Network Members Gather for Workshop Two in the Quantock Hills, 1-3 March


By Peter Coates

Core Research Network participants are gathering next week at Halsway Manor, Crowcombe, Somerset (Tuesday 1st to Thursday 3rd March; with some staying on until Friday morning).  Participants, who’ll be coming from as far afield as Stirling and Amsterdam, will be joined by a number of guests (including a Bristol University doctoral student in history, a visiting environmental historian from Australia and a member of the AHRC Landscape and Environment programme director’s Impact Fellowship team).

Halsway Manor

Halsway Manor (Photo: Libby Robin)

Halsway Manor, a mainly Tudor manor house that serves as the National Centre for Traditional Music, Dance and Song – our workshop is sandwiched between ‘The Final Annual Yetties Weekend’ and The Northumbrian Pipers – is located on the western fringes of the Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural beauty (AONB). We’ll be joined by three members representing our Workshop Partner, the Quantock Hills AONB team, based at Fyne Court, a nearby National Trust property (where a session will be held on Wednesday). Also offering presentations and contributing to our discussions of what is probably the least studied of the major categories of protected lands in England and Wales, will be various other locally based people with expert knowledge and extensive experience of the Quantocks: an artist, a photographer and landscape historian. Representatives of the organization Friends of Quantock (founded in 1949) will also participate. We will be spending time on the hills and listening and responding to papers ranging from the specific (landscape character assessment in the Quantocks, tourism in the Quantocks and the landscape of Scotland’s Glen Almond as cultural record) to the more general (the notion of natural beauty and the relationship between pollution around and within us). In addition, roundtable discussion will focus on how the work of environmental historians (of the UK and beyond) can feed into and add value to the AONB service’s work by informing the revision of management plans. We will also consider possibilities for future collaboration with those who manage the oldest AONB in England (1957) and the second oldest in England and Wales (the Gower Peninsula was designated in 1956).

On 21 March 1913, the Anglo-Welsh poet, Edward Thomas, pedalled out of London on a pilgrimage to the Quantocks (‘that holy of holy of  English poetry’). As he recorded in In Pursuit of Spring (1914), his account of that westward journey to England’s quintessential literary landscape, a place forever inseparable from Wordsworth and Coleridge, ‘I had a wish of a mildly imperative nature that Spring would be arriving among the Quantocks at the same time as myself’. Thomas wasn’t disappointed: there were plenty of signs of spring (bluebells and cowslips) and the weather was mostly sunny and mild.  In the vicinity of Cothelstone Hill – which we’ll be climbing on Wednesday morning – he found ‘the grave of winter’ (a discarded posy of the first bluebells and cowslips strewn by the side of the road). It’s unrealistic to hope that we’ll be blessed by an even earlier spring. But perhaps the crocus and daffodils will be in bloom and the sky clear enough for us to savour the picturesque (?), beautiful (?), sublime (?) views from ‘smooth Quantock’s airy ridge’ that Wordsworth recalled so fondly in The Prelude (1798-99).


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