Wonder of the Peak 0: introduction

De Mirabilibus Pecci is one of the lesser works of Thomas Hobbes, but influential, as others have followed him to explore and describe the Seven Wonders of the Peak. Over the next seven days (if I can manage it) I would like to look at them too.

William Camden may have been to record the tradition of seven wonders in the Peak District:

There are in High Peake wonders three,
A deepe hole, Cave, and Den,
Commodities as many bee,
Led, Grasse, and Sheepe in pen.
And Beauties three there are withall,
A Castle, Bath, Chatsworth.
With places more yet meet you shall
That are of meaner worth.

The Peak District is a wonderous place, certainly, and choosing just seven places for a list is limiting. The list, by Camden then by Hobbes, is fixed now, and ranges in themes that explore the eclectic nature of the Peak District.

Hobbes was born, of course, in Wiltshire, but he travelled widely, and lived for many years as a guest of the Earls of Devonshire, his patrons. He composed De Mirabilibus Pecci (‘Of the Wonders of the Peak’) as a grateful tribute to the 3rd Earl, his former pupil and his patron (who owned much of the Peak). It is a long poem, in Latin so I cannot comment on the quality of the poetry. The quality of the seven wonders he listed however I can explore. Mercifully for readers, I will do so in prose.

See

0 Introduction – 1 Chatsworth2 The Ebbing and Flowing Well3 Eldon Hole4 St Ann’s Well – 5 Poole’s Cavern – 6 Mam Tor – B The Devil’s Arse

The broken fence

There’s a broken fence nearby. Nothing spectacular – just a stretch by the path pulled down by weather and neglect. It belongs to no one as far as I can see, or if it does it is lost in the deeds.

It was put up when the new houses were built on the other side, as a boundary for the development. A stout wall stands at the mouth of the new road to proclaim it as a desirable place to raise a family, as no doubt it is, but round the side, where it is seen by no one except those walking the public footpath, is just a wooden fence.

The fence is not part of the house standing by it – that has its own garden fence beyond which stands tall and solid with fresh creosote, proudly maintained by the householder, a sentry proclaiming ownership around his snug family home. Between that fence though and the outer edge of the development site is a patch of unmaintained scrub. It might have encouraged the first buyer of that house to know there is a bosky cordon sanitaire between his neat garden and the public path so he would not get drunks hurling beer bottles over or spray-painting obscenities on his private fence (like that wall behind the houses out on the way to the other place), but when the developer had built all the houses, when last hod was packed away and the keys handed over, that neat spinney was abandoned to revert to nature. Drunks still do not hurl bottles, but every malicious weed known to man is thriving and hurling its thistledown over.

Now the outer fence is broken, by the wind. It is a nice village and we hope there are no junkies forcing their way in to colonise the vacant plot, and it is left to nature, but the fence is still broken. It is not becoming unbroken.

If the fence belonged to the householder, he would have been out at once, raising it straight again, shoring it up and maybe adding a buttress to each compromised post, and the smell of creosote would follow his steps. But he does not.

Whatever you may be tempted to think, the local council is not the workman of last resort, tending to every bent plank that does not have a name to it. They did deal with the steps in the woods nearby that they had put in those years back, but they may not touch so much as a splinter of a stranger’s timber.

There are those who do not tire of telling us that some things about us in our environment should really belong to everyone, which means belonging to no one, and that some endeavours are not for private gain but for all society, which means for no one. But the fence remains fallen, and bowing further with every new wind, the rain digging out at the untreated fissures. It creaks. The failing fence proclaims the truth of an old observation:

That which belongs to no one is cared for by no one.

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We are going green

Tear up that grass, hew down that tree, for we are going green.  Burn the bushes, spray weed-killer, for we are going green. Mix sand and quicklime, pummel stones to fine gravel, fill the air with fumes as we mix and pour the concrete, for we are going green.

The new electric car needs a charger and a driveway on which to charge it, so that front garden, though we loved it, must go. There is no space for lawns, herbaceous borders, hedging, in the new, green household.

We are of course of the comfortable Middle Class in our regulation Metro-Land home, we who understand how important these things are, as they are, and everyone must conform for their own good as well as that of the planet. Everyone who has a driveway will have a charger, and those who have none must concrete their front gardens.

I do not wish to recall the time I lived in a terrace house and parked on the road, as it might make me think about how I could have plugged the car in then. Presumably in streets up and down the land we will see cables strung across the pavement like a seething mass of snakes, and pedestrians will have to find another way by.

As for those who live in flats, are the cables long enough, or will the car have to dangle from a seventh floor window?

There are those who are fortunately enough to rent garages of course, and such a person may install his charger there, until the council terminates his lease to build flats on the land instead, which will be a fine sight to see, standing tall (with cars dangling out of its windows).

We, however, when the concrete dries, are going green.

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A less preachy BBC: praise be

I read that a new David Attenborough series is coming to the Beeb, which is always a great event: Green Planet. The name may strike dread into the hearts of those used to throwing bricks at the screen whenever another lecture on climate change is delivered, but it is a description of the subject, plant-life (just as Blue Planet was about the seas, not the worldwide success of Thatcherism).

We should still worry. Sir David’s more recent outing in Our Planet was one big lecture on how naughty we all are, with facts skewed and altered to fit the narrative of climate change being behind everything. (It isn’t; only some things.) That series was sponsored by a campaigning organisation and was so blatant that even the BBC rejected it. That sort of thing does not enhance the reputation of the broadcaster, nor the narrator.

This time we are promised a production that is more positive and less preachy. That will be a welcome change.

Mankind does tread upon the face of the Earth with giant boots, ill-regarding what is underfoot. An occasional reminder is welcome and it may help more of us in a solipsistic, screen-dominated society to appreciate what is there and to wish to care for it. However being told that all plastic bags are evil because one ended up in the stomach of a cute porpoise is untruthful and economically damaging (unless you actually throw your bags in the sea, in which case you deserve all those curses).

We can look beneath our big feet and appreciate the wonders of nature and that may be the better way to start mending it. Even in the concrete jungle there are persistent weeds breaking through the tarmac and through any flaw in the concrete, and that is a reminder of how limited is man’s dominion over the Earth in the face of nature. I think how hard it is to get a particular plant to grow in a particular spot in my garden, and then I see a burst of herb-Robert growing out exuberantly between the salt-scoured stones of a harbour wall in the Arctic Ocean and realise that nature is stronger and stranger than we could imagine.

The positive message we are promised in Green Planet is an active one: not just ‘look how beautiful’ but ‘this is what you can do personally’. That is only a bit preachy, but in an encouraging way. When the message is ‘write to politicians as they are all to blame’ or ‘every light left on drowns a polar bear’ that is displacement activity and discrediting science, but a personal positive with a to-do list that will actually have an improving effect, however small; that it exactly what the BBC should be doing.

It is the positive and practical message which Prince William has adopted in framing his ‘EarthShot Prize’, and that goes beyond the headline-grabber of ‘global warming’ to wider issues that are more important.

Yes, do show us the clumsy tread of mankind: we can see how the perennial floods in Bengal are worsened by the loss of forests upstream, or how the Communists poisoned the Aral Sea and turned Ethiopia into desert, and yes, we can see that corrupt practices in some countries leaves plastic waste dumped in the Pacific Ocean, but there is nothing realistically we can do but pray. We can however plant plants, and bee-friendly plants. Anyone can then get out in the country and learn to use their feet while they take in the glories of creation. That way you stop relying so much on electricity and heating and plastic comfort, and to tread more lightsome upon the face of the Earth.

Maybe that normalisation of a natural life will inspire those creative entrepreneurs who are popping up with greater frequency to find that less wasteful techniques are more profitable, as did the later Victorian mill-owners when they used fuel more efficiently and found that workers are more productive when not being poisoned and wool sells better when not smeared with soot.

If it is as we are promised, I can have high hopes for Green Planet. Seeing and understanding nature is the best way to appreciate it, and starting to become part of nature and to nurture it is a very positive message. Getting yet another lecture about how global warming is responsible for everything from shrinking fish stocks to Liverpool losing the cup makes me want to go out and batter a seal cub.

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Our Planet Matters to Auntie

The BBC’s year-long project, ‘Our Planet Matters’ could be a great thing if it is a wide approach, and of the essence of the BBC’s educational mission.  It may just become a narrow propaganda piece.

The announced project is “a year-long series of special programming and coverage on climate change” with “a raft of news services and shows”. There is a false note there: real environmental issues worldwide cover a wide range of challenges, and of these climate change is the most minor. It is real, but nowhere near as important as pollution or the loss of habitats, for example.

The BBC has the resources to drag in all the wisdom of the world and create an unequalled examination of the many, complex issues within the field, but it mostly chooses a narrow, simplistic approach, for it is still at heart a part of the entertainment industry.

We respect the BBC because it can do wonders, and has David Attenborough; they can draw upon brilliant men and women; but it is part of the entertainment industry and the decisions and editing are made by those who are at a level with the Victorian music-hall.

I want Auntie to do its environment series and do it well.  This blog has carried articles on environment issues before and will do so again. Technology has reached a stage when the world can and should step into new ways of doing things that tread more lightly on the earth. In a timely way, Prince William no less has created the ‘Earthshot Prize’ to encourage solutions to the world’s pressing problems, and declared the coming years a decade of action to repair the Earth.  Excellent; and so we should.

What Prince William recognises in the framing of his prize is that ‘environment’ is a broad heading within which there are many practical issues crucial to our time: pollution of the air, land and oceans; lack of fresh water; biodiversity; and climate change. That is all good. For all that though, when I saw that announcement of a year-long BBC series, I knew that they will get it completely wrong. The press release says just “climate change”. Maybe that is just the PR people writing and ‘Our Planet Matters’ will look at the wider field, but I am not hopeful, by past experience.

The environment has been an issue since 1989 when Margaret Thatcher addressed the United Nations:

Of all the challenges faced by the world community in those four years, one has grown clearer than any other in both urgency and importance—I refer to the threat to our global environment. I shall take the opportunity of addressing the general assembly to speak on that subject alone.

Mrs Thatcher began a global movement, and she was not alone. The greatest philosopher of our age, Sir Roger Scruton, whose passing we mourned this week, wrote at length on issues of protecting the environment, and he realised that it is a very conservative concern:

It needs to be pressed as a conservative issue. It comes across in the mouths of radicals and socialists though, whose ideas would destroy the very things they are claiming to support. The conservative voice for the Earth came first and must be heard loudly. I am not confident of its breaking through he walls of New Broadcasting House, but Conservatives should not make the mistake of dismissing the whole field: just the unscientific mistakes that will be propagated.

Back to the BBC’s year of programming, it has started badly by linking the Australian bush-fires to global warming. They are two completely separate issues, and the worst fires are in the coolest parts of the continent.  That was lazy. They need to do better if this project is to fulfil its educational brief.  The fires are an environment issue, in a broad field, but it is not connected with global warming.

However, global warning is the posterboy of the green movement and everything seem reductible to it, to the exclusion of all else; well, that and waste plastic, which is actually more important.

(I recall in the 1980s the two big environmental scares were depletion of the ozone layer above the poles, and heavy-metal pollution from vehicles, which are both real, and completely unrelated. You still got people protesting to remove lead from petrol ‘to protect the ozone layer’.)

Start by asking who will want to push themselves forward to talk about environment issues to all the living-rooms of the nation.  Frightening isn’t it?

Even if it is a year on climate change, the next concern is what conclusions they imply. As has been recited in many other places, the simplistic solutions suggested by the extreme-green movement would lead to mass starvation and worse environmental degradation, and even if the venting of carbon dioxide into the air ceased at once, it would take two hundred years to bring the levels down. Will the BBC accept some subtlety into their broadcasting? We will see, but I am not hopeful.

The BBC started broadcasting in colour in 1967, but it only broadcasts opinions that are black and white.

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