Saturday, December 24, 2005


One of the landscape features discussed in Oliver Rackham's book A History of the Countryside is the holloway. Holloways are sunken shady lanes, overhung with trees, "their cavernous shade the home of delicate plants like hart's tongue fern, shining cranesbill and moschatel." In Anglo Saxon charters they are recorded as hola weg (hollow path). Whilst a few holloways have been built in ravines (the grundles of East Anglia for example), most are the result of centuries of erosion. Rackham thinks a well-developed holloway requires at least 300 years' erosion - he has noted an incipient holloway in Massachussetts that has experienced only 200 years of traffic so far...

Examples of holloways in England are near Flatford Mill in Essex (the site made famous by John Constable), Midhurst in Sussex and in the Lower Greensand of Urchfont in Wiltshire. There are canyon-like holloways in the loess of Kaiserstuhl in Germany. At the other extreme there are examples of foot holloways created purely from walking, like the coast path north of Cadgwith in Cornwall.

Postscript, 2015
When I wrote this brief early post I was not yet sure where to draw the boundaries and thought of the blog as a kind of notebook where I might put brief entries on different landforms.  Instead I have focused on landscape and the arts.  Now there exist a whole cluster of writings on holloways stemming from the walk Robert Macfarlane and Roger Deakin made in July 2005.  I will therefore add here Robert's description of what they found, published in Orion Magazine and adapted from The Wild Places (2008), and then a Youtube clip of the recent film inspired by Holloway (2013).
'DOWN IN THE HOLLOWAY, the bright hot surface world was forgotten. So close was the latticework of leaves and branches, and so tall the sides of the holloway, that light penetrated its depths only in thin lances. Roger and I moved slowly up the bed of the roadway, forcing a way through the undergrowth, through clumps of chest-high nettles, past big strongholds of bramble, and over hawthorns that had grown together, enmeshing across the roadbed. Occasionally we came to small clearings in the holloway, where light fell and grass grew. From thorn thickets, there was the scuttle of unseen creatures. Any noise we made thudded into the banks and was lost. A person might hide out undetected in such a place for weeks or months, I thought.
Lines of spider’s silk crisscrossed the air in their scores, and light ran like drops of bright liquid down them when we moved. In the windless warm air, groups of black flies bobbed and weaved, each dancing around a fixed point, like vibrating atoms held in a matrix. I had the sense of being in the nave of a church: the joined vaulting of the trees above, the stone sides of the cutting that were cold when I laid a hand against them, the spindles of sunlight, the incantations of the flies.'


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