Thursday 17 September 2009

Landscapes in Space and Time

Last weekend was spent celebrating another decade of life passing by. Ten years ago a group of friends gathered in the hills of the Lake District for my fiftieth birthday. This year we went to one of the flattest places in northern England, the seaside resort of Southport on the Lancashire coast. I was brought up near here at Formby and my mother and one of my brothers and his family still live in the area. It was so that my mother could be present that I went to Southport. Saturday we gathered in a function room in a pub – the Blundell Arms – for talking, drinking and eating. Many of my old friends had not seen each other for many years and the air was thick with reminiscing. Ten years previously we had been in the Old Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale. And the next day some of us had headed up onto the fells. This year the only hills within many miles were the little sand dunes abutting the wide flat expanse of the vast beach that spreads from Southport to Liverpool. It was to the beach we went, to Crosby where the 100 iron men of Anthony Gormley’s Another Place are dotted over the sand from high to low water. Once identical these figures are showing the slow effects of time in changes wrought by the weather and the sea. The iron is rusting, barnacles cover those parts more in water than air, seaweed crawls up legs and twists round feet, faces lose definition and become spooky and alien. Wind blown sand has started to bury some of the figures while with others the wind has scoured away the sand revealing the plinths on which they stand. Beyond the motionless, rigid, dark figures giant pale wind turbines rise out of the sea, slightly hazy, slightly ghostly. These too were still, despite a breeze. Beyond the turbines to the north the sand and sea spreads out to the sky and the simple trilogy of golden rippled sand, dark wave streaked water and paler cloud streaked air is vast, fading into the distance without ending. Turning south the landscape changes and becomes jumbled, complicated, a mass of confusing shapes that are all angles and hard lines. This is Liverpool and the shapes are cranes, cathedrals, sky scrapers and more wind turbines, these ones turning. It’s a much more intense, closed-in landscape than the spaciousness of the sea and skyscape. Turning from one to the other was turning from the freedom and wildness of nature to the restrictions and confinements of the city, both available at a glance. The first is where I live in my head and where I have spent much of my life but I would not be without the second. My friends and family had come together from all over Britain, some travelling long distances. I am aware that modern urban civilisation had made this possible. Reconciling the urban with the wild is a never ending, never completed task, a constant balancing of desires and dislikes as I move through both landscapes in time as well as space.

Photo info: Iron Men & Wind Turbines, Crosby Beach. Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 18-55 IS@55mm, 1/640 @ f5.6, ISO 100, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.4.


  1. Really interesting read that Chris. I spent a chunk of my childhood on that piece of coast as my grandparents lived at Birkdale. Was taken back then to seeing ships on horizon bound for Liverpool, shrimping carts trotting down to the beach. My grandfather born in 1883 remembered the odd sailing ship on the Mersey. Your piece gave me a sense of reaching back and reaching forward.
    Best wishes
    Mary Rose

  2. happy belated birthday for last weekend Chris. I would never have guessed you had reached a certain milestone. You look way too young :)

  3. Happy Birthday, Chris, and that view from Crosby is great - on a clear day the mountains of Snowdonia seem really close don't they.

  4. Thanks everyone.

    Those Welsh mountains were the first ones I ever remember seeing. They do look surprisingly close.