Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Changing Landscape (NZ310260 & thereabouts)

Modern drainage techniques of the past couple of hundred years or so have transformed our landscape. Gone are the large tracts of uninhabited and largely useless areas of our countryside formerly given over to fenland and marshes. And although the North-East region is hillier than most, we still have many examples of this in our part of the world.

If you spend a lot of time studying maps you will be familiar with the term ‘carr’, which means a wooded fen in a waterlogged terrain. Essentially, a low-lying, soggy area, zigzagged by watercourses and peppered with trees such as alder and willow. Soon enough, of course, these areas are drained by man, dry out and are cleared to create farmland.

But often the ‘carr’ place-name element remains. And so it is with the four or five square miles of open expanse that lies between Newton Aycliffe and Sedgefield in County Durham. Look at the map today and you will find such name as Bradbury Carrs, Morden Carrs, Carrsides, Ricknall Carrs, Preston Carrs and Swan Carr Farm. The area is noticeably devoid of contour lines, though not short of meandering waterways.

Then there are the high points: Great Isle, Little Isle, High Farm and Morden (‘the hill in the fens’). There is Rushyford and Rushyford Beck – self-explanatory, I think. Look at an old map and you’ll see more telling evidence still: the area itself being known as ‘Bradbury & The Isle’, with a clearly labelled feature called ‘The Lough’ (the lake) sitting a little to the south of Morden. And I’ve probably missed some other references, too.

Now there’s nothing left of the former, sodden landscape except for two neatly channelled rivers, the odd sizeable puddle after a downpour … and, of course, the place-names.

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