Richard White

explorations in place and time

Walking not Drowning…

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Walking not Drowning …Some thoughts to walk with considering the purity of spring water…..

In the days of the Atlantic trade a significant proportion of people enslaved in West Africa did not survive the journey. Thrown overboard like fruit gone rotten, forced overboard for resisting, abandoned at sea in insurance scams. The heritage is a watery one, relics perhaps as bleached bones at the bottom of the ocean. On the plantations enslaved people built irrigation canals,  and with the wealth generated  back in England the beneficiaries employed labourers to construct country mansions and reconstruct the landscape.

Its in the water: memories, traditions, sounds, enchantments. The hotsprings were the draw for Bath, slaves built and serviced the first city here. Coldwater springs fed the streams that drove the mills and the second city grew. The River Avon harnessed for  hammering, shuttling, crushing, rolling mills, the energy that shaped the metal and powered the factories. The once tidal river became the Navigation, put the labour of enslaved people at a distance and the flow of wealth fed the enchanted city.
May Day Walk notes unedited
Thundering bridge where for years there were warning signs: men working below. The signs always troubled me. No one there as we walked through liminal Avonmouth. The river slow off  to the estuary almost more mud than water.

bridge view rail

We walked thinking about the river and what it carried  and more and more I am thinking of the memory it holds. A legacy that is with us and part of us. From the heady heights the road roared, bars restrained us and coaches teased us. The lure of speed in its deadly spate, great chunks of metal roaring past us. The past roaring at us from behind bars looking down to the river.

Smoothing down and out of that epic adrenaline enchantment to more overgrown tracks we walked into Pill. Here as promised a ghost crossing to the Lamplighters. The river drifted by its run slowing as the tide turned. An indifference.
Avon ghost crossing Pill to ShLamplighters
Down this river went the brass and cloth from mills at Keynsham, Saltford and Bath; guns, gunpowder and more from Bristol. Where were the shackles made? Boats built, repaired, cleaned, loaded unloaded along this river. Here. We tried to imagine them going by. Boats returning feeding the european addictions, sugar, tobacco, rum:  wealth on one form or another.

We spirited up a galleon decked with flags first down river then motoring up where strong men would have heaved. A pirate ship, a heritage spectacle not even harnessed to the wind, an enchantment of adventure and enterprise appeared on cue.
Cabot boat Matthew wide
So we walked on into the wreckage of neoliberalism. A contemporary epic narrative of adventure freedom and enterprise decides who deserves, seizes ownership of shared assets and re-writes the story of collective mutual support. Those deemed undeserving are abandoned. Thrown overboard. Assets are repurposed. The legacy of slaveownership runs deep.

At last arriving at Bristol old wharves, great red brick boxes, the bonded warehouses in which I once imagined the merchants counting their gold by candlelight, loomed through the gorge. Under Leigh Woods, graffitti walls for years emblazoned with Hendrix Lives. Deeper and out of site another palladian mansion stands triumphant the origin of its wealthy statement barely challenged.

graffitti locked in


Author: rswpost

Exploring connections between landscape, place and people. on foot and online. Working collaboratively and harnessing the participatory potential of social media.

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