A guest post by Ros Westwood.
As the mid-winter holidays approach I feel even closer to this landscape. Yesterday I walked part of the Limestone Way. The sky was icy blue and the landscape tones of grey and drab green. The sheep seemed huge – their fleeces thick for the promised winter weather.
I tried to imagine the generations of people who have trod that route. It has been a public right of way for a long time, and while not busy at this time of the year, in the summer it does attract walking parties. This part of the walk is a carpet of orchids in May and small blue butterflies sip the nectar from the thyme flowers. But stepping back from our contemporaries, past the lead miners, the stone wall builders, the farmers – well, you cannot step past the farmers, for they have grazed their herds here since the final removal of the Peak Forest.
Remove these signs of the industrial past and the landscape changes quite dramatically, to a landscape our medieval forebears may have recognised.
And yet, there are small events that remain constant. I watched a kestrel hovering on the air – they are also called windhovers – its outstretched wings catching in the winter sunlight. The rich ochre colour of fungi made fairy staircases along the trunks of dying trees, contrasting with the smooth grey tones of the dead wood. It was very quiet – hardly the sound of a crow. But further up the hill, a murmuration of starlings swept over my head with a great clatter, the flock seemingly rolling from one grassy meadow to another.
Quietness out of doors, but indoors, winter always was time for memory, for story telling in the long dark evenings. The project team has been enjoying collecting the memories of some of Buxton’s residents for one of the forthcoming digital projects, and we look forward to sharing more about their experiences of living in the town over through the 20th century. Photographs, paintings, handbills all provide information, but there is nothing like the voices of the past to provide the sense of ‘I was there…’
Such memories are precious, and need to be set down, before it is too late a thought to remember as you gather with the generations of your family. We are fortunate to have this first hand record, embellished and shaped through each person’s own experience. Without it, we look on the artefacts from the past and need the historians and archaeologists to piece together the story.
If the winter weather denies you that post-Christmas walk, you may like to come to the warmth of the museum and enjoy the fresh air in White Peak Dark Peak, our exhibition introducing some of the themes for Collections in the Landscape. We are asking visitors what does the Derbyshire landscape mean to them. Someone has drawn a rolling hill, on each side the grey of the cities and above the Peak bright sunshine. I cannot promise you that the sun will always shine, but the landscape continues to harbour the ghosts and voices of generations, story tellers and watchers of the landscape, together.
Our best wishes for Christmas and for 2014.