Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Romantic Landscapes


First up, Hackfall, an almost lost Sublime wilderness in a deep ravine with woodland and water pitching down to the Ure, studded with Gothick ruins on skyline and riverbank, glimpsed between trees but hard to find on the steep twisting paths. Hackfall's centrepiece, when you can find it, is a gravity-fed fountain deep in a natural basin below wooded cliffs. At the end of the wettest year, the fountain shoots spectacularly into the air about every quarter hour,  seeming as high as the cliff rim above, on which a 'banqueting house' facade perches.
We first found Hackfall a few years ago, when its Trust supplied a barely decipherable map and we had no idea where we were or what we would find - stepping stones, torrents, crumbling castle, rustic temple, Fishers' Hall, cascades, standing stones, a beach.   Now it's a little more cared for, with some useful waymarks, but the paths are so precipitous and trees so dense that the geography is still hard to grasp, between flashes of sky overhead and curving river below. Hackfall remains beautifully mysterious - and this season exceptionally muddy even for granddaughters in wellies.  It was created in the 18th century by William Aslabie as an untamed companion or contrast to elegantly contrived and serene Sudeley Royal, the gardenesque landscape with mirror-like lakes, statuary and classical follies below Fountains Abbey, in its polite although still dramatic setting of the river Skell's gentler gorge.

Just a few miles further north is another largely forgotten antiquarian landscape intervention,  the so-called Druids' temple created by William Danby of Swinton Park - an unexpected, reduced replica of Stonehenge, built with similarly massive stones, including a 'sarsen' ring, a trilithon horseshoe, an 'altar stone', plus a 'heel stone' guarding the entrance. A tall pillar of piled blocks overlooks the site, which is also ringed by several hefty cromlechs.  Pelting rain amid dim afternoon light  magnified  the archaic effect.

So, in reverse historical order as it were, these re-create a late-Renaissance picturesque landscape, a Gothick-medieval landscape and a prehistoric landscape, all constructed within about 75 years and less than 20 miles apart.  Vaut le détour - but at the same time  better left unknown - the eternal heritage conundrum that such sites become less alluring in exact proportion to the number of other visitors...

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