An Artful Way: Brigsteer Park

Codlns and cream

Jill Clough chose to do her Artful ways Walk at Brigsteer Park, South of Kendal and close to Sizergh Castle. Here are her reflections on the experience:

“I went for my Artful Ways walk with an old friend.  She’s a passionate naturalist and photographer, formerly an English teacher. I write novels, used to teach English. She went in search of the Silver Washed Fritillary in Brigsteer Park, and I went artfully alongside, listening, taking my own photographs, reflecting on the three questions posed.

The whole experience reminded me of what I have believed, ever since I was literate enough to grasp the idea, that Culture is not merely the work of artists and craftspeople – it is the whole of how we behave.

I learned today that Brigsteer Park has been a coppiced woodland since the ninth century. It’s a work in progress, landscape made and remade by us, all too often entirely for our own use, but now to protect the other species living here. Below us is farmland which once was drained.  Park Moss is now Park End Moss wetland, bringing back the water birds and other lifeforms dependent on wetlands. We pass a notice that apparently tells children not to climb on wood stacks but actually alerts us to the presence of adders hiding beneath.

The walk inevitably leads us to our shared obsession with language. My guide points out a spindle tree (I’ve never heard of one) and claims that “spinster” is derived from using spindle twigs for spinning wool. I quibble. I own a spindle for hand-spinning and I don’t see how the curving branch of a tree can be usable. As I walk on, I wonder if the spindle branch helps the fleece to ply, by twisting. Later, of course, I look it up and am delighted to discover that its flowers are hermaphroditic. See Morph below.

The whole walk made me connect the literature I love with this landscape. When my guide calls out, ‘Where the paths fork, don’t go left.’  I say, ‘Do you mean, “The Road not Taken?” and quote Robert Frost’s poem.   

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And look down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth

Rounding a bend, my guide yelps, ‘Codlins and cream!’ and heaves up her camera to photograph the flowers of the Great Willow Herb. These flowers used to be compared to small cooking apples, rosy-pink with creamy centres. In Twelfth Night, Malvolio says, sneering at Viola who pretends to be a young man, “Not yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for a boy; as a squash is before ’tis a peascod, or a codling when ’tis almost an apple; ’tis with him in standing water, between boy and man.” We reflect that although Shakespeare lived and worked in London, he obviously retained vivid memories of his years in Stratford. The division between urban and rural in his day was much less stark than it is now.

As we take up position, hoping to spot the Silver Washed Fritillary on bramble flowers, which butterflies love, my friend tells me about Glanville’s Fritillary, named after Lady Eleanor Glanville, (1654-1709), an entomologist who identified this new specimen. At her death, her will was contested on the grounds that women who were serious naturalists were probably witches. Their interest in butterflies proved they were out of their minds. Fortunately, the claim was dismissed. I am enchanted by this story because Lady Eleanor escaped hostile classification.

I wrote about classification in my novel, Morph, and my friend says she views the life-cycle of the butterfly with a fresh set of associations because she’s read it. The Silver Washed Fritillary lays a single egg 4 metres up the trunk of a tree in whose roots grow dog violets. The emerging caterpillar wriggles down the trunk to feast on the violets, before spinning itself into a cocoon. There, its caterpillar cells miraculously reorder themselves – morph – into the form of a butterfly. How is the message carried, in species after species, identity changing its shape so comprehensively and yet remaining itself?

In my novel, a teenager feels ill at ease in her body unless running in the fells, where her sense of identity with landscape is complete. When we classify natural phenomena we are excited, but we feel threatened by variations in humankind. My protagonist decides not to undergo any hormone therapy that will change her brain. She is what she is. I am delighted that my friend now sees the morphing of caterpillar to butterfly through the lens of my fiction.

At last the Silver Washed Fritillary appears, in fast, looping flight. It scarcely rests and I am relieved to capture an image – a bit blurred – that will remind me of its life cycle.

I’ve driven her to Brigsteer Park. I usually drive her to our walks. She gave up her driving licence some years ago when her sight deteriorated badly. COVID was a disaster. She could only visit what was within walking distance. I, on the other hand, walked my local country footpaths with great delight. I learned about what was close at hand instead of driving to find it (I live in a hamlet with no public transport).

Walking with her around Brigsteer Park I have learned to notice what is close at hand – minute cobwebs, a lone ladybird, a hoverfly at rest. She shows me water mint, I see wild raspberries. I spot, too, a watchful heron that she cannot see. But her camera sees it, and later she sends me the image.  At the end of our walk, she goes home to create another blog for her website. I write this. Our shared, gloomy feeling was that we assumed the climate catastrophe would occur after our lifetimes – but it’s here, now, and we are part of the problem. How can we be part of the solution? My friend says, ‘Greta Thunberg is our Joan of Arc,’ but Greta’s fate will be less fiery if we all stand beside her and create our courses of action.”

Jill Clough

Photographs by Jill Clough

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