From the vaults: Things of unknown origin (25/04/2010)

This post – in slightly longer form, and under a different title – was added to the old blog on 25th April 2010. It was originally prompted by the mossy remnants of an old wall…

FAQ: one of those ugly new age acronyms which has mystifyingly insinuated itself into our already more than adequate language.

Landscape seems to provide an almost inexhaustible supply of frequently asked questions. Answers can be, if anything, even more plentiful: known, surmised, invented, embellished; cocktails of truth, myth and legend mixed in sometimes inconsistent proportions.

There is a narrow glen I often walk when in Scotland; it follows the steep course of a burn which has cut itself into a fairly deep ravine. The remains of an ancient wall follow the line of the burn and its gorge; it must have been a considerable work of construction utilising, as it does, not the slabs and blocks of a traditional drystone dyke but rounded stones, the size of footballs; locked into place with sufficient expertise to withstand the multiple incursions of weather, animal movement and erosion. Its original purpose is no more evident to me than the lives of those who felt compelled to create it; strategically it adds little or nothing to the protection offered by the natural boundary which it shadows. Was it simply a territorial marker, a line of partition, a statement of ownership? Whatever the original intent it now undeniably adds something to a landscape into which it is being, and will continue to be, inexorably absorbed; a sense of time marked and a reminder of those who have passed this way ahead of us and the little we sometimes know of them.

There’s probably a certain hypocrisy implicit in someone who rails with such venom and frequency against human intrusions into wilderness – plantations, turbines, phone masts, the assorted paraphernalia of what we consider to be progress – finding fascination in things often equally incongruous but somehow excused by their redolence of times gone, cultures and traditions lost. We come across them frequently in the wild; remnants of walls, fences, sometimes substantial buildings; often in the most unlikely of settings.

Some day, in a future none of us will never see, someone will stumble upon the rusted remains of the National Exhibition Centre or excavate the collapsed remnants of Wembley Stadium and wonder what possessed us to build them. Records, should they survive, will tell them that in the case of the latter that is already a well established FAQ.


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