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. Love the river stones, such interesting patterns, but that Lake District path looks lethal. I can imagine turning an ankle on that! Lovely photos of northern England.

  2. Stones are fascinating subjects with a wealth of history. You have done well with this. I like the touch of beaten footpaths avoiding treadingg the stone path.

  3. Stone adds so much to our landscape and how I love a good stone wall. ‘Softer’ and more ‘green’ than cement pavers. Great post, Susan!

    1. I remember reading an article about a traditional dry stone waller who said he would be disappointed if any of the walls he’d built were to fall down in his lifetime. That’s something in our throw away society.

  4. What a fabulous post. Stone is so fundamental to my enjoyment of the northern landscape, from the outcrops and erratics of the hills themselves, to drystone walls, to stone built laithes and farm buildings to steps such as those you illustrate. Granite, limestone, millstone grit, sandstone … all wonderfully varied, connecting us with the region’s history and traditions. Thanks for reminding us of what we have.

  5. I can’t imagine using that lake district rocky path at all. It would definitely ‘turn my ankle’. But then I have weak ankles (& surgery to repair one ankle injury didn’t help either).

    Hard to imagine Victorian ladies (much less the Brontes) walking along these paths with their ground-hugging dresses, but perhaps they wore some sort of pantaloon or jodhpur on hill or mountain treks.

    1. Some of the stone paths are not easy on the ankles. Then again, the moorland that overlooks my home town can be treacherous enough if you venture far from the path because some of the grasses form tiny hillocks. In my younger years I often wore long skirts and ordinary shoes even if I was out walking. The hemline would suffer if it was particularly damp, dusty or brambley, but I never saw it as much of an inconvenience back then. It’s just what you are used to.

    1. Because the country was walked all over before cars were invented and many of us still like to walk for pleasure now, we have so many of these little bits of everyday history.

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