Thursday 22 March 2012

Men may come and men may go, but I go on forever

Mountain stream, Wharfedale, Yorkshire Dales
To continue the theme of the last post, water has a centrality not just to landform morphology but also to our relationship with the landscape.

Streams, brooks, rivers, ponds, lakes and the sea are a living, dynamic presence amongst the inanimate soil and rock of the land.

When in an upland valley my vision is always drawn upwards to the fluting gullies carrying the becks and streams down from the boggy high ground to the parent watercourse below. Following such fledglings is an elemental thrill - hand on rock and moss, boots in water - upwards to the source, or downwards to find a way off a mist-shrouded hill; the murmuring water a reassuring companion. Scouting out a spot to stop for lunch on a days walking on the fell is always predicated on finding a watery idyll to hunker down beside. 

Some of the clearest entries in my own landscape memory bank are water-based: a waterlog in effect, with apologies to Roger Deakin. Endless childhood hours playing around a disused sheep-dip on Finham Brook; shudderingly cold skinny-dipping in a mountain lake after a long, hot days ridge-walking taking in Carrauntoohil, Ireland's highest peak; canoeing on the river Wye; crawling behind a waterfall in Venezuela; and two days spent absorbing the visual and aural grandeur of Iguazu Falls. And whilst I have experienced the visceral thrills and spills of coasteering on a couple of occasions, my own personal highlight has been gorge-walking in the Neath Valley, South Wales: following the course of a fast-flowing river up a narrow gorge, scaling boulders, traversing rapids, crawling into tunnels forced through rock by water, and a fully clothed plunge into a waterfall pool as a finale. 

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (not normally my literary cup of tea) captures the feeling that water in the landscape engenders in his poem, The Brook:
I come from haunts of coot and hern,
I make a sudden sally
And sparkle out among the fern,
To bicker down a valley.

By thirty hills I hurry down,
Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorpes, a little town,
And half a hundred bridges.

 Till last by Philip's farm I flow
 To join the brimming river,
For  men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.

I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles.

 With many a curve my banks I fret
By many a field and fallow,
And many a fairy foreland set
With willow-weed and mallow.

I chatter, chatter, as I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go ob for ever.

I wind about, and in and out,
With here a blossom sailing,
And here and there a lusty trout,
And here and there a grayling,

And here and there a foamy flake
Upon me, as I travel
With many a silvery waterbreak
Above the golden gravel,

And draw them all along, and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.

I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
I slide by hazel covers;
I move the sweet forget-me-nots
That grow for happy lovers.

I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance
Among my skimming swallows
I make the netted sunbeam dance
Against my sandy shallows.

I murmer under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming rover,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.


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