A View of Gallows Down

Our third blogpost leading up to the Talking Place symposium comes from Wainwright Prize-shortlisted author Nicola Chester, and reflects on the physical presence of the hill, Gallows Down, in the landscape around her home

Place and creativity is of great importance to me – because the very thought of the two interacting encompasses all the potency, nuances, difficulties and joy of land, connection and belonging, whether we come from that place, have recently arrived, or anything in between – it negates the idea of ‘ownership’ and throws those gates wide open. What is most important is that we are here in the place now, and what matters is how we enter in, know and engage with a place. We are as much part of its story, as it becomes part of ours. Forming a response to it, is a defence and celebration of ourselves in the place, it is an act of witnessing, revelation and protection of that place, too – it is working the land in a different way.

The first photo here is the view of Gallows Down, a field away from my house, a tenanted ex-farm-workers cottage in the North Wessex Downs. It’s also known as ‘Combe Gibbet’; the two terms for a (thankfully archaic) brutal form of ‘justice’ served, seemingly interchangeable in local parlance. I love this view and the contrast between its farmed fields of golden barley and the ‘wilder’ chalk hill beyond. But the hill, too, is full of human story and interaction. It too is a manmade landscape, the gallows/ gibbet itself a relic on top of a neolithic long barrow, a grave of the first farmers who cleared and worked the land here. It is also a place of dissent, of kite-flying and picnics, of monumental raves. 

The second view is of that same hill, but from four miles away, of Cold Harbour Farm, and its grain silos, taken at the edge of the playing field of the rural secondary school where I work as a Librarian. Some of the students are great, keen readers; others, not so much. Many of them (from either camp) would rather be out in the fields. Some can trace their families back to the Bread Riots of 1830, whilst others are yet more newly arrived, perhaps from Ukraine, London, or with families employed at the Horse Racing yards. Either way, we all look up and out towards the hill – sometimes for its horizon and what’s beyond it, sometimes for its close and shielding curve; its ever-reaching story arc.   

One thought on “A View of Gallows Down

  1. So beautifully stated, Nicola. And spot on, on so many points. The idea that it’s not truly ownership, but stewardship, for one, is a concept sadly foreign to many today. The knowledge, too, that the hill holds quite literally, and spiritually, those who lived deeply there before, must saturate the area in the power of place. Here’s hoping that the awareness of this power is not lost on future generations.

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