The sleeping landscape

I can’t help thinking that with the nationalisation of the railways began a bizarre experiment to cure this mode of transport of any shred of the excitement or romance it may once have had. On a winter’s night many years ago, sat in a stuffy, overheated carriage with just my reflection for company, the “golden age of rail” seemed a world away; consigned to the pages of novels, if indeed it ever existed at all.

There were very few people on the train that night and, as we left the station, I was surprised to find that I still had the carriage to myself. The fluorescent lights were flickering disconcertingly and I gave up trying to read. I soon found myself staring into the blackness, watching the edge of the track rushing past in the light from the carriage windows.

Needless to say, the journey was passing quite slowly, when the lights suddenly gave up altogether and I was pitched into darkness.

Except that it wasn’t darkness. In front of me, visible for the first time, lay miles of English countryside—a land of misted brooks, twinkling villages and cold, moonlit spires; of fields, woods and twisting lanes, hedges pale with hoarfrost.

It was hard not to feel a sense of loss: a feeling that somewhere in all of our technological progress, a part of our collective spirit seemed to have gone; some of our innocence lost. We are a nation of story-tellers, yet we now travel hundreds of miles across the countryside with no tales to tell, and it takes a circuit breaker to trip in our manufactured world before we experience what lies beyond the darkness at the end of the platform.

The legends and superstitions of earlier centuries were the products of a society less enlightened in all ways, yet in the moonlight it was easy to see where these tales could have sprung from, told around flickering firesides and similar in some ways to experiences I would have later—coming down from Moel-y-Golfa on a scented summer night, the woods rustling with badgers; or on the Old Kenmare Road in western Ireland, sure to have had its share of… ghosts.

A flickering light at the other end of the carriage: the guard, fiddling with some control panel on the wall. He never got the lights to come back on, and I was glad of my escape from the manufactured world.

February snow

The early snowfall in October could have been a warning sign of things to come, the snow finally arriving in force this week and forcing me to park my car in the village for the past few nights. Even so, the knee-deep drifts on the lane up to Marsh’s Pool this afternoon still came as a surprise.

This view was taken looking southwards over the pool, which, not for the first time this winter, is starting to freeze over. A local farmer told me people were skating on it a few weeks back.

Transient Midwinter

We don’t seem to get much snow in southern Britain these days and, when we do, it never seems to stay for long. I try not to miss the opportunity to photograph it when it happens.

The chance comes surprisingly early this year as late October brings a fleeting snowfall, covering the hills for a couple of hours.

Abandoning the car on the increasingly icy road up to Trannon Moor—mainly because it isn’t mine and I don’t fancy the idea of stuffing it into a ditch—I continue the journey on foot. A couple of sets of wheel tracks up to the windfarm offices but after that I’m really out on my own. It feels like a different world, and I don’t completely recognise it.

I love the way snow can transform a landscape. The rest of the world now seems a long way away, separated by layers of silence. I’ve visited the moor on many occasions but I’m especially glad to have made the effort this morning.

Experience tells me to work quickly and two hours later I’m on my way back to the car, the snow dropping from the trees, the lane slushy and running in water. It’s 9 o’clock, another hour and this magical landscape will have gone as quickly as it came.