Sunday, 3 April 2016

'O Wall, O sweet, O lovely Wall!' *

A few days ago on a family holiday in Devon, I was walking on the coast path above Ilfracombe when I saw this wall, and I was fascinated. We had come over the brow of the hill, just out of the picture to the left, so were looking down on the structure. At first I couldn't work out what it was. It's not obvious from the picture, but it was very wide - almost a couple of feet, I'd say. It was made of slate, which gleamed in shades of blue, grey, copper, silver and ochre: seven rows of slender slices of slate, packed close together, and the same on the other side. I imagine there was a space between, which was filled with earth. Then the whole thing was topped off, paved with bigger pieces of slate. It ran between two slopes, across a shallow valley. It was about three quarters done; the remaining quarter looked like a tumble-down bank.

Here's a close-up. 

I think that any dry stone wall is a thing of beauty, but this seemed to me to go several steps further. There was nothing to say who was building it. But think of the hours it must have taken, the skill it must have required, the patience it must have demanded, to fit together all those thousands of pieces of slate! I love it that someone  - or several someones - had decided that it was worth the effort, the time and the cost, to build this structure in the traditional way, instead of just knocking up a quick fence.

As we walked on, I looked more closely at the boundary at right angles to the new wall. You could see glimmers of stone, but the whole thing was covered in vegetation; all sorts of grasses and clumps of plants which later in the summer will no doubt flower and play host to insects and birds. It looks now just like part of the landscape, but once it too must have been shiny and new.

I keep thinking about that wall.

(*The title is in honour of this being Shakespeare Month. It's from A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act V, Sc.1)

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