather than direct experience to demonstrate being in the landscape (Gilchrist 2009, 391-392).

[12] Examples would include: Ingold’s (2000) already mentioned application in anthropology; Land Art based on bodily contact and experience of landscape as practised by, for example, Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Long and Robert Smithson; Richard Skelton’s experimental musical and literary projects in specific locations using sound, art, photography and archive research to reflect on the landscape and its inhabitants (Hudson 2015, 65-6; Skelton 2010); practice and performance studies involving direct participation of walking, driving, climbing, gardening etc.; and movement and mobility studies, connecting eye, body and land (Lund 2012; Pearson and Shanks 1997; Wylie 2005; 2007, 166, 177; 2013, 61).

[13] The experimental encounters with sites, materials and landscapes in Shanks and Pearson’s Theatre/ Archaeology (2001) being a prime example.

[14] Tilley’s field methods have been criticised for being overly dependent on the perception and interpretation of the individual researcher, an over-representation of visual perception at the expense of other forms of experience and an over-emphasis on experiencing specific monuments rather than the wider landscape (Altenberg 2003, 27-28).

[15] It is also interesting to note that one of the few examples of an experiential approach to historic landscape fieldwork is provided by Fleming himself in a novel article on medieval long-distance roads that uses a modern journey on horse-back along such a track as part of its evidence base, though the use of this methodology is not elaborated upon (Fleming 2010b).

[16] Notably the writings of those whom Ackroyd (2004, 308-14) has termed ‘Cockney Visionaries’, from Chaucer and Bunyan to Defoe, Blake and Dickens. A tradition taken forward into the modern age through the contrasting work and style of Ackroyd himself, Ballard, Sinclair and Keiller (Coverley 2006, 25-9).

[17] For instance, Solnit’s (2001) writings on the history, philosophy and psychology of walking and Farley and Symmons Roberts (2011) exploration of the minutia of England’s urban edgelands.

[18] Which can be compared with film-maker Werner Herzog’s record of his walk from Munich to Paris, Of Walking in Ice (1991), and also has echoes of Hilaire Belloc’s (1945, 1958) accounts of his proto-psycho-geographical neo-pilgrimages from Canterbury to Winchester and from the Upper Mosselle valley in France to Rome at the turn of the twentieth century.

[19] A Google Scholar search for deep topography yields plentiful references to oceanographic research but none for cultural geography or landscape study.

[20] A further example would be Worpole and Orton's (2005, 2013) exploration of the marginal countryside of the estuary indented, marsh rich and semi-industrial Essex coastline: a liminal landscape in close proximity to, but also estranged from, the urban expanse of London.

[21] For example, Richardson’s Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography (2015) and Garrett’s examination of the practice of urban exploration (urbex) or place-hacking, Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City (2013).