Sunday, January 14, 2007

The fields of Ennor

Artists trying to find a new way of seeing the landscape may need to try something more unusual than standing and gazing at the view or walking and taking notes. I always think of Peter Lanyon, driving round Cornwall trying to find new angles and eventually taking to the sky in his glider. Roger Deakin's book Waterlog might also be seen in this way: he chose a cold, wet option - swimming in rivers, ponds, lakes and seas around Britain. Literally immersed in these places he not only got a different perspective, he was also sometimes able to see landscapes that would be otherwise inaccessible, like the submerged fields of Ennor...

Deakin's swimming journey started off the coast of Cornwall, where he swam between the Scilly Isles of Bryer and Tresco. He explains: 'The Scilly Isles are the last outcrop of a ridge of volcanic granite that forms the backbone of Cornwall and they were, until about 4000 years ago, the high points of a big island called Ennor. But the melting of the polar ice caps that began after the last Ice Age meant that Ennor’s lowland valleys and fields were gradually submerged. I donned the wetsuit, mask and snorkel, and swam out into the shallow sandy bay. It was high tide and about thirty yards off the shore I looked down at a pair of stone walls meeting at a right angle, and a circle of stones that must once have been a sheep pen. With seaweed hedges growing from the stones, these are the patterns and remains of the patchwork of old fields that once stretched all the way across the valley to Tresco. They are really just a continuation of the remaining field boundaries on shore. This may be why some stretches of water around the Scillies still have names from Before the Flood that are literally outlandish, like Garden of the Maiden Bower or Appletree Bay.'

There are many obituaries and memories of Deakin (who died last year) on line: see here for example. Ken Worpole pays tribute to Deakin on the Open Democracy site (one of several short pieces he has written there on Landscape and Identity). There are also various texts by Deakin, like this one about orchards on the Common Ground site. And the Radio 4 site has a programme Deakin made on a canoe journey from Redgrave Fen in Suffolk to Geldeston Lock in Norfolk, along with another about his garden.


Roman Krznaric said...

I've recently returned from staying on Bryher where I swam in the various bays where Deakin swam. (I carried a copy of his book with me.) Unfortunately I didn't find the fields of Ennor but I did find the freezing water that he wrote about. John Fowles's fabulous essay, 'Islands', also discusses the Scillies and is full of profound insights into why islands like the Scillies are so evocative to both our psychological and literary imaginations.
Deakin's Waterlog has inspired me to undertake more 'unofficial swimming' in my journeys around Britain. Last week I paddled and frolicked naked under the 170 foot waterfall of Cautley Spout in Cumbria (right near one of Britain's only temperence inns, The Cross Keys). With the sun shining through the flickering water from above, the mosses covering the rocks, and tree roots clinging onto the face of the cliff, I felt like I had invaded some Chinese landscape painting.
Your mention of Ken Warpole made me think of his wonderful memoir, 'Staying Close To The River', in which he travels both in his head and around his neighbourhood, Stoke Newington. As I believe that the mysterious Plinius lives in that very area, I can recommend Warpole's book.
In half an hour I am off to the West Coast of Scotland where I will be travelling and sleeping in a converted fishing trawler, and where I will, of course, indulge in deakinesque unofficial swimming. My reading material is Rieu's translation of the Odyssey and a book called 'The Lighthouse Stevensons', about four generations of the Stevenson family who built 97 lighthouses around Scottish coasts; Robert Louis was one of them and trained as an engineer before picking up the pen.

Plinius said...

Thanks, Roman. Maybe there's some poetic license in Deakin's writing about the fields of Ennor. As you say, I live in Stoke Newington, but haven't read the Warpole memoir. This area has a bohemian reputation but I wouldn't try any nude bathing here.