Wednesday, 29 April 2020


To two remarkable recordings - one about the remote Kielder Valley in Northumberland and one about the birds here on the peninsula.

The Dam,  presented by David Almond on BBC Radio 4 (4.30pm Sunday 26 April), began at dawn forty years ago, with a father and his young daughter with her fiddle visiting the valley for the last time before the water of what would be the largest artificial reservoir in Europe drowned it forever.

As soon as I heard the father's voice I recognised the soft Northumbrian tones of Mike Tickell.  I had met him last year at the Norman Nicholson summer festival in Millom. 

That last visit to the valley was a day when the salmon were leaping. Mike and his daughter Kathryn went for a final look at the old houses,  the inhabitants having been evicted and the buildings boarded up.

Removing the boards they went into the houses and Kathryn played her fiddle.  She and her father had known the families who had lived there.  They had visited them when neighbours had gathered to play music, sing songs, recite poetry - all composed by local people about this place.  The village had its own special culture.  Kathryn played those old tunes in the empty houses.

The pathos of the place reminded me of the eviction of the village of Capel Celyn in North Wales in the 1960s in order to dam the Tryweryn Valley for a reservoir for Liverpool.  And earlier, in the 1930s, the eviction of the inhabitants of Mardale Green in the Lake District to create the Haweswater reservoir for Manchester.   I thought of R S Thomas's poem 'Reservoirs' which begins with the words 'There are places in Wales I don't go'.  One of the appeals of the location of Kielder for the reservoir was 'the low social cost'.  In other words, there were few inhabitants.  They were like the people R S Thomas described in 'Minor' - 'the small / people the giants deposed' - they do not matter to big corporations.

But the story of the music in those empty houses in Northumberland seemed to me to be a kind of re-claiming, a commemoration, even a celebration of what had gone before, although the place would soon be drowned.

Mike Tickell said that that the music is still there, under the water.  He can feel it, as if you could pull the music out of the water and hear it in the sound of raindrops,  burns bubbling, birdsong.  'Nothing truly ends - on they go flowing with the river of time', said David Almond.  And that young girl grew up to be Kathryn Tickell, an international musician specialising in the music of  Northumbria and a virtuoso performer of the Northumbrian small pipes and the fiddle.

And the Sound of Spring - Swn y Gwanwyn:

A friend called this 8 minutes of bliss.  This is a lovely short film made by Ben Porter, who was home-schooled on Bardsey Island where his parents farmed until recently.  Ben is making a name for himself as a wildlife photographer and film-maker.    I found this film of the birds and birdsong of our local landscape irrestible.  And if you're a bit unsure of matching the song to the bird, no problem.  Ben has put the bird names in English and Welsh for you.  Sit down with a cup of coffee and enjoy. 

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