Stone In The Northern English Landscape

Bronte bridge
Brontë bridge as it is now

Today’s post is a celebration of stone. I’ve grown up seeing it used for buildings, country walls, and paths and miss it when I spend time in places where it is not so readily available. Stone is ancient and helpful: it softens, steadies, anchors.

My first stone bridge has pedigree. It’s one that the Brontë family used to cross the river across from the waterfall on the path that leads over the moor from Haworth to Top Withens. Actually the original bridge was swept away in a flood and this is a replacement, made to a similar design. 

Stone steps on a hillside
Stone steps

Anyone who thinks of stone as hard and unyielding hasn’t noticed how feet and water change it. You can see it on these stones, laid to preserve steps roughly cut into the hillside across from the Brontë bridge.

Steps like these are scattered throughout our wild places. They’re designed to suit ramblers who wouldn’t be up there if they couldn’t clamber a little. A landscape architect who carefully calculates the height and width of each rise might smile (or wince) and in practise, many countryside steps are flanked by worn, muddy paths that have proved easier to tread in normal conditions.

River rocks with moss creeping over them
Mossy river rocks

These river rocks would turn the ankle: luckily they’re not being used as a path but a decorative feature in a garden. Moss is gradually creeping over their patterned surfaces.

Natural stone path in the English Lake Districtstones
Lake district path

This rough and ready stone path leads from Grasmere to Rydal Water. Its higgledy piggledyness fascinates me. It doesn’t seem very old, does it? Not old enough for Wordsworth or Coleridge or their buddies, though I have no doubt they passed this way.

Standing stone with steps leading to woodland
Standing stone with steps

A standing stone marks the steps leading to a path through woodland – this is in the Midlands, but for many, that counts as North. It makes too lovely an addition here for us to quibble about geography.

Bridge over a river in a landscape with dry stone walls
Stone bridge and dry stone walls

I’ll end with another stone bridge crossing a river with fields enclosed by dry stone walls in the background. This is near the limestone pavement I wrote about in an earlier post.

40 Replies to “Stone In The Northern English Landscape”

  1. Once again you have sent me to Auden’s “In Praise of Limestone.” These photos are all so contemplative in effect, but my favorite is the second one, the steps in what seems an aura, not a reality. How beautiful! And thanks for “higgledy piggledyness”! I have not heard of higgledy piggledy in forever! It was part of my childhood in a Babar record that my brother and I played hourly, I think. I must start using it!

    1. I was thinking of ‘In Praise Of Limestone’ too when writing this – such a great poem for lovers of this kind of landscape. I’m glad you thought of it too.

  2. I miss stone here in Suffolk and realise how much I took it for granted as part of the landscape in Scotland. (Most of the houses here are brick, with a few built from a mix of flint and brick.)

    1. It must seem strange to people who haven’t lived in a stone area that we can say this. But if your eye is tuned into stone, it is such a rich and attractive material.

  3. I, too, fine stone very beautiful. In Maine, it is seldom used for bridges or houses but often for walls, young and old. In the woods behind our house, there are stonewalls left over from when this area was fields for farming.

    1. They are lovely relics. You’ve reminded me of going to Bishop’s Castle, asking for directions to the castle which we could not find, then being told it had fallen into disrepair and that the stone had been reused over the last few hundred years to make other buildings in town, such as the Castle Hotel.

  4. Lots of rocks here in Labrador – but I do miss the dry stone walls and hawthorn hedges of northern England. A wooden fence isn’t quite the same, although they can be attractive.

    1. The hedgerows are lovely too. It’s interesting to see how new hedges are made and encouraged to thicken at this time of the year.

  5. I love the stonework shown here…Also, I tried to share your post on my page but fb would not allow and said someone found the post offensive. This must be mistake!

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