Country diary: Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria: Twelve verses by a local poet capture the essence of the changing landscape

Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria: They have been carved into local limestone and sandstone blocks and positioned beside the old track bed and foot-worn ‘hollow ways’ between the fields

Podgill viaduct provided us with a kestrel’s-eye view of Ladthwaite beck and its wooded slopes, on a day of scudding clouds, flashes of sunshine, sudden showers and rainbows that constantly formed and faded, never quite managing to complete a perfect arc over the distant fells. The viaduct was designed in 1860 for the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway by Thomas Bouch, destined for a knighthood but then an up-and-coming engineer noted for bringing in projects on time and to a tight budget. The viaduct’s 11 limestone arches, now in the care of the Northern Viaduct Trust, are still as sturdy as the day they were erected, unlike his catastrophic bridge over the river Tay which collapsed in 1879, taking with it 75 train passengers and Bouch’s reputation.

This section of the line, which once linked the haematite mines of Cumbria with the coalfields of Durham, last carried a freight train in the mid-1970s, and has since become part of the Kirkby Stephen Poetry Path. Twelve verses, written by local poet Meg Peacocke, capture the essence of the changing landscape. They have been carved into local limestone and sandstone blocks by letter-cutter Pip Hall and positioned beside the old track bed and foot-worn “hollow ways” between the fields.

Each verse is accompanied by a carved motif depicting an event in the hill farmer’s calendar, from hedge-laying in January, through ploughing and lambing, to tree planting in December. This is tactile poetry, generating an irresistible urge to use fingers to trace verses carved in sinuous script across wind-sculpted sandstone, celebrating the sensory pleasures of the tart taste of crab apples, the milky smoothness of hazelnuts and the silkiness of thistledown. Later, after we had passed three rocks in a pasture bearing the haiku “There sails the heron / drawing behind him a long / wake of solitude”, a heron did indeed rise in the distance from the river Eden. Never was there a more fortuitous coincidence of word, landscape and event. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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