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Patterns on the landscape

‘Mosaic’ is a word often used to describe the Solway Coast Area of Natural Beauty and it’s an apt description in both the physical and metaphorical sense.

This is a place which has its origins in nature, but which has been shaped by both nature and man, and those patterns on the landscape spread across its entire 115 sq km.

Once upon a time, this entire area was covered in glacial ice. As the ice melted, the Irish Sea was created, and the shoreline of the Solway Coast was formed. That was the origin of our dunes, our mudflats, our peatbogs and our saltmarshes – all of the things which make this place distinctive and of international importance.

That mosaic has its natural elements – the coastline, the shoreline, the narrow tracts of sand and mud, and the watercourses which run out in to the estuary from the fells and lowlands of Cumbria.

But these are all overlaid with changes made by man – from the once-solid frontier of Hadrian’s Wall, and the layout of this area’s settlements – like the Victorian grid of Silloth, or the rows of farm cottages in Newton Arlosh, with fields stretched out behind. Then there are are the routes of the Roman roads which still exist today, the  lanes and lonnings, the ancient trackways and the drover roads, which have become habitats for wildlife and plantlife.

And then there is the agriculture. Take our fields – some of them long and linear, others small and compact, with their traditional ‘kested’ hedgerows, built on soil bankings, and home to wildflowers, animals and birds. There’s the extensive grazing, needed for our dairy industry, and the ‘stints’, the intriguing traditional unfenced boundaries of the saltmarshes and edges of the lowland raised mires.

There are the lines in the lowland raised mires where peat was once cut on a massive scale, and where the land was drained to allow for more farming. These date back to the days of the monks of Holme Cultram Abbey.

And there are the circles close to the sand, where salt was harvested to preserve the meat and fish bred and caught in this very landscape.

More recently, in living memory, new lines were drawn by the area’s three airstrips, built to protect British shores.

All in all, this is a fascinating place, where the patterns in the landscape will continue to evolve – with man’s input and nature’s influence.