In August 2013, while we were carrying out Land Keepers, we joined Anthony Hartley in the Duddon Valley to help fix some wall gaps. He was with Andrew, who had been working with him for nineteen years, and Michael, a younger man who’d been helping on the farm for eight years. After our morning on the fell we headed back to the farm. At the kitchen table, Anthony told us that Michael would be leaving - he was ready for his own farm and was heading to Derbyshire. Michael had applied for tenancies on local farms, but without success. His departure, and Anthony’s sadness at his loss, albeit alongside optimism for his future, inspired this poem. Though not intended as such, it is a reminder of Wordsworth’s poem of the same name where an older Michael stays in the valley and mourns the departure of his son. Michael told us his goal would always be to farm in the Lake District, and he hoped his departure wasn’t a final farewell. It was good to here that in 2019 he returned and took up a tenancy in the Wasdale Valley.
On the hill that summer’s day, grey cloud hung low, like a lid.
Under foot, wet grass, bracken, and tormentil standing in for sun.
We passed Low Bridge Beck and Shepherd Gill,
Walked beneath broad bog patches and Dawson Pike,
Tracing the wall, holding the line between intake and fell ... Read the poem in full here.
We love curlews and are fortunate to have several pairs visit the fields around our house each year. Our love, however, is always tinged with concern: these ground-nesting birds are extremely vulnerable and there has been severe population decline in recent decades. Changes in farming practices with early or repeat grass cutting and pressure from predation have reduced the safety of nests, and the survival of chicks is by no means certain. Recent estimates are that the population has fallen by 80% in the last five decades. If too few chicks survive, the species could collapse. On the plus side, there is increasing work being done to protect nests, and to raise awareness of the birds' plight. In 2020 we became involved in the protection of a local nest. You can follow that story on our blog. For now, here are two poems inspired by curlews:
Hope Interrupted was first shared as part of Remembrance Day for Lost Species.
this is hope / challenged
this is hope / fading ...
Read the full poem here.
This second poem, Curlews at Raw Green Farm, 2017, appeared in the anthology ‘Curlews’ in 2017.
At this time of year the sky wrings out winter
over yellowed grass ... Read the full poem here.
Where the River Flows
In 2016, we were invited to join a team of environmental scientists and researchers in the Conwy Valley in North Wales. Their task was to explore relationships between precipitation, soil and water quality along the length of the Conwy River; ours was to meet and interview the researchers and people who lived there and whose work connected them to the river. This poem is spoken in Welsh. It’s origins are in English but the final poem found its form in conversation with Welsh farmers Gareth and Ann Jones, who, in translating it, shaped its melody and feel.
lle mae'r afon yn llifo / lle mae'r ddafad yn mynd ...
A residency with Sail Britain in 2018 took us along the spectacular northwest coast of Scotland with a team of geologists: we learnt about sailing and geology as we went. Here’s one of the poems that arose from that trip.
a week that's mostly about sailing / isn't really enough time
to get my head around time ...
Read the poem here.
View from Manchester Flat
The Tree Line anthology was put together by Michael McKimm in 2017, the year the UK’s Tree Charter was launched. It’s a real pleasure to have this poem included - it’s a reflection on an event that happened in 1995 and clinched my decision to leave Manchester and set up home away from the city.
My window looked onto other windows
a straight-line scene, bricks, metal, glass ... Read the full poem here.
Between 2013 and 2017 we spent a great deal of time with upland farmers in Cumbria, both for the Land Keepers project and during my research for an MPhil, which resulted in a short book and poetry collection. Here are two poems written during the lambing season, which on upland farms, begins in May.
Reaching for the Wood
Love climbing trees? This one's for you ... read more here.