Eden Benchmarks
Exploring the cultural landscape in East Cumbria
The Poetry Path (a year in the life of a hill farmer)

The October Poem

            “Sandstone. A desert wind, grain
by grain, laid down these rocks. How did we trace
            a path through the ancient dunes?

            Limestone. A million million
blanched and compacted shells. How did we swim
            through the drift and not perish?”

Photo from The Poetry Path by Val CorbettDick Capel, Pip Hall and Meg Peacocke - Photo by Val Corbett 'June 2004'

Encouraged by the success of Eden Benchmarks, my next arts project was the Poetry Path.  Located near Kirkby Stephen along the south boundary of the officially designated North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it addresses the hill farmer’s relationship with the beautiful landscape in and around the upper Eden valley.

Twelve short poems, written by the nationally acclaimed poet Meg Peacocke, have been carved by lettering artist Pip Hall on blocks of stone installed at intervals along a circuital route either side of the river Eden.  Decorative motifs with each poem depict some of the activities associated with every month of the hill farmer’s year and rubbings can be taken from these using sheets of paper and a crayon.

The aim of the Poetry Path is to introduce a permanent and integrated interpretative experience into the landscape, which is assimilated as part of the heritage it promotes and conveys a powerful message about the farmer’s potential role in maintaining a sensitive but viable hill-farming regime in relation to the natural environment as a resource both for nature conservation as well as food production.

The April Poem

“Coltsfoot, celandine, earliest daisies.
Twin lambs race to the mother, baby cries,
Mam! Mam! Jolt out of them and now
they jostle the ragged ewe,
boosting each split hoof
high off the bitten turf.
Pinching jaws and hard curled coats”

The route starts at ‘Swingy Bridge’.  It is advisable to leave cars in Kirkby Stephen and walk along the Nateby road past the Primary School to a grassy track on your left called Bollam Lane.  This is signposted to Stenkrith, Hartley and Nateby and way marked  ‘the poetry path’.  Walk down Bollam Lane and the first poem is on the right where the path meets the river Eden.  Continue over Swingy Bridge and follow the path bearing right through the bridleway gate and on to where the route turns right and joins the railway path. Turn left along the railway path, over the metal footbridge and bear right down into Stenkrith Park. The path then continues back alongside the other side of the river to Swingy Bridge.

“Through hazels and alders, softly or in spate,
Eden moves in the valley it has hollowed
from Mallerstang to the shifting Solway sands.”

I strongly recommend the beautifully illustrated booklet, designed by my ex ECCP colleague Marilyn Leech, which includes all the poems, descriptions of the farmers activities during the course of a year and directions to follow the route.  It is available from Kirkby Stephen’s Visitor Information Centre, price £2.00.  Proceeds will go towards upkeep of the route and reprinting the booklet.

Photo from The Poetry Path by Val CorbettPhoto by Val Corbett

Meg Peacocke’s (M.R Peacocke) publications include four much praised collections of her poems - Marginal Land, Selves, Speaking of the Dead and In Praise of Aunts all published by Peterloo Poets. She is a winner of the prestigious Cholmondeley Award for distinction in poetry.