on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Fields of the British Isles

Contemporary images that still reveal something of the historical landscape layers

Fran Halsall

Fran Halsall

Fran Halsall specialises in photographing the UK landscape, particularly the wilder parts of the coastline, moorlands and woodlands, and has a particular passion for creating interpretative images of geological formations.

Britain's landscape has many faces and with its remote uplands, dramatic summits and thousands of miles of dynamic coastline to explore, it is easy for these subjects to dominate the photographic narrative. This is in spite of the fact that much of the country is not like this. Most land has been, or still is, used for food production and farmers are responsible for the stewardship of 75% of Britain's total area1. 'Wild' Britain was pushed to the margins long ago by the spread of agriculture and now the nation's fabric is defined by its fields.

The compartmentalisation of the land has inspired its own terminology: one cannot think of fields without likening them to a 'patchwork' and combined en masse they provided inspiration for Blake's 'green and pleasant land'2, a phrase that is synonymous with a nostalgic version of Britain. The word 'pastoral', derived from grazing pastures, is applied to artistic, literary and musical output relating to the rural. Due to countless poorly-realised visual iterations and hackneyed repetitions of Constable's England the pastoral is now regarded as twee and is unfairly tainted by an air of backward-looking irrelevance.

Early morning mist swirls around the base of Compton Hill and Wavering Down in Somerset.  Just visible through the mist is Compton Bishop village surrounded by fields enclosed with traditional hedgerows.  Part of the Mendip Hills AONB.

Early morning mist swirls around the base of Compton Hill and Wavering Down in Somerset. Just visible through the mist is Compton Bishop village surrounded by fields enclosed with traditional hedgerows. Part of the Mendip Hills AONB.

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  • Nice article Fran. Pastoral and arable scenes often take a lowly place in landscape photographic hierarchy, often being considered documentary or narrative imagery, I feel. Your article rang bells with me, as down here in the South Downs I’ve been exploring very similar views, both from an interest of the landscape and photographically/paintingly.

    I’m guessing the South Downs is a fair trek for you, especially as many of the conditions you are looking for are by their nature transient. You will find red poppies growing wild on the Downs in many places where the land has been disturbed. You’ll also find opium poppies, especially in Hampshire, which can be especially photographically interesting. I’m struggling to think of a high location, looking down onto them, though. Similarly flax. Common enough around here, but from a high view point, mmm ?, tricky. Oil seed rape … That’s much easier. It’s everywhere !

    As you may know the South Downs runs from Winchester down to Beachy Head in East Sussex. I’m very familiar with the western end. There are others who know the eastern part. Finn Hopson down in Brighton comes to mind.

    You probably/may know this, but …

    The western end of the Downs differs from the eastern end in many respects. Historically the western parts were managed by a few estates where hunting was important. This has led to more tree growth. The eastern end is what many folk think of the ‘Downs’, originally it was mostly sheep grazing. Both lie on a high chalk ridge, and this calciferous rock defines the flora that dominates. Looking north on the western ridges, you can see the clay weald land and then onto the acidic Greensands. The farmland can differ very rapidly across these parts. Also, there are many natural springs which emerge out of the chalk as the soil changes to clay, giving rise to even more diversity. Looking south the land is more predictable and drier as it rolls out to the sea. I could go on and on, with this but should probably stop.

    So in conclusion, I’ll look out for the specifics that you’re asking for and let you know if/when I find them. Being that the flora you are seeking is transient, it may be difficult to manage at this distance, but there will be the fieldscapes around here that fit your requirements, I would think for year round exploration.

    • Barry,

      thanks for the suggestions and the extensive background info. I have visited both the South and North Downs in the past but cannot say I know them well. Most places south of the Midlands are topographically challenging for achieving high viewpoints.

      I will have to look at my maps for the downs to see what looks likely and then I can always get in touch to ask for your local appraisal of the area.

      • I forgot to add in lavender fields as a another hue option. Not quite like Provence, though.

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