Alice Fox train tracks

I’ve really enjoyed reading Edgelands by Paul Farley & Michael Symmons Roberts: a wonderfully playful mix of observations and poetic writing about those in between places that are not quite city, not quite countryside, not quite classifiable as one thing or another.

in their words:

Somewhere in the hollows and spaces between our carefully managed wilderness areas and the creeping, flattening effects of global capitalism, there are still places where an overlooked England truly exists, places where ruderals familiar here since the last ice sheets retreated have found a way to live with each successive wave of new arrivals, places where the city’s dirty secrets are laid bare, and successive human utilities scar the earth or stand cheek by jowl with one another; complicated, unexamined places that thrive on disregard, if we could only put aside our nostalgia for places we’ve never really known and see them afresh.  (p 10)

Edgelands are constantly shifting and being re-developed.  That’s part of what makes them dynamic, hard to pin down.  Some crop up in pockets close to city centres, where waste ground and industrial decline has offered space for the edgelands to self-seed. (p 213)

When I walk to my studio I go along part of the Leeds Liverpool canal, along the back of industrial buildings, offices, under roads, beside railway.  This is a classic example of an edgeland, an un-cared for piece of land that is pretty much left to its own devices, complete with rubbish, graffiti, weeds, ducks, magpies, blackbirds…  And this is the magic, the wildlife that just gets on with things.  The resilience and sheer bravery of some of the plants you find in these scruffy places, pushing up through cracks and flowering away no matter what, brings an enchantment to these walks and the sudden flit of a long-tailed tit can make my day.

Alice Fox pansies in the cracks

In Robert MacFarlane’s The Wild Places, having visited some of the most remote parts of the UK, he comes to recognise the wild all around him in his local landscape.  This is certainly true for me too.  While the call of the coast is never far from my mind and the lure of remoteness is always tempting, it is the wild of my streets and pathways that keeps me engaged with my landscape on a day to day basis.

Further reading: Weeds, Weeds & Wildflowers

Alice Fox stone and growth

13 thoughts on “edgelands

  1. I’m amazed by what grows in even the slightest cracks. Just today I went to my rural dirt road to dig up some ferns and transplant them in my garden. The town always mows them down before they’ve gotten very tall, so I figured I’m only moving them about 100 ft. I thought their roots wouldn’t be too deep and be easy to move being in the sandy, salty not so pretty edge of the dirt road, but they had established deep, deep roots. I only took a few, they seemed to want to hold on there, so I let them be.

  2. How easily we overlook what’s beneath our feet, the contrast of wild flowers with concrete…. I have just taken photos of our patio with dandelions and pansies growing between the cracks before it all disappears when the patio is relaid!

    • Yes, I’ve read Waterlog and I’m part way through Wildwood at the moment. I really enjoy his writing style.

  3. Beautiful imagery Alice. I have always liked the edges of places….especially railway journeys showing unkempt and secret places. I really like the picture of the self seeded pansies…or are they violas?

  4. Love the Robert MacFarlane’s book Wild Places, took it with me on holiday last week to re read so Edgelands sounds like a must read…particularly as I am going on TSG Summer School course titled, ‘Over the Edge’! Thanks as ever for hitting a relevant edge.

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