Along the hills that cradle this village, that throw their shadow on us, that hold themselves above the houses (on a day like today half-wreathed in fog) there is a path. Some people say it is the oldest path there is, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it is an old path. Worn out of the scarp in places, in others cut deliberately to mark the way. The way where, though? One answer is that once, it was the way across the country from East to West, from farm to market. The way of the drover. Another is that now, it is the way across a line of hills that run through what people call the ‘home’ counties. As if there are counties that are not home.
Sometimes these places that rub up against the hills and its path are strangely dull. The towns and villages can look alike, they have been predated on by the high street chains and the supermarkets and they have suffered the decay of pubs and the reluctance of themselves to demand more from the changes that come with time, which is, after all, inevitable and which should, in the end, be progressive. But if we look beyond the intensive farms, the lookalike market towns, the money, the golf courses and the expensive four-wheel drive cars, there is, still, a real place to see. A place with its own tang, as a wise man I know once described it. There are fishermen and builders and window cleaners who get round their drink-driving bans by going to work on a horse and cart.
There are Italian farmers whose legendary boys run the football club, there are old gypsy families that own garden centres, feuding tree surgeons, ex-hedonist-local-playboys who you wouldn’t believe did what they did when they owned a pub just outside of the village where they thought they could get away with anything (and for a while did), tiny cricket clubs where the treasurer ran off with the money and last anyone heard was running a burger van in Northamptonshire. There are still a few good pubs too, where people rub along like they do. More decently than it sometimes feels we’re capable of anymore. All that as well as affairs and heartbreak, death, illness, love. Of course, love.
And beyond the people, there is that other life. Not as much as there should be, no, we must say that. Not enough butterflies, not enough lizards or water voles or fish, certainly not enough birds. But what there is is. And if you take that path out of the village, and up into the hills it is there. It’s broken in many ways, and it’s changed and it’s changing. And we’re causing the changes. But what’s sad about the degradation of our times is that we can still see the potential nature of real places when we come up against them. These old paths, these old stories, these old buildings. We don’t need them for nostalgia, or for some artificial sentimental reverie, we need them to function as engines for our own epochal story-making. That’s what the blandness of a global market economy will put a stop to. The real tang of each person, as well as each place. All deserving of their stories. Here’s some fragments of some I heard along the path.
Will Burns, 2018
Will Burns is Caught by the River poet-in-residence, and Hannah Peel is a frequent fixture of Caught by the River festival stages – both with the ‘cosmic colliery’ electronica of her solo work, and with orchestral place-rock band The Magnetic North (of which Chalk Hill Blue producer Erland Cooper is also a member.)
As part of their collaboration, Burns, Peel and Cooper walked the landscapes around Burns’s Wendover house together: their chalk-heeled boots tracing shared routes through the rhythms and repetitions of the place. What emerges in Chalk Hill Blue is a site-specific-non-specific record of creative place portraiture; an album that traces elements of a living landscape, and reworks them into something that is as sensitive and finely-observed as it is visionary.
FORMAT INFORMATIONLP includes MP3 Download Code.