Country diary: a visual rhyme of craftsmanship and nature | Environment

The weakest of the year’s sunlight falls on the barn-studded latticework of dry stone walls just outside Grassington. I stop to admire the skill they must have required: the Great Scar Limestone that underlies much of Upper Wharfedale comes from the fields in big, irregular chunks, too dense for a chipping hammer, and the resulting walls are completed puzzles that testify to the creativity of the builder.

4608 - Country diary: a visual rhyme of craftsmanship and nature | Environment



A dry stone wall made from Great Scar Limestone near Grassington. Photograph: Carey Davies

The bone-white boundary walls that enclose the sheep pastures around Grassington can be starkly geometric in places, but today I find the way they complement the outcrops and escarpments around Grass Wood to be compelling, a sort of visual rhyme that couples human craftsmanship and natural texture.

This type of rock was born as dead life, the lithified remnants of teeming Carboniferous seas in tropical latitudes, and the landscape still contains echoes of its oceanic origins.

On Conistone Old Pasture, the bedding lines of the rock have been uplifted into wave-like, rippling contours.

That inconspicuous line of green hillocks under Burnsall Fell? The Cracoe Reef Knolls, the preserved outline of mountains of ancient coral. The overhanging shape of Kilnsey Crag, one of the most famous features of the Great Scar Limestone, was carved by ice, but it has taken on the form of a cresting wave about to crash into the dale.

Great Scar Limestone originated near the equator, but following the northwards migration of the British landmass, it met the ice of successive periods of glaciation, the last of which gouged out the shape of the dale.

4608 - Country diary: a visual rhyme of craftsmanship and nature | Environment



A dry stone wall frames the rippling limestone contours of Conistone Old Pasture. Photograph: Carey Davies

As we walk over limestone pavements on the way to Kettlewell, I marvel at the thought of vast ice sheets scraping over rock that was once the life of a bath-warm sea. The Earth’s climatic extremes are fused together in the geology underfoot.

The day begins to cloud over and, as the weather settles into a greyish, tepid neutrality, I am reminded of TS Eliot’s “midwinter spring” in Little Gidding: “suspended in time, between pole and tropic”. It could also serve as a description of Upper Wharfedale today.

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