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Reading the Landscape

By Nimue Brown

The history of a land is often very present in its shapes, surfaces and in remaining structures. That which is beneath the soil – remnants of builds for example, will change the vigour of plants and create a visible indicator of what went before. Ghosts of old hedges and paths, remnants of mediaeval field systems can all be in a UK landscape. There are roads and field layouts in this country that are 4000 years old, and more.

It is not an easy thing, learning to read a landscape. As an avid walker, I’ve invested a lot of time in trying to make sense of what’s around me. Old sheep tracks, wood boundaries, new woods that indicate a different history, yet have ancient forest flora on the ground… I found the shell of a cottage once that had a tale to tell. Outside the cottage walls, was a field. Inside, were plants more normally associated with woodland cover. Certainly the shade must have helped, but it inclined me to think that the cottage had been built in a wood, or a recently cleared wood, and the field had come after. When the cottage fell to ruin, the woodland plants grew and reproduced themselves. Seeds can lie dormant in the soil for a very long time.

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