I had seen a picture of the pile of stones but hadn’t grasped its size until I turned up this morning. Its base is probably the size of two large tractors and it’s about as high as the top of a tractor’s roof. We’re here with National Trust rangers and volunteers, picking stones from this giant pile.
This small mountain of boulders, not far from the bottom of Kirkstone Pass, was gathered into place after the devastation caused by Storm Desmond two winters ago: the torrential rain scraped rocks from the fells and flushed them down the becks, leaving them strewn across fields. The mound has been here for long enough for green to start appearing as plants find purchase in the mud between the boulders, and there are voles and rabbits dashing into its dark hollows as we approach.
The task today is to set aside a range of stones suitable for walling – a good selection of hefty foundation stones, smaller walling stones, some nice tops and some long, solid throughs. In total, we’re after about six tonnes, and we need to shift them a few miles up the road, to the site of treefold:north.
Lucky for us, it’s a dry day. I leave the others to it and head over to Glencoyne Farm to plan the drop-off strategy. It feels like a long time since we were engrossed in the task of building treefold:east – the disappointingly wet summer has slipped past and autumn has fully settled in. It feels nice to be here, back in very fresh air after a day in a city – yesterday we were in Sheffield talking to postgrads and lecturers at the university. Today, we’re in wellies, feet in the earth, hands on stone. The trees are lending gold to the Ullswater valley, and the dark water of the lake is punctuated by fallen leaves. There’s birdsong and the sound of the beck flowing, and the occasional bleat of ewes. The Herdwick tups in the field in front of the house are lolling about, sitting or lying down, as if saving their energy for the task that’s ahead of them next month.
It takes a few hours for Rob and the others to select the right kinds of stones from the pile, and then we have some help with a tractor and trailer to move the load. Each stone has been eyed up, lifted, turned, and hurled or hauled to one side. Then it is loaded into the tractor bucket, and added to the trailer.
Once we have taken our selection away, the original pile actually doesn’t look any smaller. The remaining boulders will be used over time to shore up the sides of the beck, and help to minimize damage in any future floods. Our small selection will be combined with other stones from remnants of an old wall near Ambleside, and Andrew Mason will build the treefold with them, working them into a neat circle encasing poetry and eventually embracing and protecting a new tree.
We’re excited about the site. The treefold will be in Glencoyne Park, an area of land that was set aside as a deer park in the early 1800s and now has an impressive collection of trees. The treefold will sit just off the Ullswater Way footpath. We’ve found a clear patch of land between some beautifully shaped alder trees and not far from some of the park’s largest and most awe-inspiring ancient oaks. There’s a view from the site across Ullswater and if you turn the other way and cast your eyes up the fellside, you can see the Glencoyne Pine. When a tree is planted here, it will be among good company. (There’s a blog here, written last year, about the variety in these woodlands.)
The open drop-in during the build of treefold:north is November 17th, 12 noon – 2pm. You’re welcome to come along and meet us, discover the final line of the three-part poem (the first two sections are in treefold:centre and treefold:east) and find out from Andrew how he manages to build such a smooth curve out of so many different shaped stones. You can extend your day to walk along the Ullswater Way as far as you wish. There’s car parking within 10/15 minutes’ walk at Glencoyne Park and at Aira Force.
As with the other treefolds, the creation of treefold:north can only happen with support and teamwork. Huge thanks to the National Trust, not just for helping with the boulder lifting, but also for hosting the treefold on their land at Glencoyne Park; to the Hodgsons at Glencoyne Farm; to the Lake District National Park Authority; to Common Ground for supporting the build as part of the Charter Art Residency Programme; and to Mike for some very neat tractor driving.