Tiny Tag East: Behind Harter Fell
Heading from Sadgill up Gatesgarth Pass we’re following a walled-in track that once was trodden by people walking their flocks and their produce to Haweswater, and beyond to Shap and Penrith.
Cloud is rolling off the top of Kentmere Pike. I have a sense of linking place over time, imagining foot prints made hundreds of years ago, making new ones.
To my right there are two sets of walled-in conifer trees, thirty, forty feet tall. To my left, rank upon rank of young trees in plastic tubes dot the steep fell beside Goat Scar. Change here, over the centuries, has come as woods have grown and been felled. Recently there has been a great deal of planting in this valley: hawthorn, birch, alder, hazel and other broadleaves have been carefully planted in parcels up the steep hillsides and by the banks of the River Sprint, which tumbles and falls through the rocky land, making swimming holes, waterfalls and rock canyons as it goes.
I’ve just been passed by two motorcyclists, draping a smell of diesel behind them. Beneath their helmets I can see their eyes, belaying a smile of joy – they are doing what they love, speeding through this land while I tug myself uphill.
Towards the pass itself we veer off and walk through some old mine workings. We pass the exoskeletons of huts, shedding their walls stone by stone as if discarding scales. The tractor-heavy innards of a winch system lying rusted, forgotten, on the scattered slate. Once there would have been voices in the air, men hauling trolleys and rocks, the clatter of iron in stone, blasts to force the hill to give up its bones. Now all is quiet save for the sound of water falling against rock and the wind rushing into my ears. Above the quarried land, ten hundred plastic tubes rise from the grass: hopes of a future wood in this place that’s for so long been coerced and crafted by man.
We find a spot for the Tiny Tag monitor, among stones, star moss, lichen and wet earth, on the eastern transect from the Under Helm Sycamore. I sit beneath a bluing sky and watch water seep out of the earth into a young sliver of a beck. After a drop of 30 metres, this water will flow join the Sprint. Then it will pass through the disused quarry; some of it will plummet in the wide curtain of water that guards the entrance to caves, roaring in its fall, then disappear beneath the earth. The water will flow down and down, each drop playing its part in the sculpting of stones. Where the valley flattens out, the widened river will spread its gravelled belly and scrape stones over grass. Further down the River Sprint will meet the Kent, and millions of drops of water will cluster into a thick dark flow, as if made of seamless transparent velvet, to pass through Kendal. Here it will feel the pad of the webbed feet of mergansers, perhaps be shot through by otters, and in September will give way to the thrust of salmon battling against the flow to reach their spawning grounds. The Kent will flow through Levens park, might be shot through by kingfishers after a meal, touched in summer by the bare skin of swimmers, or dressed in winter by the debris of fallen leaves. On it goes until it tastes salt, mingling with the waters of Morecambe bay near Arnside, to become part of something bigger.
When the rains are heavy, as they were during Storm Desmond in December 2016, the quantities of water become colossal, and the rage and volume of the river can cause hugely destructive floods. In the consideration of the future of the National Park, water flow and adaptation to increasingly sever rainfall events are feeding into the thoughts of environmental modellers, and landscape planners. We’ll be looking more closely at water in November.
Tiny Tag South: Grizedale Forest
We very happy that the 180-degree line from the Under Helm Sycamore passes right Grizedale Forest – it feels appropriate to place one of the temperature sensors among trees, and at a lower altitude, and in the process to think about the heritage of forestry and woodland management in Cumbria.
We don’t make any secret of our love for trees and a walk through the forest is always a good walk, taking in conifer plantations as well as old deciduous woods, and an understorey world of mosses, lichens and ferns. And in Grizedale there are also sculptures that force a pause and a different way of looking at what’s around (there’s a comprehensive overview of them by Amelia Harvey here). As the land lies, the 90-degree line passes very close to a sculpture we placed here back in 2017. This is treefold:centre, a dry stone circular enclosure that protects a young aspen, and holds a wide view to the Lakeland fells, Pennines and Ingleborough. On the way up to this, the track passes Ruup sculpture, and further up the hill, before you reach Caron Crag, there’s 17 Degrees South – it’s interesting how bearings and mapping can steer art, and force their way into your thinking when you spend long periods of time outside.