A look back on the Quantock Hills and forward to Kielder


By Tim Cole

In The Official Guide to the Quantocks, Exmoor Country and the Adjacent Sea Coast published by Williton Rural District Council in the 1930s, the Quantock hills were offered up to the visitor as ‘clothed in a wonderful variety of colours’ reflecting changing seasonal patterns of vegetation: ‘Blue as heaven’ (bluebells) faded to ‘gentle green’ (young ferns) ‘relieved by purple rhododrendrons’ followed by the

The ‘full warm tones’ of the top of the Quantock Hills (Photo: Erin Gill)

of heather, ‘brilliant gold…’ (gorse) and ‘bright orange brown’ (dying bracken). It is the most explicit, but not the only, rendering of this landscape in largely visual terms as a landscape of colour in interwar guidebooks. It is a privileging, as Andy notes in his posting, of the visual, which he suggests may involve a certain detachment from the physical land, perhaps as viewed through the car windscreen by the interwar motorist.

But this privileging of the visual can also be seen stretching from the romantic tradition of Coleridge and Wordsworth that saw the Quantocks (as Petra suggests) ‘not as a working landscape but as a painting, as picturesque’ through to Jenny Graham’s choice of an un-peopled landscape painted in ‘soft hues’ (noted by Paul in his posting connecting Wicken Fen and the Quantocks).

However, as Gary Penny’s photographs – in black and white, and of people at work – suggest there is another way of seeing this landscape as a place of work, leisure and ritual rendered in stark monochrome. And this brings me back to that 1930s guide. It offers a far more strident palate than either Gary’s black and white documentary photography or Jenny’s muted greens and browns. Instead it celebrates the Quantocks as a landscape of vivid blues, purples, yellows and oranges. In part this may be about a different way of seeing – and I think that Andy’s comments picking up on my own paper about the differences between static framing and seeing in movement are worth exploring here. But it also reflects a different way of managing this landscape and offering it up as a more restricted range of colours. As the AONB team told us, rhododendrons have been uprooted and bracken has been sprayed. Invasive species have been removed. Not only is this fauna reckoned out-of-place, but also, their (bright) colours. I don’t think I was dreaming, but I’m sure I heard one of the AONB team bemoaning the bright yellow of oil seed rape – a colour out of place – that can be seen from the Quantocks (again the privileging of another visual experience).

How far is natural beauty about colour (or its lack or mutedness or ‘appropriateness’?) as well as elevation and isolation as a number of posts, including those from Peter, have suggested. Looking forward to arriving at the next workshop at Kielder, I am drawn to thinking about what colour(s) the landscape will be, and whether non-native species are, in part, aesthetically seen to be colour out-of-place or just plain the ‘wrong’ colour? How far is landscape management about visual aesthetics? Is the adoption of more mixed planting about bio-diversity or working with a more varied palate of greens in ‘re-painting’ the landscape?

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