Just up the road from were I live is the village of Cockfield, it sits on Cockfield Fell which is a broad piece of rising heathland bounded on it’s northern side by the fast flowing river Gaunless. The fell at almost 350 hectares is England’s largest scheduled ancient monument and within you will find numerous places which show remains of people living here from Iron Age, the Roman period and the Middle Ages. This was also a place of industry, coal mining began here as early as 1303 when a licence was granted by the Bishop of Durham. The mining steadily grew in its importance and by the 19th century the South West Durham coalfield was opened and the population of the area grew significantly, in fact some of my partner’s ancestors were among many who came here for work. The last Coal Mine closed in 1962 when the last of the coal had been finally worked out of the hills. But this place is not just a land resevered for the past, it’s also a living landscape. This is common land shared between the land owners of the parish which is managed by a group called the Fell Reeves. This means that local residents can pay a yearly rent for a “Stint” which gives them the right to graze their animals on the rough pasture of the fell side.
The stockholders are also allowed to build sheds on their stints, so not only will you seen live stock roaming across the land you will also see all kinds of sheds, stables and shacks dotted across the fell. A few years ago I came across a very weathered little pigeon cree standing beside the road, I drove past it time and time again until one morning a thick fog covered the hill the setting seemed perfect.
Come In Number 6. Fomapan 100, 90mm Schneider Angulon f6,8 lens.
But as I said this is a working landscape and one morning I drove down the lane only to see a work team clearing the ground were Number 6 once stood, and for a few years all that remained was a small patch of bare earth. But this shouldn’t been seen as a negative, it’s a sign that there are people who still use the fell for it’s true purpose maintaining it for future generations.
The other day while driving back from a fishing trip in Teesdale I spotted another timber shed standing on the hill above the river, a number 2 painted on it’s side. Learning from past expirences this time I acted a bit quicker and returned a few weeks later to take some pictures.
Wind Torn. Fomapan 200, Schneider 90mm Angulon f6,8 lens.
There was a stiff north westerly breeze blowing while I was there and the whole structure seemed to rock and sway with it. The elements had certainly took there toll and looking at it I wasn’t sure if another stormy night would beat any work parties and reduce it to a pile of rotten timber and ash-felt. But maybe when it does collapsed or is pulled down somebody will decided it’s a good spot to build something new and the circle will begin again.
While doing a bit of research for this post I came across a number of interesting articles on Cockfield Fell, there is a lot of information on the Keys to the Past website (which is always very useful) and the Northern Echo has a couple of interesting pieces from past publication. Here is a link to one which includes an incredible local poem which dates from March 12th 1878 when the fell must have seen it’s most intense period of heavy industry..
Bleak and Charmless…the fell is a hard place for all.
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