I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Thursday, 5 July 2007

County Tops (1)

Of course it goes without saying that since I started this walking blog it's been bucketing down with rain every day and I've also developed a slight problem with the left knee. The law of Murphy must have something to do with it. However one must turn the negative into the positive: being indoors has given me the chance to catch up on some reading (while watching the covers coming on and off at Wimbledon from the corner of my eye - natch!) One of the books I've taken down from my shelves has been Alan Dawson's invaluable The Relative Hills Of Britain, published in 1992 by the Cicerone Press. Most of this book deals with the Marilyns, those hills which are at least 500 ft higher than the land around them. (Dawson puts forward the concept of "relative height", ie the height of a hill compared to its surrounding area rather than compared to sea level.) But it was chapter 6, The County Tops, that I turned to. The County Tops are the highest points in each county. This isn't as simple as it appears. Dawson's list soon became out-of-date: between 1995 and 1998 Avon, Humberside and Cleveland were abolished; Rutland, Hereford and Worcester became independent entities again; and Berkshire was split into 6 Unitary Authorities. Furthermore, and intriguingly, my home county of Nottinghamshire's Top has changed. Instead of an indistinguishable spot 203m high on Newtonwood Lane overlooking the M1's Tibshelf Services, it's now situated a few miles from there at the summit of a conical bump in Silverhill Wood near the former mining village of Teversal. Measuring a staggering 205m (please understand, this is big for the East Midlands!), it's only 2 metres higher than the original Historic Top - but much prettier. The reason for the change? I've already given a clue. The relatively new parkland-forestry of Silverhill has been re-landscaped from the workings of the former Silverhill colliery which ceased production in 1992. So the new County Top is man-made - it's one of the restored colliery spoil heaps. The whole area was very pleasant when I visited a few weeks ago. I was so impressed with this imaginative reclamation project. There has been much tree planting and pond making, and birds and wild flowers were everywhere. And the New Top has now been crowned with a bronze sculpture, a tribute to the coal miners of Nottinghamshire (see photo - with Hardwick Hall in the middle distance). Unveiled in March 2005, it was created by Antony Dufort (who also sculpted the bronze statue of Maggie Thatcher recently erected at Westminster. Mmm... some irony here?) Unfortunately the plaque on the stone base, which listed the 65 principal coal mines of Nottinghamshire, has been vandalised and removed. The statue above depicts a miner "testing for gas" with a "Davey" lamp - the presence of deadly and explosive methane could be detected by a change in the flame's shape and colour. Silverhill colliery began production in 1875. At its peak it employed 1000 men and extracted 1 million tonnes of coal a year. But now there are only 3 working collieries in the whole of the county.

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