Poetic Cotswold Landscapes

National Poetry Day was celebrated on Ravensgate Hill overlooking Cheltenham last week when our new first years on their second Appraising Landscapes field trip had ‘Up There’ by Ivor Gurney recited to them. Gurney (1890-1937), a local poet, drew much inspiration from the Gloucestershire landscape.

On Cotswold edge there is a field and that
Grows thick with corn and speedwell and the mat
Of thistles, of the tall kind; Rome lived there,
Some hurt centurion got his grant or tenure,
Built farm with fowls and pigsties and wood-piles,
Waited for service custom between whiles.
The farmer ploughs up coins in the wet-earth time,
He sees them on the topple of crests gleam,
Or run down furrow; and halts and does let them lie
Like a small black island in brown immensity,
Red pottery easy discovered, no searching needed…
One wonders what farms were like, no searching needed,
As now the single kite hovering still
By the coppice there, level with the flat of the hill.

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This second trip contrasted with the urban visit the previous week as it now focused on the wider semi-natural landscape of the Cotswolds, designated an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). Following the Cotswold Way from Severn Springs to Wistley and Ravensgate Hills on the steep Cotswold escarpment we were offered excellent views over Cheltenham and the Vale of Gloucester and Malvern Hills beyond. Apart from discussing the observable topography, soils and hedgerow plants, the group were  introduced to the idea of natural beauty, feelings, perceptions and memories of place, something which Gurney’s poem clearly addresses. The view from Ravensgate Hill is particularly laden with meaning and memories, sights and sounds, textures and colours.

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One visitor to this place wrote the following:

“As I climbed Ravensgate Hill I could sense a WOW moment. The more I climbed the more the views to the west, north and east revealed themselves and they were simply fantastic. With the sun now out from its milky cloud canopy the Vale of Evesham looked stunning, as did the mountains beyond. I sat on a bench, took lunch and enjoyed a brilliant refreshment break taking in the magnificence of it all. There is no better place than Britain in summer and I was looking at its beauty as I rested. A gentleman approached me and stopped to talk a while. We both revelled in the view we were enjoying and he told me the story of how JR Tolkein took inspiration from this view and used it for the structure of Middle Earth in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. After learning that I said farewell and resumed my walk, in the rich knowledge that I not only know more about wild flowers but also about British classical literature too. Walks have surprising revelations.” http://www.walkingenglishman.com/cotswolds05.html

At this location, we also had explained to us the work of the Woodland Trust volunteers. The nearby Lineover Wood is a notable woodland of ancient lime trees and a site of special scientific interest (SSSI); Paul Arnold and Tricia Atkinson gave a brief resumé of the kind of work they do as volunteers, from hedge-laying, dry-stone walling to coppicing and ‘managing’ the ‘unimproved’ limestone grassland to increase biodiversity particularly butterflies and moths. For further information email volunteering@woodlandtrust.org.uk.

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About gloscape

Landscape Architecture @ University of Gloucestershire

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