Written in the Bedrock

I. Sherwood Sandstone

Sherwood Sandstone (I think!)

250 million years ago the island we now know as Britain was part of the supercontinent of Pangaea and lay close to the equator. The landscape and weather could not have been more different. The sun beat down on an arid desert swept by the north east trade wind.

Dunes rose and fell. Wind-rippled pavements were covered over. Sand sank, was buried, heated, compressed. The miniscule grains of sand were cemented together by water charged with minerals such as quartz and feldspar which crystallised to form basins of rock.

This rock is called Sherwood Sandstone because it lies beneath Sherwood Forest. It also forms the bedrock of Preston and its surrounding area. Now overlain by glacial deposits of sand, clay, and gravel, it can be seen in the bed of the Ribble from Penwortham Bridge.

Sherwood Sandstone in Ribble from Penwortham Bridge (with ducks)

II. The North West’s Most Important Aquifer

The porosity and permeability of Sherwood Sandstone make it an excellent groundwater aquifer. It is capable of holding vast amounts of water. The sandstone aquifer beneath Preston and its surroundings is classified by the Environment Agency as ‘a primary aquifer’ and Professor David Smythe states it is ‘the most important aquifer in the North West of England’.

A look at the old maps and research into the history of the area reveals a plethora of holy wells: natural springs bearing clean pure water from this miraculous water-holding bedrock. Many possessed healing properties, were dedicated to saints, and were sites of pilgrimage.

Because of the large number of holy wells Preston was considered to be an especially sacred place. This is evidenced by its Old English name, Preosta Tun, ‘Priest Town’. Preston’s sanctity is founded on the Sherwood Sandstone laid down 250 million years ago. It is written in the bedrock.

III. Water Worship

The Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who knapped flints on the flats between the Ribble and Darwen at Walton-le-dale no doubt paused, drank, bathed, and worshipped at the local springs. The Bronze Age village on Penwortham Marsh was located near the springs on Castle Hill.

The ancient Britons revered their water-courses as deities. In 2AD Ptolemy recorded that the Ribble was known as Belisama, ‘Most Shining One’ or ‘Most Mighty One: an immense goddess with the power to sustain life or take it away. Each spring had its deity. In Iron Age society their stories were kept alive by Bards and Druids performed their rites.

Springs were believed to flow from Annwn, ‘the Deep,’ the Otherworld. Its sparkling caverns and chthonic rivers might be seen as a macrocosm of the porous spaces between particles of sand and quartz where life giving waters are stored – the regenerative womb of an ancient goddess.

IV. Holy Wells

Between the 4th and 7th centuries many of the springs were rededicated to Christian Saints. The large number of Marian dedications – to St Mary and Our Lady – in the Preston area may be based on the association of the springs with mother goddesses dating back many thousands of years.

In the medieval period religious communities grew up around the holy wells and became important places of pilgrimage. St Mary’s Church and Priory were built on Castle Hill near St Mary’s Well, which had healing qualities. Preston Friary was next to Ladywell. Ladywell Shrine was established next to another well at Fernyhalgh.

Spa Well was well known for its ‘strengthening qualities’ and Ashton Spring for ‘medicinal virtues’. Avenham Well cured eye ailments; during the Victorian period its water poured from the ‘Dolphin Fountain’, which actually took the form of a sea serpent, perhaps representing a serpentine water spirit. Boilton Spa cured consumption and the water flowed through the mouth of a stone head which could again have been a representation of its deity.

Sea serpent, dolphin fountain, Avenham Park

V. Shattered

During the industrial period the tycoons who built the factories and transport systems took no account of the sanctity of Preston’s landscape. If they knew the Sherwood Sandstone was the source of the holy wells they paid no heed to its import. ‘Everything sacred was profaned’.

During ‘Canal Mania’ in 1794 the channel of the Lancaster Canal was dug past Ladywell in Preston to terminate in a basin behind the Corn Exchange. Due to changes in the water table and/or damage to the sandstone bedrock Ladywell dried up. It had disappeared by 1883.

Between 1884 and 1888 the Ribble was diverted south and Riversway Dockland was built. During this process Spa Well and Ashton Spring disappeared. St Mary’s Well ran dry. An engineering survey revealed that the removal of the sandstone from the river channel had breached the groundwater aquifer which fed St Mary’s and other wells.

Riversway Dockland

Ironically the canal near Ladywell fell out of use and was drained and filled in during the 1960s. Riversway Dockland closed in 1981 due to silting up of the Ribble. Engineering feats useful for less than two hundred years shattered the 250 million year old bedrock which had provided Preston and its surrounding area with physical and spiritual nourishment since the Ice Age.

VI. Fracking – Unholy Wells

Thankfully the Sherwood Sandstone aquifer outside the Preston area remains intact. Yet it is threatened in its entirety by the plans to drill a most unholy kind of well at Preston New Road.

The decision to frack nearby on the Fylde is also based on its geology. East of the Woodfold Fault the bedrock is Mercia Mudstone, Sherwood Sandstone lies beneath, then Manchester Marl, Collyhurst Sandstone, Millstone Grit, then Upper Bowland and Lower Bowland Shale.

The Bowland Shale was laid down in the Carboniferous period 300 million years ago and contains shale gas resulting from the decay of organic materials. Releasing this gas by hydraulic fracturing is a damaging process. A borehole 3 – 4 kilometres deep is drilled then water, chemicals, and sand are pumped in at high pressure. The rocks are cracked open and the gas flows back up the borehole with the contaminated water which is removed and treated.

VII. Contaminated

In 2014 Professor David Smythe argued against fracking on the Fylde due to the risk of contaminated fluids passing through the Woodfold Fault into the Sherwood Sandstone Group aquifer. His concerns were dismissed by the Environment Agency.

Anti-Fracking Protest, Preston New Road, 2016
In spite of Lancashire County Council’s refusal, the storm of protests, and ongoing resistance by activists walking the lorries and lock-ons, the UK government have forced fracking on Lancashire and the well at Preston New Road will be drilled by June 2018.

If Smythe’s arguments are correct the future looks bleak. Over the course of several years the fracking fluids will slowly contaminate our sandstone aquifer and the watercourses it feeds. Preston’s drinking water, which comes from upland and groundwater sources, will run brown with sand and lethal chemicals and ignite at the stroke of a match. Our once nurturing water deities will take new forms – toxic, dangerous. Our miraculous aquifer will be poisoned beyond repair. Such formations take millions of years to create and we won’t find another one.

This disaster could be avoided if the government paid attention to the lessons of the past and what is written in the bedrock rather than sacrificing the integrity of the landscape for profit.

SOURCES

British Geological Survey, ‘Geology of Britain Viewer’
British Geological Survey, ‘Groundwater Monitoring in Lancashire’
British Geological Survey, ‘Shale Gas, the Basics’
British Geological Survey, ‘The Permo-Triassic Sandstones of Manchester and East Cheshire’
British Geological Studies, ‘The properties of major aquifers in England and Wales’
David Barrowclough, Prehistoric Lancashire, (The History Press, 2008)
David Hunt, A History of Preston, (Carnegie, 2009)
David Smythe, ‘Risk of environmental contamination from proposed fracking on the Fylde’
Environment Agency, ‘Water Abstraction Map’
Lancashire County Council, ‘Preston New Road, Appendix 8: Hydrogeology and Ground Gas Proposal’
Norman Darwen, ‘Some Holy Wells in and Around Preston’
Peter Dillon, ‘The Story of St Mary’s Well’, Stories from the Land
Ruth Hayhurst, ‘Cuadrilla expects Lancs fracking to start within six months from “excellent quality” shale rocks’, Drill or Drop
The Lancashire Group of the Geologist’s Association, ‘Preston Geotrail’

I am Tina Rothery

 

p1190447

Ok… I know I said I wasn’t going to be blogging here again until Imbolc, but I wanted to mention a small but hopeful event that took place in Preston yesterday. Anti-fracking protestor, Tina Rothery, was cleared of the contempt of court charge made against her by Cuadrilla and escaped a 14 day sentence in Styal jail.

At 10.30am, I joined 150 people gathered on Preston Flag Market to march down Friargate, then up the Ring Road to Preston Combined Court on the Ring Way. When we arrived at the court, everybody chanted “I am Tina Rothery” and “I am Tina too”. There was something immensely powerful about the willingness of so many people to put aside their own concerns and identities for the day and become Tina as she waited for the result of the case.

p1190457

Whether this transformative magic had a role in the judge’s decision to allow Tina to walk free remains uncertain. What is certain is that there was a good deal of slipperiness on behalf of Cuadrilla and their lawyers. Ruth Hayhurst notes, ‘Yesterday, Cuadrilla’s lawyers told the media that the hearing was about the contempt of court ruling and that it had been organised by the court, not by the company. But today’s case was listed as Cuadrilla V Rothery and a lawyer from Eversheds represented the company.’ During the hearing, Cuadrilla made a turn around and decided they would no longer pursue Tina for the money.

Tina’s victory adds to the beacon of hope that shines from Standing Rock. It shows that people coming together to stand for our sacred landscapes and watercourses, our communities and the truth have the power to win out. The anti-fracking movement continues to grow. When we are all Tina Rothery this threat will be banished from our land for good.

Anti-Fracking Protests in Blackpool and the Awe of the Sea

P1140162

The twenty day public inquiry into whether fracking will take place at Roseacre and Little Plumpton opened on Tuesday the 8th of February at Blackpool Football Stadium. I travelled from Preston to join local people and protestors from anti-fracking groups to stand against Cuadrilla’s appeal and for democracy.

I don’t feel massively comfortable at protests. I’m not naturally smiley or sociable and am not good in crowds or with loud noise. However I went and literally stood for what I believe in and heard some good speeches from campaigners, students, faith groups, trade unions and a representative from a Lancashire based renewable energy company presenting viable alternatives to fracking.

Surprisingly for the first time I saw a small group of pro-fracking campaigners with signs saying ‘WE’RE BACKING FRACKING’ ‘JOBS JOBS JOBS.’ Following questions about how much they’d been paid they left. Hmm…

P1140170

Feelings about how the hearing will go are mixed. Speakers shared doubts about whether Greg Clark will listen to the views of Lancashire’s people and councillors after his proposal to classify fracking sites as ‘nationally significant infrastructure.’ Yet campaigners are taking heart in their success in preventing fracking over the last four years.

P1140164

Once the demonstration was over I walked from South Pier to North Pier. Nearly everywhere was closed and shuttered down. Instead of walking by forlorn skeletons hanging over abandoned horror houses, occasional shops selling sticks of rock and walking sticks with flashing lights, announcements ghosting from hidden speakers, I chose to walk by the sea.

P1140197

The huge fierce insurmountable sea crashing and crashing against the promenade with the tireless energy of its tidal pull: grey waves riding in and with a smash banking at head height in cascades of foam. After the tension of the protest it was invigorating to stand before the sea, let its saltwater splash over me, safe yet aware of its immense power.

P1140201

Wave by wave to allow the frustrations of politics to be washed away; outrage at Westminster forcing fracking on Lancashire, the futility of the political system, the lies and double-dealing of politicians, the constant need to fight against a world of men in suits, corrupt corporations and political-speak of which I have no comprehension.

To stand before the awe of the sea beneath a silver cloud-lit sky pierced by winter sunshine making rainbows in the spray. To stand before a quicksilver panorama of sky and sea.

P1140218

To see the Big Wheel stopped. The Big Wheel stopped. The Big Wheel stopped on Central Pier. And pray likewise fracking can be stopped, the wheel of industry and the political machine.

Mid-Winter Reflections

P1130377 - Copy

The Mid-Winter Solstice arrives: a time to pause and reflect. It’s been a turbulent month. Floods have drowned much of Cumbria. Here in Penwortham in Lancashire we’ve not been badly affected but the Ribble’s been high and during heavy rain the roads and footpaths have taken on the apparel of rivers and streams.

The water’s been washing up into my dreams. In one I was working at a riding school where the horses could only be turned out at certain times due to tides covering the path to the fields. In another instead of roads we had transport akin to fairground water-rides.

This future is not unperceivable. Following the agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris to reduce global warming to 2 degrees, the UK government announced 68 new shale gas drilling sites including a well in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park.

Along with environmentalists and pagans across Britain I was outraged. A greener future will not be brought about by causing further damage to the landscape in a ruthless quest to extract expendable fossil fuel which benefits only rich share-holders. This can only mean more industry, more roads, more cars, more pollution, worse climate change and more floods.

Earlier this year Lancashire County Council stood by local people and refused to grant permission to Cuadrilla to drill at Roseacre and Little Plumpton. Cuadrilla have appealed and it was recently announced the decision will be made by the central government. With their plans to ‘get shale gas moving’ it’s obvious which way the decision will go. The last resort will be resistance at the sites themselves.

The atmosphere in Preston is increasingly edgy. On the 17th I received a call from a friend asking me to join anti-fracking protestors outside the County Hall to stand against a pro-fracking vigil. When I arrived there were no pro-frackers to be seen: it appears to have been a farce spread by Facebook. However seeing the anti-frackers with placards, a group walking past shouted “let the workers get their jobs”.

That very morning the Fishergate Centre and adjoining roads had been shut off because an ‘incendiary device’ was found in the men’s toilets. Luckily a member of the public put it out. It wasn’t a bomb but a lot of people were freaked out by the thought it could have been.

The war against IS is fabricating divisions in the city. Recently The Daily Mail made a false claim about Muslim no-go areas. Fortunately this has been refuted by the Lancashire Police and Muslim faith-workers. There are more homeless people on the streets than ever due to austerity.

It’s 16 degrees and plants are flowering and it doesn’t feel like winter. Within the tumult it is difficult to pause and find anything positive to reflect on.

Looking back, on personal and community levels it has been a good year. I published my first book: Enchanting the Shadowlands, presented it to Gwyn on Glastonbury Tor and held a successful book launch. I’ve performed ancient British and Greek seasonal myths at local festivals with Guests of the Earth. It’s possible this is the first time the story of Gwyn, Gwythyr and Creiddylad has been told in the Old North for centuries.

My poem ‘Devil’s Bagpipes on Stoneygate’ was published in the pioneering Gods & Radicals journal: A Beautiful Resistance: Everything We Already Are. Korova Poetry has had its ups and downs in numbers of attendees but is still going strong after over a year.

I’ve met Potia, Neil and Heron from the Dun Brython group and contributed to The Grey Mare on the Hill anthology (edited by Lee). We’re planning a group meeting and new devotional and creative endeavours for 2016. I’m also arranging additional events with the Oak and Feather Grove to supplement the eight festivals of the Wheel of the Year.

I’ve learnt about the re-introduction of cranes in Norfolk and on the Somerset Levels. Over the past few years I’ve felt a growing connection with local wetlands. Much of Lancashire used to be lowland raised bog and marsh which is reflected in the name of the Romano-British tribe ‘the Setantii’ ‘the Dwellers in the Water Country’.

Over the past four centuries most of Lancashire’s wetlands have been drained and made into farmland. The most dramatic example is ‘Lancashire’s Lost Lake’: Martin Mere. Of its 15 mile diameter only the shrunken remnant of the mere, outlying lakes and place-names such as Mere Sands Wood and Mere Brow remain. However the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust are doing valuable work restoring Martin Mere’s reed beds. Thousands of whooper swans and pink-footed geese over-winter there every year.

P1130417 - Copy

 

One of WWT’s recent accomplishment is the opening of Steart Marshes. To protect the coastal village of Steart the flood walls have been breached, flooding the Steart peninsula creating new saltmarshes to absorb tidal surges. This is good news for the villagers and wildlife with avocet hatching eggs for the first time and water voles, otters, oystercatchers, lapwing and ringed plovers doing well. This proves it possible to live alongside nature in this time of rising tides.

One of my favourite destinations for a bike ride is Brockhole Nature Reserve. Lying 4 miles outside Preston, its lakes, reed beds, meadows, woodlands and floating visitor centre occupy the former site of a quarry. Opened in 2011 it is still developing. Last year on the Winter Solstice with the Oak and Feather Grove I attended the opening of a new stone circle built by John Lamb and a team of volunteers (the OaFs will be celebrating there again tomorrow afternoon).

Every time I visit I’m struck by how Brockholes reminds me of (how I imagine) the landscapes of our ancient British ancestors with its lake dwellings, wooden walkways and new circle of stones. At places like Brockholes and Martin Mere I am able to pause and find hope for a future lived harmoniously alongside the birds and animals of our wetland landscapes and divinities of our sacred watercourses and the deep.

On that note I would like to wish everybody a blessed solstice and a hopeful new year.

P1130356 - Copy

Song for the Nine

This is a song for the nine
who stood against fracking:
the nine who stood firm
the nine who stood
against the tyrants’ gall.

This is a song for the nine
who stood for land and people:
Little Plumpton,
Roseacre,
democracy and hope.

This is a song for the nine
who stood for Lancashire:
clean rivers,
unfractured land,
our children free from harm.

This is a song for the nine
the nine we will remember
for standing firm
standing for us
in centuries of song.

~

This song came to me near whole and of its own accord the morning after Cuadrilla’s proposal to frack at Little Plumpton was refused by Lancashire County Council’s Development Control Committee 9-4 (2 abstained).

I e-mailed it to Peter Dillon, who was also involved in the protests. He told me that night he’d dreamt of a tune. With a few tweaks it fit the wording perfectly and  wasn’t far off the tune I had when the song came to me.

I’ve sent a copy with a thank you e-mail to the nine at Devcon today. We may be singing it somewhere in Preston soon.

Lancashire Says FRACK OFF!

After a tense five days the people of Lancashire win their fight against fracking and for democracy.

GODS & RADICALS

Mr Frackhead
“I’m going to frack here! I’m going to frack there! I’m going to frack every-fracking-where!”– Mr Frackhead

It has been a fraught five days in Lancashire. On Tuesday 23rd of June decisions amongst fifteen members of Lancashire County Council’s Development Control Committee began on Cuadrilla’s applications to drill and hydraulically fracture (frack) four wells at Roseacre and Little Plumpton on Preston New Road. Beforehand Mr Perigo (the Senior Planning Officer for LCC) had suggested Roseacre be refused and Little Plumpton should go ahead.

On the Tuesday I was part of a crowd of protestors who gathered outside Preston’s County Hall. Preston New Road Action Group, Roseacre Awareness Group, Frack Free Lancashire and Friends of the Earth came together with numerous other anti-fracking and environmental groups and local individuals to stand against Cuadrilla’s application.

I had to leave on Tuesday afternoon because I had taken temporary admin work that demanded…

View original post 521 more words

Four Wells

Four wells at Preston New Road.
Four wells at Roseacre.
Four wells in the darkness
between drilling and decision.

Four wells of steel meets shale.
Four wells boring into the mind.
Four wells of screaming poison.
Four wells of deadly sands of time.

Four wells where gas the question
scorches ears of invisible skies.
Four wells? An uneasy whisper
from underworld gods.

Four wells to decide the future.
Four wells of choice. Four wells of trembling.
By the word on four wells our land
will be saved or destroyed.

~

This is a poem I sent to Lancashire County Council’s Development Management Group along with more logical reasons why I am opposed to Caudrilla’s drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of four wells at Preston New Road and Roseacre. Protests at the County Hall will be beginning tomorrow (Wed 23rd June) as LCC make their final decision about Caudrilla’s application. For more information on how to register opposition by e-mail and join the protest see Frack Free Lancashire’s website.

Sign for fracking protest

Below are some photos from when I visited the potential fracking site at Preston New Road. The area is cordoned off and anti-trespassing notices are in place. It looks like work has already been done to prepare it for the drilling rig.

Edwina Walk, Penwortham Live 022 - CopyPreston New RoadEdwina Walk, Penwortham Live 028 - CopyEdwina Walk, Penwortham Live 054 - Copy

Fairy Lights and The Strangeness, Fishergate

Last night I dreamt I was watching a television programme in my living room. Somehow I entered it and became an active participant. With a group of friends I was preparing to stage a protest. For it to succeed, a special light on a tree needed to be changed. I ran with a blonde, sporty woman (who I did not know) across a car park to the tree, which stood on the end of a busy city street I identified as Fishergate in Preston.

The lights were off. The one we had to change looked more like a silver Christmas decoration and stood out as markedly special and ‘other.’ As the woman started taking it down, chatting easily, she paused. Her expression froze into uncanny wistfulness and her gaze grew distant. Speaking in a voice from far away, she told me “it belonged to Gwyn ap Nudd.”

I knew at this point (somehow being outside the programme and within it) the words and memory that possessed her were not her own. Like in a film there was powerful, beautiful music. A strange wind blew, stripping away the façade of the city streets. I had a profound sense of another landscape stirring and awaking at the sound of Gwyn’s name. Once the strangeness had blown over, the woman began chatting normally as if nothing had happened and traffic started driving past again.

Throughout the preparations there were rumours about the massing of an army of otherworldly beings. As someone in the programme with an audience member’s knowledge I knew they were the fay / Gwyn’s hunt and could sense them gathering in clouds and forests somewhere behind. I had the feeling they might disrupt the clash between the two sides in the protest. As audience, I was aware this was the part I was looking forward to.

This awareness brought me back to my living room to see the credits rolling down the screen…

***

The dream inspired me to walk into Preston at dusk tonight. Several months ago, Fishergate (the high street) was pedestrianised. The road was narrowed to make way for wider pavements and as a final touch, trees. Delighted when I saw first saw them, I walked the street, greeting them in turn and welcoming them to the city.

Since the Christmas lights went off, the trees have been lit by fairy lights. Following rain and hail, the pavements gleamed. Reflected in windscreens the lights shone like cold stars, miniscule glances leaping from fragments of hail.

Fishergate, PrestonIdentifying the tree from my dream, I noticed all the lights were working.

Tree, FishergateI stood with the tree for a short while. Crossing the road and looking back, I saw huge dark ominous clouds gathering over the County Hall, which is where the anti-fracking protests will take place on the 28th and 29th of January.

Fishergate, County HallThe music of hail came down. An immense strangeness like none I had known before came over the city. I felt as if I stood in another Preston where the landscape was more than it was by the strange life of those lights against winter’s silver-grey sky. Everything seemed more profound and enthused with meaning, although I couldn’t divine what the exact meaning was.

Fairy LightWhat happened to the silvery light, which belonged to Gwyn ap Nudd and led me to the strangeness remains uncertain.